Listmas Season 2018 kicks off with an ode to all things “meh.”
If my writing at any point across the next fortnight gives off the impression more than usual of me sweating spinal fluid throughout the process, that’s because I am already super-fucking-behind on my works because of a) my commitment to single-handedly putting together Listmas content for Set the Tape this year which I made quite mega and woefully underestimated the amount of time and effort it would take, b) I lost a day by having to go to this stupid Speed Awareness Course that sapped my will to live completely dry via enforced corporate-seminar-type joviality, and c) I suck at time management but still mentally pledged to get these up at 6PM UK time every day for at least 12 days because I am a madman. Bear with me, folks.
So, proper introductions! My name is Callum Petch and welcome to my Year in Review series for 2018. In what is almost assuredly going to be the last time I do this series to this degree – cos I turn 25 next year and cannot still be jobless by the time I hit that milestone or else I may have the kind of breakdown you don’t recover from – we’ve got a fun and comprehensive stretch of articles to get through! You may have already seen my countdown of My Top 50 Songs of 2018, but this official stretch of our Listmas content will be putting the year’s films to rights! Best Scenes, Best Performances, my yearly Awards, Top 20 and Bottom 10 will all be accounted for before this fortnight is done as we send off 2018 in style.
But before we can celebrate the Best and eviscerate the Worst, we’ve got to expend energy acknowledging the “eh.” After all, good films “yay,” bad films “boo,” all well and good, but what about those films that leave no strong impression one way or another? The baselines from which the extremes on either end can be compared and judged to? There were a damn lot of those movies this year, films that just kind of existed for upwards of two hours failing to do much of anything notable. Last year, I decided to canonise these utterly inconsequential pieces of art(?) and, by Jove, in the year of mediocrity I feel it’s only fitting we do so again this year! Here, then, submitted for your consideration, are the most mediocre films of 2018! …yes, I guess by highlighting these, the actual most “meh” films of the year are the ones not mentioned, HUSH!
Dir: John Curran
Star: Jason Clarke, Kate Mara, Ed Helms
God give me strength so that I no longer have to rustle disinterestedly in my chair through another near-two-hour-long biopic about a theoretically interesting subject or figure – said figure almost always being a White man, because such films are the quintessential White male genre – that has nothing to say about its subject or figure and does so in the most lifeless way possible. The Chappaquiddick incident, in which Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy committed involuntary manslaughter on aide Mary Jo Kopechne, is a fascinating, dramatically fresh and still fiercely relevant historical event to base a film around. You could do a political farce about the Kennedys panicky attempts to control their own narrative, you could do a grim exploration of how Americas sweethearts don’t even have to hide their crimes in order to be forgiven by the public at large so long as they look contrite enough, you could do a character-rich study of a family dynasty and the black sheep son coming apart at the seams. Chappaquiddick instead dramatizes the Wikipedia page on the subject without any fresh insight, places the burden upon Jason Clarke’s charisma-less shoulders, then knocks off for lunch. The most notable thing about Chappaquiddick is that it got a name change in the UK to something just as stock and instantly-forgettable as the movie itself.
Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Dir: Christopher McQuarrie
Star: Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Simon Pegg
Before anyone asks, no, I am not just putting this on the list for controversy clicks and, no, I don’t have a vendetta or anything against Tom Cruise. I just don’t get Mission: Impossible. At all. On paper, this series should be everything I want out of the movies and more: big practical-effects-driven action spectacles based around a constantly-escalating series of suspense setpieces where our protagonists are constrained on all sides by outside forces. In practice, I am bored to tears and Fallout did nothing to buck that trend. I want to blame my complete non-reaction to these movies on the fact that they have no characters or theme or anything to them besides the action – yeah, the action in Fallout is objectively very well-made, but if I don’t care about what’s going on, does that mean it’s actually any good? But mindless spectacle has never been an inherent negative for me before, and Fallout does try to add gravitas and a sense of climax to the series through impossibly boring connective narrative tissue so it’s at least trying. So, why do these movies do nothing for me? That conundrum has stuck with me far more than any part of Fallout has six months on, I’ll tell you that much.
Dir: John Stevenson
Star: James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Johnny Depp (voices)
Seven years ago, Gnomeo & Juliet made $194 million worldwide against a $36 million budget despite being utter shite. Now, long after anybody who saw that original film stopped caring and also long after the Sherlock Holmes re-interpretation bubble had burst, we got a sequel in the form of Sherlock Gnomes which swaps out one set of public domain historical figures for another but keeps the extremely ill-defined talking gnomes gimmick for reasons unclear. Unlike Gnomeo & Juliet, Sherlock is largely inoffensive and amiable enough; it’s not an affront to the medium of animation, enthralled with the worst traits of DreamWorks knock-offs from the mid/late-00s like its older sibling was. But what it gains in watchability it also loses in uniqueness and the bizarre happenstances that can only occur when your original film was the passion project of Elton John (for some completely unknowable reason). It comes down to whether you feel a vehement reaction to something is better than a film that just causes you to non-committedly shrug your shoulders.
Dir: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Star: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Chin Han
Back in July, during an entry in my infrequent What I’ve Been Watching series of articles, my entire write-up on Skyscraper was as follows: “I’ve seen it.” It may be the most vicious burn I have ever laid upon a film, given that I can seemingly get 500 words minimum out of absolutely anything. But Skyscraper really is that kind of movie. It plays for 100 minutes (and barely even that when credits are extracted), and when it’s over your heartrate has not changed, your memory retains absolutely nothing, and you’re 100 minutes closer to death than when you started with nothing to show for it. Skyscraper is in absolutely no way bad, but I am pretty certain this film was constructed from the ground up by an algorithm that’s been fed a steady diet of Die Hard rip-offs and D-list action vehicles sent straight-to-DVD with nonsensical loglines like “The Wolf of Wall Street on boats” – real movie, for the record – that end up nowhere near as interestingly bad as they sound.
Dir: Iain Morris
Star: Joe Thomas, Hammed Animashaun, Claudia O’Doherty
Apart from one extremely brief scene, which we’ll cover tomorrow, Iain Morris’ first major work following The Inbetweeners looked at the British music festival experience, as ripe for untapped comedy fodder as any premise you could think of, jotted down several pages of notes on potential jokes and avenues for relatable satire, got behind the camera… and just made The Inbetweeners again only this time nowhere near as good and with 300% more jokes about goat-fucking cults. I’m not sure what that has to do with the experience of spending a weekend at a music festival, but it speaks to how completely disinterested and wasteful The Festival is of its own premise. Perhaps because Morris wasn’t actually involved in the script, which means his extremely-limited sitcom-level direction is his only major contribution to the film (and even then he’s hardly unique in British feature comedies in that regard), that explains why The Festival ends up feeling like an Inbetweeners knock-off with none of the wit and just as much of the toxic misogyny, but that doesn’t stop it from being immediately disposable and lacking in effort. “Mr. Brightside” gets needle-dropped three times in almost 10 minutes; there’s no excuse for such blatant half-assing!
Dirs: Yarrow Cheney, Scott Mosier
Star: Benedict Cumberbatch (voice)
I did want to limit the number of animated features on this list to just the one, an emblematic entry of the wholly generic factory-issued kids’ animation that neither excels nor repels, which is why Sherlock Gnomes was on here and I didn’t also pump other entries full of cheap shovelware like Duck Duck Goose or whatever. But, in the field of “meh” releases from 2018, Illumination’s take on How the Grinch Stole Christmas really was the meh-est of the meh. Christ, it’s been barely six weeks since I saw the movie and I’ve already forgotten everything about it! Every other possible version of this tale eclipses it in some respect, even Ron Howard’s ghastly live-action one from 2000 since at least that had the balls to show some ambition. Illumination instead just slap some Dr. Seuss paint over their Despicable Me formula and call it a night, defanging their Grinch to such an extent that his decision to steal Christmas, the core of the entire story, actually ends up coming off as out-of-character somehow. Not a single risk exists here, a film so lacking in edge that it couldn’t even pop the most sensitive balloon, and instead this Grinch passes through both ends like a suppository. Once again, the Chuck Jones TV special is readily available on DVD for less than the cost of a single ticket for this Grinch.
Dir: James Marsh
Star: Colin Firth, Rachel Weisz, David Thewlis
Technically, I have seen James Marsh’s dramatization of Donald Crowhurst’s ill-fated attempt to sail around the world in a makeshift boat to win a famous open challenge, lying about his progress before eventually dying at sea lost and alone. Except, funny story, I was so utterly bored by The Mercy’s dreary, dramatically-inert, and workmanlike construction that I fell asleep during it. At least twice, in fact. According to my watchlist, I saw this after a day spent watching Tad the Lost Explorer and the Secret of King Midas (fascinatingly awful), Status Update (legendarily Bad Movie of the highest order) and Phantom Thread (brilliant) but before The 15:17 to Paris, so clearly I had had a long day and needed to recharge my batteries ahead of 15:17. That last film was also extremely boring, but I at least remember more of it than The Mercy which… I think there was a boat? Colin Firth maybe grew a beard at one point? It’s hard to say, that was 10 months ago and The Mercy was certainly no Status Update, let me tell you.
Tomorrow: the 20 best scenes of 2018.