Sunday, 23 January 2011

Review of the Year: 2010

Only slightly delayed...

Review of the Year 2010

Disclaimer: by no means a comprehensive list!


2010 was a pretty damn good year for film – the year of the intelligent blockbuster, as some have called it. We started off with ‘Avatar’, a film that was apparently going to change film forever. Credit where it’s due: the visuals and the technology used to produce it were genuinely incredible, there’s no argument. The film itself though was distinctly unoriginal and uninteresting – entertaining, in a mindless action fashion, but not especially good. Disappointing, after all the hype.

Following ‘Avatar’, there was little of note until ‘Alice in Wonderland’ around Easter. Again, there was a lot of hype for the film, Tim Burton and Lewis Carroll seeming a match made in heaven. Disappointingly though, what we got was essentially ‘Alice in Wonderland’ fanfiction, Burton’s trademark oddball Gothic married to a desperately unoriginal fantasy adventure. Inoffensive, but hardly worth the price of admission, even for Johnny Depp’s bizarre interpretation of the Mad Hatter.

That said, it was (technically) a much better film than the dismal ‘Clash of the Titans’, a film that managed to get almost everything wrong (full review here). What ‘…Titans’ did manage though was a measure of entertainment, even if it was of the ‘I can’t believe I’m watching this’ sort. Similar mindless entertainment was to be had with ‘Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief’, although it was pretty well made. Some fun ideas, enjoyable set pieces, and some fun cameos made for a fun couple of hours, although once again, hardly essential viewing. Also in this camp was Benicio del Toro’s ‘The Wolfman’, a mess of Gothic horror and slasher film, rescued by some glorious hamming from Hugo Weaving and Anthony Hopkins.

Ridley Scott’s ‘Robin Hood’ was surprisingly good; an extended origin story maybe, but meaty and well acted. Some of the historical detail niggled, but this was well worth watching. Even better was ‘Kick-Ass’, a hugely enjoyable comic adaptation that gained bonus points for annoying the Daily Mail. Uniformly excellent acting, especially from Mark Strong, Nic Cage and Chloe Moretz. A definite must see.

Summer was the true highpoint for any film fan though. ‘Iron Man 2’ was a little disappointing, true – more of the same, not that this is entirely a bad thing, of course – but Christopher Nolan’s ‘Inception’ was brilliant, a truly clever blockbuster. Perhaps not as clever as it thought it was, and definitely lacking in character detail for the various sidekicks, but there was a point where it seemed like it would be a shoo-in for film of the year.

Then came ‘Toy Story 3’. Sorry, the all-conquering ‘Toy Story 3’. I genuinely cannot think of a single bad thing to say about it; it was funny, it felt relevant, it was astonishingly moving, it was beautifully made. Film of the year, for me.

Which means that the best compliment I can pay ‘Scott Pilgrim vs the World’ is that it came very, very close to taking that spot from ‘Toy Story 3’. Original, supremely entertaining, witty, well-acted…a great Hollywood debut for Edgar Wright, and I look forward to more from him.

I shall gloss over ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ – daft fun, but little more – and move onto the winter months. ‘Despicable Me’ made a valiant attempt at a quality family film, but never really rose above average, despite some fun use of 3D in the end credits, but winter has been all about the mighty Harry Potter. More detail can be found here, but suffice it to say that it was a good adaptation of an average book. More imaginative, if not quite as good, was ‘Voyage of the Dawn Treader’. I enjoyed it a lot, but on reflection, there were a lot of problems, largely caused by the rather episodic nature of it. Attempts were made to tie everything together, but they weren’t entirely successful – what was the green mist, for example? – but it did manage to feel magical, more so than ‘Deathly Hallows’, actually. Finally, we have ‘Tron: Legacy’. A triumph of style over substance, this looked pretty, had a few cool set pieces, but made little sense. Whether this was true for those who had seen the original, I don’t know, but there should be some effort to make it accessible for new fans – particularly in light of Disney’s baffling decision not to put Tron on DVD outside America.


Ironically, and somewhat sadly, this will probably be the briefest section of this review. I’ve read rather a lot this year, but little of it was actually published this year (the curse of being an English student…). My book of the year award goes to Jim Butcher’s ‘Changes’ – hardly a masterpiece of literature, but it was frenetically paced, seemingly with an action scene every other chapter, well written, funny, and genuinely moving. A strong entry in the series, although not if you haven’t read the earlier instalments.

A close contender was ‘The Midnight Mayor’, by Kate Griffin, released at roughly the same time, and following similar genre territory. Griffin’s works are undoubtedly more surreal than Butcher’s though, with an infinitely more magical idea of magic. Again, it’s advisable (although probably not essential) to have read the previous instalment, ‘A Madness of Angels’, but it was beautifully written, highly imaginative, and very clever.

Rounding out the top three, we have Terry Pratchett’s most recent novel, ‘I Shall Wear Midnight’. I am something of a Pratchett fanboy, rarely able to find much if anything to criticise about his work, but this was definitely one of his lesser books. How much of that is due to his unfortunate illness is a matter for debate, but regardless of that, some of the dialogue felt awkward and stilted, and at least one character was far too convenient, if not for the plot then for the romance – there’s little satisfaction when a budding romance spread over three books is dropped in favour of a more ‘suitable’ partner introduced in the same book. Niggles aside though, there was the customary humour, intriguing plot and some fantastic fan service in the form of old characters.

Another decent read was ‘Ordinary Thunderstorms’, by William Boyd. At first, this came across as a typical if well-written thriller; an American in London is framed for murder, and in the course of trying to clear his name uncovers a conspiracy regarding a new wonder drug. Quickly though, it turns into more of a portrait of the seedier side of London than a mere thriller. It is engaging and enjoyable, but the climax lets it down, with very little really resolved. Such are the amount of plot threads left hanging, I wouldn’t be at all surprised – although not disappointed either – to see a sequel. I fear that this is a vain hope though.

Merely enjoyable were ‘Artemis Fowl and the Atlantis Complex’, by Eoin Colfer, and ‘Ghosts of Manhattan’, by George Mann. Colfer’s work was technically superior, but lacked the spark of his earlier books, with a rather lacklustre plot but some decent character work. Mann’s work is solid more than anything else, and ‘Ghosts…’ was more than a little generic (a wealthy American moonlighting as a vigilante in a corrupt city, with outlandish gadgets), and introduced a supernatural element far too late – and too vaguely – in the book to be really effective, but was an entertaining romp through a steampunk twist on the 1930’s.


Show of the year…a tough one. ‘Doctor Who’ was fantastic, but this was largely due to Matt Smith’s astonishing performance; there were some outstanding episodes, but a lot of them felt like feet finding instalments, although this is perfectly understandable. The Christmas Special was superb, if a little nonsensical, and made the brave decision to focus on the characters rather than overblown setpieces (a trait that could be applied to the whole series, as a matter of fact). Season 6 is looking excellent, from the trailer.

‘Sherlock’, also by Stephen Moffat, was much more confident, hugely inventive, and had some interesting spins on the usual portrayal of Holmes. Two outstanding performances from Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman cemented the show’s quality status. There was a single duff note, and even that was arguable; the portrayal of Moriaty in the final scenes of the series. It was a little difficult to take him seriously as a villain when he so strongly reminded me of Graham Norton. The frankly evil cliffhanger should guarantee interest in the second – hopefully much longer – series.

Last, but by no means least, we had ‘Downton Abbey’, a sumptuous, beautifully shot and written period drama. It wasn’t without its faults – at least two of the daughters of the house seemed to be in a competition for ‘Bitch of the Year’ award, which meant sympathising with them was tricky, and there were definitely a couple of historical niggles – but overall this was high quality, brilliantly acted television. This will be back next year, all being well, and I can’t wait.

I’d love to simply announce a three way tie, but that would feel like cheating. In the end, I suppose the clincher is that ‘Sherlock’ is the only one I have sought out on DVD, a sure sign of quality.

In different fields, we had ‘Mongrels’, a BBC3 comedy show. It really shouldn’t have worked; a variety of animal puppets indulging in humour that would make Frankie Boyle blush. Well, maybe not quite that dark, but not exactly fluffy comedy. It was, however, astonishingly funny, with some delicious song and dance routines, and memorable characters. Highly recommended, and I am eagerly anticipating the second series.

The high profile adaptation ‘Pillars of the Earth’ was sadly disappointing; I’m not familiar with the book, but the series was let down by being far too fast paced, with little time to focus on the already slim characterisation. It was lavishly produced, and had some wonderfully hammy acting from Ian McShane, but other performances were let down by the aforementioned characterisation issues. It must have been difficult for any of the actors to really sink their teeth into the roles – although Matthew Macfadden sadly misjudged his Welsh accent, which was at least amusing. Deeply average, despite the potential.

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