From Colin Firth playing a stuttering king to the final Harry Potter blockbuster, it’s been a big year at the movies. Film critic Graham Young recalls the highs and lows
BEFORE this year’s Oscars, I was reliably informed by one of the key players on The King’s Speech that the shoot had been “chaotic” at best. Which just goes to prove how thankfully unpredictable the movie industry still is.
The big Hollywood studios can try to play safe with flotsam and jetsam like Sarah Jessica Parker’s I Don’t Know How She Does It and Jack Nicholson’s How Do You Know.
But when a comparatively little £10m movie about a prospective king with a stutter somehow clicks, it can become unstoppable.
And so the British film which garnered 12 Academy Award nominations and won Oscars for best picture, actor (Colin Firth as King George VI), original screenplay (David Seidler) and director (Tom Hooper) has beaten all-comers to remain my film of the year.
Packed with brilliant performances, including Helena Bonham Carter as the future Queen Mother and Geoffrey Rush as speech therapist Lionel Logue, The King’s Speech was set in the ’30s.
It also illustrated how vital radio was to the new, pre-war way of doing things, a deliciously subtle yet topical subtext given the rapid growth of website technology and social media today.
The King’s Speech duly grossed £275m worldwide to put it in the all-time Top 140 movies.
The bonus for Britain’s cinema exhibition industry is that its domestic gross of £45m helped to boost domestic business in a year when unemployment reached a 17-year high of 2.64million. By the end of last month, 158million tickets had been sold in 2011.
With the incredible stunts in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol thrilling audiences nationwide since Boxing Day, there should be at least 170 million tickets sold this year as the industry again strives to beat the modern record of 175.9 million admissions in 2002.
Not everyone admired Black Swan, which earned Natalie Portman the best actress Oscar, but it was a captivating film about the sheer determination and degree of madness it takes to be the best in any profession, not necessarily ballet.
The blockbuster of the summer, Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, reinvigorated the action genre as well as a franchise which had befuddled Tim Burton exactly 10 years previously.
You only had to watch the chimpanzee documentary Project Nim to see how its fact and Hollywood’s planet fiction validated each other on the cinema screen.
And to fully appreciate, after Gollum and King Kong, there was another quite brilliant undercover performance from Andy Serkis.
Tangled gave us the very best of Disney – old fashioned hand-drawn values meeting the infinite possibilities of technology head on. It was such a great 50th full length feature Walt must have been dancing in the aisles of heaven.
Veteran director Martin Scorsese is now 69. But his love letter to the cinema, Hugo, proved that live action can be shot in 3D to winning effect.
Perhaps more significantly, it secretly hinted that much of what Spielberg (and Serkis) had achieved with motion capture in The Adventures of Tintin was, in fact, rather a waste of time when you end up thinking that Jamie Bell’s titular hero with a tuft of hair above a plastic face is being played by Simon Pegg.
Drive was the adult thriller of the year. Its bold reliance on such a pared-down script reminiscent of the first half of the 2009 Oscar-winning animation Wall-E (until even Pixar blinked at what it was doing) as well as the whole of The Terminator (1984), in which James Cameron sensibly gave Arnie just 74 words in 18 lines of dialogue.
Ryan Gosling played a near-mute stuntman/getaway driver, with fast-rising British actress Carey Mulligan co-starring.
Add on Steve Carell’s comical Crazy, Stupid, Love and George Clooney’s weighty political thriller The Ides of March and Gosling really was flying everywhere this autumn.
My Week With Marilyn was wonderfully entertaining, British period cinema at its best with a cast including Kenneth Branagh and Judi Dench.
A decade after it had beaten Peter Jackson’s superior The Lord of the Rings trilogy into cinemas, The Harry Potter series finally ended with the best movie of the lot, The Deathly Hallows – Part 2. There was hardly a dry eye in the house for fans.
Finally, for this year’s top 10, a truly uplifting film. Directed by Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland) and produced by the North East of England -born directing legends Ridley and Tony Scott, Life In A Day was compiled from 4,500 hours worth of material shot in 192 countries on July 24, 2010.
And the result? A five star, 95-minute, digital journey through the human psyche which condensed our contemporary global village on to a single microchip.
King George VI would have been speechless at that one.
Having seen almost 250 films this year, it remains a rule of thumb that only one in 10 will be of genuine quality and an even bigger proportion bordering on awful to full-blown turkey status.
But every film has something of note – good or bad – and there are always surprises.
Matthew McConaughey’s Lincoln Lawyer was one unexpected treat, thanks in no small measure to a car with a throaty exhaust proving that the most simple of ’70s-style pleasures endure today.
Even a baseball movie like Brad Pitt’s Moneyball was a first class sports movie applicable to any discipline.
Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris was a genuine return to form and Antonio Banderas was awesome in Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In. Likewise, the Oscar-nominated Woody Harrelson in a little-seen film called The Messenger.
Watching an animated version of Clint Eastwood in Rango would have been fun for adults who mistakenly thought this was “only” a children’s film.
Clive Owen, Robert De Niro and Jason Statham were collectively awful in Killer Elite which had billboard posters blitzing the city, yet the Coventry star was in one of the most relevant films of the year with Trust, which barely had a release for such a stark warning of the dangers of social media networking.
Harrison Ford was curmudgeonly again in both Cowboys & Aliens (opposite the humourless Daniel Craig) and Morning Glory, whereas the much maligned Mel Gibson gave one of his greatest performances in The Beaver and widower Liam Neeson was back on knockabout form in Unknown.
On the comic book front, Captain America and Thor were as entertaining as The Green Hornet and Green Lantern were improbably dull.
There were plenty of sequels, including Final Destination 5 (with an amazing 3D bridge sequence), Spy Kids 4, Pirates Of The Caribbean 4, Scre4m and, way too late for its own good, West Is West after 1999’s East Is East.
But now 2012 is just days away and we can look forward to another year of cinema. So what will it bring?
Well the blockbusters start rolling next Friday when Meryl Streep plays Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady.
Whether it will live up to Firth’s The King’s Speech remains to be seen.
1. The King’s Speech
2. Black Swan
3. The Rise of The Planet of the Apes
6. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
8. My Week With Marilyn
9. Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows – Part 2
10. Life In A Day
1. Captain America
3. The Adventures of Tintin
4. X-Men: First Class
5. Fast Five
6. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
8. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1
9. Real Steel
10. Pirates of the Caribbean 4
1. The Inbetweeners
2. Tucker & Dale
3. First Night
5. Crazy, Stupid, Love
6. What’s Your Number?
7. Cedar Rapids
9. Tower Heights
10. Johnny English Reborn
Best Foreign Films
1. A Separation
2. The Skin I Live In
4. The Silence
5. Outside the Law
7. The Troll Hunter
8. The Big Picture
9. The Well-Digger’s Daughter
10. The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Bel-Sec
2. Bobby Fischer vs The World
3. Inside Job
4. George Harrison: Living in the Material World
5. Project Nim
7. The Cave of Forgotten Dreams
8. The Greatest Movie Ever Sold
9. God Bless Ozzy Osbourne
10. The Story of Lovers Rock
Best Family Entertainment
2. Hubble 3D (IMAX)
3. Puss In Boots
6. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules
7. The Dolphin Tale
8. Arthur Christmas
10. Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked
1. Horrible Bosses
2. Big Momma’s – Like Father, Like Son
3. The Dilemma
4. Just Go With It
5. How Do You Know
6. I Don’t Know How She Does It
8. The Green Lantern
9. Kill List
10. Paranormal Activity 3