**With 2012 behind us, Kenny Miles wanted to recap the year in film now behind us. Over the next few days, Kenny will write a series of opinion features focusing on the highlights and trends of 2012.**
As I recap the 2012 movie year, I will cover various topics for TMB. This year was a very “play it safe” year for films in general with no need or signs of stepping on anyone’s toes during a Presidential Election year. The most unexpected 2012 movie trend was the success of very commercial and mainstream big studio pictures being the top notch, quality products. Usually, the indie films tend to be “better” films of any given year. Most years the indies tend to dominate in the overall quality department and win the award. This year will not be the case.
Movies like Warner Brothers’ Argo and DreamWorks/Disney’s Lincoln connected with adult audiences and generated responses unlike anything we’ve seen in years. Regarding both films, history served as a reminder, but also as a means to escape from the chaos of the 21st Century People looking to shell out the money to watch “the good guys win.” America made the right decisions in those films and, during our turbulent times, audiences need to re-assured that those “right decisions” will happen again. I believe that this was the zeitgeist of these two films. Sure, both were exceptionally made and featured solid acting, good pacing, and great work from established directors. What a relief to know that the major studios produced two movies not only beloved by the masses, but were also well made, financially successful, quality films.
Major studios finally realized that they need to produce quality movies for the “thoughtful” audiences eager for an experience which takes them to the next level. Though flawed, in my opinion, Fox’s Life of Pi was risky for Fox and Ang Lee to adapt the “un-adaptable” book. And Life of Pi is connecting with audiences in ways I wouldn’t have anticipated. People want to “think” a little with their movies and the bigger studios are beginning to understand and acknowledge this reality. After Hugo, and now Pi, 3-D is safe for audiences again. An ambitious movie like Cloud Atlas was a sight to behold and, though misunderstood, will age very well as a cinematic experience. I only had an opportunity to watch it once and wish I could see it again because, frankly, it blew my mind. Paramount’s Flight was a thoughtful character study on alcoholism and addiction. Universal’s Les Miserables caters to all audiences and the established musical loving base which is doing very well beyond its front loaded Christmas Day release.
Even the summer releases, which can be a barren waste land for “thoughtful” films, were better then expected and didn’t always have to be a loud action movie sequel. Say what you will about Universal’s Ted, but at least it was a hilarious, technically “original” movie. 2012’s funniest movie wasn’t a sequel, remake, or adaptation from another medium and audiences positively responded with their wallets (over $200 million). In the year of our crazy election, Warner Brothers’ The Campaign put a comical spin on our post-Citizens United electoral landscape. The Will Ferrell comedy has more wit then most audiences, and some critics, would give credit for. As more elections come to pass, we will begin to comprehend the deeper meaning and reflect with a cringe inducing laughter. Warner Brothers’ Magic Mike was a dark gritty indie film sold as a lady’s night movie. The brand of Channing Tatum emerged to a segmented audience (more on that for a later posting). Older audiences went to see Sony’s Hope Springs an adult drama that talked honestly about marriage and none of these were based on previously used material. I hope the studios continue to do this next year since all of these films were successful summer movies.
I don’t want to “bash” adaptations or sequels because some of those were great too. Heck, even comic book movies had a great year producing some of the best films of the year! Joss Whedon did amazing directorial work with The Avengers and with the screenwriting of Cabin in the Woods. Once again Christopher Nolan created a monster hit with The Dark Knight Rises. In my mind, Nolan is an established grand wizard of Hollywood and he consistently makes great movies while challenging the audience as the anti-Michael Bay of Hollywood. As a result of these movies the enhancement of the “Genre Film” was on full display and these were geeky genre films which played by their own rules. The Hunger Games is an entertaining and even inspiring set up for a franchise for Lionsgate making them a big player in industry out grossing established mainstream studios! Perks of Being a Wallflower transitions the teen angst and complex feelings from page to screen in a near flawless way. And this Prometheus defender thought it achieved a grand stature of introducing us to world which we will full understand in later movies.
Where were the indies in 2012? Mostly forgotten and rightfully so. No other studio biffed the curb with their terrible slate of year end movies like Focus Features, the lavish yet empty Anna Karenina, the awkward and boring Hyde Park on Hudson, and the uneven tone of the fracking ‘comedy’ Promised Land. All completely underwhelmed. For a studio that usually delivers exceptional movies at the end of the year, they will want to put 2012 behind them. Fox Searchlight added to a last minute release the dreadful Hitchcock which failed to connect beyond Helen Mirren and that might be a generous over assumption. This summer they gave us the lightweight and cutesy Ruby Sparks and the forgettable Sound of My Voice. These were mostly mediocre movies save for Ruby being good. In order to make a better attempt to winning awards, both Focus Features and Fox Searchlight should have just re-released Moonrise Kingdom and Beasts of the Southern Wild to focus all their resources on those ready made classics. When they fail to deliver key Oscar nominations, we will know why! As year end movies fail to connect, critics and Oscar voters reflect on the earlier part of the year to see what worked.
Other studios also found themselves struggling to find relevance and direction in this industry. Ditto for IFC which didn’t make great movies either. Many of IFC’s work such as Your Sister Sister, Liberal Arts, and Sleepwalk with Me were unable to produce year end recognition despite very strong reviews and passionate adoring fans. The year end publicity didn’t make the connection between the love of these films nor did it remind people how they did so. Maybe that says something about the movies themselves but it could also be the PR departments for these films. I even noticed that the representation at the Indie Spirit Awards were lacking. The most promising movie, How to Survive A Plague, was a documentary of archival footage on a subject matter covered better in a documentary released last year. The Weinstein Company is in an unique situation because I think it is a mainstream studio masquerading as an indie one and you can make a case for The Silver Linings Playbook as a movie fitting into this mold. Perception is everything. TWC is “The Master” in accomplishing this being both a big, medium, and small studio when convenient. They have clout and power in the industry. Notice if they want to show how a movie can open wide (Django Unchained and Killing Them Softly), expand at a slow (Playbook) or fast (The Master) rate. Harvey can push for a movie to do well by commanding the expansion or authorizing the demise of a product by not putting the time in to sell it and they are a force to be reckoned with. Out of all the studios, TWC consistently releases quality movies.
Why was the strength of the studio films a considerable factor for movies in 2012? Have the studios had enough with selling mediocrity to the masses? Highly unlikely, but they began to face realities on their legacy and overall profits. If a movie is great, people will tell others and the auditoriums showing these movies will sell out. What classic movies do they want to carry their logo? Its embarrassing to have a piece of crap, which is technically their “artistic contribution” for the year, be their contribution to society. Maybe these studios looked beyond profit margins and accepted the reality of their product becoming a testament to their work. These movies needed to connect with real people because its all about the audience. If people are satisfied, profits follow suit and if people don’t like a movie then they wont tell others to spend the money to watch. This is all connected and I think the studios are finally beginning to understanding this. I know from personal experience that putting the customers first always leads to success in any sales/customer service industry.
When major studios look back at the solid year of 2012 I hope they remember the Argo’s and Lincoln’s of the year as much as The Avengers and The Hunger Games. Movies such as the former are what some audiences crave and we are an eager society searching for classic. I have a cynical friend who thinks classics are few and far between but that’s not reality. 2012 was a Renaissance comeback year for the major studios and you should admit that most of the best movies of this year were actually playing at a theater near you. As someone who complains about the entertainment industry, let me say thanks to the studios for giving audiences a chance to think. I really appreciate it. And so do my casual movie going friends who want to spend their money to see your movies. May this trend continue into 2013 and beyond.