This year has been my most productive in terms of cinema visits for a long time. Not counting multiple screenings of films for study events, I managed 75 screenings this year. One notable aspect of this was the relatively small number of Hollywood films in the list – only 13 titles and of these only three mainstream studio films. Star Trek was OK but watching a digital blow-up on an IMAX screen didn’t win me over to the new Hollywood action cinema. Gran Torino made me angry and Public Enemies was always interesting but in the end rather flat. The other American films were archive prints or new independents. There were the same number of British films and also a similar number of French and Hispanic films (Spain, Mexico and Cuba). So, two-thirds of all the films that I saw in cinemas came from four main industries. Partly this was because I taught courses on the French New Wave and attended screenings celebrating 50 years of the Cuban Revolution, but it is also a reflection on the limited numbers of films from other major producers that get significant distribution opportunities in the UK. So, for instance, I missed the one Korean film that got a significant release in the last year (The Good, The Bad and The Weird).
Here are some of my picks from what I saw at the cinema this year.
The ‘best’ film: 35 Rhums (Claire Denis, France/Germany 2008). No contest really.
The runners-up: Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, Sweden 2008), Tokyo Sonata (Kurosawa Kiyoshi, Japan/Neth/HK 2008), Bright Star (Jane Campion, UK/France/Australia 2009), Looking For Eric (Ken Loach, UK/France/Italy/Belgium/Spain 2009), Three Monkeys (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey 2008)
Best first-time feature: Shifty (Eran Creevy, UK 2008) and Katalin Varga (Peter Strickland, UK/Romania 2009)
Most appreciated evening class screening: Eve’s Bayou (Kasi Lemmons, US 1997)
Best post-screening discussion: (Re Narrative study) Pour elle (Anything For Her, Fred Cavayé, France 2008)
The film I missed, but most wanted to see: Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold, UK 2009)
Most anticipated film to be released in 2010: Une prophète (Jacques Audiard, France 2009)
For comparison, Sight and Sound published its list compiled from the votes of 60 critics around the world in November (note that release dates vary and critics probably saw these films before release at international festivals):
1. Une prophète
2.= The Hurt Locker and 35 Rhums
4. Das weisse Band
5. Let the Right One In
6.= Up and White Material (Claire Denis)
8.= Bright Star and Antichrist
10. Inglorious Basterds
I don’t have any problems with this list. Amazingly, I’ve seen half the films (to be more accurate four and a half if you count Up on a long distance flight). There are three I’m keen to see and two I have chosen not to see (Antichrist and Basterds) – but I recognise that many people do and have found the experience worthwhile. The list is encouraging, especially with four films by women – including two by Claire Denis. More worrying is the lack of any films from outside Europe and North America.