Best of 2012: Movies February 17, 2013Posted by David Card in Media.
According to Box Office Mojo, the U.S. box office was up 6.5 percent last year, driven by the mega-hit The Avengers (a whopping $620 million in domestic ticket sales) and two pretty big monsters: The Dark Knight Rises ($450 million) and The Hunger Games ($410 million). Nothing broke $400 million in 2011, and both superhero movies did well enough to crack the top 10 all-time. Critical consensus is that it was a pretty good year from a quality perspective, too.
I was prepared to agree, but then I reviewed my ratings on Rotten Tomatoes’ Flixster site. While I gave three movies 3.5 stars on a 5-point scale – one more than last year – I saw a pretty similar number of 3- and 2.5-star movies both years. I go to the movies in the theater a little less than once a week on average, and I’m no highbrow, as you’ll see from my list of favorites. Before we get there, though, let’s take a look at the key takeaways from Box Office Mojo’s yearly tally:
- In 2011, there was no $400 million blockbuster, and only two movies broke $300 million (Potter 7B and Transformers 3). Ticket prices were up a bit, but 2012 was driven by hits, not 3D.
- Of 2012’s top 10, only two were cartoons (Brave, Madagascar 3) but all were fantasies and three featured superheros. Sadly, for DC/Warners, Batman’s now done for a while and we all remember what happened to the last Superman re-boot.
- Twilight has run its course, as has Harry Potter, but it looks like The Hunger Games and The Hobbit , along with Marvel’s refreshed superheros, will carry the franchise load. And James Bond will never die.
- Lincoln ($176 million, no. 14) and Django Unchained ($156 million, no. 16) were the only grown-up movies in the top 20. DK3 could have been, but after Dark Knight, director/scripter Christopher Nolan only teases big ideas without delivering an intellectual payoff.
My three favorite movies of the year, all scoring 3.5 stars were:
- Zero Dark Thirty – Way more relevant than the feel-good Argo. It’s hardly morally ambiguous: it takes fascists to beat terrorists. But did it really take a lone Ahab to get this whale?
- Lincoln – Sure, it’s manipulative, but if you don’t get a few lumps in your throat watching, you’re no true Amuhrican. Day-Lewis is utterly convincing. Too much to hope Lincoln will inspire modern Congressional compromise.
- The Hunger Games – Nailed the emotional if not visceral impact of the book. Great cast led by a spectacular Jennifer Lawrence. Shakycam effective during games, over-used elsewhere, but overall look worked. This is how to do a franchise.
And to get to a top 10 list, pulling from the 3-star rankings:
- The Avengers – Hulk smash!
- Argo – Very well made and highly entertaining. But Argo feels oddly disconnected from current affairs – does that come from its feel-good vibe, or perhaps from its 70s-fetish production design?
- Wuthering Heights – Effectively taps the cruelty and pagan energy of the novel, and a far more interesting re-visioning than Anna Karenina. The kids smolder more convincingly than the adults.
- Flight – This only-slightly more ambiguous than usual morality/addiction fable is redeemed by a spectacular opening sequence and Denzel’s best flawed cool guy since Training Day.
- Lawless – This shaggy dog fable meanders along and then hammers you with ultraviolence. 2/3rds of the cast is terrific, Georgia stands in beautifully for Franklin County VA, and the eclectic score is top-notch.
- Beasts of the Southern Wild – There’s a little North Eastern liberal white guy (both parents are folklore scholars) noble-savage voyeurism here – okay, there’s a lot of it – but there’s also plenty to think about in this beautifully-shot, no-budget fable. Hushpuppy is ferocious, but her dad – also a non-actor – deservers the Oscar nom.
- The Master – The story of Amuhrica via Scientology by way of father/son belief/doubt individualist/groupthink. Sadly, great cinematography and production design can’t save a static script that does nothing after the great setup. Hoffman is spectacular; critics will disagree on Phoenix, who I thought went over the top.
I wanted to like Silver Linings Playbook more than I did; it started strong but ended up just a slightly edgy RomCom. Skyfall was very good Bond – until the third act. And I found Killing Them Softly more fascinating than flawed. As for the rest of the best picture nominees: Django was a lesser Inglourious, I probably wouldn’t like Les Mis on stage and I found it tedious onscreen, and I haven’t seen Life of Pi or Amour yet.