Sunday, December 30, 2012


It’s been two years since I’ve been writing The Establishing Shot and I appreciate my followers and anyone who visits here. It’s been a lot of fun and we will continue to share thoughts on the movies together. It’s always great to hear from you, so please keep posting! As is a tradition here since my first essay posted, it’s that time of year for me to pick my favorite images from the year’s movies. And while I have yet to see ZERO DARK THIRTY or AMOUR because they haven’t opened in Chicago yet, I pick these 10 shots based on what I was able to see. (NOTE: Be warned, there may be spoilers.)
In one of the year’s best movies, there are any number of great images: Tommy Lee Jones getting in bed with S. Epatha Merkerson; James Spader trying to retrieve his folder from a man about to shoot him; heck, any time director Steven Spielberg focuses his camera on Daniel Day-Lewis as the 16th president is a great image. It’s one of the greatest performances of all time and Spielberg is confident enough to just fill the frame with his face. Towards the end, he fills it with his back. Lincoln walks away from the camera, off to the theater. In that moment, he’s walking into history after ending slavery and the Civil War, and for practical purposes, exiting the picture. It’s a moving, triumphant and heartbreaking image, and it’s my favorite of the year.

Marion Cotillard gives one of the year’s best performances as a trainer of killer Orcas at an amusement park who suffers the loss of her legs below the knees from a horrible accident during a show. With the help of prosthetics, she is able to walk again. She returns to the park and to the tank to make peace with her attacker. Like a devoted and docile pet, the whale finds her on the other side of the glass and dutifully follows her hand signals. What it really signals is that her character has started to regain control of her body and her environment. It’s as poetic an image as any in a movie in some time.

Before the feature presentation of WRECK-IT RALPH, Disney showcases the animated short PAPERMAN. In it, an office worker has a chance encounter with a comely young woman at the train stop and falls head over heels for her. Through a series of fits and starts, mostly involving errant paper airplanes, the man tries to reconnect with her. None of it would work if those first seconds of their meeting weren’t so entrancing. But indeed those moments are and this freeze frame shows two good people waiting for the train, and for their love lives to start.
Tim Burton references a lot of classic horror movies in his affectionate, animated tale about a boy who brings back his dearly departed dog. Sparky is appropriately named as a surge of electricity reanimates him in a way that Mary Shelley would approve. And his re-emergence into the town invigorates everyone, including the poodle next door. She’s always been attracted to Sparky and when she kisses him in his new condition, the sparks fly. And a current of electricity shocks a white streak into her poodle poof. It’s a hair-raising reference to Elsa Lancaster as James Whale’s title character in THE BRIDE OF FRANKESTEIN. And it’s one of the adorable reasons that FRANKENWEENIE is the year’s best animated feature.

The greatest audience-rousing moment in any movie this year is from 2012’s biggest moneymaker. It’s when the Hulk has had enough of the terror and preening of Loki, the ‘god’ from another planet trying to take over earth. Loki taunts the Hulk and it’s never a good idea to make the Hulk angry. He picks up Loki and smashes him to and fro like a rag doll. The audience whooped and hollered like a winning touchdown had been scored, and in some ways it had what with the Hulk metaphorically ‘spiking the ball’.

In Woody Allen’s valentine to the Italian city, he tells a number of tales of love including one of mistaken identity. A naïve young man ventures into the big city and gets separated from his new bride and ends up with a hooker at his door who thinks he’s her client. The incredible Penelope Cruz plays the prostitute and she crawls onto his bed purring, “I am here to fulfill your dreams.” Who could say no to that Penny for your thoughts?

The movie trailer gives it away and robs it of some of its impact, but nonetheless when Denzel Washington turns the plane upside down to avoid crashing, the shot sticks in the mind both for its audaciousness as well as for it’s totally believable CGI execution. It also serves as a great metaphor for how Washington’s plucky act of courage will soon turn his world upside down in this harrowing drama.

Ethan Hawke plays a desperate writer who moves his family into the home where a family was massacred to be inspired. He’s the true monster in this monster movie. And yet, he holds our sympathies. Why? Two reasons - the first being that Hawke is such a good actor he makes this awful man empathetic. And the second reason must go to director Scott Derrickson who has the good sense to let Hawke’s expressions convey most of the horrors he sees throughout the thriller.

Speaking of horror, this year had a number of terrific entries into the genre, including two animated greats. In addition to FRANKENWEENIE, there was PARANORMAN, the story of a boy who sees dead people and must save his town from their infiltration. One of the best images in the movie is its character design satirizing the teens that always end up at the center of so many horror films. The designs are by Travis Knight, Heidi Smith and directors Chris Butler and Sam Fell, and they are a hilarious joy each and every frame.

John Hawkes plays a handicapped man who must spend time in an iron lung to survive. Knowing his days are short, he decides to lose his virginity with the help of a sex surrogate. Helen Hunt plays her and her open, naturalistic performance is complemented by her casual nudity. Most films pull their punch when it comes to such things, but not this one. This is the moment where Hunt undresses and you realize this movie is going to be frank and naked. And it’s a wonderful endorsement of life, love and the human body.

Well, those are my favorite images from the year’s films. What sticks in your mind? Plenty of these are still showing in theaters, or will be re-released for awards season soon, so check them out and revel in some of the best of 2012.


  1. One of my favorite 2012 images is from the film FLIGHT, when alcoholic airline captain Denzel, spending the night in a hotel and trying to stay clean and sober for the following day's critical (and potentially career-ending) NTSB hearing, faces down the adjoining room's mini-bar. I'll let the script describe it:

    CLOSE ON THE MINI-BAR. Whip swings open the door.


    COLORS SPARKLE as a cadre of tiny liquor bottles GLOW like jewels in a chest.

    WHIP stares at the “glimmering gems” for a long, long time -- vodka, gin, wine, bourbon. The bottles SHIMMER -- AMBER, CRYSTAL, EMERALD, RUBY.

    WHIP reaches for a frosted vodka mini bottle -- he gently pinches the neck of the bottle and lifts it out of the fridge. He holds up the mini vodka and considers it.

    Now Whip slowly removes the stopper and smells the White Whiskey. He looks at the bottle once more, then slowly twists the tiny cap back on.

    With a look of solemn resignation, Whip places the frosted mini bottle on top of the fridge and walks away.

    WE STAY CLOSE ON THE BOTTLE. The CAMERA FOCUSES on the small bottle as a small droplet of condensation runs down its side -- ever so slowly, slowly. Then suddenly...


  2. That's a great scene for sure! One of the best in a film this year for sure, Fan. Thanks for sharing your thought! And script page too.