Daddy needs to express some rage.
If you’ve read through all seven previous entries in this Year in Review series then, first of all, congratulations on having the fortitude and preservation to do so. I’m currently filing paperwork to get various World Athletics bodies to recognise reading this series in full as an official marathon worthy of official medals and shit. What you may also have recognised, however, is that the same 10 or so movies kept being referenced constantly throughout all of my positive pieces. Typically, one would take this as an indicator that these were unquestionably the best films of the year that was, films that stood head and shoulders above a similarly strong crowd of other possible contenders. In a way, that is accurate, but the truth is that the films featured in the Top 20, and the few not referenced in the Top 20 but brought up elsewhere, are basically all of the films I really liked in 2015. I really liked about 35 films in 2015. 35. Out of 157.
Let me tell you exactly how bad this year has been for film. I had 40 films that I could have put on this list. 40 incredibly strong candidates for the anti-list. Fourty. If it weren’t for a technicality, Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, which caused no less than 23 unplanned instances of my middle-fingering the movie playing in front of me, would not be on this list. It wouldn’t even be in the Bottom 15. That’s 2015 in a single, easily digestible fact: a year that refused to stop finding new lows to sink to, physically extending the barrel to within an inch of its life just so that it would never run out of bottom to scrape, refusing to let damn near any light pierce its unrelenting and soul-destroying misery, and also releasing a shitload of fucking terrible movies in the process.
This, however, is not a Worst Films of 2015 list. Worst Films lists are no fun to me, since they just involve picking on incredibly easy targets that, oftentimes, are more just poorly made than anything else. If I ran a Worst Films list, it’d feature things like United Passions or Russell Madness, obviously terrible films whose only crimes are being below the level of a daytime Soap Opera made for Public Access Television by 10 year-olds, and even then I actually got a fair bit of entertainment out of them. No, this is a Bottom Films of 2015 list. To make it onto this list, you had to annoy me, you had to offend me, you had to anger me, you had to push me to states of apoplectic being that I don’t like being pushed to, you had to stick with me in such a way that even weeks after viewing you are still causing me to curse your very existence, you have to represent trends and elements of moviemaking that are killing this art-form. Being ineptly made is nothing compared to the crimes that the following 10 films have committed.
But before we jump into that list, and so that you’ve got an idea of exactly what kind of films we are dealing with, here are just some of the films that failed to make the list: Tak3n, Pan, Burnt, Far from the Madding Crowd, The Last Witch Hunter, Mistress America, Strange Magic, Hitman: Agent 47, Seventh Son, Southpaw, The Tribe, Insurgent, Spooks: The Greater Good, Survivor, The Gunman, Knock Knock, and finally Legend which in any other year would have been my #10 pick, since that’s typically reserved for my most disappointing film. This goddamn year…
Let’s get this over with. Today, we tackle numbers 10 to 6, and tomorrow we hit The Final Five. So, without further ado, the good times gone…
There may be spoilers. Proceed with caution.
Dir: Sam Mendes
Star: Daniel Craig, Léa Seydoux, Christoph Waltz
SPECTRE’s existence, more specifically the way that SPECTRE exists as the movie that was released to the public, aggravates the ever-loving shit out of me. On paper, it’s a solid gold homerun. We’ve still got Daniel Craig as Bond who’s been doing a smashing job at imprinting his own personal hard-edged stamp on the character, backed up by one of the strongest supporting Bond casts yet (Ralph Fiennes as the new M, Naomi Harris as the new Moneypenny, Ben Whishaw as the new Q), with Sam Mendes (who is probably one of the best Bond directors going) returning from Skyfall to take advantage of the revitalisation that that film provided, and the re-introduction of the villainous SPECTRE back into the Bond fold with Christoph Waltz taking over the reins of Ernst Blofeld. So many excellent, proven elements in play!
Yet, in practice, SPECTRE is just a complete and total trainwreck where the only stuff that works is on the surface level – it looks somewhat pretty, some of the action scenes are quite decent, Ben Whishaw’s excellent interpretation of Q. I could write a full 3,000 word piece alone on why this movie fails completely, I even planned to but then my life schedule put pay to that, it’s just such a mess of poor decisions that don’t stop piling up on top of one another. For one, SPECTRE never really seems to figure out a reason for existing beyond, “well, Skyfall made over $1 billion, I guess we have to make another one.” It never builds to anything, never seems to be going anywhere, and then, when it does reach its big finale, the film just kinda stops really unsatisfactorily. There never seems to be a genuine raising of the stakes, nothing that gives off the idea that SPECTRE is an evil venture that needs stopping besides the fact that they’re SPECTRE.
Speaking of, I sat through Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a film that is similarly vague as to what exactly the overall goal of its villainous force is besides a nebulous ‘murder the good guys and control the whole galaxy’, and I still found The First Order vastly more interesting than SPECTRE actually is. SPECTRE just doesn’t do anything aside from talk vaguely, the most that they do in this movie occurs in one scene where a bunch of random people say things like “Bad Thing #2 had a 95% success rate” and “Bad Thing C is on course as scheduled”, and some nebulous end goal of “information.” They don’t seem to have any plan, any legitimate threat, instead relying on past successes – specifically the previous Craig-era baddies – to puff themselves up, but all that does is make them look even more ineffectual and bring down the other villains as a result of SPECTRE’s overall ineffectualness.
It’s indicative of Bond’s continuing trend of modernising in all of the wrong ways. Linking all of the past Craig Bonds together only serves to make the world of Bond feel smaller, powered by contrivance after contrivance, whilst the big Blofeld twist – no, not the one where Oberhauser reveals that he’s actually Blofeld in the moment where I realised that nobody has learned anything from Star Trek: Into Darkness, the other one that we all depressingly figured out from the trailers – is just the twist from Austin Powers: Goldmember played straight. I’m waiting for the next film to reveal that everything we’ve seen so far is actually the machinations of a particularly vengeful waiter Bond fobbed off once 15 years ago. Yet the series still refuses to update its misogynistic gender politics, with Bond’s seduction technique now tipping over into sexual assault, Moneypenny being dumped from the film as soon as it becomes evident that she’s not sleeping with Bond, and Madeline Swan not even being a character so much as Silly Putty to mould into whatever the film needs her to be in that particular scene.
But SPECTRE’s also decidedly uninterested and unenthused about being an actual honest-to-God Bond film, it’s relentlessly dull and miserable with the concessions to gadgets and quips feeling half-assed and insincere, unless it’s trying to be Sam Mendes’ Definitive Version of Bond. Whereas the constant call-backs and in-jokes in Skyfall both made sense – since it was Bond’s 50th Anniversary and that kind of tribute works – and felt like genuine reverence to Bond, the ones in SPECTRE manage the simultaneous feat of making the film feel completely bereft of ideas of its own and completely snobby of Bond’s past, like Sam Mendes is determined to make The One True Bond. “Ha! I’ll show From Russia With Love what a train fight should look like! Jaws? Who needs Jaws when you’ve got Completely Generic Heavy Who Happens to Be Played by Dave Bautista? There’s a white cat, cos it’s not SPECTRE without a white cat! Madeline Swan is the love of Bond’s life! Hmm? ‘Vesper Lynd,’ you say? I didn’t create her so she can get in the sea for all I care! Oh, wait, she did! OOOOOOOOHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!”
It’s just such a relentlessly bad movie, one that keeps actively screwing up what should have been an easy slam-dunk at every single possible turn, mostly by overthinking everything. But you don’t need to overthink the general concept of James Bond – he’s the personification of the Male ID, he has a license to kill, and he goes on globetrotting adventures to bring down a bunch of mostly unrelated bad guys. He doesn’t need the villain to be his third cousin thrice removed who’s upset that Bond stole his ice cream cone one time! And if you’re not going to be Classic Bond with All the Trimmings, then actually modernise! Modernise the grosser, less-acceptable parts of Bond instead of leaving those intact but taking all the worst trappings of modern cinema (obsessive serialisation, claustrophobically small worlds that run on contrivances, White people as far as the eye can see) and ending up with the worst of both worlds. SPECTRE nearly undoes the hard work of all of the previous Craig Bond films singlehandedly, and watching it unfold in front of my eyes was one of the most aggravating cinema experiences I had last year.
Also, for the love of God, come up with a theme other than “is Bond still relevant in the modern world?” It’s now been done four times in the last eight films, and you said everything you need to say on the subject in M’s first scene in Goldeneye!
09] Black Mass
Dir: Scott Cooper
Star: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch
Almost every Monday for the past year and change, I have been co-hosting a movie review show on Hullfire Radio called Screen 1 with my friend Lucy Meer. This means that I actually get to dispense my opinions on every film that I see in an in-depth manner, whereas before I was at the mercy of both the time constraints as to whether I could write a full review and whether my brain even wanted to engage long enough to write a review, which is pretty great cos I love expressing my thoughts on movies (and there was absolutely no way I could have phrased that without sounding like a self-involved douchebag). However, that also means that I have to find new ways to get across complaints and issues that pop up in films week after week, lest I sound like both a broken record and that I have absolutely nothing of interest or substance to say.
2015, a year that would not stop flinging shit at me no matter how nicely I asked for it not to, made that really, really difficult with so many films failing in such similar ways that I may have wondered once or twice if I’m actually just watching the same film as one I saw three weeks ago but reskinned. In fact, there was one phrase in particular that I’m pretty sure you could have made part of a Screen 1 Drinking Game considering how often I ended up using it, “it has nothing to say about its subject.” Biopics in 2015, as well as 2014 cos this is not a new trend, had a very worrying lack of things to say about the events and people that they were about, instead just presenting a condensed series of stuff that happened and going “wasn’t this a thing that happened/wasn’t this man a great guy/massive dick?” I could actually sit here and write a full script of my own in the style of these movies right now just from watching enough of them this year if I wanted to.
Black Mass is the most egregious example of these films, a film that carries itself with joyless self-importance yet has absolutely nothing of any substance or value to say, stranding an immensely talented cast who are giving their all for some reason with absolutely nothing to do. It tries to touch on every possible facet of Whitey Bulger’s life – his Senator brother, his relationship with his first wife, the death of his son, an extended sequence of him and his crew trying to break into the sport of Jai Ali for some reason, maybe eventually his dealings with the FBI if the film feels like it – but in doing so fails to actually develop any of them at all well, drowning the film in a miasma of unfinished plot threads and dead-end wastes of time, and leaving little room to develop any of its cast of characters beyond broad brushstrokes that dilute any potential depth or nuance the film could have had.
This is killer to a biopic. The whole point of a biopic, or any movie in general really, is to have something to say, to have a reason to exist beyond having talented actors (rarely actresses because very few biopics are about Great or Interesting Women) recreate things that happened in real life. Straight Outta Compton, an actually good biopic that came out last year, spent much of its runtime using the framework of a biopic about N.W.A to talk about institutionalised racism in the police force, a topic that’s still frighteningly relevant today. But films like Black Mass use their framework, in this case a biopic about the alliance between notorious Boston criminal Whitey Bulger and the FBI that allowed Bulger to run rampant in the city for years, to… let you know that these were things that happened. No attempts at deeper thematic resonance, no attempts at actually examining the subject(s) at its centre, we are just meant to assume that these were important people and events because we’re watching a film about them. No point in asking why, they just are.
As a result, these films are just complete timewasters and completely interchangeable. Selma succeeded because it was both about something and examined its main subject properly, Straight Outta Compton succeeded because it was about something, The Lady in the Van succeeded because it was about something and examined its subjects properly and was suitably different in its tone, structure, and presentation. Films like Black Mass achieve none of those things and my having to watch them just makes me feel like I’m wasting my life.
08] No Escape
Dir: John Erick Dowdle
Star: Owen Wilson, Lake Bell, Pierce Brosnan
My job involves me watching ugly films. Hell, my course at university will occasionally involve me watching ugly films. I don’t actively search these films out, but sometimes I will sit down to watch a film and discover that I am in for 2 hours or so of pure ugliness. Most of the time, it won’t become apparent that I’m about to watch an ugly film until it is far too late for me to do anything about it. In some very fortunate times, it will become obvious that I’m going to watch an ugly film before I head on in and can therefore steel myself appropriately. And then, in some of the most unfortunate times, I can sit down in preparation for a film that I’ve gathered is going to be ugly only to discover that I had no idea just how ugly it was actually going to be.
No Escape is racist. I’m not sure I made it clear enough in my review of the film from back in September, especially to this one guy who would not stop harassing me on Twitter for days over how it was totally not racist and that I was racist towards White people for saying it was, but it is. It’s a zombie movie where the bloodthirsty, unthinking undead hordes of murderous zombies are Control + H-d into bloodthirsty, unthinking living hordes of murderous Asians. They don’t get any non-subtitled dialogue, their somewhat justifiable (although nowhere near to the extent that they are shown to do) reason for rampaging is relayed to us by Pierce Brosnan instead of any one of the locals, the film takes great pleasure in showing just how much fun these EEEEVILLL hordes are taking in beating White people to death or almost raping White women, whilst the few that aren’t actively trying to murder our protagonists are shunted off-screen mere seconds after they do their Good Deed with no affection or interest in their fates, training the viewer to alternately fear and not care about anybody not White.
Our protagonists, though, which represent the perfect all-American nuclear family and which just so happens to be predominately female so that we can also get some excellently uncomfortable gender politics with our xenophobic racism, are so absolutely saintly and sickeningly perfect that the film’s constant screaming at me to “CARE ABOUT THIS PERFECT FAMILY, DAMMIT! THEIR WONDERFUL WHITE VALUES ARE UNDER ATTACK FROM SAVAGES!” actually turned me against them incredibly quickly. No Escape seems to realise this too, so it goes to great lengths to force you to root for and sympathise with them – beating Owen Wilson to within an inch of his life, coming seconds away from raping Lake Bell, forcing one of their precocious moppets to hold Owen Wilson at gunpoint as merciless foreigners laugh at their torment – taking an almost snuff-film pleasure in the level of misery it’s forcing them through.
What makes all of this worse is that were No Escape stripped of its retrograde worldview and uncomfortable glee in putting its cast through hell, this would just be a completely inept and drop-dead boring action movie that’s worth exactly no anger, bile, or any reaction of any substance. It drags on forever, it’s poorly written, only very occasionally tense, and looks terribly cheap. The one time the film does anything non-racist that is in the slightest bit memorable comes from the rightly-lampooned sequence where Owen Wilson suddenly flings one of his tykes off of a roof in super-slow-mo because it’s absolutely fucking hilarious. But other than that, there is no part of No Escape that makes any impression at all, except for the racism. So here comes a scene where our family disguises themselves as the Asian horde by covering their faces up, and here’s a scene where a seemingly nice looking Asian tries to sell out our family at the first chance, and here’s a scene where Asians massacre a bunch of American tourists just cos – relatedly, the film’s cowardly refusal to name the country it’s set in only makes the situation even worse, obviously attempting to avoid alienating potential foreign box office.
I feel like this should be higher, but I really don’t have any stronger feelings on it other than appalled shock at how ugly it is, and it’s not indicative of many larger trends in mainstream moviemaking besides putting a premium on tales about White people and specifically White Men, which is better exemplified in other entries on this list. Make no mistake, though, No Escape is an ugly film that should not be viewed under any circumstances.
07] The Cobbler
Dir: Thomas McCarthy
Star: Adam Sandler, Method Man, Steve Buscemi
Here are just a few questions that I had when I finished watching The Cobbler. “What in the fresh hell did I just watch?” “Why does Thomas McCarthy still have a career?” “Who signed off on this?” “No, seriously, what the fuck did I just watch?” “How did nobody recognise the disgusting undertones in this?” “Was that real? Like, for real real, not a fake movie trailer from South Park come to life?” “Who gave up $10 million to make this thing?” “WHAT IS THIS?! WHAT IS THIS?! WHAT IS THIS?!” For those of you who may not be aware, The Cobbler is a magical-realism dramedy wherein Adam Sandler plays a cobbler who discovers a magical stitching machine that, when used on other people’s shoes that are his size, turns him into those people once he puts the shoes on. No, really.
Take a moment to digest that premise, a premise being used in a film that’s not being aimed at families but actual adults, and in the year 2015, no less. OK, now I want you to throw in there a disappeared Dad for Adam Sandler that fuels all of his angst, and a surrogate father in the form of his next door shopkeeper friend Steve Buscemi who has an obsession about pickles – who at one point earnestly goes on about the rejuvenating power of pickles, in a sequence that’s supposed to be somewhat serious because it’s part of an incredibly obvious yet still stupid reveal. Now throw in a gangster/thug stereotype played by Method Man whose sole purposes are to be menacingly evil to Adam Sandler and to set back portrayals of black characters in Indie movies a good 5 years. Now also throw in a mother for Adam Sandler who is suffering from Alzheimer’s and who wishes to see her former husband one last time. Now also throw in a plot by some evil developers to tear down an old New York neighbourhood in order to build apartment complexes. Now also…
You get the point. The Cobbler is an absolutely baffling mess of a movie, one that just keeps getting stupider and stupider the further and further on it gets. At no point does anybody seem to have actually looked at the script and gone, “Hang on a sec, what in the actual motherfuck is this?” I mean, I’m at a complete loss as to how a sequence where Adam Sandler impersonates his Dad in order to give his mother one last romantic night with him (before she dies the following morning) is played sweetly and romantic. It’s a film that completely beggars belief, its comedy moments aren’t funny, its dramatic moments aren’t affecting, and its serious moments are laughable. This is the kind of film where I cannot even begin to imagine how on earth it got made, its entire existence confounding me so totally.
Of course, The Cobbler wouldn’t be on this list if it were just completely baffling, so let’s quickly talk about how this is a movie that could not be more White Guy if it tried. For those of you wondering, yes, the main moral of the story is about how walking in someone else’s shoes can help you see things from their perspective, which is incredibly heavy-handed but possibly somewhat admirable if the film were to commit to that. Instead, Adam Sandler merely treats the various people whose shoes he steps into as tools to further his own ends, and that’s assuming he’s not just using them for shits and giggles like threatening a White man as a Black man into giving up his shoes or putting on the heels of a woman – who is depicted as a trans woman, for the record, leading to endless, “eww, gross” gags – so he discover what boobs are like. The cultural experiences and differences of these people are studiously ignored and Adam Sandler’s character plays each of the people he inhabits as broadly stereotypical as possible. There’s even a bit where he tries to fix the life of the evil Black guy because what Method Man should have done was be more like the White folk(!)
There’s a scene where Adam Sandler impersonates Dan Stevens in order to try and get with Dan Stevens’ girlfriend, and the only reason he awkwardly backs out is because he realises that he’d need to take the shoes off in order to have sex and therefore revealing who he is. This is played for laughs. Our hero is prepared to basically rape a woman and we are supposed to laugh. Let’s move on.
06] Get Hard, Ted 2, Mortdecai, Accidental Love, Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, The Ridiculous 6, Hot Tub Time Machine 2, Vacation, The Bad Education Movie, The Wedding Ringer, Search Party, Hot Pursuit, Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, Daddy’s Home, and Unfinished Business
Dirs: Way too many to list
Star: See above
2015 was officially the year that comedy just straight-up stopped trying. Comedy normally has about the same hit/miss ratio of most other genres of film that get released in theatres, granted, but for every instant classic and instant garbage-fire, there are three or four films that occupy different places up and down the quality graph, ranging from great but not brilliant, to flawed but sporadically funny, to terrible but with a few decent spots, and everything in between. There was a range, a spread, it wasn’t just a constant plateau from which no escape could be found. Not so in 2015. With the exceptions of Spy (excellent), Pitch Perfect 2 (great), The Night Before (consistent), and Sisters (disappointing but I did laugh a lot), every other pure comedy – which means no rom-coms, no dramedies, and no High School movies as they have their own sets of codes and conventions – was either just plain bad or offensively terrible, and it was physically painful to have to sit through.
Do you like racist jokes about black stereotypes and rape being used as a constant punchline for 100 minutes? Then Get Hard is the movie for you! Do you prefer your racism to be directed towards Native Americans and filtered through an Adam Sandler who isn’t even going to muster up the energy to pretend that he has any fucks to give anymore? The Ridiculous 6 is the one that you want! Want to see a semi-remake/semi-sequel to one of the greatest comedy movies of all-time but stripped of any satirical intent and therefore floundering around desperately trying to discover some reason to exist? You’re gonna want to go and watch Vacation. Or, if you’d rather watch a pointless sequel that spends its time alternating between mean-spirited gags at the expense of the non-White-male variety and hypocritically preachifying about how everybody deserves to be seen as equal, then make your way down to Ted 2. Maybe stop off at Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 on the way for your latest dose of “fat man fall down go boom” “comedy.”
Craving a horror-comedy that’d as scary as a trip to the corner shop and as funny as tripping on the way to the corner shop and breaking your neck, with a nice helping of teenage boy escapist fantasy and misogyny to boot? Here’s Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse. Speaking of hating women, Hot Pursuit is just the movie for those of you wanting female-led female-targeted comedies that hate the continued existence of the very group they’re aimed at! And speaking of films that hate their audiences, The Bad Education Movie has got all your “firing a hamster into a fat woman’s vagina” needs covered! If you desire to see an immensely talented cast being actively wasted, then track down a copy of Search Party and prepare to despair, whilst those of you who want to shake their heads at some active wasting of Linda Cardellini in a very questionable female role should shell out for Daddy’s Home! If you’d like to approximate the feeling of an enema, then Mortdecai can sort you out, whilst those who want to be a test subject for a prototype of Men In Black’s Neuralyzer should see Unfinished Business. And speaking of unfinished, even David O. Russell wanted nothing to do with his Accidental Love, so fans of train-wrecks come on down!
Back in February, I saw The Wedding Ringer, a film so bad that I likened it to a mid-00’s Eddie Murphy vehicle that had somehow been transported 10 years into the future and with the hottest C-list cast of 2005 digitally replaced with the hottest C-list cast of 2015. I even made the bold prediction, live on radio, that I wasn’t going to see a worse comedy all year, I couldn’t possibly see a worse comedy all year. And I did. Multiple times. Almost every fortnight, even. One of them (Hot Tub Time Machine 2) actually featured a rape that it tried to play for laughs and then justify by lampshading the possible grey area they went to as if to say, “Don’t worry, we’re aware of what we did… and isn’t that hilarious?!” This isn’t even a complete list! There are two films that have slots of their own still to come, having somehow transcended even this pit of shit!
I love comedy. I really, really do, I love it with all of my being. So to see it completely stop trying and just wallow in the mud for 12 endless months pains me dearly, it truly does, and I’m no longer tolerating it. This stops here. Try harder. That’s an order.
Tomorrow, we finally wrap up this series with The Final Five.
Callie Petch is close to violence.