It's safe to say that 2012 wasn't a banner year for animated movies. Sure, lots of people liked Brave, but Pixar's best films were reissues of Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo. Rise of the Guardians and Wreck-It Ralph had their moments, but there was nothing that felt groundbreaking, from either a technological or storytelling point of view.
The good news is that the new year kicks off with a slew of terrific animated films, as the Studio Ghibli Collection rolls through La Jolla Village Cinemas starting Friday, Jan. 4, and then plays a week at the Ken Cinema starting Friday, Jan. 11.
You might not be familiar with Studio Ghibli, but it's likely you know of a number of the films that came out of the Japanese company. This is where Hayao Miyazaki practices his craft, where he made wonderful animated films like Princess Mononoke in 1997, My Neighbor Totoro in 1988, Spirited Away in 2002, Howl's Moving Castle in 2005 and Ponyo in 2009. All of these films, and more, will screen during the two-week stretch, and all will be shown on new 35mm prints—a format whose popularity is waning, sadly, in this digital era.
Swing by landmarktheatres.com for the schedule, since different films play on different days. But do yourself a favor and catch Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, which screens in La Jolla on Saturday, Jan. 5, and several times at the Ken on Friday, Jan. 11. This 1984 film marked Miyazaki's debut and has a special place in my experience. As a teenager, I watched an old VHS copy of Nausicaa dozens of times—it's epic and sweeping and emotional, and it taught me that you can make an animated film that's action-packed and futuristic, but also emotionally compelling.
No, last year might not have been the best for animated pictures; sometimes you have to look further back to see the future.
Generation P: Hallucinogenic Russian film about a poet who finds himself much more suited to writing advertising copy.
The Impossible: Biopic about a family, led by Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor, who are vacationing in Thailand during the 2004 tsunami.
Texas Chainsaw 3D: Because the best kind of chainsaw is the kind that comes right at you.
Zero Dark Thirty: Kathryn Bigelow's movie, about the 10-year hunt for Osama bin Laden, is a masterwork of filmmaking, and the fact that it's inspiring debate about torture should be more tangential than anything else. See our review on Page 20.
One Time Only
Arbitrage: Richard Gere is a 1-percenter who gets caught up in lies and murder, trying to keep his fortune from the other 99 percent. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 2, at the Central Library, Downtown.
Mel Brooks' History of the World: Part I: Sea Rocket Bistro in North Park kicks off a month of Mel with this look at human history, which spawned the phrase, "It's good to be the king." Starts at around 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 2.
Weekend at Bernie's: Ring in the new year with two clowns and their dead boss at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 2, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Do the Right Thing: The San Diego Museum of Art screens Spike Lee's breakthrough film in conjunction with its Behold, America! exhibit. Find details on Page 12. Screens at 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 4, at the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park.
Pitch Perfect: Anna Kendrick is the new girl at college, and she finds her place by joining a bad-ass all-girl vocal group. Screens at 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 6, at the Central Library, Downtown.
Zero Focus: Classy 1961 Japanese mystery about a newlywed who goes in search of her missing husband. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 7, at the Central Library, Downtown.
Napoleon Dynamite: Bespectacled, goofy-looking social misfit convinces his dismissive classmates to vote for Pedro. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 9, at the Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Django Unchained: Tarantino takes on yet another genre—the western—and blows it up and makes it fun again. Jamie Foxx is Django, a slave freed by German bounty hunter Christoph Waltz, off to rescue wife Kerry Washington from plantation owner Leonardo DiCaprio.
Les Miserables: Fans of the legendary musical will get their fix from this big-screen adaptation by King's Speech director Tom Hooper, who relies heavily on close-ups and, sadly, Russell Crowe, who isn't a trained singer. Anne Hathaway, on the other hand, dreams a nice dream as Fantine.
Not Fade Away: The first film from Sopranos godfather David Chase is about a group of New Jersey teens trying to make it as a rock band in the 1960s. Steven Van Zandt served the film as a musical advisor.
Promised Land: Matt Damon and John Krasinski co-wrote the screenplay for Gus Van Sant's new movie, an impressively nuanced look at the world of fracking from the point of view of Damon's corporate cog, who believes that he's doing something good for the world. Unfortunately, a twist at the end undermines that whole idea.
Dabangg 2: Action! Comedy! Singing! Yep, it's from Bollywood, and it's screening at AMC Mission Valley.
North Sea Texas: Belgian film about a teenage boy whose search for love leads him next door—to the other boy who lives there.
Parental Guidance: Billy Crystal and Bette Midler agree to look after their grandchildren. Hilarity for a certain demographic ensues.
Any Day Now: Alan Cumming and Garrett Dillahunt play a gay couple trying to adopt a teenager with Down Syndrome in the 1970s.
Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away: Those Canadian clowns enter a new dimension. As in, 3-D filmmaking.
The Guilt Trip: Seth Rogen takes an unexpected road trip with his mom, played by Barbra Streisand.
Jack Reacher: Tom Cruise takes on the title role in a movie based on the best-selling series of books, obviously looking for another Mission: Impossible sort of franchise.
Monsters, Inc. 3D: Sulley, Mike and Boo are coming at you, literally.
Rust and Bone: Marion Cotillard plays an orca trainer whose relationship with young Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts from last year's Oscar-nominated Bullhead) takes on a new dimension when she suffers a serious accident at work.
This is 40: Judd Apatow returns to Knocked Up territory, though this sort-of sequel focuses on Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann), who were supporting players in the earlier film.
Hyde Park on Hudson: Bill Murray plays FDR in the days leading up to WWII, and Laura Linney is the distant cousin with whom he enjoys a special relationship.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Peter Jackson returns to Middle-earth in the first of three films based on the book that came before Lord of the Rings.
Playing for Keeps: Gerard Butler is a washed-up soccer star who starts coaching his son's team. Which keeps the soccer moms happy.
Hitchcock: Anthony Hopkins plays the famed director, and Helen Mirren his wife, during the time Hitchcock was shooting Psycho.
Killing Them Softly: Brad Pitt shows why he's a movie star, effortlessly exuding cool as a mob enforcer in Andrew Dominik's art-house take on a gangster flick.
Red Dawn: The updated edition of the 1984 Cold War-paranoia pic stars Josh Hutcherson and Chris Hemsworth, who signed on and shot the movie years ago, before they were rich and famous.
Anna Karenina: Director Joe Wright teams up again with his Pride & Prejudice star Keira Knightley to take on another period drama.
Life of Pi: Ang Lee's adaptation of the Booker Prize-winning novel about a boy, a tiger and a lifeboat is this year's movie that you simply must see on a big screen and in 3-D. Really.
Rise of the Guardians: The Immortal Guardians—aka the Easter Bunny, Santa, etc.—team up to kick evil-spirit ass.
Let it Snow: The IMAX theater at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park gets animated and kid-friendly just in time for the holidays.
Silver Linings Playbook: Bradley Cooper plays Pat, a bipolar guy from Philly who's just out of the mental hospital, having lost his job, his home and his wife. He moves in with his parents (Jacki Weaver and Robert De Niro) in hopes of regaining his marriage, but things are thrown askew by Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who has problems of her own.
Lincoln: It might as well have been called The 13th Amendment. Despite another spellbinding performance from Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln's biopic is really about getting legislation through Congress.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2: The long national nightmare is over.
Skyfall: Daniel Craig's third outing as 007 is thankfully closer to Casino Royale than Quantum of Solace. This time, he's going up against Javier Bardem, who has some history with MI-6.
The Other Son: An Israeli and a Palestinian discover they were switched at birth.
Tales of the Maya Skies: This IMAX movie explores the rich history of the Mayan people, just in time for the end of the world. At the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
The Man With the Iron Fists: The Wu-Tang Clan's RZA co-wrote (with Eli Roth), directed and stars in this ultraviolent martial-arts epic, which also features Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu. They're all on the trail of a fortune in gold.
The Sessions: John Hawkes is great as Mark O'Brien, a writer and poet paralyzed by polio who turns to a sexual surrogate (Helen Hunt) in order to lose his virginity at age 38.
Wreck-It Ralph: The latest animated film from Disney stars John C. Reilly as Ralph, the bad guy in an old-school video game who desperately wants to be liked.
Chasing Mavericks: A surfing movie, surprisingly co-directed by Michael Apted and Curtis Hanson, about a teen who turns to crusty surfing legend Gerard Butler to help him survive a massive wave.
Cloud Atlas: This epic production is almost three hours long and stars Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent and Hugo Weaving in multiple roles. It consists of six stories that span different time periods, with a running storyline about reincarnation and the effects of our actions on future generations.
Fun Size: A teenage girl loses track of her little brother while attending a Halloween party thrown by a really cute boy.
Argo: Ben Affleck directs and stars in this take on the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, and believe it or not, it's gonna be a Best Picture contender.
Flight of the Butterflies: It turns out Monarch butterflies are much like SDSU students—every year, thousands of them head to Mexico. This IMAX film captures their beautiful trip. The butterflies, that is.
Frankenweenie: Tim Burton hasn't made a film that's been an original idea in years, so it sort of makes sense that he'd remake one of his own movies.
Taken 2: Remember all those dudes Liam Neeson killed in the thoroughly violent Taken? At least one of them has a family member out for a little payback.
Looper: Director Rian Johnson (Brick, Brothers Bloom) teams once again with Joseph Gordon-Levitt for this time-twister; JGL is a hit man whose future self (Bruce Willis) is sent back in time to be rubbed out.
Ice Age: Continental Drift: So cold.
Flying Monsters 3D: No, it's not a crappy studio blockbuster—this one is all about dinosaurs and was written and directed by Richard Attenborough, using Avatar-like technology, and plays the San Diego Natural History Museum in Balboa Park.
To the Arctic 3-D: Cute-animal-movie alert No. 2. Meryl Streep narrates this new IMAX movie about a mama polar bear and her two cubs.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: The camp classic continues its ongoing run, Fridays at midnight at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas.