2012 Year In Review: 10 Things That Jumped Out Part 1

An Admittedly Belated Look Back

Sure, I could have done what everyone else does and posted a series of “year end” lists before the clock struck 12 on New Year’s Eve. But why would I put stuff out when people want to read it when I can take a few weeks off and write about 2012 after everyone has moved on to looking forward to 2013? Yup, this makes much more sense.

So how will I remember the year that was? To be blunt, who knows? 10 years from now I may think back on this year completely differently than I do now. But right now these are the 10 things that jump out as I look back:

2012 Was The Year Of The LONG Movie (or Man Do I Have To Pee)

Running Time: 2hrs. 45mins.

I went to go see Django Unchained the other night. It was a 10:10 p.m. showtime and I walked out of the theater at 1:10 a.m. In 2012 three hours in a theater shouldn’t have surprised me. For years if a film hit the two hour mark it was considered really long, in 2012 if your film was anything other than a kids movie you were you blew by two hours without slowing down. The Avengers clocked in at 2hr. 23min. as did Skyfall. The Hunger Games took up 2 hours and 22 minutes of your day. Big hits like Snow White and the Huntsman, The Amazing Spider-Man and Prometheus all seem like short films because none went past 2hrs. 15min. (all were more than 2 hours). And while you may have thought Lincoln (2hrs. 30min.) and Les Miserables (2hrs. 37min.) were long, even they weren’t as long as three of the biggest hits of the year. Django Unchained and The Dark Knight Rises each had running times of 2hrs. 45min. and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey beat them both by 4 minutes. Of movies that grossed more than $100 million at the domestic box office in 2011 there was exactly 1 with a running time longer than 2hrs. 15min. (Transformers: Dark Of The Moon), in 2012 there were 9 including 5 of the top 6 highest grossing movies of the year (only Twilight which kept itself just under 2 hours long). I am not saying any of this is good or bad, just that, for those of us on the wrong side of 40, we really wish they would put the bathrooms closer to the theaters so we don’t have to miss quite as much movie when we inevitably have to go half way through.

People Really Want To Know What They Are Getting Into

Eight of the top ten movies of the year (including the top seven) were either sequels or based on pre-existing materials, and the two that didn’t meet that criteria (Brave and Ted) were sold as parts of larger, existing brands (Brave as a Pixar film and Ted from the mind of Seth MacFarlane who brought you Family Guy). Wreck-It Ralph and Hotel Transylvania  are the closest things to “original” movies that became hits in 2012 (well, Django Unchained, but if Tarantino isn’t a brand at this point I don’t know what is). 2’s and 3’s and based on the best selling series and brought to you from the makers of and from the mind of, what movie didn’t have some or all of that prominently featured in their advertising? And before you nod to vigorously thinking I am saying hollywood is out of original ideas that isn’t what I am saying at all. What I am saying is that moviegoers don’t want original ideas. Apparently the only thing that will get people out in any numbers is something they know, or think they know. Anything else is relegated to art houses (unless it gets a lot of awards, but even that is no longer a guarantee people will go see it anymore).

2012 Was The Year Of The Documentary

Go over to Rotten Tomatoes and take a look at their Top 100 Movies of 2012 (I’ll wait here until you get back). Documentary after documentary. Is that abnormal? No, not really, fewer people see and critique documentaries and those that do see and critique documentaries are generally more inclined to like them hence the high average score. Still this was a great year for docs. No, it didn’t have the box office smash of a Michael Moore documentary to raise broad focus, but what 2012 had was great do after great doc that were stories more than sermons (a frequent problem with genre is that they tend to be sermons more than stories). Jiro Dreams of Sushi, the story of an aging master sushi chef in Tokyo is almost unbelievably engaging throughout. The Queen of Versailles (on my Top 10 list for 2012, check out the trailer below) might have been my biggest pleasant surprise of the year, a documentary that you thought was going to merely use people to look at an issue but ended up being a fascinating story about one very specific married couple. Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, The Island President, Beware of Mr. Baker, The Invisible War the list of great documentaries from 2012 goes on an on. Unlike the blockbusters, none are what you expect them to be.

Maybe Ben Affleck Was The Brains All Along

In 1997, when Good Will Hunting brought Oscars to Ben Affleck and Matt Damon it was hard to know if one stood out from the other. Then Ben Affleck started to make blockbusters, some of them really bad blockbusters, and Matt Damon went about making more “intelligent” fare (unless he was just working with his newfound best buds George Clooney and Brad Pitt) and I think many of us started to think maybe Damon carried old Ben a bit when they were writing about a boy genius in Boston. Sometime around the time Ben was patting Jennifer Lopez’s behind in one of her videos we all felt pretty sure which of the two friends was more talented. After Affleck made Gone Baby Gone and The Town he may have closed the perception gap a bit, but it wasn’t until 2012 that you had some really strong evidence that we were wrong. Argo may win a bundle of Oscars, is on everyone’s top 10 list and is that rare movie that is at once crowd pleasing and really smart. Promised Land, Matt Damon and John Krasinski’s co-written (and like Good Will Hunting, Gus Van Sant directed) pro environment, anti big business movie that went wide to disappointing results this weekend is by most accounts to overt, trying to hard and lacks the teeth it wants to have. Score a big win for Ben Affleck, who may never have the acting career Matt Damon has but may have the directing career that Matt Damon covets.

Tall, Good Looking, Very Fit People Can Do Well In Movies But Shorter, Good Looking Fit People Sometimes Don’t Do As Well

Which actors had the best years in 2012? Here are my top 4:

  • Jennifer Lawrence – Frankly it would be hard to argue for anyone else as #1. Her “A” List-making star turn in The Hunger Games probably would have put her #1 all by itself but coupled with what looks like a sure oscar nomination for Silver Linings Playbook no one really comes close. Still, what I think may be the most impressive thing about Katniss’ year was the opening weekend performance of House At The End Of The Street, a movie that was KILLED by the critics, had a dreadful trailer and still opened #2 at the box office barely losing out to the marvelously reviewed (and rightly so) End of Watch and beating Clint Eastwood’s Trouble With The Curve. Trust me, that is an impressive display of star power.
  • Channing Tatum – Another easy one. The surprise hit of the Spring was 21 Jump Street. The surprise hit of the year was Magic Mike. Add to that the predictably strong The Vow, a nice turn in Haywire and the fact that the studio pulled GI Joe: Retaliation from the summer slate because they wanted to re-edit the movie and add more of the real Magic Mike and you have a really great year.
  • Chris Hemsworth – Sure, Chris Hemsworth had The Avengers and Snow White and the Huntsman (maybe the only movie that could challenge Magic Mike for the “surprise hit” title) but the strength of his rising stardom also got two movies that seemed destined for direct to DVD hell into the theaters (The Cabin in the Woods and Red Dawn). No small feat.
  • Charlize Theron – If you were to go back and look at the respective marketing campaigns for Prometheus and Snow White and the Huntsman you will notice one distinct similarity, the closer the films got to their release dates the more they showed Charlize Theron in their promotional materials. By the time Snow White… hit the theaters you would have thought Theron was the out and out star of the movie. These movies accomplished something else too, they reminded us that Charlize Theron may be this generations Grace Kelly, the most flawlessly gorgeous woman on the planet.
What do those actors all have in common? Striking good looks and they are relatively tall (Jennifer Lawrence is 5’9″, which in the world of actors is like being 6’9″). What about the actors who had the worst years. Here are my bottom three:
  • Gerard Butler Chasing Mavericks was such an astronomical bomb that it didn’t register with the public enough to hurt Gerard Butler’s diminishing reputation. I mean, Playing For Keeps was Butler’s success this year. One has to wonder how many more leading roles he is going to get before producers give up on making him a star.

  • Colin Ferrel – I hate to say it because I am an unabashed fan but man, Colin cannot seem to get back into America’s good graces. And while each of Butler’s movies were killed by critics (Leonard Maltin apparently got inundated with angry tweets because his review of Playing For Keeps prevented the movie from getting a 0% score on Rotten Tomatoes, and again, that was the success) Ferrel’s two failures were viewed by critics as blah but not awful (Total Recall) and really good (Seven Psychopaths). After the box office failures of 2011’s Fright Night (another good movie) Ferrel may not have many hollywood chances left in him either.
  • Taylor Kitsch – How bad was Taylor Kitsch’s year? Well, if you look up Battleship on IMDB he isn’t listed as one of the stars at the top of the page. Instead they list Alexander Skarsgard (spoiler alert: he dies less than a quarter of the way into the movie), Brooklyn Decker and Liam Neeson (obviously not alphabetical). I can’t recall the last time the same actor starred in the two most notorious “bombs” of the year. Truthfully Battleship and John Carter weren’t the two biggest bombs, plenty of movies did a lot worse, but they were certainly the two highest profile bombs and maybe that is all that matters.
Gerard Butler is the exception to this rule, but what do Taylor Kitsch and Colin Ferrel have in common besides abs of steel? Yup, they are both kind of short. Coincidence? Of course it is just a coincidence, but I needed some excuse to write about the best and worst years for actors, didn’t I?
Check out Part 2 of 2012 Year in Review: 10 Things That Jumped Out tomorrow