Have you noticed the amounts of Hollywood celebrities in adverts recently? Not just film trailers or transatlantic airways or American banks and all that jazz; not Victor Kiam. I'm talking bona fide Hollywood legends knowingly advertising utter shit in exchange for cold, hard cash and a significant hit to their credibility.
It's currently possible to see Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nicole Kidman, Harvey Keitel and a raft of silver-screen legends debasing themselves in the bit between repeats of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire on ITV56 every Tuesday afternoon. In exchange for yet another mansion - or a year's worth of fuelling a Lear jet - they appear in these parochial, ironic and very shit adverts for products as pitiful as insurance, price-comparison websites and bread. Often sending up themselves - or the roles for which they're known. In British adverts for British brands.
This tells us many things. One, most celebrities are utterly shameless. Two, there must be a hell of a lot of cash flowing through the coffers of these companies. Three, there's a very good reason they're coming over here, rather than doing it on their native TV networks, to do it.
In years gone by Sylvester Stallone, Snoop Dogg, Al Pacino, Samuel L Jackson and Bruce Willis have also made the trip over the water. Or have they? In many cases, probably not, but there's a calculation going on here - a calculation that suggests the shame of patronising this shit is worth the money if you only damage your street cred in a faraway land.
In years gone by it was known as Japandering - whoring yourself for cash in foreign lands on the basis that none of your white, English-speaking fans would ever see you humiliate yourself. Here's a good example: Schwarzenegger, one of the biggest movie draws of the 80s, appearing in a fucking bonkers Japanese advert for an energy drink at the height of his fame.
There are various degrees of awfulness and contempt to these adverts, but no-one comes out with much credit. Apart from a couple million more in the bank. One thing I am certain of is that we haven't seen the last of Hollywood celebrities in British adverts. They'll be back. Oh yes, they'll be back.
Harvey Keitel / Winston Wolfe Direct Line adverts
Harvey Keitel is a funny one. Here is a man who has has authenticity coming out of his arse. Born to immigrant parents who ran a restaurant in Brooklyn; a veteran; taught to act by Strasbourg; long associations with Scorsese and Tarantino; earned his stripes with against-type portrayals in films by Jane Campion and Abel Ferrara; acted under De Palma, Coppola and Scott; a peer of De Niro, Pacino and Nicholson - a quartet of actors you could argue have formed the bedrock of some of the most acclaimed and successful films of several recent decades; one of Hollywood's most iconic tough guys of the last 40 years. He must be fucking minted.
And yet he is happy to collect a cheque in which he shits all over one of his most iconic roles in a film directed by his protege, Quentin Tarantino. I happen to think that Tarantino is vastly overrated as a director, but popular opinion and celluloid consensus is against me: Pulp Fiction is a classic, the film's fixer, Winston Wolfe, is an icon and Keitel is one of the coolest character actors in modern Hollywood.
Which makes it all the more bizarre that he's prepared to spray that film and his own reputation with whippet shit. Keitel not only riffs on his image from the film as a mob fixer but repeats phrases and set-ups in the adverts, extricating Direct Line customers from minor scrapes with recourse to an insurance company. Or does he? Perhaps he really is going to shoot a lot of people in the head in order to remedy these prangs, leaks and boiler repairs. And surely Direct Line aren't equating home insurance with illegal racketeering?
Al Pacino and Bruce Willis Sky adverts
Seeing this pair advertise Sky in their inevitably half-hearted styles is sad as much as anything. Pacino once smouldered with intensity; Willis a wise-cracking everyman. Nowadays they look tired, used up, bored to tears by everything they do - including these embarrassing Sky adverts, in which they inevitably come up against some dopey, star-struck, weird-looking Brits.
Pacino actually references the fact that he might keel over at any second. And Willis taking one of them home to fuck does not make it any less sad. Indeed, after half an hour of trying to get it up and failing it probably serves to enhance the innate tragedy.
Harrison Ford Sky advert
This is, at least, not wholly embarrassing for Ford - and at least it's not inserting him into some drab domestic situation and asking him to make a fool of himself. But he just looks so very tired, as if all he wants to do is lie down and go to sleep. The man who played Han Solo, Rick Deckard and Indiana Jones looks more likely to doze off and start snoring halfway through a movie than be a kid again.
I find the overt wielding of cash fairly vulgar in this instance too. Sky, Virgin, Netflix, BT and the rest hurl around utterly vast sums of money in an effort to increase their share of the cash you allocate towards making your snoozy nights on the sofa that little bit more bearable. Lulling you into a soporific stupor as they lift another £80 monthly fee out of your bank account. We're slaves to our tellies in this way and these box-set wielding behemoths are our masters.
That they can spend these shit-tonnes of cash to convince more and more people to watch slightly differing shades of glossy, largely braindead television is one of the more sinister facets of our modern society. Oh, look, Game Of Thrones. A child being burned to death. LOL!
Sylvester Stallone Warburton's adverts
This the one that take the floppy, rubbery, processed-flour cake. Tory donors Warburton's offer up a grisly concoction of Chairman Jonathan Warburton and dough-faced Hollywood punchbag Sylvester Stallone engaging in an unlikely conversation about bread. For more background on this I urge you to read this apparently serious interview with the bread impresario, in which he voices his disbelief that Alastair Cook didn't realise supermarket bread was fresh.
I suppose it's something to be grateful for that Stallone didn't rape Rocky in earning his filthy lucre. And a soldier with PTSD massacring Muslims probably wouldn't play too well in Bolton, so they've plumped for a thinly-veiled Expendables pastiche. A mass-murdering mercenary, then, was deemed an appropriate character to base the advert around. Yet the odd smart visual gag can't rescue the fact that this is just horrible - a patronising, badly-acted and fundamentally dishonest advert about bread that votes for David Cameron.
Snoop Dogg / MoneySupermarket adverts
Gangsta rap's whole ethos is an expression of the desire for money and power - and ability to express both in the most vulgar way possible - so it's no surprise Snoop is prepared to eat shit in exchange for lots of The Benjamins.
The idea that saving money on a price-comparison site is somehow equatable to doing burnouts in low-riders and twerking with a bunch of honeyz is surely one that resonated with the Essex-dwelling C2s that make up MoneySupermarket's core demographic too.
John Cleese / Specsavers advert
It gives me no pleasure but say it, but it's precisely 28 years since John Cleese was last funny. In the same way that most musicians outlive their sell-by dates, churning out forgettable music by muscle-memory rather for any especially noble reason, many comedians start a low slide into irrelevance around middle age.
Fawlty Towers will always remain a landmark in comedy - and Cleese will rightly be lauded for his work - but this advert is just rather sad, for lots of reasons. It's impossible to link Cleese-Now with Cleese-Then, as a result this is simply the equivalent of acting karaoke by an old man who bears a passing resemblance to Basil Fawlty. Cleese must have been offered a tonne of cash for this - as he must have been hundreds of times over the last 30 years - and claims that he acceded this time because he thought it was funny. But it isn't.
Neither Cleese nor Specsavers come out with any credit. For the latter this is simply an opportunity to keep a tired joke going by besmirching the memory of a comedy classic. For the former, a million quid.
Nicole Kidman CompareTheMarket adverts
In my mind's eye Kidman gets booked in for a day of soul-destroying shit one every couple of months. She does a few voiceovers for adverts (probably those ones where radio stations can bag a bespoke mention), takes part in a few round-table interviews in which unlucky journos are allowed to ask one question each about her new film no-one gives a fuck about and spends two hours talking to a CGI meerkat. For this day's work she bags, ooh, let's say $1m. Then she goes home and devours the soul of a maid whose name she's never really known.
Put all that to one side and you have someone who's been rich, successful and acclaimed for almost 30 years. Humiliating herself for money in a market she's calculated cannot damage her fame or professional standing. Perhaps the lack of nobility about the whole shouldn't surprise us - but it's worth remembering that while your man on the street might think it a bit of fun, the very existence of these adverts shows us what these celebrities, agencies and brands really think of us.
Here we go then. The worst adverts of 2015. If you're just here for the videos and want to give my usual Christmas Message Of Despair, skip the next 1,000 words...
Some people I know who are teachers have started to tell me recently that children don't necessarily know why we celebrate Christmas. No Jesus, manger, frankincense, little donkeys or Boney M. No Once In Royal David's City, O Little Town Of Bethlehem or God Rest Ye, Merry. Not even that version of Oliver Twist that Alistair Sim did. No, not because of immigrants or loony-left councils.
They think it's something to do with shopping. Some other people I know - people who are legally adults - got so excited by the arrival of a Coca-Cola truck in Sunderland I'm fairly sure they soiled themselves. When I pressed them further it became fairly clear they thought Saint Nick was something to do with fermented vegetable extract.
Easter? Chocolate eggs. Hallowe'en? Gaudy tat from pound shops that catches fire in any room above body temperature. Bonfire Night? Bangy things. September: Back To School. May: Barbecues, beach holidays and booze. November onwards: the Christmas Behemoth. We even have days dedicated to shopping: Black Friday; Cyber Monday; the New Year Sales. Mother's Day, Father's Day, birthdays - our lives are mediated by how, when and where we spend money.
Everything that we do is filtered through spending money. Shopping. Adverts. Our whole way of life is driven by acquisition - or the desire to acquire things. Forget the library, theatre, cinema, park, gallery or even pub - people go down the shops for something to do these days. They rule our lives.
Nando's is event living. Starbucks a daily gift to oneself. Maccies is a treat. We're so entranced by McDonald's, in fact, that we'd rather step over a dying man than risk getting our Happy Meal.
We show our love for another by exchanging cookery books that will never be read; box-sets forgotten and filed the second they're watched and Christmas jumpers thrown out the second the deccies come down. The system we've decided to live by is predicated on us having, eating and burning more things.
It's a manifesto for our own unhappiness and subjugation. But it's an insanity that we're happy to go along with as long as our friendly local supermarkets keep us fed, banks keep giving us money and TV provider keeps churning out good-looking trash. Advertising is the oil that greases the wheels of this ridiculous state of affairs.
And so we absorb it, assimilate it and are influenced by these little precision-guided films without even knowing it. To buy, eat, drink, travel. To tell us that we deserve it. To understand that the overriding thing in life is to have whatever you want, whenever you want it. To be the masters of our own ultimate doom.
When we've burned the last fossil fuels, chopped down the last tree, concreted the last pasture and eaten the last of the penguins we'll still have adverts telling us that we deserve more. That we should have more. Adverts are the ultimate expression of the way we enslave ourselves.
Not only that, they're really fucking annoying too. These are my selection for the worst adverts of 2015 but you can tell me which one you hated the most below. And if your most despised isn't present, feel free to add it below. In a futile way, you might just improve the human condition in some infinitesimal, unmeasurable and wholly pointless manner. But it might stave off the existential loneliness for a few minutes.
The Worst Adverts of 2015
My choices for the worst of the crop are below. Underneath that a poll. Read, weep and vote for your most-hated.
People used to quite like advert families. The Bisto Family. The Nescafe Couple. The Milky Bar Kid. We welcomed them into our homes and missed them when they were gone. But somewhere along the line things changed. Now we don't like advert families. We hate them. We've learned to distrust our Gods - the banks and supermarkets and car-makers and broadcasters. We may never stop using them. But in this set of Tesco adverts is a new paradigm. We hate these adverts - and we hate the businesses behind them.
Vax Air Cordless Lift
Like a mongoose brushes off cobra venom, I'm immune to the supposed charms of Miranda Hart. I find her whole 'whoops I'm a bit clumsy and look a bit weird' shtick a massive turn-off. In fact I'd rate my fondness for Miranda Hart as somewhere between 'acquiring wisdom teeth' and 'claiming housing benefit'. This Vax advert has all the traits that leave me colder than an Iceland party-food pack present and correct.
Only a total bell-end could have written this ghastly faux-twee affair. A proper Clem Fandango. Someone with a sleeve full of tats, a vial of expensive beard oil and a belief that Ed Sheeran, Catfish and the Fucking Bottlemen and Kodaline are the last words in amazing music. Hateful.
An exercise so fundamentally disturbing it can only have been made by actual children or psychopaths. Though it is incredibly fitting in that Haribo seems to have a phenomenal ability to reduce adults to dribbling infants.
I guess trying to make people go to a Travelodge in this day and age is a fool's errand, but breaking out the puppets just results in a mawkish, try-hard and charmless spot that suggests a polar opposite to common belief: that you'd be mad not to stay at a Travelodge.
The equivalent of buying David Attenborough and making him read out Katie Hopkins columns for the sheer Hell of it. Grisly, depressing - the utter triumph of cold, hard cash over something joyous and innocent.
A surreal, grotesque sex nightmare harder to avoid in 2015 than George Osborne's horrible smug little face. Still, there are definitely bigger and more annoying arses on television. George Osborne, for example.
The man who says 'You make me laugh Cortana' looks like he's physically choking on the words. He looks appalled and ashamed of himself. But what's bizarre is that many, many people - perhaps 100 - sat and watched and nodded and smiled while this abomination was allowed to happen. Even when the man looks like he'd rather shoot himself in the head than say those words. You can see it on screen - a man whose very soul is dying in front of our eyes. And everyone involved still said 'yep, that's the shot. Print it. We're using that one.'
In the cult sci-fi film Cube a massive, self-contained, indestructible death-trap is constructed simply because no-one involved in its creation ever questions what their tiny part in its making portends. No-one ever questions it; no-one ever stops doing their job and something inexplicably terrible just happens as a result. Just like this Clean Bandit Cortana advert. A vast, mechanised, purposeless killing machine. Only the advert is much worse.
If anything good has emerged from austerity it's that our relationship with banks has been changed forever. We finally learned to distrust big business in 2015, though we haven't quite figured out yet what to do about it. In that context Lloyds' desperate, misjudged 'we're your friends, really' advert felt as outdated as Jeremy Corbyn's wardrobe.
John Lewis finally runs out of steam with the 593rd iteration of its cover-versioned sad-sad-sad-happy routine. A tired, misfiring cry-wank of a glory-years photocopy.
Andrex seems to be on a mission to make people spew up into their TV dinners, with this the latest in a long succession of adverts apparently intent on either discussing bodily matter in great detail - or inspiring their sudden emergence.
Nothing against Vauxhall, I just hate Jake Bugg - a man with a voice like a stress headache.
Aldi graduates to the same level as the usual Big Four suspects with an ad featuring one of those singing voices that sounds like a Victorian urchin has been rescued from a gin parlour then partially educated by an aristocrat. The result is an estuary whine less loveable than cholera.
Fuck off Postman Twat.
Appalling, insulting, patronising drivel that dares to compare Paloma Faith to Billie Holiday and a lady who plays football to Emmeline Pankhurst. Women - apparently these are your Gods? Lots of bonus points for being insufferably smug and boasting an abysmal soundtrack. The last shot of the young girl glancing across to the camera physically pains me. 'Women who rock'. Dear Christ.
Vote: Worst Adverts of 2015
Vote for your worst adverts of 2015 here. But think carefully - you can only choose one...
Finally, thanks to Jon 'Holmesy' Holmes for sending in this billboard spotted in Ealing. I have absolutely no bloody idea what the Hell is going on, but felt it deserved to be mentioned here.