Tuesday January 1, 2013

Perhaps the reason 2012 is the highest-grossing year at the box office is because the movies were so good.

This year, movie studios brought in a total of $10.8 billion at the U.S. box office. It surpassed the previous record-setting year in 2009, when mega-blockbusters like "Avatar" were released.

This year, box office records were set by big-budget movies like "The Avengers," "The Hunger Games" and "The Dark Knight Rises." Meanwhile, independent films like "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" and "Moonrise Kingdom" made big splashes in the independent film pool.

Local film officials and one reporter weigh-in on the five best movies they saw.

John Valente

If there’s anyone who knows the amount of business that movie theaters experienced this year, it’s probably Valente, the general manager of the Beacon Cinema in Pittsfield, one of the few theaters in the Berkshires that shows first-run blockbusters. In no particular order, his favorites of the year were:

1. "Skyfall" -- Valente thought that this latest, and highest-grossing, entry in the James Bond franchise was "a simple yet compelling tale of the struggle between good and evil."

2. "Moonrise Kingdom" -- A pair of young lovers in 1968 were the center of this film that was "quirky, eccentric, heartbreaking and romantic," according to Valente.

3. "Lincoln" -- This Steven Spielberg story about the passing of the 13th amendment by our 16th president was "a timely reminder that our democracy has always been messy," Valente said. "Let’s just hope it can also be as effective as needed."

4. "Silver Linings Playbook" -- "Jennifer Lawrence is a force and Bradley Cooper shows you [he] can be bi-polar and still be the alpha male," Valente said.

5. "Beasts of the Southern Wild" -- This film, about a young girl and her flooded bayou, "was magical, mystical and unlike any other movie this year," Valente said.

Ralph Hammann

A former film critic, Hamman served as the drama teacher for actor Scott Wichmann ("Lincoln") and A-lister Elizabeth Banks at Pittsfield High School. He knows movies. These were his top five of this year:

1. "Life of Pi" -- Hammann compared Ang Lee’s use of 3D in "Life of Pi" to "Avatar." "By turns magical and uncannily realistic, this is the year’s finest example of a film that instills in us a sense of childlike awe," Hammann said.

2. "Lincoln" -- Steven Spielberg’s direction, the settings, and the cast made Hammann feel "that [he] had truly traveled back in time," he said.

3. "Looper" -- Bruce Willis and Joseph-Gordon-Levitt play the same person in this time-traveling film "with a richly imagined and inventive plot," Hammann said.

4. "Ruby Sparks" -- Writer and Director Zoe Kazan "created the year’s most charming romance in this fantasy about a writer who imagines his dream lover into real life," Hammann said.

5. "Arbitrage" -- "The feat of this film lies in Richard Gere’s complex, troubling and deeply involving portrait of a Wall Street scoundrel we would probably hate if embodied by any other actor," Hammann said.

Steve Lawson

Lawson is the executive director of the Williamstown Film Festival. That festival promises "indie films at it’s peak." Here are the five films, all independent, that made the peak of Lawson’s list:

1. "Beasts of the Southern Wild" -- Lawson called this movie "a beautiful fusion of bone-honest acting and directorial vision," Lawson said.

2. "Any Day Now" -- This film about the fight for gay rights features Alan Cumming’s "best screen performance," Lawson said.

3. "Hello I Must Be Going" -- A recently divorced woman moves back in with her parents in Connecticut. "Pros like Blythe Danner and John Rubenstein were matched by future stars Melanie Lynskey and Christopher Abbott," he said.

4. "Your Sister’s Sister" -- Lynn Shelton’s tale of a man and two women impressed Lawson with its "adroit blend of comedy, neurosis and desire," he said.

5. "The Sessions" -- Lawson said he was moved by "the superb work of John Hawkes" and the film’s "refusal to sentimentalize" its hero, a polio-stricken man, and his quest to lose his virginity.

Janet Curran

Though she had 10 movies readily available on her year-end list, Curran, the managing director of Images Cinema in Williamstown, whittled it down to her five favorites (in alphabetical order). Most were on the independent circuit, as Images Cinema caters to mostly independent films:

1. "Bernie" -- Jack Black gave his "best performance" as the title character, who kills an older woman by accident. "It was such a dark and funny movie," Curran said.

2. "Dredd" -- This remake of the 1995 Sylvester Stallone film was "visually incredible," Curran said. "The female characters were atypical for an action movie."

3. "The Master" -- P.T. Anderson’s latest movie "was like reading a book" for Curran. "I completely lost all sense of time watching it," she said.

4. "Moonrise Kingdom" -- Wes Anderson’s highest-grossing film "was a sweet story of pre-teen experience," Curran said.

5. "Take This Waltz" -- A newlywed herself, Curran related to this movie that starred Seth Rogen and Michelle Williams. "When you make a commitment and wait it out, it can pay off in ways you can’t even imagine," Curran said of the film’s message.

Adam Pouilsse

This Eagle reporter saw more than 50 of 2012’s new releases. These were the five best movies, in descending order, that I saw this year:

1. "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" -- Stephen Chbosky wrote my all-time favorite book about a troubled teenager in high school. This year, he wrote and directed the film adaptation, which was just as sweet, sad and unforgettable as the book was the first time I read it.

2. "Cloud Atlas" -- This sprawling epic about life and connections starring, among others, Tom Hanks and Halle Berry, polarized movie-goers. I was on the side that loved it and can’t wait to watch it again and again on Blu-ray.

3. "End of Watch" -- A cop buddy movie that occasionally uses shaky-cam sounds like it would be riddled with cliques. But instead this movie was a visceral experience, the best one about Los Angeles crime that I’ve ever seen.

4. "Safety Not Guaranteed" -- A sweet little movie about a trio of journalists that track down a man who thinks he can time travel. I hope to be assigned such a story one day.

5. "Silver Linings Playbook" -- A strong contender going into awards season, Bradley Cooper ("The Hangover") and Jennifer Lawrence ("The Hunger Games") play two mentally unstable individuals. And yet, this is a feel-good movie about love and letting go.

To reach Adam Poulisse:
(413) 496-6214,
or apoulisse@berkshireeagle.com.
On Twitter: @BE_Poulisse