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A Look Back: 2012 in Film (Part I)

I’ve been contemplating just how and when to provide my thoughts on the films of 2012.  This is the year I saw more new releases than any other, with the current count topping 30.  I thought about doing the usual Top 10 list with a few honorable mentions, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized this has been a very comprehensive year for me.  And with pondering came the idea to make this an equally comprehensive look back.  This is why I’ll be going through 2012’s releases over the course of a three part blog.  The first part will feature the first half of the movies I saw, according to release.  The second part will cover the remaining half and the third will provide my ranking of every film, along with the movies I wanted to see but missed out on for whatever reason.  With that, let us begin my look back at the movies of 2012.

Haywire

First up on the calendar is Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire, one of the few films I actually held off on until it hit home video.  Let’s just say I’m glad I didn’t pay a penny to see this shoddy mess.  If you look up “haywire” in the dictionary, you’ll find it means “erratic” or “out of control,” which is exactly what this felt like.  Except it’s erratic in a disjointed, juvenile and amateurishly handled way, as opposed to being genuinely gripping.  The plot is cluttered, the characters aren’t worth investing in, the acting borders on atrocious and the low budget production style lends nothing to a film that, in turn, lends nothing to us.

Wanderlust

Next we have Wanderlust, a film that seemed to divide audiences with both its content and humor.  I’m open to most any style of film so long as its done right, something Wanderlust doesn’t grasp.  Like Haywire, I caught Wanderlust after its home video release, and it was a weary reminder as to why I like to trust my sagging gut.  This movie commits a huge crime that so many comedies are guilty of: lacking laughs.  Hell, forget laughs, entertainment is an even more criminal absence.  Were it not for the fact this was one of the few films of 2012 I disliked, Wanderlust would likely remain in my forgotten bin.  So bravo, Wanderlust, you achieved memorability for being that much closer to sheer atrocity.

Project X

I enjoy a good time as much as the next person, with or without drinking.  Parties can be a fun break from reality, though they seldom are.  Project X looked about as promising as that gigantic end of the semester party littered with everyone you hate from middle school.  I just knew that if I got the chance to see it, I’d utter nothing but the most disparaging remarks.  Then the film itself caught my interest and before long, my attention was sustained.  Much of the key events in Project X are genuinely eye catching which, combined with its proper amount of exposure, makes for a far more engaging watch than I ever conceived.  Now, I can’t take things out of proportion and say this was a good movie, but it was surprisingly enjoyable.  What makes it even more so is that this came out when so few films could even achieve any form of entertainment.  As such, it was the perfect break from a long, lethargic slumber.

21 Jump Street

21 Jump Street is yet another film I didn’t catch in theaters, primarily thanks to the unappealing trailers.  My gut impressions weren’t far from those for 2010’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which appeared dead, pointless and unconvincing.  But as you probably know, Rise was a very good film, remaining one of the greatest surprises I can recount.  In some ways, 21 Jump Street was also a pleasant surprise.  It’s definitely not on the same level as Rise, but what amazed me was that the film worked at all.  Laughs aren’t necessarily a constant, but entertainment was in sufficient supply, allowing my attention to actually go somewhere.  The film is very self-aware of its silliness, which is used to its advantage.  Is it a favorite?  Absolutely not.  Is it a good time regardless?  Very much so.

The Hunger Games

Not counting re-releases, The Hunger Games was my first theatrical viewing for 2012.  I went into this film almost completely blind, knowing only that it was similar in premise to Battle Royale.  Ultimately, it proved to be a fulfilling watch, remaining a memorable piece despite losing some of its edge after subsequent viewings.  The marketing was surprisingly well done, since very little of the actual Hunger Games were shown.  Lawrence puts on another solid performance alongside Woody Harrelson and, to my surprise, Lenny Kravitz.  We get a lot of brief looks into the depicted world, which is visionary without being self-indulgent.  This helps avoid overexposure, but I can’t help but want more, even with a nearly 2 1/2 hour runtime.  I’m actually about halfway through the first book, and have to say what I’ve read is adapted rather faithfully.  Both the book and film are solid works; neither are the top players of their respective styles, but there isn’t too much I can complain about.

Lockout

The title of this movie is Lockout.  I’d call it Guy Pearce’s One Liners.  Beforehand, I figured this would at least be a fair sci-fi romp.  Not long into the movie, I was ready to call it a night.  There’s a distinct lack of personality here, aside from how ineffective everything is.  The premise?  Tired and occasionally sporadic.  Main character?  Schwarzenegger would be proud.  Our villain?  A poorly handled maniac.  Investment?  Minimal to the very degree.  Lockout did little beyond slowly tiring and annoying me, only to become a film I’m happy to push out of memory.

The Avengers

Now we have The Avengers, the big money-maker of 2012.  There’s really no hiding the fact few films even touch The Avengers for sheer entertainment value.  The nerd and geek spectacle here is Category 7.  If nothing else, the final act warrants the price of admission alone.  Comical and awe-inducing moments run a constant, with just enough drama to remind us this isn’t merely a playful simulation.  Most will probably agree when I say this is a film you watch simply for fun at its most pristine level.  Anyone who actually doesn’t want that should stay away.  Those same people should also get their priorities straightened out.

The Dictator

Hopes for fun times ran high after The Avengers, something The Dictator couldn’t deliver enough of.  Crudely offensive and gratuitous material is what Sacha Baron Cohen is all about.  While it worked in a movie like Borat to wonderful degrees, here the comedic effects began to feel increasingly forced, leading to less and less fulfilling moments.  I can recall a considerable number of scenes from Borat, having seen it only a couple times.  The Dictator?  I’d be lucky to recollect half a dozen.  To say The Dictator was completely lacking is a harsh exaggeration, but I wouldn’t enthusiastically sit through it again.  It’s a load of heavy-handed offense, sprinkled with sparingly (but crassly) enjoyable moments.

Men in Black 3

Once again, we have a film I skipped out on seeing in theaters.  Almost nothing in Men in Black 3’s previews grabbed me, and despite not feeling so negative about the second film, I couldn’t justify spending primetime money on a stale-looking threequel.  Skip ahead one at-a-friend’s home viewing later and I’ll say it’s actually worthwhile in some regards.  The emotional arc, though debatably inconsistent, does make for a good way to help things come full circle.  Laughs are far from frequent, the villain is beyond weak and entertainment is in the so-so to relaxing range.  But our characters are colorful, usually fleshed out and when all is said and done, we could’ve certainly had a worse conclusion.

Moonrise Kingdom

The journey to Moonrise Kingdom was one ripe of frustration for yours truly.  I say this since no theater around me showed it, which mixes horribly with high anticipation.  Thankfully, by the time I did see this strange, unorthodox product, I had little to complain about.  Moonrise Kingdom definitely gets a nod for most unique feature of the year, as well as the most quirkily charming.  The ensemble cast is in terrific form, with the younger actors proving to be among the best in my entire memory.  These aren’t easy characters to play, especially considering their age, but they fit the roles wonderfully.  Even when deadpan and alarmingly stoic, you can’t help but be brought in.  Moonrise Kingdom is just like opening an odd yet colorful children’s book, one that withstands repeat readings through adolescence and into adulthood.

Snow White and the Huntsman

I have a sneaky suspicion that Snow White and the Huntsman’s relationship with me isn’t far from how everybody’s first special someone turns out.  The more I saw leading up to it, the more interested and hopeful I grew.  Then the film came out and I was left feeling…stumped.  A number of things definitely worked, namely the look and atmosphere.  Charlize Theron generally made for an effective villain, but she wasn’t as fully realized as I longed for.  Something that truly crippled the film was Snow White herself, who hardly says or does anything.  Aside from “you should know, you’re the one hunting me,” I can’t remember a single line she spoke.  Kristen Stewart isn’t a bad actress, but she isn’t up to par for silent emoting, which is an improper direction to take with Snow White’s character.  There’s a great movie here, but it’s buried underneath a slumbering mud pile which we endure for too much of the runtime.

Prometheus

Even with the likes of Bully and Zero Dark Thirty, I don’t think any film has or will top the controversy of Prometheus for some time.  Outrage has followed and literally ravaged this film from every angle.  I suppose I can consider my shield null and void when I reaffirm my praise for the film.  I’ve always been fascinated by the universe and lore of the Alien franchise from a conceptual standpoint.  The ideas and glimpses we’re afforded are always enjoyable and, if nothing else, visually interesting.  Call it a tease, bait and switch or complete and utter ploy if you must, Prometheus at least maintained my attention.  Do tired cliches of its genre(s) make their way into the current cut?  Yes.  Does the idea of waiting even longer for more answers frustrate me?  To a degree, but that’s part of the point.  A few questions are answered while more are posed, and just because we have questions doesn’t mean each will (or should) be resolved.  This is something the film poses at its very core during at least one scene, which rings true with the very beginning of the Alien plotline, as well as our own impulses as human beings.  It’s the kind of film that gets you thinking more and more the deeper you dig down, which in itself is something I personally admire.  An arbitrary compliment, perhaps, but someone or something has to ignite further discussions for us.

Rock of Ages

I once described Scott Pilgrim vs. the World as an excellent case for the legalization of select substances.  Subsequently, Rock of Ages is a film that I urge adults (of age) to see with drinks lined up for sips and shots aplenty.  Oh, and they might want to have 9-1-1 on standby.  Here we have a movie cheesy enough to make cholesterol levels spike to terminal levels.  Let’s just say it’s a miracle people weren’t diagnosed upon leaving their theater.

Brave

Two things kept me from watching Brave in theaters: audience and reception.  Disney and Pixar cater to kids, which oftentimes translate to some of the worst possible moviegoing experiences.  That and despite a generally positive recommendation, some people really picked the film apart.  It wasn’t until the end of my recent Pixar wrap-up that I decided to sit down and watch the film.  The first and most obvious part to address is that Brave looks incredible.  Several scenes and shots are convincingly life-like.  People make arguments that animation still has a ways to go before it can make a convincing case for reality.  To them I say watch Brave on Blu-ray.  For me, Brave was what you could call a tease.  The set up and setting promise something big, bold and interesting.  In a way that’s what we get, if by big we mean big to a child, bold referring to the sheer concept of the film’s catalyst, and interesting in regards to what’s suggested throughout.  The film seems to promise more than it delivers, and when there’s so much at the studio’s disposal, it comes off as underwhelming.  Now if we take the film for what it is, at face value, it’s not bad at all.  It is rather silly, I’ll admit, but if you go along with it the story can maintain your interest, providing a good dynamic between two of the characters.  To say it’s better than Cars 2 is a given, but the same can’t be said for it returning Pixar to their former glory.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

It seems to have become a pattern for the worst movies I experienced this year to be utterly forgettable.  If not that, then they fail to make much of an impression for much of the runtime.  Seeking a Friend for the End of the World sadly fits the latter category, since this is a film I really wanted to enjoy.  It simply never managed to grab me.  Much of what we need is in place: an impending scenario, decent character types, motivation to keep at least one of them going, moments aiming for comedic and dramatic effect, etc.  Yet none of it ever pulled me in.  Much of the movie falls on its characters who, in some ways, are different from what we typically get.  This would be great if I had a care in the soon-to-end world for them, which I didn’t.  And a film that fails to make me care fails to get more than a shrugged mention.

The Amazing Spider-Man

I’ve already mentioned that a couple films took me by surprise in 2012.  But if I had to pick one which completely exceeded my expectations and became a true favorite, it’d be The Amazing Spider-Man.  Not every promise made from the previews and trailers was kept, but at the very least we got a more grounded and realistic origin story.  Granted, this means a lot of familiar ground is covered, but the film shows it’s less the content and more the execution that matters.  The characters, especially Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone as Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy, respectively, are tough to not get behind.  Their interactions and dynamics, among others, are why I felt so gripped and transported.  Not many films get me hoping for them to go on for double their runtime (or more), but The Amazing Spider-Man achieved just this.  I don’t care if we’re seeing much of the same stuff or if our villain is less than remarkable, there’s so much more that I managed to cling to and joyously savor.  For that, it effortlessly holds up as one of my favorite movies from 2012.

The Dark Knight Rises

Now the big guns are coming out.  As of my initial viewing(s), The Dark Knight Rises stormed onto the top of my favorite movies of the year, looking down at the competition with disdain.  Here we had a re-envisioned character coming full circle in a tour de force, featuring another great villain, visual/audio marvels and strong emotional payoff throughout.  By the time I saw the film a third or fourth time, however, things began to look gloomy for what is, in itself, a gloomy movie.  The Dark Knight Rises is a tough film to get into on that level without exposing certain details, the least of which is its ending.  What I’ll leave this brief recap at is that the film remains enthralling, if inconsistent.  Scenes with a scene-commanding Bane and scene-stealing Catwoman are among the film’s best moments, while parts getting into the nitty-gritty plot are, much like The Dark Knight, less engaging.  Subsequent viewings have only made its cracks all the more apparent, which might not cripple it the way they do Bruce Wayne, but they’re not doing it any favors either.

 
 

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Theater Feature: Prometheus (2012)

For many people a film like Prometheus has been a long time coming.  Claims about whether it was indeed an Alien prequel bounced around more than a hard-hit drunkard.  Ultimately, Scott and company commented that Prometheus would be a standalone film.  Of course, given we’re in the blossoming online age, refutations to this claim came aplenty.  Now we can finally find out the truth among the summer’s biggest films.

The common, spoiler-free consensus is that Prometheus is set in the same universe as Alien, but isn’t a direct prequel.  This is about all the blind, incoming viewer needs to know beforehand.

Now that we have that cleared up, what about the film itself?  To put it simply, this is a real sparker for discussions.  Some will find this to be a surprising thought-provoker while others will at least see it as something worth pondering.  And this is a key part of the film’s theme.  We’re often searching for what we don’t know (everything) about.  Even when answers are provided, more questions can (and usually do) stem from those.  This is a key reason the film has drawn such divided and passionate discussions; it’s all the more why this is such fascinating watch.

In fact, more than anything, this theme is the driving force behind story and plot.  Beyond a group of people exploring a distant planet for answers we’ve long wondered, it’s tough to detail the film without spoilers.  When our character’s discoveries aren’t pushing things forward, their more than occasionally questionable actions are.  Development isn’t in the highest supply, but again, that’s part of the film’s style.  The story and circumstances are, to some extent, beyond them.  For what our key players provide, however, it’s mostly serviceable.  Granted, some might wonder whether Rapace or Fassbender deserve to be called the film’s key (human) character.  At least both of them provide note-worth performances, especially the latter (as always).

Beyond this, people should actually know what to expect.  Ridley Scott is doing science fiction, which he always has an eye for.  The shots are entrancing, heightened sequences are generally gripping and the art style is intriguing to say the least.  Factor these in simultaneously for some parts and we have a film that refuses to let you divert your eyes.  Ultimately, keeping your interest is what Prometheus does best, and it shouldn’t be any other way.

 
 

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Upcoming Stars Worth Looking At

Some might share my predicament in having an email on AT&T, leading an instinctual curiosity of the often embarrassing articles courtesy of Yahoo.  One that caught my eye in particular was on the upcoming, breakout stars in film this year.  For those who aren’t aware, Yahoo don’t exactly do their homework for articles; what else can explain the inclusion of Rihanna on the aforementioned list?  But there were one or two worth mentioning, such as Noomi Rapace of the Swedish Girl with the Dragon Tattoo adaptations and Prometheus.  So this got me thinking: How about the stars who are on the rise, might make a real breakout and are actually promising?  Well, let’s waste little more time and get on with it!

Tom Hardy

Let’s get the obvious culprit out of the way: Bane himself.  For some (including myself), Tom Hardy has already made a bigger splash than what other actors do for their entire career.  Sure, he’s not quite a household name, but the man is gradually working his way up the (good) Hollywood ladder.  Even without the anticipation of The Dark Knight Rises, Hardy would likely be on his way as an admirable star between staring in Warrior, Inception and the upcoming Depression-era film Lawless.  Though the British actor feels that his portrayal of Bane won’t make him a household name, I think it’ll at least open even more roles for him.  He’s already well on his way, and I can’t see his solid selections heading downhill any time soon.

Joel Edgerton

Okay, I might be giving a bit too much credit to Mr. Edgerton since most people don’t know him beyond co-staring with Hardy in Warrior.  But the man has shown talent and promise.  Some might not remember, but he played Owen Lars in two of the Star Wars prequels.  He’s also playing Tom Buchanan in the upcoming remake of The Great Gatsby alongside Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire.  No, he might not hit it big this year, but there’s a chance he could prove to be a competent performer sometime in the future.

Tom Hiddleston

Hiddleston is already been making a bit of a name for himself despite the fact he’s only really known for being Loki.  2011 was a pretty big year him, including roles in Thor, Midnight in Paris and War Horse.  He’s also set to reprise his role as Loki in Thor 2 and is even signed up for three TV movies (the two-parter Henry IV and the title role in Henry V).  Right now most people just know him as the guy Hulk slammed around in a classic Avengers scene, but given his upcoming roster, chances are he might become one of the next go-to actors.

Michael Fassbender

Many people consider Michael Fassbender to be THE underrated star to keep an eye on.  Haywire may not have been the best of his recent selections, but between playing a young Magneto in X-Men: First Class, the lead role in Shame and, like the aforementioned Noomi Rapace, holding a role in Prometheus, the man is building some serious momentum.  Not just that, but he’s proven to be a great player in almost all of his films, earning the most praise for Shame.  Hopefully his lack of other films coming out this year won’t deter his rise.

Andrew Garfield

Among the younger-looking inclusions on this list, Andrew Garfield was, until recently, only known for playing Eduardo Saverin in The Social Network.  If people weren’t sympathizing with Eisenberg’s egocentric Zuckerberg, they were likely rooting for Garfield’s character.  And now he’s playing Peter Parker in the soon-to-be-released Spider-Man reboot, which has quickly dispelled much skepticism.  If the film manages to be a big hit (which looks very likely), then it’s guaranteed to open even more for the young, talented actor.

Cillian Murphy

When you see Cillian Murphy, you likely think of him as “that guy who’s been in half of Nolan’s recent films.”  And it’s true that, outside of playing Scarecrow and having a supporting role in Inception, there hasn’t been much to credit him with.  But this doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a shot at being another potential player in the near future.  The upcoming film Red Lights holds some promise, which features Murphy alongside Sigourney Weaver.  It might not impact the box office, but there’s potential for studios to take notice.  Also, if it means anything, Nolan actually thought of casting Murphy as Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins before being handed to Christian Bale.  If those two were in the running, then it has to be a good sign!

Jeremy Renner

It’s really surprising how Jeremy Renner still hasn’t become a household name, given his filmography and (well deserved) accolades.  He’s received two Oscar nominations, has proven to be incredible versatile between roles in The Town, The Hurt Locker and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.  He’s even taking Damon’s place in the fourth, upcoming Bourne film.  The man is very talented and is just barely into his 30’s; so why don’t more people seem to know about him?  For those who might have looked this actor over, I suggest watching the movies he’s in again and taking note: Renner has a lot of promise and is someone I think more directors would be wise in considering.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Of all the listed actors, this is the one that’s closest to being widely recognized.  It seems that right when 50/50 hit theaters, everyone was all ablaze about Joseph Gordon-Levitt, claiming him the next truly big actor to look out for.  Most of us know by now that he’ll be playing young cop John Blake in The Dark Knight Rises as well as a lead role in Looper.  But why stop there?  We’ll also be seeing him in the upcoming action/thriller Premium Rush and the much-anticipated Lincoln as Robert Todd Lincoln.  Sounds like our boy has his resume booked and ready for just about anything.

Carey Mulligan

What?  You thought I was going to leave the female demographic unrecognized?  Actresses like Carey Mulligan are further solidifying themselves in a crowded field, but it’s a good thing they’re around for us to enjoy.  Sure, Carey might have been part of a less-than solid piece in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, but with other works such as Drive, Brothers, Shame and Public Enemies, I think we can let one stinker slide.  For some reason I associate her with Michelle Williams (another young and promising actress), even though they hardly look alike.  Either way, we’re talking great talent at a young age, and things should be going uphill for Carey.

Anna Kendrick

So Carey Mulligan has the lackluster Wall Street sequel to potentially complain about.  Anna Kendrick, on the other hand, has been involved in each Twilight film to date.  How can someone featured in those films make this list?  Much like Carey, it’s her good selections and roles that got her on this list.  Between Up in the Air, an earnest performance in 50/50 and a small but fun role in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, she’s certainly not one to simply shrug aside (like many of us foolishly did when the latter came out).  Those combined with roles in ParaNorman, The Company You Keep and the seemingly relevant 2013 film Get a Job are enough proof to convince me that she’s more than just a sweet, pretty face.

Marion Cotillard

Most of us probably recognized Marion as Cobb’s wife from Inception.  Yet what many probably don’t realize is that she won an Oscar three years earlier for the French film La vie en rose.  Some have already noted her very briefly as Miranda Tate in The Dark Knight Rises as well.  Similar to other French actress Audrey Tautou of Amelie, Marion might not become an actress of Hollywood fame (any time soon), but this shouldn’t deter people from keeping their eyes peeled for whatever else either star might be in.

 
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Posted by on June 4, 2012 in Film, Movies

 

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