2010, an altogether topsy-turvy year in cinema, began with Kathryn Bigelow’s bruising combat drama The Hurt Locker beating Avatar to the top Oscar, thus becoming the least seen Best Picture winner in history. For much of the year, indeed, Hollywood would sell fewer tickets for greater reward – a consequence of charging extra for stereoscopic spectacles. The movies remained recession-proof, their business model more efficient than ever. Yet the promised 3D revolution seemed ill-served by the flatness of Alice in Wonderland and Clash of the Titans; the new format’s possibilities would find themselves another worthy showcase only in late August – with the Avatar special edition.
Signs of crisis appeared over the summer. Megabuck producers were scraping together bargain-basement items: Jerry Top Gun Bruckheimer with Prince of Persia and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Joel Lethal Weapon Silver with the self-reviewing The Losers. Star power demonstrably dwindled (Knight and Day). Even Sex and the City 2, which sold out its first weekends, proved so generally disliked it succeeded only in putting paid to its own franchise. Bucking the trend was Christopher Nolan’s dream-film Inception, which got lost in its own dizzying cleverness, but showed halfway intelligent event movies could still find large audiences.
Europe carried on regardless, offering fine roles for its actresses: Isabelle Huppert in White Material, Kristin Scott Thomas in Leaving, Tilda Swinton in I Am Love. And while the British industry was stunned by the sudden axe taken to the UK Film Council, there remained reasons to be cheerful. To Mike Leigh’s autumnal triumph Another Year, we can add a rich harvest of discoveries: artist Clio Barnard, whose The Arbor brought recent social history back to vivid life; Ben Wheatley, graduating from BBC3’s Ideal to the leftfield Down Terrace; and effects whizz Gareth Edwards, whose Monsters stands among the most palpably human creature features of all time.
2010’s real story, though, was animation. So golden a year was this I feel compelled to limit the all-conquering Toy Story 3 to a passing mention, in order to highlight the no less exceptional work being done elsewhere. Tearducts of all ages were troubled by the droll Australian claymation Mary & Max, by Chico & Rita’s heady, turbulent passions, and by a fading magician’s plight in Sylvain Chomet’s The Illusionist. Best of all was the Belgian delight A Town Called Panic, a truly riotous feature-length extension of the stopmotion aesthetic employed in those milk ads involving toy cows and time-travelling fridges.
Among the year’s other highlights: Mia Hansen-Løve’s Father of My Children, a study of human adaptability in the face of tragedy that doubles as a frankly gorgeous expression of cinephilia; the Thai Palme d’Or-winner Uncle Boonmee…, proving it’s still possible to inspire wonder with relatively minimal effects; and David Fincher’s The Social Network – a clear frontrunner for 2011’s Best Picture Oscar – which, in Jesse Eisenberg’s Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg, gave us the kind of odd hero 2010 rather deserved. Enjoy their singularity, as Hollywood reverts to comforting type next year: 2011 is sequels as far as the eye can see.