A Second Look at 2012

Movies of 2012

All right, it’s 2013. Has been for almost a month now, which means it’s time for a second look at the movies of 2012. If you’re new to the site, I write these “Second Look At” articles to discuss the past year’s movies that I plan to rewatch. They may not be the best movies of the year or even my favorites (though most of them are on my favorites list), but rather they are the movies that stick with me and make me want to revisit them. Maybe they intrigued me or confused me or excited me or disturbed me. For whatever reason I just want to see them again.

But before I get into the actual list, let me say what a great time I’ve had working on this blog for the last year. I started Tell Me a Story in January 2012 without much of a plan except to discuss movies in a forum of my very own, as opposed to the IMDB message boards where I frequently posted. I wanted the space and the freedom to write as I pleased.

I was also craving a new challenge. I studied fiction writing in school, but I’d never tried my hand at review writing, and I wanted to see how I’d do. In a year I’ve written nearly 40 reviews which is more than I thought I’d accomplish, and I’m pretty darn proud of myself. If you’ve read any of them, you may have noted that they don’t read like the reviews you’d find in the newspapers. My M.O. has just been to spew out all my thoughts on the movie and then whittle them down into a shape that is easy and enjoyable to read. For the most part I’ve been delighted with the results, and I feel extremely lucky and privileged to spend so much time doing something I enjoy so much.

And now as 2013 kicks off January’s training wheel and rolls confidently into February, I’d like to thank all of you who have ever read anything on this blog of mine. I hope you’ve enjoyed what you read and will keep coming back. I definitely have no plans of stopping any time soon. Here’s hoping for 63 movies this year!

So, without further adieu (I think that’s the first time I’ve ever used that phrase) here are the movies of 2012 I think are worth a second look.

 

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES

My Rating

Director: Chris Nolan (Following, Memento, Insomnia, The Prestige, Inception)
Writer: Jonathan Nolan (Memento  [short story "Memento Mori"], The Prestige, Person of Interest [TV Series]), Chris Nolan (Following, Memento, The Prestige, Inception) and David Goyer (The Crow: City of Angels, Dark City, Blade I, II, III, Jumper, Man of Steel)

While the movies in this post aren’t in any particular order, it’s a no-brainer for me to start with The Dark Knight Rises. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie and have already revisited it twice (once at theaters and once on DVD). And let me tell you, the third time around was just as much fun as the first. I know this one got a lot more criticism than The Dark Knight, mostly for its plot being less than believable, for Bane being less memorable than the Joker, and for its perhaps timid ending. I agree that the plot felt more contrived this time, and that keeps me from holding it in as high esteem as its predecessor, but it didn’t take away from my enjoyment. Chris Nolan did an amazing job of grounding his Batman movies in reality, and even though this one takes the most liberties with reality, at this point in the franchise I’m so invested in this world, in these characters, that I can let some of the little things go (like how [SPOILER ALERT] a financially broke Bruce manages to make it back to Gotham after escaping Bane’s prison which looked to be somewhere in the Middle East [SPOILER OVER]).

I also really liked Bane as a villain. He was uber threatening in a way that was completely different from the Joker but just as effective. He exuded power in the way he walked and the way he spoke and the way, with a hand on a shoulder and calm voice, he could show you just how weak you are compared to him. Now that is power. Plus I loved Bane’s voice. I don’t know why people took issue with it. Pure ear candy as far as I’m concerned.

Joseph Gordon Levitt gave a good turn here as Detective John Blake who later… wink wink. And I’d much rather watch Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle any day than as Fontine in Les Mis. I had my doubts at first, mostly due to her age, but she made for a fun Catwoman, adding most of the movie’s comic relief.

What I probably appreciate most Nolan’s Batman movies is the weight with which he imbues them. In all of them consequences are real. Nolan is willing to break Gotham down to its lowest point, and Batman for that matter, and you’re never quite sure if things will be all right in the end. You know things have to be all right—it’s a superhero movie after all; heroes usually have to win to be a hero—but you think there’s a chance they won’t be. This makes for dark movies. The Dark Knight Rises is bleak as all hell. Some people didn’t like that, but I think it just added gravity to the story.  Personally I would have tweaked the ending of the movie just a little, but I’m not complaining.  So yeah, thumbs up all around. Another great trilogy to join the ranks of The Matrix  and The Lord of the Rings. 

Why I want to see it again:
- To watch Bane be all powerful.
- To listen to Bane’s voice.
- To revisit Gotham.
- For the action sequences.
- To chant “Deh-shay, bah-sah-rah” as Bruce Wayne tries to climb out of the pit.

My Rating


Director: Josh Trank (The Kill Point [TV Series])
Writer: Max Landis (The Death and Return of Superman [short])

This movie came out of nowhere. I probably only heard of it a few weeks before I saw it, and I thought it looked cool, but walking out of theater I was shocked at just how wonderful it was. It’s about these three kids that get superpowers after a freak occurrence. Big deal right? It’s been done to death in comic books and movies, right? Well here it’s treated a lot more honestly than most of the super hero movies you’ve seen. As I mentioned in my review of the movie (which you can find here), I loved the fact that none of these kids even tries to become a superhero. That’s what you’d expect, what we’ve been trained to expect, but here the kids use their powers to goof off and mostly just amuse themselves. I think that’s probably a lot more realistic, especially for teenagers.

What is very refreshing about this movie is that it’s not just about showcasing how awesome superpowers are. Sure, it does make superpowers look super cool (so cool that I got jealous of the kids), but the movie is about people. It’s about how the lead character Andrew deals with sudden power after being weak and bullied for so long. I liked Andrew. I was rooting for him the whole movie through, and even though I know what happens, I sense I’ll be rooting for him again the second time around. You would too. So maybe if we all watch it and clap our hands enough and say out loud, “We believe in you Andrew,” like little Tinker Bell, he’ll be just fine.

Why I want to see it again:
- Because it was crazy enjoyable watching the kids learn to master their powers.
- To envy these kids (the characters not the actors) that get to do something I’ll never ever get to do.
- To revisit Andrew’s progression.
- Because it was touching watching the kids bond.

My Rating


Director: Ang Lee (The Ice Storm, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hulk, Brokeback Mountain)
WriterDavid Magee (Finding Neverland), Yann Martel (Life of Pi [novel])

Now this one was just awe-inspiring. Read my review of it here and you’ll see just how enamored by it I was. And with good reason. From the visuals, to the emotion, to the set pieces, to the story, to the meaning behind the story, it was engaging on all accounts.

It’s also just one of the most beautiful movies I’ve ever seen. The colors pop  and the 3D works to create quite an immersive experience. You almost feel like you’re on the raft with Pi and Richard Parker. As for Richard Parker, I think there was only one scene where he didn’t look like a completely real tiger. Very impressive. But what I remember most is the water. Water has never looked so wondrous and so treacherous in a movie. You will believe that they actually filmed the movie out in the middle of the ocean. The whole film was such a visual spectacle that I’m sad I’ll never again get to experience this larger than life story on a larger than life screen in three dimensions.

Yet despite how it looks, the visuals aren’t all for show; they are integral to the what is sincerely an inspiring story about life’s worth.

What I want to see it again:
- Just to look at it again and take it all in.
- To see if I like it as much on the small screen in 2D.
- To marvel at how real Richard Parker looks.
- For that scene where Pi is underwater looking at the ship he just fell out of.
- To experience the struggle to live right alongside Pi and Richard Parker.
- To experience the heartbreak that Pi feels at a certain moment in the film.
- To be humbled.

 

CABIN IN THE WOODS

My Rating

Director: Drew Goddard (as writer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Alias, Cloverfield, Lost)
Writers: Joss Whedon (Roseanne [TV series], Toy Story, Alien: Resurrection, The Avengers) and Drew Goddard (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Alias, Lost [all TV Series], Cloverfield)

My expectations were high for this one, which right off the bat is dangerous. Expectations for movies can be so treacherous. Often they only lead to disappointment because you never quite get what you want. But this was a movie written Joss Whedon; how could I not be excited for it? I’m only a huge Buffy and Angel fan. And from the commercials it looked like he was again turning the horror genre on its head. So with the highest of hopes I saw Cabin in the Woods.

First the bad news: It didn’t live up to all of my expectations. And the good news: my expectations were unrealistically high, and after thinking about it more, I’ve come to like it even more. I said it in my full review of the film (here), and I’ll say it again: Whedon is a pro at striking a balance between horror and humor. I loved that the film wore both personalities and did so in a way that was completely non-jarring.

I also enjoyed the statement, or rather question that it asked about the horror genre itself. I mean when you think about it, why do we pay money to watch people experience horrific things? What the heck does that say about us? Whedon and Goddard play with that idea in fun and meta way idea that leaves all judgment behind and just asks that you take notice.

Why I want to see it again:
- For the humor/for the horror.
- For the last third which was pretty awesome.
- To see if knowing the ending changes how I view it.
- To revisit the fun and just bizarre scenes between Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford.
- For the moment when the title appears on screen.

 My Rating


Director/Writer: Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood)

P.T. Anderson movies, like Quentin Tarantino movies pretty much deserve a second look by default. He’s a remarkable filmmaker. I’ve already written about Punch Drunk Love before (here) and I think Magnolia and There Will Be Blood are fantastically well-made and interesting movies. They’re so rich in detail and character and story that repeat viewings always offer rewards. That’s kind of why I want to see The Master again. I liked the movie, but I didn’t love it as much as the films I just mentioned, and I want to see if I’ll like it more the second time.

It’s shot beautifully, it’s well-paced, and it has Oscar-worthy performances, like the scene where Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s character, Lancaster Dodd, “processes” Joaquin Phoenix’s Freddie Quell. The pacing is quick there and the acting is so raw and genuine that you can’t even take in the significance of the scene the first time through. Yet as a whole the movie didn’t grab me the way I was hoping it would. I’m not completely sure why, but maybe it’s that the story’s aboutness (it could be a word) wasn’t all that clear to me. I don’t think I understand the progression Joaquin’s character. But maybe in a second viewing….

Why I want to see it again:
- For the score.
- To rewatch that initial “processing” scene I mentioned above.
- To more accurately imitate Joaquin’s mannerisms and posture in the privacy of my own home.
- To watch Hoffman and Phoenix interact.
- To try to understand Freddie Quell.

 

DJANGO UNCHAINED

My Rating


Director/Writer: Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2, Death Proof, Inglourious Basterds)

Yeah, Tarantino is on the list. Did you think he wouldn’t be? The guy always makes really entertaining movies that reward multiple viewings. He does some of the best dialogue I’ve ever heard. Wait until you get to the the raid scene in Django. Who else would think to juxtapose the funny dialogue there against the seriousness of the actions about to be committed? Maybe some would, but I don’t know if they’d do it as well.

Django does a lot well. Apart from the dialogue there are just the wonderful performances by Leo, Christoph, and Sam Jackson. They’re so fascinating to watch that they steal the movie from Jamie Foxx’s Django, which is probably not the most desirous of goals. It’s not that Foxx didn’t do a good job. I think he serviced the role just fine, but his co-stars had more to work with. His character wasn’t as quirky and therefore as interesting as the others. I can’t help but wonder if Will Smith—who was first rumored to play the role—would have brought a little more charisma and personality to the character. Smith has more gravitas then Foxx, and I think he could have done more with less. But there’s no point in thinking about that too much. We have the movie we have.

Yet I’ll also say that I think there were some pacing issues. Once we get to Candieland, there’s a surprising lack of suspense. Django is ever so close to rescuing his wife, and I feel like my heart should be pounding like in the bar scene in Basterds, but I wasn’t all that tense. And then when the story takes a shift and focuses solely on Django, the film gets a little less interesting, and I find myself wanting the supporting characters back.

Still the movie is fun, funny and unignorable (could be a word). I love Tarantino’s sensibilities, from his humor to his use of music to his cartoony violence. He’s unlike anyone else. Django may not be his best film, but I still appreciate the hell out of it and him.

Why I want to see it again:
- For Christoph Waltz
- For Leonardo DiCaprio
- For the scene at Big Daddy’s plantation.
- For the raid scene
- To catch all the little details I’m sure I missed on the first viewing.
- To see if I like the third act a little more this time

 My Rating


Director: Ridley Scott (Alien, Bladerunner, Thelma & Louise, Gladiator, Matchstick Men, )
Writer: John Spaihts (The Darkest Hour), Damen Lindelof (Nash Bridges [TV Series], Lost [TV Series], Cowboys and Aliens, World War Z)

I’m probably in the minority here, but I really enjoyed Prometheus. It helps that I only saw Alien for the first time a couple of days before Prometheus so I didn’t have a ton of expectations built upon years and years of loving the original franchise. (Remember what I said about expectations?)

What comes to mind first when I recall this movie are the visuals. Absolutely stunning and completely engaging. I loved the world that Ridley Scott created. It was massive and life-like, and in 3D Imax it sucked you right in. Unfortunately the visuals were the high point of the film. There were a lot of plot holes and unexplained mysteries, as well as less than fully developed characters, yet strangely none of that really bothered me during the movie. I think part of it was me being distracted by all the beautiful shiny things and then intrigued by all the mysteries. I also enjoyed reading all the blogs and message boards after the movie to see if anyone actually understood it. I got particularly enthralled by one theory propounding that one of the humanoid aliens visited Earth about 2000 years ago and we crucified him, and now they want to destroy us. Ridley Scott confirmed as much in an interview, claiming that he felt it was too on the nose so he left it out of the final cut. I think it would have been awesome if he had left it in. I mean give us a little something to work with.

This hasn’t really been a glowing review of the film, but make no mistake I liked it. But I like pulpy sci-fi movies, and this almost had the feel of one, albeit one that’s dressed up very sleekly.

Why I want to see it again:
- To admire the fantastic world the filmmakers created.
- To see if I I’ll still like the movie on my tiny TV in 2D.
- To see if I understand it better.

My Rating

Director: Nima Nourizadeh
Writers: Matt Drake and Michael Bacall (Manic, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World21 Jump Street)

I didn’t plan on including Project X—I was in fact about to publish this post—but you know what, it belongs here. I really didn’t think I’d like this movie all that much. A bunch of kids have a party that goes horribly out of control—a simple enough premise that sounded only kind of interesting to me. I probably wouldn’t have even gone to see it if it weren’t for the advance screening passes that I scored. But it turned out to be  more fun and entertaining than I’d expected. (Low expectations can actually work in your favor.) I wrote a review for it here.

The appeal of this movie is the same appeal we have for watching things explode in slow motion. There is just something so fascinating about witnessing order and structure break down and wondering  what the final consequences will be and if things will ever be normal again.

My biggest complaint after the first viewing was that the actual partying scenes went on too long—a lot of the movie is high school kids drinking and dancing, like an extended music video—but now I get that the scenes are there more to establish tone and provide a voyeuristic experience rather than advance the story. So I’d say they actually work for the film. Overall, I think your mileage may vary with this one.

Why I want to see it again:
- Just to watch things “explode.”
- For the scene with the car.
- For the scene with the little person.

 

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