Well Ooh Trayers, it’s been another long year in movie land, and once again we reach the end, perhaps a little wiser, but certainly with less energy than when we last sat down and reflected 12 months ago. So now, as is customary, it’s time to look back to January – a more innocent time, and regurgitate the best, worst and very worst of what followed. Below are this year’s hot picks and flaccid dicks, followed by the annual jamboree that Hollywood skips breakfast for, the annual Whitfield Awards for achievement, or something like it, in the cinematic arts. Consume and look forward to a 2016 packed with goodies, including Justin Lin’s sober and cerebral Star Trek: Beyond, the much longed for remake of Ghostbusters, and Jesse Eisenberg. God speed.
Five of 2015’s Celluloid Beauties (Titles link to full reviews)
- Steve Jobs: Smart mouthed, economic biographing from Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin that conjures the essence of the subject and each era under glass in three theatrically staged acts. It flopped at the box office whereas Daddy’s Home made $38m in its opening weekend. Think about that when you’re popping corks at midnight.
- Crimson Peak: A sumptuous pastiche of Victorian Gothic Horror novels, with a bit of Bronte thrown in for good measure, that shows what happens when a full-blooded production is partnered with a great aesthetic. Box office flop.
- Aaaaaaaah!: Steve Oram imagines present day humans acting and communicating like apes, and much scathing, illuminating social comment follows. Largely unseen.
- Mad Max: Fury Road: It wasn’t deep but it was good. George Miller returned and made it new with a movie that was all style and stunts, but what style and what stunts! Who’d have thought any studio would stump up $140m for a balls out, unsanitised freak show. That gave you a little hope in humanity. The modest-good box office in a year when Avengers: Age of Ultron and Jurassic World scored a billion and a half each at global tills, took some of it away.
- Inherent Vice: Discombobulating and strange, this throwback to ‘70’s Robert Altman took us back to the culture wars (which is nothing to do with George Lucas) merging subjectivity and plot to rich effect. A call back to a glorious time when mainstream cinema had no interest in real world teenagers. Modest box office returns.
Honourable mentions: Whiplash (only not in the top five because it was technically a 2014 movie), Enemy, Sicario, Mississippi Grind.
Five of 2015’s Oily Film Stools
- Terminator Genisys: James Cameron destroyed what little trust remained in his storytelling abilities when he endorsed this shameless slab of Terminator fan fiction that, apparently with the creator’s blessing, obliterated the first two movies (i.e. the ones people like) from canonical existence. Like J.J Abrams’ take on Star Trek, the logic seemed to be that if it’s venerated and poured over by a dedicated and patient fan base then it should be destroyed. The result was a movie that broke established rules, mangled old plots and comprehensively killed a cash cow. ‘He loved you,’ said the new Kyle Reese to the new Sarah Connor, speaking of none other than Arnie’s T-800. In the wise words of Morrissey, ‘come, come, nuclear bomb’.
- Get Hard: Rich Will Ferrell’s going to prison so hires Kevin Hart, who’s black, so almost certainly familiar with choky, to teach him how to survive on the inside. Like everything Ferrell does these days it’s a 3-minute sketch stretched to feature length, but it’s the addition of shrieking irritant and Chris Tucker DNA lab experiment, Hart, that makes a mirthless setup almost unwatchable. Once it’s over, the prospect of getting hard again is zero.
- The Boy Next Door: Unlikely English teacher and closet cougar J-Lo falls for bookworm and homicidal half-her-age madman, Ryan Guzzman, in Rob Cohen’s by-the-numbers schlock fart. In the right hands it could have been end to end madness. In Cohen’s, it’s pedestrian and lazy. Ultimately J-Lo is reunited with her cheating husband and her family’s restored. We’re supposed to feel good about this, but don’t, as we’ve been willing her murder on for 90 minutes.
- Jupiter Ascending: Chatum “Channing” Tatum and the Wachowskis – how did it go wrong? Though Eddie Redmayne rightfully won an Oscar for his spot-on depiction of intergalactic warlord, Balem Abrasax, the film’s soon in trouble with lines like ‘tonight the sky is full of miracles’ and ‘bees don’t lie’. What, then, would a bee audience have to say about the empty spectacle and a sleepwalking Mila Kunis? Perhaps it’s best we can’t ask them.
- Pixels: An 8-bit plot and Adam Sandler at his most disinterested, sunk this high-concept bomb that hoped to use the Ghostbusters template to make blockbuster material from the world of retro-gaming. Unfortunately, director Chris Columbus doesn’t do the work required to match the aforementioned ‘80’s comedy…or indeed any work at all. The kind of movie you download and watch when you’re ill, then forget you’ve seen until years later when you catch it on TV and half-remember some of the colourful effects. ‘Wait, I think I’ve seen th- er, have I seen this? I don’t know. Maybe not.’
Dishonourable mentions: Sisters, Chappie, Fifty Shades of Grey, Mortdecai, Taken 3
The 2015 Whitfield Awards Sponsored by Shia LaBeouf:
The Unseen Shaving Award: Chris Hemsworth – In the Heart of the Sea: In Ron Howard’s waterlogged adventure, sea dog Hemsworth was at sea for 15 months before his ship was destroyed by a whale fed on growth hormones, yet his hair and beard grew not one millimetre. Only later, when stranded, did Howard remember to give him a beard. That, or the shaving kit sank with the Essex. You decide.
The Variation on a Theme Award: J.J Abrams – Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Abrams’ monster hit plays it safe by reusing the story beats from the original Star Wars and adding variations so that legally he can claim he’s made a new film. The audience didn’t care of course, and maybe it didn’t matter because at least there weren’t any racial caricatures or debates in the Republican senate. Still, with just one new scene it was a tough watch for neophiliacs.
The Merry Fucking Christmas Award: Krampus: The weather outside was frightful but the seasonal mayhem was delightful in this enjoyably demented festive horror comedy that made you feel good about the holiday using reliable standbys like child abduction, killer biscuits and gun nuts.
The Train Travel on Film Award: Spectre: Most of the action in Sam Mendes’ second Bond was a dog but he (or perhaps his AD) got it very right in the film’s in no way indebted to From Russia With Love train fight between Daniel Craig’s sourpuss and evil Man Mountain, David Bautista. A carriage was destroyed, windows broken and an on-board dinner ruined. If the whole movie had been like this, Spectre would have been one of the year’s best, but 3 great minutes in 148 wasn’t enough.
The Ben Whishaw Award for Thankless Bit Parts: Ben Whishaw: On TV Whishaw did magnificent work in London Spy, trying to uncover the truth behind the murder of his lover, unceremoniously stuffed into a suitcase. Yet on film, in Spectre, Suffragette and In the Heart of the Sea, he was strictly background; a testament to casting directors’ belief that he’s best used to shore up the on screen presence of someone else. Might we see even less of him in 2016? How would we know?
The Easiest Gig of the Year Award: Joint Winners – Michael Caine (The Last Witch Hunter) and Mark Hamill (Star Wars: The Force Awakens): It’s a photo finish for two actors who got top billing but only had to put in a day’s work on their respective projects. Caine’s character was cursed in Vin Diesel’s fantasy actioner (in-story, I mean) so spent most of it asleep, while Hamill, returning as pop cultural colossus, Luke Skywalker, wasn’t even obliged to speak, merely turn to face Daisy Ridley’s Rey and look pained. It was a great facial turn from Hamill, and cheap for Disney who didn’t have to pay him the union rate for a speaking part.
The Most Overdirected Scene of the Year Award: Alfonso Poyart – Solace: How complicated does a scene featuring two people talking in a kitchen have to be? The established answer is “not very” but Poyart proved he was no slave to received wisdom by handholding the shit out of a simple conversation between Anthony Hopkins and Abbie Cornish in his psychic serial killer thriller. Your eyes struggled to gain purchase on the visuals, the composition seemed at odds with the dull exposition. You wondered, will the whole film be like this? It wasn’t, but man that was a tense couple of minutes for an audience at the beginning of a movie they’d approached blind and were now wondering whether to stick with.
The Arrogant Frenchman Award: Joseph Gordon-Levitt – The Walk: Levitt played Phillipe Petit, the man who walked between the twin towers of the World Trade Center with the aid of visual effects. Man, he was arrogant. An arrogant Frenchman.
The Great and Terrible Performance in the Same Movie Award: Tom Hardy – Legend: Hardy played the Kray Twins in this glib biopic, on one hand convincing as Ronnie Kray, on the other camp and silly as Reggie…or was that the other way round? Still, no one could say they didn’t get their money’s worth.
The Bodes Badly for Ghostbusters Award – Spy: Paul Feig’s comedy was set in a heightened chuckle universe in which everyone mugs, shouts and exists purely as a broad comic character, interacting exclusively with other broad comic characters. What hope then, that Feig’s 2016 remake of the 1984 blockbuster will replicate its grounded tone and emphasis on wit rather than shtick? On this evidence: little.
The “I wish it had been directed by Paul Verhoeven” Award – Fifty Shades of Grey: Who, but a fool, could have read E.L. James’ fuck lit sensation and imagined that what the filmic treatment required was tastefully shot sex and low-key exchanges? No, what this crap needed was master of excess, Paul Verhoeven, director of Basic Instinct and Showgirls, who knew what to do with this book before it was written. Did he even get a call? Sadly, one suspects not.
The Characters are Cocks Award – Focus: Glen Ficarra and John Requa’s grifter flick featured a smug con artist and a double crossing feminoid with no morals, who were as perfidious as their marks. What, we wondered, was the incentive to root for them when their real-world equivalents would fleece you for everything you had without a second thought? By movie’s end we were none the wiser.
Until 2016, lunatics.