One last “one last time” with these…
Salutations and welcome back to The 4th Annual Callum Petch Awards, an official-sounding slice of window-dressing that allows me to talk and gripe about the past year in movies a little more than I already do. If you missed yesterday’s stuff and nonsense, you can click on over here to go have a gander. Otherwise, we’re gonna blast through this in order to reach the list y’all actually give a shit about.
Winner: Alicia Vikander
I happen to think many of us got exactly what we deserved in 2018, with many film premises underwhelmingly realised not exactly sounding much better on paper and a lot of talented actors or actresses either slumming it with glazed-over eyes or balancing out their cack with better films in short order, so I really struggled to find an excuse to trot this category out for another go-around. But then I remembered that Tomb Raider was this year – oh, God, this really was the longest year to ever last a year – and now I’m just sad for Alicia Vikander again. Was it really only three years prior that she burst into our collective consciousness with a revelatory turn in Alex Garland’s Ex Machina, stole Guy Ritchie’s raucous The Man from U.N.C.L.E. out from under everyone else with ungoldly amounts of potent star power, and almost managed to redeem Tom Hooper’s offensive and pathetic The Danish Girl by being as brilliant as Eddie Redmayne was, well, Eddie Redmayne? It all feels like a lifetime ago, not just because of non-Film events but also because Vikander’s movies since then have been… quite shite? Let’s be generous and go with that.
And yet, even in spite of that, she’s never stopped giving it her all and trying to lift these films up through sheer bloody-minded willpower. Especially when it came to the Tomb Raider reboot, where Vikander got properly ripped, looked like a million bucks as a badass action star, and tried to coalesce the script’s random character traits into a cohesive Lara Croft only to be met by a film that couldn’t be bothered to do anything other than sell Vikander as someone who could get her arse kicked but then get straight back up to kick yours twice over. Throughout her post-2015 film choices, she’s always been compelling in spite of the films around her, but Tomb Raider was the moment that I really began to feel for her. She put in so much work! She tried so bloody hard to paper over the bare walls of the rest of the movie! Alicia Vikander deserves better. She’s deserved better for a while, but Tomb Raider was incontrovertible proof that her agent needs firing and films which cast her need to be willing to up their respective games. Maybe the dog days are finally coming to a close, she’s starring in Wash Westmoreland’s adaptation of The Earthquake Bird next year and last I heard is still attached for Ben Wheatley’s Freak Shift assuming Wheatley can focus on finishing a project before he randomly jumps to another one (like he already has), plus there’s the fact she’s still married to Michael Fassbender. I sure hope so. For now: Alicia Vikander deserves better. And Alicia Vikander’s Tomb Raider abs definitely deserved way better.
Runners-Up: A Futile and Stupid Gesture, Domhnall Gleeson, Linda Cardellini, Netflix Original Films that are actually good but get buried by the algorithm, The Festival’s premise
David Wain of The State, Children’s Hospital, Role Models, They Came Together (even if that one’s a bit more sporadic in quality), and Wet Hot American Summer plus its sequel series directing a biopic based around National Lampoon and its brilliant yet troubled mastermind Doug Kenney should have been an absolute slam-dunk of a thing, particularly with a ridiculously stacked cast of comic ringers in every single notable role and most of the bit parts. Instead, it was a fitfully entertaining and sometimes electrically-directed but supremely shallow cliff’s notes with, altogether now, nothing substantial to say about its subject. What a waste of a premise, cast, and game Will Forte.
Winner: Tom Hardy
I have three separate theories relating to what the fuck has happened to Tom Hardy, and which one I settle on shifts depending on the day and mood I am in. Theory #1] He got really lucky by appearing in a lot of really good films and television shows within a short period of time in roles that played to his limited skillset, minimised his weaknesses, and had a mysterious hot bad boy aura that made everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, go “yeah, I’d hit that,” so these past few years have been a wake-up call akin to Michael Fassbender. Theory #2] He’s got a particular skillset and niche he works best in, but his agent is a lunatic intentionally trying to sabotage his client’s career by stitching him up in terrible works with roles he is ill-equipped to handle. Theory #3] The first half of Theory #2 except that Hardy himself is the one picking the scripts and he just has the absolute worst taste in media plus, if the abysmal TV series Taboo which he co-created with Steven Knight and his father is anything to go by, a lot of deep-seated personal demons that (and I mean 100% sincerely) he should probably get some professional help about.
Whatever the case may be, Hardy’s in a real career nadir at the moment and, what’s worse, he doesn’t even seem to care. I’m not just talking about his project choices, either. His awful audition tape for the inevitable Jim Carrey biopic masquerading as his work for Venom is the worst I have ever seen him, particularly since the dual-performance is so asynchronous with the film he’s supposed to be starring in that it’s like he’s actively trying to pick up a Razzie! Logan Marshall-Green, Hardy’s suspiciously-similar-looking non-Union South Carolinan equivalent, put in a better Venom performance in Upgrade, Venom’s suspiciously-similar-looking non-Union Australian equivalent, one that was dramatically fitting and intentionally entertaining, both aspects that Hardy himself failed totally at. He’ll next appear as dementia-riddled Al Capone in Josh Trank’s Fonzo biopic, although that’s been pushed to some unspecified point in 2019, then we’ve apparently got another two seasons of Taboo coming down the pipeline, and irony officially went too far by making Venom one of the biggest hits of the year so we’ll get a sequel to that as well. None of this bodes well for the future of Hardy’s career but I hope to God that this is just a phase. Let us not forget he was in this situation before in the post-Star Trek: Nemesis years, so he’s proven he can bounce back. I just hope he wants to, for both my and his sake.
Falls Apart at the End (SPOILERS)
Searching’s final 15 or so minutes are stupid. They’re like the worst, least thought-through Black Mirror episodes fused together with the most contrived and sappiest Hollywood thrillers imaginable in order to create something so incredibly stupid that even I, one of the staunchest “the ending is not the be-all end-all” believers going, can’t pretend it doesn’t ruin all the preceding goodwill Aneesh Chaganty’s otherwise tense, smart and forward-thinking debut had built up. Prior to the reveal, Searching is a melodrama about an emotionally-stunted father unable to work through his grief over his wife’s death or help his teenaged daughter go through the same, the safe online spaces we have to retreat to when our home environment is unable to provide the emotional support we need, and the differences between our presented identities and our true selves both online and IRL, all ending in a cruel random twist of happenstance because this is a deeply misogynistic world where women are always at risk through no fault of their own. It’s a downer ending, to be sure, but it’s brave and thematically coherent and perfectly paced for an 80-minute movie.
…then the film keeps going because it’s actually 102 minutes and this is just the false ending before the case of Margot’s disappearance gets blown open. It turns out the whole thing was an elaborate cover-up: Margot’s online friend was really the mentally-ill son of Detective Vick who faked his identity with a stock photo because he had a crush on her, met up with her in real life by an abandoned lake in the dead of night without warning, and accidentally shoved Margot off a cliff into a ravine. Vick then covered up the accident to protect her son, took control of the case when David reported the disappearance, falsified Margot’s online records to make it look like she ran off to deal drugs because her dad was emotionally unavailable, and then pinned it all on an ex-convict she once worked with when David found Margot’s keychain at the ravine, drugging the ex-con and coercing him into suicide once he’d recorded an online confession. Oh, and Margot’s still alive because the freak storm that occurred on Day 3 of her disappearance, one which just seemed like an unlucky staller of David’s investigation of the ravine area, provided Margot enough water to be able to survive the week she was trapped down there with broken legs.
I fucking hate this ending. It’s stupid, it runs counter to the film’s entire philosophy towards technology and online presences beforehand by transforming into a dumbass cautionary tale, it’s stupid, it relies on an overdose of coincidences in order to pull a happy ending out of its ass, it’s stupid, it has to blatantly cheat from the ScreenLife conceit in order for the exposition dump required to have any of this make sense to occur, and did I mention it’s stupid? For 80 minutes, Searching is a refreshing and intelligent piece of brilliance. In almost 20 minutes afterwards, all that hard work ends up being for naught as it commits seppuku in front of the audience’s eyes.
Runners-Up: A Star is Born, Avengers: Infinity War, Solo: A Star Wars Story, The Children Act, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
This one’s more a “falls apart after the first act,” but, boy, was it ever disappointing to witness a dynamite premise like “Emma Thompson as a workaholic High Court Justice is told by her emotionally-neglected and low-key dickbag husband, Stanley Tucci, that he’s going to have an affair and she reels from the fallout” instead switch lanes into a stiffly buttoned-up Killing of a Sacred Deer knockoff with none of the lurid charm and Fionn Whitehead giving one of the worst performances of the year. Complex and rich premise that in reality is just a front for more of Ian McEwan’s insipid oedipal melodrama. Blech!
Winner: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
There was absolutely no reason to think that the decade later Mamma Mia! sequel/prequel was going to be any good, let alone genuinely delightful. The original Mamma Mia! was a cynical, lazy, slapdash affair whose chintzy patchwork construction lost any charm or inadvertent laughs it could possibly have provided by a tangible contempt for any and all audiences unfortunate enough to plonk down money to see it. It also barely had a narrative to begin with or any characters to care about, so it’s not like there were unanswered questions the fanbase needed resolutions to or beloved favourites to catch up with. And yet, Here We Go Again displayed stratospheric improvement upon the original and was a fun joyful (if overlong) time at the movies by, get this, having writer-director Ol Parker actually give a shit! There’s effort here! Better singers given more fitting numbers! Actual choreography which is easy to follow and logically mapped out! Funny jokes! A few properly entertaining characters! A narrative that’s involving enough to make the big moments work on levels other than nostalgic recognition at a particular ABBA tune! Cher chewing scenery for a few glorious minutes! Again, no classic or anything, but it’s incredible how even the most interminable of ideas can burst with infectious life so long as somebody in charge actually gives a shit.
For about an hour of Den of Thieves, I was somewhat tolerating another meat-headed Gerard Butler vehicle and whilst it was better than his usual average with these things, that’s really not saying much coming from the man who starred in Geostorm, London and Olympus Has Fallen, Gods of Egypt, The Bounty Hunter, etc. etc. But then, just over an hour into this bizarrely 140-minute movie, the darndest thing happened: Den of Thieves got really good. Once Christian Gudegast’s “Heat for bros and without any trace of subtlety ever” gets to the heist and its resultant aftermath, the film transforms on a dime into a properly tense and fun thriller, one that’s surprisingly complex and involved on the heist mechanics and a few twists that are just the right level of ridiculous. In fact, I’ll go further than that: Gudegast made Gerard Butler’s first good film ever! Then, eight months later, Butler starred in the snooze-fest Hunter Killer and all was once again right with the world.
Winner: A Wrinkle in Time
My problem with trying to find suitable candidates for this award from 2018 came down to the fact that a lot of the year’s most disappointing movies telegraphed their eventual disappointments well in advance so I could set my expectations accordingly and not get hurt as bad. But Ava DuVernay’s wildly ambitious adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, even whilst I knew going in that it would either be fantastic or a total trainwreck, broke my heart because it ping-ponged wildly between both of those extremes enough times for me to lament the fully-great movie it could have been. DuVernay’s Lisa Frank-inspired visual designs were gorgeous, Storm Reid made for a surprisingly capable anchor as Meg, the subtle additions of biracial dysphoria did not go unnoticed by me and hinted towards a defter hand that Wrinkle otherwise ignored in favour of a spinning-hammer-fist, and certain individual sequences (like Meg reuniting with her father and the climactic confrontation with IT) were excellent. But the rest of the movie collapses under the weight of leaden tin-eared dialogue, uncharacteristically sloppy direction, several really annoying characters and bewildering performances, and the sensation that somebody somewhere somehow was consciously holding back at all times, never allowing Wrinkle to fully take off into full-on weirdness.
Maybe that’s a Disney problem – The Nutcracker and the Four Realms similarly reeked of somebody suddenly revolting over the weird-ass nonsense that had initially been turned in and strip-mining said weirdness as fast as possible into something stuffy execs might find “acceptable” and “releasable.” Still, A Wrinkle in Time is an absolute mess that’s also good enough at the moments where it most counts to have the overriding feeling upon its conclusion be one of disappointment for the movie it so clearly could have been rather than just sliding off the consciousness as one more mediocre would-be blockbuster to add to the glut we’re unfortunately trapped in whilst Hollywood goes off chasing that China money.
Sincere question: in even a year’s time from now, when you’re in the mood for one of Brad Bird’s Incredibles movies, are you seriously going to reach for Incredibles II over the original? That’s an issue which faces almost every years-later sequel to a classic movie, which is why the best of those instead aim to be entirely different beasts that offer something new and unique from the original film whilst still recognisably being a part of them (see 2017’s bravura examples T2: Trainspotting and Blade Runner 2049). What you don’t do is stealth-remake the original film hoping nobody will notice whilst being inferior in almost every respect and never once shaking the slowly-creeping realisation that your much-anticipated and ballyhooed sequel is just a creatively-empty rehash of past glories. The only reason Incredibles didn’t take the gold is because I saw this exact outcome occurring based on Brad Bird’s previous decade.
It has indeed been the longest year to ever last a year and when you combine that with my ever-crippling emotional state and the fact that I saw 140 eligible movies across those 12 months, you can hopefully forgive me for spacing on films I otherwise enjoyed or loved at the time I saw them. That’s partly why I do those Year-End catch-up sessions where I mix in the films I missed with those which have faded from memory somewhat as the year rolled on. But time is finite, I set myself an ambitious and barely-manageable workload, and it certainly didn’t help losing a day to the soul-sucking Speed Awareness Course, so I didn’t manage to revisit a whole bunch of things. Here, then, are a selection of said films done dirty by time, volume, and this miserable year.
The Third Murder, You Were Never Really Here, Game Night, Journeyman, Funny Cow, Loveless, The First Purge, Whitney, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Golden Exits, A Simple Favor, The Little Stranger, Wildlife, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, First Man, Bad Times at the El Royale
The Films I Missed
To conclude the prelude to your personal Main Event, 140 movies is certainly a lot of Movie – I got an email from Cineworld the other day telling me that I saved £798 on tickets this year by being an Unlimited customer; I would genuinely be unable to do this were it not for that programme – but it is not every movie. I missed a ridiculous amount of big blockbusters, critically-acclaimed darlings, and total turkeys from these 12 endless months. As one last bit of clarifying housekeeping for the year, here is only a tiny sampling of the slightly more notable films I didn’t get to for one reason or another.
Zama, Mute, Peterloo, Roxanne Roxanne, Unsane, Cold War, A Fantastic Woman, Let the Sunshine In, Lean On Pete, McQueen, How to Talk to Girls at Parties, A Prayer Before Dawn, The Predator, American Animals, Unfriended: Dark Web, Suspiria, Hold the Dark, Shirkers, Shoplifters, any of the almost guaranteed-to-be-terrible Sky Cinema Originals
Tomorrow: the Bottom 10 for 2018 begins.
Callum Petch wants to be starting something.