As promised, here’s my film breakdown for the year. The end of January is usually where I give up on releases from the year before. I’ll probably still see a bunch but I will no longer count them toward 2012 and they will be thus ineligible for my top 10.1
As usual, I’m just giving a quick summary of what I remember about all of these as I write these all up. That being said, I encourage you to find me online for deeper discussion. I’m also available for Oscars discussions and I’ll be around during that show (you’ll notice that most of the award favorites are not in my upper echelons).
1. Moonrise Kingdom
I am a sucker for Wes Anderson and Moonrise delivered. My first viewing of Moonrise in a theater this summer may well have been the happiest 94 minutes I spent this year.
2. Holy Motors
If you haven’t gotten to see this yet , it’s worth checking out, even if you’re not into pseudo-highbrow foreign films (it’s really not that deep though). Between all the vignettes there’s plenty for everyone, and this is my favorite scene of the year (if you’re looking for context, there really isn’t any).
3. Beasts of the Southern Wild
I struggled with Beasts for awhile after my first viewing but have surrendered to its simplicity, as the audio-visual experience was great enough for me to forgive some of the smaller problems with plot and such that I had. As someone that typically abhors child acting, Quvenzhané Wallis was really incredible.
4. Wreck-It Ralph
When the trailer for Ralph first debuted, I was very skeptical as a patron of video games. However, Ralph completely blew me away, appealing to my video gaming (and especially cart racing) proclivities. Disney could’ve made this a very kiddie affair, but they held way back which I respected a lot.
5. The Master
I saw Anderson’s latest in 65MM and, while it did not resonate with me with the immediacy of There Will Be Blood (an all-time favorite of mine), there was enough here for me to still enjoy it, with enough left to digest for many more viewings.
Amour could be classified, genre-wise, as Mostly People Talking (Foreign Edition), the same one that last year’s A Separation could be found. Amour It gets a bit slow (part of the appeal, to me) but there’s certainly a scene or two that will touch anybody embodying humanity pretty deeply.
7. Django Unchained
Tarantino let me down a little with this one, with a first half that seemed to move a little too slowly and carried a bit too little style for my idea of what his Western (“Southern”) might ideally look like. Don’t get me wrong, this is still fantastic and I will return to it in the future, but qualms about length (e.g. that it should’ve either been 30 minutes shorter or 30 minutes longer and broken into two parts a la Kill Bill) are legitimate.
8. Life of Pi
This (along with Ralph) is another film that bested my expectations. I never read the book (nor do I plan to), but I’m usually in for a good shipwrecked/survival story and this one was pretty good. Lee delivers incredible visuals and a compelling case for 3D.
9. Magic Mike
Haters gonna hate. I’m buying what Soderbergh is selling, and McConaughey is more deserving of Best Supporting Actor over any of the actual nominees. While topical (recession, etc.), I admit gets a little heavy handed with itself. However, given the subject matter, it kind of works.
10. The Raid: Redemption
This was my action movie of the year, hands down. An Indonesian, kind-of-reverse-Die Hard with seeming takes on video game tropes as well as the best martial arts I’ve seen in a few years.
Others notables: The Intouchables, Searching for Sugar Man, Argo, Zero Dark Thirty
Here are the Academy Award-eligible films I watched in 2012:
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN
BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD
THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL
THE CABIN IN THE WOODS
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES
THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY
JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME
KILLING THEM SOFTLY
LIFE OF PI
THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS
MARVEL’S THE AVENGERS
THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER
THE RAID: REDEMPTION
SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED
SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN
SIDE BY SIDE
SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
THIS IS 40
21 JUMP STREET
ZERO DARK THIRTY
This leads to some orphans, since the movies will not be in my “Seen in 2012” spreadsheet (although, nothing I watched in January counted toward this either) but they are also not tallied here. They’ll count toward “Seen in 2013.” ↩
Year in review, 2012
This year, I kept a spreadsheet of every movie I watched and every book that I read. I thought it would be an interesting experiment to keep some basic metrics on my own time, and I’m sort of intrigued enough to keep this1 going in 2013. Next year, I will begin tracking albums that I listen to and TV shows that I watch2 as well. I’ll also try to track video games in some way.
- I set an ambitious goal of 20 books. I finished 15, with a page average of 412.53 (6188 total pages). The list is below. I may lower my expectations down to 10 books next year, as I have some very long works I’d like to read, and trying to hit a number this year had me sometimes picking shorter books just to juke the stats.
- I watched 65 films. 46 were 2012 releases, by some metric3, and 27 were seen in a theater.
- I read at least 60% of every issue of The New Yorker, and probably closer to 80-90% just between features and fiction.
- I also read roughly 650 other longform newspaper, magazine, and web articles, as tracked through Instapaper. A list of these could be made available upon demand.
- I kept up on what was probably 20-25 TV shows every week throughout the year. I also did a binge over the summer to finally watch The Shield. I will not be doing a year-end television list because I barely remember what happened in the spring at this point, and most television lists are extremely derivative anyway, with only a few hundred shows on per year (and serious contenders numbering closer to a range of a few dozen).
- I have no hard stats on my music, but this was the first year of my life that I put in an effort to listen to a large number of new album releases as well as making an effort to listen to full albums released in past years (a total number that I estimate to be in the low hundreds). Eventually (hopefully next year), I will have matured my taste enough to gain a confidence to release at least a top 10 or something, if not the full list.
- I played what must’ve been in the order of several dozen video games across several platforms. I am not a completionist4 which makes it difficult to fairly quantify my experiences. The large majority of my gaming was done on PC and iOS; I have yet to unbox my PS3 since moving this year. I’ve included a short list of my favorites in this post.
I’m trying to read more books, and I’m caught in a place where I realize that there’s hundreds of years of literature to catch up on but newer stuff that’s popular (and being made into shows and movies right now) sometimes gets priority even if it’s not very good reading (and the same could be said for film, I guess). I’m doing my best. This list is in chronological order by finish date.
The Trial, Franz Kafka
One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
A Feast for Crows, George R.R. Martin
A Dance with Dragons, George R.R. Martin
Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins
Dubliners, James Joyce
Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins
Foundation, Isaac Asimov
Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell
Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace, D.T. Max
The Stranger, Albert Camus
The Revolution Was Televised, Alan Sepinwall
The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, Oliver Burkeman
Pinterest form: http://pinterest.com/davidlubell/2012-books/
I skew heavily toward indie releases, which are typically more in line with what I enjoy playing, and are almost always under 20 dollars. Most of my gaming time this year was probably spent on old releases or games that are still in beta. This list is alphabetical.
FTL: Faster Than Light, Subset Games (PC)
Guild Wars 2, ArenaNet (PC)
Hotline Miami, Dennaton Games (PC)
Journey, Thatgamecompany (PS3)
Letterpress, Atebits (iOS)
Mark of the Ninja, Klei Entertainment (PC)
Super Hexagon, Terry Cavanagh (iOS)
I could probably do this for 2012 actually, but not authoritatively, as I began and dropped multiple shows on top of catchups and rewatches (which maybe don’t count anyway), and also I don’t feel like trying to work that out right now ↩
This is different than my “Oscar-eligible list,” and I’ll follow up separately with my recap on movies once I see more of them. I’ll have it done by February or so, probably. ↩
Competionism is meaningless in the modern age of a multiplayer experience carrying many titles. Regardless, I’ll stop playing a game within an hour if I don’t find anything enjoyable about its gameplay. ↩
Guns sometimes kill people. People with guns who have played video games sometimes kill people.
I finished the game Hotline Miami this week and quite enjoyed it. You can get a quick look at it here. Basically, you’re a guy in 80’s Miami who goes around killing a bunch of (probably-drug-running-because-it’s-80’s-Miami) guys because it’s your job, or something. That’s not really why it’s interesting, nor is the discussion around free will that it tries to confront.
Hotline Miami begins to break down around halfway through the game. Our incredibly unreliable character—the whole game is some sort of neon and techno-drenched flashback—starts seeing friends show up dead and replaced by pseudo-zombies of people that he killed himself (or some sort of vision of such). The violence that he sought (granted, against some sort of criminal enterprise) has escalated into everyday life and maybe even into his very psyche. What’s most interesting about Hotline Miami, to me, is that its core gameplay is not that of a shooter, but that of a puzzle game. For each level, you need to essentially figure out the optimal path to the goal at the end. Hotline Miami takes this and wraps it up in a sheen of hyper-violence.
Most of today’s big budget, best-selling violent (usually shooter) titles—basically, Call of Duty—have watered down their core gameplay to be nothing but an arcade recreation of violence. You can kill so simply and with so little remorse that it becomes mostly mindless, turning killing people with guns into simple efficiency. Run into a new room. Kill all the guys. Repeat. Multiplayer is boiled down to who can do this the best and the most repetitively.
Older games of what would have been the same genre—again, the shooter (or first person shooter in more specific terms)—were more about subtlety, teamwork, and strategy. Both cases have their outliers: Call of Duty games have tried to introduce plot points where you acknowledge yourself as a killer, but they never seem to go far enough to seem as though they really want you to think about that in reality. The “classic” games I attempted to generalize certainly allowed you to just go crazy and shoot as well, but they were never as popular.
But it seems as though now, more than ever, the way games are marketed and played veer away from any semblance of tastefulness (or, god forbid, art) and into the depths of male badass fantasy. This is problematic given news of late.
This is a pretty exhaustive collection of stories tying video games back together with the Newtown shooting. It’s pleasing to see some grassroots efforts from the gamer side of things acknowledge that, yes, video games are part of a larger equation, fostering a culture which makes violence look commonplace and trite. In the same way that a great football community will crumble as its dangers are realized, I hope that this is the beginning of a movement that will quash the way that violence is currently portrayed in games. And yes, I absolutely do track parallels between the way that I cannot stomach the (admittedly different kind) of violence in football and the gun-happy ways of gaming.
However, I for one do not plan on putting down video games in some sort of solidarity. That’s not me being angry or selfish (and to be fair, the day already passed and I can’t even recall what I did that day—I don’t actually game a ton lately though) or defensive. I get the anti-violence argument and most are speaking of voluntary movements (and not laws) which is great. Games are still speech and it’s more of the way they are marketed and played than the content itself (granted, plenty of the content is miserably, unabashedly pro-violence itself). While I’m made grossly uncomfortable by many violent games, I can usually appreciate this fact. Violence for its own sake should never be fun. As part of some greater message, though, I think violence is still part of reality that should not be completely shunned from entertainment.
There is a huge market for violent games (and other entertainments). Developers and publishers just need to approach this knowingly and with a point of making the violence either downright uncomfortable or surreal to the point that it makes people realize it’s not something to be mimicked. Games don’t hurt anybody (at least, in the way that a gun can hurt somebody), but taken the wrong way, they do add to said culture of violence that the media, and probably killers, absolutely feed on. I hope that others begin to look at games the same way that I have, and don’t buy a violent game to gleefully kill people in realistic environments, but instead drive the market toward more nuanced takes. Honestly, the games I’ve enjoyed most the last 1 or 2 years have been less violent, or at the very least, not remotely associated with reality.
Video games are not the only media form that deserves any semblance of scapegoating, but it is a completely fair point that no other form glorifies violence to the point that you are given points for killing people quickly and accurately. Django Unchained is brutally violent, but it serves to depict realities of slavery in a way that very few games have done for “war.” At the very least, none have done so recently. Everyone is responsible, and I’d love to see less violent TV and film as well, but I think games—with the power to simulate getting closer to reality—need to lead the way.
I got a new job and I live in Seattle now.
The Dark Knight With a Vengeance
When I first saw Batman Begins in 2005, I absolutely loved it. The sites I read liked it, and it seemed to click with whatever mindset I had at 16 years old. I watched it anew this week in preparation for The Dark Knight Rises, and while Begins is not a bad movie by any means, it certainly falls flat of my teenaged aspirations for any sort of lasting status as a classic.
Contrast: I didn’t care much for The Dark Knight in particular when I first saw it, trying both to defend my already waning love for Begins, as well as being firmly in the camp that claimed undeserved martyrdom around Ledger’s performance. I can today claim that I was crazy, and Ledger is certainly fantastic in role and holds up what is otherwise a pretty messy movie which was maybe a little better than it’s predecessor.
Both Begins and Knight are wrought with enough exposition to make it obvious that this was The Peoples’ dark and gritty reboot as well as an overabundance of throwaway one-liners which damage said pseudo-seriousness. Nolan’s a good director from my standpoint of: “I’ve seen all of his films and don’t really know much about the technical details of directing and also Memento was really cool—why don’t more directors play with narrative structure?” Aside from owning a certain tone and some pretty great action set pieces, I think this Batman trilogy is still short of any kind of high praise.
Yes, Nolan’s Batman is probably still the best comic book series we’ll see for awhile, but too much of it is spent setting up perfect coincidences—the kind you don’t notice when you’re ridiculously entertained by the big ticket scenes—in between the MEGA-CHAOS that we’ve spent billions of dollars to go see in theaters. Here is a somewhat-take-down of the hallmark chase sequence in Knight, and while I couldn’t have come up with this myself, it’s a good expert take on the chaotic sequence that Nolan has thrived on.
With Rises specifically, I didn’t really go in with very high expectations. Bane’s voice was as ridiculous as advertised and his eventual fate made him seem like a waste of so much marketing focus and screen time. There were a certain number of plot holes—most of which were again covered up by Nolan’s seeming gift of polishing up all the huge pieces he keeps in motion. Sure, the ironic dialog was a bit toned down, but the exposition is worse than ever, with full footage from Begins and Knight repeatedly spliced in as unnecessarily stark reminders of events past. I spent a good part of the 165 minutes thinking about how Die Hard With a Vengeance was really the ultimate relative-of-vanquished-villain-returns flick.
Considering that I also didn’t much care for The Avengers (or any of it’s preceding character films for that matter) or The Amazing Spider-Man, I remain interested (but maybe not so optimistic) in Man of Steel. I’m actually all for constant series reboots with new directors, but my caveat is that the new franchise has to try to innovate on the material. There were a ton of problems with Amazing Spider-Man, but the biggest one to me was that it followed Raimi’s so closely at times that it made it hardly seem worth the effort of rebooting the whole thing. New actors are great, and it’s become clear that the villains end up driving the individual films—one reason why Avengers fell flat for me. But I hope that studios can dig through the canon and find some unique stories or at least write something fresh. If you’re not going to iterate on the origin, just leave it alone and get to the good stuff. And that’s from somebody who loves origin stories.
The superhero genre is here to stay. It has a huge fanbase in the right demographics and can sustain large franchises. I was never much into comics, but as an Internet denizen and someone who sees a lot of movies anyway, I’m probably going to keep seeing them as long as they remain culturally relevant and aren’t completely panned by critics. Nolan had the right idea, but the “realism” that his series is touted for ended up being a bit hyper-realistic in retrospect. One thing I will give Webb’s Spider-Man is that a number of its scenes captured what I imagine would be a truer reality of what a teenager with superpowers might look and act like. I hope that future superhero films can try to zero in on this aspect and spend a little time with the alter-ego and the hero’s toll on it.
Obviously, the status quo doesn’t seem like it will be a box office loser any time soon. My preference notwithstanding, I just hope the studios don’t completely cave to the safest possible denominator of Iron Man very dryly defeating irredeemable aliens.
21st Century Omnipotence
Many lament the present day’s lack of flying cars and other tell-tale signs of the archetypical science fiction future. Some may not realize it, but we’re already living in such a future. For example, I know everything. Seriously, you can ask me any question and you will receive an accurate answer or an explanation for your paltry attempt at a (not very) clever ruse to trip up my initial statement. For 13ish hours a day, I’m sitting in front of a computer with a passable Internet connection. Any other waking hours are covered by two—yes, I carry two phones—LTE capable devices which can search the metaphorical web absurdly quickly, even by today’s standards. I continue to read articles and hear people talk about getting away from such connectivity. Society continues to pine for the future, yet complains about it when it finally arrives.
For some extraordinary amount of time, all answers were contained in minds—spectacularly unreliable, usually difficult to corral—which sounds absolutely dreadful for anybody interested in learning something above “wilderness survival.” If you—and this is you in what I’m imagining as some prehistoric period, but I’m not a history major so bear with me—just ate poison berries, the odds of finding the guy who can a) identify the berries and b) can, well, save you are really low, probably because you died already while you tried to remember which series of grunts made up the doctor’s name, and where you saw him last, which might not be near where he lives. Life expectancy was obviously low, but so was breadth of knowledge. You basically did all you could to learn about the stuff that was going to kill you, and then spent most of your mental efforts avoiding all of that. There was no time, nor much of a benefit to learning anything above sustenance.
The advent of written word brought scrolls and books, which are generally flammable, and are generally stuck in fixed locations across larger, more useful quantities of knowledge storage (I’m going for libraries). For most of the modern era, civil arguments, e.g. the year Beethoven’s 9th Symphony first premiered, which I’m just going to assume was high pop culture trivia in the 19th century, were settled by finding a written account about it, or asking that old guy with a really good memory who you should really get to write a memoir or something because he’s not going to be around much longer. (The answer is 1824 by the way.) I can’t imagine trivial learning was much of a concern for most of this period either, as I can’t really picture the people of this period writing notes to themselves for days before they could get to a library and spend hours looking stuff up, which is what I’d probably be trying to do.
I don’t think I would’ve done too well in any previous period. One of my more (assumedly) charming qualities is some strange innate thirst for broad knowledge. Often in conversation, this thirst amounts to nothing more than needing to check the name of that guy in that movie that I was reminded of while somebody was mentioning something else that’s not at all related by any common standards, but some connection was triggered in my mind that I needed to verify. Other times it’s fact-checking something crazy somebody is trying to sell others on in order to save them from propagating naive ignorance, validating my own haphazard memories of history, or sometimes even looking up useful information like “where the hell are we right now” while driving. Granted, I’m sure I would’ve adapted to the olden times in some way, but I can’t help but think that right now, alive in today’s swirl of information, is ideal—outside of any foreseeable, non-dystopian future for which I would sign up to travel to in a heartbeat.
In almost any setting, if there is any doubt by anybody about anything, or I think of something totally off-base (happens often) that I need to look up, the phone is coming out. In certain circles I am looked to instinctively to check on things. All the world’s collective wisdom is available in my hand at any time during the day. This behavior is often shunned or prompts many eyes to be rolled. I see two possible reasons for this: either the action of pulling a phone out to check on something, thus breaking some sort of eye contact or other cultural convention, or something deeper about keeping some mystery. I think (and hope) that this latter case, which is essentially willful ignorance, is a minority stance and has no bearing on reality.
I was raised in a home during a time of technological upheaval—the 90s. Neither of my parents were necessarily tech-savvy, but my constant use of a computer was never discouraged. While the computer was still possibly a little misunderstood, I think both of my parents recognized that this not only represented my own wishes, which they were trying to respect, but that it was truly going to be an education for a future world where this was the norm, and I acknowledge their incredible foresight in this regard. They were also admittedly a little out of their element and were assuming that I wasn’t getting into too much trouble (I really wasn’t) and they sort of just let me be.
The result of this digital nativity is a mind that is fully augmented by technology. To those who say my own mind is being weakened, I contend that, even unaided, I’m still somewhat of a trivia powerhouse. With my phone, I’m truly omnipotent—which is absolutely thrilling and everything I’ve ever wanted, even if strangely terrifying in the context of science fiction and generally uncomfortable tales of quests for ultimate knowledge.
The net social gains of universalizing this practice are astronomical. Everybody will get smarter every time they ask a question. Ignorant statements will not go unchecked. Poor trivial knowledge will vanish, prompting both more creative discussions and trivia nights. The trick is that people can’t ignorantly look things up and just blurt out what the top result says. They need to understand the context, decipher the question at hand, construct a competent search query, absorb the results, and prepare to either distill this knowledge back into the conversation or leave it banked internally. Our own minds will become cache for the search queries we perform most routinely. The true, icing-on-the-cake bonus here will be that as this becomes even more standard for the next generation, the ones who will know of nothing but smartphones, these kids will be so used to having their everyday curiosities satiated that they will want to go further, to discover the things that we have no answers to yet—or at the very least make us even cooler phones.
While the future is certainly bright, our current generations still have hope. Gen Xers and Boomers are slowly adjusting to a world that they’re not comfortable in, but their already-waning influence over our technological culture will not last much longer. As Generation Y approaches parenthood, they must be the stewards of a futuristic attitude and allow their children to explore all of the knowledge that their developing minds can and wish to consume. Current parents can help too. Let the kids have their phones out. Sure, formal occasions should be off-limits, and Angry Birds isn’t really super productive at the dinner table, but why can’t the day’s news be discussed with the actual articles available? Why can’t the family go over a school lesson with the subject material on a tablet, right there?
To those who say that this will just result in everybody staring at their phones and not talking to each other, you’re missing the point. This does not take the place of human interaction: it simply supplements it. If it’s the act of the phone itself that bothers you, this will be alleviated within the decade as things like Google’s Project Glass and other post-phone devices are developed. For now, you’re going to have to trust me that when I look down at my phone. I’m not ignoring you. I’m just enhancing the conversation. I encourage you to do the same.