The James Clayton Column: 2012 - the mirrorverse movie year

Feature James Clayton 21 Dec 2012 - 06:20

With 2012 drawing to a close, James looks back over the year's movies - as seen from a strange alternate universe...

So 2012, then. Helluva ride, huh? I saw many films and some of them were films within films and films about films and now we’ve all ended up in a disaster movie of our own at the arrival of the Mayan apocalypse that Mel Gibson warned us about way back when. We didn’t even get to enjoy Christmas.

Never mind though. Before Jaguar Paw came screaming out of the Mesoamerican rainforest and we all perished as doomsday struck, we watched some brilliant movies. The past calendar year has been packed with superb cinematic releases, and looking back from the other side of oblivion, I see that we were spoiled.

Unfortunately, from this standpoint on the flipside of forever, I can’t actually see the old timeline of reality. That existence erased by the apocalypse, all I can do now is pick out the strands of parallel universes to get perspective on where we’ve come from and what happened.

In metaphysical limbo, uncertain where we go from here (is this death or the Dawn of Aquarius?) and insecurely clinging to old-reality nostalgia, I’m avoiding moving on at this moment and flicking through other timestreams to try and find familiar touchstones instead. I also want to write a retrospective column about recent film releases, and that’s a more pressing priority than grand cosmic rebirth right now.

Skimming through the array of alternate histories, I’ve finally found one quite close to the way things were before our doomsday. This universe is the pretty much the same except like the Star Trek episode Mirror, Mirror (the original series, second season), everything and everyone is intensified, unrestrained in their extrovert energies and closer to a ‘chaotic evil’ alignment. Imagine the internet’s message boards boiling over, spilling off screen and becoming flesh and blood - that’s basically what this world is.

The mirrorverse’s 2012 had all the same movies but got them in a disordered, slightly dissimilar fashion and experienced them differently due to the reality’s rooting in raging amoralism and aggression. Still, it’ll do for a ‘year in review’ summary as we look to grasp the past 12 months in cinema and comfort ourselves now that all the known knowns have been knocked out by the Mayan apocalypse.

In total, 2012 can be tagged as ‘The Year Painfully Short Attention Spans Snapped’ and things got off to a bad start as The Artist hit screens. It cleaned up at award ceremonies and touched film critics but mainstream audiences were appalled at the silent film’s lack of vocalised exposition and resented having to actually concentrate. Furthermore, it was interpreted as an artsy-fartsy French insult - a message saying “Americans! Shut up!” - so transatlantic relations turned sour.

France tried to apologise by offering up Rust And Bone - a film with a Katy Perry soundtrack and cute orca whales. It being election year, however, the USA was too busy with its own internal politics and focused on the crucial issues of The Campaign - namely Will Ferrell’s assaults on a baby and a dog. Post-election failure he followed the much-despised Mel Gibson (last seen fleeing in Get The Gringo) to Mexico where he started beating up drug barons and snow leopards in Casa De Mi Padre instead.

Jean Dujardin had nothing to say about any of this because he’s stuck in a silent film. Audiences likewise didn’t want to talk ‘serious’ issues and reacted negatively to Killing Them Softly which lured them in with Brad Pitt and hit them with an idiosyncratic dark visual essay exploring the crisis of modern masculinity in an era of Western economic collapse.

Further frustrated by abstruse complexities to the point of violence - people got hurt, popcorn got spilled, Brad Pitt had to play Katy Perry songs and party with orca whales to try and become popular again -  the ‘dumb demographic’ despised cerebral releases like Looper and Prometheus. Viewers didn’t want to confront profound time travel paradoxes and face theories that life on Earth was created by indifferent alien Engineers. Sir Ridley Scott was subsequently shackled and sent to the space prison of Lockout with Guy Pearce (now stripped of his old man makeup and in muscular shape thanks to the special super strength moonshine he confiscated off the bootlegging Bondurant brothers in Lawless).

Meanwhile, Christopher Nolan was cast into a dark chasm for The Dark Knight Rises which everyone managed to find a problem with, except for those who only turned up to see Anne Hathaway in the Catwoman outfit. “I can’t understand Bane’s mumbling!” they whinged. “The plot holes are vaster than the ones in the middle of the destroyed American football field!” they complained. “How can you end the Dark Knight trilogy like this?!” they howled, but Nolan didn’t follow the example of the Mass Effect 3 videogame and refused to release an altered ending to please irate fanboys and fangirls.

Unrepentant, his back was broken and he was dropped in a pit prison. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (“he can’t be Batman!”) was forced to flee on a pushbike in Premium Rush while Batman himself (Dead? Alive? Simply sleeping until a Justice League movie happens?) travelled incognito to China where he helped save some Catholic schoolgirls from Japanese soldiers in Zhang Yimou’s The Flowers Of War.

Fortunately a whole legion of fresh film cops - the armed Indonesian police squad from The Raid, the dynamic duos of 21 Jump Street and End Of Watch plus Judge Dredd from Dredd and the deleted scenes of Joe Wright’s ultra-radical Anna Karenina adaptation - were on the beat to keep the peace and put an end to the Edgar Allan Poe-inspired killings that trailed The Raven and the caravan murder sprees that followed Sightseers.

Because of poor advertising - the one-man operation centred around shouting “I am the Law!” through a megaphone didn’t work - no one saw Dredd, which made him even more sullen, but he was nowhere near as downbeat as Taylor Kitsch. In spite of his best efforts and great charisma, John Carter, Battleship and Savages were branded as box office bombs, so Kitsch shut himself in a private mausoleum and astral projected himself to Mars where he could brood in peace and plot his comeback as either Batman or an orca whale.

Back on Earth, all the kids took up ice hockey after seeing how gleefully violent it was in Goon. Ted encouraged many maladjusted young men to adopt a profane talking plushy toy to smoke pot and watch 80s fantasy films with. The unhealthy trend among teenage girls was cosmetic surgery to acquire the ‘Elizabeth Olsen Trauma Face’ expressed throughout Silent House, Red Lights and Martha Marcy May Marlene. More innocent youngsters looked to Moonrise Kingdom for role models and thus scout membership numbers skyrocketed while Benjamin Britten compositions stormed to the top of the charts.

Family-friendly cinema was fraught with controversy as conservative pressure groups put the knives into kids’ films and stoked up censorship. The Muppets was labelled “anti-capitalist” and, likewise, The Lorax was slammed as environmentalist propaganda. Brave was bashed for being pro-feminist and The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists was condemned for being anti-Creationist and pro-piracy. Furthermore, ParaNorman was pummelled for a homosexual subtext and a pro-zombie outlook while Frankenweenie got slated for encouraging underage necromancy.

With all these features pulled from theatres young viewers ended up watching Daniel Radcliffe in The Woman In Black which terrified them far more than the dreadful demons of The Possession (Jewish evil spirit), Sinister (videonasty moviemaking evil spirit) and The Iron Lady (confused ghost Denis Thatcher). The devastated tween demographic were also grieving at the closing of the Twilight saga and received little comfort from Cosmopolis - a film where an ennui-stricken Edward Cullen has sex in a limo and gets half a haircut.

Vampire action was also offered by Dark Shadows, but it was eclipsed on the gothic domestic drama front by trailer trash Texan noir Killer Joe which put everyone off their chicken nuggets. Other distressing family problems were present in Trouble With The Curve, where grouchy geriatric baseball scout Clint Eastwood ignored his daughter and spent time talking to his genitals instead. Nevertheless, feelgood music flicks - like The Sapphires and Pitch Perfect - were around to perk up the afflicted though many were disappointed to find that Shadow Dancer was a really bleak movie about the IRA and not an Irish sister to Step Up 4: Miami Heat.

Happiness was found instead in a troupe of films celebrating the bond between manchildren and animals - namely Life Of Pi, War Horse and We Bought A Zoo. Cinemagoers also rushed to see the respun story of an arachnid granting great power to a student in The Amazing Spider-Man. They didn’t mind that it was a remake because - probably thanks to Total Recall (also a remake) - there was no trace of the original lingering in their fried memory.

These amnesiac tendencies also helped them accept the anachronisms of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (he never slayed undead bloodsuckers) and J. Edgar (he never wore his mother’s dresses). Likewise, they didn’t mind Jeremy Renner stealing Matt Damon’s identity for The Bourne Legacy or the whole regressive retro rewind of the 007 series performed by Skyfall.

James Bond - back from the dead and batting off naysayers, cyber-terrorists, komodo dragons and domineering mother figures - was undoubtedly secret service hero of the year triumphing over rogue CIA agent Denzel Washington in Safe House, bearded Ben Affleck in Argo and Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones played by Josh Brolin in Men In Black III. Liam Neeson would have probably ruled as 2012’s ultimate action icon and triumphed over Haywire’s Gina Carano, the hip hop kung fu clans of The Man With The Iron Fists and the veteran ensemble of The Expendables 2 had he not been chained up in Tartarus in Wrath Of The Titans as punishment for the wolf murder of The Grey and the Albanian genocide committed in Taken 2.

Former action icon Jason Statham decided to become a full-time childminder after enjoying the experience in Safe while wicked Charlize Theron was banned from going anywhere near minors on the strength of her despicable turns in Young Adult and Snow White And The Huntsman. Woody Harrelson also became a public hate figure after exposing himself as a violent bigot, a drunk dissident and a doggy do-lally psychopath (in Rampart, The Hunger Games and Seven Psychopaths, respectively) ultimately ending up in psychiatric care. For spectators, however, 2012 was a great year for cinematic self-help as Ruby Sparks advised loners to write themselves a decent love life and arty erotica like Shame and Magic Mike encouraged viewers to loosen inhibitions and embrace their raw sexuality.

As Silver Linings Playbook and The Perks Of Being A Wallflower triumphed over past trauma and mental illness, The Master provided spiritual guidance until the Church of Scientology’s legal team shut it down when they interpreted it as a satirical send up of L. Ron Hubbard. The lawyers were also busy suing anyone who suggested Tom Cruise was too short to play Jack Reacher or who concluded that his appearance as a hair metal singer in Rock Of Ages was definitive proof that Scientology makes you orca-poop crazy.

With the recession biting and everyone too skint to spend money (because they’d been sued by Tom Cruise), George Clooney was forced to sell his wardrobe and wear a Hawaiian shirt in The Descendants and moviemakers repeatedly turned to found-footage cinema in order to try and keep production costs down (see Chronicle, The Devil Inside, Paranormal Activity 4 and so many more).

All the lo-fi shockers were outdone by terrorgasmic toybox The Cabin In The Woods which effectively destroyed the horror genre. Nonetheless, stunned film fans forgave Joss Whedon when he released The Avengers though for some reason industry suits (Puppeteers?) cancelled it half way through its running time. The skirmishes that broke out between Hulksmashing geeks, corporate creeps, orca whales and Batman (it’s an illogical comics crossover event!) were ultimately nothing compared to the Dwarves versus Troll and Orc army battles that tumbled out of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. The grudges of Middle Earth, thus, engulfed our Earth as we galloped towards the grand finale.

By the end of the year, all these events were preceded by an advert in which Kevin Bacon boasted that he was “centre of the universe”. Sorry Kevin. Not anymore now that the universe has ended. Ah well, it was good while it lasted. Helluva ride, huh?

James Clayton is going to deal with the Mayan apocalypse by defecting to the Star Trek mirror universe so he can die at the hands of Dark Goatee Devil Spock instead of fading out sad and alone on the other side of oblivion. You can see all his links here or follow him on Twitter if you can turn back time to a pre-Apcocalypse era.

You can read James’ last column here.

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