Art of darkness


He'll have a B please, Bob. Actually, no he won't, as this year Donald Clarke'shaving a blockbuster-free year. And you thought all film critics were snobs . . .

'TIS THE season to complain about snooty film critics ignoring mainstream releases in their end-of-year lists.

Such charts in this paper have, in previous years, included the odd dumb comedy, the occasional loud action-thriller and more than a few heart-warming populist dramas. Trawling through the releases from 2010, however, it is hard to find any genuinely exceptional marquee crowd-pleasers. Have a glance at the features listed right. This writer's favourite film finds an already notoriously gnomic Thai auteur - Apichatpong Weerasethakul - delivering a delightfully peculiar meditation on death, memory and sex with catfish.

What else? Andrey Khrzhanovskiy's A Room and a Half, a comic meditation on the life of Russian poet Josef Brodsky, was so overlooked it barely even registered with the highbrow crowd. The Illusionist,Sylvain Chomet's gorgeous follow-up to Belleville Rendez-vous, should have been a mainstream film, but audiences are still weirdly resistant to animations aimed at adults.

Yes, Bad Lieutenantstarred Nicolas Cage and a big gun. However, the film was directed by Werner Herzog, and thus automatically gains art-house status. The only film in this writer's list that counts as a properly populist film is the fine science-fiction shocker Splice. Yet nobody went to see it. Nobody! Screens showing that picture gaped in emptiness. (I said "populist" not "popular".)

So is there a crisis in mainstream cinema?

Well, it looks as if the most lucrative film of 2010 will - barring a late rally by Mr Potter or an unexpected surge by Tron: Legacy- turn out to be Toy Story 3.

No complaints there. I was less keen on the animation than most critics, but certainly accept it is a smashing piece of work that confirms Pixar as the saviours of the blockbuster. Christopher Nolan's Inception- again, to my mind, a fine film, but not a classic - also looks likely to finish in the top 10. Martin Scorsese's wonderfully gothic Shutter Islandmade money as well. So all is not quite lost.

Nonetheless, a glance at the cinema calendar for 2010 does suggest that some sort of unhappy torpor has taken over Hollywood. More than ever before we see the studios playing safe with workmanlike follow-ups to so-so movies and cowardly reworkings of familiar stories. Iron Man 2was all right. The third Twilightfilm served its audience. Robin Hoodwas serviceable.

What's going on? Well, with apologies to the great gods of obviousness, the recession seems to have sent the money men scurrying back to safe options. Film-makers will tell you that Hollywood no longer has any interest in financing mid-budget movies, and is more cautious than ever before about taking risks with blockbusters. There is, it seems, more than one reason to pray for recovery.

Donald Clarke's 10 best films 2010

1 Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

2 The Illusionist

3 A Prophet

4 A Room and a Half

5 Exit Through the Gift Shop

6 Bad Lieutenant

7 Splice

8 A Single Man

9 Lourdes

10 Mother