These films are caught in the shallow now.
You would think in The Year of “Eh,” that I wouldn’t have had much trouble putting together a Bottom 10 list. After all, as I always mention, these are not Worst Films lists, rather focussing on stuff that offended my soul, so anything which left me fuming or bitterly disappointed or sat shaking my head and muttering “why do I do this to myself?” should have moved straight into list contention with a bountiful suite of options to cherry-pick from. Two key problems with that hypothesis, dear reader. The first is that you woefully underestimated just how miserably “eh” 2018 was for the movies. There was a Sony-made American Peter Rabbit movie starring James Corden as the voice of Peter that decided Beatrix Potter should instead be more like Bugs Bunny if Bugs Bunny cartoons were made by obnoxious hacks with access to needle-drops by Rancid and Yolanda Be Cool… and even that theoretical abomination was just “eh.” I was all prepared to get righteously livid at this desecration of a beloved English institution, flames on the side of my face, and it turned out to be for naught because the film was too just fucking dull to work up any sustained anger over – and also Domhnall Gleeson does good Yosemite Sam even if, again, wrong rabbit franchise.
The second key problem with your presumptive hypothesis involves having failed to account for the fact that 2018 was an absolute fucking drag. It went on for bloody ever, or at least felt like it did, so certain blasts of fury that in many other years would have lasted until Listmas slowly dissipated as the months dragged on. Now, they’re barely even memories. I may get a twinge of recognition when I look back at them on my running tally of 2018 films, but the details and specificity have turned to mush which means they’re not really worthy of inclusion on the list; basically all of my Dishonourable Mentions fell victim to this. But, you may be glad to hear, that only makes the ones which cracked the list all the more deserving of inclusion. In fact, this is the most passionate about a Bottom List I’ve been since 2015, with every entry rankling me to a degree truly worthy of singling out for some mudslinging. The pain, frustration, disappointment, or anger transcending the rest of this miserable year and, in certain cases, holding firm until we finally reached the moment that matters. This moment right here. And I guess also tomorrow’s moment right there since this is a two-part countdown.
For those of you new here, and there may be a fair number of you given my traffic over Listmas period: hi, there! Glad you could make it! As alluded to up top, this is not a Worst Films list. Worst Films lists are too unsporting a past-time, I feel, consisting of paddling a bunch of already badly-paddled cheap shots other critics have covered and which, especially in The Year of “Eh,” I actually found sincere/ironic enjoyment in. That’s why I have my Best Worst Film category during that sham of an awards ceremony from a couple days back. Instead, this is a Bottom Films list, spaces on which are reserved for the films which infuriated, offended, incensed, upset, or otherwise hurt me in a manner which went further than simply being a bad movie and whose effect upon me did not dwindle over time. The films whom I could think back to at any point of the year following initial viewing and still be able to tap into the same rage I had when walking out of the cinema screen. You’ll find those on this list.
Same eligibility rules that applied for the Top 20 apply for the Bottom 10 (go here if you need a refresher), hence why you have been spared rants against Darkest Hour and Welcome to Marwen – Universal taking a page out of 20th Century Fox’s book with Assassin’s Creed in 2016 by waiting until the stroke of midnight January 1st to unleash Marwen on British audiences, the canny bastards. Oh, and I obviously can’t talk about films I haven’t seen, so The Predator, Mary Magdalene, Mute and, really, 90% of Netflix and Sky Cinema Original Movies have managed to escape the wrath of the last 2018 countdown article ever (until I figure out what to do for Best Albums next week or week after cos I’m tired). As for those Dishonourable Mentions I referenced, in no particular order: Red Sparrow, Walk Like a Panther, Patrick, Death Wish, and Johnny English Strikes Back.
Right, freedom lies on the other side of this last big push, so let’s throw some middle-fingers in the air, drown 2018 in a toilet filled with its own piss, and GET. THIS. OVER. WITH. Today, we’re covering the first half, and tomorrow is The Final Five. Looking out on the morning rain, I used to feel so uninspired…
There will be spoilers throughout many entries. Proceed with caution.
10] Sgt. Stubby: An Unlikely Hero
Dirs: Richard Lanni
Star: Lorgan Lerman, Gérard Depardieu, Helena Bonham Carter
Back in the Best Worst Film category of my Awards, when I was giving the Runner-Up write-up to Tad the Lost Explorer and the Secret of King Midas, I mentioned how I typically don’t like taking the bats to cheap and badly-dubbed animated foreign imports like many other critics do, when they’re not just lazily dismissing them with a generic Pixar/Disney comparison, because I often find them too fascinating to drub or ignore. They function as little glimpses into the animation scenes of different outsider countries, the places where the biggest animation titans aren’t all predominately located around – which are, for the purposes of this argument, anywhere that’s not the USA, the UK, or Japan – to see how they make their animated features. The jokes they tell, the characters they create, how they’ve disseminated the influences brought upon by decades of exported Disney and DreamWorks features into their own works. Nine times out of ten, they’re bad, sometimes even horrible, and I do not recommend seeking them out for casual consumption. But as somebody with an interest in the medium of animation, even the most abject of those failures are still fascinating to me, so much so that I can’t quite summon up the level of vitriol required to stick the boot in. Plus, y’know, “not the target audience” and all that.
That all said… I have my limits. I will forgive clichéd writing, annoying characters, pitiful “gags,” truly hideous and texture-less animation and character designs, and all the yelling of a car full of hungry 5-year-olds upset that their mother isn’t taking them to McDonalds for tea. What I cannot led slide, what truly digs in under my skin refusing to let go, is when one of these films assumes that the audience is full of complete morons. It is, of course, a fine line between “condescending for a grown-up” and “condescending for a child” that one could quite reasonably argue I, a 24-year-old, may not be able to accurately discern. However, I am pretty goddamn certain that making a historical war drama about The Great War in which a grand total of one person is killed on either side of the conflict, itself a token last minute gesticulation to “War is bad actually?” that’s bookended on either side by scenes of Allied soldiers celebrating the last push as a proud noble achievement instead of a senseless and genuinely pointless act, crosses that line quite indisputably.
Sgt. Stubby: An Unlikely Hero, a part-Canadian part-French and part-American educational war drama created to tie into the centennial of Armistice Day, thinks its target audience, young children, are dumbasses. It thinks that they are uber-sensitive pieces of china that might shatter into 300 pieces at the slightest provocation, and so sanitises its depiction of World War I so thoroughly – nobody gets seriously hurt, trench conditions are completely lacking in anything resembling grime, neither side ever comes close to killing a single member of their fellow man (again save for a token sad bit at the end), and proceedings are livened up by lame attempts at humour and French stereotypes (SO MANY FRENCH STEREOTYPES) at every turn – that one of the deadliest conflicts in history plays out like a slightly higher-tempo episode of In the Night Garden. Stubby, an actually fascinating historical figure – a stray dog who became the mascot for an American infantry regiment and served for 18 months on the battlefield, warning about mustard gas attacks and rescuing his squad mates – is here little more than a cute light-relief side character in his own story. Sometimes he’ll look sad so the audience knows things are sad, sometimes he’ll get into some very mild peril to let the audience know things are serious, and he’ll voraciously chase for sausages because he is a dog in a narrative work and therefore is required by law to be shown desperately craving sausages.
Before anybody starts – and I know that somebody will start because, two days ago, I got a notification for a comment disagreeing with my review of Two by Two, a cheap foreign animation from four years ago – I’m not expecting a kids’ animation about a cute dog in WWI to go in-depth explaining the socio-political landscape that caused the war, or to wallow in ceaseless misery and scar the children for life with explicitly-detailed images of the effects of gas attacks. But there are zero edges to Sgt. Stubby. Its depiction of WWI isn’t much different to a playground finger-gun fight in Primary School. And, whilst I know that using one’s own experience as a child is a poor metric when constructing such arguments, I can speak personally and for my entire class back in Junior School that children don’t need a kid-proof rendition of war. They’re fascinated by it, pretty much all of it, even if there is a reason why WWI is left until GCSE-level in most curriculums, and they want to know about the disgusting sanitation of trench life, the horrors of gas attacks, and the bloody battles that left thousands dead, even if it’s just because they’re too young to recognise these events were real. Treating them all like hyper-sensitive dandelions and removing all but the tiniest flecks of dirt, death, and despair from The Great War in a desperate attempt to display reverence and respect for the fallen instead cheapens their sacrifices, alienates older audiences, and communicates to children that they’re imbeciles whose minds are too weak to hear the true story until they get older.
Then, just to rub the salt even further into the wound, Sgt. Stubby also includes an exceptionally superfluous disembodied narration by Helena Bonham Carter that explains every last action on screen, every single thought in every single character’s head, and even to read out the really large location names given screen-filling prominence because why not apply the same sanitised patronising attitudes towards your storytelling as well? Children, after all, are idiots, utterly incapable of understanding anything unless it’s yelled at them 14 times over. Condescension is a universal and multi-generational language.
09] I Feel Pretty
Dirs: Abby Kohn & Marc Silverstein
Star: Amy Schumer, Michelle Williams, Rory Scovel
“What the fuck is I Feel Pretty even doing?” I found myself asking that question a lot throughout the near-two hour comedy because, quite honestly, it has been eight months since I saw this movie and I still, for the life of me, cannot tell you what this movie was trying to say. Even with this being one of those movies that has a grand speech at its climax where the protagonist grabs a microphone at a large public event to go “HERE IS WHERE I DIDACTICALLY TELL YOU THE LESSON I HAVE LEARNED AND WHAT THE MORAL OF THIS STORY WAS,” the preceding 100 minutes of this hate-sink alternated the targets of its palpable scorn so frequently and so readily as to make its message ring hollow and have the film as a whole come off as morally bankrupt. A body-positive and class-conscious comedy that preaches messages of self-love and standing up against the elitism of the make-up and fashion industries… whilst also painting anyone who looks like Amy Schumer and is happy about that fact to be a deluded, disgusting and eventually self-absorbed twit with severe brain damage, and its idea of an everywoman alternative to the elitist excess of the designer-brand make-up industry is *checks notes* Target.
Completely unsurprisingly, the vast majority of I Feel Pretty’s conflicted ideologies make a lot more sense when you realise that writer-directors Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein (rom-com scripting veterans making the jump to directing) only have loyalty towards the corporate brands that helped subsidise the film’s budget. I’ve actually grown largely indifferent to the vast majority of product placement in movies over the years, perhaps Sony’s habit of prominently plastering their brand of electronics all over every single one of their movies including the animated ones about fictional monsters living in Transylvania finally wore me down. But boy oh boy did I Feel Pretty bring my distaste of the practice screaming back up to the surface. Target and SoulCycle are namedropped and valorised so many times I’m surprised they didn’t receive top-line billing on the credits next to Schumer. More effort is spent on shilling their respective lifestyles and product lines than developing the entire supporting cast, despite them being overqualified as hell – Busy Philips and Aidy Bryant as the Best Friends, Michelle Williams as the Icy Boss with a Soft Centre, Sasheer Zamata is also here.
In her fantastic biweekly AV Club series “When Romance Met Comedy,” Caroline Siede cites How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days as the point where the rom-com inexorably shifted into something extremely glossy and surface-level, a shift that would eventually signal the genre’s creative and public downfall, because “none of the film’s characters seem to have interior lives, and the supporting characters in particular feel like they freeze in place whenever the leads leave the room and only reanimate when it’s time to serve as their sounding boards.” 15 years later, I Feel Pretty is here repeating all the same mistakes despite not really being a rom-com – the romance element is a subplot which nonetheless consumes a large part of the film and also has extremely uncomfortable homophobic undertones relating to effeminate men. Which wouldn’t be such a problem if the film could at least decide how we’re supposed to view Renee. I Feel Pretty, after all, is a message movie about acceptance of oneself and rejecting patriarchal society’s misogynistic and crushing views of “acceptable” female body types and sexiness. Yet Kohn and Silverstein can’t decide whether we’re supposed to laugh at society for being so bewildered by the idea that a plus-sized woman might consider herself beautiful that they can barely function, or whether we’re supposed to laugh at Renee for being so deluded from her SoulCycle-related head injury that she thinks she’s a supermodel despite being “fat” and “ha ha gross.”
The target changes constantly. One scene has Renee at a receptionist’s interview boasting that she could do modelling but “that’s not who I am” where the joke is clearly on the out-of-touch fashion snobs being left speechless by Renee’s self-confidence. Another scene involves her cramming a footlong sandwich down her throat whilst proudly claiming she can eat whatever she wants “and still look like this” where the joke is “ha ha the fat bitch is crazy and also ew!” I’m not asking for Renee to be an untouchable saint of a character – Target and SoulCycle already had those positions on lock for this movie – but your satire needs to be consistently targeted and sharply observed. Are we laughing at or with Renee, cos there is a massive difference between the two? Otherwise, you get an extremely mean-spirited movie version of “All About That Bass” which wants to preach a unifying feminist message of self-love and body positivity whilst throwing shade and scorn at skinny bitches, depicting plus-sized women happy with themselves as deluded imbeciles likely suffering from an untreated concussion, and that anybody truly happy with themselves is just an egocentric judgemental bitch waiting to happen. So, again, what the fuck is I Feel Pretty even doing?
The one bright spot of this whole debacle is that it gave us a brief (privacy-destroying) peak into the cinemagoing habits of Greta Gerwig and her (alleged) heckling was far funnier and more insightful than anything in this movie. Talented writer-director-actress triple-threats: they’re just like us!
08] Nativity Rocks!
Dir: Debbie Isitt
Star: Simon Lipkin, Craig Revel Horwood, Daniel Boys, many British actors and actresses who should know better by now
Before we go any further, I need to firmly state the obvious for the record so nobody is confused and we’re all on the same page. You might think after reading this that I wouldn’t need to sit here and explain such a concept, since it’s theoretically really obvious, but apparently there are people out there – people who keep being given millions of pounds, the backing of multiple film studios, and consenting appearances from a lot of otherwise self-respecting British actors and actresses – who are convinced otherwise and need it spelling out for them. So, I do not care if you consider yourself a liberal, or a “humanist” who thinks we’re all in this together and how “nothing truly separates us when you get right down to it” and other heavily-‘medicated’ Philosophy undergrad observations, or want to excuse your insensitive dumbass-ery by invoking “the spirit of Christmas” or hiding behind the “it’s just a family movie” defence or anything other of the sort. Let me make this abundantly clear:
The plight of a young Syrian refugee separated from his father on the way into a foreign country with no idea of where he might be IS NOT – CATEGORICALLY IS NOT – equivalent to that of a super-rich English kid upset because he has no friends and his parents work too hard to tell him they love him. Am I making that clear enough for you, Debbie Isitt?
When we last left the Nativity! franchise, back in 2014 and I blissfully thought this godforsaken abomination of a movie franchise had breathed its last, Debbie Isitt – one time of the somewhat-ok but also, as it turns out, morally-dubious Confetti – had produced the worst film of the year, arguably the worst film of the decade, and at the time the worst film I had ever sat through end-to-end. Dude, Where’s My Donkey?! was a horrible, evil little film that gained rampant joy from psychological abuse and misery inflicted upon others, most of all the audience, dressed up in the false feel-good pleasantries of the holiday season in order to tell a tale of gaslighting, the joys of using other people for your own personal fun and profit, and children angrily rapping songs cornier than a combined duets LP by Macklemore and Chance the Rapper. Nativity Rocks!, meanwhile, attempts to do a giant 180 from dramatizing the abyss of humanity by reinventing itself as a sweet inclusive ode to the downtrodden members of Real Britain who are otherwise demonised or ignored by snooty pompous big-city elites. Isitt’s idea of “Real Britain” involves resoundingly middle-class villages with big historical importance, fancy academies who clearly got lost on their way to the Hogwarts set, villagers who are all financially well-off (some even with McMansions), and super-kindly homeless people who don’t seem to be at all bitter about, or display any signs of, being forced to live on the street subsisting solely on charity.
Yeah, unsurprisingly, Isitt’s effort to reframe her series into something socially inclusive, politically progressive, and a unifying paeon in these difficult and divisive times rings completely hollow on account of Isitt having obviously not stepped outside her privileged bubble in years if ever. Her tokenistic efforts to preach a gospel of love and tolerance of all people no matter their background or social situations because we’re all human and it’s Christmas are just that, tokenistic. It’s hard to take one’s about-face seriously, after all, when your “tolerant” and “progressive” film features a side character to our nominal antagonist who is as blatant a camp gay stereotype as one can find and whom we are supposed to laugh at for that very reason. Or that you’re for Real Britons when a large percentage of your movie consists of the sad trials of a lonely mega-rich kid who lives in a giant estate and has hired help, whilst the homeless you so want us to see as people are briefly-glimpsed background characters whose later appearance in said estate home is played as a gag because Hugh Dennis is shocked they are IN HIS HOUSE and they act like they’ve always lived there. Or when your main plot once again involves the psychological and emotional bullying of other people by the intolerable man-child Mr. Poppy – although not the original one, now it’s a previously-unspoken-of brother whose sadness over not finding his brother IS ALSO NOT THE SAME as the plight of a Syrian refugee, COME ON – in order to get what he personally wants.
It’s just lip-service. All of it is just lip-service attempting to distract from Nativity Rocks! being more of the same insipid, embarrassingly-made, shrilly-performed, flatly-directed, narratively nonsensical tripe as in the previous three times some malevolent trickster God decided British cinema needed something like this. Debbie Isitt has made five movies now, how are her skills as a director still lesser than those displayed by a CBBC sitcom?! Why are these things always in the triple-digits with regards to runtime? Why are all of the songs simultaneously grating garbage and instantly forgettable even after four go’s and, SOMEHOW, a stage musical? Everything about this series confounds me, which may be why I just cannot bring myself to stick Nativity Rocks! higher up on this list. Maybe it’s like when a supervillain stops being incensed at the hero foiling their elaborate plots for the fortieth time and instead develops a begrudging respect and subliminal bond with their ostensible foe. That Isitt and the Nativity! series have committed so strongly to being so uniquely and unremittingly dogshit that I, on some subconscious level, can’t help but regard them like one does a failed lab experiment where changing minor variables results in even more grotesqueries but brings one no closer as to answering “why?”
Or maybe everyone involved has finally broken me. I caught myself chuckling at one joke, and only the one joke, in Rocks, where Jessica Hynes misattributes Coventry to some place entirely different and quickly corrects herself. That was the first intentional laugh I have had at this entire franchise. Clearly, I am not a well man anymore.
07] Mile 22
Dir: Peter Berg
Star: Mark Wahlberg, Iko Uwais, Lauren Cohan
Yeah… no. You’re definitely going to call me “lazy” or committing “a dereliction of your duties” or whatever else you want to use to describe my inbound actions, but I’m just going to move on rather than dwell more on Mark Wahlberg’s latest masturbatory exercise in ego-inflation and forehead-vein-bulging. Not because there isn’t a tonne to say about this truly abysmal and migrane-inducing action movie, shot like one of those YouTube uploads of a copyrighted movie which attempts to circumvent said copyright by locking onto one corner of the image and going crazy with the warping stabiliser effects, cut by Edward Scissorhands, and stitched back together from those remains with Pritt-Stick and Blu Tack. But rather because I already said everything one can say about Mile 22 in my review of it from back in September and I get self-conscious enough as is about repeating myself during Listmas Season without actually going back to rehash talking points I already made well enough in my contemporary review.
Instead, allow me to utilise this space to recommend some better action movies from 2018. For one, I have to agree with Tom Breihan’s observation over at The AV Club that 2018 was the year action and horror effectively subsumed one another. Sure, you can still find “pure” experiences of both genres readily, but the best action films of 2018 were easily the ones with horror’s DNA running through their veins: Coraline Fargeat’s stripped-back, bloody, and feminist twist on the rape-revenge subgenre, Revenge; the Purge series continues to be one of our most biting and viscerally satisfying series, and even got itself a new and infinitely better director in Gerard McMurray, with The First Purge; I found Mandy to be overlong and uber-pretentious, but you might be into that sort of thing and it does deliver the goods when it finally reaches the fireworks factory; Leigh Whannell’s Upgrade is an extremely fun throwback to 80s sci-fi body horror actioners; and I heard great things about Overlord although wimped out on seeing the late-release in theatres. Whilst those looking for more traditional action fare can see the two-thirds great (until it literally goes off the rails) Commuter, and I know I’m in the minority about Mission: Impossible so obviously there’s also Fallout. Iko Uwais even starred as the villain in an Indonesian martial arts flick, Netflix’s The Night Comes for Us, which I haven’t had chance to see yet but have heard really good things about!
The point I’m trying to make is that, if you were so jonesing for an action fix in 2018 that you went to see Mile 22 – although the box office figures indicate a negatory on that front – you could have had it so much better. These are all great films (or I’ve heard are great films or can at least understand why others would call them great) far worthier of expending time and energy on than taking further minutes out of one’s day to kick Mark Wahlberg and Peter Berg in their respective dicks some more. So, why bother? If you want to read a dragging of this truly disgusting movie, then here’s a link to my original review which said everything there is to say about Mile 22 quite decently. Head there and I’ll see you back here in 10 minutes for the next entry.
06] A Star is Born
Dir: Bradley Cooper
Star: Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Sam Elliott
TW: Suicide references, MASSIVE SPOILERS.
I fucking hate the ending of A Star is Born. I absolutely and truly despise the ending of A Star is Born with all my heart. If I were ranking this list based on how much one especially awful stretch of misguided storytelling sinks an otherwise decent movie, or based it solely around the worst individual scenes and sequences of the year in isolation to everything else, then the ending of Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born remake would have topped my list by a very wide margin. The ending of A Star is Born is harmful sensationalist garbage. It has always been harmful sensationalist garbage, I do not care for any defences along the lines of “it’s a classic” or “that’s how the story has always ended.” But especially in 2018, with suicide rates in both the UK and the USA continuing to rise year-on-year and multiple high-profile celebrity deaths by suicide (especially in the music scene), it is inexcusable to still be peddling this exact same tragic artist romanticisation as the giant kicker to your grand tragedy.
Fact is I have never been completely comfortable with the mythologization of the “tragic artist.” This idea that people like Kurt Cobain, Vincent van Gough, Ian Curtis, Marilyn Monroe, and Amy Winehouse were only able to create those kinds of haunting generational-defining art because of their personal demons, demons that would eventually consume their beautiful souls because they were too pure for this sinful earth and whose untimely passings would effectively canonise their works as untouchable classics for all time. Partly, that’s because such attitudes feel like a sort of morbid rubbernecking, that we, the spectators, are tourists in somebody else’s misery glimpsing the effects they have upon a person but safely cocooned in our StarTours coach from all the ugliest aspects of depression, addiction, suicidal thoughts, and other such vices which don’t make it into transcendent art. But especially nowadays, it pushes the false narrative that one can only make great, worthwhile and serious art by being utterly miserable, painfully confessional, and on the brink of collapse, which is horseshit – one of our premiere artists is using this false narrative as a public excuse for why he refuses to take medication for his bipolar disorder. Unfortunately, it’s one which works when it comes to being taken seriously by critical establishments: look how everyone only gave a shit about Ke$ha’s music after the Dr. Luke allegations came out, or how Demi Lovato’s “Sober” received way more write-ups than anything off her 2017 album especially after it almost functioned as a horrifying epitaph (she’s thankfully recovering).
More than that, as I have gotten older and spent more time in the grips of depression and more instances of panic-attack-inducing suicidal thoughts than I feel comfortable admitting, I have grown extremely sensitive to depictions of suicide in fictional media. I’ll be honest in admitting that I am still not fully certain or confident in communicating what, for me, constitutes a sensationalist and irresponsible handling of the subject matter, but having Bradley Cooper’s recovering addict Jackson Maine kill himself after a sleazy British record executive tells him how he’s a perpetual fuck-up ruining Ally’s career simply by existing, because said record exec is incensed that Ally might care about her husband more than making everyone else rich, definitely checks those boxes off with massive Sharpie ticks. Funnily enough, visualising your metaphor for how the pop music industry manipulates and sucks the souls out of Real Artists at every turn by having said personification of Real American Music hang himself – Cooper, Eric Roth, and Will Fetters actually have the temerity to depict Jackson Maine hanging himself in this landscape, JESUS CHRIST – after the personification of the pop music industry goads him into doing so may just be the teensiest bit tasteless. All for a miserable tearjerking ending this Star is Born does not earn in the least but is obligated to do because, again, “that’s how the story always ended and it’s a classic.”
On its own, in a vacuum, I would still despise the ending’s guts. But the ending of Cooper’s movie ends up crystallising why the film seems to devolve into mildly-pleasant hibernation after the genuinely engrossing first 40 minutes and the peak of “Shallow.” Despite the promise of the title and also the entire point of the story being a dual-hander, A Star is Born doesn’t actually care all that much about the Star that’s supposedly being Born. Lady Gaga’s Ally, portrayed with a sparkling charm and beaten-down dreamer’s grit which Cooper cedes the entire opening stretch to and makes look a million bucks, is quickly shoved off-stage after her big moment in order for Cooper’s Maine to hijack the narrative and be all about his downfall. His alcoholism, his self-destruction, his bitterness and his opinions on the vapidity of Ally’s music once the industry gets a hold of her. Rather than contrasting joyous rise with the bitter fall and locating the alternating sweetness and tragedy in two lovers trying to maintain a stability in spite of their separate trajectories, Cooper’s film becomes too enthralled by the supposed dramatic juiciness of the aging White male rockstar’s masculine torment. How his muse turns into his curse, how his comeback turns into his failure, how he finally emerges from the haze of his functional addiction to decide he’s beyond salvation. After all, enjoyable fun pop music is nowhere near as artistic or interesting to talk about as the wails of a “tortured artist” killing themselves for our pleasure, right?
And it’s that very fact which makes the ending such poison for me, curdling A Star is Born into a toxically masculine vanity project for Cooper that I just get completely incensed by due to the utter lack of thought that went into that ending. I’ve frequently brought up how Cooper cites Eddie Vedder as one of the main inspirations for the Jackson Maine character, and my resultant belief that Vedder must be insulted by the comparison given Vedder’s personal troubles with addiction and his status as the last frontman standing from a music scene whose darkness claimed pretty much everyone, as a joke. Pretending I know the thoughts and feelings of Vedder better than the man knows himself and plotting a vendetta against Cooper for this movie. But the more I think on it, the less I consider it a joke and more as succinct a summation of my feelings towards A Star is Born as I can manage.
Tomorrow: Listmas Season 2018 concludes with The Final Five.