Monday, 16 July 2012

2012 in The Movies - A Truly Great Year So Far

2012 could be the best year we’ve had for movies in a long time.  My initial opinion was formed by a glance at the blockbuster highlights, but the supporting offerings are certainly doing their bit to back my conjecture.  Coinciding with Paramount Pictures and Universal Pictures celebrating their 100th anniversaries, it seems to me that the bar has been raised.

Recent years gone-by had seen the frequency of my trips to the cinema diminish, but 2012 has brought an abundance of ‘event’ movies demanding to be seen on the big screen.  It is rare this year to come across a month where you cannot find a crowd-pleaser.  Maybe it’s because of how relatively dire last year’s selection was, but this year’s revival provides probably the most interesting selection since 1999.  I’ll remind you, that was the year of American Beauty, Fight Club, The Matrix, Magnolia, The Sixth Sense, American Pie, The Blair Witch Project and Toy Story 2, amongst others.

So far, this year has given us Joe Carnahan’s The Grey, in January for instance, with Liam Neeson on stunning form leading a group of stranded oil workers in a struggle for survival when they are hunted by a pack of wolves in Alaska.  When it was released, Carnahan suggested it be re-released in cinemas later in the year so that Neeson would be eligible for Best Actor at next year’s Oscars. He was last nominated for playing a completely different kind of role as Oskar Schindler in 1993. Since then he’s been a Jedi Knight, Scottish Highlander Rob Roy, Revolutionary Irish Leader Michael Collins, The voice of Aslan in Narnia, One-Man-Army in Taken, Batman’s nemesis Ra’s Al Ghul and a God in Clash of The Titans, in which he played Zeus, brother to Ralph Fiennes’ Hades

With Voldermort behind him, Ralph Fiennes, in his directorial debut, brought political relevance in a vivid and intelligent adaptation of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus.  Meanwhile, Daniel Radcliffe left his spectacles behind and played the grieving widow in the spine-chilling Woman in Black, showing there’s a promising career still ahead.

Then there’s been The Hunger Games, which turned out to be an essential modern science-fiction action-adventure blockbuster satirising modern principles in a dystopian-future setting.  It was as accessible to the teen audience, which the novel upon which it was adapted from was aimed, as much as the mature.

2012 has not been without its glitches however.  Disney lost around $200million with John Carter.  It was not the big-screen E.R. spin-off for Noah Wyle’s character from the Chicago-based hospital drama after all, but a fantasy-romance adventure of an American Civil War soldier transported to Mars.  Fortunately for Disney, The Avengers subsequently assembled and are still breaking box-office records worldwide.

Nobody can deny how much of a box-office draw Will ‘Mr Summertime’ Smith is, yet he’s had a four-year hiatus since his arguably underwhelming drama Seven Pounds.  He’s back and, despite it’s relatively luke-warm reviews, Men in Black 3 is pulled the audiences in, ten years after the sequel that nobody thought would lead to another. 

Men in Black 3 opened in a month when the Cannes Film Festival showcased more filmmakers adding to their respectable pedigree, opening with Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom.  Similar to previous Anderson movies, Moonrise Kingdom boasts an encouragingly bold and eclectic cast, with Bill Murray returning for a sixth collaboration following Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited and The Fantastic Mr Fox.  Joining him are Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, Frances McDormand and other Anderson alumna Jason Schwartzman.

The end of the year will see the conclusion to the Twilight Saga when Breaking Dawn Part Two hits.  In the meantime, its two stars presented their latest work at the festival.  Robert Pattinson stars in Cosmopolis, directed by David Cronenberg.  He plays a 28-year-old billionaire assets manager travelling across Manhattan in a stretch limo on his way to getting a haircut.  However, this being Cronenberg territory, his day deteriorates into a chaotic journey as various characters rip his life apart.  It’s the first Cronenberg movie in ten years that hasn’t starred Viggo Mortensen.  However Mortensen and Cronenberg’s partnership could increasingly be likened to De-Niro and Scorcese, Burton and Depp, or Almodavar and Banderas.  Whilst in London promoting A Dangerous Method in February, Mortensen popped into Empire Magazine’s office to participate in a webchat.  My wife is a huge fan of his and, since she was conveniently off-work that day, she decided to ask him if there was any news on a sequel to 2007’s Eastern Promises.  Astonishingly, he replied and she was on cloud nine for the rest of the week.  Schedules permitting, Eastern Promises Part Two may be on the way.  He said, I wouldn't say it's a definite, but it's looking more possible that that may be our next job together. But you never know with David, because he always has several projects in the works, hoping that one of them will come to pass.”  Meanwhile, Mortensen played Old Bull Lee alongside Twilight’s other star, Kristen Stewart, in an adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s celebrated novel On The Road.

So far, I’ve only covered the first half of the year.  I haven’t even mentioned the summer, when it always gets tasty.  Awesome is a word usually inappropriately overused, but on this occasion it would slot in perfectly as a description of next season’s forthcoming attractions.  Following that, it doesn’t let up until 2013, when hopefully the quality will continue.  At a glance, and in my humble opinion, there are at least thirty-four obvious must-see movies in 2012.  Then you also get the unexpected sleeper-hits and surprises along the way.

Ridley Scott's Prometheus kicked off the summer in style.  I’d say it's one of the grandest films released so far this year.  Whilst it received a mixed response from cinemagoers, I thought it was an outstanding piece of modern cinema.  Many were expecting another ‘Alien’ film in the vein of the Sigourney Weaver series, but this is truly an original story, distancing itself from the xenomorphs (the alien monsters from the Weaver movies) and delving into a mysterious adventure controversially addressing evolutionary theory and spiritual beliefs.  It is not the horror film that many may have been expecting, but it still has moments of suspense and scenes to make you squirm.  When I came out of the cinema, I was quick to point out certain inconsistencies with 1979’s Alien.  In Alien, Tom Skerritt, John Hurt and Veronica Cartwright discovered the bodily remains of what became referred to as the ‘Space Jockey’ in a derelict spaceship.  Prometheus is set thirty-odd years prior and involves a team of scientific explorers finding a derelict spaceship identical to that which will later be found by the crew of Alien’s Nostromo.  However, it would not be a spoiler to reveal that these two ships cannot be the same one after all.  Excuse my geekiness for a moment, but the planet in Alien is called LV426, whereas the planet in Prometheus is called LV223.  It’s not essential to the plot and far from obvious to the viewer – it’s just an example of how the movie has been written.  The writer, Damon Lindelof, was one of the showrunners on hit TV show LOST, so the use of vague and mysterious mythology scattered throughout should come as no surprise.

Another much-loved and respected franchise returning this summer is the Bourne series, which made an action star out of Matt Damon.  The fact that he does not feature in the latest instalment, The Bourne Legacy, may concern fans of the previous trilogy.  However, trailers centring on another CIA operative, Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), suggest that his character would give Jason Bourne more than a run for his money.  It boasts a stellar cast, with Edward Norton and Rachel Weisz joining returning contributors Joan Allen, Albert Finney, David Straitharn, Scott Glenn and Paddy Considine (one of whom was shot dead in The Bourne Ultimatum, suggesting events are tightly interwoven with those previously witnessed).  Renner’s star-power is on the rise after last year’s Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol suggested he could front the series moving forward sans Tom Cruise.  He played ace-archer Hawkeye in this year’s The Avengers, but his breakthrough performance came in 2008’s The Hurt Locker, directed by Kathryn Bigelow - winner of most of the Directing awards that year with the movie subsequently winning Best Picture.  So far, the movie she will be releasing later this year is still untitled, yet I can tell you that it stays in Middle-Eastern territory with a thriller focussing on Navy Seals tracking down Osama Bin Laden.

In the meantime, another one of the most innovative of directors working today brings closure to his saga of Batman movies this month with The Dark Knight Rises.  As far as I’m concerned, this is The Film of the Year.  Be prepared for its epic-scale being matched by its running-time at 2hours 44minutes.  The cast of the series was already very impressive with Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine.  Carrying through to The Dark Knight Rises, the ensemble cast improves further with Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard and Joseph Gordon-Levitt joining under Christopher Nolan’s direction.  I don’t need to say much about this one - it’s going to be huge.

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