An unusual year at the movies, 2012. Oh, sure, there were good films and bad films, as always, with the usual ration of fun popcorn pictures and challenging, thought-provoking movies.
Some of the gratification of moviegoing was overshadowed by larger events. For instance, when I went to the preview of “The Hobbit” at a theater equipped to show the film in a super-sharp new digital format (the equivalent of 48 frames per second rather than the industry standard of 24 frames per second), the technology swamped the movie itself.
Everything looked clear, slick and utterly bizarre, like something between a daytime soap opera and a video game. “The Hobbit” didn’t look like a movie, the way we’ve been seeing movies since 1896 or so.
Is this the future? Maybe, maybe not. But digital itself is not the future, it’s already the present: Almost everything you’re seeing at a theater now is projected digitally, and most of it was shot digitally, not on film.
On a graver note, 2012 was the year a man with guns went into a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., and murdered 12 people and wounded 58 others while they had gathered for a screening of “The Dark Knight Rises.”
Most of us, I think, had seen a movie theater as a safe place, a kind of sanctuary away from the world. That might not ever be quite the same again.
There was also the weird fallout from a laughably moronic 14-minute YouTube trailer, “The Innocence of Muslims,” which prompted some people to start killing other people.
It was the kind of year a film from Iran, “A Separation,” could win an Oscar as best foreign language film, while Iran was throwing a different filmmaker, Jafar Panahi, into jail. Panahi’s offenses, not surprisingly, involved making movies that the government did not appreciate.
And yet, in the midst of this trouble, things can shine — including the fact that Panahi, while under house arrest, managed to make a feature and get it smuggled (in a thumb drive concealed in a cake) to the outside world. See below for more on “This Is Not a Film.”
There were other very strong foreign films this year, and Hollywood seemed to wake up at the end. One winning trend was the spectacle of idiosyncratic filmmakers being given free rein to create distinctive and sometimes downright peculiar visions: Paul Thomas Anderson with “The Master,” David Cronenberg with “Cosmopolis,” Ang Lee with “Life of Pi,” Steven Soderbergh with “Haywire” and “Magic Mike,” and Quentin Tarantino with “Django Unchained.”
Some of those movies even made money. Also having a good year: Sally Field, who fought for the role of Mary Lincoln and then ferociously held her ground against the formidable Daniel Day-Lewis; Ben Affleck, who casually made both a very entertaining film and a box-office hit out of “Argo”; and feature-length animators, who once again had a better batting average than live-action movies.
Among the losers this year included the Wachowskis, whose expensive and ambitious “Cloud Atlas” flopped on a big scale; Will Ferrell, who underperformed with “The Campaign” and “Case de mi Padre” (the latter an occasionally amusing Spanish-language melodrama that must’ve sounded funny on the drawing board); and Disney, which allegedly lost something like $200 million on its misbegotten “John Carter.”
I won’t even mention the relationship woes of Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, because, well, the pain is too fresh.
It is a relief, after a year like that, to get to listing some of the best pictures that opened in the Puget Sound area in 2012 — and some of the worst, of course. Movies you may have read about elsewhere, such as “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Amour,” won’t open here until 2013, so they’ll have to wait their turn.
Let’s get to it. A platter of crabbie snacks and homemades (please see “Silver Linings Playbook” for an explanation) to the following films, in approximate order of awesomeness. Click here for the 10 best and worst movies of 2012.