Why 2012 was good for geezers but not so good for windbag auteurs.
That movies can still capture such a beefy share of our compromised attention spans seems miraculous, given the 24-hour infotainment cycle and the proliferation of competing platforms creating an unprecedented degree of white noise and audience fragmentation.
One unfortunate side effect is that we’re conditioned to treat films not so much as artistic works to savour or ponder, but as yet more stuff to live Tweet about. But until the day comes when we can no longer focus on anything longer than the four-minute, 13-second video for “Gangnam Style,” we still have the means to detect larger seismic shifts in the movie landscape. Here are four that made the ground quake in 2012.
Butts are literally getting kicked in the new gender war
Provided that they were handy with a sword or a bow, or had some vampire blood in their veins, young women kicked plenty of ass this year. Three of 2012’s highest grossing movies—The Hunger Games, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2, and Brave—all put heroines in the foreground, a sign that traditional gender roles continue to erode when it comes to blockbuster fare. Other successes suggested that women didn’t necessarily have to be 21 to rule. Awards-season faves came as young as nine years old (like Beasts of the Southern Wild’s Quvenzhané Wallis) and as old as 85 (like Amour’s Emmanuelle Riva).
Alas, women filmmakers didn’t enjoy anything like the same prominence. But at least Torontonians could take some solace in the ubiquity of Sarah Polley and Deepa Mehta at TIFF time and in the later releases of Stories We Tell and Midnight’s Children, both of which proved to be hits on home turf.
Geezers get some attention
While the preponderance of superheroes, superspies, and supernatural hotties still shows how much Hollywood prioritizes younger viewers, other developments point to a renewed interest in courting moviegoers over the age of 15. This fall, the studios scored both critical and commercial success with Argo, Flight, and Lincoln, all of which marked forays into the kind of grown-up terrain that Hollywood had previously ceded to the Weinsteins of the world.
Yet the two movies that most demonstrated the power of the geezer dollar were imports: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, whose worldwide box office has topped (U.S.) $130 million, and The Intouchables, now the second-highest-grossing non-English-language feature ever. Anyone who continues to harbour ageist attitudes risks a beating from Liam Neeson.
There is such a thing as too much of a good auteur
You might assume that Disney’s John Carter disaster would’ve reminded other studios of the dangers of giving directors—even ones as seemingly bankable as Andrew Stanton—too much time and money. But Hollywood was shockingly lenient with its favourite sons this year (and, yes, they were all sons), allowing them all the resources and running times they needed to realize their visions. The result was a lot of bloated, self-indulgent movies—surely The Dark Knight Rises, The Hobbit, This Is 40, and Django Unchained could stand to shed a few hours between them.
And while the franchise-friendly likes of Christopher Nolan and Peter Jackson enjoyed carte blanche with the studios, other auteurs had to rely on unusual backers to fund projects that were less obviously commercial and more potentially controversial. Indeed, two of the year’s key films—Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master and Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty—were largely bankrolled by Annapurna, the company founded by 26-year-old tech heiress Megan Ellison. Repeatedly denied financing from Warner, the studio for whom they made zillions with The Matrix Trilogy, the Wachowskis ultimately used European money to make Cloud Atlas.
When it came to displays of craft, courage, and cunning, no director could match Steven Soderbergh. Since he and Channing Tatum ponied up the dough themselves for Magic Mike, they made a killing when the male-stripper movie became a surprise hit. A $165-million worldwide gross buys you a lot of thongs.
We’re suckers for movies about food, dance, and music
That much can be discerned by the lengthy local runs for Jiro Dreams of Sushi and Pina at TIFF Bell Lightbox, and Marley at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. The dance-competition finale in Silver Linings Playbook made David O. Russell’s dramedy a shoo-in for the audience award at TIFF in September, too. Does all this mean that Toronto moviegoers like living the good life? Even if that’s a shaky supposition, any local filmmaker who wants to win some love wouldn’t go wrong with a life-affirming documentary about a breakdancing competition for pastry chefs. Add the IKEA monkey and you’re golden, baby.