2012 was a banner year for film and television, yielding a number of noteworthy sea changes within Hollywood. From technological innovations to ambitious failures, mega budgeted blockbusters to low budget success stories, here are 15 of Hollywood’s biggest game changing figures and events from last year.
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With Skyfall, director Sam Mendes took everything audiences knew and loved about James Bond and completely inverted it. The resulting film had as much depth of character as it did explosive action and steamy love scenes. The cliche tagline of "James Bond like you've never seen him before" has been kicking around the 007 franchise since the 1980s. However, the ad line truly applies to the character's vulnerable and toughened state in Skyfall, ranking it among the greatest entries of the series. After having grossed over a billion dollars worldwide, it is safe to say James Bond franchise will never be the same.
Tom Twyker & The Wachowskis
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Yes, Cloud Atlas was a box office disaster and stands among the most polarizing and controversial films of the year. Yet the film is also one of the most ambitious and challenging mainstream films ever made. Tom Twyker and The Wachowski’s didn’t make so much of a film as they did a cinematic novel—a visually dazzling and completely unique experimental film that, despite poor box office receipts and a divisive effect on audiences, won’t be soon forgotten by anyone in Hollywood. For its technical marvels, sprawling narrative, and provocative premise Cloud Atlas will be a mega budgeted epic that will be talked about for years to come.
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With The Avengers, Joss Whedon managed the impossible— he made an ensemble superhero film that served as a sequel to five different franchises while also forging an entirely new story of its own. Best of all, the film managed to satisfy virtually everyone who stepped into the theater, garnering some of the best box office and critical markings of any film in 2012. Despite a murky plot and a cliché story arcs, The Avengers emerges as a meat and potatoes film that has raised the bar of escapist entertainment for years to come.
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Though his messy departure from Community has become the stuff of Hollywood legend, creator Dan Harmon used his time on the show in 2012 as a means to change the concept of what a sitcom could be. With intricate storylines, sublime meta humor, and an innovative blending of television genres, Season 3 of Community took a single camera sitcom and turned it into a chameleon-like bit of comedy. The beauty of Community in 2012 is that it could morph into any sort of sitcom it wanted to be on a weekly basis. Despite a lagging viewership, the show’s critical acclaim and ardent fan base has earned it a final season, albeit without Harmon’s involvement. However, his fingerprints will always be on the blueprints of Community, season 3 especially.
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When former children’s television writer Suzanne Collins segued into writing juvenile fiction, it’s hard to believe she’d wind up creating one of the biggest literary and cinematic franchises ever. The Hunger Games has seemingly captured the collective imagination of the world thanks to sharp writing, a complex female protagonist, and a keen blend of survivalist thrills and teen romance within a dystopic future world. As a film and a book, The Hunger Games is nothing less than lightning in a bottle. The series that will likely pave the way for more sophisticated young adult novels and films for years to come.
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If Joss Whedon raised the bar for escapist superhero films, Christopher Nolan made the bar for dramatic superhero films. Regardless of its pulpy roots, The Dark Knight Rises is less a superhero film than it is a political war time thriller. It strays extremely far from the Batman mythos, but also returns the character to his origins. Despite its flaws, the epic, ensemble drama may just be the most ambitious superhero film ever conceived and a defining moment in the iconic character’s history.
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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has divided critics as a prequel to The Lord of the Rings trilogy but its impact on the film industry is hard to deny. Among the innovations committed by Jackson are dividing J.R.R. Tolkien’s book long narrative into three parts, allowing for a leisurely (and some would say meandering) pace while also stretching out the franchise’s box office receipts for an additional year. The second innovation, and one some might argue was greeted with equal division, is Peter Jackson’s filming The Hobbit in 48 frames per second. The higher rate of filming results in a look that many say appears more HD than cinematic, though many have complimented its effect on the film’s digital and 3D effects. Nevertheless, the film was mostly distributed in tradition 24 fps, making Jackson’s experiment a noteworthy effort in film history, but an ultimate failure.
Vince Gilligan & Bryan Cranston
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With Breaking Bad’s fifth season, show creator Vince Gilligan and star Bryan Cranston (pictured center and right) have dragged their audience into increasingly foreign territories. By taking Cranston’s iconic anti-hero Walter White and transforming him into a full-fledged villain, Breaking Bad continues to push its audience dedication to the underlying humanity of its protagonist. Fans and critics have eaten it up and the duo seems to have succeeded in their attempt to turn a sympathetic science teacher into a drug lord to rival Scarface.
While he garnered a huge audience with the formulaic, bawdy humor of Family Guy and its spin-offs, Seth MacFarlane stretched himself as a writer, director, and performer with Ted. By embedding outrageous humor within an all-too-cute teddy bear character, MacFarlane took a children’s fantasy film and married it to the conventions of a slacker comedy. The innovative blend of genre and a surprisingly straight faced performance from Mark Wahlberg made Ted a huge hit with audiences and most critics. It has grossed over half a billion worldwide, signaling the possibility of success for high-concept, R-rated comedies in 2013.
Kathryn Bigelow & Mark Boal
Mark Boal and Kathryn Bigelow (pictured left and center), the team behind The Hurt Locker, made one of the most controversial and talked about films of 2012. Zero Dark Thirty chronicles the hunt for and eventual assassination of Osama bin Laden. Some might say it does so a little too well—the filmmakers have been accused of having access to highly classified material from the Obama administration and are about to be reviewed (along with their CIA contacts) by a Senate Congressional Committee. This confirms Zero Dark Thirty is an authentic glimpse inside the CIA and the real-life events surrounding bin Laden’s assassination. Such a reputation guarantees audience curiosity when Zero Dark Thirty opens in wide release January 11th.
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Ultraviolent, racially charged, historically revisionary—these are just a few of the controversial descriptions that have made Django Unchained the most controversial success story of 2012. Many critics, including fellow filmmaker Spike Lee and talk show pundit Tavis Smiley, have accused the film’s premise of being a parody in bad taste. Others have labeled its abundant usage of racial epithets as being gratuitous and completely offensive. Finally, the film's rewriting America’s pre-Civil War slave trade as the setting for a gory action movie has been regarded as utter exploitation. Regardless of whether or not you agree with these sentiments, they also speak to the craft, innovation, and undeniable impact of Tarantino’s fearless brand of filmmaking. To paraphrase a line from the film, it is easy to see why critics are so curious about what is making audiences so curious about Django Unchained.
Julian Fellowes and the ensemble cast of Downtown Abby have made the show one of the most talked about series of the year. The period drama has rendered the highest ratings in the history of PBS and is currently at the peak of America and Great Britain's pop cultural zeitgeist. Best of all, the show contains almost no action and a very slow moving plot-- elements that typically deter audiences, but on Downtown Abby remain a virtue. Through the power of writing, acting, and directing, Downtown Abby is the height of televised drama in 2013 and is changing that way audiences and studios think about the medium of television.
While the concept of shooting a motion picture on film is on its way out with most studios and directors, Wes Anderson proved the chemical process still has a place within modern day movie making. Moonrise Kingdom is the offbeat ensemble comedy you might expect from Anderson, wrought with dry humor and whimsical imagery. As shot on 16mm film, it is easily one of the most visually stunning motion pictures of 2012. Anderson uses the shooting medium to give texture to the film’s 1960s setting, creating a style that lands somewhere between a children’s story book and an old home movie. These efforts have helped garner Moonrise Kingdom both a Golden Globe nomination for Best Comedy Or Musical and some of the best reviews of Anderson’s career.
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Jason Blum may not be the most well known name among Hollywood’s producers, but he’s certainly one to watch out for. Through his production company Blumhouse Productions, the producer is bringing out some of the most talked about horror films of the past decade. Even better, he’s making a profit at it. As the producer of Paranormal Activity 4 and Sinister, Blum proved low-budget horror is still one of Hollywood’s integral means of profiteering. Not only that, Blum has proved himself bold enough to back such projects as Rob Zombie’s surrealist Lords of Salem (in theaters this spring) and the ambitious found footage indie The Bay. In 2012, Blum helped to make horror relevant again with audiences and studios alike.
From a filmmaking perspective, Prometheus is an absolute mess—the characters are unfocused and stupid, the narrative is murky at best, and the scares are completely predictable. Surprisingly, audiences were more than willing to embrace these flaws in favor of the film’s cosmic themes. Through a deft combination of spiritual themes and a stunning visual style, Ridley Scott proved that appealing to the imaginations of audience is just as commercially viable as throwing special effects at them. While it fails as a horror film, Prometheus succeeds as the science fiction film that most captivated its audience in 2012. A sequel is forthcoming.