This year may be preparing its swan song, but the cinematic gems of 2012 live on.
The long weekend ahead presents a prime opportunity to catch up on your list of neglected movies from these past dozen months. Yet that vacation agenda creates a dilemma: Which films are worth your time and money?
The answer, of course, depends on whom you ask – as well as what you want to hear.
To help sort through the surplus of possibilities, we’re looking at this year’s releases from different angles. Whether you’re batty for the superheroes who dominated this year’s box office or intrigued by the quiet festival favorites, curious about the critically acclaimed documentaries or swooning over awards-show sweethearts, you can brush up on the notable releases here.
After a disappointing box office haul in 2011, ticket sales rebounded during the past 12 months thanks in part to some flashy heroics. By far, the biggest blockbuster was The Avengers, Joss Whedon’s action adventure that finds Iron Man, the Hulk and Captain America, among others, teaming up to take on an ominous villain with slicked hair and an overcoat.
The movie raked in more than $600 million domestically and critical accolades. Two trilogy installments with similarly positive reviews landed in the second and third spots. The final Batman film from director Christopher Nolan and star Christian Bale, The Dark Knight Rises, and the first film in The Hunger Games series each brought in more than $400 million domestically.
But Katniss Everdeen was no match for Daniel Craig’s James Bond in the global market. Skyfall, the latest in the 007 franchise, had big returns overseas, earning the third-largest haul of any 2012 film worldwide. (Skyfall is playing in theaters. The others are available for home viewing.)
If the wide-release cash cows have fairly straightforward plots – good guys take on bad guys – the limited-release films that brought in the most dough are decidedly trickier to describe. Topping the list is David O. Russell’s pleasantly quirky Silver Linings Playbook, which covers mental illness, divorce and sports fan superstitions and culminates in a dance competition.
Other big films included Sundance darling Beasts of the Southern Wild, the poignant and lyrical journey with a 6-year-old protagonist, and the reality-based character study Bernie, about a well-liked Texas funeral director charged with murdering an old curmudgeon, much to the shock of his friends and neighbors. (Silver Linings Playbook is playing in theaters. Beasts of the Southern Wild and Bernie are available for home viewing.)
The Oscar contenders aren’t revealed until Jan. 10, but Golden Globe nominees are already awaiting their Jan. 13 fates. As expected, there were early accolades piled on the beyond-buzzy Osama bin Laden chase film Zero Dark Thirty, which doesn’t hit theaters until Jan. 11.
But Kathryn Bigelow’s movie didn’t score the most nominations. That honor goes to Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, which garnered seven nods, followed by five nominations for another historically inspired film, Argo. The suspenseful tale of Americans trying to escape from Iran stars and was directed by Ben Affleck. Also up for five awards: Quentin Tarantino’s pre-abolition spaghetti western-inspired revenge fantasy, Django Unchained, which has a more erratic relationship with real events. (Lincoln and Django Unchained are playing in theaters.)
Michael Haneke’s Palme d’Or winner, Amour, the story of a longtime couple confronted by the heart-wrenching realities of old age, doesn’t come out until January, but there are still plenty of films to see that were road-tested on the festival circuit (including the aforementioned Beasts of the Southern Wild and Silver Linings Playbook).
The two 2011 Cannes Film Festival Grand Jury Prize winners were released this year. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is a deliberately paced Turkish puzzler about the search for a dead body. The Queen of Versailles, took home a documentary directing award at Sundance for the portrait of a flush family in the process of building an ostentatiously massive mansion when they lose everything in the economic collapse. Sundance’s Best of NEXT, awarded to big films on small budgets, went to Sleepwalk With Me, a charming semiautobiographical story of supremely likable stand-up comedian Mike Birbiglia. (All movies are available for home viewing.)
One man’s Casablanca is another’s Casa de mi Padre, which is to say that critics rarely agree on a movie. But review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes proves there are some movies we can almost all agree on. Ninety-nine percent of the 72 critics that saw Jiro Dreams of Sushi, for example, gave it high marks. The documentary follows elderly sushi chef Jiro Ono, who runs a tiny, bare-bones Michelin-rated restaurant beneath the streets of Tokyo.
Oslo, August 31st was similarly hailed, with 53 out of 54 critics reporting positive feedback for the bleak Norwegian film about a drug addict who realizes the difficulties of staying clean outside of rehab. The documentary The Island President, meanwhile, spotlights the first democratically elected leader of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, a man whose agenda includes finding a solution for rising tides that could submerge the island nation. Forty-four of 45 critics gave the film a thumbs-up. (All movies are available for home viewing.)
On a rainy day, parents might be so desperate to entertain their little ones that they’ll go to any family-geared movie, regardless of quality. That could explain why Journey 2: The Mysterious Island raked in more than $100 million domestically. But a trio of films dazzled both critics and audiences alike. Unsurprisingly, Pixar – the dependable purveyor of generation-spanning laughs – is the studio behind Brave.
The animated fable follows a flame-haired heroine who must rely on her ingenuity and archery skills to undo a potentially calamitous witch’s curse. Other family-friendly flicks include Wreck-It Ralph, an adorable animated feature about a good-natured video-game villain who longs to be one of the good guys, and Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, an amusingly absurd tale of a group of zoo animals on the run. (Wreck-It Ralph is playing in theaters. Brave and Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted are available for home viewing.)