Monday, January 14, 2013

2012: Year End: An Introduction

I’ve started off this introduction the past three years saying the same basic thing – 2007 was the best year in recent memory for movies, and 2008 was the worse, and this year falls somewhere in between those two years. The same thing is true of 2012 as 2011, 2010 and 2009 – except this year it’s much closer to 2007 than 2008. 2012 was a great year for movies – not just the best films of the year, but the sheer wealth of great or near great films this year made this the best year since 2007 to be an avid moviegoer.

But don’t tell that to some critics. If I read one more piece on the death of cinema or the death of cinema culture this year, than I may just scream. Did no one mention to these critics just how great this year for movies was? Did they not notice? The whole idea of the death of cinema mystifies me, but it really is nothing new. Every year, I read from some critics what a lousy year for movies it was. And as far back the Lumiere Brothers (who thought their invention “had no future”) people having been sounding the death knell for movies. From the advent of sound to the adding of color, to Godard’s jump cuts to the “blockbuster age” to digital cinema, it seems someone is always trying to kill cinema – and yet it continues to roll along.

It is true that cinema culture has changed over the years – perhaps more so in the last decade than in the previous few. The rise of the internet has made “everyone a critic” (and that includes me, I guess). Everyone now not only can have an opinion, but can share it with the world. While some hate this new “culture”, I rather like it. Movie culture has certainly become more niche driven than ever before, yet there are more places than ever in which one can read about or become involved in discussions about movies. If you want to dissect the latest superhero movie, there are plenty of places for you to go. But you can also have intelligent discussions, with informed moviegoers, about even the smallest indies, little seen foreign films or documentaries. In short, cinema culture is only dead to you if you don’t put any effort into it.

One thing I have heard repeatedly this year is that television has replaced cinema where the best work in being done. Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Louie, Homeland, etc. have become the place for true artists, and movies are poorer for it. To that, I call bullshit. There is no doubt that TV is better now than ever before – at least certain shows. What Matthew Weiner and Vince Gilligan are doing on Mad Men and Breaking Bad is quite simply brilliant. And 2012 was also the year that the other AMC show The Walking Dead actually delivered on its promise (although with show runner Glenn Mazzara leaving, it remains to be seen if the show can keep up the unusually high quality of the second half of season 2 and the first half of season 3). Better than any of them – at least in 2012 – though was Louie, in which comedian Louie C.K. brilliantly blew up the sitcom genre, with the strangest, funniest, most painful season yet. The Parker Posey arc (if you can call it that) was utterly, completely brilliant – and yes, as good as anything I have seen in a movie theater this year.

But I don’t understand how the fact that some TV shows are getting better, and defying the boundaries of their medium, translates into movies become worse. Sure, the internet lights up every Sunday night to discuss the latest adventures of Don Draper, Walter White or Sheriff Rick, but did no one notice the impassioned discussion and debate out there on films like The Master, Django Unchained, Amour, Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty, Cloud Atlas, The Dark Knight Rises, Holy Motors or countless others this year? You would have to willfully bury your head in the sand to not see that movies still matter to a lot of people. Movie culture keeps changing, adapting, morphing into something different. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. 2012 offered film goers an embarrassment of riches. If you think cinema is dying, than I think you’re not looking close enough.

I will admit that sometimes, movie culture can become a drag. We’re in the midst of one of those periods now – the post Oscar nomination, pre-show phase, where apparently everyone who loves movies is supposed to pick a side and lob bombs on everyone else’s side. So you read the people who are on “Team Silver Linings Playbook” berate those on “Team Lincoln” – and vice versa. We get ridiculous pieces written about how Michael Haneke or Benh Zeitlin “stole” Oscar nominations from Ben Affleck or Kathryn Bigelow – as if Affleck or Bigelow “earned” those Oscar nominations they didn’t get because everyone said they were going to get them. I have strong feelings about what the best films of the year are – and yes, some people (including Bigelow) were, for me, unfairly overlooked. But Haneke and Zeitlin had nothing to do with it – the Academy did. And perhaps instead of bitching and moaning that the Academy threw a few wrenches in the works this year, we should be celebrating. After all, don’t we normally bitch and complain that the Academy simply falls lock-step in behind what every other group has already awarded, and complain that they should think for themselves more? And isn’t Michael Haneke the precise type of foreign master everyone has bitched about the Academy overlooking for decades? And don’t we normally bitch that a great indie film like Beasts of the Southern Wild is the type of thing the Academy never goes for? Of course, bitching about the Oscars is a pastime movie lovers enjoy endlessly, but so much for what passes for “analysis” during the Oscar season is ridiculous. So, I for one am glad that I am done my year end wrap up – it makes it easier to ignore it all, enjoy the Oscar ceremony in 6 weeks, and move on to the 2013 movie year. Let’s hope it’s as good as 2012.

The posts that follow are, like every year, admittedly overkill. In addition to a traditional top 10 list, I do two posts for runners up (posted today, Monday), a post for the top 10 performances in each Oscar category (to be posted Wednesday) and another for the best ensembles casts of the year something I still think the Academy should adopt (Thursday), my own personal Oscar ballot (Thursday as well) as well separate posts for the top 5 animated films and top 10 Documentaries (to be posted Tuesday)- please note, if either an animated film or doc was good enough for a top 10 placement – and none were this year – they would be included as well as a depressingly long post on the worst and most disappointing films of the year (Friday).

Yes, this is overkill. But there is a method to my madness. The reason I go so overboard with lists and naming films is because I feel too often – especially at Oscar time – the conversation about movies becomes too narrow – anything that isn’t an “Oscar movie” gets shunted aside and not even mentioned. In my own small way, I try to combat this. Yes, a lot of the films on the following pages are “Oscar films”, but there are as many if not more that won’t come close to the Kodak theatre this year. To me, the value in the Oscars – and the awards season as a whole, that includes critic’s top 10 lists – is in the conversations and debates they inspire, as we all let the world know what we think represents cinema at its best over the past 12 months.

I endeavor to see as many of the “great” films of the year – or at least the ones others think are great. But, as always, it’s not possible to see everything. I would have loved to see the following films, but either I missed them when they played in my area, or they never did and still haven’t come to DVD or other means of home viewing: How to Survive a Plague, The Gatekeepers, Neighboring Sounds, Sister, Almayer’s Folly, Room 237, The House I Live In, Not Fade Away, The Central Park Five, West of Memphis, Middle of Nowhere, and Farewell My Queen. So who knows, maybe I missed one of the great films of 2012.

Some of you will agree with my lists, some of you will undoubtedly think I’ve lost my damn mind in placing these films over your own favorites. This would be the case no matter what list I came up with. I am more interested in hearing what YOU think are the year’s best, rather than tell me why I’m such an idiot, but I suppose there’s room for both. But as I always say, this is my list. If you don’t like it, make your own.

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