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Year Out/Year In: Films to Remember and Forget | reviews, news & interviews

Year Out/Year In: Films to Remember and Forget

Year Out/Year In: Films to Remember and Forget

The best and worst things about the year in film, and what to see in 2011

Making friends with distributors: 'The Social Network' is the best film yet about the internet

Avatar or The Hurt Locker? Although the Academy Awards are by no means the only barometer of cinematic trends, at this year’s Oscars the two centrifugal strains in contemporary movie-making went head to head. For Best Picture and Director, James Cameron’s digitally created sci-fi-scape locked horns with Kathryn Bigelow’s visceral visit to Iraq. One demonstrated Hollywood’s ever-increasing capacity to wish away actuality as we know it. The other went in where the bullets fly for real. You could see why the two directors, formerly married, had untied the knot. Our reviewers are Jasper Rees, Alexandra Coghlan, Matt Wolf, Veronica Lee and Adam Sweeting.

Not every animation married miraculous CGI effects to simplistic narrative bromides. Alone among this year's ubiquitous pixellations, Toy Story 3 found grown film-goers wiping away genuine tears. From the opposite camp, films which were inclined to shine a light into dark corners of the modern world included Green Zone, which portrayed internecine American rivalries in Baghdad, and Restrepo, a documentary shot on the front line in Afghanistan. Of Gods and Men, a French film set in a monastery in Algeria, came at Islamic fundamentalism from yet another angle, as did the Iranian film The Stoning of Soraya M. The epic Carlos, available in three and five-hour versions, took a look at the Hispanic branch of the terrorism industry. While we’re in the neighbourhood, Chris Morris’s bombcom Four Lions inevitably divided opinion.

It wasn’t a thrilling year for British film. Though not everyone warmed to it, Mike Leigh’s Another Year stood above films at least part financed in the UK: The Ghost, Mr Nice, Tamara Drewe. Of the foreign films which played outside a narrow art-house constituency, I Am Love starring Tilda Swinton as the English chateleine of a Milanese dynasty caused perhaps the biggest stir. The Stieg Larsson trilogy met with critical blank stares.

Meanwhile, in big bad Hollywood, reunions of old codgers in RED, The Expendables and The A-Team did not cause ageing pulses to race. Jennifer Aniston and Catherine Zeta Jones looked for love in strange places, while George Clooney continued his flirtation with glacially heartless characters in Up in the Air and The American.

Among the best independent American movies were the bleakest: The Road and Winter’s Bone. Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right was a great deal more life-enhancing, putting a lesbian relationship at its heart with a lot more conviction than Atom Egoyan in Chloe. Julianne Moore, starring in both, also adorned another gay drama, Tom Ford’s A Single Man which saw Colin Firth finally emerging as an actor the worldwide box office is prepared to take seriously.

In other trends, for some reason it was a good year for films about music and musicians – The Runaways, Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky, Gainsbourg, The Concert, Chico and Rita and (both of them documentaries) When You’re Strange: A Film about The Doors and Lemmy.

But unless you count Harry Potter and various other all-powerful franchises, two films above all were the talk of the multiplex. More than any film since The Sixth Sense, Inception had audiences coming back for another look. And then there was The Social Network, which is quite simply the best film yet about the internet.

In her inimitable style, Anne Billson casts her own eye over cinematic trends in "2010: A Film Odyssey". Below, the rest of theartsdesk's film reviewers have cast their minds back and forward to nominate their best and worst films, best and worst performances and the film whose arrival they are most anticipating in 2011.

JASPER REES

Of-Gods-and-Men-535x356Best film No one would have necessarily expected a film about eight celibate monks working their way through a crisis of faith to make a lasting impression of all this year’s films. But Of Gods and Men wins. There has not been a more thoughtful film inspired by the great question which defines our age: how to confront the implacable rage of militant Islam. The answers aren’t necessarily here, but in Xavier Beauvois’s film, the search for them (pictured right) is intensely moving.

Worst film Moronic masking as wry, She’s Out of My League put up a fight in this category but ultimately failed to knock Clash of the Titans off my top spot. Ralph Fiennes and Liam Neeson impersonated the periwigged gods on Olympus opposite various lunks, lovelies and computer-generated monstrosities. How bad? Legendarily bad.

If he hadn’t said yes, it wouldn’t have been made. Pure junk-bond nostalgia. Shame on everyone

Best performance I'm torn. Lesley Manville's shattering portrayal of loneliness in Another Year was her finest yet: school of Mike Leigh but very much her own creation. But I can’t split Ricardo Darín and Soledad Villamil, who in The Secrets in Their Eyes played the photogenic leads as they age 25 years in an intricate, intriguing story of murder, justice and love in Buenos Aires. This Argentinian adaptation of a novel won 2010's Academy Award for Best Foreign-Language Film, and deservedly. Both performances were seductive, aromatic and intensely serious. Find The Secrets in Their Eyes on Amazon

Worst performance Michael Douglas somehow persuaded himself that it was a shrewd move to come back as Gordon “Phallic Cigars Are Good” Gekko in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. It wasn't. This was not so much the worst performance of the year as the worst choice. If he hadn’t said yes, it wouldn’t have been made. Pure junk-bond nostalgia. Shame on everyone (apart from, obviousy, the ever perksome Carey Mulligan).

Film to look out for in 2011 It’s not that I entertain much hope that it will be any good. But the longest tease in cinema history will finally come to an end when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two is delivered unto a waiting world on 15 July. And then we can all move on. Possibly even grow up?

If you've somehow missed it, watch the trailer for The Deathly Hallows

ALEXANDRA COGHLAN

arts-winters-bone-584Best film Tough competition here too, but Winter’s Bone pulls ahead for its unexpected and perfectly judged beauty. Glorious to look at – all muted greys, browns and blues – this could so easily have turned into a misery-memoir style cinematic brooding-fest. Instead, largely thanks to Jennifer Lawrence’s (pictured right) astonishing performance, we get a brutally matter-of-fact story about family, survival and adulthood. The sounds of a wet chainsaw cutting through flesh and of a freshly killed squirrel being skinned will linger in the ears for a while though, I fear. Find Winter's Bone on Amazon

Worst film Worthy candidates aplenty in this category, sadly. Although both Aniston artificial insemination rom-com The Switch and Sex and the City 2 make worthy plays for the title, my vote has to go to Triomf, Michael Raeburn’s fleshy and grotesque parable of the South African coming of age. Taking dysfunctionality to horrific extremes, Raeburn refracts the decline of a nation through a single family. Incest, murder, racism and mindless brutality abound to little artistic or political end. Disgusting.

Lying back and thinking of their paychecks, Neeson and Moore sleepwalk their way through this blank stare of a film

Best performance I suspect that the beautiful Jennifer Lawrence will feature on many similar lists for her breakout role as Ree in Winter’s Bone. Less epic, but equally potent however was David Thewlis’s darkly comic turn as Jordan in London Boulevard. Revelling in the drug-hazed, RADA-educated excesses of the role, Thewlis pitches things just the right side of ridiculous (no small achievement in this film) and loads his screen time with more chemistry than Colin Farrell and Keira Knightley can muster between them.

Seyfried-and-MooreWorst performance A shared victory for Julianne Moore and Liam Neeson for their performances in lesbian stalker psychodrama Chloe. Presumably lying back and thinking of their paychecks, both Neeson and Moore (pictured left with Amanda Seyfried) sleepwalk their way through this blank stare of a film, hoping (vainly) that the prominent presence of Amanda Seyfried’s breasts in every other frame would absolve them from any further dramatic responsibility.

Film to look out for in 2011 Next year is going to be all about Shakespeare on film. First up there’s Julie Taymor’s provocative new adaptation of The Tempest starring Helen Mirren as Prospero (or Prospera in this case). Gender-bending and brave new feminist worlds aside, the film will also star the suitably pale and interesting Ben Whishaw as Ariel and a typecast Russell Brand as crude drunkard Trinculo. If that doesn’t tempt, then there’s also Ralph Fiennes’s modern-day Coriolanus, due to premiere at the Berlin Film Festival. With Fiennes himself as warrior-statesman Coriolanus, the incomparable Vanessa Redgrave as Volumnia, and cinematography from The Hurt Locker’s Barry Ackroyd, this adaptation promises so much.

Watch the trailer for The Tempest

MATT WOLF

social2Best film Out of the hurlyburly that is cyberspace, the director David Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin fashioned an alternately funny and mournful parable for our time in The Social Network, a movie ostensibly about the origins of Facebook that is in fact about the price we pay as a culture for thinking that the "refresh" button will magically make things all right. Beginning in medias res with one of the great dates-in-crisis scenes (coupling - or not - Rooney Mara and Jesse Eisenberg, above) of contemporary cinema, Fincher pushes ever forward, his story embracing two coasts and shifting temporal perspectives not to mention the various casualties that pile up as a site devoted to cataloguing "friends" leaves the very notion of friendship in disarray. At present, the film is vying with The King's Speech as the odds-on favourite for the Oscar for Best Picture, the latter casting an evocative look back, the former taking a hurtful, hurtling look at the here and now.

Worst film Where to begin? Most overrated - in my humble opinion - must surely be Inception, a movie so lunatically plotted that even its cast (Ellen Page, especially) looked confused, though you have to give the director Christoper Nolan credit of sorts for leaning on Marion Cotillard's enduring association with Edith Piaf for what scant emotional heft his gnarled and wildly self-conscious yarn possesses. Sex and the City 2 managed to make an endearing TV franchise into a grotesque portrait of the American abroad (stick to Manhattan, girls), and Heartbreaker at heart - did it have one? - was more obnoxious than endearing. But the plumpest of raspberries goes to the all-but-unendurable Dinner for Schmucks. Time was when co-star Paul Rudd used to do decent plays, and as often as not in London. C'mon, man, surely the appeal of cinematic lucre doesn't have to be quite this filthy?

Best performance As proof that you can be a bona fide film star who still is interested in works of substance (are you listening, Mr Rudd?), look no further than Ben Stiller's career-best turn in Greenberg, playing a nervy one-time musician who is attempting to put a recent breakdown behind him. Like Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler, Stiller is a movie funny man who in the right role can also tear at the emotions; his absence from any of the year-end kudos so far should by rights prompt a mini-protest.

Christian Bale may be filmdom's finest purveyor of the Method since De Niro. Or Brando

Worst performance The Australian actor Christopher Egan in Letters to Juliet played a smug and snobbish twit who was supposed to be rendered both charming and attractive by dint of (1) his British accent and (2) the fact that he went to Oxford. Give us a break.

Film to look out for in 2011 On the Oscar trail as I've been of late, I can report numerous celluloid goodies in store, in what has been a far more promising end to the movie year in Hollywood terms than was the case this time 12 months ago. But among the films already opened States-side that have yet to cross the Atlantic, keep a particular eye out for The Fighter, David O Russell's extraordinarily powerful film about a New England landscape defined by fractiousness in and out of the ring that happens to be the natural habitat of Mark Wahlberg's eponymous boxer, Micky Ward. Cheers, too, to Wahlberg and co-stars Melissa Leo, Amy Adams, and the ever-astonishing Christian Bale, perhaps filmdom's finest purveyor of the Method since the heyday of De Niro. Or even Brando.

Watch the trailer for The Fighter

VERONICA LEE

kids_all_rightBest film The Kids Are All Right Superb performances all round in a funny, touching and thought-provoking story about a two-mum (Julianne Moore and Annette Bening) family into whose lives comes their teenage offspring's “interloper” sperm-donor father (Mark Ruffalo). Find The Kids Are All Right on Amazon

Worst film In The Last Station the last days of one of the greatest writers of all time is told with all the depth of a greetings-card message. Christopher Plummer, Helen Mirren et al do their damnedest as Leo and Sofya Tolstoy and assorted relatives, but what a damnable chore to watch.

Best performance Jim Carrey is a Marmite performer, but when he is given a quality script he proves himself an actor of distinction. In I Love You Phillip Morris he plays a married con artist sent to prison, where he meets the love of his life, fellow convict Ewan McGregor (also terrific). Find I Love You Philip Morris on Amazon

Worst performance Liza Minnelli is a gifted artist, but oh dearie me she should never have accepted the invitation to appear in Sex and the City 2 (which I enjoyed more than many critics), where she looked and sounded way past her best, creaking and croaking through Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” in the wedding scene.

Film to look out for in 2011 The King’s Speech is released on 7 January. In a cast chock-full of stars, Colin Firth (with a Golden Globe nomination and another expected at the Oscars) is King George VI, helped to overcome his speech impediment by Australian therapist Geoffrey Rush. Everyone I know who has seen it says it is an exceptional film.

Watch the trailer for The King's Speech

ADAM SWEETING

Prophet_2Best Film A Prophet. Rarely has the notion of prison as a "university of crime" been more rigorously explored than in Jacques Audiard's gruelling but masterly film. His trump card was Tahar Rahim (pictured right) playing the 19-year-old Arab boy, Malik, who rises from illiterate petty criminal to intimidating crime lord, thanks to his bloody bargain with the Corsican mafia.

Worst film The Tourist. Angelina Jolie's bumper-car lips and basilisk stare conspired to make her utterly unwatchable in this pitiful pan-European crime caper. Co-star Johnny Depp seemed paralysed with ennui throughout, and the usually capable Paul Bettany was cruelly abused by a sub-pantomime role. Amazingly, director Florian Henckel von Donnersmark once made The Lives of Others, while the smoking wreckage of the screenplay was co-written by Julian Fellowes.

Best performance Ben Affleck's Boston-lowlife crime saga The Town got a huge leg-up from his co-star Jeremy Renner, superb in The Hurt Locker and outstanding again here as Jem, right-hand man to Affleck's Doug MacRay. Believing in Affleck as a hard-bitten bank raider is a bit of a stretch, but Renner was utterly convincing as a guy who'd head-butt brick walls, shoot it out with an army of feds or saw off his own arm if that's what it took to grab the swag and protect his buddies.

Worst performance Tom Cruise in Knight and Day. There was about 12 per cent of a decent movie eked out to fill the bloated bulk of James Mangold's disturbingly stupid spy/chase/conspiracy/action thingy, and you could tell from the global press junketings of stars Cruise and Cameron Diaz that the project was on life support from day one. Apparently Cruise was trying to be witty, insouciant and nonchalantly sexy. Instead, he looked like a psychotic sex pest with parental abandonment issues. Mangold just gave up and camouflaged everything with noisy, blundering set-pieces.

Films to look out for in 2011 Can't wait to see Jeff Bridges in True Grit, and Rowan Joffe's remake of Brighton Rock with Sam Riley and Heren Mirren is going to be a corker.

Watch the trailer for Brighton Rock

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