Tuesday, February 19, 2013

7 Things That Made 2012 a Great Year for Cinema

The 85th Academy Awards takes place this Sunday, and since it is a celebration of the past year of film, it has me reflecting upon motion pictures in 2012.  This was the first year that I've been paid to keep track of the film industry and to write film reviews.  I paid much closer attention to the happenings in the world of filmmaking than past years.  I admit that there is potential that I'd just been oblivious to the wonders in other years from this past decade, but from what I saw, I'd reckon 2012 was one of the best years of cinema in the past 10 or so years.  It is a year that gives me hope that there will be several more spectacular movies in the coming years and that one of the greatest forms of storytelling will remain healthy.

Here are seven specific things that helped make 2012 stand out.

1.  The re-emergence of smartly written, fun blockbusters.  The last few years the summer time has been clogged with films like Transformers and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra that had dazzling special effects and wall to wall action, but also risked killing a few brain cells with the asinine dialogue and nonsensical plot.  If you wanted a high quality blockbuster then you usually had to turn to grittier and darker fare like Dark Knight, which was an incredible film but sometimes you want some bright, cheery fun with your popcorn munching.  I was missing the '80s and early '90s when you had incredibly fun special effects adventures like Indiana Jones (okay, he returned, but I'm ignoring that), Back to Future or Jurassic Park.  The primary focus was still the extravagant effects and the fast paced action, but it also contained compelling characters and an engaging plot.  2012 brought forth fun action films like The Avengers, Hunger Games, and The Amazing Spider-man, which offered up a lot of bang but also contained a fun and compelling story.  It also proved that the king of the geeks, Joss Whedon, could direct a fantastic blockbuster that attracts the masses, but still contained the witty writing that we expect from him.  It gives me hope that going forward we'll at least have a few light and fun but still well written special effect spectacles to entertain us each summer.

2.  Adult drama films did well in the box office.  At one time, films like On Golden Pond, All the President's Men, and Rain Man would regularly get wide releases.  I realize for my entire lifetime that the big special effect blockbusters have been the main focus of Hollywood and it is what makes the studios the big money.  Ever since the international market has become important, it feels like the major studios have shied away from producing too many serious adult dramas that don't contain car chases and big explosions.  These films still have been made but usually get limited release and will rarely show up in a small city movie cinema.  The excuse has been that these movies just don't make money anymore, and the focus needs to be on making loud and explosive films that appeal to the teens and young adults.  There is no time to make people think or produce something that appeals to an older audience.  2012 kicked that theory hard in the nuts.  Sure, the big budget extravaganzas and franchise flicks still dominated the top ten box office ranking, but there were several adult dramas that did quite well on wide release.  Since the older demographic doesn't rush out to the theatre on opening weekend, these films also proved to have a steadier and longer life in the cinemas.  Wonderful pictures like Argo and Flight found a large audience that proved if you produce well written and brilliantly performed dramas then they can be major successes.  My hope is that this opened up the eyes of major film studios and more of these kinds of films get a wide release to prove cinema just isn't for the 17 year olds.

3.  Looper proves there is a demand for thought provoking science fiction.  Science fiction is at its best when it offers a commentary on society and social issues while also intricately exploring human characters.  Yes, I want my action and thrills, and it is always fun to have some spaceships, aliens and robots, but the truly great science fiction makes you think while also entertaining you.  Films like Blade Runner and Minority Report were exciting futuristic epic adventures, but they also contained messages for the present times and opened up discussion about various topics.  We've had some decent science fiction over the past decade (like the previously mentioned Minority Report), but the truly exciting and discussion inducing films are far apart.  Looper offered up everything you could possible desire from a sci-fi film, with a compelling futuristic setting, fantastic special effects, load of thrilling actions, an engaging story, and several messages that are relevant to current society.  The best part is that Looper was a success in the box office, which proved that smart sci-fi can attract an audience and that it doesn't need to be based off a comic book or cartoon/toy line.  There is still a place for original science fiction stories that give the brain a work out.  It looks like the success of Looper has encouraged some future science fiction pictures that are worth getting excited about like Oblivion.

4.  The rise of some hot new stars.  The last ten years have felt like Hollywood desperately trying to find replacements for current crop of aging motion picture superstars.  For the most part, the new crop hasn't been able to handle the pressure or be able to even get into the same universe as the previous generation of performers.  In 2012, there were some new actors that not only had some star making performances, but also did fairly well in the box office.  It may finally be time for the torch passing to occur.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt pulled off great supporting performances in major films such as Dark Knight Rises and Lincoln.  He also proved to be an excellent leading man in Looper, and was able to grab his own audience.  Jennifer Lawrence became box office gold with the mega hit Hunger Games, but also proved her acting talents are pure gold in the Oscar nominated Silver Linings Playbook (one of the best romantic comedies ever).  Speaking of Silver Linings Playbook, Bradley Cooper proved he could be one of the next great heavyweights with a startling great performance.  There also some great upcoming action stars like Chris Hemsworth and amazing comedic talents in Melissa McCarthy.  The future looks to be in great hands.

5.  The 3D fad slowed down.  It felt like every other movie was done in 3D in 2011.  It got to the point where I was expecting a 3D spectacle of Michael Bay blowing his nose.  2012 had quite a few 3D blockbusters too, but there were also several high quality big budget films that weren't done in 3D.  Big box office hits like Skyfall, Dark Knight Rises, Snow White and the Huntsman, Looper, Taken 2, and Bourne Legacy avoided 3D, and proved studios can still make bundles of money without it.  As much as I dislike 3D, I also have to admit 2012 proved that 3D can sometimes be a good thing when the innovative Life of Pi effectively used the technology to enhance its story.  Hopefully, this is the start of the fading of 3D films, and that it only gets used when it adds to the storytelling effectively.

6.  Creativity is still alive and healthy.   There were several films that could be called genre films or part of a franchise, but brought some unique twists and originality.  Cabin in the Woods started out by following the formula of young adults trapped out in the woods, but then went in a very fresh and innovative direction that showed horror can still bring something new.  Django Unchained was a spaghetti western, but also a very serious and thought provoking look at America's worst tragedy.  Skyfall was classic James Bond, but with a grit and realism that has never been effectively explored before.  Premium Rush wasn't able to find an audience, but the film still was a different kind of thriller will fresh action sequences.  I've already mentioned films like Looper, Silver Linings Playbook, and Argo but they also deserve recognition for showing how to properly do a fresh and engaging film in their specific genre.

7.  That's My Boy bombs at the box office.  Adam Sandler needs to eat, and I wish no harm upon him.  I also admit that I've liked several of his previous movies.  But he has been serving up stinkers for a few years now.  I'm glad that he finally presented something that nobody wanted any part of.  Hopefully, it shows him that he needs to stop producing the same generic tripe, and try to make a more challenging comedy like Punch Drunk Love again.  Sandler is talented and I know he can make a great movie, but he needs to be forced into that position rather than just making lazily slapped together money grabs.

What were your favourite things in cinema from 2012?

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