by Ron Swanson
Just before Christmas, the issue of film release scheduling was brought up as part of the ugly contretemps between New Yorker film reviewer David Denby and Girl with the Dragon Tattoo producer Scott Rudin. While Denby’s claim that he had to break an embargo he’d agreed to because of release schedule madness (in this case, keeping all of the films aimed at a literate, adult audience to be released at the same time) was clutching for a proverbial drinking device, there’s a kernel of truth to the fact that most of the interesting releases aimed at an older audience do tend to be squeezed into a three month (at best) period.
We see that again this year in the UK. In order to qualify for consideration at this year’s BAFTA awards, a film needs to have been on general release by 10 February (the ceremony takes place two days later). A couple of the front-runners were released late in 2011 (The Help, The Ides of March and most notably, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy), but it still leaves us in the position of having twelve films with aspirations of awards recognition, all attempting to appeal to the same audiences, over a period of six weeks at the beginning of 2012.
With no The King’s Speech (4 Oscars™, 7 BAFTAs, £45m Uk box office) on the cards for 2012, the battle will be even more bloody, and films like Madonna’s W.E., Clint Eastwood’s J.Edgar and David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method are likely to struggle for both audience attention and awards recognition. The prognosis is equally bleak for Jason Reitman’s Young Adult and Drake Doremus’ terrific Like Crazy.
So what does that leave? Well, first out of the blocks is the pick of this year’s films: The Artist. An utterly charming film about silent cinema, shot beautifully and played flawlessly by the two leads, Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo, it has the potential to be a big breakout hit. It would certainly be a film that deserved whatever awards it could win. It’s got off to a good start commercially, after just three days in one cinema, it had grossed an impressive £50k.
Released last Friday was a film which is guaranteed to divide audiences. It’s hard to imagine a more controversial subject for a film, in this country at least, than Margaret Thatcher (at least until 2020’s Tony Blair biopic God Loves Me™). So, The Iron Lady is unlikely to be judged by many audiences for its cinematic merits, or lack thereof (see positive review from The Daily Mail, for evidence). Even so, most reviews are lukewarm, at best, but it would take a brave person to bet against Meryl Streep winning all of the awards for her uncanny impersonation of Thatcher’s Spitting Image puppet.
Meanwhile, on Jan 13, Steven Spielberg returns with his first film in absolutely ages three months, with War Horse. Another film which has struck a chord with The Daily Mail, whose reviewer Chris Tookey has three separate review quotes in the TV advert. I would probably be more keen on this if it didn’t remind me so much of First of the Summer Wine.
Steve McQueen’s Shame is going to receive plenty of press attention. The director’s follow-up to the excellent Hunger is an unflinching character study, anchored by two brilliant performances from Carey Mulligan, and Michael Fassbender, who will be a losing nominee at every awards show this year. As good as the film is, one tracking shot in particular is exhilarating, it’s probably a little too cool and clinical to strike enough of a chord with Oscar™ voters to win.
Much more of a safe bet is Alexander Payne’s The Descendants. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a Jack Johnson song, with any additional gravitas fleeting, and entirely dependent on the performances of George Clooney, Amara Miller and Shailene Woodley as a family struggling to keep it together following a tragic accident befalling their wife and mother. It hints at profundity enough to appeal to some awards voters, and Clooney is the most marketable star there is for this type of movie.
Carnage, based on Yasmina Reza’s acclaimed play is an empty box of a film. In spite of a stellar cast – Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet – and direction from Roman Polanski, this is a film whose only audience will be the chattering classes it holds in such contempt. There are few less edifying film genres than those that serve to poke fun at a social class, and I’ve not enjoyed many films less than this in recent months.
The final awards contender is Martha Marcy May Marlene, the debut feature from director Sean Durkin. It’s almost universally acclaimed, but probably won’t be a major contender for any awards aside from Best Actress for Elizabeth Olsen, who would be a deserving winner. Similar in concept and feel to Winter’s Bone, this isn’t quite as good, but is still a superior American indie film.
Now, in spite of the ridiculous bottle necking of releases, there are still some more films to appeal to a more review-led audience. Among them is the return to cinemas of director Pawel Pawlikowski with The Woman in the Fifth. It’s Pawlikowski’s first film in seven years since the excellent My Summer of Love. It’s an adaptation of a novel by Douglas Kennedy, and stars Ethan Hawke and Kristin Scott Thomas. Reviews in France haven’t been fantastic, but it’s great to see such a distinctive talent getting films made once more.
There are a couple of interesting British crime movies due for release in 2012, ignoring the likely bombast of Nick Love’s The Sweeney. The first is a terrific directorial debut from Dexter Fletcher, Wild Bill. A moving film that succeeds in spite, or because, of its willingness to occupy the same clichés we’ve seen before, this is an incredibly assured debut and will be one of the best films of 2012.
Eran Creevy, meanwhile, is trying to follow-up a superb debut, Shifty, and has a bigger budget, and a starry cast for Welcome to the Punch. I’m not sure that James McAvoy is quite long enough in the tooth to be playing a detective whose career has been blighted by the one that got away (Mark Strong), but the supporting cast is outstanding, featuring Andrea Riseborough, Peter Mullan, Daniel Mays, Johnny Harris and David Morrissey.
Hirokazu Kore-eda’s I Wish was one of MostlyFilm’s picks of last year’s London Film Festival (LFF). Assuming that someone picks it up for distribution, it will be one of the very best films 2012 has to offer, right up there with Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Once Upon a Time in Anatolia and The Dardenne Brothers’ The Kid With a Bike; both are exceptional efforts from two of the finest filmmakers around.
There was some significant Twitter buzz for Lena Dunham’s gentle mumblecore debut feature Tiny Furniture around this time last year. It will be released here in spring, just in time to capitalise on the expected good reviews for her TV movie Girls, produced by Judd Apatow. It’s an odd, delicate and lovely little film, which deserves to find an audience.
Both Terrence Malick and Wong Kar-Wai are slated to have films released in 2012. Most cinemagoers, of course, will have been here before, and will know not to raise their hopes too much. I think there’s more chance of seeing Wong’s The Grandmasters, his biopic of Ip Man, the martial artist who trained Bruce Lee. He’s got a great cast – Tony Leung and Zhang Ziyi play the leads, and I think it’ll probably premiere in Cannes in May, meaning we may see it at the LFF in October.
As for Malick, well, the fact that his next film is still known as the Untitled Terrence Malick Project doesn’t bode well, but it’s reportedly in post-production, and has enough big-name talent attached that we should definitely see it at some point. Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Rachel Weisz, Jessica Chastain, Michael Sheen and Javier Bardem all star, but knowing Malick’s usual pace, I would maybe temper expectations that we’ll see it this year.
Finally, the Sundance Film Festival often provides the buzziest of indie films for the year ahead. This year’s lineup seems a little soft, but it might be worth keeping an eye-out for Smashed, which will hope to gain similar recognition to the similar-sounding Blue Valentine. James Marsh (Man on Wire) has IRA movie Shadow Dancer in the line-up, too, which sees Andrea Riseborough star alongside Domhnall Gleeson and Clive Owen. Jesse Eisenberg and Melissa Leo star in Predisposed, a drama about a piano prodigy with an overbearing mother (Amadeus meets The Fighter?). Buried director Rodrigo Cortes returns with Red Lights, which stars Cillian Murphy, Sigourney Weaver and Robert De Niro. The most fun trailer of the year, though, is that for The Raid. It hits cinema screens in the spring.