Gilbey on Film: Coming your way in 2012

This year's cinematic highlights.

The next two months will bring the customary glut of awards contenders. It's a brave distributor that releases its films into this throng, but the UK outfit The Works will do just that with House of Tolerance, an acclaimed drama set in a brothel in fin de siècle Paris. Bertrand Bonello's picture was named by the New York Times as one of last year's "Don't Miss Movies You Probably Missed" (under its US title, House of Pleasures); the UK finally gets to see it on 27 January.

Elsewhere the schedules are dominated by awards magnets including Steven Spielberg's War Horse (13 Jan), Ralph Fiennes's Coriolanus, which was recently celebrated in the NS by Slavoj Zizek, and Stephen Daldry's adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer's 9/11 tale Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (10 Feb). Also falling under the hoping-for-silverware umbrella are two films which between them comprise the UK's own mini Michael Fassbender-fest -- Steve McQueen's Shame (13 Jan) and David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method (10 Feb).

Once the tearful winners have been mocked and the voting injustices mourned, it's anyone's guess which films will prevail. Personally I'm hoping for a release for The Eye of the Storm, directed by the excellent Fred Schepisi (The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, Six Degrees of Separation) and starring Geoffrey Rush alongside the reigning mistresses of hauteur, Charlotte Rampling and Judy Davis.

Regrettably, 3D makeovers are already clogging up the schedule, with an extra dimension added visually (though not creatively) to defunct, corroded epics including Titanic (6 April) and Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace (9 Feb). Re-releases of Casablanca (10 Feb) and La Grande Illusion (6 April) appear to have been spared this technological molestation, for which we should be grateful.

Some of us are still recovering from the shock of 2011, one of the few years since 1995 in which Michael Winterbottom did not release a new film (unless you count the non-UK cinema edit of his six-part BBC series The Trip). The drought ends with Trishna (9 March), an adaptation of Tess of the D'Urbervilles transposed to modern-day India. Connected in name only is the Austrian chiller Michael (2 March). This controlled study of a man who keeps prisoner a 10-year-old boy will be the very definition of a tough sell; to others, Cameron Crowe's whimsical comedy-drama We Bought a Zoo (16 March) will be more deserving of that label. At least Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, from the great Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, is released on the same day.

As Asghar Farhadi's A Separation proved last year, the best films often arrive unheralded by net-casting previews such as these. But we do know that there will be new work from Wong Kar-Wai (The Grandmasters), Michael Haneke (Amour), Bernardo Bertolucci (Me and You), Laurent Cantet (Foxfire, adapted from Joyce Carol Oates's novel about 1950s girl gangs) and Takashi Miike (Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney). Meanwhile, François Ozon will adhere to a new government directive aiming to see Kristin Scott Thomas cast in at least 87 per cent of all French films (his contribution is Dans la maison). Currently awaiting UK release dates are Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom, Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity, Andrew Dominik's Cogan's Trade, Park Chan Wook's Stoker and Baz Lurhmann's The Great Gatsby.

Tim Burton fans get a double-dose this year. First up is the gothic extravaganza Dark Shadows (11 May), with Johnny Depp as a vampiric patroarch. Then it's animation -- and, to be more precise, reanimation -- in Frankenweenie (5 October), a feature-length version of Burton's 1984 short about a boy who refuses to let sleeping dogs lie. Pixar releases Brave (17 August), widely trumpeted as the studio's first movie with a female lead; I know, I know, Studio Ghibli never made such a fuss about putting a girl in the driving seat.

A triple-shot of big-budget superheroism hoopla this year, starting on 27 April with the Marvel extravaganza The Avengers -- sadly nothing to do with Steed, Mrs Peel or kinky boots, but rather a superheroes' get-together which includes Mark Ruffalo's first outing as the Hulk. He's the third actor in ten years (after Eric Bana and Edward Norton) to try to get a handle on the big green lug. Then Andrew Garfield will make his wall-climbing debut in The Amazing Spider-Man (6 July) before Christopher Nolan's third and final Batman gloom-o-rama, The Dark Knight Rises (20 July). Does James Bond count as a superhero? Or is that just a spurious attempt to shoehorn Daniel Craig's third Bond movie, Skyfall (26 Oct), into this paragraph? Next thing you know, I'll be wangling the same privileges for the hairy-footed ramblers of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (14 Dec), the first instalment of Peter Jackson's two-part return to Tolkien.

Of course, by then we'll all be terribly excited about Judd Apatow's This Is 40 (21 Dec), Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained (26 Dec) and other lesser-known films on which "Action!" is only now being called.

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.

Iain Cameron
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Meet Scotland's 300-year-old snow patch, the Sphinx

Snow patch watchers expect it to melt away by the weekend. 

This weekend, Scotland's most resilient snow patch, dubbed Sphinx, is expected to melt away. The news has been met with a surprising outpouring of emotion and nationwide coverage. Even The Financial Times covered the story with the headline "The end is nigh for Britain's last snow". The story has also gone international, featuring in radio reports as far away as New Zealand.

So what is it about Sphinx that has captured the public’s imagination?  Some have suggested it could be symbolic. The Sphinx represents how we all feel, helpless and doomed to a fate determined by leaders like Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. 

Regular contributors to the Facebook page “Snow Patches in Scotland”  have their own, more prosaic theories. One tells me that the British are “generally a bit obsessed with weather and climate”, while another says snow-patches are "more interesting than anything Trump/May/Boris or Vladimir have to say”.

Those more interested in patches of snow than the existential consequences of international relations could be dismissed as having seriously skewed priorities, but there's more to the story of Sphinx than lies on the surface. 

For a start it's thought to be 300 years old, covering a small square of the Cairngorms for centuries with just six brief interruptions. Last time the Sphinx disappeared was 11 years ago. Though it may melt away this weekend, it is expected to be back by winter. 

Iain Cameron, the man who set up the Facebook page "Snow Patches in Scotland" and someone who has recorded and measured snow patches since he was a young boy, says that Sphinx has shrunk to the size of a large dinner table and he expects it will have melted entirely by this Saturday.

It came close to disappearing in 2011 as well, he adds. In October of that year, Sphinx at around its current size and only a heavy snowstorm revived it.

"They tend to keep the same shape and form every year," Cameron tells me. "It might sound weird to say, but it’s like seeing an elderly relative or an old friend. You’re slightly disappointed if it’s not in as good a condition."

But why has Sphinx survived for so long? The patch of land that Sphinx lies above faces towards the North East, meaning it is sheltered from the elements by large natural formations called Corries and avoids the bulk of what sunlight northern Scotland has to offer. 

It also sits on a bid of soil rather than boulder-fields, unlike the snow patches on Britain's highest mountain Ben Nevis. Boulder-fields allow air through them, but the soil does not, meaning the Sphinx melts only from the top.

Cameron is hesistant to attribute the increased rate of Sphinx's melting to climate change. He says meterologists can decide the causes based on the data which he and his fellow anoraks (as he calls them) collect. 

That data shows that over the past 11 years since Sphinx last melted it has changed size each year, not following any discernable pattern. “There is no rhyme or reason because of the vagaries of the Scottish climate," says Cameron.

One thing that has changed is Sphinx's title is no longer quite so secure. There is another snow patch in near Ben Nevis vying for the position of the last in Scotland. Cameron says that it is 50:50 as to which one will go first.