I know this took a while, but I’m finally ready to take a look back at the year 2012 in film. Because I’m eager to make up for lost time, we’ll skip the general retrospective for this year. That said, there are still a few things to straighten out for those who haven’t read my previous Year In Review articles.
Every Year in Review for my blog is comprised of four lists: The Honorable Mentions, The Wild Rides, the Disappointments, and the Masterpieces. Each list has their own criteria, but they all follow the same basic rules.
1. I can only list films that I’ve already seen and reviewed. It appears that I did quite a good job covering the best in cinema this year, though I still missed out on such acclaimed films as Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Compliance, Bullhead, Klown, End of Watch, The Impostor, The American Scream, Sleepwalk with Me, etc. I wish I could’ve gotten around to Amour, but it hasn’t come to Portland yet and I’m done putting this off. I’m sure those films are all great, but I won’t be writing about them in this series.
2a. Only films released in the year 2012 may be included. This rule cost me a lot of great candidates this year. Headhunters, Hara-Kiri, The Deep Blue Sea, The Sound of Noise, and The Intouchables might all have been strong contenders if only they didn’t come out before 2012 in other countries. I couldn’t even put down Hysteria or Take This Waltz as disappointments, however badly I wanted to.
2b. Film festival premiere dates don’t count. It’s a proven fact that movies can change a great deal in editing between festival screenings and public screenings, so movies that debuted in 2011 film festivals may still be valid. For example, The Raid: Redemption debuted at the Toronto Film Festival and went on to show in several other fests that year, but it’s still in play because it didn’t reach public audiences until its Australian release in 03/22/2012.
3. A tie is only permitted for two films that are on the list for similar reasons. Every critic has different ideas for the proper use of tied entries. Personally, I choose to use tied entries as a means to avoid repeating myself and to keep from judging apples to apples.
All of that aside, we begin with the Honorable Mentions. I hasten to point out that the entries are listed alphabetically and not in any order of quality. I’d also like to add that the list is only confined to ten entries so that I wouldn’t have to write down blurbs for Haywire, Celeste and Jesse Forever, Cosmopolis, Holy Motors, Killing Them Softly, Seven Psychopaths, Silver Linings Playbook, Arbitrage, Ruby Sparks, Rise of the Guardians, Wreck-It Ralph, 21 Jump Street, Smashed, and all the other qualified films that I would gladly have praised somewhere if only I had the space.
I chose the films listed here based on how badly they warranted a few parting comments. For various reasons, I feel compelled to explain why these films didn’t make the cut.
To this day, I remain proud that I saw and supported this film. This year saw a huge and long-overdue national dialogue about how to talk to kids about bullying and how to clamp down on abuse between kids. This film played a huge part in that dialogue, and I’d call it a landmark 2012 documentary for that much. However, critics pointed out that the film was too ardently in favor of bullying victims and didn’t do enough to analyze the other side of the equation. It never asked the question of why students bully each other to begin with, and that’s a question we absolutely need to ask. I don’t know the reasoning for this oversight, but it’s what cost the film a Masterpiece slot.
On its own merit, the film provided us with three incredible up-and-coming actors, some mind-blowing flight sequences, and a jaw-dropping climax. As a “found footage” movie, it’s easily among the best in the genre so far. In retrospect, however, that’s likely because the film had no business being “found footage” in the first place. The film goes to ridiculous lengths in getting cameras exactly where they’re needed, and in somehow getting footage from cameras that were quite clearly destroyed. The approach is therefore so contrived that it damages the presentation on multiple levels. I initially thought that this would be the film to revitalize the “found footage” genre. In hindsight, I think this is film helps prove why the gimmick needs to die. But we’ll get to that later.
These were both such giant tentpole films in 2012 that no review of the year in cinema would be complete without mentioning them. Even so, I don’t think there’s a halfway-decent critic out there who would list either of them among the year’s best by any stretch of the imagination. Yes, they both offered sterling visuals and sound design, but their script problems were so abundant and glaring that they couldn’t possibly be called masterpieces. Yes, these films had some fun moments, but there were too many other films that had far more laughs/thrills/scares per minute. In the end, I can only grant them an honorable mention apiece.
I’ve seen this film on a lot of year-end lists and I can understand why. The film is gorgeous, it’s intellectual, it provides plenty of scares and thrills, and Liam Neeson’s performance is outstanding. It’s a very good film, though it does have one painful Achilles’ heel: The invincibility of its main character. Ottway damn near gets his leg chewed off by a wolf at the thirty-minute mark, and he effortlessly shrugs it off only a few seconds later. After that, it’s kind of hard to take any of the film’s ruminations on mortality seriously.
This was an unbelievably good year for Matthew McConaughey, as he accomplished the rare and exceedingly difficult task of turning himself from a tabloid punchline to an awards-worthy actor. In particular, McConaughey’s wickedly amoral and demented turn in this picture served as the ultimate proof of his newfound clout as an an actor. The film was made even better by the direction of the legendary William Friedkin. In the hands of a younger or less-experienced director, this material might easily have crossed the line into exploitation. Instead, this film was clearly made by someone who had simply grown too old and tired to give a fuck. As badly as I want to give this film a Masterpiece slot, I regret to say that the competition just couldn’t allow it.
Just like The Dark Knight Rises and The Hobbit, this is a film that got caught between the top ten lists. In my humble opinion, it wasn’t quite expertly-made enough to warrant the Masterpieces list, and it wasn’t quite exciting enough to qualify as a Wild Ride. Even so, it deserves to stand above and apart from the aforementioned franchise films because it dared to be original. The film set out to tell its own totally unique and self-contained story. The film wasn’t concerned with adapting anything faithfully, nor did it bother setting up any prequels or sequels. When all is said and done, this is easily one of the year’s ballsiest and most creative films. It deserves applause for that much.
This one will continue to frustrate me for a long time to come. I don’t remember the last time I simultaneously loved and disliked a film so much. There are so many great performances to savor, and the music is of course sterling. Then again, I simply can’t bring myself to get over Tom Hooper’s inept direction, or in the narrative flaws that were made in the process of adaptation. Of course, it also doesn’t help that the story’s antagonist was miscast in such a godawful manner. Aside from Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Samantha Barks, Amanda Seyfried, and even some scenes of Eddie Redmayne, I could take or leave the rest.
Letting this film go from my Wild Rides list was heartbreaking. The animation is great, the humor is outstanding, and the premise finds delightfully novel ways to express tired themes. Alas, it was the film’s preachy third act that ultimately cost the film a top spot. Still, at least this film was sincere and heartfelt in the messages it preached. That’s more than anyone can say for Frankenweenie.
Again, this is one that got shut out entirely due to how stiff the competition was. Also, at least two-thirds of this film is comprised of music that Rodriguez recorded back in the ’70s. Even so, this was a very powerful documentary and a moving testimony to the power of music. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
If I had a #11 slot for Masterpieces, this is undoubtedly the film it would go to. This film was funny, it was heartfelt, it was superbly acted, and the improvised script is executed in such a way that the characters felt more authentic for it. I came out of this movie feeling like I had met someone, and grateful that I had, which is really the highest praise I can give to an intimate character drama like this one. I absolutely loved this film and I thoroughly recommend it.
The 2012 Year in Review continues tomorrow. I hope you’ll be here to see it.