30 December 2015

The Mad Prophet's Bottom 10 Films Of 2015

I don't use this blog much any more, but if you can find more of my entertainment-related writings on Den of Geek and Vodzilla, or follow me on Letterboxd.

Once again, 2015 has been a pretty great year for cinema- either that or I've just decided to avoid most of the worst fare on offer. Before we get into the really good stuff from this year, (of which there was a lot) here's a list that was much easier to compile- the bottom 10.

There aren't many glaring omissions here- if I'd missed Bradley Cooper's other 2015 offerings, American Sniper might have made it on the list at the beginning of the year, and you know it's been a solid year for tripe when erotic non-starters Fifty Shades Of Grey and The Boy Next Door manage to stay out of the bottom ten. As good as this year was, there was definitely worse stuff out there...

10. Solace
Dir. Afonso Poyart // Cert. 15 // 101 mins // USA
In the final season of 30 Rock, network executive Jack Donaghy deliberately tries to tank NBC by greenlighting (and even starring in) dreadful shows like the supernatural procedural God Cop. There's nothing in real life that resembles it so much as Solace, in which Anthony Hopkins' psychic teams up with Abbie Cornish's psychologist.

For the first hour, it's sub-US pilot season tosh, but what puts this in the number 10 spot, below the aforementioned also-rans but above the rest, is that you wind up empathising more with Colin Farrell's character, an insane serial killer who also has psychic powers, than any of the good guys, even though you know he's completely wrong. He's the only one who showed up to work awake, but he can't get it out of its rut.

Low point: Hopkins goes full Derek Acorah during a car chase, adding an internal TomTom to his inventory of ill-defined abilities.

9. Mortdecai
Dir. David Koepp // Cert. 12A // 106 mins // UK/USA
Johnny Depp has made enough money from dressing up as a pirate every couple of years that he can afford to do whatever he wants in between. The results are mixed, but like his work or not, he's in the "fuck you" tier of the Hollywood rich list. To a cringe-making bore like Mortdecaimost of us can say "fuck you" right back.

It's such an unfunny vanity project, it hardly bears reviewing- an air crash investigation might be more appropriate for a film in which almost every choice leaves you gasping "How did this happen?" Aside from Paul Bettany's mildly enjoyable grunt work, it's completely dreadful and I still can't decide if it's actually racist towards British people. And yet somehow, it's still the least offensive of the bad comedies on this list.

Low point: A (literal) running gag about Mortdecai's "sympathetic gag reflex", which honestly actually made me feel physically sick the more times it was repeated.

8. Aloha
Dir. Cameron Crowe // Cert. 12A // 105 mins // USA
One of my favourite first time viewings of this year was Say Anything, so I can only imagine how disappointing Crowe's decline is for anyone who's been a fan of that modern classic for longer than I have. Aloha is a baffling failure that drags down an absolutely stellar cast, including Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, Bill (fucking) Murray, Alec Baldwin, Danny McBride and John Krasinski.

But like American Sniper and one other film on this list, it's all squandered in worship of an omnipotent Bradley Cooper character with personal issues- namely, these issues involve him being a raging arsehole. Aside from the DOA romantic comedy angle, this flounders with run-on exposition over its weird and wide-ranging plot (think Interstellar meets Moonraker, but with no stakes whatsoever) and features many great actors doing their very worst work.

Low point: Emma Stone's Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a quarter native Hawaiian, quarter Chinese fighter pilot whose breathy pre-coital banter includes the gem "I've never been shot." Reader, I nearly pissed myself laughing.

7. Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2
Dir. Andy Fickman // Cert. PG // 94 mins // USA
Six years on from the implausible success of Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 comes right at the peak of the franchise's popularity by sending the hapless part-mall part-cop (I think I'm understanding this right) to Las Vegas for a security guard convention. There's a heist to foil too, but for at least an hour, that's all that passes for a plot.

With the usual mirthless mix of juvenile slapstick and genuinely unsettling humour you can expect from Happy Madison Productions, Kevin James tools his way through more jokes about hypoglycaemia and falls over about 20 more times. At this rate, they've got until 2021 to figure out how they're going to lower the bar any further for a third instalment and if nothing else, that will be some great feat of cinematic limbo.

Low point: Blart and a slobbering fellow "officer" drunkenly harass a woman who is credited only as "Attractive Lady". I don't know why, but this was the last straw.

6. Get Hard
Dir. Etan Cohen // Cert. 15 // 107 mins (extended cut) // USA
At least everyone involved in Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 thinks they're funny. Most of the people involved with Get Hard should (and demonstrably do) know better than they're letting on here. In a quasi-update of Trading Places, Will Ferrell's whiter-than-white collar criminal begs a black employee, played by Kevin Hart, for advice on how to avoid being raped in prison, which is simultaneously the most racist and the most homophobic premise for any film this year.

It has none of the properties you want from a comedy and all of the properties that you don't- it's slack, predictable, over-long and tedious, on top of that racism and homophobia thing. It's hard not to get a couple of chuckles out of Will Ferrell, but marooned without a good director and/or a shrewd editor, the hit rate is much lower than it needs to be to even begin to justify the tasteless logline.

Low point: There are any number of women who look good in lingerie who don't have as much comedic timing and acting talent as Alison Brie has in her pinky finger, so her "character" is a sad waste of her other talents. Oh yeah, and all the racist and homophobic stereotypes are bad too.

5. American Heist
Dir. Sarek Andresyan // Cert. 15 // 94 mins // Canada/Luxembourg
Repeat offender Hayden Christensen produced and starred in this clich├ęd post-recession heist movie that is loosely based on the 1959 Steve McQueen (getaway) vehicle, The Great St. Louis Robbery, but also rips off everything from Dog Day Afternoon to The Town. From the title down, American Heist is generic in every conceivable way, as Christensen's Jimmy is roped into one last bank job with his recently released convict brother Frankie, played by Adrien Brody on absolutely terrible form.

Craftily taking advantage of the post-Katrina tax incentives of filming and basing the movie in New Orleans, this is a handsome but high-falutin' and supremely amateurish entry into a well-worn genre. It's so craven in its adherence to the same old tropes that it should have been impossible to get wrong, but just like Jimmy and Frankie, who are bound together in brotherly love and brotherly incompetence alike, it just had to fuck it up.

Low point: Just like his character, Academy Award winner Adrien Brody isn't smart enough to take the money and run without making a damn fool of himself first. He goes absolutely bananas while Frankie hysterically describes his experiences in prison, ("They fucked me in the ass with toothpaste!" is one of the lines of the year, but not in a good way) to persuade his brother that they need to risk going... back... to prison? Far from being poignant, it's the stuff of future YouTube memes.

4. Taken 3
Dir. Olivier Megaton // Cert. 12A // 109 mins // France
In a better version of this film, Liam Neeson's Bryan Mills becomes so depressed at the number of Europeans he has murdered over the course of the trilogy that he suffers a psychotic break and blames his 21-year-old daughter's giant stuffed panda for the murder of his wife, Lenore. Alas, we only got Taken 3, a rancid, last-gasp sequel in which nothing is taken but "the piss".

After roundly slating the macho fantasy of the first two films on their respective press tours and twice promising "never again", the studio had to pay Neeson $20m to return and he has all the energy you'd expect from someone who's only here for the paycheck- he never even has to leave American soil to kill foreigners this time. Elsewhere, reprising his character from The Shield, (twice removed via the American Dad parody) Forrest Whittaker leads the cops who believe Bryan is dangerous and needs to be taken into custody. As the series turns its own broiling xenophobia inwards, it's hard to disagree with them.

Low point: Any scene in which Megaton cuts around Neeson running or fighting. This does him no favours whatsoever, especially when we're expected to buy that he's besting adversaries who are half his age.

3. Terminator Genisys
Dir. Alan Taylor // Cert. 12A // 126 mins // USA
The irony of this film having villains who cannibalise the past in order to keep on keeping on is almost too much to swallow. Intended to start a new trilogy right up against a deadline for the franchise rights, Terminator Genisys is blockbuster filmmaking at its most cynical. The first three Terminator movies have already covered the cat-and-mouse plot structure, but far from breathing new life into that template, Genisys zombifies it.

The target audience seems to be people who know the previous films inside out but don't actually like them that much. It's a literal desecration of the story so far, pushing way too hard on fan service and delivering shockingly little in the way of entertainment value. Thanks to relentlessly dreadful performances from Jai Courtney, Emilia Clarke and Jason Clarke, the only novelty here is that this is the first time that Arnold Schwarzenegger has ever given the best performance in a movie- it's still not even in his top three turns as this character.

Low point: Its crimes are legion, but the point at which you go "fuck this movie" is the incoherent chase on the Golden Gate Bridge, culminating in a shockingly misjudged mugshot montage to the tune of Inner Circle's Bad Boys. That's when you know it's fucking done professionally...

2. Burnt
Dir. John Wells // Cert. 15 // 101 mins // USA
This is perhaps the least appetising film about food ever made. The endless competencies of the characters Bradley Cooper has played leave me terrified that he's about to star in a Buckaroo Banzai remake. But more than a real-life war hero, a military-grade space expert and the smartest man alive, Burnt's Adam Jones is lionised above all. Once again, he's a raging arsehole, because reasons. Genius reasons.

If Will Ferrell had made this exact script but played it for laughs, it wouldn't be up there with his best work, but it would be of a set with Talladega Nights and Semi Pro. Played straight, it's occasionally hilarious without meaning to be (Good Morning Britain has Adam on as a guest, expressly to complain that not enough people came to his exclusive restaurant opening) but mostly completely infuriating. After the year he's had, one hopes that next year, Bradley Cooper will find himself able to drop the pretence and spend more time licking his own spunk off a mirror instead.

Low point: In the worst cameo of the year, poor Uma Thurman plays gay food critic Simone, who apparently wakes up every morning and says to herself "Simone, you're a lesbian, so why did you sleep with Adam Jones?" Plus, the scene where Adam mansplains the Whopper to a fellow chef, seemingly while fulfilling the terms of a hefty Burger King product placement deal, while also saying things like "I don't want my restaurant to be a place where people sit and eat."

1. Unfinished Business
Dir. Ken Scott // Cert. 15 // 91 mins // USA
My bottom three for this year are pretty interchangeable, but as much as I despair at Genisys and despise Burnt, I definitely know what was the worst film I saw this year. Unfinished Business is a kit-bashed answer to The Hangover and Horrible Bosses, but it has even less charm than any of the sequels to those successful R-rated comedies. 

Swarf salesmen Vince Vaughn, Dave Franco and Tom Wilkinson(!) partake in a succession of raunchy setpieces in a kind of carnivalesque Germany where the G8 summit, the Berlin marathon and (most cringily) an international gay fetish festival all take place in the same week, and that's just about it for the plot. Even when bending plausibility to its whims, it can't get a single laugh out of it.

Scott and Vaughn charted in my bottom 10 of 2014 with the paternity confusion comedy Delivery Man, but in retrospect, this utterly joyless slog makes that look like the feel-good laugher of last year. I could go on and on about why this is the worst of the year, but it's damned by its own choice of wacky occupation. Swarf sellers pass on the detritus from wood and metal manufacturing processes to other buyers and Unfinished Business feels like nothing so much as cinematic swarf- the leftovers of an industrial process, made from the scrapings of more successful comedies and the filings of its ensemble's integrity and finally sold on by unlikeable douchebags in suits.

Low point: It's singularly depressing to see actors like Wilkinson and Nick Frost here, but the actual lowest point is any time that Franco is on screen, essaying a Simple Jack-level naivete and rambling on joylessly about his special school and arggggh.

Right, fuck those movies and that's enough of that. Come back tomorrow for my rundown of my favourite films of the last 12 months. It's all gonna be alright!

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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