Is this thing on? Oh, hello!
It’s been a while since this website showed any signs of life, but after close inspection we did hear a faint pulse through our stethoscope and thought we should have one last punt at resuscitation. It worked! Now, we’re making up for lost time with the return of our annual ‘Ranked Worst to Best’ film feature, which went on hiatus in 2020 and inexplicably never came back the following year. A crime!
It’s time to set the record straight on that elapsed entry ahead of the more relevant 2022 list, which can’t be finalised until I see Avatar: The Way of Water. It will happen soon, hopefully.
As longtime patrons may remember, this feature is also home to the prestigious Cool Stuff Awards – now in their 10th edition – which celebrate the very best and worst of the year in cinema. Limited specifically to films that I’ve seen and decided by a panel that includes only myself, they still manage to rank as one of the more reputable Hollywood awards bodies. Without further ado, let’s begin this retroactive retrospective.
25. F9: The Fast Saga
Worst Lead Performance: Vin Diesel
As a former fan of the franchise, it brings me no pleasure to place a Fast & Furious entry at rock bottom on this list. But this abysmal ninth instalment brought an end to the glory days of films five thru eight; a death knell foreshadowed by 2019’s embarrassing vanity project Hobbs & Shaw.
Despite featuring cars swinging from trees and the family’s long-joked-about first foray into outer space, this chapter in the so-called Fast Saga felt oddly soulless. Characters both new and old fell flat, while a tedious long-lost brother storyline for Vin Diesel and John Cena was played far too seriously for the caliber of acting involved.
That my screening was also full of screaming children means that this is probably one of the worst cinema experiences I have ever had. Although the latter complaint is admittedly not the fault of Diesel or Universal Pictures.
24. Venom: Let There Be Carnage
Worst Screenplay: Kelly Marcel
Worst Supporting Performance: Woody Harrelson
There’s a scene in Venom: Let There Be Carnage where the titular antihero crashes the stage at a Little Simz gig and starts rapping along to her hit track of the same name. At least, I think there is. It’s possible I dreamt it because it’s so incredibly inane and pointless that it could only have come from the farthest reaches of my unconscious brain.
The first Venom was something of a guilty pleasure that could be enjoyed in spite of its obvious flaws, but this ill-conceived sequel really pushes the limits of what movie-goers should accept as a product. How anybody still takes Tom Hardy seriously after this is beyond me.
Worst Director: Chloé Zhao
I hesitated about giving Worst Director to Chloé Zhao as I’m aware that her other work is highly acclaimed and she’s capable of shooting some nice vistas. But this incredibly misjudged blockbuster, which butchers the source material, wastes an all-star cast and fails to deliver even one decent action sequence, ultimately died on her watch – and there’s no escaping that.
22. No Time to Die
Worst Producer(s): Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli
A more appropriate title might have been ‘Please Let It Die’. I’m going to be thoroughly unpatriotic here and admit I have no affinity for this boring franchise, so Daniel Craig’s tacked-on exit alone was not enough to keep me interested.
Alas, there really was nothing else of any substance to speak of in the film, with Rami Malek’s villain reduced to a paper-thin caricature and the wider plot being a convoluted mess. Props to Ana de Armas for carrying the only scene with any life.
We all know that live-action Disney remakes are destined to be trash – that’s one of life’s certainties, along with death and taxes – but there was some misplaced hope that Cruella could break that trend in early 2021.
From the director of I, Tonya, the film boasted the talent of two formidable Emmas – Stone and Thompson – with the former seemingly throwing everything into a stylish, playful portrayal of one of cinema’s iconic baddies.
How disappointing then that the finished product proved so forgettable, with only glimmers of its early promise shining through a runtime that drags unbearably towards the end.
20. Army of the Dead
Zack Snyder doing Zack Snyder things.
19. The Matrix Resurrections
Convinced this was an expensive prank on Warner Bros.
Convinced this was an expensive prank on Warner Bros.
17. Licorice Pizza
Most Overrated Film
Not sure if it’s problematic, boring or somehow both?
16. Black Widow
Slightly better than the SNL version.
Like catnip for republicans.
Some interesting ideas, but not a patch on the first one.
13. The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Jessica Chastain is transformed into Quagmire from Family Guy.
12. The Green Knight
Marvellous! Marvellous! I have absolutely no idea what’s going on.
11. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Best Stunt Work
I want to do karaoke with Simu Liu and Awkwafina.
10. Bad Trip
The lengths that Eric André will go to in the name of comedy never cease to both amaze and scare me. Bad Trip contains some of his most daring and elaborate stunts to date, resulting in a film I frequently had to watch through my fingers – and which left me wired with anxiety for about an hour after it finished.
I had wondered whether the deranged sense of glee I felt watching Old in the cinema was derived partly from the countless memes it was spawning at the time. But I found myself equally engrossed upon second viewing months later, suggesting it was more than mere novelty that drew me to this harrowing little oddity. Though the script is dreadful at points, this is easily M. Night Shyamalan’s best work in years.
8. The Harder They Fall
Best Lead Actor: Jonathan Majors
Unsung Hero: RJ Cyler
I’m not typically a fan of Westerns but director Jeymes Samuel’s slick, modern take on the genre was too tempting a proposition to pass up – particularly with such an incredible ensemble attached. Frankly, I would watch Jonathan Majors in just about anything, but he was on particularly charming form here as revenge-seeking cowboy Nat Love. Meanwhile, in a cast of more widely known talent, RJ Cyler proved a standout with his compelling portrayal of a young Jim Beckwourth. I’d take a sequel.
7. The Suicide Squad
While the bizarre HBO Max release strategy killed any chance this film had at being a box office success, it was an enormous improvement on the original Suicide Squad courtesy of James Gunn. There’s a conversation to be had on whether some of its jokes went a bit too far, but there was something exciting about seeing this innately edgy filmmaker get free rein once more, after many years working within the confines of the Disney machine.
6. King Richard
Best Supporting Actress: Aunjanue Ellis
I’m old enough to remember a time when you could talk about this movie without mentioning the Will Smith slap. Indeed, when I went to see King Richard, everyone was abuzz about this potentially career-defining role for the since outcast actor. And for good reason! He gives a terrific performance beside co-stars Aunjanue Ellis, Saniyya Sidney and Jon Bernthal in what is undeniably one of the best sports dramas in recent memory. That holds true, slap or no slap.
5. Spider-Man: No Way Home
Best Supporting Actor: Willem Dafoe
Spider-Man: No Way Home’s position here is a consequence of making this list 12 months late. At the end of 2021, I named this my favourite movie of the year, but decided to knock it down a few places after a second viewing at home some time later. Don’t get me wrong: I still think it’s a terrific superhero film, but found it somewhat less euphoric without the initial hype and big screen experience. Still, this caps off one of the best MCU trilogies (behind only Captain America, for me) in spectacular fashion, with powerhouse performances from both Tom Holland and Willem Dafoe.
Best Director: Denis Villeneuve
Putting aside my frustration at the sheer amount torn out of this story in order to bring it to the screen, I have to concede that Denis Villeneuve’s Dune is about as good an adaptation as we could reasonably hope for. At a time of declining standards for visual effects – usually the fault of pushy studios as opposed to individual artists, I hasten to add – it was a thrill to see the planet Arrakis and its wormy inhabitants realised so vividly. Hans Zimmer is a shoo-in for Best Score based on that intense vocal track alone; I could listen to it all day, to be honest.
3. Last Night in Soho
Valerian Prize for Most Underrated Film
An obvious choice for the Valerian Prize, this gem went largely unnoticed at the box office and endured quite a bashing from some corners of film fandom, which is rather surprising for an Edgar Wright vehicle. I thought it was another treat from the endlessly inventive director, who successfully employs his signature style on a story several shades darker than his earlier work. Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy are dynamite co-leads, with the late Dame Diana Rigg also stealing scenes in her final role.
2. Nightmare Alley
Best Screenplay: Guillermo del Toro and Kim Morgan
I’ll happily concede that Nightmare Alley is a bit slower than it could be in its opening act, but extra time to soak in the typically atmospheric world of this Guillermo del Toro chiller is no bad thing in my book. The narrative amply rewards viewer patience too, building to a thrilling finale that gives stars Bradley Cooper and Cate Blanchett time to really shine.
1. Don’t Look Up
Best Lead Actress: Jennifer Lawrence
Ultimately, I loved Don’t Look Up for the same reason others hated it. Though it won’t be winning any awards for subtlety, there was something almost therapeutic about Adam McKay’s sledgehammer of a screenplay, in an era of continued climate change denial and rapidly spreading conspiracy theories. An infuriated scream at a world gone mad – and one that perhaps is beyond saving – this unflinching farce also delivered stellar turns from Leonardo DiCaprio, Meryl Streep, Mark Rylance and Jennifer Lawrence, who reminded us what she was capable of after a well-judged leave of absence.