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.


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.

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.

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?

Similar Posts


  1. This is not going be in order (damn you MaryJane!), but here we go…

    Movies that, for me, sum up 2012, in no particular order, are:

    A) the good ones:
    – Moonrise Kingdom
    – The Cabin In The Woods
    – Django Unchained – haven’t seen it yet, but I pray to Joe Pesci that it’s gonna be good

    B) the bad ones:
    – Project X – we, as society, are burning down faster than Icarus
    – Battleship – again, for the evident rise in stupidity
    – Expendables 2 – holy crap, how dumb can we get? I guess we’ll find out when Ex3 comes out…

    C) somewhere in between:
    – The Avengers – because, in my opinion, it was the final stretch of border erased between geeks and “normals”. Douchebags, dumb blondes, nerdy geeks and casual movie-lovers are now one group. For better or worse.
    – The Knight Rises – it sums up this year perfectly; much hype and nothing after – just like 2012 and the apocalypse. Nothing could live up to Nolan’s Joker, and this movie was, for me, The Dark Knight Falls. A good movie – yes. A great movie – sadly, no. The expectations were too high and the end product was just not enough. Same thing with Prometheus.

    I am yet to decide if I’m gonna watch Skyfall, as I have never enjoyed a Bond movie so far. Not that I have seen that many, but still…

    MIB 3 and the new Spiderman were the biggest surprises for me – I liked them more than I thought I would, but I still wouldn’t place them on any significant list.

    Hate me all you want, but The Hunger Games sucked. It’s a fantasy world I don’t care much about, no matter the critical society subtone.
    I haven’t (and won’t) watch The Hobbit, because I am one of those who didn’t find the LOTR films to be anything but visual eye candy (like Avatar), falling and failing at everything else.
    Also, I didn’t like Cloud Atlas – it is just too much for too little, and like The Tree Of Life, they try to be in the realm of epicness that is 2001 A Space Odyssey, but are not and could not be.

    I guess I’m not like most people on this site – I’m not a nerd or a gamer (although I did go through God Of War and Unchared this year), but I do watch movies, a lot!, and with a few exceptions, I have been mostly disapointed this year.

    If you read through everything, congrats and sorry for any mistakes in grammar – English is not my first language and I’m under the influence…

    Happy New Year, may you live through all future apocalypses and disapointing films of years to come…

  2. What can I say? I have a weakness for repackaged Greek mythology. Those movies are “rainy Saturday” material for me. And when I say Wrath was surprisingly good, you can be sure that’s a relative description.

    I probably would have had more sympathy from people if I’d listed MiB 3 as the headline there…

  3. From what I can tell, “The Hobbit” was only a mess if you watch it with the new ridiculous frame rate and headache-inducing 3D effects. In 2D at the traditional 24 frames per second AS GOD INTENDED, the movie was an absolute delight and one of the very best films of the year, perfectly capturing the mood of the book and fitting much better with Peter Jackson’s flair for comedy than his previous LOTR trilogy.

    I’m not really sure I can use movies to sum up the year. I guess if I was to give it a try, the thing that sums up this year for me is that some of my favourites of the year were barely in cinemas or even straight to dvd. For example:

    Detention (Hyperactive horror comedy featuring time travel, aliens and slasher killers. Insane work of genius from a director whose only other movie was “Torque”.)

    The Innkeepers (Ti West once again shows off his moderately-paced old-fashioned horror skills, but this time with more comedy involved. Providing a perfect blend of horror and comedy with an excellent central performance from Sara Paxton.)

    The Revenant (This story of a soldier who comes back from the war in a coffin only to discover that he is still alive. He and his friend decide what to do with his new “powers”/curse and the film takes some hilarious twists and turns. That this ended up going straight to DVD after a long time in limbo is just ridiculous, but I am so glad I checked it out anyway.)

    Sound Of My Voice (A couple decide to infiltrate and expose a cult surrounding a woman making bizarre sci-fi-related claims. This had only a ridiculously limited release at the cinema after a long delay since its appearance at film festivals. But now that it’s finally available in DVD it turns out that this is one of the best films of the year. Absolutely fantastic premise, intelligently explored with an excellently well-structured script with a superb performance from Brit Marling in the lead. Much better than her other excellent film “Another Earth” from last year.)

    A Royal Affair (If this received a wide release in cinemas I never noticed. It certainly left cinemas with very little fanfare and has appeared in only a few top 10 lists at the end of the year, but this is the best costume drama I have ever seen. At very least, a relatively faithful interpretation of real historical events, the story told here is quite incredible. Mads Mikkelsen is brilliant in one of the lead roles.)

  4. It’s hard for me to really sum up the year in movies as, like yourself, I feel like I haven’t really had the chance to sample the entire spectrum.

    What I will say is that this year truly felt like the year of satisfying my inner geek. Many of the films that really stood out to me (for reasons good or bad) tended to fall into this category. Joss Whedon finally got the recognition he deserved (as you mentioned above), and I got a chance to witness all the glory and/or nightmarish hell that was Prometheus, Dark Knight Rises, The Avengers, Looper, Cabin in the Woods, The Hobbit, etc.

    I do normally make a personal list of the movies I thought were the best of the year, but despite what I include on that list, this year was really the year of the geek for me.

  5. Fatpie, your list is amazing. Huge props. And David, I can understand that, actually. It was like watching God Of War, the movie, and for that reason I did enjoy it, though superficially, I suppose. Like I said, no love lost, brother.

  6. Enjoyed the article. Lotta good movies this year.

    BUT… Looper was trash. The movie dragged, and was a negative (in my eyes) to Joseph Gordon Levitt’s momentum. There’s a reason that movie was dumped into a September release with all the other trash not good enough for the summer.

    If you want tot see a good time-travel movie, watch Primer (twice, at least).

  7. Oddly enough, last night I compiled a “top 5 since I’ve been born” list. Making a top 5 for the 31 years I’ve been here, starting in 1981.

    The 80s were pretty simple to go through, the 90s were a bitch since there were so many good movies there (1994 being the toughest to narrow down to 5 seeing as we had shawshank, gump, clerks, pulp fiction, and many many more. 1999 as well, tough one to whittle down to 5).

    There was a lot to choose from in the 2000s as well, but most didn’t seem to have the magic that a lot of those 90s movies had, and I found it much easier to whittle down to 5 as most of the other movies I liked those years were stuff like 40 year old virgin or Incredible Hulk, which were good movies, but not anything that is top 5 material usually.

    My friends were most amazed by my picks this year. I am a HUGE batman nerd, everyone knows it, and seeing dark knight rises at number 4 kinda blew everyone away. Number one was easily Looper. Such a brilliant film.

  8. Yep. I have not seen yet Hobbit and Skyfall (due to preference of watching movies at home), but other three totally hit. As well as «John Carter», «MiB3» and «Amazing Spider-Man». Very good movies, cold reception. To bad.

  9. I have to agree with MyNameIsLuka on The Dark Knight Rises and Prometheus.

    TDKR: I felt let down by it. I knew I probably would, since there was no way anyone could top Joker. But it felt less like a wrap-up and more like a big step backward. Also, I hate Catwoman, and even Anne Hathaway’s kick-ass performance could not justify her inclusion to me. Especially after Nolan promised he would not use her.

    Prometheus: Oh boy, was I excited when I watched the opening scene. I got so ramped up–and then again, my heart fell as the movie descended into a flailing mess. It seemed as though it were on the verge of stepping forward, of asking a very profound question and maybe even answering it, and then lapsed into cliched horror mode as it tried to turn itself inside out and recreate its monster movie origins.

    The Hobbit: Not LOTR? Of course not. The Hobbit was a children’s book, a much lighter tale than LOTR. I stayed away from the 3D and higher frame rate for economic reasons, but I was not disappointed. My only beefs are a bit of slow pacing here and there, and I think two movies would have been sufficient. Three will feel too stretched, I suspect, even with the added material. Which, by the way, I didn’t mind. For me it was like, “Hey, this wasn’t in the book–oh cool!” I thoroughly enjoyed it and I’m looking forward to the next one. It was nice to revisit Middle Earth and listen to Howard Shore’s music again.

  10. @David R. – I didn’t mean to come off like such a jerk when I said Looper is trash. I really enjoyed the article, and your writing in general. I just don’t understand the praise for Looper. But that isn’t to take anything away from your writing or opinion. Keep up the stellar my friend.

  11. I would flip The Hobbit and Skyfall.

    I absolutly loved Casino Royale, but Skyfall was a pretty blend and generic action movie for me, but worse because of the movie’s structure. To retreat from action and go ‘wild’ in the countryside, to suddenly get the jump on a well-prepared shadow organisation? Sure.

    As for the Hobbit, it was a blast. I enjoyed every single second of it.

  12. I guess I’ll just have to assume that you didn’t actually READ the Lord of the Rings books, or any of the subsequent material. Because, y’know, Bilbo WAS the main character.

    Hell, if you want to get really technical about it, Bilbo wrote “The Hobbit” himself. Titled “There and Back Again: A Hobbit’s Holiday”. It’s also known as the “Red Book of Westmarch” but we don’t have to get that far into it.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.