2012 Year End Movie Review: Jason Zingale

2012 wasn’t exactly an unforgettable year at the movies – I know that, you know that – but it can hardly be described as a disappointment, because while there weren’t many films that will be remembered 20 years from now, there was still plenty of quality to be found if you looked hard enough. As is usually the case with these year-end features, my Top 10 deviates a little from the typical crop of movies that you’d expect to find on most critics’ lists (some that I didn’t love as much as others, and some that I never had the chance to see), but it’s nothing that will surprise anyone who’s read my past work.

Best Movies of 2012

1. “THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER

It’s not every day that the author of a critically acclaimed novel gets the chance to adapt their book for the big screen, let alone direct it, but after watching Stephen Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” it’s hard to imagine anyone else doing a better job. After all, Chbosky knows the material inside and out, and it definitely shows in this modest but heartwarming tale about finding your place in the world. It’s your typical coming-of-age story, but one that’s handled with a certain level of maturity rarely found in high school films, and though the comparisons to “The Breakfast Club” may not be completely warranted, it’s one of the few movies about high school that actually gets it right. Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller all deliver excellent performances in their respective roles (especially Miller as the openly gay senior that takes Lerman’s freshman under his wing), and Chbosky’s deft script earns every emotional moment. It’s just a shame that “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” will probably get lost in the shuffle come awards time, because it has everything you could possibly want in a film.

2. “SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

Leave it to David O. Russell to create a romantic comedy as quirky, dark, funny and surprisingly touching as “Silver Linings Playbook,” because the movie is almost as crazy as its two leads. One minute a fiercely honest character study about a man coping with bipolar disorder, and the next minute a charming rom-com revolving around an amateur dancing competition, the film performs such an amazing tightrope act that it’s really to Russell’s credit that it doesn’t come crashing down like a house of cards. Of course, the movie wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable if it weren’t for the risks that it takes thematically, but none of that would matter without its outstanding cast. Bradley Cooper finally gets the chance to show what he’s fully capable of in the best role of his career, and Robert De Niro has some great moments as Cooper’s superstitious father, but it’s Jennifer Lawrence (already so good at such a young age) who steals the show with a phenomenal performance that all but guarantees she’ll win the Oscar for Best Actress.

3. “ARGO

Ben Affleck may have proved that he was more than just a one-hit wonder with “The Town,” but for his next project, the Boston-born multihyphenate moved away from the comforts of his hometown to a much larger stage, delivering arguably his best film in the process. A politically charged thriller that felt eerily timely in the wake of the U.S. embassy attacks in Libya, “Argo” is unique in that it also juggles a lighter Hollywood insider subplot in addition to its main story. By all accounts, it shouldn’t work, but Affleck makes the blending of the contrasting tones appear almost effortless. The comedy provided by Alan Arkin’s veteran producer and John Goodman’s makeup artist never undercuts the seriousness of the action in Tehran, and yet the strategically placed laughs help break up the tension that mounts over the course of the film. It’s been a while since a movie literally had me on the edge of my seat, but “Argo” is extremely taut and suspenseful, topped off by a fantastic nail-biter ending and one of the year’s best ensembles. The fact that it’s also based on a true story is simply the icing on the cake.

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Blu Tuesday: Superheroes and Ghosts

It may not look like it based on the small selection of titles below, but this is a great week for Blu-ray fans. Not only does it mark the debut of Joss Whedon’s awesome Marvel superhero team-up movie, but Fox is releasing “Bond 50,” a box set containing all 22 James Bond films in celebration of the franchise’s 50th anniversary. And if that’s not enough to get you excited, there are a few other titles worth checking out as well.

“The Avengers”

Not many people would have been willing to wager before the start of the summer season that “The Avengers” would emerge as the year’s best superhero film, but Marvel’s big gamble proved everyone wrong. In addition to making beaucoup bucks at the box office (earning a spot as the third highest grossing movie of all-time), it was also better than “The Dark Knight Rises” and “The Amazing Spider-Man.” Director Joss Whedon deserves a lot of credit for not only balancing the film’s many tones, but the large cast as well, and although some actors fare better than others (namely Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo), the ensemble works together so well that you’d think it was part of the plan all along. And in that respect, the movie’s real MVP is Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige, the brains behind the cinematic tapestry known as Phase One, which is comprised of everything leading up to and including “The Avengers.” But more than anything else, the film is just a really entertaining superhero flick that deserves a place in anyone’s collection.

Blu-ray Highlight: Disney didn’t provide me a review copy, but there’s plenty of bonus material that I’m looking forward to checking out, including the director commentary by the always amusing Joss Whedon and the newest Marvel short film, “Item 47,” which supposedly played like gangbusters for the crowd at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con.

“Batman: The Dark Knight Returns – Part One”

After the release of “Batman: Year One,” it was only inevitable that Warner Bros. would follow it up with an animated version of Frank Miller’s other popular Batman story, “The Dark Knight Returns,” even going so far as to split the four-issue miniseries into two movies. Though the forthcoming Part Two will no doubt be the better of the pair as it features the return of The Joker, Part One is still a really solid adaptation that sticks close to the source material while also laying the groundwork for the darker and more twisted second half of the story. The idea of revisiting Bruce Wayne/Batman decades after he’s passed his crime-fighting prime (as well as introducing yet another Robin, this time female) provides so many great character moments that it’s surprising Hollywood hasn’t tried adapting the series into a live-action film. Though bits from Millar’s comic have shown up in Christopher Nolan’s Bat trilogy, it’s cool that Warner Bros. found another way to showcase the fan favorite story, even if that meant doing it in animated form.

Blu-ray Highlight: The bonus material isn’t very good, but those that can’t wait for Part Two will at least want to check out the included sneak peek, which offers your first look at Michael Emerson in action as The Joker and Mark Valley as Clark Kent/Superman.

“American Horror Story: The Complete First Season”

Though I’ve never been a very big fan of the horror genre, there was so much positive buzz heading in to the first season of “American Horror Story” that it was simply too enticing to pass up. But despite a somewhat creepy pilot, there was never anything particularly scary about the show apart from its opening credit sequence, and believe it or not, that’s the least of its problems. Between the melodramatic, soap opera-like subplots, the nonsensical twists, and the habit of certain stories and characters falling by the wayside, “American Horror Story” is such a muddled mess of half-baked ideas that it’s never able to achieve the potential of its intriguing setup. Connie Britton at least makes some of those shortcomings worth suffering through, and if there’s anyone in the cast that deserves praise, it’s Britton and not Jessica Lange’s over-the-top performance as the duplicitous nosey neighbor. In the end, however, it’s probably best that creator Ryan Murphy decided to essentially reboot the show every season with a brand new story, because after 13 episodes of this much crazy, it’s hard to imagine many viewers sticking around for another helping.

Blu-ray Highlight: A review copy didn’t arrive in time, but the audio commentary by Ryan Murphy on the pilot episode should be worth listening to if you’re a fan of the series.

  

Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to May

I remember a simpler time when May was still considered part of spring, but these days, the studios are so eager to beat the competition to the punch with the first big blockbuster of the season that it’s now widely accepted as the start of summer. That’s all fine and well, but by extending the season by an additional month, it also increases the chance of disappointment, which is looking pretty likely based on the May release schedule, despite the fact that a certain superhero film will be kicking off the festivities.

“THE AVENGERS”

Who: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Cobie Smulders and Samuel L. Jackson
What: Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. brings together a team of super humans to form The Avengers in order to save the Earth from Loki and his invading army.
When: May 4th
Why: The idea of an Avengers movie may not sound like much of a gamble today as it did four years ago when Marvel first announced its ambitious master plan, but it’s a risk that certainly seems to have paid off. Anyone that considers themselves a fan of comics or the recent Marvel solo films has undoubtedly placed this movie at the top of their must-see list. After all, the prospect of Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and the rest of the Avengers sharing the screen is simply too awesome to ignore, and the decision to bring back Loki as the main villain (hands down the most interesting of the Marvel film baddies) only makes things that much more exciting. Sure, Joss Whedon has never taken on a project of this scale before, but as a self-professed geek with a great track record of managing ensemble casts, there’s no one more qualified for the job than him.

“THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL”

Who: Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith and Dev Patel
What: British retirees travel to India to take up residence in what they believe is a newly restored hotel, only to find that it’s less luxurious than its advertisements.
When: May 4th
Why: It’s hard to imagine a better piece of counterprogramming to “The Avengers” than this John Madden dramedy, because although studios have typically put a chick flick up against a surefire blockbuster to lure female moviegoers in the past, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is a film that both sexes can enjoy. And the best part is that it actually looks pretty good, although that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise considering the cast includes four of the most respected British actors working today. While the movie could have easily come across as being too schmaltzy in the hands of another director, Madden appears to have struck the right balance between comedy and sentimentality.

“DARK SHADOWS”

Who: Johnny Depp, Eva Green, Michelle Pfeiffer and Helena Bonham Carter
What: An imprisoned vampire is set free and returns to his ancestral home, where his dysfunctional descendants are in need of his protection.
When: May 11th
Why: I’ve never seen the late ‘60s TV show that serves as the inspiration for this big screen adaptation, but based solely on the early reaction to the trailer, it’s not exactly what anyone was expecting. Though it may seem strange that director Tim Burton and star Johnny Depp, both of whom claim they were massive fans of the gothic drama as kids, would re-imagine it as a comedy, their version seems to be less about damaging the show’s memory and more about embracing its campiness. While they admittedly might have taken it a little too far (cue Alice Cooper cameo), the cast is simply too good for “Dark Shadows” to be a complete disaster. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.

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Trailer for “The Avengers”

If you’re having superhero movie fatigue, you probably aren’t too thrilled about “The Avengers” coming out in 2012, while hard-core comics fans can’t wait.

Most movie fans are somewhere in the middle, and big movies loaded with stars will get plenty of buzz and probably generate a huge audience. “The Avengers” will be one of the biggest new movies of 2012, and you can catch a sneak peak with the new trailer.

I enjoy superhero movies as much as most people, but I was getting a little tired of the genre with the sheer number of new films being released. But I saw “Captain America” and was pleasantly surprised as it was one of the best new films of 2011. Chris Evans was excellent as Captain America and it had a pretty cool story. When you see the clip above, you’ll see some interaction between his earnest character and Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, and you can see that the writer will have some fun with the various personalities. Throw in some eye candy with Scarlett Johansson and you have the ingredients for s solid film. That said, they better not screw up the villains!

  

The Avengers: A Celebration – 50 Years of a Television Classic

With “Captain America: The First Avenger” and “Thor” looming on the Hollywood horizon, “The Incredible Hulk” and the two “Iron Man” films still visible in the rear view mirror, and the utterly tantalizing thought of seeing all of these superheroes (and more) brought together for a single motion picture written and directed by Joss Whedon keeping us warm ’til 2012, it’s no wonder that most present-day pop culture enthusiasts who hear the words “The Avengers” do not immediately think of a dapper Englishman with a bowler and an umbrella and a gorgeous, leather-clad lady with formidable judo skills…even if they really should.

Fortunately, this is a problem which can now be easily remedied, thanks to a new coffee-table book from Titan Books entitled “The Avengers: A Celebration – 50 Years of a Television Classic.”

Written by Marcus Hearn and kicking off with an introduction by John Steed himself, Patrick Macnee, it’s a fantastic collection which delves into the original “Avengers” series (alas, “The New Avengers” doesn’t rate) and offers a tremendous number of photographs, many of which you’ve likely never seen before. Mainstream America never really felt the same kind of love for the series as the Brits did, and God knows the 1998 film didn’t help the situation any, but if you find yourself feeling giddy as you flip through the below photo gallery (Emma Peel does tend to have that effect), you’ll want to pick up a copy of this book for yourself…or, if your wallet’s feeling a bit light as the holidays approach, you could always add it to your Christmas list.

Then again, I’ve heard reports that Santa is actually an agent for The Ministry, so he probably already knows you want it, anyway.

  

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