A Sensational Start for Cinema in 2011

Paul Cook 10/02/2011

Back in 2007 a miniature golden-era of cinema occurred in which The Coens' Nuevo-Western No Country for Old Men and Paul Thomas Anderson's oil-epic There Will Be Blood graced the silver screen within a fortnight of each other. 2011 may well have topped it with four fantastic films in as many weeks.

As with 2007's masterful movie season it is perhaps performance that is spearheading what is undoubtedly one of the strongest starts for cinema in a decade. Beauty and fragility balance uneasily in the form of Portman's exquisite Black Swan whilst power and personality clash in the sublime biopic The Kings Speech. Toss in two more astonishing performances from James Franco in 127 Hours and Christian Bale in The Fighter and it's fair to say we've been spoiled so far this year.

Attempting a four-way film review is a first for me, and all of these films should be judged on their own merit (and definitely seen in the cinema before they disappear), but they can also be considered side-by-side, each offering a performance that speaks to a specific cinematic sensibility. Black Swan and 127 Hours both portray a delicate balance between physical and mental strength in which both Portman and Franco are almost undeniably at their very best.

The Kings Speech and The Fighter depict two polar opposites in character and class but are essentially about the same thing, the struggle to shake off the shackles of an upbringing and a lifestyle forced upon you to triumph as an individual. Interestingly, Mark Wahlberg and Colin Firth are also both at risk of being overshadowed by phenomenal supporting performances by Christian Bale and Geoffrey Rush, respectively.

My argument with No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood's battle for Oscar glory was that the latter was centred around one magnificent performance whereas the Coens' had crafted a much more complete and succinct work of cinema. This is arguably the case with The Kings Speech, which remains ahead of the competition with a formidable focus on the other elements that make cinema so special. Tom Hooper handles his royal subject matter more carefully whilst Darren Aronofsky's fatal finale in Black Swan feels dangerously close to over-doing it.

Danny Boyle's 127 Hours puts forward a strong claim for best editing going into Oscar season although in other areas it's chances to bag a statue seem limited. The Fighter is a late arrival in comparison and may prove to be the picture that clinches a considerable number at the last minute. Bale's enigmatic embodiment of a boxer haunted by his former glory and a crippling drug addiction is completely deserving of the supporting actor Oscar whilst either Amy Adams or Melissa Leo will almost certainly secure the supporting actress award.

David O. Russell's boxing biopic will however being going toe-to-toe in a close contest for it's other categories, the toughest being for Original Screenplay in which Inception, The Kings Speech, The Kids are Alright and Another Year will all be in the ring.

Academy Awards aside, cinema has already been scintillating in 2011 and promises more of the same with the Coens' True Grit released in a matter of hours and a summer of big-budget blockbusters.