Films of the Year 2012 (Part 1)

2012 is the new 1999, by far the richest year in US American cinema since the days in which Magnolia, The Insider, Being John Malkovich and Three Kings could be released within months of each other. I’m not a full time critic, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to devote time to participating in this noble endeavor.  (If you want to know more of my thoughts on what critics are for, you can read 'em here.) I’m also grateful to be in conversation with a community of wonderful writers and friends, including Mark (whose magnificent 15 hour long Story of Film is now on Netflix and iTunes), Steve (who has graciously promised to watch my favorite film of the year if I re-watch one of his), Glenn (whose blog is a delightful smorgasbord of autobiography and critical reflection), and most often my co-host at the Film Talk and close colleague and friend, Jett (from whom I learn weekly).

One note before we begin: This year I moved to a less conurbative part of the country, to coin a phrase, so I have probably seen somewhat fewer films than in previous years, and definitely fewer non-English language films; studios seem not to care enough about Western North Carolina audiences to invest much in press screenings, nor distributors enough to believe that we can read subtitles just as well here as anywhere, so I should acknowledge some films released this year that I am planning to catch up with as soon as I can:  Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Coriolanus, Miss Bala, Rampart, This is Not a Film, The Turin Horse, Monsieur Lazhar, Marley, Rust and Bone, Oslo August 31st, The Woman in the Fifth, Your Sister’s Sister, Take This Waltz, Cosmopolis, Amour, End of Watch, Dredd, Trouble with the Curve, Frankenweenie, The Paperboy, The Sessions.

Zero Dark Thirty, The Impossible, and Promised Land aren’t here yet; I’ll see This is 40 in the next couple of days.  As I see these I will adapt this post to absorb relevant changes.

Before we get into the lists, a word of remembrance:

Rest in Peace: David Kelly, Ralph MacQuarrie, Robert Sherman, Ulu Grosbard,  J Michael Riva, Nora Ephron, Eric Sykes, Richard Zanuck,  Gore Vidal, Marvin Hamlisch,  Michael Clarke Duncan,  Harris Savides, Clive Dunn, Richard Robbins, Larry Hagman, with a special mention of those who, for what it’s worth, meant the most to me:

Eiko Ishioka, whose costumes make Bram Stoker’s Dracula even more watchable than Coppola and Oldman already make it.

Ben Gazzara, who is the best of many best things about The Big Lebowski.

Ernest Borgnine, whose short film in the 9/11/01 anthology is the wisest and most human lament for that day other than Shutter Island.

Levon Helm, who defines heartbreaking in The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.

Lupe Ontiveros, who is indelibly marked on this Gen X-er’s consciousness for her housekeeper in The Goonies.

Frank Pierson, whose script for Dog Day Afternoon may or may not have included ‘Attica! Attica!’ (might have been Pacino-improvised), but is still the best  murk-glorying 70s cinema brought us.

Russell Means, whose dual-eulogy (along with George McGovern) by Lawrence O’Donnell is the classiest piece of TV journalism I saw this year

Mel Stuart, who made Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory the most happy-terrifying movie of my childhood.

And finally the truly great Charles Durning, a man who proved that acting compassion is made easier by experiencing trauma, and whose expression of forgiveness toward Dustin Hoffman’s Tootsie is one of the most honest in movie history, and merely one of many beautiful grace notes in a career that only got cinematically underway when the guy was pushing 50.

Now to the lists:

Movies that seemed to work at the time I saw them first but were easy to forget afterward:

  • 21 Jump Street
  • Damsels in Distress
  • The Avengers
  • The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Movies that were Pretty Good except for One Thing:

  • Snow White and the Huntsman (as if Terrence Malick made a Disney film, great dwarves, but descends into post-Peter Jacksonian bloodletting for its’ own sake)
  • The Amazing Spider-Man (which squandered the opportunity to Dark Knight it up, and merely hipster remade the other three)
  • The Queen of Versailles (which gets fairly intimate with its subjects, but neglects to ask for elaboration when one of them suggests he was involved in illegal means to elect George W Bush)

Decent ‘B’ movies that get Dublin/what it’s like to be a lonely teenager/relate the tale of how it’s hard out there for a male stripper right: 

  • Haywire
  • Chronicle
  • Magic Mike

Part Two promises such tantalizing treats as the most under-rated and over-rated films of the year, an award or two for the worst, and a new category for 2012. I plan to post tomorrow.