With the 2012 cinema season basically over and nursing one hell of a hangover, we thought that we’d gather the gang together for one final Thursday feature, looking back at the best, the worst and the special that the year had to offer.
I’ve loved 2012 so far when it came to movies. It was a year of big projects, of trilogies wrapping up and the usual assortment of reboots and romantic comedies. But for once, the good outweighed the bad. It was a year that actually got my magnificently fat ass into the cinema, instead of waiting for a DVD release to come along, and for that, I applaud you 2012 movie year.
Well done, well done indeed.
Well…duh. An obvious choice? I won’t argue that, but just look at this slice of spandex and uru hammer. The Avengers was a great film not because of a stellar cast and production crew, but because it accomplished something that was seen as impossible a few years ago.
It was years of work and various films, coalescing into one two hour spectacle of excitement, fun and imaginary ear pieces. And that’s the charm here, because whereas Batman and the upcoming Superman present more serious aspects of campy characters, The Avengers never lost sight of the fact that comics were meant to be fun and bombastic.
Worst Movie – Ghost Rider 2 Spirits of Vengeance
Great things in life come in twos. Cheese and onion chips. Salt and pepper. Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. So by combining Ghost Rider with out of the box directors Brian Taylor and Mark Neveldine, the end result should have been seen as a stroke of genius.
Instead, it’s an abysmal failure that makes the underwhelming first Ghost Rider film look brilliant in comparison. Make no mistake, there are some crazy ideas and visuals at play here, albeit scenes and moments that have dived head first into the cocaine supply usually meant for actors on a Michael Bay film.
What should have been a tag team tour de force of Nicholas Cage and Idris Elba teaming up to save the day was instead a 90 minute roller-coaster of torture starring a spirit of vengeance that was less useful than a one-legged man in an ass-kicking competition.
And when the sole image of this film that remains in your sub-conscious happens to be that of Nic Cage pissing flames, then you know that somewhere down the lined, you done f@#ed up real bad.
Special Mention – The Expendables 2
We live in a new age of action movies. Films that are shot by cameramen who are clearly having seizures, while villains have become less moustache-twirling, and more sympathetic in their execution.
There’s nothing wrong with that (except for the camera bit), but at the same time, it makes you yearn for a simpler day. And that’s where the second Expendables film came in.
If there’s one thing that I lvoed about it, it’s that the film never lied about what kind of content was inside of it. Sure, it was obvious at times, the plot thinned and the gang of mercs ran ridiculousy dry on ammo throughout the flick.
But it gave zero excrements about that, and forged ahead. Throw in Jean Calude Van Damme as the memorable Vilain, the sequel being more than just a Sly Stallone and Jason Statham buddy film and meatier caemos, and we’ve got one of the most satisfying flicks of the year.
When it was first decided that we would be doing a best/worst of 2012 post, I had no idea which movie I would choose. Looking back over 2012 it was a bit of a roller-coaster ride – so many of the highly anticipated films were, in my opinion, thoroughly underwhelming or flawed. These would be The Amazing Spiderman, Prometheus, The Dark Knight Rises and I fear that the same might be said for the first Hobbit film, though I will spare judgement until I get to see it. On the other side of the scale, a few films never promised us the world and left us unsatisfied. They promised us something a lot more important – to treat us with respect, and to acknowledge that, as film goers, many of us don’t fall for cheap parlor tricks masquerading as blockbusters. The one man all of us will of course single out would be Joss Whedon.
I’m quite sure that many of my colleagues at the movies will be mentioning his name and we do this for one reason, and one reason only: Being able to say “I told you so” to the rest of the world. Most of us have been Buffy/Angel/Firefly (and more) fans for years and seeing his shows misunderstood and cancelled have left most of us frustrated and disillusioned with shameless cash-ins on beloved franchises, especially comic book ones – yes, I’m talking about you, Green Lantern. So yes, this has been his year to shine and we’ve been waiting for it for more than a decade…which is why we won’t shut up about him. All that said, here is my favourite pick for the year.
Best Movie – Cabin in the Woods
Co-written by Joss Whedon and directed by his frequent Mutant Enemy collaborator Drew “Cloverfield” Goddard, Cabin in the Woods was a meta-horror tour de force which left most of us horror fans (or Whedon fans) shouting praises at the heavens. While it doesn’t reinvent the genre, it not only pays homage to many other horror films and genres, it takes the time to wink-wink-nudge-nudge the audience into knowing that this is a film for us…film fans and horror fans. Essentially, it does for horror films what The Expendables does for aging action heroes…without having to resort to too many in-jokes. They are there if you take the time to look for it, but it rather involves itself with turning cliches on their heads and never letting the audience know what will be happening next. It is great the first time, it is better the second time and after that, you better be investing in the Blu-Ray because you’ll keep coming back for more.
My runners up would be The Avengers, Frankenweenie and Skyfall, for obvious reasons. Both were incredible and very much overdue.
Worst Movie – Rock of Ages
I’m going to keep this one relatively simple. Rock of Ages is a film I really wanted to like, and I relatively enjoyed it – let me point out that the soundtrack to this film is amazing. I’m a fan of musicals and most of the songs in the film is great – but not as good as the originals. So, there is problem number one. Essentially the film is one gigantic 80′s hair rock version of Glee, with less talented singers, for the most part. Also, while Tom Cruise isn’t my favourite actor at the best part, watching him ham up the screen as rockstar Stacee Jaxx, cavorting with Malin Ackermann was a bit more than I could stomach. That said, the leads of the film are its worst offenders. Good vocalists but terrible actors make for a decidedly cheesy film which should have been a lot better. With a supporting cast that included Tom Cruise, Malin Ackermann, Paul Giamatti, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand we should have been in for something special…not a half-assed Glee. Also, it features the worst version of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” that I’ve ever heard and that is just unacceptable. So, Rock of Ages gets my pick not because it was the #1 worst film of the year, but because it was ultimately the same as being at a kareoke club on a Tuesday night… something you’ve experienced that you’d rather not tell your friends about.
A very close runner up for worst film of the year for me would be The Raven, a pretty feeble attempt at straddling both the Sherlock Holmes and Se7en genres. It didn’t work.
Special Mention – Iron Sky
Thinking back on 2012, Iron Sky remains one of the most fun and memorable films I saw all year, which automatically makes it worthy for a special mention. Drawing heavily from old b-rated sci-fi flicks, it is a Finnish-German-Australian monstrosity that also gets more right than it could have. The film’s plot deals with Nazi’s who, after being defeated in World War 2, escape to the moon and form a lunar colony to one day get strong enough to come back to earth and finish what they started. What follows is a cheesy-but-fantastic sci-fi romp that just is equal amounts fun as it is over the top. Now, while the film wasn’t received very well critically, I just felt compelled to mention it as one of my favourite film experiences of the year. It also helps that it stars Julia Dietze, who steals the show as a inappropriately pretty Nazi scientist. Definitely one of my must-watch recommendations but it definitely isn’t for everyone. If you enjoy a bit of cheese with your wine, you’ll have a great time.
Also worth a special mention would be The Expendables 2, which was also ridiculous amounts of fun.
When you watch enough movies, it’s inevitable that you become a bit jaded given that so many are just so forgettably average. As a result, I tend to favour films that manage to stand out from the blandness by provoking some sort of emotional reaction from me. Very often these movies aren’t flawless, but I remember them fondly and would happily add them to my DVD collection.
There were many good films released in 2012, but very few exceptional ones. Still, before I name my top pick of the year, I have to list some (I could easily do a Top 10!) of my most enjoyable runners-up: The Iron Lady, Ruby Sparks, The Grey and The Expendables 2.
Best Movie – Frankenweenie
It’s no secret. Animal movies are my red kryptonite. And this black and white stop-motion tale is sweet, sad and, at times, morbidly hilarious. Basically Frankenweenie is a boy-and-his-dog story dipped in Tim Burton’s signature, stylised macabreness (the film is a remake of the director’s live-action short). And it’s fantastic.
Such a pity that not nearly enough people watched this touching tribute to unconventional thinking and decades of classic horror films.
Special Mention – Worth the critical fuss: The Artist
Worst Movie – Prometheus
I’m generally fortunate in that I can avoid watching the real turkeys at the cinema – films that are cheap, nasty and lazy in every department. However, for A-grade disappointment in 2012, only one thing can truly take the top spot…
Sporting a great cast, an A-list band of filmmakers and a link to one of the most influential sci-fi films of all time, how could Prometheus fail? This one promised to be everything a blockbuster geek could want: smart, slick, R-rated escapism for adults. But you know something has gone horribly, horribly wrong when the credits roll on a highly anticipated sci-fi thriller and you can’t stop laughing. Tears in your eyes, you realise that you have just witnessed one mother of a FAIL – a film of the dreaded “it’s so bad it’s funny” department.
Prometheus is difficult to fault technically, but it’s narratively so stupid; so unsatisfying that it leaped straight to the top of my Worst of 2012 List. And all the apologists trying to justify characters’ illogical behaviour (“It will make sense in the sequel…” “Life isn’t about having all the answers…”) just enraged me further.
Special Mention – Most critically overrated: Chronicle, Haywire
One year ago, I looked at 2012 as they year that would probably stop my geeky heart with an overload of awesomeness. Unfortunately, as I now look back, I feel a rather large sense of disappointment as a number of the most highly expected films just didn’t fully live up to their promise (The Dark Knight Rises, Prometheus, The Amazing Spider-Man and The Hobbit, I’m talking to you guys). But there were a few that not only delivered the goods, but surprised with just how good they were.
Best Movie – The Avengers
Oh look. The comic book geek chose the biggest comic book movie of the year. Big surprise, right? Well actually, yes. I wrestled with this pick for about a week, and up until 2 mins before writing this, that was actually going to be another name up there. See I realize that there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that The Avengers is going to walk away with any major non-technical film awards, and I’ll be the first to admit that there are a couple glaring gaps in Joss Whedon’s script, especially where Loki’s plan is concerned. So what’s it doing up here? Simple: this is the best comic book movie ever made.
Whereas everybody spent the last few years drinking Chris Nolan’s kool-aid about how amazing comic book characters could be when you made them real and mature and gritty and grim and all those other buzzwords, along came Joss Whedon who said “Nope, there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t just translate that kooky crazy comic book-ness straight onto the screen” and my 12-year old self loved him for it.
Factor in that all the odds were stacked against a team-up movie like this with most considering it a night-impossibility a decade ago, or that Whedon somehow managed to pull off one of the best character juggling acts of recent memory and of course, the sheer unadulterated joy of watching the Hulk just smash, and there simply wasn’t a more fun time to be had in a cinema in 2012.
And in case you were wondering, this title was a sliver away from going to either Cabin in the Woods, Argo (although it only releases locally in 2013), End of Watch, The Grey or Dredd.
Worst Movie – Ghost Rider 2: Spirit of Vengeance
If I could level one criticism at the original Ghost Rider, it was that it was just so meh. There’s nothing that actually stood out at all, good or bad. So for the sequel, it’s only natural that it was thought that it now needed to get turned up a notch. Unfortunately it was turned up a few notches too many. And then turned up a few notches more just for crazy good measure.
The result is a film that feels more manic 80′s music video than modern blockbuster with Nicolas Cage’s googly-eyed crazy fully (pun intended) uncaged. Yes, the FX was outstanding, and Ghost Rider was a far more effective hero than in his first outing, but a lame villain, soap opera acting, far too many moments of pure undiluted WTF-ness and direction so over the top that I expected it to arm-wrestle Sylvester Stallone for a truck, left me desperately seeking some spirits of a totally different kind.
As for worst runner-up, that crown has to go Alex Cross: absolute po-faced, badly acted, horridly written drivel from start to finish that features a final showdown between hero and villain that actually happens completely by accident.
Special Mention – The Sound of My Voice
Whereas The Avengers may have been the most fun time I had in the cinema this year, nothing was more thought provoking than this indie effort from star and co-writer Brit Marling and writer-direct Zal Batmanglij. A paranoid tale of almost claustrophobic proportions, it is magnificently acted, lovingly shot, and had my brain in total lockdown for about a week after watching it, as I tried to unravel all its mysteries.
This kind of thing is tough for me. I’m a movie nut who is woefully behind on current films (to wit, it’s a week after The Hobbit’s release and I’ve still yet to see it. Looper too. Utterly shameful.) Still, I’ve seen enough of the year’s major releases to confidently throw my hat in the ring, so here we go.
2012 was a pretty interesting year in that it was further proof of the truth in that expectations are often far better than experience. How many releases were we eagerly anticipating only to finally see them and often find them to be middling at best and, at worst, magnificently rubbish. Which leads us comfortably into…
Worst Movie – Alex Cross
Others might say Ghost Rider 2 (haven’t seen it. Don’t plan on it either) or Prometheus (seen it. Middling, not entirely loathsome). And doubtless, there were other films this year that certainly made a valiant effort at being cack (special shout-out to The Watch and The Words). Still, neither of them can hold a candle to the special awful-ness that was Alex Cross, a thriller that failed to thrill and instead sat on the screen like a week-old pile of poo.
Featuring a limp, dead turn from Madea herself, Tyler Perry in the titular role, Alex Cross was a PG attempt at material that was decidely more adult than the treatment it was given (it’s the only explanation for why Cross calls his enemies “maggots” instead of “motherf*****s” ). The most interesting about it was Matthew Fox’s massively over the top performance as the muscled nutcase of a bad guy. Unfortunately, too much of the film’s running time was spent with Tyler Perry’s good guy, who was the least interesting thing about it.
What a stunningly rubbish film.
Best Movie – Argo
Here’s a welcome surprise. Remember Chuckie from Good Will Hunting (the “not clever” one)? What about that goofy guy who played with animal crackers on Liv Tyler’s belly in Armageddon? Or played a World War II fighter pilot in Pearl Harbour?
Well he’s one of the best directors in Hollywood right now. Yes, that’s right, Ben Affleck is one of the best directors currently in the business. Gone Baby, Gone showed that he had promise, The Town, proved that that debut feature was no fluke and now, with Argo, he has shown that if that acting gig fails, he can always fall back on directing.
Balancing the light touch of a comedy with the tension of hostage thriller was always going to be challenging, but Affleck manages to juggle both without one aspect of the film undermining the other. Argo is a film that harkens back to that style of filmmaking seen in All The Presidents Men and Day of The Jackal, films of the seventies that went in more for slow-build intensity than eye-frying spectacle.
This was a film that got most of its thrills from watching men working out the best way to proceed in a difficult situation, where the only plan was one so absurd that upon first reading that premise, you’d laugh out loud were it not for the fact that is was based on a true story (as one of the characters says “This is the best bad plan we have, sir.”).
Audiences looking for something with explosions and guns blazing would do well to look elsewhere. Argo is a film where the success of the plan relies on a shot never being fired and inconspicuousness taking precedence over brute force.
Laughs and tense drama? Thank you very much, Mr. Affleck.
Special Mention: Joss Whedon
Yeah, fans knew of him from Buffy, Angel and Firefly (and those of us true geeks even collected his full run on Astonishing X-Men and sing along with all the songs in Dri Horrible, especially Bad Horse, which is a pretty catchy tune).
But for most mainstream audiences, Joss Whedon was a stranger. And not only that, he was also someone who had been rather hard done by the entertainment industry (*cough*Firefly*cough*Fox*cough*). Whatever your feelings on the God Geek and his post-modernism and his trademark snark, 2012 was without a doubt, The Year of The Whedon.
Coming out with the smash hit The Avengers and the critically acclaimed The Cabin in The Woods in one year helped Whedon to cement his position in the upper echelons of the Hollywood elite. That’s a wonderful feeling for geeks around the world. Not only because someone whose talent’s we’d recognised for so long was finally getting his deserved kudos, but also because, as geeks, we feel a kind of affinity with Whedon. He reads what we read, he’s into what we’re into, he talks like we talk. He’s like Kevin Smith without the mean streak.
Unlike most of us, though, he’s directed a billion-dollar global smash hit.
But even with that success under his belt, you get the feeling that he’ll never stray too far from his geek origins. I certainly hope so. I’m a huge fan of Whedon. I’d hate to see him go down the road that Sam Raimi took. This was a good year for you, Joss. We can only imagine where it goes from here.