Graham Young rounds up the best and the worst movies of 2011
What a difference a year makes.
January 2010 began with Hugh Grant dawdling through the laboured comedy Did Your Hear About the Morgans? before Jack Black wrapped it all up on Boxing Day with the irksome Gulliver’s Travels.
Little more than a week later, January 2011 opened with The King’s Speech on its way to four Oscar wins from 12 nominations.
And the year is closing this week with a gymnastic return to form for Tom Cruise in the gravity-defying Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.
That’s what I call a proper pair of calendar year bookends – and the good news is that they seem to be sparking a trend.
The first big release of January 6, 2012 will see the incomparable Meryl Streep arriving as The Iron Lady.
And closing out next year will be Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey 3D (Friday, December 14).
Then, on Boxing Day, the unignorable Quentin Tarantino will release Django Unchained starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L Jackson, Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz.
Such is the magic of the movies, one feels indignant about having to wait another 12 months for these treats.
But we must always remember, of course, that not every optimistic, slickly-cut trailer can turn its parent film in to cinema gold.
During the course of any year, it’s still a good rule of thumb that for every ten releases, only one will be of top quality while the rest can soon drop from fair to middling to full-blown disasters like this year’s record financial flop, Mars Needs Moms.
Even the turkeys on full-strength antibiotics have their worth since it’s often more fun to carve up the truly awful than to praise the righteous and meritorious.
More worrying is the British Board of Film Classification’s constant softening of its certification system.
Adults might grow used to violence, but do we really only need a 12A for Sherlock Holmes’ knuckle duster, when children will always be children?
And when did the BBFC/Hollywood’s studios decide the sluice gates could be opened on jokes about oral sex in 15-rated movies like Friends with Benefits and 50/50?
As the star of the tasteless, foul-mouthed Horrible Bosses and Just Go With It this year alone, Jennifer Aniston deserves two nominations at next year’s worst-of-the-worst Razzie Awards.
Other big-name 2011 movies you would only want to see for all of the wrong reasons would have to include Big Momma’s – Like Father, Like Son starring the hapless Martin Lawrence; The Dilemma (Vince Vaughn/Kevin James); I Don’t Know She Does It (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Green Lantern (Ryan Reynolds, also scarcely watchable in The Change-Up).
Two others deserve a mention for an even greater waste of talent.
After the multi Oscar-nominated As Good As It Gets (1997), how did double best Oscar-winning actor Jack Nicholson and Terms of Endearment director James L Brooks turn How Do You Know into the dullest film of 2011?
Likewise, why did two former best actor Oscar winners like Nicolas Cage and Nicole Kidman ever agree to make a film as reprehensible as Trespass. Did they not read their own script?
With such appalling judgement they deserved to play a wealthy couple being tortured in their homes by evil raiders, especially as Michael Heneke’s painful Funny Games got there first 14 years ago.
But enough of the second rate.
In the year when we lost Googie Withers, Anna Massey, Peter Falk, Susannah York, Pete Postlethwaite and the imperious Elizabeth Taylor, another former child star became an Oscar-winning best actress thanks to the dark thriller Black Swan.
Natalie Portman’s confirmation as the new, 29-year-old queen of Hollywood came just 17 years after her juvenile role in Luc Besson’s seminal hit-man thriller, Leon (1994).
Scored by prolific Midlands’ composer Clint Mansell and directed by Darren Aronofsky as a “sibling” movie to his previous film The Wrestler (2008), Black Swan explored the sheer dedication and borderline madness involved in reaching the pinnacle of ambition.
That it was also a spellbinding film about ballet just added to the sense of flair which ought to appeal to, and be a warning for, every wannabe member of the X Factor generation.
It certainly made you wonder why Ms Portman could possibly be in a film as tedious as Your Highness just two months later.
At least within two more weeks she was adding Kenneth Branagh’s hugely enjoyable Thor to her CV as compensation.
Along with Captain America, Thor was up there with the very best of the modern vogue for adapting comic stories, whereas Green Lantern and The Green Hornet were anything but environmentally friendly.
Directed by little known, Devon-born Rupert Wyatt (The Escapist), Rise of the Planet of the Apes was so exciting it was head and shoulders above all of the other summer blockbusters.
While the multi-talented Tim Burton had managed to suffocate an earlier remake in 2001, new boy Wyatt offered a combination of stunning action sequences and the return of Gollum and King Kong star Andy Serkis in fur.
The whole point of going to the cinema is to see something new and surely not an endless string of predictable sequels like Paranormal Activity 3, Spy Kids 4, Scre4m and West is West (rather belated after East Is East in 1999).
The best foreign movies of 2011 includes A Separation, The Skin I Live In, Farewell, The Silence and Outside the Law which all offered things that Hollywood didn’t and probably couldn’t if it tried.
Comedies like Bridesmaids and The Inbetweeners Movie (which had a surprising degree of British heart to match the typically over-optimistic nature of its young, hot-blooded male characters) both did well at the box office.
Pointless remakes included Footloose, Conan The Barbarian, The Mechanic, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Arthur, Brighton Rock and The Next Three Days (Pour Elle).
So why does (the fourth) Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol also deserve a place in the year’s top ten?
Well, director Brad Bird has used our sense of the familiar to really push the envelope for stunt-based movies.
If his adaptation of Ted Hughes’ The Iron Giant (1999) would surely have had an Oscar nomination had the Academy Awards not waited until 2001 to introduce a best animation prize, Bird then took flight regardless to win the best animation Oscar for both The Incredibles (2004) and Ratatouille (2007).
The director’s live action debut Mission: Impossible 4 clearly uses some Pixar-style action techniques.
But the settings look so real, it’s like he’s giving us the best of both worlds.
With Simon Pegg adding real humour too, it’s got to be ‘Bird for Bond’ next time around.
Other films to adore this year included Tangled, Disney’s 50th full length feature which mixed Walt’s hand-drawn legacy with computer generation to spectacular effect.
Now 69, Martin Scorsese proved with Hugo, his love letter to the founding fathers of modern cinema, that 3D can work.
He as much as told me himself that post-production 3D should be outlawed, while Spielberg might watch Hugo and then retrospectively wonder why he used motion capture techniques to plasticise the faces of good actors in his otherwise lively homage to The Adventures of Tintin.
Ryan Gosling was the star of the year thanks to Steve Carell’s Crazy, Stupid, Love and George Clooney’s The Ides of March both following his near-silent role in the menacing Drive, the best night-time adult thriller since Collateral (2004).
My Week With Marilyn was not only great fun and, like Hugo, a fine period movie about the movies, but it also featured a brilliant performance from Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe opposite Kenneth Branagh’s Sir Laurence Olivier.
Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows – Part 2 left the JK Rowling saga on a high. It says much for Warner Bros’ admirable perseverance with this extraordinary journey that after The Philosopher’s Stone had beaten The Fellowship of the Ring into cinemas back in the autumn of 2001, that it should have gone on for almost eight years longer than the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
It was an extraordinary marathon, with fantastical starring roles for James and Oliver Phelps, Sutton Coldfield’s schoolboys-to-adulthood twins.
Several other movies could have made my top ten had I drawn up my list on a different mood day.
Near misses included Moneyball, The Ides of March, Midnight in Paris, The Skin I Live In, True Grit, The Awakening, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Trust, The Lincoln Lawyer and Rango.
Lynne Ramsay’s We Need To Talk About Kevin was particularly close.
A haunting insight into the potential perils of parenthood when the nature versus nurture battle goes wrong, the film was also a study of the modern curse of instant rage and featured a career-best performance from Tilda Swinton, too.
Just like the juvenile delinquents in Neds, directed by fellow Scot Peter Mullan, Ramsay offered plenty of questions about her well-disguised, bleak core subject matter and, in a welcome change, food for thought instead of easy answers.
But since it was arguably too oblique, in the end I plumped for a much more optimistic snapshot of the world.
Directed by Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland) and produced by the North East-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.
Just as he probably would have been shocked to learn that his story made The King’s Speech the year’s best film in every respect.
Moving smartly on from Brian Clough’s story in The Damned United, director Tom Hooper gave us some wonderful period touches, a sympathetic 1930s’ atmosphere, royalty (including Helena Bonham Carter as the future Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother) and the glorious reminder that even those with blue blood can have serious weaknesses.
More significantly, a best actor Oscar for the film’s torch-bearing leading man Colin Firth was clearly no fluke following his much-deserved nomination for A Single Man in 2010. But what really made The King’s Speech special was its Hugo-like ability to quietly reflect the constant march of technology.
Both films reminded us that the modern world has always been at the mercy of “progress” and that we must embrace it.
A century ago, we had the movies, cars, trains and planes changing the way we lived and played.
And, just like Gareth Gates’ universally-admired struggle to talk on the 2002 TV talent show Pop Idol, Firth’s stuttering King George VI had the pressure of having to be able to sspeak on the relatively new-fangled, pre-war medium of radio.
Today, we’re all at the mercy of the subject matter of one of last year’s best movies, The Social Network.
And yet the really good news for everyone employed by the movie industry at large is that even with unemployment at a 17-year high, cinema attendances for 2011 are set to break through the 170 million barrier for only the fourth time since 1971. Now that is something to celebrate. Just like video never did kill the radio star, it also seems that a combination of DVDs, satellite channels, downloads and pirates cannot replace the cinema-going experience either.
Nor, if we’re being honest, should we ever want it to. Roll on the best of 2012...
GRAHAM YOUNG’S TOP TEN FILMS OF 2011
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
... AND TEN TURKEYS
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. Your Highness
10. Paranormal Activity 3