Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Movies of 2012




If you were interested in watching movies in 2012, about the only problem you likely faced was choosing the method: theatres, television, DVD, Blu-ray, video on demand, streaming (and, if you were so inclined, torrents)…so many ways to watch films both old and new. If you favored the big screen, it was a year of change for theatres as many finally made the conversion to digital, a switch that has seemingly produced as many problems for them as advantages. From a patron’s point of view, I far too often found myself asking (and in one case, angrily demanding) that people turn off their phones during screenings. Between that baffling lack of common courtesy, the high prices, and projection issues caused by the digital learning curve (it seems that no more than one staff member is allowed to touch a single button on these things and he or she is never there), I can easily understand why people wait three months and watch new releases on their big LCD screens at home. However, in spite of these annoyances, I retain my love for seeing movies on the big screen in the company of (hopefully) like-minded film fans.

Looking over the list that follows, the films that impressed me most either displayed commendable ambition (THE MASTER, SAMSARA, CLOUD ATLAS) or were content to tell a small, intimate story with great sensitivity and intelligence (most notably, A SEPARATION). There were also a good number of more mainstream titles, including the inevitable appearance by one of more Pixar releases (to be honest, I really didn’t even mind last year’s widely hated CARS 2, though I hope there are no more entries in that series). Also prominent were ANTIVIRAL and BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW, two bizarre and challenging Canadian indies from the sons of notable filmmakers, both of which were head and shoulders above the bottom scraping likes of many other genre titles, including SILENT NIGHT and PIRANHA 3DD (which share the honor of the year’s worst).

As much as critics like Mark Kermode and Roger Ebert wished it to go away, 3D movies were still a regular feature at multiplexes. I enjoy the technology, while still recognizing that it is not always well used or even necessary. For all of the technical showiness from various Hollywood mega productions, 2012’s best use of the format came courtesy of the dazzling artistry in Ang Lee’s LIFE OF PI and the throw-everything-at-the-wall playfulness of Tsui’s Hark’s FLYING SWORDS OF DRAGON GATE. The carefully considered 3D makeovers given to TITANIC and FINDING NEMO added to both pictures and revealed that is indeed possible to do proper 3D conversions following the disastrous revamps CLASH OF THE TITANS and THE LAST AIRBENDER were subjected to a couple of years back.

The critical and/or financial success of 21 JUMP STREET, TED, and GOON were further reminders of how out of touch I am these days when it comes to mainstream comedy. While gross-out and humiliation humor invariably leaves me cold, the darkest of comedy often hits home, hence my nearly solitary laughter during screenings of KILLER JOE, ANTIVIRAL, and KILLING THEM SOFTLY.

I’m confounded by the box office failure of DREDD, which reminded one of just how satisfying a well-crafted B-movie can be. There was much discussion on how much of a debt DREDD owed to THE RAID: REDEMPTION and vice versa. In the end, it hardly mattered: they were both highly entertaining, super violent fun that will have a long life on disc and cable. 

As always seems to be the case, I was not able to catch as many documentaries as hoped this year. Of what I did see, the highlight was easily Ron Fricke’s outstanding display of natural wonders, SAMSARA. Along with Paul Thomas Anderson’s THE MASTER, its 70mm cinematography provided a stunning reminder of just how amazing celluloid can look. I’m mystified by the outpouring of acclaim for THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES, which was far more Reality TV show than documentary. Like all of the Reality TV I have suffered through, I despised everyone onscreen and was neither enlightened nor entertained by the experience.

One of the best things about seeing ARGO was the audience: thanks to the story's setting, subject matter, and cast, there was not a single person under 40 in attendance and thus, a dark, quiet auditorium for the entire running time. It is nice that the studios do still occasionally make movies for older folks, but this demographic still deserves better than the unadventurous likes of THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL, HOPE SPRINGS, ROBOT & FRANK, TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE, TO ROME WITH LOVE, and THE INTOUCHABLES (though three of those did solid business regardless).

OK, the list –
The following 145 movies went into general theatrical/disc/VOD release in Canada or the United States during 2012. Festival showings and Oscar qualifying runs from previous years don’t count. Thus, while my choice for the best movie of 2012, A SEPARATION, won last year’s Best Foreign Film Academy Award, it didn’t get regular play here in Canada until last January and therefore qualifies. The distributors noted after each title are for English Canada (providing a stark reminder of just what a significant market share Entertainment One/Alliance has) and DTV indicates a film that, to my knowledge, did not get any general theatrical play dates in this country. There actually were a few that I didn’t get to in time, most notably Steven Spielberg’s LINCOLN, which has yet to open on any of the 20 screens here in Guelph, despite largely positive notices, all but guaranteed Oscar nominations, and a gross exceeding $100 million. Next year, I guess! Feel free to leave feedback and your own lists in the comments section.


Highly Recommended
ANTIVIRAL (Alliance)
AVENGERS, THE (3D) (Disney)
BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW (Mongrel Media)
BRAVE (3D) (Disney)
CABIN IN THE WOODS, THE (Alliance)
CLOUD ATLAS (Warner)
FINDING NEMO (3D) (Disney)
FLYING SWORDS OF DRAGON GATE (3D) (Entertainment One)
GREY, THE (Entertainment One)
HEADHUNTERS (Alliance)
HUNTER, THE (Entertainment One)
JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI (Entertainment One)
KILLER JOE (VVS/Alliance)
LOOPER (Alliance)
MASTER, THE (70mm) (Entertainment One)
MONSTERS INC. (3D) (Disney)
MOONRISE KINGDOM (Entertainment One)
SAMSARA (Entertainment One)
SEPARATION, A (Mongrel Media)
SKYFALL (Sony-Columbia/MGM)
SNOWTOWN MURDERS, THE (IFC - U.S.)
TITANIC (3D) (Paramount)


Recommended
AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY (Mongrel Media)
ARBRITRAGE (VVS/Alliance)
ARGO (Warner)
BAY, THE (Roadside Attractions - VOD - U.S.)
BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD (Entertainment One)
BERNIE (Alliance)
COLD LIGHT OF DAY, THE (Entertainment One)
COMIC CON EPISODE IV: A FAN'S HOPE (Entertainment One)
DAMSELS IN DISTRESS (Mongrel Media)
DJANGO UNCHAINED (Alliance)
DREDD (3D) (Alliance)
END OF WATCH (VVS/Alliance)
EXCISION (Anchor Bay - DTV)
EXPENDABLES 2, THE (Alliance)
FRANKEWEENIE (3D) (Disney)
GET THE GRINGO (Alliance - DTV)
HITLER'S CHILDREN (Film Movement - U.S.)
HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY, THE (Warner-New Line/MGM) (Viewed in 2D)
HOLE, THE (Alliance - DTV) (Viewed by via foreign 3D Blu-ray release)
HOLY MOTORS (Mongrel Media)
HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA (3D) (Sony-Columbia)
HUNGER GAMES, THE (Alliance)
INVISIBLE WAR, THE (Slide Screen)
JOHN CARTER (3D) (Disney)
KILLING THEM SOFTLY (Alliance)
LAWLESS (Alliance)
LIFE OF PI (3D) (Fox)
OF DOLLS & MURDER (VSC - DTV)
PACT, THE (IFC - U.S.)
PARANORMAN (3D) (Alliance)
PARIAH (Alliance)
PIRATES! BAND OF MISFITS, THE (3D) (Sony-Columbia)
PROMETHEUS (3D) (Fox)
QUILL (Music Box - U.S.)
RAID: REDEMPTION, THE (Alliance)
RISE OF THE GUARDIANS (3D) (Paramount)
RUBY SPARKS (Fox)
SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETY, THE (Disney)
SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS (Alliance)
SIDE BY SIDE: THE SCIENCE, ART AND IMPACT OF DIGITAL CINEMA (Tribeca)
TALL MAN, THE (Alliance - DTV)
UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING (Unrated) (Magnolia - VOD - U.S.)
WE ARE LEGION: THE STORY OF THE HACKTIVISTS (Kinosmith)
WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (Entertainment One)
WOMAN IN BLACK, THE (Alliance)
WRATH OF THE TITANS (3D) (Warner)
WRECK-IT RALPH (3D) (Universal)
WU XIA (aka DRAGON) (Radius-TWC - U.S.) (Viewed via foreign DVD)


Recommended With Reservations
BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL, THE (Fox)
BILL W. (Double Exposure)
BOURNE LEGACY, THE (Universal)
BULLET VANISHES, THE (China Lion)
BULLY (Alliance)
CAT IN PARIS, A (Mongrel Media)
CORMAN'S WORLD: EXPLOITS OF A HOLLYWOOD REBEL (Kinosmith)
DARK KNIGHT RISES, THE (Warner)
DARK SHADOWS (Warner)
DICTATOR, THE (Unrated) (Paramount)
FLOWERS OF WAR, THE (Entertainment One)
HAYWIRE (Alliance)
HYSTERIA (Entertainment One)
JACK REACHER (Paramount)
JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME (Paramount)
PAINTED SKIN: THE RESURRECTION (Well Go - DTV) (Viewed in 2D)
PUSHER (Entertainment One)
PUTIN'S KISS (Kino Lorber - DTV)
RESIDENT EVIL: RESURRECTION (3D) (Alliance)
RUST AND BONE (Mongrel Media)
SAFE HOUSE (Universal)
SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED (Alliance)
SINISTER (Alliance)
SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN (Universal)
UNDERWORLD: AWAKENING (3D) (Sony-Screen Gems)
YOUR SISTER'S SISTER (Mongrel Media)


Bad but Reasonably Enjoyable
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, THE (3D) (Sony-Columbia)
CONTRABAND (Universal)
HOPE SPRINGS (Sony/Columbia)
INTOUCHABLES, THE (Alliance)
INTRUDERS (VVS - DTV)
IRON SKY (Entertainment One)
JOURNEY 2: THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (3D) (Warner-New Line)
LET THE BULLETS FLY (Variance)
MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS, THE (Universal)
MAXIMUM CONVICTION (Anchor Bay - DTV)
MEN IN BLACK III (3D) (Sony-Columbia)
NAZIS AT THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (VSC - DTV)
POSSESSION, THE (PG-13 Version) (Alliance)
ROBOT & FRANK (Sony-TriStar)
SAFE (Alliance)
SAVAGES (R-Rated Version) (Universal)
SEEKING JUSTICE (Alliance - DTV)
STAR WARS: EPISODE I - THE PHANTOM MENACE (3D) (Fox)
STOLEN (Millenium - U.S.) (Viewed via foreign DVD release)
TAKE THIS WALTZ (Mongrel Media)
THREE STOOGES, THE (Fox)
TOTAL RECALL (Sony-Columbia)
VULGARIA (China Lion)


Nope
6 BULLETS (Sony - DTV)
21 JUMP STREET (Sony-Columbia/MGM)
ABRAHAM LINCOLN, VAMPIRE HUNTER (3D) (Fox)
CHRONICLE (Fox)
COSMOPOLIS (Entertainment One)
DEADFALL (Entertainment One)
DRAGON EYES (Sony - DTV)
EL GRINGO (After Dark - VOD - U.S.)
GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE (Sony-Columbia) (Viewed in 2D)
GOON (Alliance)
LOCKOUT (PG-13 Version) (Alliance)
MAGIC MIKE (Warner)
MOTHER'S DAY (Alliance - DTV)
PIRANHA 3DD (Alliance)
QUEEN OF VERSAILLES, THE (Mongrel Media)
RAVEN, THE (VVS/Alliance)
RED LIGHTS (Alliance)
SILENT NIGHT (Anchor Bay - DTV)
SMASHED (Mongrel Media)
STASH HOUSE (Alliance - DTV)
SUSHI GIRL (Phase 4)
TED (R-Rated Version) (Universal)
TO ROME WITH LOVE (Mongrel Media)
TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE (Warner)
VIRAL FACTOR, THE (China Lion)
WEREWOLF: THE BEAST AMONG US (Unrated) (Universal - DTV)


Overrated
21 JUMP STREET
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, THE (3D)
COSMOPOLIS
DARK KNIGHT RISES, THE
MAGIC MIKE
TED


Underrated
COLD LIGHT OF DAY, THE
DARK SHADOWS
FLYING SWORDS OF DRAGON GATE (3D)
HUNTER, THE
JOHN CARTER (3D)
WRATH OF THE TITANS (3D)


Good Performance, Bad Movie
Amy Adams in TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE
Eric Bana in DEADFALL
Josh Brolin in MEN IN BLACK III
Marion Cotillard in RUST AND BONE
Jiang Wen in LET THE BULLETS FLY
Tommy Lee Jones & Meryl Streep in HOPE SPRINGS
Frank Langella in ROBOT & FRANK
Matthew McConaughey in MAGIC MIKE
Jeffrey Dean Morgan in THE POSSESSION
Seth Rogen in TAKE THIS WALTZ
Liev Schreiber in GOON
Martin Sheen in THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN
Omar Sy in THE INTOUCHABLES
Sigourney Weaver in RED LIGHTS
Mary Elizabeth Winstead in SMASHED


Fearless Performances
Marion Cotillard in RUST AND BONE
Gina Gershon in KILLER JOE
Matthew McConaughey in KILLER JOE
AnnaLynne McCord in EXCISION
Tilda Swinton in WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN
Mary Elizabeth Winstead in SMASHED


Actors Who Should Now Stick to Playing Villains
Matthew McConaughey in BERNIE, KILLER JOE, MAGIC MIKE
Jean-Claude Van Damme in THE EXPENDABLES 2, UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING

8 comments:

  1. PROMETHEUS had the best use of 3D I've ever seen. At least the digital 3D they used gave a real sense of depth and enveloped you into the experience and had some thematic sense. Most of my new movie viewing is by VOD/MOD. I go out to the movies only about once every few months when friends invite me. I never go to movies alone. Or to see something in 3D. DJANGO U is a movie that HAS to be seen with an audience. The audience I saw it with last night really was with it and brought down the house with applause at the end. Seen alone I wouldn't have enjoyed as much. I'd give it a 9 as an audience experience, maybe 6 as a movie. I also get dozens of screeners a month from DVD companies to review on my CINEMADROME and Jess Franco websites. I don't get to all of them.

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  2. Great list, though I think I liked Vulgaria and Let The Bullets Fly more than you did. But I agree that Jiang Wen was amazing in LTBF.

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  4. Hi John --

    Oops, noticed a typo in my previous comment, so am rewriting it:-

    Hi John --

    I enjoyed finding out what you had watched last year and your thoughts re your 2012 movie viewing year. Incidentally, "A Separation" is my favorite of the films I viewed in 2012 too. Also, like you, my preference still is to view movies on a big screen.

    In addition, I'm glad to discover that you rate "Cloud Atlas" highly. I'm due to view the film tomorrow afternoon -- and hope that my experience viewing the 172 minute work will be a positive one. :)

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  5. CLOUD ATLAS is wonderfully audacious and, in spite of some flaws (ie. the make-up, which is very uneven and disconcertingly retro at times), a very entertaining picture.

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  6. Hi again John --

    Now that I've seen "Cloud Atlas" for myself: Ya, I really liked it too. Found it really entertaining and often a visual treat -- though yes, the make-up is sometimes pretty awful (approaching "The Age of Miracles" level even!) and there are some other visual miscues (e.g., that burning village just looked so fake... like fire had been lit in surreptitiously hidden containers, if you know what I mean). I approached it kinda like I did "Ashes of Time" and just let things wash over me rather than try too hard to see deep meaning everywhere.

    Did you see "360" or "Deadfall"? Those were 2 other multi-character and -stranded 2012 films that I think many people didn't care for but I liked.

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  7. Glad you liked it.

    Yes, I saw DEADFALL, which started adequately, but grew progressively more ludicrous. Good Eric Bana performance, though. Did this play theatres in HK? It only had a small release here and quickly went to video on demand.

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  8. Hi once more John --

    Re "Deadfall": It worked for me -- and I really liked Kris Kristofferson, Sissy Spacek and Charlie Hunnam in it. At one point there was a plan to have it play in cinemas -- and I saw it on a big screen courtesy of a preview -- but then it was decided that it'd just go straight to video.

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