This year in Britain started well with a wave of award-winning films from the States. No Country For Old Men, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Juno, There Will Be Blood and Sweeney Todd were all spectacular films. However, the biggest release of the early months was that self-hyped orgy of mystery, Cloverfield, an excellent popcorn film with skyscraper-sized monsters trashing the majority of the United States.
There were quieter releases to be enjoyed. The Orphanage was a magnificent and intelligent thriller. In Bruges shot, swore and brutalised its way to brilliance as one of the funniest comedies for some time. Meanwhile, the stylish animation of Persepolis provided an insightful look at an Iranian woman’s life and identity.
When summer arrived Iron Man was one of the better releases, with an excellent performance from Robert Downey Jr, WALL·E was a wonderful film, as Pixar brought the magic of cinema to the screen for a new generation of film-goers, but the summer belonged to the stunning The Dark Knight which had the performance of the year from the late Heath Ledger.
However, there were disappointments. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was the most crushing of these, as Spielberg created an entertaining if incoherent piece that blew itself apart with a useless title and a mad, alien-filled ending. Prince Caspian was bigger and better than its predecessor but still failed to capture the magic of Narnia. Nevertheless, both of these had more quality behind them than Mamma Mia! – dreadfully embarrassing and so terrible it was impossible not to enjoy, particularly as Meryl Streep blasted away with her rather idiosyncratic singing.
Come autumn the big release was Quantum of Solace, which was a disappointment, though not as bad as it could have been, whilst one of the year’s lowlights was Brideshead Revisited, which was anaesthetically dull and oh-so-terribly stiff upper lip. Hellboy 2 proved to be even worse than the original and was a classic example of a film that you didn’t need to bother watching if you’ve seen the trailer.
There were many surprises, though, particularly later in the year. Keira Knightley delivered a nuanced performance in The Duchess whilst Josh Brolin was magnificent as President Bush in the otherwise unsatisfying W. The Italian gangster film Gomorrah was genuinely impressive, as was the bold Holocaust drama The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas: somewhat over-sentimental but the bleak message still hit home. Waltz with Bashir, an Israeli-made animated documentary, was an incredible, stylish, and moving personal journey through a horrible piece of history.
As for the rest of the year, much anticipated are Australia, which will see Kidman and Jackman smooch their way through a good two-hour epic; Che, featuring Benicio del Toro as the revolutionary hero; and Valkyrie, starring the predictable Tom Cruise (but the latest word is that it has been postponed until next year).
So all in all it has been a rather disappointing year: the summer blockbusters that promised to deliver didn’t , and the Yule tide colossi turned out to be rather small. Bring on 2009.