Every year there are certain events and trends that crop up over and over again in movies, and 2010 was no exception. Here are the motifs that we noticed in this year’s films – which of them did you spot?
Films: The A-Team, The Losers, The Expendables
In no fewer than three films this year the big bad guy was a CIA agent or former CIA agent who gathered a fortune on the side from dealing drugs. This oddly specific bad guy trope has a peculiar weakness: he can always be undone by a small, unorthodox gang of mismatched but highly trained soldiers. If he’s left such a group for dead or framed them for a crime they didn’t commit, it’s goodbye Charlie for our enterprising agent. All things considered, he’d have done much better to kill them thoroughly in the first place.
Further reading: Drugs and the CIA: Hollywood's Bad Guy Dilemma
Films: Avatar, Alice In Wonderland, Toy Story 3
While there have been billion-dollar films several times in the last several years, with The Dark Knight and Pirates Of The Caribbean both passing the ten-figure mark, this was the first year ever that three films passed that benchmark worldwide. Avatar may have been a 2009 release, but it was early this year that it made a billion – and then another, and then most of another. Alice and Toy Story soon squeaked past the mark behind it. What does this mean? Well, it means that ticket prices are rising and that you can charge a premium for 3D films, but also that Avatar is a genuine phe-nom-e-non (worthy of separation of all four syllables).
Further reading:* A Billion At The Box Office Doesn't Matter Any More...
Films: A Prophet, I Love You Phillip Morris, Shutter Island, Toy Story 3
If you’re in America, you can add The Next Three Days and (arguably) Tangled to this list, but it was clear that anyone who was anyone was in prison this year, or at the very least a super-secure psychiatric hospital. We could theorise that, with the continuing financial meltdown, we’re all feeling the walls closing in and filmmakers are merely channelling the constraint we're feeling in our lives, but it’s more likely down to a mere freak of programming. After all, Phillip Morris had been sitting on the shelf for some time waiting for release, while A Prophet came out in 2009 in its native land.
Films: Paranormal Activity 2, I’m Still Here, The Last Exorcism
The “found footage” approach to horror movies and the like has been around for some time, but this year it spread into whole new categories – most notably, of course, Joaquin Phoenix career-change “documentary” I’m Still Here. Blurring the lines between reality and fiction is an increasingly popular way of getting audiences to sit up and take an interest. Incidentally, there’s another film that we feel may merit inclusion here, but since the makers claim that it’s real we’re not going to name that one.
Films: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Capitalism: A Love Story, Despicable Me, The Other Guys, Up in the Air
It took a little while to filter through after the 2008 crash, but here it is: bankers and big-businessmen are the most popular Big Bads of the year. What’s strange about it is that the sharpest joke at their expense came not from enfants terribles Michael Moore or Oliver Stone, but cartoon Despicable Me, where the Bank of Evil is signposted as “formerly Lehman Brothers”. Still, it looks like we may be taking a break from the cuddly millionaires we’ve seen in the past (think Annie or Meet Joe Black) in favour of a more cut-throat vision of the super-rich. Expect this trend to continue for some time to come.
Films: The Road, Valhalla Rising, Centurion, The Way Back
Not since The Lord of the Rings have so many actors taken so many extended strolls. In The Road, Viggo Mortensen and son trek across a devastated America looking for food and hopefully, one day, safety. In Valhalla Rising, Mads Mikkelsen is a mute monolith escaping a Scottish tribe. In Centurion, those darn Scots are on the trail of a small band of Roman survivors after ambushing their legion. And in The Way Back, it’s escapees from a Soviet gulag during World War II trying to make their way across Siberia, Mongolia, the Gobi desert and, er, the Himalayas. Which rather puts in context your weekend stroll into town, doesn’t it?
Films: Inception, Shutter Island, Monsters, Certified Copy, Enter The Void, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
WARNING: SPOILERS FOLLOW. The debates continue to rage about Inception, but if you ask us the ending’s pretty clear. Probably. More surprisingly, Shutter Island seemed to confuse quite a lot of people (we’re saying he makes a conscious, sane choice), as did Monsters (that bit at the beginning is actually the end, we think). Certified Copy seems to have baked everyone’s noodle, and at least 50% of people we’ve spoken to were confused that Scott Pilgrim chose the girl he did at the end of that movie, so perhaps that should be in here too. If this trend continues, expect next year’s films to make no sense at all – although in that respect, Uncle Boonmee may be leading the herd.
Films: How To Train Your Dragon, Gulliver’s Travels, Your Highness (trailer), Thor (trailer)
The Northern Irish among you may have noticed before – in Hellboy 2 or Superman Returns, for example – that the province’s foremost tourist attraction has begun to attract some Hollywood love in recent years, whether in direct reference or merely by riffing on the stones’ distinctive look. But this year it was all over: Hiccup and Toothless took a break on some familiar-looking stones in How To Train Your Dragon; Jack Black was imprisoned there (or at least in Lilliput’s version of the geologically-related Fingal’s Cave across the sea in Scotland) in Gulliver’s Travels and the place itself appears in the trailer for Your Highness. There’s also a hint of it in the background of the Thor trailer too. Just an odd little fad that we noticed and thought we’d share, because Northern Ireland’s lacking in claims-to-fame generally.
Films: The Town, Salt, Takers, Green Zone, Date Night, Leap Year, Remember Me, The American
For some reason, 2010 was rich in names that were instantly forgettable, easily confusable or plain-old dull. Sure, it made a welcome break from the endlessly long, multiply-punctuated titles of years gone by (although The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader and Harry Potter AndThe Deathly Hallows: Part One both upheld that fine tradition), but it was still perhaps a swing too far in the other direction. When poor hard-working film journalists are left struggling to remember which one Remember Me was, or to distinguish Still Walking from The Way Back, you know titles are getting a little dull. Thank goodness for Ninja Assassins and The Last Airbender, eh?
Further reading: What's In A Name? How Movie Titles Have Never Been So Dull
Films: Catfish, Social Network, Going The Distance
Those looking for proof of the extent to which social networks have taken over our lives need look no further than cinema screens this year. Catfish and – of course – The Social Network both centred on Facebook, while Going the Distance made use of Skype for its long-distance love-affair. On a related note, even Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps chattered about “blogs” and “going viral”. At this rate, it’s only a matter of time before we sees Paranormal Activity characters tweeting, “@911 ZOMG Being terrorised by mysterious forces, please send help.”
Films: Shutter Island, Inception, Youth in Revolt, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World
If you saw a Leonardo DiCaprio film this year, chances are that much of the film took place inside his head. If you saw a Michael Cera film, chances are much the same thing. DiCaprio’s dreams were his world in Inception, while in Shutter Island an entire island gathered to fuel his delusions. Meanwhile, Cera’s Scott Pilgrim adventures may well have been almost entirely imaginary, and in Youth In Revolt he invented an entire alter-ego to help/hinder his plans when reality got too much. Next year? The girls get a turn too, as the ladies of Sucker Punch retreat from reality into a glamorous nightclub / brothel.