My Cinematic Year in Review, 2012


Like last year, I kept a running tally in 2012 of all the movies I saw. These movies were all new to me, though, so the list omits things like Saturday-afternoon cable surfing or rewatching favorite films after buying them on Blu-ray. As usual, most of the movies I saw in theaters were those I was paid to see for review purposes. My wife and I caught a matinee of Safe House in February, for instance, that was just for us, but I rarely make it to the theater these days outside of review screenings or film festivals. As such, my total for the year is much smaller than it is for some of my friends in the critic business. Part of this is because they're reviewing movies full-time (or part-time for multiple outlets), and part of it's because I only attend one festival a year for a few days. But it's also because I happily pass on many, many movies. I see the films I'm assigned to review and those I genuinely want to see, but I don't have any desire to see a new release just because it's out. As friend and fellow critic Will Goss put it, "I've paid my dues in catching mediocrity just to confirm that it exists." I skipped a lot of 2012 movies because I just wasn't interested, and I'm long past wanting to beat myself up for it.

One area I would like to improve in 2013 is the amount of older or classic films I see. In 2011, about a third of the movies I saw weren't released that year, but in 2012, that figure dropped to about 28%. I'd like to devote some more time in 2013 to movies released in the past few years or before. I love seeing new movies and looking for great new stories, but there are hours and hours of classics (or even just good new-ish movies) I've yet to see. I don't want to let those pass me by. As someone once said, "If you eat mince all day, you won't know steak when you see it." I saw a lot of really mediocre 2012 movies, and I regret not being able to balance them with great ones from years past.

For streaming/online availability, check here. Now on with the count:

January Captain America (2011): Not great, but really good. What made it work so well was the unironic, straight-ahead spin Joe Johnston (director of The Rocketeer, which I love) brought to things. Haywire (2012) The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement (2004): Sometimes my wife hides the remote. The Grey (2012)

February Safe House (2012): If you're doing laundry, this is good background noise. Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace 3D (1999/2012) Winter’s Bone (2010): I wanted something bleak. We'd already lost one of the little kittens we rescued, and I think I watched this right after we lost a second. I just wanted to get away from things for a while, but I couldn't bear anything bright. It's a fantastic film, too. Wanderlust (2012): I saw this to review but didn't write it up. I can't remember why, either, but I likely wound up having a low-grade meltdown over the film's thick-headed resistance to reason, narrative, and humor. Not good things for a comedy. Midnight in Paris (2011): Woody Allen's always worked best for me when he's reined in, and I liked the focus here on what's a high-concept but remarkably simple premise: lovelorn guy in bad relationship keeps accidentally traveling back in time. Beautiful photography, great script, and a sweet message. Gambit (1966): This was a fun one, but it's also an example of how a premise can override execution. The first chunk of the film (50-year-old spoiler alert) turns out to be an imagined fantasy sequence of how Michael Caine's character wants his planned heist to go, and the rest of the film is the actual heist (with many more complications). Caine and Shirley Maclaine are great together, though. It's a bumpy ride that ends a little abruptly, but still worth taking.

March John Carter (2012) The Cabin in the Woods (2012): Fun and scary, but just a little overweight from the meta-ironies. Fat Kid Rules the World (2012) The Imposter (2012): A fantastic/fantastical documentary about identity theft and delusion. Safety Not Guaranteed (2012) The Aggression Scale (2012): This was my first screening of the day one morning at SXSW. A fest official introducing the film warned us that people had had to leave the midnight premiere the night before, which seemed to imply graphic violence and intense situations. About an hour in, though, I realized they'd probably left out of boredom. SXSW 2012 was my fourth time at the festival, and my least enjoyable trip to date. Part of it had to do with being overextended (I was one of only two people covering it for Pajiba, and we couldn't begin to review everything we wanted to), but part of it was that I just drew a bad hand and saw some bad movies. I peaked on the first day with Fat Kid Rules the World. Hunky Dory (2012): I almost never fall asleep in movies. I fell asleep here. The Do-Deca-Pentathlon (2012): A cute and pretty enjoyable comedy from the Duplass brothers. A number of critics reviewing it said it was a step backward from their slightly more conventional-feeling comedies like Cyrus and Jeff, Who Lives at Home, but those reviews neglected to note that Do-Deca was made a couple years before those and is only now seeing release. Worth checking out. John Dies At the End (2012) Somebody Up There Likes Me (2012) Hugo (2011): A great little movie, and a wonderful tribute to cinema's roots.

April The Muppets (2011): Great comedy, great story, great energy, killer songs. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011): Five minutes in, I was rooting for the apes to rise up and kill the humans. I've never had an easy time with animal cruelty on film, and becoming a vegetarian for ethical reasons has only heightened my response. It's a solid blockbuster, but tough to watch. Get the Gringo (2012) Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol (2011): This is the kind of slick, star-driven action movie that feels more like a great 1990s throwback than anything else. Tom Cruise shows his age, but damn if he can't still run up buildings like nobody else.

May The Apartment (1960): One of the best movies ever made, and a reminder that Billy Wilder will always be considered one of the best directors to ever step behind a camera. Funny, sweet, sad, honest. Beautifully acted by everyone, too. The Avengers (2012): Lots of fun after a rocky start. It felt like a nice payoff to the first five movies in the series, though. Joss Whedon crushed it. Payback: Straight Up — The Director’s Cut (1999/2006): I really liked Payback when I saw it in high school, and I'd always meant to revisit the film with the director's cut. This is one of those instances where the director's cut is a genuinely new experience, too: writer-director Brian Helgeland's original film had its ending rewritten by Mel Gibson and Icon when the director wouldn't budge from his grimmer, more 1970s-flavored vision. The director's cut is a very good movie, and also notable for making use of a rich color palette that was leached from the original release. Men in Black 3 (2012) Moonrise Kingdom (2012) Prometheus (2012)

June Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950): I took suggestions on Twitter one evening about what I should stream from Netflix, and this won out. (Well, it got two votes from two different people, and every other suggestion only had one vote.) It's a tight little noir with some wonderful suspense/double-cross sequences. It's short, too. Worth your time. Magic Mike (2012)

July The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) 21 Jump Street (2012): The perfect balance of hilarious and weird. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are great together, though Tatum's the real powerhouse. Whenever I come across it on cable, I have to stop and watch. The Dark Knight Rises (2012) Jeff, Who Lives at Home (2012): A shaggy, sweet-natured comedy from the Duplasses. Jason Segel sells the movie like no one else could. In Time (2011): Chalk it up to a nerdy, indoorsy childhood, but I've always got a soft spot for sci-fi flicks like this one. It's got a great style and decent idea, but the final product is a little weak.

August The Bourne Legacy (2012) My Favorite Year (1982): Peter O'Toole got a Best Actor nomination for this slight but enjoyable comedy about a washed-up actor and a rising TV writer in the 1950s. The writer is played by an impossibly young Mark Linn-Baker. Lockout (2012): I rented this specifically for its hoped-for (and verified) ability to make me forget about work at the end of a long week. Sometimes, you just want to watch a grizzled ex-CIA op rescue a pretty lady from a jail in space. Awesome, goofy, highly rewatchable. The Myth of the American Sleepover (2011): One of the best and most authentic movies about being a teenager I've ever seen. It stars actual teens, too, which makes it so much more affecting (or, at times, horrifying) than mainstream movies. Goon (2012): A fantastic, gleefully coarse comedy with a real heart. Seann William Scott is perfect as a simple hockey player who's only recruited for his fighting ability. Seriously, one of the best comedies I've seen in a while. Celeste and Jesse Forever (2012) Premium Rush (2012) Lawless (2012)

September Sleepwalk With Me (2012): A bit of a grind. Part of it is that I like Mike Birbiglia's comedy, which means I'm familiar with all these jokes. But part of is that the structure of a comedy bit or even a one-man show is a lot harder to play out cinematically. What works as emotional closure after 50 minutes of anecdotes doesn't have the same punch on screen. Thief (1981): Michael Mann's feature debut is a gorgeous representation of his style. It's slick streets, busted neon, tough cons, and synth music. James Caan is amazing, too. The War Room (1993): A very stripped-down doc about the 1992 presidential election. I appreciated the fly-on-the-wall approach to meetings and strategy sessions, but I'd have liked a little more contextualization. Cold Weather (2011): A smart little indie film that finds wonderfully organic ways to redefine itself as it goes, from relationship drama to awkward comedy to genuine mystery. It ends far too suddenly, though. End of Watch (2012) The Master (2012) Looper (2012)

October Taken 2 (2012) Cloud Atlas (2012)

November Lincoln (2012) The Innkeepers (2012): Great, creepy, atmospheric horror movie that relies on actual terror instead of cheap jumps. Nice build-up, killer finale. Argo (2012): Very good film, especially when you consider how Ben Affleck was able to balance drama and comedy in one massive story. It takes skill to make a film that contains both the harrowing sequence in which the American embassy is overtaken and the montages of John Goodman and Alan Arkin's characters mounting a fake movie. Arbitrage (2012): Dry and somewhat forgettable. Richard Gere has nice energy and is well-cast as a typical Wall Street jerk, but there's not much else hre. Skyfall (2012): Some good ideas and scenes, but overall, it feels like several movies randomly jammed together. The best Bond of the Craig era is still, by far, Casino Royale. ParaNorman (2012): I enjoyed this one. It's got a good story and great style, and I was surprised at how dark it was. I don't remember kids' horror being this grim when I was a kid, but then, I think I've got a softer perspective now. I'm sure the things we saw, whether aimed at us or not, were plenty horrific. Killing Them Softly (2012)

December Zero Dark Thirty (2012) Les Miserables (2012): The film adaptation of the popular musical is good-to-great, though Russell Crowe's voice isn't nearly strong enough. I think the film also errs a little too much on the side of those who are already familiar with the stage version: whole characters go unnamed here, and the movie often feels compressed against its will. Still, the music is good, and the performances are fantastic. It was such a wise choice to let the singers play things small instead of theatrically nailing their lines to the back of the hall. Film is an intimate medium, and the best way to take advantage of its power is to let someone sing softly, humbly, their voice cracking with real emotion. Anne Hathaway is outstanding. Wreck-It Ralph (2012): A good movie, which means it's a masterpiece compared with Disney's recent non-Pixar output. John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman are perfectly cast, and the story's moving without feeling hokey. Bonus: plenty of nostalgia blasts for gamers. (My favorite was this shout-out.) The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) This Is 40 (2012): Many people have made the joke that the title should be This Is 40 Minutes Too Long. That's because many people are right. Judd Apatow's latest comedy is his shaggiest and least effective yet, largely because he gives up even the pretense of story or tension and opts for disconnected scenes and a celebration of toxic people. Marital strife is a fantastic thing to make a movie about, but only if I can make myself care, even a little, about the people involved. Promised Land (2012)

By the numbers: Total films seen: 68 Documentaries: 2 Animated films: 2 Movies released in 2012: 49 Movies released before 2012: 19 Movies released before 2000: 8 Of the ten highest grossers of the year, I saw: 5 Number of 2012 releases I reviewed: 29 Favorites: The Apartment (best movie I saw all year), Moonrise Kingdom, Zero Dark Thirty, Looper, Goon, Wreck-It Ralph, Argo, Midnight in Paris