by Benn Ray
This year I made more of an effort to get out to the theaters to see movies, but I'm not sure why at this point. It surely ain't for the "experience" of going ot the theater. Largely, I think, maybe it's to try share in the cultural currency that seeing movies provides (ever-diminishing though it may be).
The theaters in the suburbs are a drag in that they're filled with the sorts of people who live in the suburbs. What I mean by that is the moviegoing experience there is akin to to sitting in the theater equivalent of a Wal-Mart/McDonalds while surrounded by the sort of entitled centers of their own universes type of theater goers that the combination of chatter and texting usually makes me feel as though my time could have been better spent not at the movies.
My go-to theaters don't feel as "go-to" anymore, as well.
The Sentor Theater is currentnly no longer a theater - and who knows if/when that will ever come back online.
The Landmark is simply a drag to get to. Aside from the annoyance to get there, there is also the added expense/hassle of paying for parking. Never underestimate the psychological block a parking garge can take (look at Towson Commons).
Increasingly, the Charles Theater just feels, at best, cold, hollow, and indifferent.
I've taken to seeing movies at the Rotunda. On Tuesdays they're cheap. The parking is easy and free. And while the seating, screens and sound aren't the best, they're at least on par with the Charles. There is also the added bonus that the theaters are hardly ever close to being crowded. The only drawback to the Rotunda is simply having to walk through the bleak, dying mall. It's been scheduled for renovations (as it has been for about 10 years now), so if/when that happens, it may change the appeal of the Rotunda.
But going there has made me realize the moviegoing experience in Baltimore, for me, currently has nothing to do with the movie theater - as most are lacking. It has to do with sitting in a big, empty, dark room and watching a movie with other people while the sound is louder than you can play it in your rowhome and bigger than you can show in your living room.
My point here is that with a minimum amount of effort, someone could create a fun atmosphere to go see a movie in. But what do I know? Maybe it's not necessary for business and that's why no one seems to give a shit.
There were a number of movies I missed, for whatever reason, that I feel would likely have ended up on my list if I'd seen them - so these are, clearly, "the best" of what I've seen this year.
There are a handful of films I'm including that are technically listed as being released in 2011 but didn't get distribution or I didn't have access to until 2012, so I'm counting them as a 2012 release since I didn't get to Cannes or the Tornoto Film Festivals in 2011.
And finally, in terms of American cinema, this was a great year for movies. Any year that sees releases by Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Richard Linklater, and David O. Russell is a great year for American movies - and that year was 2012. If only the Coens and Robert Rodriguez had released a films too... but they are scheduled to have movies come out in 2013, so this year also looks promising.
Please note - you are reading a discussion of films. As such, spoilers may follow. That's the nature of talking about/sharing experiences. So if you are a Spoiler Hysteric, you may want to retreat to your deprivation chamber. It isn't all about you and what you haven't seen, ya know?
1. Zero Dark Thirty
I didn't get the criticism from the left that Katherine Bigelow's film is an endorsement of torture. It's not. To argue that it is not only to misunderstand the movie - but to reveal oneself to be an inattentive movie viewer. I find it refreshingly remarkable that the two best war movies we have about our 2 modern wars are directed by a woman (the same woman) since war movies have typically been seen, demographically speaking, as the domain to the heavily testosteroned. There are three distinct segments to Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty - Segment 1 is like Saw/Hostel. Segment 2 is like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Segment 3 is Blackhawk Down. As a testament to Bigelow's filmmaker chops, even though I know how the raid in Pakistan turned out for bin Laden, I still found myself getting tense as it played out - as if bin Laden might get away or may not even be in the house. This movie should raise serious and complex questions as to what is being done in our name abroad, how guilty we all are for it, and could help Americans start to understand why not everyone in the world likes us as much as we think they should.
2. Dark Knight Rises
Christopher Nolan brings to a close his epic Batman trilogy - proving to thousands of dismayed comics nerds everywhere that superhero films can be more than just simple, crap extensions of character franchises, but intelligent and provocative art films. In a Marvel/Disney franchise world, I'm not sure we'll ever see the likes of movies like this trilogy again.
3. Django Unchained
I saw Django within a few days of watching Zero Dark Thirty - and I felt as though maybe I need to watch some things a little less torturey for a while. While this isn't one of Tarantino's greater films, it's certainly not one of his lesser: a wildly entertaining Western Slave-Revenge Fantasy. The characters are fun. The bloodshed is gloriously abundant. And I can see the real reason why Spike Lee got his panties in a bunch about it - it's a film Lee could have made if Lee was still edgy or even relevant.
4. Moonlight Kingdom
Like Tarantino's Django, Wes Anderson's Moonlight Kindgom is not one of Anderson's greater films, but it also is not one of his lesser ones. At times, it may be a tad unbearably precious, but overall it's charming, sweet, quirky. I can't wait to revisit it, as I find Anderson's movies age remarkably well.
5. The Avengers
Joss Whedon's pitch-perfect pop-confection is the standard by which all other superhero movies will be judged. Unlike Nolan's Batman franchise, Whedon's Avengers is not an art film. It is simply a quality superhero movie with marquee characters and marquee actors. I think it's also intersesting that it's a CGI Hulk that steals every scene he's in.
I don't know what I enjoyed more, the opening minutes of Ridley Scott's Alien prequel, or the bellyachin' fanboys who felt somehow let down that this wasn't as "good" as Scott's Alien. Or even, some argued, James Cameron's Aliens. They felt Prometheus was too much of a big budget B-movie, to which I say, "Yeah, and? So are the Alien movies." Scott's Prometheus is pretty much him retelling Cameron's Aliens. Creepy, gorgeous, and fun. Oh yeah, and get used to it. There's a sequel already greenlighted.
Rian Johnson's time travel crime flick was a hard sell for me. Bruce Willis is not a box office attraction, nor is Joseph Gordon-Levitt as far as I'm concerned. AND it's a time travel movie? Forget it! There's always a maddening discrepancy in time travel movies that ruin the whole thing. Well, that is until Johnson's Looper. I now know time travel stories can be done right.
8. John Carter
I'm really not sure why this was such a bomb. Andrew Stanton's big, sci-fi extravaganza felt to me every bit as entertaining as the original Star Wars. Oh well. Still a lot of fun.
9. Jiro Dreams Of Sushi
David Gelb's docutmentary about sushi master Jiro Ono is remarkable essay of how determination can lead to brilliance.
10. God Bless America
Bobcat Goldthwait's black humor revenge fantasy is surely polarizing, if you're a dumbass. But to the rest of us, seeing a man with a gun lash out at the dumbassery that is driving America down was a helluva hayride. It's sort of like Idiocracy, but instead of a smug laugh at all the dummies who inherit humanity, Goldthwait's characters respond with a justified and righteous rage.
Richard Linklater's narrative/documentary hybrid tells the real story of a Texas undertaker who was so beloved by his small town, no one cared when he murdered a local widow. Or possibly it was just that the widow was so loathed that no one cared she got killed. And who knew that Jack Black was capable of understatement and restraint?
12. The Cabin In The Woods
This Joss Whedon co-scripted, Drew Goddard written/directed modern take on traditional horror trope is more fun than I had any right to expect. That part when all the cages are opened, man, I could watch that scene over and over again. And are Whedon/Goddard saying that Millennials are willing to sacrifice the world for their own petty needs? Bleak. And funny.
13. The Raid: Redemption
Gareth Evans' Indonesian kung-fu, action, gangster/cop flick is the new standard that evey action movie will now be judged. It's a white knuckled badass thrill ride that has as many twists as the building we are watching characters fight their way through has floors.
14. We Need To Talk About Kevin
Lynne Ramsay's adaptation of Lionel Shriver's crushing, unrelenting novel is equally crushing. Kevin is far scarier than Damien from The Omen. Horrible people, making more horrible people, and we all have to suffer from them and yet, we can sympathize. Should we? Are we inhuman if we don't? What are we responsible for? Why do we yearn to achieve cultural goalposts? Who sets the goalposts? And what's the wost that could happen when we simply go through the motions? Is is ridiculous to think such things because of a simple brain abnormality that 1 in 100 suffer that results in pyschopathy?
***WORST OF 2012***
1. Rock of Ages
I'm not sure if this is a fitting defilement hair metal - or the final nail in the coffin of rock and roll - but this musical is a loathesome, painful mess that even Alec Baldwin couldn't save. Enough with the musicals already.
2. Dark Horse
I love Todd Solondz's movies. Even his lesser ones. But not only does this feel like he's going through the motions, but it feels like he's not even intersted in his own ideas.
3. Cloud Atlas
This Wachowski Siblings/Tom Twyker joint adaptation of David Mitchell's fantastic novel is such a loaded mess of a movie - it's one of those terrible movies that's worth watching. Offensive racial makeup, a stupidly simplistic reduction of a misunderstanding of the theme of the source material, odd casting as a result of a narrative gimmick - but there are moments that are quiet good (largely the ones Twyker was responsible for). Somehow, people keep allowing the Wachowski's to keep making movies, and while it's unlikely to ever be an unconditional good thing, it can be a rather interestingly bad thing.