So what if the popcorn titans rode roughshod through the multiplexes? It was also a year to savour a wide range of stealth critical wows, writes TARA BRADY
NOT LONG before she died, Pauline Kael had second thoughts regarding her commendably dogged and inverted cinema snobbery. You’ve likely stumbled across the relevant quotation before, it’s the one that goes: “When we championed trash culture we had no idea it would become the only culture.”
The contemporary critic might well ask the same question about popcorn movies. 2012 was brought to you by and in association with the big- league franchises. Bond, Batman, and Bella Swan all sailed toward (and sometimes past) eight-digit
box-office booty and Disney continued to max out the credit cards on LucasFilm. In the year when Universal and Paramount celebrated 100 years of business, one can’t help but wonder how cinema got so infantile.
Plus ça change? Maybe. Popcorn has long played overlord in the movieverse, but it’s rarely felt quite so Orwellian. Especially for a foodstuff. Years into the continuing march of the tent-poles, we’ve learned to translate the fluent newspeak of most film writing into proper English: “Exclusive Set Visit” means “There’s No Way in Hell This Movie Will Be Screened for Review Purposes”; “Collector’s Edition” means the advertising department have done sterling work; “Five Unique Collector Editions” means “Sucker”.
When we championed popcorn movies should we have known we would end up with even more popcorn movies? Perhaps, but there’s not much the increasingly marginalised critical sector can do about it.
Nowadays critics only make a dent when the relevant release is indie or arthouse or foreign language. It’s a dwindling and doomed profession. Its future, ultimately, is the Fibonacci sequence in reverse and ceaselessly on toward zero.
Yet it still counts for something when it isn’t popcorn.
Happily for our bitter little guild and for film generally, 2012 was also a year of stealth critical wows. You see all these nominations? We’ve got more. Way more. If you’ve got a category, we’ve got the shortlist.
We’re still twiddling our thumbs waiting on the theatrical releases of four of the year’s best Irish titles – Citadel, Pilgrim Hill, Good Vibrations, Earthbound – to premiere at July’s Galway Film Fleadh. It’s good they’re in the bag; 2012 was far from being vintage year on the home front. Glenn Close vehicle Albert Nobbs did enough to secure an Oscar nod for its leading lady but not enough to persuade critics and audiences. Grabbers made for a lively genre entry but flopped at the box office. The Last Furlong was released without warning or a press show. Charlie Casanova made a splash in the media yet not at the multiplex.
And what’s going on with our international co-productions? Babygirl, Iztambul, Wonderland, Apples of Golan, We Went to War? Might we see them in cinemas sometime? We did get Soderbergh’s Haywire replete with Dublin-based beat-em-up action. And happily, Lenny Abrahamson can always be relied upon to turn in something special. Roll on, Frank . . .
Docs were strong this year but you had to seek them out. Discounting Bill Cunningham’s epic seven-week stint at the Light House, theatrical runs were short and sweet. Best Music Documentaries: Blank City, Marley, Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap, Mission to Lars, and Searching for Sugarman. Best Campaigning Documentaries: Call Me Kuchu, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, Khodorkovsky, 5 Broken Cameras and The Island President.
After much deliberation Best Breakthrough Performance was all about the girls – Megalyn Echikunwoke for Damsels in Distress, Julie Sokolowski for Hadewjich, Caity Lotz for The Pact, Tara Lynne for God Bless America and Dane DeHaan, the only male to make the cut, for Chronicle.
The hardest category to call was Best Cinematography, but here goes: Stéphane Fontaine for Rust and Bone, Seamus McGarvey for Anna Karenina, Ron Fricke for Samsara, Ben Richardson for Beasts of the Southern Wild.
We can’t fault this year’s Palm Dog jury selection (Sightseers) and we’re not going to argue: Best Screen Dog Who Isn’t Uggie in The Artist: Laika in Le Havre, Fanny in The Hunt, Smurf in Sightseers, Snoopy in Moonrise Kingdom and, damn it anyway, Uggie in
The Campaign. We thought about Rowdy from The Lucky One but were concerned that his inclusion would make the Best Dog category too commercial.
Best Fake Animals – always a safer option, Mr Jackson – were found in The Grey and War Horse. We’re pleased to announce additional non-photorealistic nods for the swan pedalo from Swandown and Miss Piggy.
It might sound churlish to complain in a year wherein half of the planet’s Greatest Living Directors – Guy Maddin, Alexandr Sukorov, Bruno Dumont, Andrey Zvyagintsev, Béla Tarr, Paul Thomas Anderson, Jacques Audiard – had new films out. But complain we shall.
Best Films Released In the UK But Not In Ireland: Richard Bates Jr’s Excision, Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling’s Sound of my Voice, Yi Seung-jun’s Planet of Snail, Makoto Shinkai’s Children Who Chase Lost Voices and Aleksandr Sokurov’s maddening, magnificent Faust.
Best Reissues Not Reissued Here: Vincente Minnelli’s The Bad and the Beautiful; Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Despair, Nic Roeg’s The Man Who Fell To Earth, Stuart Schulberg’s Nuremberg, and Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s Ninja Scroll.
Meanwhile, at the lowest of the low end of the spectrum we find the Worst Female Characters and Greatest Bechdel Test Fails – The Watch, What To Expect When You’re Expecting, Wrath of the Titans, Skyfall and Chernobyl Diaries.
Let’s not even bother with the Bad Sex Award shortlist; let’s just mention the semen tears in House of Tolerance and move swiftly and quietly on to 2013.
BEST IRISH FILM
SHADOW DANCERJames Marsh
THE SILENCEPat Collins
DEATH OF A SUPERHEROIan Fitzgibbon
WHAT RICHARD DIDLeonard Abrahamson
MOST WELCOME REISSUE
ORDETCarl Theodor Dreyer
THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMPMichael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
DEATH WATCHBertrand Tavernier
LE QUAI DES BRUMESMarcel Carné
MOST PROMISING DEBUT
BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILDBenh Zeitlin
THE RAIDGareth Evans
MARGIN CALLJC Chandor
THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLESLauren Greenfield
BEST IRISH PERFORMANCE
MICHAEL FASSBENDER Shame
ROISÍN MURPHYWhat Richard Did
JACK REYNORWhat Richard Did
ANTONIA CAMPBELL HUGHESThe Other Side of Sleep