Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

Has there ever been a start to the year like this?

A rare rush of extraordinary films has brightened up the early months of 2014.

Wed, Apr 9, 2014, 15:52


In a sense, this conversation should have been had back in December. The schedules are now structured in such a way as to allow Oscary films an uninhibited crack at the winter months. Mind you, plenty of films aimed at awards season turn out to be dog awful. Who would watch The Reader again without a gun trained to his or her head? This year has, however, been something special. Here are some of the films that have opened in this territory in 2014: Her, Grand Budapest Hotel, Inside Llewyn Davis, Under the Skin, 12 Years a Slave, The Lego Movie. That’s leaving aside treats such as Only Lovers Left Alive, Tom at the Farm and A Stranger by the Lake.

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There is no “movement” here. The pictures are varied in tone and intent. Good luck making sense of any connection between The Lego Movie and Under the Skin.

There is, however, good news here about the continuing fecundity of modern cinema. Every now and then, somebody (maybe me) will write an article saying it’s all about television these days. Why would anybody bother toying with cinema when the cable channels are making shows as good as Game of Thrones, True Detective, Breaking Bad and The Other One Everyone Likes? We are then often asked to endure some comparison between TV and the Victorian novel. You know the sort of stuff.

It’s a funny thing. The prestige that comes from getting your film in a big dark cinema has never really gone away. It survived the rise of TV and it survived the rise of video. Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin will be seen by many fewer people than the latest episode of Game of Thrones. But there is still a sense that the modern version of literary salons are more inclined to discuss films seriously than mere telly.

None of which explains the current surge of extraordinary films. When the work is so varied there is probably no point attempting to assess a mood or a drift. As we mentioned in this place a few weeks ago, everyone thought that, back in 1999, the rise in post-indie US cinema would lead to an uninterrupted flow of masterpieces. It didn’t. The beginning of the century was, in fact, a fairly awful period for mainstream cinema. So, the only moral is: enjoy it while you can. Come to think of it, that surge may already be over. I’m looking at the schedule and I see no masterpieces on the horizon. And Transformers IV is looming. Arrrrgh! Abandon ship! To the lifeboats.