The self-indulgence continues!
Welcome back to what somehow has become Part 2 of The 1st Official Callie Petch Awards! Missed yesterday? Go here. Let’s get right back into things.
Cooties comes to the viewer with an almost-irresistible bad-taste B-movie premise: a zombie movie, set at a school, where the zombies are the children populating it. Even with general zombie overload and fatigue having set in, it’s a movie practically bursting at the seams with potential, with the general conceit working as fertile ground for examining the cruelty of children, the under-praised nightmare of being a teacher, and the moral and ethical issues inherent in the fact that our survivors are gonna have to murder a bunch of kids to make it to the end of the film, as well as providing a potential fresh set of takes on the usual zombie scares and some deliciously black comedy from the fact that there’s gonna have to be some child-murdering. Throw in a stacked cast – Elijah Wood, Rainn Wilson, Jack McBrayer, Alison Pill who always deserves better (and who I’m just going to name this award after next year) – and it would appear that we have a Can’t Miss treat on our hands!
The problem with this hypothetical, though, is that, in reality, Cooties is just a bad movie. It’s not scary, with all of its scares being super-predictable and telegraphed way too far in advance, it’s not funny, as it relies too much on easy stereotypes and the seemingly-inherent-hilarity of its premise to write actual jokes, it seems actively ashamed to be the movie it’s been sold as, confining all the child-murdering to the final 15 minutes and even then half-assing it, yet doesn’t commit to the more serious version of the premise that it tries to take, it strands its talented cast in characters that are two-dimensional at best, and Leigh Whannell writes himself into the film as its resident know-it-all who is also autistic and it’s exactly as offensive and terrible as that sounds.
There’s a great B-movie cult-classic in the general idea of Cooties. You could even make it with this cast, assuming Leigh Whannell’s sole purpose in the film is to get hit by a bus randomly. That movie is not in the version of Cooties that we have, though, and it needs a director and a script that are willing to commit totally to the bad-taste fun-fest this movie should be. What a waste.
Runners-Up: BEN WHISHAW, He Named Me Malala, Suffragette, The Lobster, We Are Your Friends
This was not a good year to be a fan/admirer of Ben Whishaw. First, he appeared in Suffragette which asked us to take him seriously as a sexist, stubborn, unsupportive Man – because all men in Suffragette are evil to some degree, which is indicative of a broader reason as to why that film was only ‘good’ and not ‘great’ – and we couldn’t because he’s Ben Whishaw and we don’t believe for a second that he’d be that kind of a prick. Then SPECTRE came out and was a barrel of used shite (more on that soon). He appeared in the absolutely pointless wraparound device for In the Heart of the Sea and therefore brought nothing other than a brief, “oh, hey, Ben Whishaw’s in this movie!” And, finally, he appeared in The Lobster, was great in The Lobster, but then The Lobster completely fell apart in its second hour, making him 0-4 in 2015. 2016 doesn’t seem like it’ll be much better, either, since he’s appearing in The Danish Girl for some ungodly reason.
At least London Spy is apparently good, I’ve heard.
Yes, you read that right. All of Comedy. I’ll be explaining further on the Bottom 10 list, so for now you’ll just have to make do with this little tease. In 2015, which saw something close to 20 full-on comedies released in cinemas – and that means pure comedies, no rom-coms or dramedies or High School movies as they have their own codes and conventions – I watched a total of four that weren’t complete garbage. Four. That is absolutely unacceptable. The rot that started to set in in 2014 has officially caused the Quality Control bar to decay away to such an extent that everyone felt like the bottom was an acceptable goal to strive for. This has been an absolutely atrocious year for comedy, even by comedy’s usual standards, and this shit stops right here right now. No more excuses. Try harder.
Runner-Up: BIOPICS, Blockbusters, Young-Adult adaptations
As the lovely Phillip Sharman mentioned for himself, but whose phrasing was so delightful that I’m stealing it, when we were on the End-of-Year Failed Critics Podcast together, this year I learned how to make a biopic! This will also be expanded upon on the Bottom 10 List, so I’m going to save my material for then, but the fact that I could, right now if I wanted to, write a script for the exact biopic that keeps getting trundled out constantly with the only changes between each one being the title on the poster, and all just from watching enough of these damn things, should indicate exactly how stale and uninteresting this genre has gotten.
Winner: Hail, Caesar!
I actually contemplated putting this on my Top 20 Films list since it’s better than at least 90% of the actual films I watched in 2015. The best trailers are ones that tell you what you’re in for without giving too much of the film away, hooking you into wanting to watch the film featured, yet also stand on their own legs as something that’s still worth watching even after the film itself has been released and watched over and over and over again. It’s a tough line to walk, but if there was anyone who could provide a film that would make the process of walking that line a cakewalk then of course it would be The Coen Brothers. From this one trailer – which expertly communicates the tone, setting, and general plot without revealing too much, and still finds time to work in several excellent zingers – Hail, Caesar! already looks to be a must-see masterwork, so job well done in that respect.
After I’d been made witness to the official trailer for Magic Mike XXL, I tweeted out how I thought it made the film look like softcore pornography. I didn’t mean it as an insult then and I certainly don’t mean it as an insult now. It’s a refreshingly playful approach to advertising your movie and is exactly the kind of immediate course-corrective needed to bring back any audience members who were left decidedly… unfulfilled by what the first movie actually gave them.
Winner: The Peanuts Movie
The fact that The Peanuts Movie arrived on cinema screens feeling more-or-less like the Peanuts I know and love is quite frankly a goddamn miracle. As I mentioned back in this film’s entry in my Top 20 Films of 2015 list, Peanuts is so out-of-step with how modern animation works, how studios believe kids enjoy these movies, and so idiosyncratic in its tone and voice that I was terrified that they’d have to change it into something near-unrecognisable in order to make a film that’s sellable. Instead of that happening, we got Peanuts mostly as Peanuts was and, although it’s not perfect, it’s more than enough. The fact that Blue Sky Studios of all people managed this is still a major shock to me, whilst the fact that the film has been a roaring box office success instead of being ignored to death is the kind of development that makes me somewhat hopeful for our future as a collective species.
I already wrote about The Dressmaker yesterday, so I’m not going to waste too much space here repeating myself, but I’d like to note that I went into this movie knowing basically nothing, with zero expectations or pre-film thoughts other than it being something to kill time before I saw the Hunger Games finale, and ended up thoroughly enjoying the bonkers film that played in front of my eyes. That unfortunately happened far too infrequently this year, even with my continued attempts to minimise my exposure to trailers and such.
After a certain point in the utterly miserable, godawful year that we just left behind, I stopped letting myself get excited about movies. I’d been kicked in the balls too many times by films that I was excited for but turned out to be mediocre or just plain bad, but I allowed myself to get my hopes high for Legend. I mean, on paper, this was as easy a lay-up as one could find: a biopic about The Kray Twins, with Tom Hardy playing the pair of them, backed up by a talented supporting cast with the likes of Christopher Eccleston and David Thewlis and Taron Egerton, and written and directed by Brian Helgeland who wrote the script to L.A. Confidential and just wrote and directed 42! Shit, why not just FedEx every “Best Of” award to Working Title’s offices now and save time and money on postage?
I’ll tell you why, it’s because Legend is not very good. Yes, Tom Hardy is excellent in it, however his hard work is undone by a screenplay that just seems to have no idea of what it wants to be, wasting too much of its time on a love story that just drags the focus away from the Krays and their relationship, leaving the film with nothing much to say about either of them. It goes on for what feels like forever, its vision of London in the 1960s looks less like England and more like what somebody who is not from England and whose only exposure to England was 3 random episodes of Coronation Street thinks England looks like, and Emily Browning gives one of the year’s worst performances, nearly sinking the entire movie singlehandedly with her sleep-inducingly monotonous narration. I was disappointed when I left the cinema, and that disappointment has only gotten worse as time has gone on. What a let-down.
Incidentally, you won’t be seeing this on the Bottom 10 list, even though the #10 slot is traditionally for the year’s most disappointing film, because that’s just how bad this year has been.
I so desperately want to not have to affix a giant asterisk to my liking and occasional loving of Seth MacFarlane – since the guy is an amazing voice actor, a pretty good singer, helped bring the still-excellent American Dad! to air, and directed one of the decade’s best comedies so far in the shape of Ted – but he cannot seem to stop making it really difficult for me to admit to being a full-blown fan of his. Ted 2 spends much of its runtime not even trying to be a comedy, and what few genuinely bright and funny spots it does have are far outweighed by the excessive moralising that’s also undercut by hypocritical humour.
Winner: Ex Machina
OK, that’s why you haven’t seen Ex Machina anywhere in my pieces up to now. Put down your pitchforks and torches. It came out in the very beginning of January so my memories of it are hazy and therefore I don’t feel comfortable putting it in contention for anything. I did mean to try and get it re-watched during The Great List Blitz of 2015, but I ran out of time. OK? I’m sorry. I do remember enjoying it, though, until, in typical Alex Garland fashion, the ending shit the bed because, let’s be honest, is something really an Alex Garland work if it’s not brilliant for 90% of its length and then collapses in a bloody heap at the finish line?
Really enjoyed this, had major issues and uneasiness with how it whitewashes the homophobia and misogyny of its subject, wanted to see it again so I could know exactly how much that uneasiness affected my concrete opinion on the film… but then September happened and I never got the chance to do so. Have I mentioned yet that this was a godawful year for me in general?
The Films I Missed
Although 172 is an absolutely ridiculous number of new release films to have watched within 365 days, I still did not manage to see everything that came out. More specifically, I didn’t even get to see everything I wanted to see. So, before we head on over to the Bottom 10 Films list tomorrow, here are some of the films I missed out on in 2015 for various reasons, some of which I may even catch up with in the new year!
Clouds of Sils Maria, Girlhood, It Follows, Wild Tales, Cobain: Montage of Heck, Unfriended, Song of the Sea (even though it’s technically a 2014 movie), 99 Homes
Tomorrow, we finally begin to wrap up this ridiculously comprehensive series with the first half of My Bottom 10 Films of 2015 list.
Callie Petch loves a soul more than fame and gold.