By now you’ve probably had your fill of end of year lists. If you’re anything like me then you’ll have digested, pored over and tutted at list upon list of people’s personal film choices of the year. Most of these lists will be people’s top film choices of the year, and occasionally they will – as I did – also pick out their least favourites. But I always like to go the extra mile here at The Movie Evangelist, so I once again bring you my ten Most Resolutely Meh Films Of 2015.
That’s exactly what you’d expect: the ten films I felt most apathetic towards once I’d left the cinema. They’d occasionally excited me, sometimes appalled me but more often than not left me checking my watch and wondering if a toilet break may be more interesting. They’re the ones neither good enough to grace my Blu-ray collection, nor terrible enough to be appearing in a bargain bin near you within a week of release. While I spend an average of five hours a week in a cinema, these are the films that made me wish I’d found some paint to watch drying or perhaps had paid significantly more attention in cutting my toenails.
Here then are the ten films most likely to induce a cinematic coma from the past twelve months.
Ooh look, it’s all clever and it farts around inside and outside a theatre and looks like it’s a single shot even though it’s a conceit that neither really stands up not adds anything to the story. It’s also a very actorly film, with actors ACTING and being INTENSE and it hoovered up a bag of awards because most of them are voted for by actors. But it’s actually tiresome and trying and made me want to punch other people in the cinema in sheer frustration, and I’m not a violent man. Michael Keaton saved it from being truly terrible, and it has a couple of nice moments, but for a film that was supposedly the best thing since a sliced Steadicam it’s deeply unfulfilling.
9. The Night Before
Dante famously described in the first part of the Divine Comedy, Inferno, nine circles of Hell. Having passed through the gate marked “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here”, he then described a room covered in endless TV monitors. On each, there is another Seth Rogen / Evan Goldberg comedy, all now totally indistinguishable from each other, where occasionally a joke can be glimpsed from the corner of your eye, but where that joke remains tantalisingly, tortuously out of reach. Then the poet Virgil appears and reminds you that Superbad was actually quite funny but it was eight years ago.
8. Black Mass
For Christmas, I received a game which featured on the TV show Dragon’s Den. It consists of two piles of cards, one containing phrases and one containing accents. There is a game which you are supposed to play, but we found it much more entertaining to pick up a phrase card and an accent card and to just say the phrase in the accent, and hilarity generally ensues. This film is like that game, except all of the accent cards have been replaced with “Unconvincing Bostonian”. My girlfriend’s sister spent twenty minutes attempting to convey South African, but I reckon she could have had a better stab at a Boston drawl than Benedict Cumberbatch. Not only that, but Johnny Depp’s film career seems to have turned into a bizarre fetish dressing up party that we’re all invited to, and someone’s locked the doors so we can’t get out.
The world’s highest mountain, standing just short of nine kilometres above sea level where the wind chill can reduce the temperature to -60ºC, where the air is only one quarter oxygen and which the Tibetans call “Mother Goddess Of The Universe” and the Nepalese call “Forehead Of The Sky”. Sounds majestic and imposing, doesn’t it? But if I tell you that the first tweet was sent from the summit in 2005, somehow that dulls the magic, doesn’t it? Everest is the film version of that tweet, a dramatic retelling of a massive mountaineering tragedy that consists of people dying slowly in the cold and has no idea how to make any of it dramatically compelling.
Sorry, Jake Gyllenhaal. I thought you were exceptional in Nightcrawler. You were fascinating in Prisoners. You were charismatic in Source Code. You were compelling in Donnie Darko , and powerful in Brokeback Mountain. You grounded Zodiac, and even made End Of Watch watchable in places. But even you couldn’t save this turgid mess from its narrative cul-de-sacs and tedious riches to rags plotting. Even the fight scenes were about as satisfying as trying to eat a blancmange by falling asleep in it face first and hoping for osmosis to kick in. Southpaw isn’t terrible, but if it was on TV late at night you’d be channel flicking in half an hour.
5. American Sniper
Clint Eastwood is 85. That’s a fantastic achievement, but his films give the impression that he’s at least twenty years older. His direction has become fundamentally flawed, squeezing the interest out of almost every scene, to the point where he couldn’t even be bothered to disguise an obviously fake baby. But I wish that was the worst crime that the film had committed: for a Republican, Eastwood has made some surprisingly liberal films over the years but rather than making deep and meaningful points about the nature of war and the politics of the conflicts concerned, American Sniper is content to simply muddle through to its tacked on ending and to hope no-on cares.
4. Mr Holmes
I’m a sucker for a hot dog; if I wasn’t currently dieting to shed the Christmas pounds then I’d probably be feasting on one instead of dinner every time I visited the cinema. But imagine a hot dog with no dog: no matter how good the artisanal brioche bun might be, how good the finest ketchup or mustard slathered across the bun are, without the sausage all you’re doing is eating through a whole lot of uninteresting bread. In the latest of my series entitled “Obvious Food Analogies”, Mr Holmes is that hot dog bun and mystery solving is the sausage, because this is a film about the world’s greatest literary detective where he does barely five minutes of detecting. About as dramatic as watching Gary Neville go shopping for slippers.
3. Suite Française
Nope, this was so dull I really can’t remember much about it at all. I can remember Kristin Scott Thomas, but I’ve slightly cheated because I looked at the picture above. It doesn’t help that Michelle Williams and Mathias Schoenaerts both have faces that default to a setting so expressionless that you can feel your own emotions being slowly drained out through your eyeballs, your soul clinging desperately to their coat-tails so as not to have to sit through any more of this bland dollop of a film. It’s the kind of restrained, stiff upper lip film that feels allergic to emotion and would like very much to see if you can catch that allergy too. Good heavens, Kristin looks miserable, doesn’t she? I know how she feels.
2. The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
Do they make Hollywood stars from pouring botox into moulds these days and then stuffing in a monotone voice box, like a Build-A-Bear Factory for actors where you then get a choice of more expensive outfits? That surely is how they came up with Henry Cavill, but he’s so teeth-clenchingly dull that if he was ever cast as James Bond I’d spend the rest of my life trying to invent time travel so could go back and force Ian Fleming to write “Henry Cavill must never play Bond, he’s duller than toothpaste” in the front of every one of his novels. I’m not sure that anyone knows what the point of Armie Hammer is any more, either. I very much enjoyed a lot of Guy Ritchie’s earlier work, but this is a steaming pile of nobody cares that’s been rounded into an amorphous blob and polished until you can see your own tragic, despairing face and the hand holding a ticket for this film reflected in it.
The paragraph below the picture contains moderate spoilers for Spectre. If you’ve not seen it, you’ll probably go and watch it now, but don’t blame me, I tried to warn you.
What happened? Like waking up on Christmas morning to discover that all of your presents are just large boxes filled with sticks, Spectre promised a lot – not least from the excellent trailer, the high calibre cast and a returning director who did remarkably well on his debut – but delivered a film so lacking in genuine incident and spectacle after the opening titles that it almost beggars belief.
From a car chase where none of the gadgets were installed and the hero spends most of it on the phone to his boss’s secretary, to a sidekick who sets a world record for the shortest ever time being chased by bad guys, to a hunt for the villain that gets so lost it has to sit and wait to be collected, to a lair in which the villain that attempts to look menacing by employing a small room of people who could all be auditioning for a sequel to Steve Jobs and a finale whose action scenes are a man running around a building to zero effect before he briefly fires a small pistol at a helicopter before he doesn’t do anything else at all, Spectre is a catalogue of underachievement and failure from (ten minutes after the) start to finish.
Spectre became so hung up on nostalgia that it coasts by on past glories, rather than giving us anything to set our pulses racing anew. Even worse, it spurns golden opportunities to liven up otherwise dull, unimpressive sequences such as the plane chase with a dash of Bond theme. For achieving unheralded and unwanted levels in the fields of boredom and frustration, Spectre is my most resolutely “meh” film of the year. Double oh no.
Other specialist charts:
It’s Oscar night, and that means two things:
1. I’m going to bed because I’ve got better things to do than stay up until 5 a.m. watching an awards show when I will most likely bitch about the result.
2. If you’re reading this then you may actually be watching the ceremony. Good luck to you.
Having noticed a sudden spike in traffic of 100% today to my blog, mainly composed of people searching for the search terms “Oscar” and “scorecard”, although well done to the one person who arrived here by searching for “reese witherspoon can’t act” and, more bizarrely, the two people who both searched for “composition of air 3d pie chart”. Just for you two:
For the rest of you, here’s my completed scorecard for this year with my usual categories:
And here’s a blank one for you to fill in while you wait for Neil Patrick Harris to shuffle along:
Whatever you’re doing tonight, have fun!
The Pitch: What We Talk About When We Talk About Films With Dominating Technical Conceits Released In The Middle Of Awards Season.
The Review: Alejandro González Iñárritu was the first Mexican director to be nominated for an Oscar, but his back catalogue of films have a more serious reputation than those of his contemporaries Alfonso Cuaron and Guillermo Del Toro, the latter winning over the geek crowd with his highly detailed fantasies and the former becoming increasingly renowned for his long single takes in films such as Children Of Men and last year’s Gravity which saw an opening of seventeen minutes and you wonder if this left Iñárritu challenged to determine if it would be possible to construct an entire film in such a manner with modern technical wizardry just as applicable to the grounded, real world as it is to space, perhaps even more so if you restrict the movements of your characters to a single location, in this case a theatre where Michael Keaton’s tortured former superhero actor Riggan Thompson, star of the now defunct Birdman trilogy, is attempting an act of self-redemption with the production of a Broadway play in which his direction and acting are becoming unbalanced by his alter ego whispering provocatively in his ear even while his producer and lawyer friend (Zack Galifianakis) does his best to keep the sinking ship afloat, his daughter (Emma Stone) attempts to be an assistant while sorting out her own addiction issues and the last minute replacement (Edward Norton) brings a Method madness which complicates his role and threatens to derail the production before it gets to opening night after a series of previews which we see unfolding over the course of several days, possibly even weeks, as we and the characters roam the inner hallways, the stage, the roof and occasionally the streets of the theatre while the script by a team of writers including Iñárritu attempts to understand the conflict between acting and the nature of celebrity and how much one can be compromised by the other but the arguments feel dated and the pot-shots at the real life actors name checked in the early scenes feel cheap and unearned, Riggan’s silent partner of the gravelly Batman voice and seeming telekinetic ability proving further distractions and potentially exploring interesting ideas but like a hyperactive child attempting maths problems it never sits still for long enough to allow you to consider the solution, the tangents to the subplots involving Norton’s rooftop conversations with Stone and scenes with Riggan’s performer girlfriend (Andrea Riseborough) and his leading lady (Naomi Watts) offering some of the best character moments but sucking the momentum from the overall narrative which has the surface feeling of a stage play but in both its internal conceit and the overall effect lacks the natural vocabulary of either stage play or film, the first forty minutes in particular being a succession of scenes which are staged without any variation in tone or pitch and which become plagued by the fourth wall breaking jazz drum score from Antonio Sanchez which initially drives tension but increasingly becomes an irritant as the whole language of film is gradually dispensed with in a way that many have regarded as a supreme technical achievement – and it is – but never manages to rise above being anything more than that, and if by now you’re thinking that my attempt to write this entire review in a single sentence is even more of a a cheap trick than the one I’m calling attention to, then that’s exactly my point: as the play unfolds over two hours without the normal breaths and pauses that standard filming or cutting provides it became for me as punishing to watch as I presume reading this review has become for you and for that I genuinely apologise, if you haven’t given up already but then you wouldn’t been reading this part anyway so ignore me, and anyway you get the benefit of punctuation and the best the film can do to shake things up is a disappointingly brief but vibrant scene where Birdman is brought thrillingly to life, because the narcissistic fabrication that Iñárritu has fashioned so exhausted me with its constant demands to observe every element of the foreground and background and its inability to resolve any of its subplots to any degree of satisfaction that its only joy comes from within the moment, rather than by being able to appreciate the film as a complete work and maybe this another one of those cases like Magic Eye paintings where everyone who can do them thinks they’re brilliant but people like me who see differently find it commendable that so many others enjoy it but personally can’t help but be incredibly frustrated by the whole experience, and while many of those isolated moments are enjoyable, often filmed in long, technically demanding takes which undersell the efforts the actors would have invested in them, the end never justifies the means and the final irony being that half of the best moments are in the trailer but they’re actually more gratifying when taken out of context than assembled into an overwhelming stream of consciousness that hopefully means that now we’ve seen this once, in service of a story that’s less successful at skewering celebrity culture and acting than TV series such as The Larry Sanders Show were twenty years ago and one which also strives for magical realism but ends up confounding itself like a magic trick without a prestige, Iñárritu might stop attempting to one-up his fellow Mexicans and learn how to subvert standard narrative conventions as effectively as he did in his early films rather that in this award-baiting torture that is rightly earning plaudits for a Keaton renaissance and for strong work from the rest of the cast but which sadly doesn’t merit the remainder of the praise being heaped upon it.
Why see it at the cinema? If you want to play Spot The Joins, then you stand the best chance of doing that in the cinema. And good luck to you. Since pretty much every aspect of the production is ramped up to 11, you may as well do that with your viewing experience as well.
What about the rating? Rated 15 for strong language, sex references. If it’s come to the point where fourteen year olds can’t be allowed to hear two grown adults laying in bed and talking about having sex, which is what the BBFC extended classification info would seem to suggest, then maybe we should all give up and go home.
My cinema experience: The first of what I expect to be dozens of uses of my Cineworld Unlimited card, on this occasion at their Cambridge branch. Just a shame that I’d already paid to see it a week earlier at the Ritzy Picturehouse in Brixton before a clogged up motorway and a broken down train on the Central Line scuppered my plans.
The Score: 6/10