2015 was a wonderful year for film, but the world of film takes as much as it gives. I’ve given many good reviews this year (perhaps one too many, for those of you who are expecting a little more cynicism out of your film critics), but don’t worry, I’m more than capable of having my ire raised by a fair few films, as you dear readers have seen.
But as we begin to look back on the end of 2015, I don’t want to focus just on films that were straight up terrible. There’s no point in being yet another to join in the chorus of boos for ill-conceived adaptations, dramatically inert films shoved into the back corners of release schedules or films by Adam Sandler.
Instead, I want to focus on the most disappointing films. At some point, all of these films absolutely had the potential to be something great or something good or at least something watchable. But somewhere along the way, things got fumbled and all they ended up doing was letting us down.
They may have soured me on a director, a franchise, let me down on a debut or just straight up pissed me off. They may be anything from a biopic to a major franchise picture, but uniting them is the feeling of disappointment.
I’ll say this for Freeheld. Unlike any other film on this list, it made me feel something besides disappointment or anger. I did cry, because to be frank, you’d have to be made of stone to not feel something. It’s a tragic love story between a dying Julianne Moore and, well, a dying Julianne Moore is doing most of the heavy lifting here.
But just because a film made me cry doesn’t mean a thing. To be frank, I’m a film wimp, and any nominally manipulative film might be able to pull it off. And that base emotional manipulation is all it’s got going for it. Because past that, it’s got filmmaking that would make a Hallmark film seem particularly innovative and a script that ranges from solid Nicholas Sparks territory to resonantly dull PSA work.
Freeheld is also visited with some of the worst miscasting I’ve seen in a while. Ellen Page is cast as Moore’s uncomfortably young love interest and seems to be playing it like an overly earnest theater actor, and legendary insane scene-chewer (and personal hero) Michael Shannon is given the dull-as-dishwater tolerant cop role in a complete waste of his talents.
What’s such a shame is that their story is an important one to tell. It’s a reminder of the struggles people have gone through for their rights as little as a decade ago, and the progress that has been made and more that is still to be made. Yet, a clumsy and poorly made film muddles the importance of that message.
The screenwriter of 2012 favorite Chronicle seemed to be capable of clever idea generation and a sense of effusive joy in creation that got over structures which could be called rigid at best and uninteresting at worst.
But American Ultra’s sloppy construction and Victor Frankenstein’s tragically terrible … everything challenged my faith. A recent string of loud internet conversation led me to understand that my problems with this film rest squarely at his feet. The film has no reason to exist besides “Wouldn’t it be cool if …” and it’s saddled with a terribly non propulsive sense of story without a single interesting narrative line.
But don’t worry, Landis. Much of the blame also rests with director Paul McGuigan, who gives the film a confusing sense of action geography and shot coverage and can’t seem to pull his actors all into the same film, with Daniel Radcliffe underplaying as much as James McAvoy is overplaying.
But still, I really wanted to like Max Landis. And this film showed me why that’s a misplaced hope.
This year was full of amazing franchise revivals. Creed, Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens all showed that just because the franchise was close to dead doesn’t mean we can’t visit it with a bit of necromancy.
Terminator: Genisys showed that maybe not every franchise needs a revival. Especially one as sloppily made, poorly cast and unexciting as this one is. Exchanging the instantly watchable Linda Hamilton for the inconsistent Emilia Clarke as Sarah Connor and the badass Michael Bien for Hollywood’s most generic man Jai Courtney as Kyle Reese did not bode well. Neither did old man Arnold Schwarzenegger as the least convincing Terminator.
But it would have been something if it had been able to add one damn new thing to the franchise. Parts of the film that weren’t simply remixes of Terminator and T2 were a grab bag of terribly written time travel clichés. Foreign grosses mean that this franchise will continue, but god do I wish someone would scrap this one already.
Joining in with Victor Frankenstein in the business of “making the memories of Chronicle just a little sadder” is Fox’s third attempt to fulfill their contractual obligations with Marvel and make a Fantastic Four film. This time, they suckered the director of Chronicle, Josh Trank.
Or at least, let him make about half the film. Enough behind-the-scenes drama for three films went on with this one, leading to a single film that was made clearly by two different creative voices when someone else took over.
The first half is interesting if not great, a narrative that turns super powered mutations into disabilities and is more than willing to indulge in the body horror aspects of their mutations, even if it takes way too long to get there. This is Trank’s half of the film, and it could have been something.
But the slow trainwreck becomes a full disaster in the studio-led second half, marked by a clear shift of tone and a bizarre wig change for Kate Mara’s Sue Storm. From this point, the film is a generic and abysmally written attempt at pulling off a Marvel Studios film from a group that doesn’t quite get them. Fant4stic is also blessed with one of the worst third acts in action film history.
The third attempt was not the charm for the Fantastic Four, which is a shame for such a colorful, interesting and rich comic book property. But this dull gray tire-fire of a film is simply none of what a Fantastic Four film could be.
To be honest with you, this is the first one on the list I actually tried to like. You see, this is the directorial debut of Ryan Gosling. And instead of settling for the standard actor to director transition where he makes little talk heavy-dramas that show off how well he can work with actors, he decided to make something profoundly weird and explicitly visual.
Pulling from directors like David Lynch, Nicholas Winding Refn and Dario Argento, you’ve gotta give Lost River this: It’s pretty and it shows a handle of disturbing and interesting imagery that most directors take a while to attain.
And that’s about it. While the visual sense is striking, the script is absolutely nothing, none of the actors seem to know who or what they’re playing and the film simultaneously feels too long and too short.
Lost River should have been the announcement of the next great visual artist out of an actor that keeps surprising us. But it’s simply too confusingly terrible to be able to appreciate. Give it another shot Gosling, you can do this.
There was so much hope for Neill Blomkamp. District 9 was as much an announcement of a new artist as it was a smash hit. A big-budget debut film not only doing well but being nominated for a Best Picture Oscar was nothing if not the sign of the next great thing. Blomkamp brought intelligence and social relevance to the big blockbuster sense of scale and design.
Then came Elysium and we all got nervous. And then came Chappie and we realized District 9 was a fluke and we all got sad.
It is impossible to understate the monumental stupidity of Chappie. Every decision is baffling from beginning to end. Casting the South African rap group Die Antwoord as themselves in the most ill-conceived fourth wall break in film history. Tonal shifts that are grounds to sue for whiplash. Giving subtitles to the one character who actually seems to be enunciating in the whole film. And scene after scene of ill-strategised plot and performance from a director who thought we should damn well know better.
At least, we thought he did.
At some point, James Bond just needs to be James Bond. Casino Royale promised an update of Bond for a new generation, one that would remove some of his past shagginess and give him shadings and struggles. Skyfall looked as though it would finally move us towards that in one of the most stylish and thrilling Bond films yet.
Spectre not only moved way backwards on that promise, giving us yet another damned origin story for Bond, adding more unnecessary points to his history, fundamentally misunderstanding why or what we care about James Bond.
It’s also gifted with the worst plot twist this year. It’s so bad that it not only screws up the film, but it screws up all the films that came before it. It’s a rare twist that has a ripple effect, but Spectre is just that fundamentally wrong-headed.
But beyond the simple bungling of the Bond ethos and history, Spectre is fundamentally screwed up in its own construction. More than a few unmemorable action sequences and wasted actors and terribly written plans make this film an absolute bore in its best moment and a slog at its worst.
Bond has survived worse, but we were definitely expecting more from this one.
For fans of original sci-fi, this was a tough one. It’s weird. It’s so fundamentally weird, so visually interesting and so major league ambitious that you just want it to succeed. And the Wachowskis are the kinds of clever and interesting filmmakers that you want to succeed. And while they’ve maybe not succeeded commercially, they’ve constantly made something interesting and exciting every time.
But this time, it just didn’t work at all. No one seemed to know what was going on besides Eddie Redmayne and the Wachowskis, at least in their role as directors. This resulted in a film that looked like operatic and original sci-fi and had a sufficiently melodramatic villain.
It also resulted in a film with a script that had simply baffling world construction and horrifyingly cringeworthy dialogue. It resulted in a group of actors that mostly seem to wander around dazed and confused, like they’d been kidnapped, drugged, dropped onto a green screen and told to act.
Jupiter Ascending was the Wachowskis’ last ditch effort to bring their brand of weird and wonderful sci-fi to the blockbuster world, but they bungled it so hard, I find it hard to believe we’ll see them on the silver screen again anytime soon.
The chief pain of Aloha is the final nail in Cameron Crowe’s coffin. The writer and director of such wonderful films as Fast Times at Ridgemont High (only credited as writer), Almost Famous and Say Anything has churned out sugary, stupid piece of crap after sugary, stupid piece of crap since about 2001.
Aloha confirmed not only that Crowe was out of ideas as a storyteller, but that he may have lost any abilities he previously had to make a film. Aloha is a generic romance wrapped up in a jaw-droppingly dumb military thriller story. His dialogue sounds like someone parodying Crowe himself. The actors seemed stripped of their charm. He doesn’t even seem to be able to construct a scene anymore. Scenes are absolutely incoherent both internally and in their connection to the next scene.
If you told me Aloha was directed by some brand new director, I’d expect to never see them work again. But knowing Crowe directed it fills me with a sadness too deep for words and just as intense a desire to cry and watch Almost Famous and remember what once was.
To reappropriate the quote of the late great Roger Ebert, when speaking about North, “I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie.”
I hated the smug, self-satisfied arrogance of this piece of absolute trash holding its nose up to its own audience and declaring that it was stupid for wanting exactly what the film gave it, for telling the audience it was wrong for wanting sweets and giving them a buffet of ice cream.
I hated the fact that in a year of wonderful female performances and characters this thing decided that the lead female character didn’t need an ounce of substance or shading, but just plot functioning.
I hated how unnecessarily mean and cruel this film was in a year of blockbusters that were capable of great humanity.
I hated the fact that this thing didn’t have a damn thing it wanted to say besides how stupid its audience is and how great films before it were. That Jurassic World didn’t have an ounce of identity that wasn’t instantly replicable by two nerds breathlessly talking about their last rewatch of Jurassic Park.
I hated the absolute waste of great actors, that this film took a charming and interesting actor like Chris Pratt and gave him the same square-jawed, empty-headed, icon of mid-2000s masculinity that every other damn hero seems to seems to need.
I hated that there seemed to be not one thought in its head of how to construct its story, of how nakedly the whole thing felt like a cash-grab.
And most of all?
I HATED THAT IT WORKED. I hate that this thing made 1.5 billion dollars. I hate that the director of this film was gifted to direct Star Wars: Episode IX. I hated that I know we’re gonna see god knows how many more films that do their best to imitate the success of this film.
I felt disappointed in the Jurassic franchise, I felt disappointed in the writer and director Colin Trevorrow, and I felt disappointed in the moviegoing public for giving this thing the attention that it absolutely didn’t deserve. That’s why this one rests firmly and undoubtedly as the most disappointing film of the year.