Five Movies that Sum Up 2012

I can’t make a top ten list this year. Just can’t.

Why? Well, aside from the fact that that’s Paul’s job, part of the problem is that I simply haven’t seen a couple of the films that have made the most waves this year, both in critical and audience circles. Argo? Moonrise Kingdom? Les Miserables? You’re on my radar.

Besides, this has been a strange year for movies. I’d go into how, but that would be getting ahead of myself.

So, instead of going through the process and humiliation of scraping together a “top” list, here’s my short analysis of 5 movies that, for one reason or another, sum up the year of 2012:

The Hobbit
For the Surefire Misfires


You know what this fantasy adventure needs? More talking.

Lord of the Rings was an objective success, roundly winning over critics, audiences, and the Academy itself. Peter Jackson’s return to Tolkien with The Hobbit seemed like an easy layup — history with Tolkien aside, The Hobbit is a far easier story. Fans’ anticipation was high when the film hit theaters, only to be met with a listless, misguided product.

The Hobbit’s narrative compass went completely haywire as the story got underway. It Jackson lost sight of character, series context, and tone. The movie swung back and forth between a bright new fantasy take on Tolkien’s world, and the same grim ‘n’ gritty one we saw last time. Bilbo wasn’t the main character.

I’m not the first to say this, but it’s telling that the biggest story to come out of the movie is its technical attributes.


Blah.

Are we losing control over our movies? Not that the medium has hit its limit — heck, film/movies gave us 2001: A Space Odyssey — but it seems like filmmakers are having trouble fitting their ambitions into the demands of the market.

For example, I really like Prometheus, but it seemed to be serving the two masters of fan-pleasing horror and audience-challenging speculation. The Dark Knight Rises seemed to fall victim to the burden of wrapping up the series, saying something worthwhile, and pleasing fans of the last movie. The Hobbit was a mess.

Let’s hope the highly anticipated flicks of 2013 do a better job of living up to the hype.

The Cabin in the Woods
For the Ascent of Whedon

“About time,” went the nerd world when fan-favorite Joss Whedon took the reins of The Avengers. Finally, this ambitious, entertaining genre writer would find the limelight he deserves. But, fun though The Avengers was, the story of The Cabin in the Woods is more representative of what’s happened to Whedon this year.

The Cabin in the Woods was made three years before it saw the light of day — long enough ago to be the reason Chris Hemsworth was cast in Thor. Why did it take so long to come out? Financial woes, mostly. Thank goodness Lionsgate picked up the tab for the wide release, even if it took them… jeez, we were supposed to get this movie over TWO YEARS ago? Typical Whedon story. Great writing, genre-smashing product, no audience.

Until 2012. Two great scripts, a half-dozen huge stars, one mega-hit, infinite possibilities. Whedon’s no longer the industry’s best-kept secret; I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Skyfall
For the Unexpected Home Runs

I’m not a James Bond fan, and honestly never have been. Sure, I’ve enjoyed a few of the five or six I’ve actually seen, but I’m in no rush to track down the rest of them.

This isn’t to rag on the franchise, by the way, but simply to point out that it’s pretty significant that Skyfall would be in my top ten of the year. That is, if I made a list. Which I’m not.

Anyway, Sam Mendes and his team took what could have been a rote espionage actioner and turned it into something more by sharp writing and deft direction. Sprinkle in some great acting, cool action scenes, and a real sense of pathos and you get a damn fine movie. Skyfall is a great example of that rare cinematic treat; a pleasant surprise

This wasn’t a unique experience for me this year. The Hunger Games took a book I could never get into and gave me a movie I couldn’t turn off. Lincoln looked looked trite and preachy but came out rather nuanced and surprisingly feisty at times. The Grey looked stupid, and came out strong.

Maybe the lesson here should be that I should just stop watching movie trailers, but I’m just trying to point out that 2012 saw its fair share of movies that put in more effort than they needed to.

Wrath of the Titans
For the Surprisingly Good, but Still Uninspiring

Full disclosure: I liked Clash of the Titans. Not a ton — it’s silly fun that moves just fast enough to keep it from becoming stupid boredom. Certainly, I wasn’t stoked about getting a sequel. Imagine my surprise when the second installment of this — ahem, “franchise” — was actually better than the first one.

And yet, imagine the complete lack of interest people had in it. Oh wait, you probably don’t have to imagine that part.


(Picture from midnight premiere)

There was an assortment of movies that hit screens this year that were significantly better than they should have been, but still didn’t hit a nerve with audiences. I’m thinking of the surprisingly fresh John Carter, the oddly endearing Men in Black 3, and the rather entertaining Amazing Spider-Man. All good movies, all met with a shrug.

But who can blame us? It feels like we get the same movies every summer. Studios keep yammering about sinking ticket sales, but then asking us to shell out for ANOTHER Men in Black sequel, ten years after the last one came out. I appreciate the fun movie, guys, but you’re gonna have to do better than that.

Looper
For those Pushing the Boundaries

Ah, HERE we go. This is how a summer time-travel action movie should be. Cool world, surprising story turns, and exactly the right emphasis on the sci-fi concept. Rian Johnson has been rightly commended for this breath of fresh air.

One of the things that’s most refreshing about Looper is that it doesn’t feel a need to break down the mechanics of its time-travel rules or tech. Unlike, say, Inception, Looper throws us right into the action, nearly drowning us in a torrent of memorable scenes and nifty ideas.

In this way, it’s reminiscent of contemporaries like Cloud Atlas or The Master. Neither spent much time explaining why they were there, preferring to simply get down to business. For Cloud Atlas, this meant a blistering marathon of intertwined narratives; for The Master it meant an elusive story circling themes of lies and control. For Looper, it meant the best sci-fi thriller since Minority Report.

In the end, 2012 was a mixed bag for me, with enough material to sponsor both hope and trepidation as I look at the 2013 release schedule. But hey, at least the world didn’t end.

What about you? What movies summed up this past year for you?


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