2010: a look ahead at the year in film (The London Times)

The movie year is a thing of wondrous and familiar beauty. It’s a wave of talent and prestige that comes crashing down upon the shores of January and February, with a dizzying assault of Oscar contenders and Bafta favourites, and then beats a slow retreat, rising briefly for the summer arthouse festivals, dipping for the blockbusters, but always ready to begin a winter assault anew.

This year opens with a genuinely indecent array of must-see movies. In the shadow of the Golden Globe Awards, which are hosted on January 17 by Ricky Gervais, come three representative heavyweights: The Road (Jan 8), Precious (Jan 29) and A Single Man (Feb 12).

The Road is a heart-breakingly faithful adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about an unnamed Father and Son (Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee) who drift along the eastern seaboard of an America ravaged by some unspeakable cataclysm and populated by marauding bands of cannibals. The tension of the journey and its knockout emotional power lie in the attempt of the Father to imbue his Son with the values of goodness and love in a world gone to hell. It’s a mesmerising film, but the flesh-eating savagery might play against it.

More likely to wow awards season voters is Precious, aka Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire. The movie, which examines the rise from poverty and degradation of a young black teenage mother in New York, is being touted as the Slumdog Millionaire of 2010. Produced by Oprah Winfrey for a modest £6 million and championed as an Obama-era tale of black self-empowerment, it features a painfully real turn from Gabourey Sidibe in the title role and surprisingly gritty secondary support from Mariah Carey (sans make-up and cleave-enhancing outfits), playing a tough-love social worker. Though the narrative arc is occasionally predictable, the performances are pitch perfect.

Similarly, thanks to a career-high role as a grief-stricken professor in A Single Man, Colin Firth is guaranteed a place at this year’s Oscar ceremony (nominations are announced on February 2 while the ceremony itself, to be co-hosted by Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin, is on March 7). The movie is the directorial debut of the fashion designer Tom Ford and, though it is a bravura exercise in cinematic style, it’s also surprisingly keen to delve below the surface, allowing Firth the chance finally to hold an entire movie together.

Other British stalwarts — who will be ineligible for the American awards because of release date deadlines but will nonetheless dominate the Baftas on Feb 21 — include Ray Winstone and Andy Serkis. The former dredges the depths of self-loathing to play a cuckolded husband amongst an eccentric bunch of London gangsters in the magnificent 44 Inch Chest (Jan 15). Serkis gives a truly incendiary screen performance as the raging rocker Ian Dury in the biopic Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll (Jan 8).

The awards season itself, of course, is topped and thankfully capped on Oscar night. After which the movies relax, clear the decks of worthiness and head directly into “guilty pleasure” season. Not quite blockbusters and yet certainly not Oscar contenders, the most anticipated of this lot include the reuniting of Matt Damon with his Bourne movies director Paul Greengrass in the Baghdad-set thriller Green Zone (March 12), the return of Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) in Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps (April 23) and another slice of superior action machismo from the Gladiator dream team of director Ridley Scott and star Russell Crowe, here reimagining the swash and buckle of Sherwood Forest in Robin Hood (May 14).

The movie was initially plagued by script alterations, the lack of a meaty villain and the suggestion that Crowe was, well, too portly to play the romantic hero. All problems, however, have apparently been rectified, including Crowe’s physique, which appeared fat-free and bristling in recently released publicity stills.

We mostly bid a fond farewell to our brains for the summer, but not before briefly dipping into Cannes from May 12 to 23, for some arthouse treasures. Though the line-up has yet to be announced, the most intriguing arthouse prospect for 2010 is already shaping up to be Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia (release date as yet unknown). The controversial director, who shocked the Cannes crowd in 2009 with his gross-out horror thriller Antichrist, describes his new movie as a low-budget science fiction drama about the end of the world.

In the meantime, as multiplex screens play host to a summer of eye-popping spectacle, the prohibitive cost of making a Hollywood blockbuster continues to be reflected in the timidity of the subject matter. Mostly sequels, a few video-game adaptations and some TV reboots, the season looks set to be defined by Robert Downey Jr and his Tin Man jumpsuit in Iron Man 2 (April 30), by a strangely buffed and oiled Jake Gyllenhaal in the videogame adaptation Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (May 21) and by an all-new cast headed by Liam Neeson in a revitalised version of the Eighties TV staple The A-Team (July 30). Neeson will play Hannibal Smith to Bradley Cooper’s Faceman and the cage fighter Quinton Jackson is B. A. Baracus. They will all, no doubt, love it when a plan comes together.

Female audiences, who have increasingly become the drivers of franchise fodder, are catered for with Sex and the City 2 (May 28) and The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (July 9). In the latter movie, our winsome heroine Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) accepts the marriage proposal of her gloomy gothic vampire lover Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), while the SATC gang apparently take a trip both to Morocco and back in time to the Eighties (for a much-vaunted flashback sequence).

The truth of the modern franchise season is that it is an ever-expanding beast. In 2010 it will continue right into the autumn, most notably with the first part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Nov 19) which culminates in the legendary Battle of Hogwarts.

By then, however, serious movies will have started to reappear, including The Fighter (Nov 26), an epic real-life boxing story written by Paul Attanasio (Donnie Brasco) and directed by David O. Russell (Three Kings), plus the homegrown thriller Never Let Me Go (set for November release). Adapted from a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro and produced by Andrew Macdonald (Trainspotting), Never Let Me Go is set in a dystopian Britain where clones Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan are grown specifically for organ donation.

It promises to be the fitting climax to a movie year that, come December 2010, will inevitably feature Mulligan as its representative face. Already hotly tipped for Oscar glory for her turn as Jenny in An Education she is set to dominate the awards season (the Best Actress Bafta is practically in the bag), after which she’ll also pop up in the Iraq-war themed drama Brothers and as Gordon Gekko’s daughter in Wall Street 2. She is, in short, the new Julie Christie.

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