2015 was an amazing year for cinema, but some of these movies didn’t live up to their potential and made my head and soul hurt.
5. Ex Machina
There are a handful of truly breathtaking sequences in Alex Garland’s Ex Machina and it’s very well edited and shot, but I found myself without anything to really care about. This is a movie as cold and soulless as the research facility it’s set in and while I’m usually a fan of films that opt to approach it’s audience from an intellectual perspective rather than a pure emotional one, Ex Machina really doesn’t have much to say that hasn’t been said in a million other science-fiction movies. Oscar Issac and Alicia Vikander elevate the film to a degree with their powerful performances, but Domnhall Gleeson is a bore playing yet another awkward hipster. He’s played the same goddamn character in Frank, Black Mirror, Brooklyn and now this, and quite frankly I’ve had it.
It’s impressive Tangerine was shot solely on an iPhone, but there really isn’t anything gripping or remarkable about the story of a ignorant, drug-addled transgendered prostitute seeking revenge on her pimp (the always solid James Ransone) for fucking a new bitch he broke in and a middle-Eastern cabbie cruising the streets for tranny dick to gobble down. There are a couple of good performances and honest moments, but Tangerine seems to rely on campy humor that just come to fruition. It aims to be a quirky social commentary in the vain of Spring Breakers, but ends up being more like a very special episode of South Beach Tow.
3. Bridge of Spies
When the dust settles years from now, Bridge of Spies might be remembered as Steven Spielberg’s most boring film. Not only is it dull, but it also manages to be ham-fisted and corny at the same time. When the film isn’t indoors in the midst of a jargon-heavy conversation, characters are busy not being genuine. Tom Hanks plays the flawless happy all-American white protagonist that saves the day. I hate these types of protagonists because they aren’t realistic and they also make me feel pretty shitty about myself. Human beings make mistakes, and protagonists’ flaws are what make them accessible and relatable to viewers. Speaking of not being able to relate to characters, Tom Hanks’ wife played by the great Amy Ryan serves only as a cheerleader to Hanks. She’s there to add helpful quips like “You’re a great man!” and “You know what’s best.” Spielberg is usually a pretty progressive filmmaker so it’s odd his only female character is a one-dimensional homebody. The only saving grace of the film is an outstanding Mark Rylance as a Soviet Spy on trial. It’s amazing he was able to give such a restrained and complex performance in such a by-the-numbers Hollywood movie.
Here’s a film that every critic was ravenously eating the butthole of for some reason, a thriller set in post-WWII Germany named Phoenix. Nelly (Nina Hoss) survives Auschwitz, but her face is severely disfigured. After a radical facial reconstruction operation (which seems most likely impossible for 1945), she’s virtually unrecognizable. Not even her husband recognizes her (which is bullshit, you’d recognize the woman to whom you’re married), who tries to rope her into a scam to get his wife’s (which he doesn’t know is her) life insurance money. More centered around misogyny than anti-Semitism, Phoenix is a slow burn in the worst possible way. While I fully support a feminist story about the struggle of women in post-Nazi Germany, the movie does so with wooden characters that are impossible to empathize with. None of the characters are three-dimensional, and the male characters only serve as abusers to women. It’s relentlessly depressing and seems almost gratuitous after a while. While the cinematography, direction and writing are wholly unimpressive, lead actress Nina Hoss is absolutely riveting. It’s a shame her performance is completely wasted on a film that is unable to meet her half way.
1. The Martian
This is the one I’m going to get the most shit for, but to be honest I just couldn’t keep my mouth shut. So cheesy it could clog your arteries, Ridley Scott’s survival story centers around a smug Matt Damon farming his way back to Earth with the help of a bunch of white dudes who can’t stop patting each other on the back. This is the kind of limp-dicked, schmaltzy bullshit I’d expect from the Damon/Clooney “movies have the power to inspire, you have the power to act” bland collective. Technically, the movie looks wonderful and Ridley Scott does a fine job directing it, but the screenplay is so predictable and emotionally false that dazzling effects can’t save it. It’s a by-the-numbers survival story with the emotional complexity of a Kodak commercial. It’s fodder for the masses, and they’ll just love all them dang ABBA jokes. Get it?! Cause ABBA was a band from a time much different than our own! HAHAHAHAHA! Somebody pass the arsenic.