Best Villain For 90% of the Film's Running Time:
Bane, The Dark Knight Rises
For the final chapter of their Dark Knight trilogy, Christopher Nolan and his co-writers David Goyer and Jonathan Nolan avoided some big names in Batman’s rogues gallery — no Riddler, no Penguin, no Poison Ivy. Instead, they create an intriguing new interpretation of a relatively minor character. In Rises, Bane is explicitly established as a mirror image of Batman: An orphan, raised in circumstances of extreme poverty, who becomes a masked revolutionary with a philosophy flavored with zeitgeisty Occupy/Tea Party class warfare. And give credit to Tom Hardy for throwing himself into a thankless masked role: With bowling-ball muscles and a Bond-villain voice, Bane has incredible screen presence.
Unfortunately, a last-minute narrative twist (which, Spoiler Alert, bears a terrifying resemblance to the third-act twist of The World Is Not Enough, of all movies) completely eradicates everything we thought we knew about Bane. That twist also means there’s no payoff to Bane’s character arc, and the villain’s ultimate exit is almost shockingly non sequitur. (Double Spoiler Alert: Boom!)
Best Villain in an Otherwise Unforgivable Movie:
Kate Beckinsale, Total Recall
Len Wiseman’s remake of the Schwarzenegger/Verhoeven action classic was an unnecessary retread, replacing the original film’s hard-R grotesquerie with a colorless kineticism. But the movie came to life whenever Beckinsale — Wiseman’s wife and Underworld muse — came onscreen as the slinky, seductive, relentlessly homicidal wife-turned-hunter. Remember when she played the evil wench in The Last Days of Disco? Imagine that, but with more parkour.
Fastest Sudden Increase in a Film's Overall Quality:
The arrival of the dwarves, Snow White and the Huntsman
The second act of Snow White and the Huntsman is an aimless meander through a forest. There’s a village, quickly set on fire. There’s some tension, not much, between Kristen Stewart and Chris Hemsworth. Suddenly, the dwarves arrive. And what dwarves! Ian McShane! Ray Winstone! Nick Frost! Toby Jones! That dude from Red Riding! Throw in Bob Hoskins — in his final film before announcing his retirement — and you’ve got pretty much half the great British character actors working today.
Fastest Sudden Decrease in a Film's Overall Quality:
The arrival of Old Man Guy Pearce, Prometheus
The first half of Prometheus is a mood piece, filled with dynamite visuals and opaque character dynamics. Then the pace builds — alien attacks, flamethrowers, an extremely unwanted pregnancy. And then Peter Weyland wakes up. Played by Guy Pearce in hilarious old-age makeup, Weyland’s arrival heralds a climax in which every character’s actions make no sense, no one can run sideways, and nothing will get answered until the sequel.
Fastest Film-to-Film Increase in Actor's Career Quality:
Andy Samberg, That’s My Boy to Celeste & Jesse Forever
Fresh off his final season of Saturday Night Live, digital-short wonderboy Andy Samberg co-starred with comedy superstar Adam Sandler in a movie that many saw as a passing of the torch. One problem: That’s My Boy was terrible. Bigger problem: That’s My Boy was the rare terrible Adam Sandler movie that also didn’t make any money. Fortunately, Samberg followed that up with Celeste & Jesse Forever, a delicate romantic dramedy that showed off his range as an actor. He is now testing fate by following up Celeste & Jesse with two more Sandler movies.
Best Post-Credits Scene:
Tie, The Avengers and The Avengers
Post-credits sequences tend to come in two distinct flavors: Sequel teases and throwaway jokes. Well, Marvel’s mega-spinoff superhero film managed to have its shawarma and eat it, too. After the initial credits came a sequence revealing that the movie’s puppetmaster was Thanos, the giant purple villain that comic book fans love to hate and everyone else has never heard of before. But if you stay through all the credits, you get a lovely little scene in which the superteam shares a post-battle nosh.
Worst Post-Credits Scene:
The Spider-Man reboot promised to offer some new insight into Peter Parker’s origins — ”His past was kept from him,” claimed the trailer. But by the end of Amazing, the mystery Spider-Man’s father is still a mystery, a point which is underscored when a shadowy figure shows up in a shadowy prison cell mumbling shadowy things like ”Did you tell the boy the truth about his father?” Was this mysterious villain Norman Osborn, or Electro, or perhaps a Spider-Man clone played by Tobey Maguire? Frankly, we’re not sure why we should care.
The Bourne Legacy
Franchise screenwriter Tony Gilroy spends much of the first half of Legacy taking the raw material of the original Bourne trilogy and building up an even-more-elaborate mythology, complete with a new government agency headed by a villainous Edward Norton. You’re primed for some kind of showdown?but then Legacy takes a left turn, introducing a new villain at random and concluding with the film’s protagonists out at sea, with no clear path forward. To paraphrase Mark Twain: A tale should accomplish something and arrive somewhere, but Bourne Legacy accomplishes nothing and arrives in air.
Most Confusing Ending:
Men in Black III
The script problems that plagued the sci-fi comedy sequel aren’t really in evidence until the last ten minutes, when MIB III becomes a meaningless jumble of confusing time travel and incoherent twists. After painstakingly rewatching the ending several times, we put together our best guess for what actually happens in the complex infographic above.
The Cesarean Section, Prometheus
There should be a support group for people who watched this in IMAX 3D.
Alec Baldwin, Rock of Ages
Witness the end of ’80s nostalgia.
Film Most Helped By Current Events:
Snow White and the Huntsman
Huntsman was a decently unremarkable action-adventure film when it came out in June. It didn’t exactly leave a big cultural footprint, but it grossed enough to justify a sequel, while also proving that its young stars could open a film outside of their normal franchises. But the revelations of an affair between star Kristen Stewart and director Rupert Sanders makes the film look far more interesting on a meta-level, considering all the various themes about gender and sexuality emebedded in the original Snow White fairy tale — themes which were mostly replaced in the movie by sword fights and mirror monsters.
Film Most Hurt By Current Events:
A trio of comedy stars in a high-concept action-comedy about repressed suburban white dudes pretending to be badass: Neighborhood Watch looked like a sure thing earlier this summer. That was the before the Trayvon Martin tragedy suddenly made the move’s central concept look extremely unfunny. A title change and a new advertising campaign proved futile.
Performance We Could Not Get Enough Of:
Anne Hathaway, The Dark Knight Rises
The Nolanverse is dominated by grimfaced men carrying the weight of the world on shoulders of their fine bespoke suits. So it was a pleasant surprise that Dark Knight Rises featured Anne Hathaway as high-energy cat burglar Selina Kyle. Deceptive, seductive, self-interested, but ultimately noble, Hathaway turned Selina into the coolest Bond girl ever. Remind us again: Why can’t Hollywood make a Wonder Woman movie?
Performance We Got Way Too Much Of:
Sacha Baron Cohen, The Dictator
Having already adapted his three Ali G Show personalities into movies that ran the gamut from great (Borat) to terrible (Ali G Indahouse) to underwhelming or underrated (Brüno, depending on your perspective), prankster provocateur Cohen created a new character for The Dictator: Admiral General Aladeen. But before the film’s release, Aladeen appeared at the Oscars, and on the Today show, and in various Internet videos. Given that the character was basically a one-note Gaddafi joke, he wore out his welcome long before the movie came out.
Supporting Actor Who Should Have Clearly Been the Star:
Tadanobu Asano, Battleship
The film adaptation of Hasbro’s board game starred a cast of Hollywood’s young and beautiful: Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgard, Brooklyn Decker, and Rihanna. But the unexpected center of the movie was Tadanobu Asano, a Japanese star best-known Stateside for his supporting turn in Thor (though cult-film fans will remember him as the sociopathic villain of Ichi the Killer.) Asano’s Captain Nagata handled most of the movie’s heroics and generally exuded the charisma of a guy who could actually save the world from aliens.
Best Original Soundtrack:
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Freely mixing together indie rock, symphonic strings, and a jazz-inflected New Orleans traditionalism, the eccentric and invigorating score for Wild matches up perfectly with the magical-realism tone of the movie. A shout-out to the multi-tasking Benh Zeitlin, who — besides directing and co-writing the movie — created the soundtrack with Dan Romer.
Best Emotionally Vacant Performance:
Michael Fassbender, Prometheus
Fresh off a breakout 2011, Fassbender confirmed his status as Man Who Can Do Everything by turning the android David into the most intriguing character in Prometheus. Part childish naivete, part plotting malevolence — and all that with a Peter O’Toole haircut!
Worst Emotionally Vacant Performance:
Brooklyn Decker, Battleship
The supermodel-turned-sorta-actress deserves credit for attempting a rough approximation of humanity in Battleship. But Decker’s single facial expression — call it Benignly Frustrated Annoyance — got old pretty fast.
Best Long Unbroken Take:
The beach-flirt, Magic Mike
There’s a scene in the middle of Magic Mike that serves as a perfect document for Channing Tatum’s meteoric year. Tatum’s Mike is flirting with Cody Horn’s Brooke. She’s suspicious of him; she thinks he’s just a meathead, a handsome body with nothing inside. But he slowly wears her down. Like the moviegoing audience, she just can’t help herself. He’s just so darned charming. The whole thing plays out in one single shot, with the sun-dappled Florida waves in the background.
Movie Success That Made You Feel Good About America:
A gentle little indie movie about young love, Kingdom stuck around in theaters for weeks and is Wes Anderson’s highest-grossing movie since Royal Tenenbaums.
Movie Failure That Made You Feel Even Better About America:
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
This could have been a franchise. Andrew Jackson: Zombie Killer. George Washington: Tree-Person Chopper. Teddy Roosevelt: Werewolf Eater. But now that won’t happen, because AL:VH grossed less domestically than Moonrise Kingdom. Good for you, America.
Thomas Lennon, The Dark Knight Rises
Fun fact: Lennon, who played a nameless doctor in Rises, also played a nameless doctor in Christopher Nolan’s Memento. Lennon’s pet theory is that it’s the same doctor in both movies, which would make the entire Bat-trilogy an extended sequel to Memento. Or perhaps…it’s a prequel? BWAMP, incepted!
The Truth in Advertising Award for Most Utterly Misleading Trailer Vibe:
Magic Mike‘s ”Hey, Look How Much Sexy Fun We’re Having!” pitch
Audiences primed for a Sex and the City-esque Girls’ Night Out good time were probably blindsided by Mike‘s second half, which tracks the characters’ descent into the seedy underbelly of stripping. Although in all fairness: It’s stripping. Of course there’s a seedy underbelly.
The Truth in Advertising Award for Least Misleading Tagline:
”There was never just one,” The Bourne Legacy
You thought Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne was special? Guess again! Turns out there were dozens of other agents like Bourne, all of them hopped up on blue pills, all of them sharing a curious preference for motorcycles.
Sexiest Non-Sex Scene:
The check-up, Cosmopolis
Witness the raw power of Rob Pattinson unleashed, capable of conjuring up sexual chemistry even while receiving a prostate exam during a heated discussion about Chinese currency.
Reboot With a Strongest Emphases on ''Re-'':
The Amazing Spider-Man
The phenomenon of ”rebooting” a film franchise is still relatively new. Most reboots put a brand new spin on the material, sometimes by bringing a level of darker realism (see: Batman Begins, Casino Royale) and sometimes by striking off in a completely new direction (see: Star Trek, the Hulk, and Punisher reboots.) But with the exception of swapped galpals, Amazing hit mostly recognizable notes from 2002’s Spider-Man: origin story, Uncle Ben’s tragic death, villain driven mad by science, superpowers-as-puberty. Audiences didn’t seem to mind: the movie’s grossed over $700 million worldwide.
Worst Love Actually:
What To Expect When You’re Expecting
Between this pregnancy-farce flop and New Year’s Eve, the whole Garry Marshall model of big-cast romcom-mixtape movies looks to be running out of gas.
Best Love Actually:
The casting in this beefcake action sequel appears to have mostly been based on who was free to shoot a couple scenes. Jet Li disappears after the first ten minutes; Chuck Norris walks onscreen and walks off; Bruce Willis literally phones in half his performance from what appears to be the set of another movie. But there’s no denying that — when it comes to aging action stars — two is better than one, and twelve is better than two.
Single Most Memorable Image:
The bridge explosions, Dark Knight Rises
Christopher Nolan isn’t typically regarded as a visual stylist, preferring a gritty quick-cut form of filmmaking. But the image of the bridges around Gotham City falling away into the water made for the most literally devastating shot of the summer.
Summer 2012 MVP:
Charlize Theron, Snow White and the Huntsman and Prometheus
Completing her career comeback as everyone’s favorite bitch goddess from hell, Theron spent the first two weeks of June stealing Snow White out from under her younger co-stars and providing a welcome dose of tension to the good ship Prometheus.
Best Movie Trailer for Summer 2013:
Man of Steel
Warner Bros. made the intriguing decision to soft-sell their upcoming Superman reboot, crafting a semi-abstract series of evocative shots — set to a mournful cue from Howard Shore’s Fellowship of the Ring soundtrack. Even better: None of Zack Snyder’s trademark slow-motion/fast-motion jitters!
Best Musical Number:
Magic Mike, ”It’s Raining Men”
If you got it, flaunt it.
Best Hand-to-Hand Combat Action Scene:
Sylvester Stallone and Jean-Claude Van Damme (and, presumably, their stunt doubles) in Expendables 2
The final showdown between Stallone and Van Damme is shot largely in extremely forgiving shadows, but there’s no denying the pleasures of watching Rocky punch Timecop — or, if you prefer, watching Kickboxer kick Rambo.
Single Best Line of the Summer:
”I’m Always Angry.” Spoken by Mark Ruffalo, The Avengers
A catchphrase, a sneaky new interpretation of a 50-year-old character, and a punchline that is immediately followed by an actual punch? Not bad. Not bad at all.
Single Worst Line of the Summer:
”We have a Battleship.” Spoken by Taylor Kitsch, Battleship
Inevitable, but still unforgivable. Extra points taken away for not having the guts to just let any character in this movie just come right out and say: ”You sunk my battleship.”
Hushpuppy in Beasts of the Southern Wild
Quvenzhané Wallis plays the adventurous Hushpuppy with a combination of curiosity, fear, and pride that we can only assume is completely naturalistic, since she wasn’t even six years old when she got the part.
Most Improved Heroine:
Black Widow, Avengers
Natasha Romanoff didn’t have much to do in Iron Man 2 besides look hot and fight dudes while looking hot. But as the sole female member of the Marvel superteam, Scarlett Johansson got to add a variety of new shadings to her superspy — not surprising, perhaps, since writer-director Joss Whedon is known for his strong female leads.
Most Shameful MPAA Decision:
The appearance of the three-breasted mutant prostitute in the PG-13-rated Total Recall
So, just so we’re clear, as far as the MPAA is concerned: Seeing two naked breasts is bad for children, but seeing three naked breasts is just fine. If only the nerds in last year’s documentary Bully had three breasts! Anyhow, this system is broken.
Nominees: Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman
Stars: Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson
Box office: $237.2 million*
What Lisa Schwarzbaum said: ”Brave?makes headlines first of all because the movie applauds the heroics of a female person for a change: a Scottish princess named Merida (voiced with irresistible authenticity by Macdonald). And second of all because Merida is defined by a huge unruly tumble of long bright-red curls that, in its refusal to be combed, let alone pinned down, signifies the opposite of ladylike passivity. Her untamed tresses are a Samson-like manifestation of her strength and independent spirit. ”
What Andrews said: ”Merida just happens to be, by default, in the society of a princess. We don’t really call her Princess often in the movie. And she’s trying to reconcile this difference between how the world wants her to be, and how she sees herself. Ultimately, she’s going to have to look inside herself, and what she finds in the mirror is not exactly what she expected. That’s kind of our definition of ‘brave’ in the movie — looking inside yourself and coming to grips with who exactly you are.”
*BoxOfficeMojo.com estimated domestic total as of Jan. 24, 2013
Totally Okay Film Aided by Low Expectations:
The mere fact that this wasn’t John Carter or Battleship made the year’s third Taylor Kitsch starrer feel like an achievement.
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