Untarnished Silver Screen: 2012 Great Year at Movies


I keep saying this because I truly believe it: 2012 was an exceptional year for film. If you're not convinced of that fact, a look back at my Best Films of 2011 list is instructive. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo ranked fourth for me last year. It's a fine movie, but I think it's fair to say it wouldn't sniff my top 10 list in 2012 (which should be available in the next few weeks, by the way). There was a smallness to 2011's best, which is probably partially a result of the fact that many of 2011's biggest movies can't even be called mediocre. Seriously, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part I, The Hangover Part II, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and Cars 2 were among the top 10 at the box office. The presence of so many colons and numerals -- Roman or otherwise -- ought to tell you most of what you need to know.

This year was quite different, though, wasn't it? OK, so there was still a Twilight movie among the top earners, but above it are The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises and Skyfall. All three are franchise movies, but that -- and a massive ticket take -- are about all they have in common with 2011's blockbuster successes. They possess sweeping scale and scope, but little of the clumsiness and clunkiness that so many intended blockbusters these days have. In The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises, moviegoers were treated to two of the best comic book movies ever. In Skyfall, they saw the best James Bond film in recent memory. All three have changed their respective genres forever.

But 2012 wasn't merely about soaring, epic action yarns that changed the future of movies. It also had wonderful reminders of what seemingly staid/played-out genres still have to offer. Director David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook showed that a modern romantic comedy doesn't have to involve a slutty/catty best friend, a commitment-phobic male lead or Katherine Heigl. Oh, and it also showed that rom-coms can still be watchable too. Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard  breathed new life in to an equally rote genre -- the slasher flick -- with the marvelous The Cabin in the Woods by turning every single horror trope on its head and simultaneously paying tribute to its canon.

Playbook and Cabin were also harbingers of the forceful return of another element that was all too often lacking in the years prior: suspense. Everywhere you turned in 2012, there were great movies with heartpounding, nailbiting endings. The genre didn't even matter, and, most amazing of all, some of the most tense movies of the year were the ones where the ending was a matter of historical record well known to all (Argo, Lincoln).

Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln in LincolnOf course, a few things didn't change. As The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey showed, Peter Jackson still hasn't learned how to make a film set in Middle Earth shorter than 150 minutes even if the source material is (roughly) 1/3rd of a 250-page children's book. Daniel Day-Lewis, playing America's 16th president in Lincoln, reminded everyone once again why he is this generation's greatest actor. It's not even particularly close, and that's accounting for Joaquin Phoenix's virtuoso performance in The Master this fall.

But it was the surprises -- great and small -- that got us through the year. It was Channing Tatum turning in to a viable star before our very eyes thanks to a comedic remake of a forgettable late 1980s TV show (21 Jump Street) and a surprisingly genuine story about male strippers (Magic Mike). And it was Taylor Kitsch not, despite starring in an Oliver Stone film (Savages) and a scantily clad sci-fi hero in a wannabe Disney tentpole (John Carter).

Can 2013 possibly be as sprawlingly stunning as this past year? Well, we can hope, but, truth be told, it's hard for me to see how that's possible. We'll press on anyway because even a year at the movies that doesn't live up to 2012 can still be awfully good.

The New Year's Resolution

Now that I've dispensed with the look back at 2012, here's my movie-watching-and-reviewing promise to you the reader -- my 2013 New Year's Resolution in Film if you will.

I resolve to be harder -- more discerning and critical -- in my reviews of films over the next year.

This past year was my first year doing this (whatever this is). I think I learned a great deal about myself, about film, about how to write about film in a way that says something substantive about a piece of art but also doesn't give away too much in the spoiler department. What I don't think I did well was stick to a consistent, disciplined rating system. Oh, I had a rating system -- scale of 0-10, integers only -- but not one that I feel was remotely rigid enough in retrospect. In short, I gave out too many 7s and 8s, reflex ratings for many of the films that I saw and liked, but for whatever reason had a few issues with or  was just left feeling a bit unfulfilled.

To get more granular, expect to see some harsher ratings in the coming year as I recalibrate around the 5 -- the rating an average action flick or rom-com or superhero film should be getting if I -- the aspiring, amateur critic -- am going to be more monastic in my devotion to the cinema.

So that's all folks. We're on to 2013. You can get ready for the next year in film by checking out my top 10 list of the most anticipated 2013 releases below. Catch you on the other side of the calendar, and look for my top 10 movies of 2012 list shortly after the New Year.

10 Most Anticipated Movies of 2013
  1. Elysium
  2. 42
  3. Anchorman: The Legend Continues
  4. Stoker
  5. Star Trek Into Darkness
  6. R.I.P.D.
  7. Ender's Game
  8. Monsters University
  9. Much Ado About Nothing
  10. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For