From superheroes to super spies, from hobbits to bow-and-arrow wielding heroines, 2012 was quite an epic year at the box office. It’s been a while since I remember so many good movies being packed into one year, and I had a difficult time narrowing down my list of favorites. Normally one film will rise to the top and emerge as my clear favorite (last year, Michael Fassbender’s breakout performance as Magneto in “X-Men: First Class” pushed that film to the top of my list). But this year, I had to spend a long time deciding what films I liked the best.
In terms of ticket sales, superheroes were the clear winners at the box office, with Joss Whedon’s epic mash-up “The Avengers” leading the pack. Arguably the most-hyped movie of the year, the film also was the biggest moneymaker, pulling in about $1.5 billion and ending up in the third slot on the list of all-time highest grossing films. It received a thumb’s up from critics, as well, scoring 92 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
Two other superhero flicks — “The Dark Knight Rises” and “The Amazing Spider-Man” — also ranked in the top 10 on the list of highest-grossing movies of 2012 in the U.S. The year marked the return of two favorite film franchises, James Bond and “The Lord of the Rings,” with “Skyfall” and the LOTR prequel, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” 2012 marked the final chapter in one young-adult-novel-to-film franchise, “Twilight,” and the beginning of another, “The Hunger Games.” It was a good year for smaller films, too, with “Moonrise Kingdom” and “Beasts of the Southern Wild” earning high praise from critics.
Some of the rising stars this year included Jeremy Renner (“The Avengers,” “The Bourne Legacy”) and Jennifer Lawrence (“The Hunger Games,” “Silver Linings Playbook”). However, it wasn’t such a good year for Taylor Kitsch, who had the misfortune of starring in not one but two of the biggest box office flops this year, “John Carter” and “Battleship.” Another high-profile flop was the “Total Recall” remake, which scored only 30 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
The following is a list of my top five favorite films of the year (it was an especially close race between the top three). The final movie I’m looking forward to this year is “Les Misérables.” I won’t be able to see it until early next month, or otherwise it might have made my list here.
5. The Hunger Games
“The Hunger Games” isn’t an easy movie to watch. Based on the novel by Suzanne Collins, the story takes place in a post-apocalyptic society called Panem that is controlled by an oppressive government. Every year, two young adults from each of Panem’s districts are forced to fight in a horrific televised death match called the “Hunger Games,” as punishment for the districts’ failed rebellion years ago.
It’s one of those movies that disturbs you on a deep emotional level and really makes you think. It touches on a variety of themes, from government control, to reality television, to the way it’s easy to ignore the suffering and oppression of others, as long as we’re not faced by hardship ourselves.
“The Hunger Games” is a grim and harrowing film, but it’s not entirely without hope. Katniss, the film’s bow-wielding heroine, isn’t selected for the Hunger Games — she volunteers in her younger sister’s place. Katniss’ courage and self-sacrifice eventually give the people of Panem a flicker of hope that the darkness won’t last forever. It’s a message that seems particularly relevant this year, due to some of the dark times our culture has faced. “The Hunger Games” is a film that lingers with you a long time after you watch it, and in my opinion was one of the must-see films of 2012.
4. The Dark Knight Rises
“The Dark Knight Rises” brought to a close Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” saga, arguably one of the best film trilogies of our generation. The film was a little more polarizing than I thought it would be — some fans loved it, while others thought it didn’t quite live up to the expectations set by its predecessor, 2008’s “The Dark Knight.”
Personally, “The Dark Knight Rises” is my favorite of the three films in Nolan’s “Batman” saga. It’s dark and gritty, but still emotionally moving, and it did a nice job of bringing the trilogy full circle. I thought Nolan also made the plot both timely and timeless, touching on “Occupy” themes but also universal concepts such as sacrifice and hope.
The surprise highlight of the film for many fans was Anne Hathaway’s performance as Selina Kyle/Catwoman. While many fans, myself included, were a little skeptical Hathaway could pull off the role, she brought humor and spirit to the film. Few films are deserving of the term “masterpiece,” but I believe Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy has earned it.
Before this year, the James Bond franchise wasn’t in the best shape. MGM’s financial woes had put the series in jeopardy, and while I personally had enjoyed the most recent Bond film, “Quantum of Solace,” it wasn’t as strong a story as “Casino Royale” and took a hit from critics.
But this fall, Bond made a comeback, and Daniel Craig proved once again that he deserves a spot near the top of the list of best Bond portrayals. “Skyfall” is a film that’s both elegant and gritty, and it manages to combine intense action sequences with relevant commentary on the changing role of espionage in the modern world.
Craig’s Bond is a man of paradoxes: tough but vulnerable, charming but emotionally distant, and aloof but passionate about protecting his country and “M.” Judi Dench’s “M” bids farewell to the franchise in an emotional finale, and Javier Bardem impressed fans and critics with his dangerously unhinged villain Silva. It’s a film I definitely plan to add to my DVD collection when it’s released.
2. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Like “The Dark Knight Rises,” this film was unexpectedly polarizing among fans and critics. Fans have debated issues such as whether the film was too light-hearted, or whether the story should have been split into just two parts instead of three. However, I personally loved it, and it was great to return to Middle-earth.
I liked how Jackson was able to capture the overall style and tone of his “Lord of the Rings” series but also give the new film a lighter touch, in keeping with the tone of the original novel, which was intended to be a children’s book. Martin Freeman gives a strong performance as Bilbo, and it’s good to see Ian McKellen take up Gandalf’s staff again. “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is a fun, rousing adventure film, and I wish we didn’t have to wait a year for part two.
1. The Avengers
When I showed up at the theater on opening night to see “The Avengers” with some friends, we were surprised to see there was no line outside the theater. With all the buzz I’d been hearing about the film, I was expecting there would be a large crowd. We stepped inside the theater, and then I realized there was a line — it was just inside — and it started at the entrance to the IMAX screen and wrapped all the way around the inside of the 17-screen theater and was actually looping back around again. It’s the biggest line I had ever seen at our local theater, and you could sense the excitement in the air.
“The Avengers” film was a gamble. Nobody had really done a film like this before. Marvel had spent years working on the project, including teasers in individual superhero films like “Iron Man” and “Thor.” Trying to make a film with so many different superheroes with so many different personalities could have been a disaster, but it wasn’t. Thanks to director Joss Whedon, “The Avengers” was a fun, exhilarating roller coaster ride with both humor and heart.
Each of the actors playing the individual superheroes were perfectly cast, and Tom Hiddleston’s scheming but charming villain Loki steals just about every scene he’s in. The film was a great way to kick off the summer blockbuster season, and it sets the bar pretty high for all the superhero films that will follow it.