G-S-T Year in Review – Marc’s 2012 Wrap Up

Year in and year out, from festivals to multiplexes the world over, film fans brave the dark of the cinema and are treated to what filmmakers have spent months/years crafting. The result? A mixed bag of titles from independent pictures to studio tent poles and with productions that range from shoe-string labor of loves to all out mega-budgeted features. Annually we theater goers witness a slew of hits and misses (sometimes more misses than hits) that light up the silver screen and 2012 was no different. For every half dozen stinkers we get one gleaming reason that kept us heading to the theaters and that’s what makes these year end lists so much fun; recounting the good and the bad alike.

Before we begin this trip looking back at the Class of ’12 I want to call attention to some excellent films that didn’t make the list below but still succeeded in sticking in my head all year long. There were a slew of wonderful highly anticipated films that did not disappoint such as Quentin Tarantino’s superb western throwback Django Unchained, Joss Whedon’s billion dollar blockbuster The Avengers and Rian Johnson’s superb time-travel thriller Looper and the brilliantly epic Korean WWII film My Way.

There were also some exceptional smaller films (either playing in limited release or only at festivals) such as the uberly deflating, controversial but well-paced Compliance, young Brandon Cronenberg’s feature film debut Antiviral, the unconventional but universal coming-of-age film The Perks of Being A Wallflower, and a handful of underdog standouts like Josh Trank’s low-key superhero gem Chronicle and Daniel Radcliffe’s post-Potter Hammer horror fare The Woman In Black. Then there’s some outright feel-good and enjoyable family films like the Halloween themed stop-frame flick ParaNorman and Studio Ghibli’s wonderfully simple but immensely delightful adaptation of Mary Norton’s novel The Secret World of Arrietty that just puts a smile on your face.

So many films succeeded in surprising me this year I can honestly say I saw way more good than bad in 2012. The following collection of titles in my year end wrap up may not align with any respected or high profile critics but that’s what makes a list so special; it’s a canvas for the personal and subjective tastes of the person compiling it to run wild. So enough banter, here’s my thoughts of what 2012 had to offer (btw, click on any of the pictures to check out the respective reviews)…

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James Bond has been gracing the silver screen for 50 years but never has Double O been this engaging, exciting and fulfilling. Sam Mendes takes it back to where it all started and succeeds in delivering a brilliantly reverent mix of old and new that finds Skyfall closing the loop on the super spy that we’ve come to love for five decades. This is a watershed in film/franchise history because 007 has finally grown up and reached the next stage in the evolution of his character. What we know was history, what we just saw is present (as in one hell of a gift to fans), and a promise of strong things to expect in the future. Indeed, nobody does it better.

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The duo behind the runaway indie hit Little Miss Sunshine doesn’t make a movie unless they really believe in it. Their resume is short but it’s also very solid and they continue their hit streak with Ruby Sparks. The first screenplay from the delightful and charming Zoe Kazan is expertly cast and directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. It’s also highly original, fun and the drama is intensified by the palpable on screen chemistry of the real life couple of Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan (who are just as charming in real life – check out my interview with them). The only thing that this sweet film needs is a larger audience…and to give Chris Messina more screen time.

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If I have to be completely honest I just don’t get the appeal and style of Wes Anderson. To me, his filmmaking is so quirky that it is pretentious beyond reproach. I don’t dislike him but I won’t go out of my way to see his films. That said, I nearly ate my words with a giant quirky spoon as I just love, love, love The Fantastic Mr. Fox to no end. So as fate may have it I think I finally am on board with, or at least am comfortable with, Anderson’s efforts thanks to this little gem…of course it helps that the two leads (first time actors both) are so undeniably cute and endearing.

Side note: Though this film succeeded in completely winning me over with its wonderful art direction, style, humor and acting, I do want to call attention and give credit to another film I similarly was not expecting to like. There was one Snow White film that was worth the time this year and that was the schmaltzy but unsung Mirror, Mirror. Call me crazy but I really liked it. Weird huh?

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Pixar took a lot of flak for Cars, John Lasseter’s nostalgically themed throwback to the days of family road tripping. While well-intentioned, it just wasn’t up to their standards and neither was its misdirected spy/surf sequel which starred no one’s favorite red neck tow truck. But the first boilerplate story for the animation powerhouse, a princess yarn, similarly didn’t do anything to stir audiences or critics. Not that Pixar is on the chopping block but this third strike for the house that Lasseter built shows that no studio is infallible. Sure I liked it in my review, or should I say wanted to like it, but looking back on it again this is quite far from what Pixar is capable of.

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Let’s get past the fact that Hollywood will make (and remake) whatever they want, and as such we the audience just have to accept that. But doesn’t mean the film has be so insipid, insulting and uninspired does it? I put my undying love of the Ah-nuld and Verhoeven classic aside and really hoped for the best as I thought this remake, as unnecessary as it was, could have actually benefited from a visual and stylistic makeover.

But it was not meant to be. The acting was bad, the cast was both wasted and underused (and who keeps trying to tell us Jessica Biel is an actress??) and the story was as boring as it was flat. Worst of all it showed no creativity as Len Wiseman shamelessly ripped-off all of the signature elements of the 1989 classic, so much so that it prompted the original question all over again which was: So why again are you remaking this?? And speaking of pointless remakes, or should I say sequel that totally butchered the winning formula of the first film, how much of a letdown was Taken 2?

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There must have been a big batch of kool-aid supplied on the festival circuit this year because everyone just loved Beasts of the Southern Wild...except me (well, maybe I’m not the only one). Sure, I was excited to see what had everyone buzzing but when I walked out of the theater I was so bewildered and confused I couldn’t even give my quick thoughts to the studio rep.

The film was decent at best and even though this was Benh Zeitlin‘s exercise in telling a story as if it were an interpretation of some unwritten folk song, this simply did not work. Beasts, to me, is just like what happened last year with Tree of Life; a film hyped to unreasonable and unhealthy proportions that just didn’t deliver the goods.

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Easily the most divisive film of 2012, Sir Ridley Scott’s return to sci-fi and the property that made him a God in the film world was not even close to what we were expecting (to say nothing of the elements that should have lined up perfectly with the 1979 classic but didn’t). It had all the right components but the story was, to put it nicely, not what fans had waited 30 years for. Narrative problems aside (you can blame the behind the scenes incompatibility of the Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof scripts for lack of narrative cohesiveness), this rightly is a fun film and in the history of loving things for their faults, there’s no denying this was just one cool ride.

From the cast to the Marc Streitenfeld score to the gorgeous visuals, it just gets better with each viewing…although it still would have been nice if they landed on LV-426 but it is what it is and I for one still adore it. I thought for sure Casa de mi Padre (which is insanely funny) would take this award but at the end of the day I’d rather sit down to Fassbender/Scott over Ferrell anyday of the week.

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Brit Marling’s low budget sci-fi film Sound of My Voice went overlooked by many audiences and that’s a real shame. Brit Marling is a hypnotic powerhouse whose performance cuts right through you. Though unassuming, Voice‘s deceptively simple set up has a pay-off that is nothing short of spellbinding and really it’s all due to what Marling brings to the role of  Maggie. I guess people were too taken by another off-beat time travel film to take notice of her efforts in this engaging, well-crafted story.

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Pixar, DreamWorks, Blue Sky, even Disney have given us very memorable and iconic animated films in all different shapes and sizes. While CG is definitely the current standard for animated storytelling, sometimes studios can show us that the old ways are still alive and valid means of entertainment. Sure a computer can give us unparalleled photo-realism but there’s a human touch that sometimes is missing and very necessary.

Nothing proved that this year more than the trio of stop-motion (or stop-frame) animated adventures in the form of Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie, Laika Animation’s ParaNorman and Aardman’s The Pirates! Band of Misfits. Yet of the three, it is Peter Lord’s witty, sharp, hilarious and superbly cast film that takes the cake this year. So what is best thing about being a Pirate you ask? It’s Ham Night!!

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Life of Pi is, without a doubt, the movie-going experience of 2012 and reminds us why we go to movies in the first place. So many times we’re given (force-fed in some instances) utter cinematic trash or ideas that have been spun and re-spun ad nauseum. Yet once in a great while something comes along that shows us what film can, should and will continue to be. A visual wonderland and the most immersive 3D adventure since maybe Avatar, Ang Lee’s epic and gorgeous film is one of the reasons I’m so very glad the world has not ended.

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Also, as I wrap up hi-lighting the things that made t 2012 so special I want to give a huge thanks and acknowledge the passionate and dedicated staff at GoSeeTalk who together make this site ever so much more than I could accomplish on my own. See what Andrew and Grady had to say about 2012 (check out their reviews as well) and look for Jessica and Bill to weigh in later this week.

Comments

  1. Brave most disappointing?? Oh that makes me sad 🙁 Oh well, on the other hand I don’t really want to see Prometheus again.

    • RidgeRacer4 says:

      Well disappointing in the sense that I wanted to to be sooo much more than what it was, even if they were confined to such an overdone narrative like a princess story. This just wasn’t the Pixar we’ve come to know and is more akin to early DreamWorks than Pixar. But it was pretty to look at (and those adorable triplets!) so I’ll give you that:P

  2. provostom says:

    We shared a lot of the same on our lists! 🙂 Great writing as well, thanks!

    • RidgeRacer4 says:

      You know what they say, great minds think alike;) Yeah, Life of Pi and Skyfall, among others, were true standouts this year and I can’t wait to see them again. Thanks for the comment Tom, and Happy New Year to you!

  3. Andrew Crump says:

    Still haven’t seen Life of Pi. If it gets any Oscar love, it’ll probably get a re-release in theaters, and I’ll check it out then.

    I can’t fault anyone for showing love to Moonrise Kingdom, obviously– I think years from now we may come to view it as Anderson’s best movie. Regardless, I’ll still dig it.

    You’re making me wonder if I need to rewatch Prometheus. I know I was higher on it than most were at its release, and all of the vitriol aimed at it does lead me to think that I should go back and check it out again. Someday, I guess.

    • RidgeRacer4 says:

      Andrew, if there’s one film you need to see on IMAX it’s Life of Pi. Nothing less will do and I think much of the the appeal might be lost on the screener copies (for Oscar consideration) and home video versions. Might be a long shot but if it’s still in any theater it warrants a viewing.

      Moonrise just keeps growing on me and I too think it may be his best but Fox is sttill my favorite to watch. Even though I’m ok with Prometheus’ faults I still think that a Director’s cut (beyond the deleted scenes) will really turn that movie around…but I’m not gonna hold my breath for that.

  4. Hey Marc! Impressive round-up post. Unfortunately I haven’t seen that many of the films mentioned. Hahaha I need to check out the sound of my voice though!! 🙂


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