Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle

I’ve been trying to think of what I wanted to write about beyond the usual lists that go into this blog. This year cannot really be summed up easily, as there were a lot of highs with a few lows, some that really made for difficult questions with regards to cinema and the act of moviewatching. I think I want to rundown the movies/events that had the strongest impact on me, and how they made me think about movies, and life.

A) Joss Whedon– I know he’s an atheist, but God bless Joss Whedon. This year, he finally had the coming-out party fans of his beloved TV shows, and other projects (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Firefly,” “Serenity,” and “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-Long Blog”), have been waiting for. First, he got rave reviews for the deconstruction of horror he did with longtime collaborator Drew Goddard for the delayed release of “The Cabin in the Woods.” Less than a month later, he took the box-office by storm by paying off Marvel’s grand experiment in franchise-building with “The Avengers” in such a way that not only earned the film acclaim critically, but also shot it up to #3 on the all-time box-office list. If that weren’t enough, his labor of love Shakespeare project (“Much Ado About Nothing”) debuted at the Toronto Film Festival, and was quickly picked up for release in 2013, and he was tapped as Marvel’s godfather of their “Phase Two” slate, including the development of a TV show, as well as continuing his writing and directing duties for 2015’s “The Avengers 2,” or whatever the film ends up being called. As great as it has been to see him get recognized at last, all I can think is, it’s going to be a LONG 2 1/2 years for “Avengers 2.”

B) Real-Life Tragedy Invading Escapism– Of course, the event most people reading this are going to think about is the tragic shooting in Colorado during a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises,” which led to over 50 dead, and a renewed discussion about gun control in America. And trust me, as someone who was, in fact, in a midnight showing of “Rises” themselves that night, and has been a frequent participant in that ritual over the years, what happened that night was a deeply-affecting event. However, I have not let it effect my own habits, and that day even, I returned to the movie theatre to continue watching movies. But “Rises” wasn’t the only film where real-life tragedy colored its reputation. In the early part of the year, a young man named Trayvon Martin was killed in Florida by a member of the neighborhood watch in the community. This resulted in a change-of-pace for a forthcoming sci-fi Ben Stiller comedy, originally called “Neighborhood Watch,” in terms of marketing (including the removal of posters and displays featuring a neighborhood watch sign with bullet holes in it), and title (it became known only as, “The Watch”). It didn’t result in reshoots of the content (whereas the Colorado shooting resulted in reshoots for the upcoming crime drama, “Gangster Squad,” which featured a shootout in a movie theatre), but it, no doubt, clouded people’s perceptions of the movie, which flopped big-time when it came out. Too bad, because for my money, they missed the funniest sci-fi comedy of the summer. I’m hoping it will find its audience on DVD/Blu-Ray. Of course, “Rises” was the hit everyone expected after Colorado, to which I say, thank you to all of those who recognized how important it was to carry on, even after unspeakable tragedy.

C) Film Music– This is a part of moviemaking that is, of course, near and dear to my heart. I will go deeper into this category later in this blog, but I couldn’t start this out without acknowledging how great a year this has been for movie soundtracks. In fact, it’s unquestionably one of the best in recent years. Will any of my favorites find themselves on Oscar’s shortlist? Possibly, but I’ve become accustomed to disappointments in this area over the years.

D) Abraham Lincoln– Widely considered our greatest President, Honest Abe found his way onto the big screen in two very different movies this year. First up was in wild genre mash-up from the director of “Wanted” and “Day Watch” (the guilty pleasure, “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”), an adaptation of a popular cult novel by Seth Grahame-Smith (who also co-wrote Tim Burton’s slightly underrated comic horror film, “Dark Shadows”) that won’t be rewriting history as we know it, but had some awesome, insane visual pleasures. Meanwhile, this fall brought Steven Spielberg’s long-awaited look at the 16th President, with Daniel Day-Lewis in another startling, Oscar-caliber performance that brings forth the complicated choices and brilliant politics that helped bring slavery to an end, as well as the Civil War. The two films couldn’t be more different, but what they say about their shared subject as an individual (and yes, “Vampire Hunter” does have something to say, despite its largely-fictional trappings) gives us insights we haven’t always gotten when it comes to our leaders.

E) “Moonrise Kingdom”– Wes Anderson’s work has gotten more assured both in its dramatic, and comedic, impact over the years. From the silliness of “Bottle Rocket” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox” to the more melancholy moods of “Rushmore” and “The Darjeeling Limited,” Anderson has continued to explore personal interactions, and emotional growth, with a truly singular voice. With his summertime critical, and financial, hit, “Moonrise Kingdom,” he perfects that formula with a wonderful story of two teenagers, outcasts in their own lives, who fall in love, even if they don’t understand what that entails, and run away together on the island they both live on. Despite its more mature themes, this would be a smart, engaging movie to share with teens, who just might get something out of this tale of misfits learning to cope with life in all its absurdities.

F) “Cloud Atlas”– This was a year of deeply polarizing movies, both among critics and audiences. Still, I don’t know if there was one quite as divisive as “Cloud Atlas,” a bold tone poem of overlapping narratives by the Wachowski siblings and Tom Tykwer. Starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, and others, “Atlas” covers hundreds of years over its six stories, which look at the ways in which connections, and events, resonate throughout the ages. With an unforgettable score, stunning visuals, and an emotional arc that captures the imagination, and makes one think about the way even small events have a ripple effect on us all, “Cloud Atlas” was, in many ways, a film that summed up the moviewatching lineup of 2012 perfectly, as I’m sure you’ll notice below.

(As you’ll notice, once again, there are a lot of significant films I haven’t seen yet. Chief among them are: “Zero Dark Thirty” (out in Atlanta on 1/11); “The Impossible” (out in Atlanta on 1/4); “Amour” (another 2013 release); “Anna Karenina”; “The Sessions”; “Wreck-It-Ralph”; “Rise of the Guardians”; “This is Not a Film”; “How to Survive a Plague”; “End of Watch”; “Magic Mike”; “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn- Part 2”; and “The Bourne Legacy.” I’ll definitely be catching up with most, if not all, in the next few months.)

10 Best Films of 2012
When looked at in a “big picture” kind of way, 2012 basically lived up to the expectations many had for it. Yes, some films fell by the wasteside both critically and commercially, but the following list has films from every, single time of the moviegoing year. That’s not to say all seasons were created equal, but that each one had some level of greatness to offer is a sign of, hopefully, exciting times to come, especially when you consider some of the big blockbusters that made the grade.

1. “Argo” (Directed by Ben Affleck)- Ben Affleck is officially a director now. After starting out strong with his first two films, “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Town,” the tabloid favorite star made a third film that is, no bones about it, a great movie. Based on a remarkable true story, the film looks at our intelligence community at their best and boldest, when they have to find a way to get six Americans, who are hiding with the Canadian ambassador, out of Iran after the US Embassy was taken over by rebels. The “best bad idea they have” is to pose as a film crew scouting locations for a science-fiction movie. It’s so crazy, it’s a miracle it worked, with the world focused on the hostage crisis in the country. Affleck doesn’t have to add “Hollywood suspense” to the film for it to have us on the edge of our seats, and he directs strong performances from one of the best casts of the year in a film that, due to a modern day tragedy in Libya, gained more importance for what it said about our resolve, and strength as a nation, than it already had. Political films, be it feature filmmaking or documentaries, have slippery slopes to climb nowadays, but Affleck has all the tools to scale it with ease.

2. “Moonrise Kingdom” (Directed by Wes Anderson)- With his last two live-action films, Wes Anderson has gone from being an off-kilter comedic talent to one of our most perceptive, intriguing humanist filmmakers. Don’t misunderstand me: there’s a lot of depth in films like “Rushmore” and “The Royal Tenenbaums,” but with 2007’s “The Darjeeling Limited,” and now this jewel, Anderson is working at a much deeper level than he previously did. The most surprising thing about “Moonrise Kingdom” isn’t the depth of Anderson’s story, about two misfit adolescents who fall in love through chance, and run away together on their small, but lively, island they live on, but the fact that this depth works so well with the screenplay’s absurdest wit, and how, even with some of the riskier material, I wouldn’t have any problem showing this to my own teenage children in the future, if I’m so lucky. This is a wonderful new height for Anderson as a filmmaker, and I can’t wait to see where he goes next.

3. “The Hunger Games” (Directed by Gary Ross)- The first major blockbuster of 2012 was also the best. Based on Suzanne Collins’s best-selling Young Adult novel, Ross (“Seabiscuit,” “Pleasantville”) doesn’t shy away from the violent, emotional story of Katniss Everdeen, who is one of 24 youths forced to take part in the Hunger Games, a brutal pageantry of courage and determination that the leaders of a future society use to keep those in need from rebelling. But Katniss, played with heartbreaking humanity by Jennifer Lawrence, is not just any contestant, and as the leaders– including President Snow (played by a ruthless Donald Sutherland) –will find out, she is the worst type of underdog when it comes to keeping the status quo. It’s the emotional journey Katniss goes on, rather than the physical one, that holds our interest in this exciting epic, the start of a new blockbuster franchise. They couldn’t have a better lead actor than Jennifer Lawrence, whose character is already in the upper reaches of great, female characters in genre filmmaking.

4. “Noctambulous” (Directed by Kelvin C. Bias)- As I made my last-minute dash to releasing my 10 Best List, and summing up my movie year, the last thing I expected was to add a film I was asked to screen in July, only to not get around to it until New Year’s Eve. Yet here I am, having watched Bias’s hypnotic, dream-like study in isolation, and it was more than worth the wait. I found myself contemplating the film’s story– about a man (played by Bias himself) whose life is a series of nights and desperate attempts to feel after his wife’s death –in terms that are unusually profound for any film, and marveling at the haunting, but gripping, atmosphere and conviction Bias wraps his story in. Thankfully, I pulled myself out of the level of despair Bias’s character finds himself in a long time ago, but others aren’t so lucky, or have found the ability to do so more challenging. To them, my heart goes out.

5. “Lincoln” (Directed by Steven Spielberg)- It wasn’t until watching Spielberg’s heartfelt political drama for the second time that the emotional impact of what he was showing us really affected me. The last time that happened with Spielberg was when I watched “Schindler’s List” on its network television debut in 1997. That was a sign of emotional growth on my part; this was a case of being able to just settle in, and let the enormity of the film’s story wash over me, as Abraham Lincoln– played by Daniel Day-Lewis in one of his greatest performances –tries to pass the 13th Amendment, which will abolish slavery, during a lame-duck session in 1865, even as he tries to broker a peace with the South. Many around him are convinced he will not get both, but our 16th President is a smart one, and he maneuvers his way around the political landmines brilliantly. Working from a superb screenplay by Tony Kushner, Spielberg and Day-Lewis get us into the head and heart of the man, whose life has grown to mythic status since his assassination in 1865, shortly after the Amendment was passes…and peace was found.

6. “The Cabin in the Woods” (Directed by Drew Goddard)- Credit Lionsgate Films, the house that “Saw” built, for not only buying this gruesome horror thriller from “Cloverfield” writer Goddard and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” creator Joss Whedon when MGM was forced to go through bankruptcy, and was unable to release, but also for the shrewd way in which they played with audience’s expectations in their marketing materials. The poster, which shows a cabin as a Rubix Cube, and the trailer, which hints at the more insidious nature of the titular cabin, give us an idea of what to expect, but doesn’t show all its cards, leaving the film to do that. If you think you know what to expect out of the film from those two elements, I assure you that you don’t, and trust me– you owe it to yourself to let Goddard and Whedon mess with your heads for this film’s outrageously entertaining 95 minutes.

7. “Familiar” (Directed by Richard Powell)- As many short films as I’ve been asked to watch the past few years, I believe this is the first one that’s made a top 10 list for the year, and trust me, it’s a doozy. It’s a short, sweet little horror thriller about a man controlled by forces he cannot understand to do unspeakable things. In some ways, it mirrors Kubrick’s “The Shining” in how it looks at the prospects of his current family life, and wants out, even if it means something terrible. I haven’t had the chance to rewatch Powell’s film since I watched it in April, but I haven’t forgotten the effect it had on me.

8. “Marvel’s The Avengers” (Directed by Joss Whedon)- As a fan of Whedon’s work since I started watching “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” in 1998, it goes without saying that I was quite ecstatic when the writer-director was brought on to deliver the final piece of Marvel Studio’s “Phase One” puzzle, which they started in 2008 with the one-two punch of “Iron Man” and “The Incredible Hulk.” However, I think even the most die-hard Whedonite must have been blown away by what their beloved filmmaker brought to the big-screen in his epic, exciting “Avengers.” Everything that was introduced (however awkwardly, at times) in Marvel’s earlier films was paid off in spades, even when Whedon was laying the groundwork for the studio’s future efforts with a fast and funny movie that gave everyone in its massive cast room to shine. Thankfully, as I mentioned above, Whedon isn’t done with Marvel just yet, and that can only be a good thing for superhero movies in the coming years.

9. “Cloud Atlas” (Directed by Andy and Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer)- Had I been able to see this movie a second time in theatres, I’m fairly certain it would have been much higher on this list. What the Wachowski’s and Tykwer have accomplished her in terms of narrative is nothing short of astonishing, as they used a small ensemble of actors to perform multiple roles, in multiple genders, in multiple storylines over hundreds of years to bring David Mitchell’s best-selling novel to life. The results, which made this film one of the most divisive of the year (a startling statement when you consider “The Master,” “Prometheus,” and others that have come out), were a visually-exciting journey through time and narrative the likes of which few other filmmakers have attempted since Stanley Kubrick threw that bone up in the air, only to cut to a spaceship (only Steven Spielberg’s equally-controversial “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” comes to mind among Hollywood releases). This is a film that I cannot wait to devour on Blu-Ray come February.

10. “Safety Not Guaranteed” (Directed by Colin Trevorrow)- I did NOT expect to be floored by this film. All I knew were the names of the main actors (Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, and Jake Johnson), and that it was about a group of journalists who look into the person who places an ad seeking partners for time travel. But director Trevorrow, working from a great script by Derek Connolly, has more on his mind than the conceit of going back in time. The film is really about loss, regret, and the desire to turn back the clock, and make different choices that would prevent us pain. Ultimately, whether Kenneth (the man who placed the ad played by Duplass) is able to built his time machine, or whether he’s just full of it, is beyond the point, both for the audience and for Darius, the young woman played by Plaza, an intern who gets past Kenneth’s defenses to discover the truth of what he’s up to. Yes, Rian Johnson’s “Looper” was a higher-profile look at time travel, but Trevorrow accomplished the same things Johnson attempted, with more heart and humor. He’s one to watch; so is his movie.

Eleventh Place: This year had a lot of fantastic, and several surprising, movies just miss cracking my top 10. Too many, I realized, to fit them all in, so I thought I’d limit this part to the ones I felt were most worthy of consideration: “Beasts of the Southern Wild”, an emotional journey for a young girl (Quvenzhane Wallis, in a stunning performance) who lives on the coast of post-Katrina New Orleans, and finds herself having to fend for herself; “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”, a funny and touching coming-of-age film about loners who find a family in each other when high school gets tough; “Still Life”, a moving short film about the emotional journey of an artist; “Les Miserables”, Tom Hooper’s epic adaptation of the popular musical with heartbreaking performances by Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway; “Brave”, Pixar’s emotional venture into their parent company’s “fairy tale” brand of storytelling; “Damsels in Distress”, Whit Stillman’s smart, hilarious comedy about four college women trying to navigate love and life; “Flight”, Robert Zemeckis’s powerful character study with a great Denzel Washington as a pilot who has buried his problem with alcohol; “Gut”, an indie horror film about violence of the mind, that starts with a video that makes the flesh crawl; “Chronicle”, a “found-footage” thriller that takes an original, and tragic, look at the possibility of superpowers– as a deconstruction of the superhero genre, it’s one of the best films we’ve ever seen; “Mother’s Red Dress”, a dark psychological thriller about a young man who can’t escape the demons of his past; “Marley”, an epic look at the life of musical legend and activist, Bob Marley; “Skyfall”, Sam Mendes’s thrillingly fresh take on 007, with terrific performances by Daniel Craig as Bond, and Dame Judi Dench in a cumulative turn as M; “The Master”, Paul Thomas Anderson’s ambitious story of spiritual emptiness; “Bernie”, an off-kilter black comedy from Richard Linklater with a career best performance by Jack Black as an undertaker who takes a personal interest in his clients, especially bitter widow Shirley MacLaine; “Starla”, with a strong performance by Nancy Mitchell as a mother who can’t deal with the loss of her child, and is looking for someone to blame; “The Night Never Sleeps”, a New York crime thriller about corruption and redemption, with a standout performance by Russ Camarda as a brutal enforcer on a mission; and “The Never Daunted” and “From the Heart of the Crowd”, two strong dramas from indie filmmaker Edgar Muniz, who continues to explore emotional dilemmas with perception and originality.

10 Favorite Films of 2012
In all honesty, you’re not going to see a lot of difference between several of the films on these top 10s, which are proof of the movie’s worth as both art and entertainment. However, since I look at potential “favorite” films with a more personal, emotional perspective, there are a number of differences in positioning, as well as quality, as I’m sure you’ll notice.

1. “Marvel’s The Avengers” (Joss Whedon)- As much as the three films immediately below it on this list each found permanent places in my heart, in the end, it was inevitable that “The Avengers” would top my list of the year’s favorite films. Marvel Studios has been building to this moment since 2008’s “Iron Man,” and they were smart to bring in Joss Whedon (the fan favorite creator of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” and “Firefly”) to hit clean-up. His gift for snappy dialogue with narrative purpose is unparalleled in genre filmmaking, and on full display in one of the smartest, sharpest scripts a blockbuster of this size has had in quite a while. He brings out the best of every one of his actors, from living legends like Robert Downey Jr. and Samuel L. Jackson to up-and-comers like Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans. More importantly, he was given the freedom to make a Joss Whedon film, and if you’re a fan of his work like I am, you know that’s a very good thing indeed.

2. “Moonrise Kingdom” (Wes Anderson)- Wes Anderson is a filmmaker that, I would say, is one of the hardest sells in the business. How does one explain his movies in a brief amount of time, when there’s a line of people wanting to get in to see their own movies? This isn’t a bad thing for me as a moviegoer, mind you, but as a theatre employee, it can be a pain. Anderson’s latest film, however, is pure pleasure from the first frame to the last, as Jared Gilman’s orphaned outcast and Kara Hayward’s observational young woman (the daughter of Bill Murray and Frances McDormond) are drawn to each other, and go on an adventure to find out what that means. Though filled to the brim with Anderson’s trademark quirkiness and melancholy feeling, this PG-13 delight is also a perfect film for teenagers who are sick of movies that pander and talk down to them. Like Anderson does with his main characters, “Moonrise Kingdom” treats its potential youth audience like adults, and is better for it.

3. “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” (Stephen Chbosky)- Chbosky’s adaptation of his own 1999 novel is one of those movies that was on my radar to see, to be sure, when it came out this fall (primarily because it co-starred “Harry Potter’s” Emma Watson), but when I actually saw it, it quickly became a movie that resonated with me in unexpected and profound ways. I’m not alone in this, given the popularity of it at the theatre I work at, but the story of a high school freshman (the solitary Logan Lerman) who has isolated himself from others due to unspeakable tragedies and mental stress, and is given a chance at friendship and self-discovery when he falls in with half-siblings (Watson and the great Ezra Miller) who exist on the outskirts of popularity themselves, dug deep into my soul, and made me remember the great times, and people, who helped shape the person I’ve become over the years, even if those “great times” didn’t always start that way.

4. “Cloud Atlas” (Andy and Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer)- Of all of the films I saw this year, I’m not quite sure if any one dug deeper into my subconscious, and my imagination, quite the way this ambitious epic did. (I know that no other soundtrack did; the score by Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek, and co-director Tykwer has gotten consistent play since I purchased it.) How it’s only #4 on this list isn’t a swipe at the film, but says a great deal about the three above it. With this adaptation of the complex novel by David Mitchell, the Wachowski siblings have earned back every misgiving I’ve ever had about them as filmmakers, and Tom Tykwer (the director of “Run, Lola, Run” and “Perfume”) has earned himself a fast-tracking to the top of my “filmmakers I need to catch up with” list. This film has just about everything: comedy, drama, terror, speculative science-fiction, and a uniformly great cast (with the deepest, most engaging work done by Jim Broadbent, Doona Bae, and Hugo Weaving) that is up to the challenge of playing multiple roles, in stories that span hundreds of years. The stories themselves, though not uniformly compelling, all share a humanity and sense of purpose that most films made for twice the price, and 10 times the box-office, just seem to ignore.

5. “The Cabin in the Woods” (Drew Goddard)- Have you noticed during the past few years that horror films have had a tendency to make my top lists of the year? Okay, not necessarily a LOT of them, but typically speaking, at least one has made the grade. This year, it was Goddard and Joss Whedon’s wickedly fun house of horrors, which takes the old conventions of the genre, and has its merry way with them, leading to a final shot that feels, in a lot of ways, like the end of an era in horror.

6. “Bully” (Lee Hirsch)- When I first began compiling my list of favorite films for this year, Lee Hirsch’s potent documentary about bullying was one of the last films I expected to think to put in my top 10. However, despite some critical reservations with the film (which doesn’t go enough into why bullying has turned so violent, and tragic, now as opposed to years past), it remains a powerful, and deeply moving, look at its subjects, and what they go through every day. This is one of those movies where the word “favorite” can be misleading. I’m not likely to watch it too frequently over the years, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t important enough to share with others.

7. “The Hunger Games” (Gary Ross)- I have a feeling that the reason people were calling this adaptation of Suzanne Collins’s popular novel “the next ‘Twilight'” was because of its Young Adult trappings. That’s the only reason I can see why anyone would have said that about this film, and the story at the center, which is decidedly dark, more emotional than that ridiculous love triangle. Ross’s film has a triangle in it, as well, but it is, thankfully, in the background of this riveting thriller about a young woman (Katniss, played by Jennifer Lawrence in the female performance of the year) who takes her sister’s place in a deadly competition in a desolate, futuristic world of “haves” and “have nots.” Unfortunately, Ross will not be back for future installments of the series, but with Lawrence at its center (and Donald Sutherland as the brutal President Snow), I think this franchise will be just fine.

8. “Skyfall” (Sam Mendes)- Academy Award winner Mendes (“American Beauty,” “Road to Perdition”) has a great eye for composition, and a rich ear for dialogue, which benefits this 23rd Bond film tremendously as Daniel Craig’s 007 tracks down a vicious sociopath (the wickedly creepy Javier Bardem) who has a personal vendetta against M, played by Dame Judi Dench in her most extensive, and emotional, performance as the character. That isn’t the only surprise Mendes and co. have in store for this 50th anniversary of the legendary spy on the big screen, but it is one of the most rewarding in one of the best entries in the franchise’s history.

9. “Lincoln” (Steven Spielberg)- When I was explaining my thoughts on Spielberg’s engrossing historical drama to a friend recently, he seemed quite surprised when I described Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance as our 16th President as “entertaining,” and given the dour seriousness of much of Day-Lewis’s performances over the years, I can understand where he’s coming from. But when you watch the film itself, I think you’ll be able to see where I’m coming from. Lincoln was a storyteller, and had a lot of bold, bawdy wit about him, and that comes through beautifully in this film. Who could have imagined that our greatest living actor (known for his intense “method”) would have been such a strong match with a filmmaker best known for sentiment and entertainment? With our greatest President as the subject, it makes all the sense in the world.

10. “The Dark Knight Rises” (Christopher Nolan)- I will admit that I still don’t feel like the film earned its final shot of Bruce Wayne, but watching it on Blu-Ray, Nolan’s riveting finale to his “Dark Knight” trilogy gets better and better. The ambition Nolan and his collaborators, whether it’s the actors (from Christian Bale and Joseph Gordon-Levitt to Anne Hathaway and Tom Hardy) to cinematographer Wally Pfister (who has mastered shooting in the IMAX format) to composer Hans Zimmer (doing, arguably, his best work), bring to this story is remarkable, and has changed the face of what superhero movies are capable of. True, “The Avengers” was a more fun superhero epic this summer (although that itself is a game-changer for the genre in a way), but “Rises,” with its scope of vision and purpose, is just a bit more challenging on an artistic level.

Other Notable Favorites: This year, I’ve given myself the challenge of limiting the number of films I include in this section to twelve. I was originally going to do ten, but that’s a little TOO limiting; an even dozen is still a nice, round number. I can’t say all of them were serious contenders for my Favorites list this year, but they all lingered too long in my memory to simply be an “oh yeah, there was this, too” choice. The films that made it here include: “Safety Not Guaranteed”, a sweet, sad look at loss and time travel; “Noctambulous”, a dreamlike examination of loss and the emptiness it causes; “The Campaign”, Jay Roach’s even-handed, hilarious political comedy, with Will Farrell and Zach Galifianakis as two fools who will do just about anything for a congressional seat; “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”, the first of Peter Jackson’s new trilogy detailing the adventures of Hobbits, Elves, Dwarfs, and Wizards in Middle Earth– it lacks the brilliance of the “Lord of the Rings” epics, but gets Bilbo Baggins started on his journey in entertaining fashion; “Pitch Perfect”, a funny and musical comedy about a female a capella group with a ca-awesome performances by Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, and Brittney Snow; “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World”, Lorene Scafaria’s road movie about loneliness when the end of life on Earth is a very real prospect; “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”, a patently silly piece of revisionist history, based on Seth Grahame-Smith’s popular novel, that embraces its insanity, and elevates it to bat-shit crazy in all the right ways; “Silver Linings Playbook”, with Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence as a pair of emotionally-destructive individuals who find solace in one another; “Django Unchained”, with Leonardo DiCaprio’s startling, brutal turn as a plantation owner in the Deep South; “Wild Girl Waltz”, a silly indie comedy about two women who get high to pass the time in a small town; “The Watch”, another bit of summer movie lunacy, this one about a neighborhood watch that turns into an alien hunt– the film went through an unfortunate, but understandable, name change and other controversies due to real-life events, but I couldn’t have been the only one who got a kick out of it, nonetheless; and “Sinister”, a creepy and suspenseful ghost story, with mood and wicked delights as Ethan Hawke’s writer goes too far down the rabbit hole investigating a tragic death at a house.

Honorable Mention (in Alphabetical Order): “21 Jump Street”; “The Amazing Spider-Man”; “Argo”; “Bernie”; “Brave”; “Chronicle”; “Damsels in Distress”; “Dark Shadows”; “disOrientation”; “Familiar”; “Flight”; “Frankenweenie”; “From the Heart of the Crowd”; “Get the Gringo”; “The Grey”; “Gut”; “The Hole”; “Hope Springs”; “House at the End of the Street”; “Jack Reacher”; “Jeff, Who Lives at Home”; “John Carter”; “Les Miserables”; “Life of Pi”; “Looper”; “Marley”; “The Master”; “Mother’s Red Dress”; “The Never Daunted”; “The Night Never Sleeps”; “Paranorman”; “Premium Rush”; “Prometheus”; “Seven Psychopaths”; “Sleepwalk With Me”; “Starla”; “Still Life”; “Ted”; “Things I Don’t Understand”; “This is 40”; “Wanderlust”; “The Woman in Black”

Favorite Performances of 2012
This is a loaded list this year. Of course, when one sees roughly 100 movies in a given calender year (with, alas, many more they haven’t seen), that’s kind of too be expected. But trying to nail down just 20 performances, as I did last year, seems like a chore, since I feel like I could list the casts of “The Avengers,” “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” “The Dark Knight Rises,” and “Cloud Atlas” and leave it at that. That would be a major cop-out, though, not to mention unfair to the many, great performances I feel like I will be able to watch over and over again from this year. Could this change with films I haven’t seen? Sure, but it’s going to take a lot to crack this list.

1. Jennifer Lawrence, “The Hunger Games”
2. Doona Bae, “Cloud Atlas”
3. Jared Gilman, “Moonrise Kingdom”
4. Kara Hayward, “Moonrise Kingdom”
5. Steve Carell, “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World”
6. Logan Lerman, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”
7. Leonardo DiCaprio, “Django Unchained”
8. Daniel Day-Lewis, “Lincoln”
9. Denzel Washington, “Flight”
10. Emma Watson, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”
11. Javier Bardem, “Skyfall”
12. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “The Dark Knight Rises”
13. Aubrey Plaza, “Safety Not Guaranteed”
14. Bradley Cooper, “Silver Linings Playbook”
15. Jim Broadbent, “Cloud Atlas”
16. Robert Downey Jr., “Marvel’s The Avengers”
17. Tom Cruise, “Rock of Ages”
18. Dane DeHaan, “Chronicle”
19. Jason Segal, “Jeff, Who Lives at Home”
20. Jack Black, “Bernie”

Favorite Film Music of 2012
My soundtrack collection got considerably larger this year, and considering how light the first few months were in that respect, that’s a great credit to the composers whose work found their way into my expansive music collection. While I’d love to say a little bit about each soundtrack, and I will say something about some of them, allow me to just list the top 12 of my moviewatching year, because each one has something unique to bring to the equation when all is said and done.

1. “Cloud Atlas”, by Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek, and Tom Tykwer; In November, I posted a list of my all-time favorite soundtracks, and this one made the cut. It’s that good. This is the best score for a film in six years, and it is an integral part of the narrative, from Tykwer’s haunting “Cloud Atlas Sextet” to the riveting action music during the neo-Seoul chase scenes to the crescendos of emotion that rise and fall at all the right moments of this bold, ambitious, and flawed cinematic masterpiece.
2. “Moonrise Kingdom”, by Alexandre Desplat and Various Artists; Wes Anderson has always found peculiar, endearing ways to use music in his films, and his wonderful “Kingdom,” his best in my opinion, is no exception. Desplat’s original music, full of idiosyncrasies and nuance, fits right in with a soundtrack featuring everything from ’60s folk music to Benjamin Britten pieces demonstrating the orchestra. Up until “Cloud Atlas,” nothing else came close to beating it.
3. “The Master”, by Jonny Greenwood; Once again, Radiohead guitarist Greenwood finds bold and original ways to use the orchestra in film music for Paul Thomas Anderson, resulting in a musical explosion of character, albeit for a more flawed work. Nonetheless, the Academy would do well to nominate Greenwood after passing him over for his superior work on “There Will Be Blood.”
4. “Skyfall”, by Thomas Newman and Adele; Whether it’s the swoony, mood-setting title song by Grammy-beloved Adele, or the superb blend of excitement and melancholy in Newman’s score, Bond 23 was more than capable of living up to 50 years of musical legacy from John Barry to Eric Serra to David Arnold.
5. “The Dark Knight Rises”, by Hans Zimmer; Zimmer and Christopher Nolan finish their ambitious take on Gotham’s Caped Crusader. It’s unfortunate to not see James Newton Howard’s name on the credits after what he brought to the first two films with Zimmer, but the German master of electronics-based film music is more than capable of bringing it home, and added a lovely coda entitled, “Aurora,” after the shooting on opening night that paid tribute to not only the victims, but his own gifts as a composer.
6. “Marvel’s The Avengers”, by Alan Silvestri and Various Artists; Silvestri’s great adventure score, his best in a while, would be enough for him to find a slot on this list for the second year in a row (after “Captain America: The First Avenger”), but the truth is, the song soundtrack– in particular, tracks by Soundgarden, Shinedown, and Black Veil Brides –has a lot more to offer than the run of the mill song soundtrack, and it wasn’t the only one, either…
7. “The Hunger Games”, by James Newton Howard and Various Artists; See, for example, Gary Ross’s first, thrilling, emotional entry in this hot new franchise. Newton Howard’s score has some of the veteran composer’s best music, and is a great compliment to the song soundtrack produced by country legend, T-Bone Burnett, which has great songs by Arcade Fire and Taylor Swift, among others.
8. “Django Unchained”, by Various Artists; If Quentin Tarantino has a movie out, chances are, the soundtrack is going to be one of my favorites for that year, and with a collection of archival tracks by Luis Bacalov, Ennio Morricone, and Jim Croce, along with original songs (a first for QT), it’s inevitable that Tarantino’s sharp musical ear made its way onto my list this year.
9. “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”, by Michael Brook and Various Artists; Yes, the score by composer Brook is a fine one, but it’s the songs Stephen Chbosky uses in his wonderful comedy-drama, based on his own novel, that really hit home, and add to the emotional weight of the film. There are terrific songs by The Smiths and Sonic Youth, Crowded House and Cracker, but it’s “Heroes” by David Bowie that has the most lasting impact on the characters, and the audience, when it’s playing as they go through a tunnel, and life feels…infinite.
10. “Sinister”, by Christopher Young; A horror score has to really stand out in order for me to list it as a favorite, especially considering the heavy-hitters I’ve already listed here. However, Young is a horror music master, having done great work on a wide variety of films, from “The Fly II” to “Drag Me to Hell” to “The Grudge.” For this creepy psychological thriller, Young goes full-on industrial music, and the startling soundscapes he creates make watching the film unfold as unnerving as the character played by Ethan Hawke feels.
11. “Lincoln”, John Williams; Has anyone else noticed that Williams, who turned 80 this year, has only composed scores for two filmmakers, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, for the past decade or so? I doubt that is an accident; after five Oscar wins, and countless other nominations, the legendary composer has more than earned the right to do so. With his latest collaboration for Spielberg, Williams takes a more subtle approach, as Abraham Lincoln works to pass the 13th Amendment, and abolish slavery, before ending the Civil War. It lacks the outwardly emotion of “War Horse,” but the heart that drives every film he does with Spielberg is there, every step of the way.
12. “Pitch Perfect”, by Various Artists; A word of caution– don’t look at this as a big-screen “Glee,” because there’s more to it than that. Not much more, I’ll grant you, but it’s stronger on the musical side than “Glee” has been in a good long while. The soundtrack to this a ca-awesome comedy is a collection of mash-ups and covers of songs by artists ranging from Simple Minds and Gloria Estefan to Bruno Mars, Ace of Base, and Madonna, all done with surprising feeling by the film’s rich cast of characters. It’s not classic status, but it’s definitely a fun listen.

Brian’s Worst Films of 2012
This year was an interesting one for “worst” films, namely because, I made room for more of them on my Netflix watching. However, some still snuck up on me, and even made it into my theatrical viewing. And though I do remain more optimistic about films as a whole than not, I do think that helps me discern which movies fail more honestly than I would otherwise.

The Fs:
1. “Silent House”– This “real-time” thriller, a remake of an earlier film, itself based on a true story, turns some suspenseful screws, but even the talented Elizabeth Olsen can’t save this material from being exploitative and all-too predictable.

2. “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance”– To be fair, I actually consider the 2007 Marvel adaptation of this dark anti-hero starring Nicolas Cage to be something of a guilty pleasure. The actor fits well with the material. Bringing in the co-directors responsible for the “Crank” films and “Gamer,” however, was a big mistake in this follow-up, where Cage’s manic energy is truly off the rails, and the filmmaking is ridiculously painful to watch. The story might be interesting, had anyone been interested in fleshing it out, and telling it in a coherent way.

3. “Men in Black III”– As someone who loves the 1997 original, and tolerates the 2002 sequel, all I have to say is, “Why?” The time travel conceit, allowing Will Smith to interact with Josh Brolin as a young K, is inspired, but it’s not enough to keep this pointless threequel from being one of the most depressing retreads in recent memory.

4. “That’s My Boy”– I haven’t seen Adam Sandler’s Razzie-sweeping “Jack and Jill” from 2011, though I am morbidly curious, but if it’s anywhere as profoundly unfunny as this R-rated comedy he did with Andy Sandberg, I’m not sure I really want to.

The Ds: Those weren’t the only films that brought doom and gloom to the moviewatching year, for I would be remiss if I failed to mention: “The Devil Inside”. a found-footage exorcism thriller that failed to frighten; “2016: Obama’s America”, a conservative propaganda film intended to be the right’s answer to “Fahrenheit 9/11,” but instead, is essentially just a fear-mongering hodge-podge of absurd conspiracy theories that grasp at straws, and come up empty; “Haywire”, Steven Soderbergh’s spy thriller with a breakout performance by MMA fighter Gina Carano, but not much else; “Lockout”, a silly sci-fi action movie about criminals and a President’s daughter in space– as conceived by Luc Besson, it’s another absurd entry in his string of empty action flicks.

What To Look Forward To In 2013
After the mega-anticipation of movies that greeted this year’s slate of films, it’s easy to imagine 2013 not quite making the grade. That said, however, Hollywood has a few tricks up its sleeve that I, for one, will not think of missing.

1. “Iron Man 3” (5/3) & “Thor: The Dark World” (11/8); Phase Two of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe begins, officially, with two major-league sequels, each with a new filmmaker at the helm. “Iron Man 3” has the most promise in that respect with action writer extraordinaire Shane Black (“Lethal Weapon,” “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”) behind the camera, but Marvel might have hit the jackpot with “Game of Thrones” helmer Alan Taylor stepping in to bring the Asgardian realm back to the big-screen. Hopefully, it’s just the start of a new, exciting series of movies from Marvel Studios.

2. “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” (12/13)- I was waiting until I saw Peter Jackson’s first film in his “Hobbit” trilogy before I committed the time to acknowledging my excitement for the second film in this series. (Because, you know, it’s always possibly that I find myself caring less about this film’s release next year.) I should not have doubted Jackson, who– flaws aside –created a rousing and engaging first film in this new franchise, which has me all the more excited to see how the filmmaker brings the villainous dragon, Smaug, to life in film two.

3. “Before Midnight” (TBA)- Almost like clockwork, Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy return to the characters of Jesse and Celine, the potential lovers of “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset.” Few people would have considered 1995’s “Sunrise,” though a lovely film, material worthy of follow-up, especially after it didn’t make much of a dent at the box-office. When Linklater and co. made an even better sequel in 2004’s “Sunset,” the idea of coming back to these characters every few years was a pleasantly surprising idea. Next year, we will find out what is going on with these characters again, and honestly, I can’t imagine a follow-up I’m looking forward to more.

4. “Much Ado About Nothing” (6/7)- I don’t know why everybody thinks I’m this HUGE Joss Whedon nut. I really don’t understand it. However, it might have something to do with the fact that the man can direct the third highest-grossing film of all-time, then turn around and adapt Shakespeare, in the modern era, on a 12-day shoot at his house, and get a cast including Nathan Fillion, Clark Gregg, Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, and several others involved. The film debuted to positive notices at Toronto. Hopefully, Lionsgate (who also released the Whedon production, “The Cabin in the Woods”) will have a hit on their hands with this one, although if they don’t…

5. “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” (11/22)- …I’m sure they’ll be just fine with this second film in their newly-minted blockbuster franchise. A new director and writers are on board, along with an expanded cast, but with Jennifer Lawrence still in the lead role of Katniss Everdeen, as she works to change the world she lives in, I’m not too worried about the artistic outcome.

6. “Pacific Rim” (7/12)- “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “Hellboy” director Guillermo Del Toro. Giant robots and monsters fighting. Blockbuster budget. IMAX release. Regardless how big of a fan you are of the Mexican master of fantasy filmmaking, this is going to be required viewing for any film geek.

7. “The World’s End” (10/25)- Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost reunite after the cult classics “Sean of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz.” Do I really need to go on?

8. “Star Trek Into Darkness” (5/17)- J.J. Abrams making his second trip with the “Trek” franchise, continuing to boldly go where no man has gone before. This time, shooting in IMAX, and post-converting to 3D. And after the first trailer, I can safely say that I’m there.

9. “The Wolverine” (7/26)- To be fair, I was more excited about this follow-up to 2009’s critical, and fanboy, misfire “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” back when Hugh Jackman was going to be reuniting with Darren Aronofsky (his director in “The Fountain”) to tell the famous comic book story of Wolverine’s time in Japan. But Aronofsky left the project, and Fox brought in its “Knight and Day” and “Walk the Line” director, James Mangold, to help Jackman continue to explore Marvel’s most popular mutant. I suppose I can get behind that.

10. “Carrie” (3/15)- Normally, I wouldn’t put a seemingly pointless remake of a classic horror film on my top 10 list, especially since filmmakers already tried to resurrect Stephen King’s iconic story back in the ’90s, to no avail. But in this age of bullying that leads to horrible consequences, this time feels different, especially with Chloe Grace Moretz, one of my favorite actresses of late, starring as the title character, Julianne Moore as the posessive mother, and Kimberly Pierce, who directed “Boys Don’t Cry” and “Stop-Loss,” at the helm. This could rival Brian DePalma’s 1976 original film as a horror classic.

Other Movies to Watch in 2013: As always, there are quite a few that will reveal themselves throughout the year, but some of the most immediately know at this time are: “Gangster Squad” (1/11), a ’50s crime thriller based on the fall of LA mobster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Nick Nolte, and others; “Sound City” (2/1), a documentary about the famous recording studio by Foo Fighters’s David Grohl; “Side Effects” (2/8), a thriller directed by Steven Soderbergh (possibly his final feature) and starring “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’s” Rooney Mara; “Stoker” (3/1), the English-language debut of Korean master Chan Wook-Park (“Oldboy,” “Thirst”); “Jack the Giant Slayer” (3/1), Bryan Singer’s promising, and long-awaited, remake of the cheesy ’60s fantasy film; “Oz: The Great and Powerful” (3/8), Sam Raimi’s daring return to the world of the 1939 classic, with James Franco as the wizard; “42” (4/12), a promising biopic about baseball trailblazer Jackie Robinson from director Brian Helgeland (an Oscar favorite courtesy of “L.A. Confidential” and “Mystic River”); “Evil Dead” (4/12), another risky return, this time reimagining Sam Raimi’s 1981 seminal horror classic WITHOUT Bruce Campbell as the iconic hero, Ash; “The Great Gatsby” (5/10), Baz Luhrmann’s delayed, 3D adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s landmark novel, with Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, and Carey Mulligan in the main roles; “Epic” (5/24), a beautiful-looking animated adventure from Blue Sky, who might be making their best film since “Horton Hears a Who!”; “Man of Steel” (6/14), a potentially-polarizing new take on Superman from director Zack Snyder (“Watchmen”), writer David S. Goyer (“Batman Begins”), and producer Christopher Nolan (The “Dark Knight” trilogy); “World War Z” (6/21), a long-delayed zombie epic based on a popular novel, with Brad Pitt as a leader in the war against the undead; “Monsters University” (6/21), Pixar’s sequel to their 2001 hit, with the monsters of Monstropolis going back to school; “The Lone Ranger” (7/3), a big-budget adaptation of the beloved Western icon from Gore Verbinski and Jerry Bruckheimer (the first three “Pirates of the Caribbean” films), with Johnny Depp as Tonto; “Elysium” (8/9), another intriguing sci-fi film from the mind of “District 9” writer-director Neil Blomkamp, starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster; “Insidious: Chapter 2” (8/30), a rare horror sequel I’ll gladly cop to wanting to see; “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” (10/4), Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s long-awaited follow-up to their dark, dazzling 2005 first film based on Miller’s cult comic series; “Oldboy” (10/11), with director Spike Lee putting his own spin on the cult classic by Chan Wook-Park, with Josh Brolin as the husband and father imprisoned for 15 years, then released, and out for vengeance; “Saving Mr. Banks” (12/20), with Tom Hanks playing Walt Disney– it’s arguably his best shot at a third Oscar since “Saving Private Ryan”; and “Gravity” (TBA), a deep under-wraps, and long in development, sci-fi epic from “Children of Men” and “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” director Alfonso Cauron– hopefully, we’ll be treated to this movie by year’s end.

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