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Monday, December 31, 2012
THE YEAR IN FILM 2012
Big, Bold Ideas, On Small Stages And Large Ones
A scene from the fantasy-drama adventure "Cloud Atlas". Warner
Omar P.L. Moore/PopcornReel.com
It was a good, impressive year at the movies, but I thought 2011 was stronger.
Still, what separated 2012 from other film years was the number of quality of
films that challenged audiences -- including a number of Hollywood films -- which,
refreshing in vision and ambition, engaged audiences to think more. You
could look at bigger budget films like "Cloud Atlas", "Looper",
"Les Misérables", and
"Argo", to name just a few, and be bowled over by not only
their technical and muscular prowess but also be impressed by the imagination
and smarts that they possess.
Then there were a few films that had scenes that stood out for their
singularity. If audiences had hearts in their mouths for Tom Cruise's
escapades on the Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai for
"Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol"
last year, then how must they have felt seeing Daniel Craig and Ola Rapace
dueling on a moving train in the breathtaking opening scene of
this year? As for Mr. Cruise this year, one might say that singing as Stacee Jaxx in
"Rock Of Ages" and stretching as "Jack Reacher" was risky
business. The latter film, poor as it was in many areas, was a guilty
pleasure, even as alarm bells sounded
during and after its debut.
(Singing proved to be disastrous for Russell Crowe in "Les Misérables"
despite fronting his off-screen rock band
"30 Odd Foot Of Grunts".)
And what of the wonderfully-directed dinner scene in
"Friends With Kids"? The scene, featuring Jon Hamm, Adam Scott, Kirstin Wiig,
Ed Burns, Maya Rudolph, the director and others, had tension, drama, fine editing,
and just happened to be in the best comedy of 2012. "Friends With Kids"
balanced romantic comedy with the biting, honest reality of being a parent and
how that affects relationships with friends. Women had a strong year
behind the camera, directing excellent films like
"In Darkness" (Agnieszka
Holland), "Middle Of Nowhere" (Ava DuVernay),
"Zero Dark Thirty" (Kathryn
Bigelow) among others.
Some smaller scale films provoked discussion long after their end credits
"Red Hook Summer",
"In The Family",
Comedy" were among them -- all featured strong performances, notably
Peters in "Red Hook Summer" and Ann Dowd in "Compliance", but were seen by very
few. Each of these films was topical and timely, reality-based if not
inspired by true stories. All were distinct and unfiltered. The
hugely underrated -- and in my humble opinion, misunderstood -- "Red Hook
Summer" still sticks in my mind. Who can forget the charged scenes in
Spike Lee's drama? The director's heartfelt and resplendent celebration of
Red Hook, Brooklyn, accompanied by the song "Want You To Know" by Minnie Riperton & Rotary Connection? The three-minute tracking shot with Mr.
Peters as "Jesus Is The Lover Of My Soul", by The Edwin Hawkins Singers, blares?
Colorful, penetrating, even irritating at times, Mr. Lee's strong film was hard
Sometimes in 2012 directors of visions large and small had a do-for-self
approach that arrived on the big screen. Mr. Lee self-financed "Red Hook
Summer" and shot it in 18 days. (His first feature, "She's Gotta Have It",
was shot in 12.) Mr. Lee also brought "Bad 25" to the big screen as a
documentary. George Lucas fought tooth and nail to get
"Red Tails" in
theaters, self-financing the distribution with some $75 million of his own
money. I would have wished for a better film, but if nothing else Mr. Lucas
drew attention to the long-realized fact that strong stories featuring black
actors and characters still face uphill battles in Hollywood's story-challenged
studio system unless they are named
"Django Unchained", a monstrous, insulting
disaster, a poorly-constructed three-hour train-wreck.
Peters, memorable in "Red Hook Summer", directed by Spike Lee.
David Lee/Variance Films
Ava DuVernay, a one-woman vituoso, used her
AFFRM credentials to bring the
scintillating "Middle of Nowhere" to theaters, a striking, beautiful film with
Lorraine Toussaint in a fine supporting role as the mother of a woman in limbo,
played impressively by Emayatzy Corinealdi. Bradford Young, the
cinematographer who in 2011
lensed another great film directed by a woman (Dee Rees,
burnished his credentials even further with Ms. DuVernay's drama.
Nate Parker was in "Red Tails" and "Red Hook Summer", and was good in both, yet
better in "Arbitrage". Omar Sy was noteworthy in
"The Intouchables", and,
as much as I loathed "Django Unchained" and its characters,
Samuel L. Jackson was
cringe-worthy and great as Stephen, a nefarious character and
Quentin Tarantino device,
one I still insist serves dually as an antebellum menace and contemporary
Tarantino conduit for some in the audience to comfort in their own prejudices
through a character who (among others) constantly utters that ugly six-letter
word, just because -- not just because of the (year 1858) times.
There was a body politic on the big screen that was clearly evident -- with
films that focused on physicality and bodies, either inadvertently or
purposefully, like "Django Unchained", "Compliance", "Lincoln",
(with remarkably good work by Helen Hunt),
"The Central Park Five" (a crucial
documentary that touches on legal habeas corpus issues and injustice),
"The Invisible War",
Mike", "The House I Live In" and
"Crazy Horse", among others. All made
political statements about gender or race, or both, sometimes tastefully and
other times inartfully, in service of a greater point: to corral or contain
personhood, or liberate it from institutionally racist and sexist societies.
The above-mentioned films and others gave American audiences a lot to chew over, and the 2012 film year
overall brought audiences back to the multiplex too, thanks to
and "Skyfall", among others. Film technologies grew, with 48fps used for
"The Hobbit", a poor effort by Peter Jackson. Digital projection emerged
in classic old-style theaters such as
this one in San Francisco, and many other
vintage cinemas in America. Famed marquees in various parts of America
closed for good this year too, making multiplexes, like Best Buys for
electronics, the nearly
exclusive go-to places for their movies. Netflix, Hulu and on-demand
viewing were still strong, however.
There were revivals, like the 2011 film
"Margaret", which more than a few film
critics (including myself) championed, that returned to the big screen this year
in limited release. Anna Paquin is great in the epic film, which Kenneth
Lonergan directed back in 2005. Mr. Lonergan's wife, J. Smith-Cameron, and
Jeanne Berlin are outstanding. For good measure Matthew Broderick and Matt
Damon appear as morally conflicted teachers in and out of school. Mark
Ruffalo, portraying a similarly conflicted bus driver appears in the same film.
Mr. Ruffalo was also good in this year's
megahit "The Avengers" as the best Bruce Banner ever put on the silver screen.
Jack Black was great in "Bernie", and Chris Rock did well in "2 Days In New
York", Julie Delpy's funny but uneven comedic follow-up to "2 Days In Paris".
The late Tony
Scott, who committed suicide in August. Gus Ruelas/Associated
There are a few people who also passed away this year who we'll never forget:
Whitney Houston (who featured effectively in "Sparkle"), Larry Hagman, New
Yorker film critic Andrew Sarris, film critic Judith Crist, Charles Durning,
Jack Klugman, Russell Means, Herbert Lom, Michael Clarke Duncan,
Sherman Hemsley, Lupe Ontiveros, Richard Zanuck, Nora Ephron and Andy Griffith,
among others. I can't forget Etta James, whose vocals serenaded such films
as "Rain Man", and was played by Beyonce in the 2008 film
In 2012 there was a kinder, gentler Michael Haneke film,
sensitively chronicled old age and death so very well, and Emmanuelle Riva,
France's great legend was amazing in it, as were both Jean-Louis Trintignant and
Haneke alumna Isabelle Huppert. It was difficult to top Nuri Bilge
"Once Upon A Time In Anatolia", a masterful
epic film from Turkey every moviegoer should see. The Dardennes Brothers struck gold for me
with "The Kid With A Bike". (I only wished I had seen "Holy Motors",
which everyone is still buzzing about.)
There were huge disappointments:
"The Dark Knight Rises", "The
Hobbit", "Life Of Pi",
"Beasts Of The Southern Wild" and "Silver Linings
Playbook" -- all films which should have been far better than they were.
From these films, Jennifer Lawrence (also of the very fine
"The Hunger Games"), Quvenzhane Wallis and Dwight Henry performed
very well -- the latter two first-time,
non-professional, film actors (as was Ms. Corinealdi in "Middle Of Nowhere".)
Better than expected films included
"Savages", Todd Solondz's
"Dark Horse", Tim Burton's
"Dark Shadows", Joe Carnahan's
"The Grey", Stephen Chbosky's "The Perks Of Being A Wallflower", Marc Webb's
Spider-Man", Whit Stillman's
"Damsels In Distress" and the films
"Casa De Mi
"21 Jump Street".
Underrated films included
-- films that grasped the
curiosity of the seemingly incurious, placed in suddenly immense circumstances
that they calmly if not perfectly adjusted to. There was also Woody
Allen's colorful, funny and farcical "To Rome With Love", which I admired a
Then there are the year's worst films:
"The Queen Of Versailles",
Us", "For A Good Time, Call...",
"Salmon Fishing In The Yemen",
"This Is 40",
"A Little Bit Of Heaven",
"The Best Exotic
Marigold Hotel", "Django Unchained",
"The Lucky One",
"Act Of Valor",
"This Means War",
"One For The Money",
"Man On A Ledge",
"Won't Back Down",
"Paranormal Activity 4", "Brave",
"Hit And Run", "Red Tails", and
Which of these is the very worst? Probably a tie between "The Queen Of
Versailles", "Act Of Valor", "Gone", "This Is 40", "The Babymakers", "Red
Tails", "People Like Us", "A Thousand Words" . . . you get the idea.
Happy New Year to you all. Thanks for reading the reviews on this website.
Have a healthy prosperous new year. May the year 2013 be an
even better year
on the big screen.
Jennifer Westfeldt on the set of her film "Friends With Kids", with Ed Burns.
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