Hollywood may not think so, but you Ticket readers have good memories and great taste, writes Donald Clarke
Let us first address the boring subject of release schedules. The winner of this year’s Ticket Award for best film, Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave, was first screened in August, 2013 at the Telluride Film Festival. It is a full nine months since it won best picture at the Oscars. Yet there it sits.
Thank the major studios’ obsession with unleashing certain classes of film at particular points in the year. If a film looks likely to figure in the Oscar race then – because elderly voters are presumed to have poor memories – it will receive a limited US release at Christmas before eventually flopping in front of European audiences early the following year.
So, filmgoers are idiots. Right? They can’t remember anything that happened earlier than breakfast. Well, Ticket readers certainly seem to have decent memories. Although it failed to beat 12 Years by just a tiny handful (I hope you and your mum voted, Wes Anderson), The Grand Budapest Hotel emerged across the world in the first week of March. That film also ran away with the vote for best screenplay. Our third placed film, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, was released plumb in the middle of the year.
Let us sit back and savour that happy result. The three most popular films on our list were an angular tale of slavery by an awkward video artist, a sumptuous middle-European comedy inspired by the writings of Stefan Zweig, and a quietly experimental, largely plot-free examination of an adolescent life from a mikado of independent film.
The most financially successful film on our expanded list, Luc Besson’s hilarious, rampaging Lucy, came in the bottom three. Obviously, we are dealing with an unusually rarefied demographic here – the cinematic equivalent of the College of Cardinals – but it is still nice to see such oddballs triumphing.
The awards also recognised an unlikely triumph in domestic cinemas. Lenny Abrahamson’s wonderful Frank has won huge plaudits and decent figures all over the world, but Aoife Kelleher’s One Million Dubliners comfortably beat that fine project to best Irish film. This may have surprised those who didn’t catch this fine study of Glasnevin Cemetery in the cinema. A glance at the crowds flowing to the movie in late autumn will, however, have confirmed that older audiences will attend the cinema if offered the right sort of movie. One imagines that, had the producers been aware of the film’s commercial potential, they might have left a longer gap between its theatrical release and its appearance on national television.
The vote for best documentary may have revealed truths about the difficulties in selling non-fiction films. Citizenfour and The Case Against 8 are both currently in the frame for best doc at the Oscars, but neither came close to competing in our own gymkhana. Demonstrating that it’s often the subject, rather than the pizzazz of the film-making, that matters here, Tony Benn: Will and Testament triumphed with readers. That stands as some tribute to a politician first elected to the UK parliament in 1950. Will any of next year’s MPs still seem as relevant in 2080?
Speaking of elections, the documentary race saw an interesting example of . . . Well, we won’t say “ballot stuffing”, but there was certainly a psephological irregularity at work. A film that had played in no commercial cinemas, had appeared at no major festivals and was yet to play on TV received a substantial number of votes as (to use the language of US politics) a “write-in” candidate. Nice try, chaps. It didn’t receive anything like enough mentions to place and, unseen by the paying public, was ineligible anyway, but we acknowledge your subterranean efforts.
So, what else does the poll tell us? Benedict Cumberbatch marches triumphantly onwards. A Worst Film “victory” for Nativity 3 – each of whose parts has figured in this race – probably only guarantees a fourth episode. The Lego Movie, massive victor in Best Animation, remains one of the year’s least likely critical smashes.
Next year, pondering current films such as Birdman and Foxcatcher (both due in early January), we may still be having the same conversation about release dates. Boyhood does, however, seem like an odds-on favourite for the Oscar and Grand Budapest Hotel should also figure in that jamboree.
So, Hollywood may eventually get over its seasonal bias. Let’s see where we are in 2018.