2011

Oscars Countdown 2012: Another Fine Mess

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If the Oscars are good for one thing, it's at least the chance to roll out last year's dodgy Photoshopping one more time.

In a little over 24 hours, the eyes of the world will be on the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles for the handing out of this year’s two dozen tiny shiny bald gold men. Once upon a time, I would take the day off work the Monday after the Oscars so that I could be up all night, often in those days being glued to a tiny stream off the internet with a picture four inches wide, which was all my primitive internet connection could deal with, and watching with expectation and fascination while the awards were handed out. Then about four years ago I actually began watching enough films to have seen the majority of nominees, and quickly came to realise that a group of donkeys with pins tied to their hooves could do a better job of picking the best films and performances of the year than the Academy.

This article clearly breaks down the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences (AMPAS) membership: the overall vote for Best Picture is voted for by the whole Academy, which if you’ve not clicked on the link is made up of a membership that’s 94% white, 77% male and 54% over 60 (and a crippling 98% over 40). I’m white, male and much too close to being over 40 for my liking, but my typical movie choices couldn’t be further from the conservative choices typically favoured by Academy voters. Consequently, looking back at the twenty years since I left school and went to university and started to get bitten by the film bug, I’ve been disappointed more often than not by the Academy’s picks. Take Best Picture for example.

Three columns. The first is the film which won Best Picture that year; the second column is, of the five or ten nominated films, the one I’d call my favourite, and the last column is my actual favourite film of that year, regardless of whether it’s in the nominated films or not. As you can see, there are only eight years of the last 20 when my favourite film has even made the nomination list, and only five when the film I enjoyed most of the nominees picked up the top award. Only in one year, 2007, did my top film of the year actually pick up the top prize of the year. One year in twenty, and that year There Will Be Blood lost out, so as many people will have disagreed with me as will have agreed.

Now, I’m not saying that I should be replacing Oscar as the definitive authority on what’s good and who’s worthy, although I probably couldn’t do any worse. No, the issue here is that there are three possible sources of enjoyment from watching the Oscar ceremony itself: to enjoy the ceremony itself, to marvel in the frippery of red carpets, fashion choices and Ryan Seacrests and to see what’s won. The last of these is undoubtedly the main purpose, the awards themselves being the Christmas cake to the icing of the ceremony and the strange marzipan that no-one ever eats on anything other than a Christmas cake that’s the red carpet. So if you’re not feeling the love for what actually wins the awards, is there any point in watching the Oscars, or at the very least sitting up all night to watch them?

Consequently Oscar night is more than likely to be a crushing disappointment for me, and this year is no exception. No Drive, Shame, Tinker Tailor or Take Shelter in Best Picture, no Michael Fassbender, Ryan Gosling or Tom Hardy in Best Actor or Olivia Coleman, Tilda Swinton or Kirsten Dunst in Best Actress, and the four big acting awards – which should go to the big names of George Clooney and Meryl Streep, and the talents of Jessica Chastain and Nick Nolte if justice is to be done – could well end up in the hands of Jean Dujardin and Viola Davis, Christopher Plummer and Octavia Spencer. Don’t get me wrong, I loved all four of those latter performances – even if the film I saw two of them in occasionally made me want to throw things at the screen – but for me they’re not the right choices, and the odds of all four prizes going to the names I’d like are about as high as Jack Nicholson turning feral and chasing the rest of the front row out of the auditorium.  When all the awards ceremony itself can offer up is rehashing Billy Crystal and excluding the performances of Best Original Song (“I’m a maaaan, I’m a MUPPEEEEEETTTTT!”), I’ll be heading for my bed at a normal time and picking out the bones from the latest fine mess in the morning. If you are staying up, best of luck, but I just hope you’re not in it for the winners; trust me, you’re going to be disappointed somewhere.

Review Of 2011: The 10 Worst Movies I Saw In 2011

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I’m not sure this list really needs any introduction, but it may require a little clarification. I do try to watch a lot of movies these days; this year I’ve averaged around 3 a week across the whole year, which is a pretty reasonable achievement in my book, but even more so is how few of those I actually regret watching. As I’ve said before, I’m here to encourage others to my fervent following for watching films in a cinema, but hopefully to watch the films you want to watch, rather than just blindly stumbling into the nearest Cineworld and seeing any old tripe just because it doesn’t cost anything extra.

Despite my lofty ambitions, my good intentions and a previously untested willingness to consciously avoid poorly reviewed movies, which saved me from Sucker Punch, among others, I still ended up seeing a few that I’d quite happily have wiped from my mind if the technology ever becomes available. So this is the list of the ten worst films that I saw this year, rather than the actual ten worst. For anyone that saw more than about three of these, though, you have my pity. Better luck next year.

This list is numbered in reverse order, so we start at the tenth worst and go rapidly downhill from there. I’ve added links if I reviewed the film at the time of release, just in case you don’t believe me.

10. Transformers: Dark Of The Moon

Deserving of a place on this list for its first half. Strangely, the second half was the best attempt Michael Bay has yet made at a giant fighty robots movie, his embracing of the need for different editing techniques for 3D restraining his style just enough to make the action set pieces clear, the geography sensible and to make the sense of scale truly epic. Taken on its own terms, the last hour of the movie was no masterpiece but it might just have been the best hour of film Bay’d made since The Rock.

The first half, which features lots of small talky humans, a real life celebrity playing a version of themselves which pretty much devalues his and his colleagues’ achievements in the name of entertainment and a host of previously respectable actors who really should know better selling their souls for a pay cheque and making something so bad that they should probably be barred for making anything else for five years as a punishment. The first hour and a half was quite comfortably the worst hour and a half of film-making of the year, and it’s almost a shame that the last hour went a small way to redeeming it. But to all involved – enough now. Seriously.

Why I watched it: My Optimus Prime Transformer toy was my favourite toy at a certain point in my childhood. After the animated Transformers movie bumped him off, at a stroke ending my childhood, I felt a duty of care to make sure that Optimus made it through these movies unscathed. I think three’s enough – if you make any more, you’re on your own, Optimus.

9. Cowboys & Aliens

Here’s a challenge for you. Do you think it’s possible to make a film which defies the most basic laws of mathematics? Well, Cowboys & Aliens is that film. In maths, the product of two negative numbers is a positive, but the product of two positive numbers is, of course, also positive. However, the product of combining the two extremely positive elements of a kick-ass Western and a spectacular sci-fi movie turns out to be a giant negative. For Cowboys & Aliens is one of the most boring films ever made.

I fear that Jon Favreau may be the Jan De Bont of his generation. Jan made Speed, but then spent years proving that he’d caught lightning in a bottle and didn’t know how to do it again. Favs has made Iron Man, which was great, and everything else he’s ever made as a director, all of which are the opposite of great. For shame.

Why I watched it: It was a big deal at this year’s Movie-Con, which got renamed Empire Presents: BIG SCREEN. In the end, I passed up the opportunity to see Ford, Craig and Favs in the flesh (and pay an extra £35 for the privilege) and saw it as part of my regular ticket. Best £35 I never spent.

8. Mr. Popper’s Penguins

Jim Carrey mugging at his most frantic! Lots of penguins in hil-ARI-ous japes! What could go wrong? Well, plenty as it turns out. First, anyone expecting The Mask or Ace Ventura levels of mugging (i.e. me) will be sorely disappointed, as Carrey plays this restrained, thus ending up making it unbelievably dull. If it wasn’t dull enough, the penguins are neither cute enough to be interesting or zany enough to be exciting.

If any further proof is needed, the bad guy turns out to be (a) the anonymous guy from the Marvel Avengers movies whose name no-one ever remembers, and (b) not really all that bothered about being bad. A film so anodyne and anonymous it could be prescribed as a cure for ADHD.

Why I watched it: I turned up late at the cinema with my Cineworld card in hand, having been stuck at work. My original choice of The Devil’s Double had long since started, so my options for entertaining myself until Captain America were an hour and a half in the car park or watching penguins. About 45 minutes in, the car park had never seemed so appealing…

7. Alvin And The Chipmunks: Chipwrecked

If you click on the link above, you’ll see that I couldn’t really summon up the energy to write proper words about this Chipmunk threequel (typical quote: “chipmunks blah something something meh”), so the thought of expending even more energy on telling you why they’re so bad feels utterly pointless, almost exhausting.

Right. It’s chipmunks. They can talk and sing. They sound exactly like they did in the Fifties, or in the cartoon from the Eigthies, even though celebrities of sorts are doing the voices. They’ve abandoned their plot driven first two films for some heavy moralising, and they’re recruiting poorer and poorer human actors to make the chipmunks look good. Chipmunks blah blah kill me now.

Why I watched it: I will see anything that my wife wants to see. She wanted to see the first two. By the third, it’s almost become a badge of honour. If they make a fourth, I will be there. But for the love of all that’s holy, please make it better than this one.

6. Hereafter

I’m a bit worried about Clint Eastwood. He’s made some fantastic films over the years, but this was a confused mess. A terrible CGI tsunami (that somehow got nominated for an Oscar) kicks things off, and that turns out to be the highlight. There are a pair of frustratingly bad child actors, a set of subplots that either don’t resolve properly or resolve in entirely fruitless ways, and the amount of time spent on Derek Jacobi playing himself reading a Charles Dickens novel, which turns out to be just an excuse for two characters to coincidentally be in the same room, utterly beggars belief. Hereafter doesn’t even get as far as preachy moralising; if anyone can actually work out what the intent was, answers on a postcard please.

Why I watched it: It’s written by Peter Morgan, and directed by Clint Eastwood, and it stars Matt Damon. If ever a film was an indication that big names and a big budget don’t guarantee quality, then it’s Transformers: Dark Of The Moon. Or this one.

5. Sleeping Beauty

It would be easy to make some “Emperor’s new clothes” gags about a film where the lead character spends much of it in states of undress. Ironically, you’ll be the one who ends up feeling exploited if you watch Sleeping Beauty, as a complete absence of fully-formed ideas or any sense of rational intent will just leave you scratching your head as to wondering why anyone bothered.

The one thing it did achieve was making me feel sorry for Emily Browning, who seems to have an uncanny knack for picking poor projects. Near the end of the film (tiny spoiler alert) she’s left screaming; given that events on screen seem to have randomly motivated this outburst, I can only assume that it was Browning’s real life realisation of what’s happening to her career.

Why I watched it: It was my last day at the Cambridge Film Festival this year, and I chose this over The Help. I chose badly.

4. The Hangover, Part II

They say it’s a fine line between genius and insanity; apparently it’s an equally fine line between a genuinely funny comedy and a tasteless, offensive train wreck, and that line neatly sits between the original film and this utterly misjudged sequel. If it just repeated all the gags or set-ups from the first film, but this time in Thailand – which it does – then it would be pretty poor, but The Hangover, Part II makes one extra special effort; by the time they actually get marooned this time around, their behaviour has driven you to at least dislike, and possibly actively hate, the characters you grew to love in the original. Consequently, the fates they suffer feel like not enough punishment for these idiots to be suffering; if Part III consisted of the three of them being left in the desert to die, it wouldn’t be entertaining, but sadly it would feel little more than they deserve.

Why I watched it: I enjoyed the first one. I hoped, against hope, that the bad reviews were wrong. They weren’t.

3. Green Lantern

So there’s this guy, right, and he has this magic desk lantern, and a ring that grants wishes – sort of – and he’s guardian of thousands of stars and planets but just seems to faff around on this one before deciding it’s not for him, then deciding it is. And there’s a bunch of other people, or things, and they all have rings, and lanterns, and they think he’s rubbish, and he turns out completely by chance not to be, after they don’t bother to help him in any way. One of them might be a bit dodgy, but we won’t know unless they ever make a sequel. But his name sounds a bit like “sinister”, and he’s red, so he probably is.

I’m sorry, I’m not sure I’m making this sound dumb enough; quite the most spectacularly stupid film of 2011, it takes a character that sounds daft on paper and gives him a wafer thin plot to work with, before it culminates in a short succession of unimaginative, unrealistic and surprisingly brief action sequences. If you look hard enough, you can see everyone involved dying slightly on the inside in the close-ups.

Why I watched it: I’ve always made a tradition of seeing the big summer action blockbusters, because I love action movies and comic book adaptations have gotten much better over the years. Green Lantern is making me think really hard about that tradition.

2. The Future

If you’ve watched the likes of Little Miss Sunshine or Juno, it seems really easy to make a quirky, offbeat indie comedy which casually muses on the nature of life and existence. The Future is proof positive that it’s not easy at all, despite it having all of the right ingredients.

The problem comes in the two lead characters, Sophie and Jason, both of whom are so all-consumingly irritating that listening to someone scrape nails down a blackboard for ninety minutes would be preferable to spending time in their company. Miranda July, as well as writing, directing and starring, also provides a gratingly stupid voiceover for the cat, and consequently achieves a sort of grand slam of awfulness. Sophie and Jason fail to do anything but inspire absolute contempt during the running time by their inaction and their inability to commit to anything meaningful, and the few moments of genuine whimsy or eccentricity are crushed beneath the frustration and despair of being forced to watch them bumbling through life, looking for a purpose.

Why I watched it: The trailer looked quite good. But two minutes turned out to be all the time I could stand of this pair.

1. Battle: Los Angeles

And finally, the worst film I saw this year. Every thing about Battle: Los Angeles would scream awful, if it could be bothered to think about screaming, or if the screaming could be made out in the haze of brown dust clouds and thuddingly predictable soundtrack, but it can’t even muster the energy for that. Worthwhile or original plots, interesting characters, believable or quotable dialogue (at least, quotable for the right reasons) and any sense of genuine spectacle have all packed up and left long before the aliens arrive, and what we’re left with are a collection of the worst kind of clichés, reheated and packaged together in the least convincing manner possible.

Battle: Los Angeles succeeded in not only being the worst film I’ve seen this year, but the worst one I’ve sat all the way through in three years. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Why I watched it: Because I’m stupid? Probably. Sadly, I had seen two films while my wife was at work, and had time for a third – but I had to go to another cinema, and then pay full price, to see this. If I ever meet Aaron Eckhart in real life, I will be asking for a refund on this one.

Review Of 2011: Top 25 Performances Of 2011

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It’s the end of another year, when traditionally anyone who thinks themselves to be even the slightest bit important starts handing out awards, statuettes, globes, cubes and all manner of trinkets to the great and the good, and occasionally a few less deserving. Although cinema has been going for over a hundred years, ever since awards were first handed out a division has taken place between actors and actresses, and for most of that time awards have also been handed out for both leading and supporting roles. But who’s to say that any performance by an actress is more or less worthy than that of an actor, or indeed that a role with only ten minutes of onscreen time is more or less important than a role where the performer is in every scene?

Not me, that’s for sure. So in looking at what’s made up the best films of the year, I’ve pulled together what I believe are the best performances of the year. There are only two criteria that I’ve applied – I’ve only picked the best single performance from each performer, and I’ve only picked my favourite single performance from a single film. I’ve seen a lot of films this year, so there’s a lot of worthy performances that didn’t make the cut – these are the top 25 that left the biggest impression on me in 2011.

25. 50/50  –  Joseph Gordon-Levitt

There’s enough of a history of prostate cancer in my family that, even with regular testing, I might end up facing the situation encountered by JGL’s Adam in 50/50, and I’ve often wondered how I’d react. I don’t need to any longer, as Joe’s portrayal of coming to terms with news of The Big C felt pretty much spot on. There’s a number of supposedly brave decisions that an actor can take in the name of their art, and shaving your head is one of them, but it’s to this actor’s credit that the physical quirks never overpower an understated but extremely effective performance.

24. Weekend  –  Tom Cullen

Weekend has picked up a lot of indie attention this year for its take on relationships, and the fact that it’s a relationship between two men became almost incidental as the central story was so strong. Credit for that must go not only to Andrew Haigh’s strong writing but to the performances of the two leads, and while Chris New has the slightly more showy role, it’s Tom Cullen’s mix of ease and angst that was the slightly stronger showing. Hopefully this will be a springboard for both Cullen and New to go onto bigger and equally good things.

23. X-Men: First Class  –  Michael Fassbender

Looking for the next James Bond? Daniel Craig seems set on sticking in the role for a few more years, but on his showing in this year’s X-Men prequel, Fassbender has moved to the front of the queue to take over when Craig’s had enough. I’m even willing to overlook the fact that his accent was gravitating strongly back towards the Giants Causeway in the last act, so dominant was Fass’s performance, especially in the early scenes. That he not only matched Sir Ian McKellen’s performance in the role but at times even exceeded that standard is testament to someone who’s had a fantastic track record over the past few years. In the next six weeks, he’ll be in cinemas in films from Steve McQueen, Steven Soderbergh and David Cronenberg, and with Ridley Scott’s Prometheus to come in the summer, 2012 looks like it could be a landmark year for him.

22. The Debt  –  Jesper Christensen

The Debt was a film of very mixed performances, but two stood out above the others, and in particular the scenes that the two of them shared. A number of confrontations in the first half between Jessica Chastain and Jesper Christensen stood out as highlights and that was to the credit of both Chastain and Christensen, the latter simmering with barely contained menace once his true nature becomes apparent. It’s a shame that Christensen didn’t get more of a prominent role in the two recent Daniel Craig Bonds, as on this evidence he could have been a much stronger villain than either of those films actually ended up with.

21. Black Swan  –  Natalie Portman

I’ll be returning regularly to the theme of how actors can be perceived as brave in order to stand out from the crowd, and Natalie Portman’s Oscar-winning turn practically rattled off a tick list including madness, lipstick lesbianism and even some slightly-too-casual onanism. Oh, and more madness. This is one of those “practically-in-every-scene” roles that was also a career best turn in a career that’s had some pretty strong turns previously.

20. Animal Kingdom  –  Jacki Weaver

In a film as full of testosterone as Animal Kingdom, it takes something special for an actress to stand out, and Jacki Weaver had that special something. After a twenty year period in which she’d been seen very little on screens of any size, a late renaissance saw her take on the role as the unassuming mother figure of the family. Fantastic performances across the board from the likes of Joel Edgerton, Guy Pearce and Ben Mendelsohn make Animal Kingdom a compelling watch, but it’s Weaver’s performance that rightly got awards attention this time last year.

19. 127 Hours  –  James Franco

I never imagined, after his frustratingly one-note performances in the Spider-Man trilogy, that James Franco would be popping up in a list like this, but 2011 was a great year for Franco. He did just well enough as the human lead in the new Apes movie, and also surprised in the Allen Ginsberg biopic Howl, but 127 Hours became his signature role. Having very little to interact with, he still managed to sustain interest throughout the running time, and it was the fault of the structure of the film itself rather than Franco’s performance that led to a little watch-checking while we waited for hour 127; when it came, the final moments continued to show the strengths of an actor who, at 33, is just now coming into his prime.

18. Tomboy  –  Zoé Héran

If James Franco still has a long career ahead of him, then surely Zoé Héran is also destined for great things. Tomboy was a delightful story of the innocence of youth and the coming of adolescence, carried by Héran’s winning performance at its centre as new girl Laure masquerading as new boy Michaël. It would have been easy to make the role unsympathetic in the wrong hands but Héran carries the film completely, and Tomboy doesn’t shy away from the practical realities of such a situation, but does so without becoming heavy-handed or judgemental. Here’s hoping we see more roles for Zoé in years to come.

17. Oslo, August 31st  –  Anders Danielsen Lie

Another actor getting a chance to shine in a film gaining recognition on a wider stage this year was Anders Danielsen Lie. Taking centre stage in Oslo, August 31st, the story of a recovering drug addict’s struggles for acceptance and his attempt to reintegrate into society after rehabilitation, Anders was barely off screen and brings both a tenderness and an understandable resentment to his screen namesake. Although it’s already been seen in this country following a showing at the London Film Festival and a limited release, it’s been added to Sundance for 2012, where surely the profile of both the film and actor can surely only rise further.

16. Bridesmaids  –  Melissa McCarthy

If you want to make things particularly difficult for yourself in Hollywood, try to do whatever you can to not conform to the physical stereotype. Melissa McCarthy has never been, and likely never will be, stick thin but she still manages to do glamorous pretty well in the likes of her high profile TV roles such as the hit US sitcom Mike And Molly. For Bridesmaids, she stripped that away as well, but it didn’t stop her stealing practically the whole film away from her co-stars, and nominations for everything from the Teen Choice Awards to the Screen Actors Guild for her performance are fair reward for her commitment.

15. Beginners  –  Christopher Plummer

There’s often a sense when it comes to awards time that certain actors reach a point in their career when they get recognition out of courtesy, or as a reward for career achievement rather than the merit of a specific role. It may come as a surprise that Christopher Plummer only got his first Oscar nomination two years ago for The Last Station, but he should pick up his second this year for Beginners. Rest assured, if you’ve not seen it, that this isn’t a career pat-on-the-back, Plummer excelling as the father finding a new lease of life in his final years.

14. True Grit  –  Jeff Bridges

It’s been a bit of an acting head-to-head over the past couple of years, as both Jeff Bridges and Colin Firth have been nominated for the Best Actor Oscar two years in a row. While Bridges took the first gold baldie for Crazy Heart, Firth won this year for The King’s Speech, and while it was a deserved win when comparing the two, it shouldn’t take away from the sheer joy of Bridges’ grizzly, mumbling turn in the Coen Brothers’ latest masterpiece. Matt Damon and Hailee Steinfeld both deserve plaudits for their performances, but Bridges took on the hardest challenge, and successfully banished any memories of John Wayne’s performance with another majestic turn.

13. The King’s Speech  –  Colin Firth

But, when comparing the two, Firth just edged it; possibly justice done after his astonishingly subtle performance in last year’s A Single Man was shamefully overlooked for Bridges’ theatrics. Although a speech impediment and performing a real life character are another two of the “how to bag an Oscar” checklist, Firth is spot on throughout and is well supported by Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter. Following this up with another star turn in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, it’s been a good year for Firth, and hopefully none of us will ever have to watch him mugging through the likes of the St. Trinian’s sequel again.

12. Rise of the Planet of the Apes  –  Andy Serkis

There’s one other area where the Academy goes further than segregating and actively discriminates at the moment, and when it comes to a motion-captured performance, awards voters in general still haven’t been bra ve enough to reward a performance augmented by CGI. The computer graphics might be practically flawless, but they’d be nothing without the performers wearing the dot-covered grey leotards acting on green screens, and Serkis gives what may be the best performance yet in a computer-assisted costume; yes, Caesar is even better than the previous benchmark Serkis set, and is revisiting next year, in Middle Earth’s Gollum.

11. Brighton Rock  –  Andrea Riseborough

One of the most undervalued performers of 2011 has been Andrea Riseborough. It doesn’t quite feel as if she’s had the luck in landing the roles that a younger contemporary such as Carey Mulligan, but Riseborough has been outstanding not once, but three times, on screen this year. She ended the year with a star turn in Welsh alternate-history drama Resistance, and started it with a brief but heart-breaking turn in Never Let Me Go. It was more heartbreak that saw her best effort of the year, and while Brighton Rock the film may not have been the sum of its parts, Riseborough was outstanding at its core. Hopefully Shadow Dancer (with Clive Owen) and Welcome To The Punch (with James McAvoy and Mark Strong) will keep her profile high next year, but she starts with Madonna’s take on the life of Wallace Simpson, which sadly looks to be another case of her performing well in a film that doesn’t showcase her talents as effectively as it should.

10. We Need to Talk About Kevin   –  Tilda Swinton

Tilda Swinton isn’t afraid of an acting challenge, but how do you follow up I Am Love, where she learned to speak Italian with a Russian accent? Aside from a third turn as Narnia’s White Witch last year, her latest cinema role was front and centre in Lynne Ramsay’s successful adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s novel. Swinton is magnetic throughout, taking whatever’s thrown at her – most of it symbolically red – and retaining sympathy despite the difficulty of her various situations. Such is the warmth and tenderness that she brings to the role, in the face of almost unrelenting misery, that it makes the inevitability of the outcome still very hard to take, and that’s entirely to Tilda Swinton’s credit.

9. The Fighter  –  Christian Bale

Sitting through most of The Fighter, as good as Christian Bale’s performance is, you can’t help but think that maybe he’s gone a little too far over the top on the mannerisms. It’s undoubtedly a strong performance, and is complemented by strong work from the likes of Amy Adams and Melissa Leo, but when put in contrast to Mark Wahlberg’s defiantly understated performance as the other brother, the titular Fighter, then it does occasionally feel too much of a good thing. Then the end credits arrive, and with them footage of the real life Ward brothers, and all of a sudden it becomes apparent that Bale’s a genius, absolutely nailing the larger than life persona of his real life counterpart. In 2012? Not much. Just a new Batman movie, that’s all.

8. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy  –  Tom Hardy

If you played cinematic tail-on-the-donkey with the cast list of Tinker, Tailor, listing out the names and then attempting to find a great performance by going at the list blindfolded, you couldn’t not hit on an amazing performance by probably the best cast put together in film this year. When even those getting barely more than a single scene, such as Stephen Graham or Kathy Burke, excel then you know you’re onto a winner. But if forced to pick one, then Tom Hardy just edges ahead of the rest of the cast with his stunning portrayal of the man who calls out the mole. Hardy’s been around for ten years, but has come a long way since the likes of Black Hawk Down and Star Trek: Nemesis, and will follow up his impressively muscular turn in this year’s Warrior with lead bad guy duties in next year’s Batman threequel; hopefully Hardy’s best years are still to come.

7. My Week With Marilyn  –  Michelle Williams

I was more than a little unsure about approaching My Week With Marilyn, not only because I’d never really have described myself as a fan of Marilyn Monroe, but because the few clips I’d seen suggested that the performances of both Williams and Kenneth Branagh as Laurence Olivier were erring more on the side of caricature. I should have had more faith; Williams has been proving for years that she’s one of America’s finest actresses, and followed up her performance at the start of the year in Blue Valentine with this cracking showing as one of the US’s screen icons, by turns an uncanny impersonation and a sympathetic portrayal of a public life that hid more of a private tragedy. Expect Williams to make a strong showing come awards season.

6. Warrior  –  Nick Nolte

Another name that was being touted for a while as a major contender in the supporting categories this year was Nick Nolte, but the momentum now seems to be with Christopher Plummer. It’s a shame, for as good as Plummer was, Nolte was better. Warrior ran the risk of being a sports movie full of stereotypes, but in each case either neatly dodged them or embraced them to full effect. Nolte’s performance fell into the former category, as the recovering alcoholic father found his loyalties divided between his sons, and he painted a believable character arc without resorting to histrionics. It was almost good enough to make me forget his uncomfortable turn as Jennifer Garner’s father in Russell Brand’s Arthur remake. Almost.

5. Melancholia  –  Kirsten Dunst

What, then, of Kirsten Dunst, denied the opportunity to make further Spider-Man sequels? Dunst has always felt as happy in the art house as the blockbuster, so it made sense that when Penelope Cruz dropped out to make the latest Pirates Of The Caribbean sequel, Dunst was recommended to Lars von Trier as a replacement. It’s a film of two halves, and Dunst shines in both; in the first half, her wandering mind and frustrated countenance completely at odds with the order and formality of the wedding reception, giving way to a serene presence as others try to understand events to come in the second half. It’s the ideal performance for von Trier’s art house blockbuster.

4. Drive  –  Ryan Gosling

If I was giving out awards for actor of the year, then there would probably be only one contender. If you consider the magnificent four-hander that he’s put out this year: the lover at the end of the doomed relationship in Blue Valentine, the smooth charmer who struggles to commit in Crazy, Stupid, Love, and the young buck looking to make a name for himself politically in The Ides Of March, but it’s the role as the almost silent stunt driver in Drive which is likely to define Ryan Gosling for years to come, a masterclass in how much can be done with so little. I received some Gosling in my stocking for Christmas this year, in the form of Lars And The Real Girl, and it’s an indication of Gosling’s supreme quality that he’s so good in all of these roles. I would fancy there’s a fair few movie buffs who had scorpion jackets in their stockings this year.

3. Take Shelter  –  Jessica Chastain

If Ryan Gosling has been one of the year’s hardest working actors, then Jessica Chastain has been even busier, and we’re spoiled for choice in picking a role to define her talents. While she stood out among the tone poem madness that was The Tree Of Life, and excelled as the ditzy blonde with hidden depths in The Help, it was two other roles that really showed her talents. The first was as the young Helen Mirren in The Debt, showing her class and dignity even as Jesper Christensen foraged in her unmentionables, but for me her best showing of the year is the one which has her mentioned in Supporting Actress categories as Michael Shannon’s wife in Take Shelter. Not to dismiss Shannon’s powerhouse performance, but it would have been nothing without Chastain to play off, and their scene together at the dinner table as Shannon confessed to the full extent of his problems was the most powerful two-hander of the year. Not resting on her laurels, Chastain is up next as Ralph Fiennes’ wife in Coriolanus.

2. Biutiful  –  Javier Bardem

I mentioned earlier the injustice of the Oscars, that Jeff Bridges should’ve been beaten by Colin Firth in last year’s Oscars; I also stand by the view that neither Bridges or Firth should actually have won the big award this year, as the best performance by far from an actor in a leading role came from Javier Bardem in Biutiful. Bardem’s portrayal of Uxbal, a man attempting to juggle too many facets of a life with few days left in it was stunning, and despite the misery and melancholy Bardem rooted the film in reality amid elements of the supernatural and turned a good film into a genuinely great one simply by the power of his performance. The fact that he’ll be a Bond baddie by this time next year fills me with more glee than I can possibly share right now.

1. Tyrannosaur  –  Olivia Colman

But the performance of the year was that of Olivia Colman in Paddy Considine’s directorial debut. It was a conscious departure for Colman, who was well known – in her own view, too well known – as a regular collaborator of Mitchell and Webb, in both their sketch show and Peep Show, and also for her lighter supporting roles such as the dirty-minded Doris in Hot Fuzz. But taking these as a polar opposite to Tyrannosaur, it’s difficult to know which is sublime and which ridiculous, so utterly convincing is Colman’s portrayal of the charity shop worker tested to her limit by both abusive husband Eddie Marsan and by Peter Mullan’s troublesome drunk who stumbles into her life one day.

It’s a performance that’s not only remarkable given Colman’s previous body of work, but it also stands on its own terms as an absolutely astonishing piece of work. Mullan and Marsan are no slouches, and Mullan especially delivers some of his best acting work here, but Colman, under the guiding hand of first time director Considine, is the star of the show and is absolutely mesmerising from start to finish. Like Lesley Manville’s performance in Mike Leigh’s Another Year last year, sadly this doesn’t have the profile or the momentum to get the awards attention it deserves, but don’t let that detract from what is a performance so strong and so strong in the face of her character’s adversity, that if you ever saw Olivia Colman in the street, you would be unable to suppress the need to give her a great big hug.