Everyone knows January is National List Month on the Internet, that sacred tradition when the previous year’s creations must be remembered, recapped, and ranked. I’m not immune to the impulse myself. I like movies. I like making lists. It’s bound to happen. For fun-related reasons, since 2000 I’ve kept track of every movie I’ve seen in a theater, year by year. My list is shorter than a real critic’s because no one pays me to go see every release. I do what I can within my means and according to my curiosity level.
The final tabulations reveal I saw twenty-six films in theaters in 2012. However, three of those were officially 2011 releases and are therefore disqualified from being ranked on my 2012 Movies list. Any films I saw on home video — 2012 or otherwise — are also disqualified due to lack of theater. In addition, Les Miserables is disqualified from inclusion because I’m planning to see it this weekend, which will purportedly not fall in 2012. My movie-ranking rules are few, but there they are.
Part one of this three-part miniseries begins with the films I loved least. Links to past reviews and musings are provided for the twenty movies I previously discussed after MCC was launched. Apparently I only saw three 2012 releases prior to April 28, 2012. Blame it on the first-quarter release wasteland.
On with the reverse countdown:
23. Wrath of the Titans. The explosions were clearly the star of the show. The labyrinth lent a welcome assist as the explosions’ chief henchman. The underworld was lacking, and perhaps should’ve spent more time as an understudy to the underworld from Spawn. Now that was a classy underworld, one that really chewed the scenery but was nonetheless generous to its costars, much more of a team player.
The human cast, on the other hand, was largely wasted, and sometimes blocked our view of the real stars. Except for Toby Kebbell’s mild comic relief, the non-CG actors mostly made bold pronouncements at each other, while every move they make requires a bombastic sound effect. Sam Worthington swats at someone, and BOOM! The most nondescript Ares in film history pummels a foe, and SEISMIC THUNDERCRACK! A sleepwalking Liam Neeson tosses lightning darts, and CORE MELTDOWN! Anyone blinks twice, and GATLING GUN! Mostly this felt like a video game sequel to a video game based on the first film. The graphics were bright and easy to absorb, but I get antsy and bored when that’s all I’m doing.
22. Dredd. Karl Urban accurately captured the essence of Judge Dredd as a growling, emotionless enforcer of mid-apocalyptic warfare masquerading as justice. The world around him was seedy, stilted, and sanguinary to a ludicrous extreme. So relentlessly bitter and edgy, it’s almost camp.
21. Snow White and the Huntsman. I’m not a Twilight fan, but I’ve also never shared the Internet cool kids’ compulsion to hate Kristen Stewart on Twilight principle. Stewart acquits herself as an action heroine who slowly finds the steely resolve to stand her ground. Charlize Theron all but smashes you through the back wall of the theater with her villainous Hulk-level rage. Both are let down by the skimpy plot strands, perfunctory scenes of medieval warfare that hardly interest me in any movie anymore, and a team of dwarves as distracting for their collective star power as they are for their freakish appearance. Anyone who had issues with Bilbo Baggins’ traveling companions need look no further for a lesser example.
20. Cabin in the Woods. Not everything with the name “Joss Whedon” attached is automatic five-star on my scorecards. The lively stylings of Dollhouse‘s Fran Kranz and a lunatic, expensive-CG remake of the Buffy season four climax were regretfully handicapped by surprises that I mostly predicted, a central analogy too narrow in focus to provoke or work for me personally, and only a few clever touches to stand it apart from the meta-horror of the Scream series.
19. Brave. Women can succeed in a man’s world and attain their life’s goals if they stay true to themselves, if they stand their ground, if they stick together, if they firmly believe in what they’re doing, and if every single male character around them is some kind of incompetent buffoon, swaggering blowhard, or wee preschooler. Because true gender equality is best achieved by stacking the deck against the men and reducing them all to hapless caricatures. This message has been brought to you by my least favorite Pixar film to date.
18. Prometheus (IMAX 3-D). The IMAX 3-D version was a truly immersive, physically overwhelming experience that I would undergo much more often if it were offered without surcharge. But all the subwoofers, elaborate designs, pretentious vagaries, and measly morsels of added “mythology” aren’t enough to mask the film’s basic nature: space travelers crash-land and take turns being murdered by ferocious things. As my only non-2-D experience of the year, the final product was a bedazzling amusement-park spectacle. As a fan of the Alien series, I’d hoped for a bit more than a hyper-glossy retread of the original.
17. Rise of the Guardians. A clichéd final battle between an occasionally funny holiday super-team and a sinister clone of Hades from Disney’s Hercules is overwhelmed by a flood of morals-of-the-story and all but indecipherable in a world where the cameras never stop zooming. I’m guessing that a wish for rollicking 3-D entertainment was the primary creative objective behind this movie, leaving us staunch 2-D viewers a little short-changed in the criteria that matter more.
16. The Dark Knight Rises. Technically I liked it, but I also haven’t rushed to add it to my DVD library. Christopher Nolan and friends left themselves a lot of ground to cover in finalizing their epic as a trilogy in every sense, but the end result felt bloated and incomplete at the same time. Many questions and characters deserved more space to move and breathe, while Batman’s tribulations increased exponentially and dragged on after a bit. I was most disappointed in Bane — not at all in Tom Hardy’s menacing physicality; only a little in his drive-thru-speaker voice that was a bane to my poor hearing; but most of all in his final-act surprise demotion from Big Bad to fawning minion, suddenly playing second-fiddle to the real villain whose revelation earned a unanimous groan from our family.
To be continued!