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The Decade Decathlon: 2012

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Let the legends rise

Welcome back to the Decade Decathlon, where we're taking an extended look back at the past decade of filmmaking to see what worked, what didn't, and what stories we can learn from the past.

2012 is unique when looking at the trajectory of the decade because of just how significant it is. Sure, the 3D craze began in 2010, but 3D is viewed by many to still be a gimmick. There are films that make expert use of it, but most audiences then and now still prefer to see movies in classic 2D. No, if you're looking at the biggest trends and stories of the decade, most of them originated in 2012. Genres lived, genres died, and the face of the industry was forever changed. 

It would be easy to just say that the MCU truly came into its own in 2012 and call it a day, but that would be doing a disservice to rest other achievements of the year. Yes, the MCU is probably the most important cinematic achievement of the decade, and it will most certainly be discussed below and in future installments, but despite what Marvel and Disney may think, the movie industry does not revolve around them. Plenty of smaller successes and failure cropped up in 2012 that deserve discussion, with plenty others being omitted due to the structure of this list. 

Just to name a few movies that bear mentioning, Cabin in the Woods served as the catalyst for a renewed interest in smart and inventive horror movies, Magic Mike was able to become a critical and commercial smash that deserves a full examination on its own, The Amazing Spider-Man planted the seeds for Sony's troubles helming the franchise with the absence of Sam Raimi, the continued failure of movie reboots, and the numerous complications presented by The Hobbit both with its 48 FPS filming and its impact on the New Zealand film industry. All of these movies deserve the time of day, but there are just too many important stories to talk about in 2012. This is the year where everything was happening and Hollywood got an invigorating shot in the arm that is desperately needed. If the film industry was becoming complacent, 2012 kicked things into high gear. But just how important were the biggest movies of 2012?

Now let's get ready to go.

Most Decorated Movie: Les Miserables
Director: Tom Hooper
Total Awards: 11
Oscar's Best Picture Winner?: No

Bet you're surprised that Les Miserables took this spot, aren't you? Trust me, I am too. In 2012 there was no real front runner for being the most decorated movie of the year. In 2010 and 2011, there was at least one clear front runner that had next to no competition for raking in as many awards as possible. The only real challenger that The King's Speech had in 2010 was The Social Network, while The Artist somehow ran unopposed in 2011. In 2012 we had Les Miserables competing for several awards, but we also had Argo, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty, Life of Pi, and Lincoln all vying for supremacy, with Les Miserables eventually winning out. It's a shame too, because Les Miserables is one of the most aggressively bad movies I've ever seen. I hated it in 2012 and I still hate it now. 

When people think of Broadway, a few titles immediately spring to mind, with Les Mis being one of the top choices. It's a grand tale that spans decades and is able to elevate the June Rebellion, one of the most forgettable rebellions in France's history, as being a larger than life epic. All of that should have transferred into an epic movie musical, but it became very clear very quickly that Tom Hooper had no idea what he was doing when he directed it. Several songs are framed terribly with characters just pacing around drab locations and erratic cuts that seemed to push viewers away from engaging with the world and its characters, most of whom were poorly cast. Enough has been said about Russel Crowe's awful vocals, but nearly everyone else delivered woefully bizarre performances. The one main exception, and the reason this was the most decorated movie of 2012, lies in one powerful performance.

Anne Hathaway absolutely owns her role as Fantine and delivers a performance that won her every conceivable award she qualified for. Even today, her rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream" is still one of the most powerful performances of the decade, delivering pathos in a song that will break your heart and is painfully intimate with no cuts whatsoever. It's just us and Hathaway in a closeup where we can't escape her grief and pain no matter how hard you try. It's truly outstanding, which only makes the performance more tragic when it's presented in a movie that barrels forward haphazardly, never once stopping to breathe. Sitting through all of Les Miserables is a punishment that's as relentless as it is frustrating.

However, I will always be grateful to Les Miserables for reinvigorating the public's interest in movie musicals. Before Les Mis released, the last movie musical to really capture the public's attention was Chicago, garnering a healthy array of awards back in 2002. Les Miserables was a much bigger box office success than Chicago and you can easily make the claim that the success of Les Mis most likely led to the green-light of future movie musicals. Without Les Miserables, we probably wouldn't have gotten Into the Woods, La La Land, The Greatest Showman, or the upcoming Cats movie also directed by Hooper. So despite the very flawed production and how the movie seemed to butcher the original source material, it was at least important in reviving a long dead genre that has been out of the sun for far too long.  

Worst Movie: Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2
Director: Bill Condon
Razzie Wins: 7
Were the Razzies Right?: No

Ah, the punching bag that was Twilight. You had to have been there to really understand just how hated this series really was. There will always be franchises that the public likes to hate on, like Transformers or the Snyder helmed DCEU, but Twilight was one of the first franchises that received the full front of the internet's spite, and not without good reason. The books are garbage with a main character that is a horrible role model for girls to the point where Bella Swan will put herself into danger to get the attention of the guy she likes, all written by an author who I will very politely call amateurish. But when looking back on the franchise as a whole, specifically the five film series, and I can't believe I'm saying this, but the finale really isn't all that bad. 

By the time the franchise reached its conclusion with Breaking Dawn Part 2, another example of the two-part finale trend that began in 2011, it was widely known that most of the actors involved in the movie hated the franchise. Just Google Robert Pattinson's thoughts on the franchise and you'll get some outstanding burns from him. You can't help but feel that everyone involved knew that the production was terrible so they just went all in on making the finale of the Twilight series so laughably bad that it actually becomes awesome. 

The best way to describe Breaking Dawn Part 2 is if the creators took every criticism of the franchise and made fun of it in a way that fans would love unironically and detractors would love ironically. Did you like the vampire romance between Bella and Edward? Then watch the two of them run at lightspeed and scale mountains with tacky bluescreens. Don't like how the vampires glitter? Well now all of the vampires have superpowers like being able to control lightning, make illusions, and punching the ground so hard that lava starts to spew out. Are you tired of dull political machinations between the different allegiances of vampires? Then watch everyone get decapitated and murdered in a sequence not in the books just to devastate fans as they watch everyone die in gruesome agony. My personal favorite moment is when Dakota Fanning was fed to wolves. 

The hatred towards the franchise is justifiable, but Breaking Dawn Part 2 is hardly the disaster that people make it out to be. It's a bad movie, but people that hate the franchise should be able to hate like it in the same way that someone may hate like any of Shyamalan's weaker films. It's a fun time, but easily a dated product of a franchise beaten to death by its haters that no one cares about anymore. 

Highest Grossing Movie: The Avengers
Director: Joss Whedon
Total Gross: $1,518,812,988

No one thought it was possible. When Marvel revealed that they were creating individual movies based of their various superheroes, only for all of the heroes to come together to fight a greater threat in one massive crossover event, few thought they could pull it off. Back in 2012, the idea of a shared universe seemed like such a foreign concept and one that conceptually would be hard to pull off. In order to make a successful shared universe in theory, every movie in said universe needed to be a hit, but there was still no guarantee that the crossover would be hit. Nothing of this size, of this magnitude, had ever been done before. 

And yet it worked. By God did The Avengers work. With one movie, Marvel firmly established itself as the head of pop culture for an entire decade, weaving together a cast of characters that anyone could one member to fall in love with. On the surface, The Avengers was a simple action movie where a group of heroes came together to confront a villain and his army of aliens, but it didn't try to complicate matters and worry about setting up the next phase of Marvel movies. It told its story and told it well, which is exactly what audiences needed to be sold on the franchise. 

When I first saw The Avengers, I was on a date with a girl that had seen a few of the Marvel movies at the time, but not all of them. As for me, I never saw a single Marvel movie, but I knew who the characters were based off my knowledge of comic books. I knew nothing about the MCU at the time, but that was exactly what made The Avengers so perfect for me. MCU fans will pride themselves on their encyclopedic knowledge of the franchise, but any newcomer could walk into The Avengers and enjoy it just as much as veterans. It's not built upon years of continuity. People that were exposed to the MCU through this movie would most likely fall in love with it, then go back to watch the previous movies now that they've been exposed to them.

With that in mind, it shouldn't be a surprise that The Avengers was as big of a hit as it was. It served as a victory lap for Marvel, proving that their multi-year approach to universe building could be done. Create a bunch of movies that have their own smaller audiences, then combine them together as one big audience. Marvel's success will be examined by film historians for years it's that important. It was an unprecedented gamble, but it worked gloriously for them that still shows no signs of slowing down. As of July 2019, Marvel is still the top dog of Hollywood with fan rabid to see where the next phase of Marvel movies will take them. How long that will last has yet to be seen because tides and interests always change, but for the forseeable future Marvel is still king of the world. 

And yet, with game-changers like The Avengers comes countless imitators. If there was one lesson that studios took away from The Avengers and its Earth shattering success, it's that the shared universe model works and, when done correctly, can make obscene amounts of money. So now we have studios rushing to make new shared universes based on established properties that haven't captured that same magic Marvel did. The DCEU, Dark Universe, Legendary's Monsterverse, and plenty of others have all spouted up in the shadow of Marvel, but none have been able to scratch that same it that Marvel was able to. The biggest mistake these franchises make comes from their poor planning. They think that just replicated Marvel's success by creating different movies that tie into each other will be enough, but if the DCEU is any indication, that model clearly doesn't work. Marvel plans their franchises meticulously, and that success paid off in spades with how much money The Avengers made at the box office.

Biggest Bomb: John Carter
Director: Andrew Stanton
Budget: $264-$307 million
Gross: $284 million

If 2012 is a year of larger than life successes, then John Carter is the larger than life failure. Determining what a "box-office bomb" is is a tricky proposition because I had to ask myself how I'm classifying box-office bombs. There are a whole variety of movies that had an abysmal box office gross, but the movie's budget was moderately small so the net loss wasn't too great. Then there are movies that make millions of dollars, but still under perform due to the amount of money poured into marketing campaigns, making it even harder for the movie to turn a profit. So is a bomb about how much a movie losses total, or how much the movie losses in relation to its budget? Thankfully, I don't have to worry about such a quandary for John Carter. This is THE box-office bomb. The textbook definition of what a bomb looks like.

It's honestly a shame too, because you can tell that John Carter had a lot of effort put into it. You can see the money on screen in every frame, with a painstaking world and lore created to elevate it above your standard sci-fi fare. John Carter is actually a fun movie with a cool premise and an execution that left me entertained. It's clear from the first few minutes that Stanton was trying to make a blockbuster sci-fi movie that took one of the first sci-fi serials and elevate it to a new form for its 100th anniversary. Unfortunately, it didn't land as well as Disney would have thought. 

See, John Carter still made money. As a re-invigoration of a century old franchise, John Carter made a healthy amount of money when it debuted. The problem was how over-budget the movie went, with most of its problems being attributed to Stanton. Stanton was essentially on loan from Pixar to make John Carter, so he approached the movie the same way he would have approached an animated movie. This meant having multiple reshoots and Stantion seeking advice from the Braintrust at Pixar instead of people that have experience working on live-action films. Stanton, in his own arrogance, went on record saying "Is it just me, or do we actually know how to do this better than live-action crews do?" Keep in mind, this is the same man who immediately said upon being approved for working on John Carter that he would almost certainly require multiple reshoots because he wouldn't be able to get it right the first time. So we have a director that was inexperienced with working in live-action arrogantly assuming that he knew what he was doing and getting advice from his friends instead of people that have worked on similar movies in the past.

As for the marketing, it was all over the place. The marketing tried to aim the movie towards a younger audience, but the trailers and publicity didn't entice that demographic. Instead, audiences were more interested in seeing The Hunger Games, which was much easier to view as a YA franchise instead of a classic sci-fi serial and came out only two weeks later. John Carter was still fine, but combined with its monstrous budget and marketing campaign, the movie elevates itself into one of the most expensive movies ever made. It's no surprise that John Carter was a bomb. The fact that it's still the biggest bomb of all time shouldn't be any surprise to anyone, with Disney taking an embarrassing $200 million loss of the project between production and marketing.

Most Underrated: Dredd
Director: Pete Travis
Rotten Tomatoes: 78%

As far as cult classics go, you can't get much better than Dredd. Billed as an aggressive action movie with no reservations on how violent it was, I can respect Dredd and Pete Travis for not compromising on their vision. He wanted a visceral adaptation, and by God he got one. Granted, it was missing the satire of the original comics, but this was a by the books action movie from beginning to end that the 2010's has sorely been lacking. 

Like the best action movies, Dredd has a relatively simple execution in a world that deserves to be fleshed out. It's a take on Die Hard, with Karl Urban's Judge Dredd being locked in 200 floor skyscraper with the goal being to get to the top and stopping the crime kingpin who sits at the top. Plus you'd be a fool to think that Dredd wouldn't kill everything living thing he see with extreme prejudice. He is the law after all. It's thrilling to watch, but this is also an example of an underrated cult classic that was also a box office bomb. 

Travis went on record saying that if the movie made $50 million at the box office that it would secure funding for a second film in a planned trilogy. Unfortunately, it only made around $41 at the box office, canning any future plans of a trilogy pretty quickly. However, all hope is not yet lost! There have been talks over the past couple of years for Travis and Urban to continue the franchise trough streaming services, most likely as a TV series called Judge Dredd: Mega-City One. The last update on the project was in 2017, but it's impressive that fans are still clamoring for a continuation in some form nearly seven years after the original movie released. 

Favorite Movie: Cloud Atlas
Director: The Wachowskis
Why?: Ambition, ambition, ambition

Cloud Atlas is most likely one of the most ambitious movies ever made that people like to condemn without fully understanding it. When Cloud Atlas first released, it garnered a fair amount of praise with some critics calling it a masterpiece of artistic achievement. At the time, it was known as being the most expensive independent movie ever made until Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets topped that in 2017 and it's clear to see why. A three hour epic that encompasses six different time periods with multiple actors going through extensive makeup and costume changes in order to play characters of different ages, races, genders, and ethnicity. And it's the last part that makes Cloud Atlas "problematic."

A popular question thrown around about the movie is "Is Cloud Atlas racist?" This is due to one of the six sequences in the movie taking place in Neo Seoul and features several white actors playing South Korean characters alongside other legitimate Asian actors. Because of this, detractors of the movie cried out that the film was being racist and not giving justice/roles to Asian actors, but that claim falls completely flat on its face if someone sits down to watch the movie and attempts to understand its themes. 

One of the central themes of Cloud Atlas is the idea that the soul is a thing that can be transferred through bodies and time. Admittedly, it does get a little messy with how the movie portrays the transmutation of souls through specific characters and not actors, but the general idea is that souls are reborn and carry a certain essence with them. When you see Hugo Weaving pop up in any of the six time periods, we're made to be wary of him because all Hugo Weavings are either evil, murderous, or untrustworthy. In the Neo Seoul sequence, most of the white actors that are playing Asians are the villains, with makeup that makes them look unnatural and fake. As for the real Asian actors, they are framed as the heroes of the story, which focuses on classism, indentured servitude, and the meaning of freedom. In other words, the real Asian actors are the good guys and look natural, while the fake Asian actors and the bad guys that look unnatural. Subtlety! 

Unfortunately, race discussions in Hollywood are still prevalent issues that didn't just spring up because the new Ariel isn't white or Scarlet Johansson is playing an Asian women. Casting and race have always been an issue in the industry and they didn't just up an vanish. They were always present. Avatar: The Last Airbender received plenty of flack for its whitewashing in 2010, but I don't think that Cloud Atlas deserves to be in that same discussion. Cloud Atlas actually has a point to make with its casting decisions. 

But getting back to the point at hand, Cloud Atlas was a brave movie to make for the Wachowskis. There was no guarantee that a movie like this could succeed, and financially it did not, but critically it did quite well. All of the actors still think highly of the movie, and it's almost a miracle that it turned out as well as it did. It's six fantastic short films that tell one gargantuan story and comes highly recommended if you want to see a movie that isn't afraid to try something dangerous.


Was 2012 a good year for movies?

With the exception of maybe one or two more years, I don't think a year was as important to understanding the decade as 2012 was. Not only were most of the movies that came out in 2012 significant in their own ways, but nearly all of the movies, regardless of quality, only had beneficial results on the industry (minus that whole Hobbit Law bit in New Zealand. Seriously, read up on it, it's kind of outrageous how much New Zealand bent over backwards to please Warner Bros.).

The revival of movie musicals, the cementing of the MCU in popular culture, and the emergence of several cult classics made 2012 a year that any film buff can look at and find something worth value. There was a little something for everyone here, but I can't lie when I say that 2012 was perfect. As much as I do appreciate the onslaught of cult classics that emerged thanks to 2012, most of them were financial flops at the time of release, failing to get the well deserved appreciation that they deserved. There will always be flops in every year, but it felt like 2012 had more good movies flop than any other year in the decade. If only there was a year that had fantastic movies based on creative concepts that got all of the praise and adulation that they deserved... but is it even possible? Check back next month when the Decade Decathlon continues onward to 2013.  

Movies from 2012 you should still see: Coriolanus, The Secret World of Arrietty, The Cabin in the Woods, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Iron Sky, ParaNorman, Looper, Skyfall, The Man With the Iron Fists, Zero Dark Thirty, Django Unchained

Past Years Completed: 

2010
2011

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