It was a big night for journalism drama Spotlight at last night’s 88th Annual Academy Awards, where the movie surprised some by taking home the ceremony’s top prize: the Best Picture award. It was also a big night for the film’s cowriter and director Tom McCarthy, who took home an Oscar statue for himself in the Best Original Screenplay category. It capped off a whirlwind 2015 for McCarthy, who previously directed character dramas like The Station Agent, The Visitor, and the dramedy, Win Win. But it wasn’t all pomp and circumstance for McCarthy in 2015, besides directing the year’s quote-unquote best movie he also directed one of the worst.
McCarthy’s other 2015 movie, The Cobbler starring Adam Sandler and Method Man, was released eight months before Spotlight, and has earned a dismal 10 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It did so poorly in its theatrical run that The A.V. Club actually wrote a post questioning whether the movie was released in theaters at all. It doesn’t even have a Box Office Mojo page, which is a definitive source for the earnings of basically every movie you want to know about.
This is in stark contrast to Spotlight’s Best Picture win (it also won Best Feature and Best Director at the Independent Spirit Awards), plus its 96 percent Rotten Tomatoes score and $39 million box office haul that will only go up from here.
To quote critic Bilge Ebiri’s review of The Cobbler in Vulture: “How in hell did this happen?” Peter Travers’ one-star Rolling Stone review called it “a failure on every level,” and continued saying, “it’s a toxic smear of curdled whimsy about a New York shoe-repair man (a lumbering Adam Sandler), who transforms into his customers when he puts on their shoes. The film is beyond awful and beyond repair.” Vox’s Todd VanDerWerff’s review was titled “5 utterly insane things that happen in the terrible new Adam Sandler movie The Cobbler,” and explained “The Cobbler is the rare movie so terrible that it’s hard to figure out why it even exists, why somebody didn’t run in front of the speeding train of its production yelling, ‘Stop!’”
Maybe the movie’s promising magical realism plot just didn’t set in correctly, whether it was the questionable casting of Sandler or failing to expand on the overly simplistic “walk-a-mile-in-someone-else’s-shoes” theme into a worthy feature-length movie.
Ebiri’s own speculation settled on saying “maybe it’s simpler than that, having to do with the fact that McCarthy and Sandler’s sensibilities may just have been too different. Maybe The Cobbler was supposed to be something more dramatic and emotional but wound up getting neutered when a top-flight comedian became involved.”
On the flipside, Ebiri gave Spotlight an Honorable Mention for his list of Top 10 Movies of 2015, Travers gave it four stars, while VanDerWerff’s mea culpa after Spotlight’s win was that it was his preference out of the three movies with a realistic shot at winning Best Picture (including The Big Short and The Revenant).
As for McCarthy himself, he seems to be taking his rollercoaster 2015 in stride. In November 2015 he told Rolling Stone:
“Look, taking chances is my job; some will connect and some won’t, and certain films find their audiences in different ways. I think Spotlight probably is a better movie because of The Cobbler. You learn with every movie you make, you learn from your mistakes and you learn from your achievements, and I really do have that approach to filmmaking. It was certainly a learning experience, just like making a good movie is a learning experience. But it’s funny, the response hasn’t shaken my confidence in The Cobbler — I still really enjoy that movie.”
Now, we’re not in the business of tearing people down in their moment of triumph, because McCarthy is obviously a talented dude, but there probably hasn’t been as explicit an example of a filmmaker with such low-lows and high-highs in a single year. Thankfully, McCarthy now has the awards hardware to back it up.