People often notice the obvious stuff – the fact that there are a lot of comic-book movies these days, or the way animated films seem to be proliferating. But have you noticed the slightly weirder trends in filmmaking this year? Here are the ones we noticed – and beware some spoilers!
Seen in: Man Of Steel, Star Trek Into Darkness, Oblivion
What better way to show that a planet is in some serious difficulties than to show a fragmented moon hanging in the sky above it? For the world of Oblivion (pictured above), the Krypton of Man Of Steel and the Kronos of Star Trek Into Darkness, a damaged satellite signals environmental upheaval and social chaos – or even extinction. Basically, if you see a ruined moon, chances are you should avoid the planet beneath it lest Klingons / Tom Cruise / Michael Shannon beat you up.
Why is it suddenly a trend? Could these sleeping satellites be a sign of our own preoccupation with environmental disaster? Let’s say yes.
MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY'S CONTINUED CAREER RENAISSANCE
Seen in: Bernie, The Paperboy, Mud, Dallas Buyers Club (festivals), The Wolf Of Wall Street (US release)
It began with The Lincoln Lawyer and Killer Joe in 2011, solidified last year with Magic Mike and now it’s undeniable: Matthew McConaughey is one of the most interesting and fearless actors around. After a decade spent trying to squeeze his inherent weirdness into identikit heartthrob roles, he has turned the boat around and played weird, cowboy-booted prosecutors, a reporter, a fugitive, an AIDS sufferer and – very soon now – an eccentric Wall Street banker. We can’t wait to see what he does next. And we’d kinda like to see this McConaughey liven up one of those cheesy rom-coms he used to do.
Why is it suddenly a trend? Maybe he saved enough from all those cash-cows that he can now do whatever the heck he wants – and whatever he wants, it turns out, is to work with interesting filmmakers on indie successes.
SPACESHIPS CRASHING INTO CITIES
Seen in: Thor: The Dark World, Star Trek Into Darkness, G.I. Joe: Retaliation (sort of), Man Of Steel, Pacific Rim (sort of)
There have been huge and devastating crashes before, but this year saw spaceship-on-city destruction on a level not seen since Independence Day – and even that didn’t see the aliens deliberately bring down their vessels on a major populated area. This summer, however, it kept happening, with Thor and Star Trek’s villains deliberately crashing into downtown; G.I. Joe dropping weaponry from space; Man Of Steel razing a city from a sort of mining ship and Pacific Rim dealing in organic weaponry in the form of giant kaiju. Looks like those people in Escape To The Country had the right idea. Incidentally, we also had quite a few plane crashes, in Iron Man 3, Flight (nearly), World War Z and Olympus Has Fallen.
Why is it suddenly a trend? Pop-psychology suggests that the echoes of 9/11 are still reverberating onscreen, but it could be a general response to the fact that our entire civilisation is feeling more fragile amid economic woes and environmental concerns.
Seen in: Despicable Me 2, Oz: The Great & Powerful, Monsters University, The Croods, Frozen, Dom Hemingway, The Lone Ranger
It used to be that a sidekick just needed to have a weird haircut or some glasses to provide sufficient contrast to the lead. These days, however, you’re going to need weird babbling Minions (Despicable Me 2), a flying monkey (Oz), bizarre monsters with braces (Monsters University), a talking belt (The Croods), an animated snowman and/or dog-reindeer (Frozen), false-handed PA (Dom Hemingway) or semi-animated bird hat (The Lone Ranger). Well, at least it makes a change.
Why is it suddenly a trend? CG characters are now good enough that the only limit is one’s imagination, even in live action. Of course, most of these are animated, and in that arena the lively competition between the rival studios keeps them all pushing for the fences.
THE WHITE HOUSE
Seen in: Lincoln, White House Down, Olympus Has Fallen, The Butler
Four score and ten months ago, there were hardly any films set in the White House. Now it seems that all of them are. Lincoln kicked things off this year, giving us a portrait of the Civil War president and a home open to petitioners of all stripes. Then came the one-two punch of Antoine Fuqua and Roland Emmerich’s terrorists-in-DC films. And finally, offering a sweep through half a century of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue’s history, was Lee Daniel’s The Butler, looking at the downstairs to the presidents’ upstairs. We look forward to a series of Brit films set in 10 Downing Street in the near future, inspired by this trend...
Why is it suddenly a trend? You could argue that the cultural moment that birthed both Lincoln and The Butler to Obama’s election, but is the pair of Die-Hard-In-The-White-House films also down to him? Perhaps they display a fear of the lunatic fringe lined up against the current occupant of the Oval Office.
THE RETURN OF THE CLASSIC HORROR
Seen in: The Conjuring, You’re Next, Insidious Part 2
For the last few years, the big news in the horror genre has been found footage. Before that, the dominant trend seemed to be torture porn. This year, however, saw a return to classic forms of filmmaking, albeit with some surprises in the plotting. James Wan’s two-film farewell to horror before he goes off to make Fast 7 (he directed The Conjuring and Insidious Part 2, the over-achiever, and both did big business at the box office) and Adam Wingard’s breakthrough You’re Next all place a value on creep over shock and scares over gore. Thank goodness for that.
Why is it suddenly a trend? Perhaps because it’s about time we got a horror film that didn’t make us want to throw up or get new glasses.
Seen in: This Is The End, The World’s End, After Earth, Oblivion, World War Z, Elysium
The future, as envisioned by the filmmakers of this year, is going to be short. Whether it’s economic (Elysium), environmental (After Earth), zombie (World War Z), alien (The World’s End, Oblivion) or literally Biblical (This Is The End), humanity is in for a tough time. Most of us will probably be wiped out, and unless we get hoisted off the surface of the world to some sort of base, other planet or religious paradise, we’re going to start rueing the day. So, er, that’s kinda gloomy.
Why is it suddenly a trend? Let’s hope it only reflects the increased potential of special effects, and is emphatically not the universe trying to tell us something.
A LONELY HERO IN A HOSTILE UNIVERSE
Seen in: Gravity, Captain Phillips, All Is Lost, After Earth, Only God Forgives
Here’s another slightly worrying trend: many films this year saw an isolated hero fighting the odds completely alone. Gravity and All Is Lost offer the purest examples, with both leads cut off from everyone else and adrift in an environment inimical to human life. But Captain Phillips sees its hero cut off from everyone he knows too, as does After Earth, while Ryan Gosling’s less sympathetic Julian is driven by his family into extreme danger. You could argue for the inclusion of many other heroes of the year on the list, from Man Of Steel to Zero Dark Thirty to The Wolverine, but they have a little tiny bit more support in their isolation.
Why is it suddenly a trend? It’s always been with us, because the “One man...” trailer-voiceover trope didn’t come from nowhere, but it happens to have found particular expression this year. Chalk it up to a general fear of abandonment.
CURES FOR DEATH
Seen in: Star Trek Into Darkness, Elysium, Iron Man 3, The Wolverine, The Lone Ranger, Warm Bodies, World War Z
Has your hero died or near-died? No problem! By dint of a blood transfusion / sci-fi machine / operation / Native American rite / true love, you can restore him or her to health with no problems at all! You can also inject yourself with a disease that will make zombies magically ignore you (World War Z), and if all that fails you can follow the example of another of this year’s box-office hits and get our alien overlords to clone you. Any way you look at it, death is no longer something we need to worry about.
Why is it suddenly a trend? We guess there are only so many times you can nearly kill your star before you have to follow-through. Only, since you can’t commit to the killing, you’re going to have to bring them back using a magical cure for everything that, in most of these films, never gets mentioned again. Because why would a cure for death be a big deal?
LONDON GETS IT IN THE NECK
Seen in: G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Star Trek Into Darkness, Fast & Furious 6, Thor: The Dark World, Closed Circuit
It’s marvellous that the UK film industry is doing so well, and that many Hollywood films are choosing to shoot in the capital. What’s less welcome is the mess they leave behind them. G.I. Joe saw a “kinetic bombardment” weapon level the centre of town; Star Trek Into Darkness witnessed 'John Harrison' kersplode an archive here, Closed Circuit had Borough Market endure explosives; and Thor: The Dark World managed to have Dark Elves invade Greenwich. Most terrifyingly of all, Fast & Furious 6 saw The Rock and Vin Diesel arrive in town and knock seven Bow bells out of it. While they, thankfully, saved their primary weapons for a runway somewhere in Spain, they brought us unsafe driving galore and the unlikely sight of Met officers leaning out of car windows to spray the street with Uzi fire.
Why is it suddenly a trend? UK film crews, production facilities and post-production houses are among the best in the world, so it makes sense to make your film here. And after a while, everyone seems to have bored of pretending that London was actually New York / Hong Kong / wherever and admitted that that’s where they are.
Seen in: World War Z, Pacific Rim, Escape Plan, Thor: The Dark World
If you’re going to build a defensive wall to keep zombies, kaiju or would-be invaders of Asgard out, it is absolutely and utterly essential that you make it tall enough. It should be taller than the zombies can climb or the kaiju can tower. You should also ensure that the big “deactivate” button is not easily accessible from your palace dungeon. And if you’re going to build a wall to contain Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, just give up right now. It’s never going to work.
Why is it suddenly a trend? Is this yet another sign of existential despair and a belief that entropy will always triumph over order? Or just a sign that filmmakers are considering obvious defensive measures before getting down to the punching?
BLACK AND WHITE
Seen in: Frances Ha, Nebraska, Much Ado About Nothing, Blancanieves, A Field In England
It used to be that you could tell a film was serious because it was shot in black-and-white. Then you could tell a film was low-budget because it was monochrome. Now, it’s a largely stylistic choice (although there are advantages in terms of lighting) given the increasing power and flexibility of digital cameras, and it’s becoming popular in indie cinema as, often, a tribute to the past. Alexander Payne thought monochrome gave Nebraska a Depression-era feel; Joss Whedon went for noir with Much Ado; A Field In England’s lack of colour was Ben Wheatley’s tribute to some of the ‘60s and ‘70s films he admired. Blancanieves is, of course, a nod to the silent era (perhaps Blood And Sand in particular) and Frances Ha recalls Manhattan.
Why is it suddenly a trend? Why not? As Alexander Payne pointed out recently, “Ninety per cent of the movies I watch are in black and white. It left cinema only for commercial reasons – it never left fine-art photography. I can't have a career as a film director and not make at least one black-and-white picture.”
Seen in: The Great Gatsby, The Bling Ring, Behind The Candelabra, Spring Breakers, Now You See Me, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, Oz: The Great & Powerful
If in doubt, add sparkles. That seems to be the message this year, with the flamboyant Behind The Candelabra only the tip of the diamante iceberg. It’s not all a surprise: three of the glitter devotees here perform in Vegas, a town that would be lost without sequins and hot glue, and another works in Oz – which appears to follow the same motto. Most of the genuine stones are to be found in The Great Gatsby, but the most desirable stuff is, apparently, in The Bling Ring and Spring Breakers, given the lengths to which those young antiheroes will go to get it.
Why is it suddenly a trend? Well, Vegas-set films are part of it, but we suspect there’s a general feeling that one should flaunt it whether one has it or not.
POSTERS OF A FALLEN HERO
Seen in: Iron Man 3, Man Of Steel, Star Trek Into Darkness, Gravity, All Is Lost, The Hangover: Part 3, Pacific Rim
It’s not enough to put a moment of heart-stopping terror in your trailer anymore. These days, it has to be on the poster too so you know that this film is darker / more dangerous / more real than the last one. So you can show your hero in chains (Man Of Steel, The Hangover), crashing to Earth (Star Trek Into Darkness, Iron Man 3), lost in space (Gravity), lost at sea (All Is Lost) or on its knees (Pacific Rim). The message you’re trying to communicate is that shit is about to get real, and even though the hero might be super-powered / invulnerable or in a great big spaceship, they’re still about to be tried big-time.
Why is it suddenly a trend? Well, it certainly shows that tough times are ahead, but it also tends to be a spoiler for the film so we wish they’d stop.
Seen in: Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, All Is Lost, Captain Phillips, Welcome To The Punch
Perhaps the single weirdest trend we spotted this year was the sudden ubiquity of the humble shipping container. A backdrop of stacked containers serves as the setting for the finale of Iron Man 3 and the initial attack of Captain Phillips. The things are stacked like Stonehenge in Thor: The Dark World by the mysterious fluctuations caused by the Convergence / Aether (we’re not entirely sure). And in All Is Lost, a lost and floating container pierces the hull of Robert Redford’s ship and causes the start of all his problems.
Why is it suddenly a trend? Is it a subtle critique on our materialistic and consumerist mores? Or a really cheap way of filling a background with something other than green screen? You decide!
Warning: Next page (Cures For Death) contains majors spoilers