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That's what I said: A year in movie reviews

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Boy, 2012 just zipped by, didn't it?

I reviewed a baker's dozen movies in this space over the now-concluding year; here are my thoughts about them, encapsulated.

My first review of 2012 was of the Dec. 2011 release of "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol," starring Tom Cruise. I favorably compared the action-thriller to some of my favorite action movies of all time, and wrote, "The combination [of big action sequences and quieter moments] produced an audience reaction of laughs and gasps I haven't heard in a movie theater in sometime -- although, to happily confess, more than a few of them emanated from me. This is a dynamite entertainment and easily one of my favorite movies in a long, long time." Four stars (out of four).

Another film from 2011 that I didn't have a chance to review until this year was "The Artist," the winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture. The movie had been so heavily praised that I felt somewhat let down, even though the film is completely worth seeing. I wrote, "'The Artist' is not a game-changing motion picture event, even though the critical gush about it in late 2011 would have made it seem so. Am I disappointed that the movie isn't a great one? Without a doubt. But it is a good film, with good performances, and if I'm being honest with myself, that's more than good enough for me. Three stars.

I admit, I wasn't looking forward to the spring action-comedy release, "21 Jump Street," but I ended up having a great time. Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill made for a great comic duo, and I called it "a terrific entertainment, one that caught me completely off-guard. I know it's early in the year, but this one might just end up being my favorite comedy of 2012." And wouldn't you know it, it is. Three and a half stars.

2012 saw the release of one of the biggest box-office bombs of all time, "John Carter." Surprisingly, it actually earned a bit of praise from me. Although I had several criticisms of the film, I wrote, "Overall, though, I think 'John Carter" is worth seeing for genre fans. The visual effects are impressive, [Lynn] Collins is rather wonderful as the bright and brave princess, and once the story gets rolling, it's a rousing one. The title's lame, but the movie is far less so." Three stars.

Last year's movies also produced one of the biggest box-office hits of all time; "The Avengers" has grossed $1.5 billion worldwide, ensuring many, many more of the superhero collective's adventures. It was also a movie that I genuinely enjoyed, as I wrote in my review, "'The Avengers' is a summer spectacle of the highest order; it's the first of 2012's blockbuster movies to be as much fun as it ought to be." Three and a half stars (out of four).

Big stars and big budgets didn't necessarily have happy results this year, though. I was not a fan of the Tim Burton-directed big-screen adaptation of "Dark Shadows," starring Johnny Depp. I observed, "It's obvious that Burton and Depp enjoyed 'Dark Shadows' as a TV show. ... But the movie ends up, ultimately, as a frustrating experience. It plays like a bunch of ideas crammed together, all jostling for position, with none of them able to take hold." Two stars.

One of the year's biggest disappointments -- for me at least -- was "The Campaign," a movie that teamed comedy superstars Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis. My main criticism was that the film had no real sense of itself. "On one hand," I wrote, "'The Campaign' wants to be a wacky, raunchy, R-rated comic romp ... . On the other, it wants to be a satiric indictment of American politics ... . And then, as if that's not enough splitting of the personality, there's a strange and gooey sentimentality that creeps in from time to time. In the end, even though there's some really funny material and performances, 'The Campaign' ends up being a disappointing mish-mash." Two stars.

"The Bourne Legacy" takes its sweet (and talky) time getting to a genuinely gripping conclusion. I didn't dislike the film as a whole, but couldn't quite get past the fact that it felt like a lot of hand-holding on the part of the filmmakers. I commented, "My best guess is somebody thought that script needed to remind the audience of the tangled web that Bourne was trying to undo in the first trio of films -- gotta protect a potentially burgeoning franchise, after all -- but didn't trust that the audience could connect the dots on their own." Two and a half stars.

A couple of animated features earned applause this year from me. The first one I praised was "Brave," Pixar's lush-looking entry into parent company Disney's realm of fairy tales and princesses. Although I admitted that "Brave" was "not my all-time favorite of the baker's dozen that Pixar has produced, feature-wise," I wrote, "but it's certainly not the least of the list." Three and a half stars.

The other animated film I truly enjoyed this year was the funny and charming fall Disney release "Wreck-It Ralph," which features some splendid, smart humor, and several terrific voice performances, particularly from John C. Reilly as the bad-guy-but-not-a-bad-guy title character and Alan Tudyk as the villainous King Candy. "may not be as game-changingly transcendent as the best of the studio's output (or sister studio Pixar's, for that matter)," I wrote, "but it is smart, funny and surprisingly big-hearted." Three and a half stars.

The last few movies I've reviewed this year were uniformly excellent, starting with the Ben Affleck-directed docu-thriller "Argo." I wrote in my review, "This is a serious, polished film that any moviemaker would be proud to call his or her own. If Affleck's not nominated for the Best Director trophy at the Oscars early next year (and the film isn't nominated for a raft of additional prizes that night, including Best Picture, too), then nobody should be." Four stars.

"Lincoln" is a front-runner for raft of awards this season as well, particularly for the performances from Daniel Day-Lewis and Tommy Lee Jones, among others. I called it "an excellently-produced and intelligent film," but said that wasn't what made the movie such a surprise. "What's surprising is that it's also such a richly entertaining and completely rewarding experience, one that illustrates the power of great filmmakers working at their peak of their abilities." Four stars.

And in my final film review of 2012, I wrote that "Skyfall" is a major achievement, an announcement to the world that -- after a few false starts -- this franchise is back on track. At the end of every Bond film, there's a tagline that reads, 'JAMES BOND WILL RETURN.' For the first time in a long time, that return can't come soon enough." Three and a half stars.

Funny. I hadn't noticed until now that my moviegoing year started with a rousing, exciting spy picture, and ended with a rousing, exciting spy picture. That's not a bad year at the movies -- actually, that's a pretty doggone good one.


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Jeremy Blomstedt
The Entertainment Center