The past year, 2012, was a bit of a colossal disappointment. It isn’t that the movies were bad or even not good. In fact, you could probably say that it was one of the best years top-to-bottom ever. Putting these lists together keeps reminding me of so many movies I’d say were “worth seeing”. But 2011 gave us a list of absolute knock-outs (I’m thinking The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) (review) (Amazon), Drive (2011) (review) (Amazon), Young Adult (2011) (review) (Amazon) and about a half dozen others) while also trawling the depths of the most parasitical cesspool of Hollywood. [Update: But there was one, of the Young Adult-ish persuasion and that was Your Sister’s Sister (2012), which jumped up to number one and is an all-rounder.] But you can avoid the dreggs if you only drink from the top and that is ultimately what defines the year. So while this year was wide, it was a bit shallow at the deep end.
Top 12 Films of 2012
- Your Sister’s Sister (2012) (review) (Amazon)
- Zero Dark Thirty
- Rust and Bone
- Liberal Arts (review) (Amazon)
- Django Unchained (review)
- Silver Linings Playbook
- The Master (review) (Amazon)
- End of Watch (Amazon)
- Killing Them Softly (review)
- Lincoln (review)
- Flight (review)
- Prometheus (review) (Amazon)
You can’t be disappointed without an expectation. If I’d never seen a trailer in 2011/2012, I’d probably have had a far better experience at the movies for one thing but certainly wouldn’t be as disappointed as I was. Let me bring in my next list to set that stage.
Movies worth watching (for the sake of “Year in Review”)
Argo (review), Barbara (review), Beasts of the Southern Wild, Brave (review), Chronicle (review), Friends with Kids (review), Haywire (review), Lawless, Les Misérables, Life of Pi, Lockout (review), Looper (review), Moonrise Kingdom (review), Safety Not Guaranteed (2012), Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (review), Skyfall, Ted (review), The Amazing Spider-Man (review), The Avengers, The Bourne Legacy (review), The Cabin in the Woods (review), The Dark Knight Rises (review), The Five-Year Engagement (review), The Grey (review), The Guilt Trip, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (review), The Hunger Games (review), The Perks of Being a Wallflower (review), This Is 40, To Rome with Love (review), Total Recall (review)
The trailers for…counting…ten of those movies set expectations for the greatest year in film. Expectations were sky high for The Avengers, Les Miserables, Argo, The Dark Knight Rises, Skyfall, Prometheus, The Hobbit, Lincoln, Flight, Looper, and Brave. Most of those movies, though good in may ways, were not near the level presented in the trailers. Put yourself back into January of 2012 and read that list again. There is so much promise in those titles let alone The Hunger Games, The Bourne Legacy, and Total Recall which aren’t lofty but had rather high confidence levels.
And yet not a single film on these lists turned out to be the all-rounder of direction, acting, and story that Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or Drive turned out to be. Really, the only movies that got close were Zero Dark Thirty and the comedies Ted and Liberal Arts. Each of the others fell down on some major points. Les Miserables had some seriously unimaginative direction. Argo was a caricature of brinksmanship in the final 15 minutes. The Dark Knight Rises was an epic failure of pacing and plot. Skyfall was the same. Lincoln was too schmaltzy, looked too creamy, and phoned in the score. Flight sold out so hard and so fast the happy enders didn’t even get their change back. The others just dribbled around the edges (some quite heavily).
Some of those on these lists had built-in expectations. A biopic of Lincoln from Spielberg would certainly come with high expectations as did the movie about the assassination of bin Laden and Ridley Scott‘s return to the Alien universe. However, the latter two have a kind of license–one a very early telling of a story people are wildly interested in knowing about and the other a sci-fi flick–that Spielberg did not have. Lincoln is a character we know a great deal about and historical dramas have often been exceptionally good. Interestingly enough, Lincoln had such a historically bad trailer that expectations (mine, at least) were absolutely gutted. [I know there’s a mild contradiction there, but Lincoln had a trailer that sold its high value premise, but showed its schlocky hand.]
I fear that 2013 is making similar promises in its wonderful trailers. I am so looking forward to the Ryan Gosling movies Gangster Squad, The Place Beyond the Pines, and Only God Forgives that at least one will probably disappoint me. My money’s on Gangster Squad which looks so freaking fun I can hardly contain myself. Also on the way is The Great Gatsby, Knight of Cups, Man of Steel, This Is the End, Star Trek Into Darkness, Catching Fire, Ender’s Game, and so so many others. A useful IMDB list here. It’s actually almost identical to 2012 in that respect. Here it is January and I could put together a list of two dozen movies that will “be awesome” with a handful of Oscar favorites.
And yet, don’t we expect more? Especially from our “awesome” movies. A movie like 2012 which was admittedly awesome did surprisingly poorly. The top three blockbusters of 2012 were The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, and Skyfall. That’s two grim comic books stories and a grim Bond film. It’s really the grimness I would like to underline. We expect maturity and technical excellence from our films now. Now, of course, Michael Bay is frustratingly profitable at the box office, but there’s a lot of money to spread around and his movies are what they are. They don’t make more money if the plots are more coherent or characters less plastic. But it isn’t a coincidence that The Dark Knight outdid The Dark Knight Rises in the domestic box office by a significant margin. [It is possibly paradoxical, but ultimately resolvable, that dreck seems to rise higher in world-wide grosses than domestic takings. After all, nobody likes to read their movies and BANG need not be subtitled.]
What should be exciting, and I’ll take this as a silver lining development, is that they are obviously trying and trying damn hard. (They being Hollywood.) Look at the number of high-concept, big budget films there are that are really close to having interesting plots with interesting characters. This is also where I would like to scold the people who bemoan the high number of adaptations (comic and traditional books included) and remakes being made.
We’ve got only a couple high-concept auteurs–a very strange thing in itself–that can take a film from idea to finished product with minimal interference. Expecting an original script to get to a producer, find a good director, attract strong actors, and then get executive backing without a single strong force to maintain its integrity is to ask for the stars. You’d have a better chance at getting Democrats and Republicans to agree on a sensible resolution to the budget. A remake/adaptation has the benefit of skipping right to the end by having your characters and rough plot ready for tinkering. The chances of that going right are much better because there are things we simply can’t disagree about. No executive can say, “Can we make Snow White Egyptian?”
When the Oscar nominations come out, I’ll probably do a Should/Will/Did. But here are some highlights to get myself pre-committed. Joaquin Phoenix is a certain nominee and should win for Best Actor. Marion Cotillard mutatis mutandis, though Jennifer Lawrence may sneak in with a strange steal. Michael Fassbender should get a nomination for Supporting Actor but wont. Zero Dark Thirty and Django Unchained will fight for the rest.
Probably Good, but I Didn’t See It
Some of these are on the ASAP list including The Paperboy, Safety Not Guaranteed, and Your Sister’s Sister. The only real awards contenders are The Impossible, Amour, and The Sessions.