I only saw a few new movies in 2012 so this post is going combine what I saw with some thoughts on this year's Oscar nominations which just came out today. I still need to write more detailed reviews about a few of these films but I wanted to put my ratings and some brief thoughts for all of them in one post. You can click on the 2012 or individual tags to see longer reviews of each movie. These films are organized from my highest to lowest scores, but I'm not really ranking them against each other. I will do a follow-up post listing 2012 movies I still want to get see as well as a look at the winners of the 85th Academy Awards after the ceremony in late February.
My favorite movie of the year, The Avengers was simply a blast to watch as a comic book truly coming to life on the big screen. It was fun to see the build-up of the Marvel movies have a fantastic pay-off and Joss Whedon did a great job as usual with the characters and dialogue. I'm looking forward to whatever comes next with phase two of the Marvel movies. The Avengers received an Oscar for Best Visual Effects.
The Dark Knight Rises
Despite some pacing issues and a couple of plot holes, I thought that The Dark Knight Rises was the perfect conclusion to Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy. I'm surprised that it didn't receive any Oscar nominations since it was the last in this series. Perhaps the Academy felt justified after The Dark Knight received two Oscars. Still, I feel that the great score by Hans Zimmer deserved to be recognized, especially after the Inception score got snubbed from winning two years ago. Despite nine Oscar nominations, Zimmer has won only one time (The Lion King). I wouldn't have minded an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for Michael Caine either.
Looper was basically this year's Source Code: An original sci-fi movie featuring time travel made by an up-and-coming director that came out of nowhere to be a surprise commercial and critical success. When it comes to plot the films are quite different of course. Looper borrows from other time travel movies (The Terminator, 12 Monkeys, Donnie Darko, Primer) but manages to put a new spin on things despite having some of the typical story problems that occur with time travel. I greatly appreciated that unlike the trailers for most recent movies Looper didn't give much of the film away. Rian Johnson did a superb job as the director and he had a solid cast to work with featuring Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeff Daniels, and Emily Blunt.
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
The lone documentary I saw this year, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry is about Chinese artist Ai Weiwei and his clashes with the Chinese government. I thought that this might get an Oscar nomination but it didn't happen. Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry was a nice debut film from director Alison Klayman. However, Ai Weiwei is such an interesting figure that I think anybody could point the camera at him and get something worth watching.
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1
Not to be confused with Nolan's conclusion to his Dark Knight trilogy, The Dark Knight Returns is an animated direct-to-video adaptation of the Frank Miller comic of the same name. As a fan of the comic I felt the movie was a worthy cinematic re-telling of the story while still accessible to those who hadn't read the graphic novel.
Despite being a commercial success and receiving generally good reviews from critics, the fanboys tore Prometheus apart. Although Prometheus certainly has its flaws, I still quite liked it as a positive step in a new direction for the Alien franchise. The aspects of Prometheus that work do so quite well (production design, special effects, costumes, acting), so despite some story and writing problems I don't think it's fair to throw out the baby with the bath water. Prometheus looked stunning in IMAX 3D and Michael Fassbender did a stand-out job as the android David. I'm looking forward to the announced sequel and it will be interesting to see if the fan reception to Prometheus changes over the years. I still need to re-watch it on Blu-ray and am especially curious about the deleted scenes.
Guy Pearce steals the show in Lockout with an entertaining performance. There is also a heavy Escape from New York/L.A. vibe which I enjoyed as a John Carpenter fan since it's probably as close as we'll ever get to another Snake Plissken movie. Lockout is your typical action B-movie but Pearce (whose character's personality is different from Plissken) makes it worth watching.
The Amazing Spider-Man
Like Looper and Lockout, I still haven't gotten around to finishing my post on this movie yet so get ready to read it in the next couple of weeks. Although I liked The Amazing Spider-Man and thought it was well made, it was tough for me to distance it from Sam Raimi's Spider-Man movies which I found more memorable and fun.
Jersey Shore Shark Attack
Jersey Shore Shark Attack was a TV-movie that aired on the Syfy Channel before getting released on DVD and Blu-ray. While this was by far the worst movie I saw this year, it was fun despite being boring at times and having some jokes didn't work. The concept would've been better as a five minute YouTube video but I guess there must've been some money to be made with a movie that is both a Jersey Shore cash-in and a Jaws knock-off. I love Goodfellas so it was fun to see Tony Sirico and Paul Sorvino together again. I'd still rather watch Jersey Shore Shark Attack than the worst 2011 movie I saw, the bland Season of the Witch. Of course the worst movie I've seen of the new decade is still Birdemic!
The only movies I saw that received Oscar nominations this year were Prometheus and The Avengers, both for Best Visual Effects. So instead of going through every category like I did last year I'm just going to give some general thoughts on the Oscar nominations for the 85th Academy Awards.
The Oscar nominations made history this year as we have both the oldest Best Actress nominee (85 year old Emmanuelle Riva for Amour) and youngest Best Actress nominee (9 year old Quvenzhane Wallis for Beasts of the Southern Wild).
It is normal for Oscar contenders to be released in the second half of the year in order to stay better in the memory of Academy voters. However, I noticed that the Best Picture nominees took this to the extreme this year as four of the nine were released in December (Django Unchained, Les Misérables, Silver Linings Playbook, and Zero Dark Thirty), two in November (Life of Pi and Lincoln), and one in October (Argo). Only Amour and Beasts of the Southern Wild came out before October and both of those didn't have wide U.S. releases anyway. In 2011 four of the ten Best Picture candidates were released in the U.S. before October (Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Help, The Tree of Life), and only two (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and War Horse) in December. Maybe it was just a fluke this year or perhaps Hollywood is releasing these movies later to grab the attention of voters. Either way, it is clear that the Best Picture candidates tend to get released in the second half of the year. The only movie I can think of off the top of my head that got released early in a year but still ended up winning Best Picture was The Silence of the Lambs, released in February of 1991.
One of the Best Picture nominees this year is the Austrian film Amour. Since Amour is also up for the Best Foreign Language film I think it is safe to say that it has already won that category even if it doesn't win Best Picture. The same sort of thing happened a few years ago when Toy Story 3 was nominated for Best Picture and Best Animated Feature.
On a similar note, most films that win Best Director also win Best Picture. This year four prominent directors (Ben Affleck, Kathryn Bigelow, Tom Hooper, and Quentin Tarantino) were not nominated for Best Director despite their movies getting Best Picture consideration. Therefore it is unlikely that Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, Les Misérables, or Django Unchained will win Best Picture. It is also interesting to note that Kathryn Bigelow and Tom Hooper are both coming off films that won Best Picture (The Hurt Locker and The King's Speech) three and two years ago respectively. It seems that the Academy is not going to let these directors have a Best Picture repeat. Both Affleck and Tarantino have won Oscars for writing but not directing. Affleck is still seeking a Best Director nomination while Tarantino has been nominated in that category twice with Pulp Fiction and Inglourious Basterds
Although it is unlikely that the Oscars will add any categories soon, I'd love to see films be able to get nominated for Best Scene, Best Trailer, and Best Opening/Closing credits sequence to mix things up a bit.
Next up: 2012 films I still want to see