Are you ready for

There were some un­mit­i­gated tur­keys – think and – but quite a few quasi-clas­sics passed through the cine­mas this year too. Now it’s your turn to set­tle the score, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film 2011 -

ONE OF THE GREAT crit­i­cal or­tho­dox­ies ar­gues that the early 1970s was a golden era for Amer­i­can film. You know the story. In the af­ter­math of the counter-cul­ture spasms, film school grads such as Scors­ese, Cop­pola and Schrader – fired by the Nou­velle Vague – made the main­stream safe for art.

But here’s the thing. Read the con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous commentary and you get no sense that film­go­ers knew how lucky they were. It took nearly 20 years for the post­clas­si­cal boom to be iden­ti­fied as such.

Where are we go­ing with this? Well, if you were sur­vey­ing the cin­e­matic year in mid-sum­mer, you could rea­son­ably ar­gue that 2011 was un­likely to of­fer many clas­sics for the ages. True Grit was pretty good. Though it had its de­trac­tors, Black Swan cer­tainly made you sit up and pay at­ten­tion. (Yes, those dis­tant Os­car nom­i­nees count as 2011 re­leases in these ter­ri­to­ries.) But the mid­dle of the year was, as usual, colonised by a stream of dumb, noisy synapsean­ni­hi­la­tors.

The Green Lan­tern stunk like marathon run­ners’ un­der­pants. Trans­form­ers 167 was less pleas­ant than an evening of wa­ter­board­ing. With Cars 2, Pixar re­leased its first un­mit­i­gated turkey. True, Cap­tain Amer­ica was sur­pris­ingly zippy. But the only ef­fects-rich movie to break new ground was Ru­pert Wy­att’s in­tel­li­gent (if clum­sily ti­tled) Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

Oh, no. Is it time for an­other “death of cinema” piece? It is not. The lat­ter half of the year brought con­fir­ma­tion that, more than a cen­tury af­ter the medium’s in­cep­tion, cinema can still sur­prise, dis­tract and dis­com­bob­u­late. Pay at­ten­tion. We might be pass­ing through a tiny golden age.

Bri­tish cinema de­liv­ered three very dif­fer­ent quasi-clas­sics. We Need to Talk

About Kevin, Lynne Ram­say’s take on Lionel Shriver’s provoca­tive novel, showed that adap­ta­tions need not be pedes­trian or rev­er­en­tial. Tinker Tai­lor Sol­dier Spy nut­megged the clas­sic TV ver­sion of John le Carré’s book and served up a con­tender for the best ever es­pi­onage movie. Then there was the un­ex­pected claw-ham­mer to the skull that was Ben Wheat­ley’s Kill List: few films have ever so sat­is­fac­to­rily com­bined ver­ité and hor­ror. Wheat­ley’s film, de­spite re­ceiv­ing raves, did not set the box of­fice alight.

But the fi­nan­cial suc­cess of Tinker Tai­lor and Kevin – the former sat at the No 1 spot for much of early au­tumn – con­firmed that, if of­fered the right sort of ma­te­rial, the pub­lic will turn out for grown-up movies.

There’s more to the medium than er­satz pi­rates and overex­tended ju­ve­nile wiz­ardry. With Me­lan­cho­lia, Lars Von Trier shook off that Nazi con­tro­versy at Cannes to de­liver his best-re­ceived film since Break­ing the Waves. Ter­ence Mal­ick’s The Tree of Life, with its lovely im­ages and spir­i­tual hokum, di­vided au­di­ences in the most in­vig­o­rat­ing of fash­ions. Jeff Ni­chols’s Take Shel­ter brought the apoc­a­lypse home. It is, how­ever, dif­fi­cult to dis­cern

any kind of co­her­ent move­ment in the cur­rent sweep of qual­ity cinema. That early 1970s boom re­sulted from a group of like-minded film­mak­ers com­ing of age dur­ing a pe­riod of great so­cial change. The films hon­oured in these pages take in, by way of con­trast, a de­light­ful kalei­do­scope of styles, tones and ori­gins.

It is true to say there is a great deal of gloom about the place. But lit­tle else links such di­verse pic­tures as An­drea Arnold’s muddy Wuthering Heights, Dun­can Jones’s ca­reer­ing Source Code and Justin Kurzel’s grim Snow­town. Sat upon by eco­nomic melt­down, en­vi­ron­men­tal trauma and po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity, the world’s film-mak­ers are find­ing end­lessly dis­parate ways of ex­press­ing their un­ease.

As a re­sult, it’s dif­fi­cult to know whether to be op­ti­mistic about the fu­ture. We’re not track­ing any new waves. We’re not deal­ing with any fresh out­breaks from prom­i­nent film schools. Any­thing could hap­pen. How ap­pro­pri­ate that, in these shaky times, even the good things in life emerge from dis­or­der.

If the Non-move­ment Move­ment (let’s call it that) does con­tinue, let us, at least, hope we can see the films as they are meant to be seen. One un­der-re­ported de­vel­op­ment has been the sack­ing of qual­i­fied pro­jec­tion­ists and the ad­vance of cen­trally con­trolled, dig­i­tally driven ex­hi­bi­tion sys­tems. If the film is up­side down, in the wrong ra­tio or play­ing with­out sound, it has be­come in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to get the prob­lem rec­ti­fied.

There’s a prob­lem Messrs Scors­ese and Cop­pola didn’t have to cope with. Every­thing is turned up way past 11 in Dar­ren Aronof­sky’s study of a bal­let dancer dis­in­te­grat­ing while pre­par­ing for her role in a pro­duc­tion of Swan Lake. Some have crit­i­cised Black Swan for its height­ened tone, but, like We Need to Talk About Kevin (see be­low), the film is clearly be­ing played within the brain of a dis­or­dered pro­tag­o­nist. Top-notch un­hinged turns from Natalie Port­man and Bar­bara Her­shey. More news about the end of the world. Michael Shan­non is ex­tra­or­di­nary as a man who ap­pears to see vi­sions in a re­mote part of the Amer­i­can midwest. Clouds curl. Oily rain drips from the sky. As he sets out to build a storm shel­ter, a strange re­al­i­sa­tion hits the au­di­ence. Jeff Ni­chols’s film could be seen as an at­tempt to in­ves­ti­gate what Field of Dreams would feel like if en­acted in the real world.

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