A year in film
Despite a gloomy forecast and the loss of a treasure of Irish cinema, there was cause for some cheer in movieland this year, writes Donald Clarke
THIS TIME last year, had you asked a movie pundit to paint a picture of the cinematic landscape in late 2009, he or she might have imagined something a little like John Hillcoat’s upcoming film version of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Those few still living will find themselves stranded in a wretched, denuded wasteland, its greyness broken only by the bloody corpses of recently cannibalised refugees. Films cost a lot of money, you see, and, by last Christmas, there was no money left in the world.
Well, there are plenty of reasons to be cheerless. Last week, The Kino cinema in Cork – for 13 years a rare art-house oasis outside Dublin – closed its doors for the last time.
During the summer, An Bord Snip Nua recommended the abolition of the Irish Film Board. Later, the Renewed Programme for Government appeared to save that body’s skin, but cuts and compromises do still loom.
For all that, the atmosphere on Planet Cinema is far from apocalyptic. The Galway Film Fleadh launched an impressive series of domestic features: fine work such as Conor Horgan’s One
Hundred Mornings, Ken Wardrop’s
His & Hers and Brendan Muldowney’s Savage. Tomm Moore’s fine animation The Secret
of Kells played in commercial cinemas and picked up the audience prize at the Edinburgh Film Festival.
When news arrived this week that His & Hers is to play at the Sundance Film Festival – where John Carney’s Once began its assault three years ago – street prophets began reconsidering their plans to drag out the “End is Nigh” sandwich boards.
Further afield, the good burghers of Pittsburgh, Portsmouth and Phnom Penh flocked to the cinemas in ever-greater numbers. What they experienced was often unedifying. We have yet to see what sums James Cameron’s Avatar will take, but, at time of writing, the cretinous, cacophonous Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen remains the biggest film of the year in the US and the efficiently slavish Harry Potter and
the Half-Blood Prince tops the worldwide 2009 figures. But what about the surprise smash of the year? No, not The Hangover, but the most jaw-dropping box-office success of the year remains a distinctly ordinary, somewhat ugly second sequel to an animation that
wasn’t that good in the first place. Driven by huge ticket sales outside the US, Ice Age: Dawn of the
Dinosaurs has somehow taken in almost ¤600 million and is currently the second-biggest film of the year and – get this – the 15th biggest of all time. You could argue that the regrettable rise in 3-D is responsible, but Pixar’s vastly superior Up, also available in the process, has accumulated only about two-thirds of Dawn of the
Dinosaurs’ takings. Go figure. Never mind. The really good news is that, 2009 turned out to be another fine year for quality cinema. The ubiquitous JJ Abrams and the rising Neill Blomkamp proved with, respectively, District
9 and Star Trek that the mainstream can still accommodate intelligent, beautifully-crafted entertainments. Elsewhere in the multiplexes, tiny budgeted flicks such as Moon and Paranormal
Activity triumphantly defied the usual orthodoxies of movie financing.
So everything’s great? Not quite. Movies take a long time to finance and even longer to produce. The effects of the economic downturn may yet ravage the highways of Cinema City. By all means put the sandwich boards away, but remember where you stored them.
Let the Right One In: scary children topping the list