In the past weeks’ ubiquitous end of the year reviews there seemed to be a consensus in America’s mainstream press about how poor 2011 has been for cinema. And if, driven by the rushes of the catch-me-before-deadline-if-you-can that are common during December and January, you have come to consider either ‘The Help’; ‘War Horse’; ‘Moneyball’; ‘Hugo’ or even ‘The Descendants’ as best movies of the year, you may be excused for thinking 2011 has been indeed Extremely Dull and Dangerously Bland.
From across the pond, It seems possible to have a more optimistic perspective. The aforementioned films may be seen as rather disappointing choices for accolades when the best cinema of the year was found elsewhere, but for Hollywood fare, most of those works –plus the rest in contention in this awards season- form a rather solid; finely crafted and nicely acted batch that have also helped raising the standards of an excellent 12 months in film.
In the US, small gems such as ‘Take Shelter’; ‘Martha Marcy May Marlene’ or ‘Cold Weather’ gave good signs of creative health and renewal within the country’s independent cinematography; plus the rescue of Kenneth Lonergan mind-blowingly good ‘Margaret’ after being shelved for seven years, which thanks to the online effort of its #TeamMargaret has turned into a sort of cult, getting part of the acclaim it was certainly due. Meanwhile, in Europe last year’s selection at Cannes was hailed as a vintage one, with Terrence Malick flawed, yet awe-inspiring masterpiece ‘The Tree Of Life’; ‘The Artist’ and ‘Drive’ leading a pack that also boasted very notable new offerings by a number of high profile auteurs: The Dardenne Brothers; Lars Von Trier; Lynne Ramsay; Aki Kaurismäki and Pedro Almodovar among them.
Later on, Venice showcased the divisive but well-received new films by Roman Polanski and Andrea Arnold, next to two of the year’s best: Thomas Alfredson’s adaptation of ‘Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy’ and the disturbing portrait of a sex addict in ‘Shame’, whose excellent reception unleashed rivers of ink to debate if today’s audiences are ready again for more adult and thought-provoking subjects.
Around the world, a few great movies also transcended local barriers and became international stories of success. Among them, from Iran ‘A Separation’ managed to circumvent a growing censorship that has already sent to jail or banned from filming some of the nation’s best directors (the case of Jafar Panahi, the most notorious) and gave a critical view of Today’s Iranian society wisely disguised under the shape of a family in crisis. Denouncing the drug cartel’s wide-reaching tentacles in contemporary Mexico, the bleak drama ‘Miss Bala’ was another highlight of 2012. Even darker were ‘Snowtown’, portraying the crimes of the worst serial killer in Australia’s history, or Russia’s ‘My Joy’, a frightening road trip into the heart of evil. Back in the UK, a wave of fresh talent helped to shape a very promising year, with titles such as ‘Tyrannosaur’; ‘Weekend’ and ‘Submarine’ earning unanimous raves.
Last, but not least, there was an incredibly good year for Documentaries, reinforcing the trend that has seen the genre finding its way back to theatres and regaining an adult audience tired of more infantile propositions. 2012’s crop has spoilt everyone for choice; from the excellent look at the life of Brazilian Formula 1 champion in ‘Senna’; to veteran directors such as Werner Herzog and Wim Wenders exploring the possibilities of 3D in ‘Cave Of Forgotten Dreams’ and ‘Pina’ respectively. Errol Morris funnily compelling ‘Tabloid’ criticising the role of today press in manufacturing scandal for the masses, to Carol Morley’s reconstruction of a life that passed away unnoticed in ‘Dreams Of A Life’.
During the next two weeks, until the Oscars put an end to the current Awards Season and our Film Poll closes, we’ll be giving a recap to everything 2012 delivered for film aficionados. First we’ll have a look at our biggest disappointments; then, to balance things out, we’ll check what surprised us the most, to finish counting down our Top 40 films of the year. Hope you enjoy it.
This post is also available in: Spanish