In years past, I would post year-end faves from the big and small screens, but 2012 marked the sad continuation of a dry spell on tv. Of the new shows that debuted in 2012, not a single one would I consider “must-see”, and even the ones that I enjoyed in the past have all begun to wane. In the end, I have little to say about the year on television. Thankfully, movies are still going strong and there were quite a number of good signs in 2012: While space ships are all but extinct on tv, sci-fi is going strong at the movies (and looks like it’s going to continue to make a major showing in 2013). After many many attempts with varying degrees of success, I think 2012 is the year when they finally got the super-hero movie right (Thanks, Joss!). Mr. Whedon and others are great examples of Hollywood wising up to the fact that a cool premise and big budget effects will just blow up at the box office if you put a good director at the helm — many of my faves are exactly that kind of “auteured-blockbuster”. (These movies are listed loosely in order of descending favour.)
By now, time-travel has been done many times in the movies. Too often it supports a single premise that is too weak to sustain an entire movie (I’m looking at you, Source Code!) but Looper really gives the concept a fresh, intelligent spin. It starts with an already interesting premise of future crime-lords sending their victims back in time to be killed by present-day hit men. Add to that the cleverness of having one particular future-self (played by Bruce Willis) attempt to escape his fate and not be killed by his younger self (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and you’ve got a smart, sci-fi action-thriller. Writer-director Rian Johnson (See, what’d I tell you about those auteurs!) does an amazing job with the realism of the indie-film coupled with far-fetched sci-fi concepts and questions. I loved the fact that he tackles some of those age-old time-travel conundrums like deciding whether or not to kill baby Hitler, or whether changing a person’s past can affect their present. It’s all done in a carefully crafted way that is so fun to watch. Plus, there are some very good performances from the two leads as well as a child actor, Pierce Gagnon (who plays a big part in the climax of the movie) and Emily Blunt (who plays against-type as his mom). This movie goes to show us all that with good film-making, you don’t necessarily need all the visual effects or crazy stunts in order to make excellent sci-fi.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Difficult for a Middle Earth fan like myself not to love a Peter Jackson prequel. The reviews have been decidedly mixed and contentious, but I am as happy as a hobbit in a hollow with the first movie of the new trilogy (then again, I also enjoyed The Phantom Menace when I saw it in the theatres). See my full review.
The Amazing Spider-Man
In all fairness to Joss Whedon’s Avengers, I think this was the best super-hero movie of the year and it’s mainly because of director Marc Webb and the actors: Emma Stone, Andrew Garfield, and Sally Field. They were able to make the non-web-slinging part of Peter Parker’s story such good, emotional drama that it could have been a movie on its own and I would have loved it. Taking the director of a quirky, indie romantic dramedy (namely 500 Days of Summer) an putting him in charge of a big Marvel Studios blockbuster was genius! See my full review.
After completing all the prerequisite solo movies featuring each of the individual heroes (all of which I found varying degrees of mediocre), writer-director Joss Whedon proved that the whole super-team was greater than the sum of its parts. The dialogue was fun (thanks in no small part to Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark) and the characters kind of jelled. Plus, Whedon really knows how to give us a good balance of action and big explosions with actual characters and exciting storylines. This was definitely the blockbuster of the year. See my full review.
I know, I know … WTF, right? This is not even remotely sci-fi (unless you count a throat operation which allows Brittany Snow to sing bass) so why is it on this list? Well, I do have other sides, y’know. For one thing, I love the tv show Glee, and this movie is definitely surfing the group-sing wave of that show. Essentially, imagine if the glee club (more specifically the Trouble Tones, if you know what I mean) went to college and competed in an a cappella competition. Anna Kendrick (from Twilight, 50/50 and Up In The Air) takes centre stage as Beca, a reluctant new recruit to the Barden Bellas, an ailing all-girl a cappella group. Along the way to the finals, Beca clashes with reigning queen bee Aubrey, over shaking things up versus sticking with team traditions (obsessively). Skylar Astin plays Jesse, a potential guy for Beca if she would just let him in, who happens to sing for the rival team (the Treblemakers). Not only is this a fun formula of underdog team that makes good, but there are some great numbers (I have probably watched the Bellas finals number over 25 times), along with some nice acting performances. Kendrick is always good, with a likeable confidence/awkwardness that seems very genuine and refreshing. Astin is charming and funny (almost like a young Bruce Willis) and I hope he gets more roles in the future (plus he can sing!). Finally, this movie introduced me to the amazing Rebel Wilson (best name ever, right?!) as the quirky, hilarious Fat Amy (her solo rendition of Pit Bull is my favourite portion of the Bellas finale) who has all the best lines, including my favourite when she says to her teammates: “Even though some of you are pretty thin, you all have fat hearts, and that’s what matters.” This movie is very easy to enjoy, it brings new meaning to The Breakfast Club and the only thing that might have made it perfect is getting rid of the vomit. Intrigued?
The Hunger Games
I love the book and the characters of Katniss and Peeta and I thought this adaptation was top notch. It’s tragic when a fantasy book series is a failure on screen, ending a potential series of wonderful movies (see The Golden Compass, A Series of Unfortunate Events, and Eragon to name a few). Jennifer Lawrence was wonderful and this role made her a huge star (even after her Oscar nomination for Winter’s Bone failed to do so). I can’t wait until the second movie. See my full review of this one.
Cabin In The Woods
We’re at that point where almost anything that Joss Whedon touches is going to be something that I enjoy watching. However, as producer for this movie, his influence is still all over it. Even knowing that it was going to be the kind of story that turns your typical horror movie on its head, this was very enjoyable. It was a nice reminder of what I missed about Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel. See my full review.
A bit of a disappointment. I can’t imagine not liking any movie produced by Pixar, so it’s definitely on my list, but this one was a bit weak on story and seemed a little confined. When a magical tale set against the ancient backdrop of Scottish clans feels less epic than Finding Nemo, something is amiss. See my full review.
The Dark Knight Rises
I don’t know whether Christopher Nolan ran out of steam, but after such a great first movie, and an even better second movie, the climax was all set to go out with a big bang. Unfortunately, there were many plot flaws and the connection to the core of the Batman character was just not there, so this ended up a bit of a misfire. It’s still fun to watch, but it’s just not the grand finale that it should have been. See my full review.
The Life of Pi
Visually this movie was very impressive, and I was amazed at how well director Ang Lee was able to tell the story and bring it to life. However, with some poor acting from the main star (not the tiger) and just not quite reaching that psychological and emotional heart of the story, this was more a feast for the eyes than for the spirit. See my full review.
In the end, there may have been a few movies that I would have enjoyed more than these 10 but I did not make it out to see Skyfall, Argo, or Les Miserables in 2012. Maybe I’ll count them with next year’s list (though it looks like they are going to get some stiff competition in 2013!).