A look at movies in 2012

January 3, 2013 

This is my list and some observations about 2012 at the movies. Read my thoughts and then tell me, what’s on your list? Best and worst. Share it with me.

First of all, thanks to all who read my column in the Tri-City Herald and my reviews here. Your faithful readership continues to make this a most rewarding endeavor.

This year’s review starts with vindication. After years of warning that being too deeply immersed into Twilight movies and books can cause brain death, my prediction turns out to be correct.

Here’s proof. Criticism of the first four films got me skewered in dozens of negative postings and in nasty letters from Twihards. This year my scathing analysis of the series’ final installment, Breaking Dawn - Part 2 got zero responses.

An online posting soon in which I worried about the lack of response from previously rabid fans also got no response.

The only logical conclusion is that I am right. If Twilight addiction doesn’t cause brain death, at the very least too much of Bella, Edward and the wolf kid causes extreme lethargy and loss of mental faculties.

By the way, in case some of the series’ rabid fans regained the faculties, my list of the 10-best movies of 2012 does not include Breaking Dawn - Part 2. That’s bad news for fans; however, there also is good news. For the first time since 2008, a Twilight movie is not in my compilation of the 10 worst and Breaking Dawn - Part 2 is the fifth-highest grossing movie of 2012.

The grosses are in and for the first time in several years, box office income rose because more people went to the movies. Ticket prices increased, too, and that didn’t hurt the bottom-line.

Here’s what’s sad. Three of the top-grossing films of 2012 involved comic book characters. Four were sequels and two of them supposedly end a series. One is fantasy. One is apocalyptic and one is about a human being and his live teddy bear buddy.

Just one -- Skyfall is in my 10 best. Of the top-25 highest grossing movies of 2012, only the Bond film and Argo are on my personal best list. That’s not surprising. What is surprising this year is that I can say that I really liked all but three of the top-10 grossing movies.

That’s close to a record.

On a more serious note, it has been a disturbing year. In July a gunman in Aurora, Colo., killed 12 and wounded 58 at the first showing of The Dark Knight Rises. We ended the year with 20 children and six adults massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.

Questions now are rightfully being asked about the effect of movie violence on those incidents and others like them. The latter event caused the producers of two films -- Jack Reacher and Django Unchained -- to cancel premieres. Jack Reacher’s problem is a long opening sequence where you see five soon-to-be victims through the telescope of the rifle of the assassin. It’s incredibly uncomfortable.

Django Unchained is a Quentin Tarantino movie and it’s packed with extreme, graphic violence. Tarantino wisely chose not hold the premiere so soon after the murders of children and the school’s administrators and teachers.

Here’s a question. Have producers, directors and special effects geniuses homogenized death to the point that all of us, and not just unbalanced individuals, are affected? They certainly have devised brilliant and quite creative new ways to kill off characters. Death is unveiled in well-done, imaginative sequences using state-of-the-art special effects and superb slow motion. In horror films, the push is to see who can come up with the most creative new ways to kill characters.

I spend more time in theaters than most and hear lots of oohs and aahs, and reaction to extremely violent scenes that range from titters to outright laughing. But does this homogenized vision of death drive those in our society less hinged than the rest of us to kill people?

It’s not a question I’m qualified to answer.

I did run across a news story recently in which an ex-gang member talked about when he got shot and said he was surprised that it hurt so much. In the movies and on TV, people get wounded and they either get up and keep on fighting and shooting, or they lie there quietly and stoically and seem like they’re in very little pain.

The ex-gang member’s comment does make one wonder.

As a parent and grandparent, I am qualified to make this observation. Many of the films I attend are quite violent. Yet, in spite of parental warnings regarding the story content and the presence of extreme violence, nudity and language, I see very young children in the audiences. Kids ought not to be exposed to such material. I hold the same opinion about immature adults.

Back to movies and the year’s 10 best. All but Silver Linings Playbook and Zero Dark Thirty have been on Tri-Cities screens or are on Tri-Cities screens now. Both will get here soon. Don’t miss them.

2012’s Best

1. Silver Linings Playbook: This wonderfully written, brilliantly acted character study that features award-worthy performances from Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro.

2. Skyfall: In asking whether Bond characters and MI16 matter at all, Skyfall lands as the best Bond flick since Goldfinger.

3. Zero Dark Thirty: Exceptional acting punctuates a deep, gritty, intense look at finding and killing Osama bin Laden.

4. Django Unchained: Quentin Tarantino’s bloody tale about a freed slave and a bounty hunter features great acting, brilliant, often quite funny writing, and his characteristic gory, bloody violence.

5. Argo: Director and star Ben Affleck stretches the truth a bit but carves out a wonderful nail-biting thriller about getting U.S. hostages out of Iran during the Iran hostage crisis.

6. Looper: Finally, a time travel movie that doesn’t make you wish you could go back in time and skip it.

7. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: An ensemble of Britain’s best elderly actors have a blast in this heartwarming story of life at the end of life.

8. The Master: Great acting populates this intense tale set in the 1950s about a cult and its charismatic leader.

9. The Life of Pi: Stunning cinematography and special effects make this excellent story also the most beautifully done movie of 2012.

10. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World: Steve Carell and Keira Knightley anchor this wonderful comedy/drama that takes a unique look at what happens to individuals at the end of the world.

Honorable mentions and guilty pleasure: Frank & Robot, Safety Not Guaranteed, Seven Psychopaths, On the Road, Salmon Fishing in Yemen, Jeff Who Lives at Home, Bernie, The Intouchables, Killer Joe, Cloud Atlas

The two most disappointing.

Prometheus: Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel has zero suspense, no energy and is as predictable as catching a rerun of the series’ original films.

Les Miserables: One of the greatest stories ever told dies and is buried in tuneless music and singing from vocally trained and vocally untrained actors.

2012’s Worst

The first two have not been on Tri-Cities screens and -- thankfully -- won’t likely make it. If you really want to see them, you’ll have to catch them on DVD.

1. Holy Motors: Ignore the raves from critics at film festivals around the world, other than Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recount His Past Lives, this is the most incoherent movie I’ve seen in 23 years as a critic.

2. Cosmopolis: it’s David Cronenberg and you expect to be challenged, but his film has a plot almost as incomprehensible as Holy Motors.

3. Taken 2: This Liam Neeson thriller is proof that most sequels ought not to be made. Here you get Taken 2 a combination of where you’ve been before and nowhere.

4. Won’t Back Down: A great message and passionate acting buried in atrocious writing.

5. Total Recall: A totally regrettable remake.

Rounding out the top-10: Fun Size, Men in Black III, The Watch, Celeste and Jesse Forever, Chasing Mavericks

Close but not making the list: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2, The Words, Here Comes the Boom, Playing for Keeps, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, The Three Stooges, People Like Us, This Means War, The Vow

So what’s on your list? Best and worst. Share with me.

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