2012 Robert Downey, Jr. Award for Entertainer of the Year

This award is one I will present annually to the actor, writer, director or any combination thereof who has in my estimation the best year. The only real criteria is that they have multiple credits. The credits can be two responsibilities on the same film or more than one film. The idea came to me based on Robert Downey, Jr.’s incredible 2008. He was the first winner and the name stuck.

I think I did start to list potential candidates for this but then thought it’d take some of the drama out of it. Also, if you have to think too much about a body-of-work award like this one, it’s nearly invalidated.

So first there are honorable mentions…

I admit to being woefully ignorant about the oeuvre Joss Whedon before this year. I was not one of the legion following his TV series’. However, with the anticipation building towards The Avengers I saw Dr. Horrible and previously fell in love with The Cabin in the Woods.

Late in the year when this topic was bandied about Matthew McConaughey’s name was getting a lot of traction for roles in Magic Mike, Killer Joe, The Paperboy and Bernie. Also, Mud did well on the festival circuit and is an anticipated 2013 film for me. McConaughey’s year was astoundingly good.

So why not those two? Whedon lacked the spontaneity of some of my past choices. I know of him but not his work and was looking forward to the releases based on premise/buzz. McConaughey’s accolades though mostly genuine almost seem like mea culpas. For whatever reason, he’s got a bad rap. I’ve always liked his work. He hasn’t always been put in the best situations casting-wise (I like Contact but that comes to mind) but if anyone sees Frailty they’d be willing to give him a permanent seal of approval. I’d argue he’s always been underrated and never phoned anything in unlike some who reach tongue-in-cheek cult status, and this year he found dynamite parts and knocked them out of the park. Always felt he could, but was a closeted fan.

However, owing to the fact that last year’s winner had four roles of note and set sort of a precedent and also appeared in films I saw at different stages of the year, those things are some of, but not the only reasons, I choose Samuel L. Jackson.

Jackson, of course, is part of the phenomenon that is The Avengers. To an extent Jackson’s work as Nick Fury is akin to Alan Rickman’s in the Harry Potter series. Jackson has been establishing Fury as the Marvel Universe built itself up on film. The culmination of the effort is the first Avengers film.

However, before and after that film in the year there were two indies that when combined with Django Unchained make him the clear choice.

Now, Meeting Evil and The Samaritan may not be the most universally embraceable films but I enjoyed both and he seemed to also. Sam Jackson has been quoted as saying that he sometimes bases decisions on roles by deciphering if he would’ve wanted to see these films when he was a kid. I think all his choices for 2012 pass that test with ease.

Last, but unquestionablty not least, is his performance in Django Unchained. What he does there is nothing short of astounding especially when you consider his screen time. He plays older than he is, adopts new physicality, puts a slightly different spin on his usual tough-guy persona, and then, with impeccable timing and brilliant results, sends up the sidekick subservience that far too many African-American actors of the the past had to settle for.

However, when hearkening to the past in a different way, Jackson also took part in two films that could be classified as neo-noir and played both sides of the equation (protagonist and antagonist).

Smauel L. Jackson is the kind of actor who upon being involved in a project elevates it and has the potential to do something extraordinarily special. He did so in 2012 four times over. If that’s not entertainer of the year, I don’t know what is.

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Review- The Avengers

So here it is at last, the convergence of all the Marvel has been working for with its recent films. It’s the make-your-head-explode conception sure to delight many a film geek and comic book nerd the world over. Surely almost any film would implode under these nearly insurmountable expectations and such deafening hype, right? Wrong.

What we turn to summer movie fare for are spectacles. It’s where we want the ultimate in escapism, and have been let down over and over again. The Avengers name is in some ways a meta-textual one as it avengers many of the over-hyped bombs of the past but it really does is delivered as expected and so much more.

The tale is a simple one wherein the Tesseract, a stone that is a source of renewable energy and power, has fallen into the hands of the megalomaniac Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Enter S.H.I.E.L.D., headed by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) who has had small appearances in the previous Marvel films building to this event, the assemblage of the Avengers, a superhero team to combat a super threat. The tale being rather straight-forward is a great thing here because it allows the film to do something these films don’t usually do: introduce and build the characters, create conflict and investment on behalf of the audience. In the end, you want the heroes to save the world, of course, but you also want for the heroes to succeed to avenge their enemies and vanquish their demons. A rare feat, and colossal when you consider how many characters this applies to.

The common thread that applies to all the characters and actors in this film is that even though they’ve all had their own film(s) none of them have been better in their given part than they are here. Which is slightly a contrarian thought because you’d think with less screen time each and so many characters it’d end up being insufficient and watered down, nothing could be further from the truth.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth), due to the fact that Loki is his brother, has the most invested in this cause. His entrance into the tale is spectacular and one of the many memorable moments this film offers.

Captain America (Chris Evans) is great here in many ways. Not only is he perhaps the most idealistic of the characters in the context of this story but he also has similar baggage to Thor in as much as he too is a bit displaced, Thor in place and Captain America in time. His moments come both in dialogue and in a few battles.

Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) is back and better than ever. I’ll discuss Whedon’s writing and directing more later, but having Tony Stark be the one who is confrontational and snarky about the team is one of the film’s best touches. It gives him a journey as first he’s arrogant, the most informed on the dossier and then has to make it work with this crew because that’s the only way it’ll happen. I cannot describe his best moment as it’d be a massive spoiler if you’re one of the few who hasn’t seen it yet.

As for The Hulk, I did trudge through the previous two attempts to make his character work in a full-length motion picture. It didn’t work at all until now. This character was really the gamble, he’s a major “new addition” to characters who had recently gotten their own successful big screen ventures. They could’ve pulled someone else in but they went back to the the Hulk. This time it pays off big time. This is all thanks to both the way the character is written, again to not say too much, and also Mark Ruffalo’s tremendous performance.

Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) also makes a return after first appearing in Iron Man 2, however, here is where her character really develops and quite frankly she’s amazing in this. Not only in the fighting scenes but she’s also playing subtext and conveying emotion brilliantly. As the girl in the group she’s outnumbered but by no means outmatched.

Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is an example of impeccable casting. Due to the way the film structures itself he suits the role perfectly well and does some pretty awesome jumping about and target shooting.

Every superhero film needs a villain and the best thing this film does is it has one and one only. We know who he is early and focus on him. He gets his thralls but is allowed to flex and posture and does his darndest to convince us that things won’t work out in the end. Tom Hiddleston far outdoes himself in this encore.

Joss Whedon is someone I’ll admit I didn’t know a lot about until very recently. I knew the name but I had not seen a lot of his work. However, in light of his role as co-writer and producer of The Cabin in the Woods I’ve started to see some more and I can say that his contributions to this film are massive. He clearly has immense respect for this material but also knows how to play with it. The respect is evident in that despite the fact that this film end with a massive, near-cataclysmic, jaw-dropping action sequence it takes the time to get these characters together see how they gel or create friction, sort through some of their baggage and get people moments that they earn.

The effects in the film are, of course, tremendous. I did happen to see the movie in 3D and I would say that it’s one you can enjoy just as much without it. The difference made is negligible.

So to those of us who wondered if a super-group superhero film could work, the answer is a resounding yes. Anticipation quenched and all we wonder now is where it’ll go from here.

10/10