Gilbey on Film: The best of 2010

A look back at the year in cinema.

Film of the year

The Social Network

Honourable mentions

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives , A Prophet, The Headless Woman, Greenberg, Gentlemen Broncos, Father of My Children, Beeswax, Another Year, Lebanon, The Time That Remains, Scott Pilgrim Vs the World, The Arbor, Still Walking, The Ghost (though let's keep things in perspective -- what's with the 3,017 prizes for Polanski's picture at the European Film Awards?).

Most unjustly forgotten film of the year

The Road, which also contained the scariest scene of the year: good to see there's life (and death) in the creaky old "Don't go down to the cellar!" routine.

Soundtracks of the year: The Social Network (Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross) and Greenberg (James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem)

The "What took you so long?" prize for delayed distribution

Contenders included I Love You, Phillip Morris, with 15 months elapsing between its Sundance premiere and its UK release, and The Headless Woman, which opened here nearly two years after its Cannes debut. But the most extreme case of delay was Frownland,an extraordinarily abrasive US independent film about a lonely, emotionally victimised door-to-door salesman. It took more than three years to get here, but it was worth the wait.

Knockout comic performance of the year

A tie between Nicolas Cage as a drug-crazed cop who hallucinates iguanas and breakdancing spirits in The Bad Lieutenant Port of Call: New Orleans, and Jemaine Clement as the pompous science-fiction novelist Dr Ronald Chevalier in Gentlemen Broncos.

Most inventive death scene

Many contenders here, all of them from the impressive Hong Kong socio-horror film Dream Home, which included: a man forced to slash with a penknife at his own neck in an attempt to sever the cord that was strangling him; mid-coital disembowelment; asphyxiation by plastic bag and household vacuum cleaner. And the winner is... (cue fumbling with blood-spattered envelope)... the "man stabbed in the neck with his own glass bong" scene. That's what you call going out on a high. By the by, Dream Home also wins the L'emploi du temps award for Best Recession-related Film of the Year.

Rip-off cinema of the year

The Vue, Shepherd's Bush, west London. One adult, one child, bringing their own 3D glasses to a 10.30am screening of How to Train Your Dragon, on a Sunday morning three months into the film's release. Ticket price? £21. Consequence? I don't go to Vue cinemas any more. Admissions may have risen, but multiplexes shouldn't think they can price prohibitively, especially in off-peak times. Joe Flint wrote a sound piece on the subject on the LA Times website this year. His beef was with the pricing structure at Hollywood's otherwise wonderful Arclight cinema, a classy venue that knocks any Vue into a cocked popcorn tub. Extortionate pricing, Flint says, "gives people just one more reason to stay home. At a time when theater operators are worried about movies popping up sooner on DVD and video-on-demand and thereby undercutting ticket sales, making it costlier to go out to the local multiplex seems ill advised."

Misjudgement of the year

The violence in The Killer Inside Me. A straight minute, or however long it was, of Casey Affleck bashing Jessica Alba's face until it resembled an overripe nectarine may have grabbed headlines. But for visceral, enduring impact, it was manifestly not the cinematic equivalent of the few, sparing sentences that Jim Thompson used to convey the attack in his original novel. Winterbottom receives a partial pardon for some gorgeous moments in his six-part BBC2 series The Trip (especially episode four -- the "We leave at daybreak!" one), which started limply but proved a real grower.

Guilty pleasure of the year

The crude action movie spoof MacGruber was good, indefensible fun. Even doubters should seek it out for the divine Kristen Wiig (she plays the unimprovably-named Vicky St Elmo). I'm hoping 2011 will be the year that Wiig, who was also excellent this year in Drew Barrymore's underrated Whip It!, breaks out with a scorching lead performance. Nicole Holofcener, director of Please Give, has expressed a desire to work with her.

The "I don't get it" award for movie phenomena that passed me by

I experienced strange waves of guilt for failing to warm to either Of Gods and Men or Toy Story 3. That said, the latter film featured both my favourite character of the year -- the lumbering, shabby, horribly mewing Big Baby, who was both tender and menacing -- and the most traumatic scene: the toys holding hands in acceptance of mortality as they descend toward a furnace. No such guilt about disliking Inception, a film which felt like being trapped in business class on a grounded flight, listening to CEOs discussing their dreams for two-and-a-half hours.

Funniest line of the year

This award goes not to any screenwriter, but to an anonymous wag with a biro at London's Holborn underground station. On the poster for Please Give, the certificate advice reads: "CONTAINS STRONG LANGUAGE AND INFREQUENT SEX." Next to which someone scribbled: "Story of my life."

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

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In the age of podcasts, the era of communal listening is over

Where once the nation would listen to radio events together, now, it is the booming podcast market that commands our attention

It’s a moment so celebrated that no TV drama about the Second World War is complete without it. At 11.15am on 3 September 1939, Neville Chamberlain made a live radio broadcast from Downing Street announcing that “this country is now at war with Germany”. A silence fell over the nation as people rushed to the wireless to hear him. The whole country was listening, but crucially, it was listening together.

Nearly eight decades later, it is difficult to imagine a communal audio event like that ever happening again. The arrival of the Walkman in 1979, since superseded by the iPod and then the smartphone, turned listening into a personal, solitary pastime. It was no longer necessary for families to get a radio on a hire-purchase arrangement and gather round it in the sitting room. The technology that delivers audio to us is now small and cheap enough for each of us to have one in our pocket (with headphones tangled around it, of course).

At the same time, the method of delivery changed, too. “Radio” ceased to indicate simply “programming transmitted by electromagnetic waves” in the late 1990s, when conventional radio stations began to make their output available on the internet. Online-only radio stations sprang up, streaming their shows directly to computers. Free from any regulation and with the internet as a free distribution platform, these early stations echoed the tone of pirate radio stations in the 1960s.

The idea of “audioblogging” – making short voice recordings available for download online – has been around since the early 1980s, but it wasn’t until 2004 that the word “podcasting” was coined by the technology journalist Ben Hammersley in an article for the Guardian. He was looking for a name for the “new boom in amateur radio” that the internet had enabled.

Thanks to technological advances, by the early 2000s, a podcaster could record a sound clip and upload it to his or her feed, and it would arrive automatically on the computer of anyone who had subscribed. Apple began to include podcasts as a default option on iPods; in 2008 iPhones offered a podcast app as standard. The market boomed.

Apple is notoriously reluctant to provide data on its products, but in 2013 it announced that there had been more than a billion podcast subscriptions through its iTunes store, which carried over 250,000 podcasts in 100 languages. In 2016, Edison Research released a study suggesting that 21 per cent of all Americans over the age of 12 had listened to at least one podcast in the past month – roughly 57 million people. Audiobooks, too, are booming in this new age of listening; the New York Times reported that
although publishing revenue in the US was down overall in the first quarter of 2016, digital audio sales had risen by 35.3 per cent.

The vast share of this listening will be solitary. This is because audio is a secondary medium. For all the talk about the rise of “second screening”, it isn’t really possible to do much more than idly scroll through Twitter on your phone as you watch television, but you can easily get things done while you listen to a podcast. Put on a pair of headphones, and you can go for a run or clean out the oven in the company of your favourite show. In this sense, the medium has been a game-changer for commuters and those doing repetitive or manual work: there’s no longer any need to put up with sniffling on the train or your boss’s obsession with Magic FM.

Though podcasts are an internet phenomenon, they have managed to remain free from the culture of trolling and abuse found elsewhere. It is difficult to make audio go viral, because it’s tricky to isolate a single moment from it in a form that can be easily shared. That also deters casual haters. You can’t just copy and paste something a host said into an insulting tweet.

Our new and solitary way of listening is reflected in the subjects that most podcasts cover. While there is the occasional mega-hit – the American true crime podcast Serial attracted 3.4 million downloads per episode in 2014, the year it launched – most shows exist in a niche. A few hundred listeners who share the host’s passion for pens or for music from antique phonographs can be enough to sustain a series over hundreds of episodes (there are real podcasts on both of these topics).

This is also where the commercial opportunity lies. It costs relatively little to produce even high-quality podcasts, compared to TV or conventional radio, yet they can ­attract very high advertising rates (thanks to the dedication of regular listeners and the trust they have in the host). The US is far ahead of the UK in this regard, and podcast advertising revenue there is expected to grow 25 per cent year on year, reaching half a billion dollars in 2020. Where this was once a hobby for internet enthusiasts, it is now big business, with venture capitalists investing in new networks and production companies. The US network Gimlet attracted $6m in funding in 2015. However, in the UK, the BBC crowds out smaller, independent operations (the trade-off is that it makes undeniably outstanding programmes).

There is even a movement to make listening a communal activity again. The same hipsters responsible for the resurgence of vinyl sales are organising “listening parties” at trendy venues with high-quality sound systems. Live shows have become an important source of revenue for podcasters. Eleanor McDowall, a producer at the Falling Tree radio production company, organises subtitled “screenings” for podcasts in languages other than English. I even have a friend who is part of a “podcast club”, run on the same lines as a monthly book group, with a group of people coming together to discuss one show on a regular schedule.

The next big technological breakthrough for audio will be when cars can support internet-based shows as easily as conventional radio. We might never again gather around the wireless, but our family holidays could be much improved by a podcast.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

This article first appeared in the 16 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times