That Was The Year, That Was
Ahhh, new decade, same old lazy seasonal filler item. Yes, as is traditional, I thought I would take a look back at the year gone by at the cinema. This was a fairly vintage year, in terms of quantity if nothing else, as your correspondent trotted along to see no fewer than 64 new or recent movies in 2011. Now, admittedly, not all of these actually got reviewed in the column, but they're all going to be lumped in here anyway (and if you're really burning with a desire to read a review of Oranges and Sunshine or Cowboys and Aliens, get in touch and I'll point you in the right direction).
Anyway, just so's we're clear on this, the films in question are:
127 Hours, 13 Assassins, The Adjustment Bureau, Apollo 18, Another Earth, Arrietty, Attack the Block, The Awakening, Battle: Los Angeles, Black Swan, Blitz, Brighton Rock, Captain America: The First Avenger, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Colombiana, Conan the Barbarian, Contagion, Cowboys and Aliens, The Debt, The Eagle, Les Aventures Extraordinaires d'Adèle Blanc-Sec, The Fast and the Furious 5, Fright Night, The Future, Green Lantern, The Green Hornet, The Guard, Habemus Papam, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part Two), Hugo, The Ides of March, Immortals, The Inbetweeners, In Time, Johnny English, Killer Elite, The King's Speech, Larry Crowne, Melancholia, Mighty Uke, Never Let Me Go, Oranges and Sunshine, Paul, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Project Nim, Le Quattro Volte, Real Steel, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Rubber, Senna, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Source Code, Submarine, Super, Super 8, The Thing, Thor, The Three Musketeers, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, True Grit, Tyrannosaur, The Way Back, X-Men: First Class, and You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger.
Looking back on the year in general, I would say it has been a bit of a mixed bag in terms of quality, but definitely declining throughout its course. Certainly, the films from the awards seasons were an unusually strong bunch: Black Swan, 127 Hours, The King's Speech and True Grit were all classy and memorable films, and in their wake came other seriously impressive movies like Submarine and Never Let Me Go.
But as the summer rolled around, it soon became clear this was going to be another fairly uninspired year for blockbusters – although I suppose one has to acknowledge that Marvel at least have managed to keep movies with their characters just a bit more intelligent and involving than one might expect. Elsewhere there seemed to be a lot of films with big names (or big properties) but not much else to offer. A very honourable exception was Rise of the Planet of the Apes, of course.
Into the autumn, after a few very interesting films, there was one of the most rapid and total collapses in quality I can recall, and one that seemed to affect both the multiplex and the arthouse indiscriminately, as Real Steel followed The Three Musketeers and Immortals followed The Future. It was left to a few end-of-year releases like Hugo and the second Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes to restore my faith in popular cinema.
And the Lassies themselves go to…
It may not be the wittiest, subtlest or most refined piece of work, but judged simply in terms of how much it made me laugh, the winner of Comedy of the Year has to be The Inbetweeners. The phenomenal success of this film must surely be down to the popularity of the parent TV show, but that doesn't alter the fact that during some parts of this film I couldn't breathe, I was laughing so much.
SF Movie of the Year was a pleasingly tough call, for once, with both Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Source Code very worthy contenders. However, in the end I have decided to award this prize to Never Let Me Go, one of the most affecting films of the year (and to my mind, possibly even better than the source novel).
The special You Don't Get Many Like That award, for ostentatious weirdness, had a number of entries this year. Disbarring The Future for being so incredibly irritating and Rubber on the grounds of sheer self-indulgence, this leaves us with Another Earth and Melancholia orbiting madly around each other like doomed twin planets – but nipping through to take the title is Le Quattro Volte, the silent Italian goat-farming reincarnation movie. I didn't fall as madly in love with this film as a lot of other people did, but it was a pleasantly different night out.
When it comes to Action Movie of the Year, with some sadness I must look beyond the Jason Statham movies that are always my first port of call in such matters – because while they were all interesting this year, more reliably satisfying fare was available elsewhere. Rather to my surprise the winner is The Fast and the Furious 5, not a great movie, but one which does precisely what you want an action movie to do, and to a very high standard.
Marvel and its studio provided most of the candidates for the Superhero Movie of the Year award, though by no means all: The Green Hornet and Green Lantern were also out there, along with Super. I'm tempted to give Super the award, but it's just a bit too far out there. In the end it has to be a Marvel movie after all – and just pipping X-Men: First Class, the prize goes to Captain America. It will be interesting to see how this category shakes out in a year's time.
Best Viewing Experience of the Year – well, I can hardly give this to Mighty Uke at the Phoenix Oxford, as there was a bit more than a movie involved. Seeing Star Trek II again at the Prince Charles Leicester Square with audience participation is just a bit outside the bounds we have set for ourselves as well. I think this will be a No Award for this year, and I will instead comment on how poor the standard of behaviour in multiplexes seems to have become lately – during Hugo I had to go and order someone to stop singing along to music he was playing on his phone during the actual movie. To be fair, it does mostly seem to be foreigners to blame, and it may be my fault for living in a tourist magnet like Oxford. But still.
The title of Worst Film of the Year was never really in doubt from the day I saw it – Paul W.S. Anderson's shocking bastardisation of The Three Musketeers. I am not going to say any more about this movie.
The Best Film of 2011, on the other hand, has been a tough one to choose. For a long time it was going to be Never Let Me Go, with Submarine always in a strong second place. However, just at the end of the summer, when the diet of blockbusters was making me feel all bloated and weary, I saw a film which hit all the right notes, did something very old in a way that felt fresh and new, didn't treat me like an idiot and sent me home with a huge grin on my face. Unfortunately that week I decided to write about Apollo 18 in the Post instead, but never mind – the winner is John Michael McDonagh's The Guard. If there's any justice, both the director and Brendan Gleeson will be festooned with gongs when the legitimate awards get going – but in the mean time, the Lassie will have to do.
As far as 2012 goes, what films are looking particularly tasty? Well, the nature of these things being as it is, the main films showing up on the radar at the moment are the big studio productions with large advertising budgets and significant name recognition – which, broadly speaking, puts us back in the realm of franchise affairs. That's not to say that some of these films aren't distinctly mouth-watering: 2012 promises Peter Jackson's extremely long-awaited take on The Hobbit, Christopher Nolan's final Batman movie, and Joss Whedon's they've-bet-the-farm-on-this-one The Avengers, all of which bring new meaning to the phrase keenly anticipated. Not to mention a new version of Spider-Man, the 50th anniversary Bond film, and the prospect of Zach Snyder doing a number on Superman as only he can. I must confess that, in addition to all of these, I am particularly curious to see how Pete Travis' attempt at a Judge Dredd movie works out (reports of post-production ructions do not inspire a great deal of confidence). Sadly, it looks increasingly like Gareth Edwards' remake of Godzilla will not be arriving until 2013 at the earliest.
All this said, if 2012 is anything like 2011, then the most interesting and satisfying films will be the smaller, quieter ones that I don't see coming. Then again, in a year with new movies from Jackson, Nolan and Whedon, all bets are surely off… However it turns out, the year to come will surely be an interesting one.