As 2010 winds to its close, Film Critic Tony Earnshaw looks ahead to the delights on offer on the big screen in the year to come.
Predicting the hits and flops of the movie season is always a lottery. Lists don't mean much (though we chaps do like to make them) and often the bigger the name or franchise, the more lightweight the content. Big bucks often mean lame ducks, fluff and tedium.
But enough of the Christmas cheer. Depending on one's predilections, 2011 could be a terrific year for cinema or a low point in what is becoming an industry increasingly dominated by sequels and remakes.
The first eight weeks of the year throw up an array of intelligent dramas all gearing up for the annual slug-out that is the Academy Awards. That's the big battle; smaller minor skirmishes include the Golden Globes, the Baftas and the SAG Awards not to mention the UK's Critics' Circle Awards of which yours truly is a voting member. Already considered front-runners in the 2011 Oscar stakes are both Danny Boyle's Slumdog follow-up 127 Hours and Tom Hooper's The King's Speech.
Boyle's drama is based on the harrowing case of American climber and hiker Aron Ralston who, injured in a fall and pinned in a gully by a pesky boulder, is faced with making the only choice to save his life: he must use his pocket knife to cut off his trapped right arm. James Franco plays Ralston in a performance that transforms the film into a one-man show la Tom Hanks in Cast Away.
Boyle and co-writer Yorkshireman Simon Beaufoy build drama and tension around The Moment until audience anticipation is at fever pitch. Yet the moment itself is handled with considerable skill and surprisingly little gore.
The King's Speech has won over everyone who has seen it. A quirky buddy movie with a period backdrop, it charts the relationship between Prince Bertie, later King George VI, and his speech therapist as he attempts to cure his debilitating stammer.
Colin Firth is the king, Geoffrey Rush is Aussie speech therapist Lionel Logue, Helena Bonham Carter is Princess Elizabeth (later the Queen) and Michael Gambon is King George V.
First-class writing and strong performances make this one a sure-fire winner. Firth is already being touted as an Oscar nominee as Best Actor. If so it will be his second nod in as many years.
Last year, Firth lost out to Jeff Bridges, who carried off the shiny golden man for Crazy Heart. Bridges is a definite contender for another nomination in 2011 for his grizzled lawman in the Coen Brothers' re-working of True Grit. Whereas John Wayne turned Charles Portis's novel into a vehicle for his own trademark brand of Western mythology, the Coens have gone back to the source and crafted a Western that emerges as an instant classic.
Bridges is Marshall Rooster Cogburn, the irascible, drunken saddletramp hired by Mattie Ross (newcomer Hailee Steinfeld) to track down the no-good ranch hand who killed her father.
Yet while Bridges is careful to put several thousand miles between his interpretation of Rooster and The Duke's, the Coens litter the film with familiar lines and scenarios which will delight aficionados of the traditional (read "Hollywood") Western, circa 1969. And if Bridges wins two Oscars in a row, he will have won for the same role that garnered Wayne his only Academy Award when he won for Rooster Cogburn in 1970, aged 62. Bridges is 61. Kismet beckons...
Christian Bale shines as a washed-up boxer in the square ring memoir The Fighter. Based on the true story of small-town American pugilist "Irish" Micky Ward and his older brother Dicky, David O Russell's drama is less about the fight game and more about the familial pressures that drive these two very different men.
Dicky is the man who had a chance and blew it. Micky has his own chance – perhaps the only one he will ever have in life – and his family holds him back. Can he surmount it all? And will Dicky step up as only a brother can, or be forever lost in a tidal wave of drugs?
A superlative British cast inhabits Never Let Me Go, adapted by Alex Garland from the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro and directed by Mark Romanek. Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley are the children bred as organ donors in a grim Dystopian England.
Romanek and Garland have the courage to follow the book's grim tone and never pander to the concept of a happy ending. The film proves Mulligan's elevation to instant star via An Education was not a mistake. And Knightley gives a revelatory performance.
Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan charts the destructive relationship between two rival dancers in a New York ballet company. Packed equally with an insidious take on good versus evil and sexual tension, it has been described as the ultimate in high art.
Offerings during spring and summer are the traditional tentpole movies from the big studios. Between May and September expect Red Riding Hood (from Catherine Hardwicke; starring Amanda Seyfried), Thor (directed by Kenneth Branagh), Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, The Hangover 2, X-Men: First Class, Twilight: Breaking Dawn and The Adventures of Tintin, the latter from Steven Spielberg.
Among the slew of remakes and sequels are three that may be worth dwelling on. Rod Lurie has remade Sam Peckinpah's seminal home invasion thriller Straw Dogs. John Le Carre's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy has finally made it to the big screen 30 years after Alec Guinness turned it into a TV classic. Gary Oldman plays ace spook George Smiley.
And David Fincher brings his own unique sensibilities to the American version of Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Other big events in the franchise sector include Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol – famously filmed in Dubai with Tom Cruise hanging off the 2,717ft high Burj Khalifa tower – and the less-than-imaginatively titled Sherlock Holmes 2.
But arguably the most anticipated movie of 2011 is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. It will see the end of a cinematic phenomenon.
This writer was on set for the final confrontation between Harry and his nemesis and I can promise it will be a fitting conclusion to JK Rowling's wizarding chronicles.
And so we bid farewell to Harry, Hermione and Ron. Or do we? Producer David Heyman has hinted strongly that remakes could be on the cards.
See you at the movies.
The box office hits of 2010
It has been a year dominated by special effects movies and which has seen critics divided over the merits, or otherwise, of 3D. But which of the 2010 blockbusters came in tops at the box office?
Toy Story 3 75.2m
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 44.7m
Alice in Wonderland 41.7m
Shrek Forever After 33.1m
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse 30m
Iron Man 2 20m
Despicable Me 20m
Clash of the Titans 11m
How to Train Your Dragon 10.9m