When asked if 2011 was a decent film year by an unsuspecting friend in the pub a few weeks ago, I opened my mouth to answer before realising that I actually didn’t know.
I sat there with a pint in my hand and my jaw open with no words to fill it. It was at the very moment that the person who asked the question realised that a seemingly innocuous enquiry would be the cause of them suffering 45-minutes of their life to my over complicated ruminations. I could see ‘A simple yes or no would’ve done’ reflected in their eyes as I guiltily bought them another drink to atone for their ordeal.
Because the answer is not a simple yes or no, and any self-respecting film watcher will know this. It’s impossible (largely down the continued efforts of Adam Sandler) for a year to sustain a constant and steady stream of quality throughout its duration. Usually people define a good film year by a handful of films that dominated the multiplexes for a few months. For example 1993 is forever burnt into my brain as a stellar year with the release of Jurassic Park; my psyche has (thankfully) chosen to forget this was also the year of Last Action Hero. The same can be said for 1999, The Matrix completely blew my mind, but that’s not before it suffered The Phantom Menace.
Thankfully, I have introduced a new yardstick, and it is beautifully straightforward. Regardless of genre and time of year how many films did I see that I actually enjoyed?
The awards season was full of engaging entertaining and thoughtful films that felt like they were made for audiences first and gong-collecting second. The King’s Speech, Black Swan, The Fighter, True Grit and 127 Hours proving that exploring intense themes and relationships doesn’t mean long, dreary ego pieces that no one understands (take note Tree of Life). This glut of excellence was closely followed by Senna, the finest documentary of the year, capturing the passion, charisma and sheer genius of the Formula 1 legend for fans and non-fans of the sport alike to bask in.
The summer blockbuster season that I held onto so tightly in my youth as a bastion of ‘proper’ filmmaking largely disappointed me again this year with very little spark or originality. Ironically that which did interest me the most out of the pick of the bunch were a comic book adaptation of a character nearly 70 years old, the end of a 10-year franchise and a prequel to a franchise long buried. Captain America, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2 and Rise of the Planet of the Apes despite looking decidedly run of the mill in the run up to their release proved that there’s life in the old dog yet when it comes to simple adventure and popcorn thrills.
Let’s not let the rose-tints get the better of us, 2011 had a bumper share of awfulness to rival any other year. The obscene, turgid and overwrought disaster that was Transformers: Dark of the Moon won my award for worst film of the year by an extraordinary and reality-defying long chalk and proof if any were needed that Michael Bay should never be allowed within 50 feet of a camera at any point in his life again. Although the film won barely by a nose, with close contenders including your friend and mine Adam Sandler’s Just Go With It; his friend and no one else’s Kevin James’ Zookeeper; Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, even without Orlando and Kiera the franchise still stinks like week old mackerel; rounded off by the likes of Sucker Punch and The Hangover Part 2; the highest grossing comedy of the year (hang your heads in shame).
It was autumn that proved to be where 2011 provided me with the most cinematic joy. By the time October came around it felt like something amazing was being released every week. Drive, We Need To Talk About Kevin, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Skin I Live In and Midnight In Paris would have defined an entire year of quality, that they were all released with weeks of each other reaffirmed my faith in the craft of filmmaking.
And there were still films providing escape from the soggy winter: Martin Scorsese giving a point to 3D as a filmic tool two years after James Cameron defined its worthlessness in Avatar, Hugo was an utter delight in its simple story telling, lovingly created characters and nostalgic praise for filmmaking as an art form that touches everyone.
Just getting in under the wire of 2011 The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was the remake that no one seemed to want, being so close to the superb and near perfect Swedish original. David Fincher demonstrated that there was still plenty to mine from Stieg Larsson’s best seller, fashioning a more agile offering while revealing more from characters long thought to have given up all their secrets.
2011 appears to have been full of quality, a vintage year according to a friend of mine and I’m inclined to agree with her. But as good as it was, it’s done with now and like the rabid consumers we are, we crave a constant stream of new and exciting delights. Can 2012 provide them for us? I’m almost certain of it.