But by far the biggest story was the news that Panavision, Arri and Aaton were to stop making film cameras: although the celluloid projection will effectively be over by 2013, it seems the death of 35mm capture is only a few years away.
So the medium of film, will soon no longer involve celluloid. That’s a pretty big deal.
As for the releases this year, it seemed a lot worse than it actually was.
Look beyond the unimaginative sequels and you might be surprised to find that there are interesting films across a variety of genres.
Instead of artifically squeezing the standout films into a top ten, below are the films that really impressed me in alphabetical order, followed by honourable mentions that narrowly missed the cut but are worth seeking out.
THE BEST FILMS OF 2011
A Separation (Dir. Asghar Farhadi): This Iranian family drama explored emotional depths and layers that few Western films even began to reach this year.
Drive (Dir. Nicolas Winding Refn): Nicolas Winding Refn brought a European eye to this ultra-stylish LA noir with a killer soundtrack and performances.
As is often the case, there is a good spread of European auteur royalty amongst the list (Von Trier, Dardennes and Tarr), which makes it read a bit like Thierry Frémaux‘s contacts book, but its good to see Michel Hazanavicius, Tomas Alfredson and Asghar Farhadi join the club with films of real distinction and class.
Voted for by 150 film experts including critics, filmmakers, actors and ‘industry players‘, it is a very solid selection overall, with the top ten featuring a healthy mix of established greats alongside some interesting choices.
However, if we are talking about British films (that is films produced by British companies) the team that put this together have made a major blunder by including Stanley Kubrick films which were American films that just happened to be shot in the UK.
As an alternative to the current end-of-year lists here is a collection of film-related links to things that caught my eye during 2010.
The spectrum is pretty broad but ranges from the location of the crop-dusting sequence in North By Northwest, James Dean punching Ronald Regan, an unaired Orson Welles TV pilot (genius) and a graphic explaining Inception.
iPad discussion on Charlie Rose: A roundtable talk with Walt Mossberg of the WSJ, David Carr of the NYT and Michael Arrington of TechCrunch about one of the gadgets of the year.
My favourite film music of the year included albums by Trent Reznor, Hans Zimmer and Daft Punk, whilst tracks by various artists including Zack Hemsey and Grizzly Bear also stood out.
Tron Legacy (EMI): The sequel to Tron was a mixed bag (great visuals, mediocre script) but the score by Daft Punk was unbeliveably epic, fusing their trademark electronica with an orchestra. [Amazon / YouTube]
Inception (Reprise): Hans Zimmer’s score for Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi blockbuster mixed electronic elements, strings and the guitar of Johnny Marr to brilliant effect. [Amazon / YouTube]
The Kids Are Alright (Lakeshore Records): A traditional, but shrewdly assembled collection of traditional and modern songs (featuring the likes of MGMT and David Bowie) which fitted the themes of Lisa Colodenko’s film perfectly. [Amazon / YouTube / The Playlist]
Greenberg (Parlophone): A solid collection of songs from James Murphy alongside tracks by The Steve Miller Band, Duran Duran, Nite Jewel and Galaxie 500. [Amazon / YouTube]
127 Hours (Polydor): Danny Boyle films usually have a memorable soundtrack and this is no exception, featuring music from A.R. Rahman and tracks by various artists including Free Blood, Bill Withers and Sigur Ros. [Amazon / YouTube]
Black Swan (Sony): For Darren Aronofsky’s reworking of Swan Lake, Clint Mansell reworked elements of Tchaikovsky’s original music to spectacular effect. [Amazon / YouTube]
N.B. The soundtracks for Somewhere and Blue Valentine would have easily made the list if they were available to purchase in the UK.
The following tracks are not all directly from soundtracks, but may also have featured on trailers and TV spots for various films.
You can download most of these tracks as a Spotify playlist here or just click on the relevant links to listen to them.
As usual these are my favourite films of the year in alphabetical order (just click on each title for more information).
THE BEST FILMS OF 2010
Animal Kingdom (Dir. David Michôd): The outstanding debut feature from director David Michôd is a riveting depiction of a Melbourne crime family headed by a sinister matriarch.
Another Year (Dir. Mike Leigh): A moving, bitter-sweet drama about relationships, filled with great acting, is arguably the peak of Mike Leigh’s career.
Biutiful (Dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu): Searing exploration of life and death in a modern European city, featuring a tremendous central performance from Javier Bardem.
Black Swan (Dir. Darren Aronofsky): Swan Lake is retold with glorious intensity, channelling Polanski and Cronenberg whilst giving Natalie Portman the role of a lifetime.
Carlos (Dir. Olivier Assayas): Scintillating and immersive depiction of a 1970s terrorist with a tremendous performance by Edgar Ramirez.
Enter the Void (Dir. Gaspar Noé): Technically dazzling depiction of a dead drug dealer that also features what is possibly the greatest opening title sequence of all time.
Exit Through The Gift Shop (Dir. Banksy): An ingenious and hilarious hall of mirrors which is brilliantly executed and so much more than a ‘Banksy documentary’.
Inception (Dir. Christopher Nolan): The ingenious puzzles of Christopher Nolan’s early films were given the scale of his blockbusters in this hugely ambitious sci-fi actioner.
Inside Job (Dir. Charles Ferguson): Devastating documentary about the financial crisis which plays like a heist movie, only this time it is the banks robbing the people.
Tabloid (Dir. Errol Morris): The media feeding frenzy surrounding a bizarre 1970s sex scandal provided Errol Morris with the raw material for one of the most entertaining documentaries in years.
The Fighter (Dir. David O’Russell): A boxing story which follows a familiar path but remains energetic, inspirational and funny, with Christian Bale on career-best form.
The Kids Are Alright (Dir. Lisa Cholodenko): A perfectly pitched comedy-drama that explores modern family life with genuine heart and humour.
The King’s Speech (Dir. Tom Hooper): Wonderfully crafted period drama with two brilliant lead performances and a moving story filled with hilarious one liners.
The Social Network (Dir. David Fincher): The inside story of Facebook is a riveting tale of ambition and betrayal, which sees Fincher, Sorkin and a young cast firing on all cylinders.
Toy Story 3 (Dir. Lee Unkrich): The ground breaking animated series gets a worthy final chapter whilst maintaining Pixar’s impeccable standards of story and animation.
127 Hours (Dir. Danny Boyle) Blue Valentine (Dir. Derek Cianfrance) Catfish (Dir. Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost) Four Lions (Dir. Chris Morris) Let Me In (Dir. Matt Reeves) Restrepo (Dir. Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger) Somewhere (Dir. Sofia Coppola) The American (Dir. Anton Corbijn) The Ghost Writer (Dir. Roman Polanski) The Illusionist (Dir. Sylvain Chomet) Winter’s Bone (Dir. Debra Granik)
They asked 85 critics from across the globe to select their five favourite films of the past year and the titles that appeared the most were then selected for this list which will appear in their January 2011 issue.
(Note that the list can be a little out of sync with US and foreign release dates).
The final selection has already reached the magazine subscribers, although it won’t be on the Sight and Sound website until December 7th.
Aston Martin DB5 in Goldfinger (Dir. Terence Young, 1963): The Bond films in the early 1960s were a massive cultural phenomenon with Sean Connery playing the iconic British spy. Goldfinger perhaps remains the apex of the Connery-era with its famous villain (Gert Frobe), Bond girl (Honor Blackman), theme song and setpieces.
Along with his licence to kill, shaken-not-stirred Martinis and Walther PPK was Bond’s silver Aston Martin DB5 which featured an oil slick, smoke screen, ejector seat, radar tracking system, machine guns, and revolving license plates. [IMDb / Amazon]
1968 Ford Mustang GTin Bullitt (Dir. Peter Yates, 1968): Famous for an extended car chase – frequently cited as one of the best in cinema history – this thriller sees a San Francisco cop (Steve McQueen) who is assigned to protect a mafia informant before uncovering a more sinister plot involving an ambitious senator (Robert Vaughn).
The famous car chase had Bullitt in a dark “Highland Green” 1968 Ford Mustang GT 390 CID Fastback, chasing two hit-men in a “Tuxedo Black” 1968 Dodge Charger R/T 440 Magnum. [IMDb / Amazon]
1963 Volkswagen Beetle in The Love Bug (Dir. Robert Stevenson, 1968): The 1968 Disney film The Love Bug featured a Volkswagen Beetle named Herbie, his driver (Dean Jones) and love interest (Michele Lee).
It went on to star in 4 sequels Herbie Rides Again, Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo, Herbie Goes Bananas, and Herbie: Fully Loaded. One the iconic cars to emerge in post-war Europe, its popularity and awareness were boosted by the Herbie series. [IMDb / Amazon]
Mark II Mini in The Italian Job (Dir. Peter Collings, 1969): It is hard to imagine now, but this late 1960s caper film about British criminals (led by Michael Caine) stealing gold bullion from Turin wasn’t a huge success on initial release. Over the years it gradually became something of an institution due to its witty (and heavily romanticised) evocation of the Swinging Sixties.
Although the film contains some memorable cars (including a Jaguar E-Type and Aston Martin DB4) it is synonymous with the Mini, three of which are used for the climactic getaway. The cars used were the Mark II Minis and they are driven down staircases, storm drains, over the FIAT factory and – most memorably – into the back of a moving bus to the sounds of Quincy Jones’ famous soundtrack. [IMDb / Amazon]
1970 Dodge Challenger R/T in Vanishing Point (Dir. Richard C. Sarafian, 1971): Down the years this film has established a formidable cult reputation. The story involves a Vietnam vet named Kowalski (Barry Newman) who drives from Denver to San Francisco, refusing to stop for the police – who soon start to chase him – and becomes a media sensation after being championed by a blind black disc jockey (Cleavon Little).
Although not a big hit at the time, it captures the black counter-culture mood of early 1970s America and the white Dodge Challenger has gone on to inspire albums (Primal Scream’s 1997 Vanishing Point) and other films (Quentin Tarantino used the same model in Death Proof in 2007). [IMDb / Amazon]
1971 Pontiac LeMans in The French Connection (Dir. William Friedkin, 1971): One of the classic crime movies of the 1970s was this gritty tale of New York narcotics detectives “Popeye” Doyle (Gene Hackman) and Buddy Russo (Roy Scheider) tracking down the source of heroin coming into the United States.
It also contained one of the most remarkable car chases ever put on screen, in which Doyle frantically chases an elevated train. It was made all the more remarkable by the fact that it was shot for ‘real’ in Brooklyn, New York with terrified observers avoiding Doyle’s car, which was driven by stunt driver Bill Hickman. [IMDb / Amazon]
Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6 in C’était un Rendezvous / English Title: “It Was A Date” (Dir. Claude Lelouch, 1976): One of the most jaw dropping and riveting examples of a car on film is this incredible short film (under 10 minutes) showing a high speed drive through Paris in the early hours of the morning.
Shot in a single take, with a gyro-stabilised camera mounted on the bonnet of a Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6, it has been shrouded in rumour and controversy for years due to the illegal nature of how it was filmed. It is thought that the sound of a Ferrari was dubbed on, even though the car was probably a Mercedes. Jeremy Clarkson once said it “makes Bullitt look like a cartoon”. [IMDb / Amazon]
1975 Lotus Esprit in The Spy Who Loved Me (Dir. Lewis Gilbert, 1977): The second iconic Bond car appeared in the late 1970s in the heyday of the Roger Moore era. The plot saw 007 try to stop a madman (Curt Jurgens) from taking over the world with the help of a KGB agent (Barbara Bach).
But the highlight for car enthusiasts was the sequence involving a Lotus Esprit which also doubled as a submarine complete with rocket launcher and mines. At the time of shooting only two of these Lotus models were available, and the film helped boost it’s image with what was a groundbreaking stunt sequence for the time. [IMDb / Amazon]
1974 Dodge Monaco in The Blues Brothers (Dir. John Landis, 1980): The ‘Bluesmobile’ was the long suffering cop vehicle that John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd drove on their ‘mission from God’ in the popular 1980 comedy. After the extended chase from their concert gig in the film, a 106-mile trip to Chicago in which they are chased by the police and Neo-Nazis, the Bluesmobile collapses as the Brothers arrive at the Richard J. Daley Center.
The film used 13 different cars to depict the Bluesmobile, all of which were former police cars purchased from the California Highway Patrol, and were mocked up to look like Illinois patrol cars. [IMDb / Amazon]
Modified 1973 Ford Falcon XB GT in Mad Max (Dir. George Miller, 1979): The low budget Australian thriller that launched Mel Gisbson as a star was the story of a traffic cop who hunts down the crazed motorcycle thugs who kill his family.
Featuring plenty of car chases, there are many memorable vehicles in this film but no more so than the modified car Max eventually drives, a 1973 Ford Falcon XB GT. The actual model used in the film (and the 1981 sequel Mad Max 2) is currently at The Cars of the Stars Motor Museum in Keswick, Cumbria. [IMDb / Amazon]
DeLorean DMC 12 in Back to the Future (Dir. Robert Zemeckis, 1985): One of the major box office hits of the 1980s was this clever tale of a teenager (Michael J Fox) who inadvertently travels back in time thanks to a maverick professor (Christopher Lloyd) who has built a time machine into a Delorean car.
Interestingly, the Delorean never really took off as a car after the company went bankrupt in 1982, but it has become synonymous with this film and in 2007 a limited number were produced again. [IMDb / Amazon]
1961 Ferrari 250 GT Spyder California in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (Dir. John Hughes, 1986): The late John Hughes directed several films that captured the growing pains of teenagers in Reagan’s America, but this tale of a Chicago whizz-kid (Matthew Broderick) who plays truant with his girlfriend (Mia Sara) and best buddy Cameron (Alan Ruck) was arguably his funniest.
A key subplot was that they used a vintage Ferrari to drive around own in, a 1961 Ferrari 250 GT Spyder California which forms part of a key scene towards the end of the film. [IMDb / Amazon]
1976 Ford Gran Torino in Starsky and Hutch (Todd Phillips, 2004): A bit of a cheat this one, as the film version of the long running TV series about two LA detectives also featured the famous red Ford Gran Torino with the white stripe down the side. In truth this remake wasn’t really up to much (Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson didn’t really have the chemistry of Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul), although the car remains one of the most iconic of TV shows in this era.
Ford built 1,000 replicas of the “Starsky and Hutch” car in the spring of 1976, due to the TV show. [IMDb / Amazon]
The Tumbler in Batman Begins & The Dark Knight (Dir. Christopher Nolan, 2005 & 2008): Of the bat-mobiles that have graced the big screen, the one in the most recent films with Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne / Batman was the most radical. Invented by Wayne Industries’ Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), it resembles an armoured vehicle and is powered by a massive jet-booster.
The vehicle does not have a front axle, a design which was influenced by the ‘spinners’ from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. The film’s production designer described the machine as a cross between “a Lamborghini and a Tank”. The second film saw a nifty Bat-bike (the Batpod) hidden within the main body of the vehicle. [IMDb / Amazon]