“The movies are dead.” That was the mantra of some popular film writers in 2012. They fretted that movies no longer mattered, that they had been replaced by long-form TV narratives at the water cooler, that they were so empty and disposable they didn’t leave you with anything to talk about.
And yet by the end of the year, total box office receipts are expected to hit $10.5 billion, with attendance dramatically up from 2011.
The most popular movies of the year were the usual assortment of sure things: The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, The Amazing Spider-Man. The Twilight saga drew to a loony end, while another teen-magnet franchise, The Hunger Games, launched. And animated films — Brave, Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, Wreck-It Ralph — drew huge numbers of families.
Woody Allen made another frothy crowd pleaser with To Rome with Love. Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s eagerly awaited prequel to Alien, was analyzed across the Internet for weeks, even though there was really nothing beneath the surface. Peter Jackson returned to Tolkien with The Hobbit, employing new technology with a higher frame rate to change the look of the movies. Whether it catches on remains to be seen.
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But 2012 was also packed with cinematic treasures worthy of extended discussion. The micro-budgeted Beasts of the Southern Wild, a dreamy, heartbreaking snapshot of childhood, came out of nowhere and earned a national release. Steven Spielberg finally made his Lincoln, and the talky, grown-up movie has grossed more than $100 million (and counting), proving adults still pay attention to what’s playing.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master was reviled by audiences and hailed by critics (though not this one), but no matter what you thought of the movie, you couldn’t leave it behind in the theater. Wes Anderson made his funniest and most heartfelt comedy with Moonrise Kingdom. And Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained was less an ode to westerns than a serious attempt to grapple with historical slavery.
Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty pulled the curtain back on how the CIA nabbed Osama bin Laden. Ang Lee’s magical Life of Pi was a visually stunning meditation on storytelling and faith. And Michael Haneke’s Amour (opening in South Florida in January) was one of the most beautiful considerations of marriage and old age ever made.
Even inauspicious-sounding movies like the TV spin-off 21 Jump Street, the male-stripper comedy Magic Mike and the horror-comedy The Cabin in the Woods turned out to be terrific.
Yes, there were just as many stinkers as ever: That’s My Boy was Adam Sandler’s worst movie, and the shot-in-Miami musical Rock of Ages was the cinematic equivalent of nails on chalkboard. But overall, 2012 was a strong year for film, and audiences took notice in massive numbers. Doesn’t sound like a dying medium to me.
Check Friday’s Weekend section for our annual Miami Herald Movie Yearbook, including a list of the best and worst movies of the year.