Are You Not Entertained?

by: Michael Shields

The year in film, 2012….

From time to time cinema gets a bad rap, especially in this day and age where the bigger the explosions and the more CGI a film has the more money it tends to generate.  In defense of movies, they are still pretty damn good.  Many often surmise that independent films lay in their deathbed while sequels and rehashed ideas adorn our screens.  Well this point appears valid, but it takes a whole lot of good films within a given year to balance out a plethora of sub-par duds such as Battleship, Red Dawn, The Watch, another Ghost Rider, One for the Money, and Parental Guidance assaulting our screens.  And 2012 was ripe with good films, across a myriad of genres.

It was a unique year, numbers wise, in film.   Film releases, and the corresponding dollar amounts that rolled in each weekend, had the erratic feel of the stock market.  2012’s Labor Day weekend was a particular low point as it has been since 2008 since not one single film managed to crack the $10 million mark at the box office1. Despite a serious late-summer slump, it’s now a safe bet that 2012 will best last year’s lackluster box office, due to late Fall hits such as Wreck-it Ralph and Skyfall.  And we are in the midst of a healthy holiday season (where the Oscar contenders are rolled out en mass) as theaters are chock full of hits.

This was a year seasoned with unforgettable performances.  It seemed as if brilliance arrived in pairs as Daniel Day Lewis and Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln), Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix (The Master), Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant (Amour), Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Lining Playbook), Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor (The Impossible), and Jessica Chastain and Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty) all showed us the brilliance actors are truly capable of.   Frank Langier (Frank and Robot), Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables), Marion Cottillard (Rust and Bone), Paul Dano (For Ellen), Bill Murray (Hyde Park on Hudson), Christopher Waltz (Django Unchained), Denzel Washington (Flight), Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables), John Hakes (The Surrogate – how brilliant is this man!), and Clarke Peters (Red Hook Summer) all brazenly flexed their muscles as thespians.  2012 proved, without doubt, that there is a vast stable of fine actors working today – all with the wizardry ability to conjure to life feelings that are not theirs alone.

The year’s best films2, unsurprisingly, feature may of the aforementioned souls.  But others do not. Beasts of the Southern Wild is a surreal bayou fantasy that transforms a forgotten swamp into a magical garden.  It is not only one of the most beautiful (and best) films of the year, but one of the most beautiful movies ever made.  Its cast is unknown, as are the up and coming “Independent film-making army” which created it (Court 13).  Zero Dark Thirty is a gripping recreation of a story that is near to many of our hearts, and further displays Kathryn Bigelow’s outrageous talentsFrom the opening moments, where we hear haunting calls from victims trapped in the towers, to the recreation of a moment in time none of us will ever forget Zero Dark Thirty is riveting.  Argo, another true story, is superb and brought to life with the finesse of a brilliant director (yup, I just said that.).  The Master proves that a film can be elite, one of the years best, due to the superiority of the both the cinematography (65mm by Mihai Malaimare Jr) and the acting alone.

And then there is Amour.  There aren’t many stories conceived in one’s imagination, or tales that can be ripped from the headlines, that can match the intensity of the journey one takes, if lucky enough to get there, as the tooth grows long and the days grow short.  Amour’s villain is Time, the cruelest of them all, and its hero is Love.  Amour’s beauty is in its simplicity, its harsh realism, and the thought that it provokes.  While not a film for everyone, it is a must for those not afraid to delve into the unrelenting realities of life.  Those who find beauty in love at the extreme edge of life.

Not only did the highbrow films deliver in 2012 but the blockbusters held their own. We were treated to popcorn films that were smart, funny, and inventive such as the polarizing conclusion to Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, Ted, The Hobbit, The Avengers, Cloud Atlas, Looper and Prometheus3.  Even the new Bourne film entertained, and held serve to the rest of the series, without the services of its usual star.

And when the world needed a Bond most he was there.  After an unending campaign for president that tired even the most blissful of souls living under a rock in non-swing states, and after Frankenstorm laid waste to the most populous part of the country we needed a break.  We needed a breather.  We needed 0074.

Bond is what it is; you always know what you are getting.  You get fast cars, slick inventions, devious stereotypical villains, sex appeal, all served with a cocktail of cool, shaken not stirred.   You will never be challenged too much but you will never be treated like you an idiot (usually).  The latest, Skyfall, isn’t just solid…it’s stunning.  It is in the conversation for best in show and sets a strong standard moving forward.  With Sam Mendes at the helm this is not surprising, and Craig is giving Connery a run for his money.  Skyfall continues where the fallible ‘Quatum of Solace’ left off in many aspects but had the feel of a reboot.  Although the franchise has been around for 50 years Skyfall feels fresh and provides a strong breath of fresh air.  It’s more of  jump of point than a continuation, and the people flocked to it in droves.

It is hard to complain about the films in a given year when in that year we were gifted a new film by Tarrantino, Kathryn Bigelow, Woody Allen, PTA, Wes Anderson, Peter Jackson, Nolan,Tim Burton, Robert Zemeckis, Spielberg, David O’ Russell, Affleck, Oliver Stone, Soderbergh, Joss Whedon, Ridley Scott, Rian Johnson, and Ang Lee.

I am a romantic when it comes to film.  Going to the movies has never lost its luster as the years saunter on.  I charge into a theater with purpose, looking for a spectacle and I am hardly disappointed.  When all is right in my world I set off to the cinema to cheer along with the hero, ride the high! (or level myself out with a story of a burden no one of us should ever have to carry). When I am hurting I got to the movies to escape (or to further the pain – to get in a good cry).  So when I think of this year in film, I think of the moments I will remember, the ones I will cherish for years to come, the ones that touched or excited me.  Fantine’s moving “I dreamed a dream”. The first time Stephanie makes love after the accident. Silva removing his face implant to show M the monster she is responsible for creating. Whip Whitaker confidently flipping an aircraft into an unsuspecting cornfield. Bane introducing The Batman to his knee.  And being front row for the taking of the US embassy in Tehran, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, and the raid on Bin Laden’s compound.  Truly, an amazing year in cinema 5.

And, what’s more….I was able to navigate through the entire year in film without mentioning the words Channing Tatum 6.  Oh, wait….Fuck!

  1. Led by The horror film “The Possession” starring Kyra Sedgwick and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as parents of a possessed girl – a truly original plot line. []
  2. The following is a brief rundown of the Top 5 films of the year, as I see them. []
  3. Michael Fassbender’s David is a performance that one should not overlook. []
  4. It hauled in a franchise-record $87.8 million in its first weekend at U.S. theaters and recently eclipsed $974.3 million worldwide. []
  5. It speaks volumes to the quality of films present in 2012 that I wasn’t able to speak on many outstanding works – films such as Take this Waltz, Holy Motors, Central park Five, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Safety Not Guaranteed, Moonrise Kingdom, Life of Pi, Sleepwalk with Me, Oslo, Salmon Fishing in Yemen, etc. etc, etc. []
  6. I have no beef with Magic Mike – 21 Jump Street on the other hand….. []

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