Looking forward to this year of movies, two films held special spots on my "Most Anticipated" list. They were "Killing Them Softly," then known as "Cogan's Trade," and "Lawless," then known as "The Wettest County in the World." Title downgrades aside, both films nearly guaranteed my enjoyment based solely on their premises and the talent behind them, but what I didn't factor into the equation was one of 2012's Big Stories: gangster fatigue.
"Killing Them Softly" and "Lawless" come from two of Australia's best working filmmakers, Andrew Dominik and John Hillcoat, respectively. Both directors have made westerns that rank in my personal list for the best films of the past decade. Dominik's "The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford" bombed initially but has earned a cult status in the years afterward, and Hillcoat's "The Proposition" has few equals when it comes to beauty and brutality. So of course either one is capable of making a classic crime movie.
Timed with the release of "Lawless" in August, Esquire's Stephen Marche penned an essay titled "The Gangster Movie Needs to Die." In the article, Marche posits that "The Sopranos" definitely ended the genre all the way back in 2001 with this scene:
Both "Killing Them Softly" and "Lawless" could boast technical style and some thrilling moments, but the two films suffered thanks to the idea brought up by the scene above. In a year where the hero (both super and everyday) dominated, who could celebrate the acts of evil men? Why would we root for a dumb crook and a dedicated CIA agent hunting for Osama bin Laden? Or a bunch of violent bootleggers and a group of men trying to end slavery? In a year when the best movies raised up the best among us, what room was there for the worst us?
If forced to name one genre I enjoy more than all others, the answer would likely be "crime." In the past, the gangsters and assassins have operated as lenses through which we could examine morality and its many shades of gray, but after a while, the bad guy stops looking that cool, and you want to start cheering on the good guy. That was this year.
"The Big & Best of 2012: A Year End Celebration Presented by T-Mobile" goes LIVE at 12 p.m. ET on 12/12/12. Watch at BigAndBestOf2012.com for eight hours of live performances from stars like Bruno Mars and Miguel, surprise guest appearances, prize giveaways, special editions of "RapFix Live," "Big Morning Buzz Live," "MTV After Hours," "You Oughta Know" and much more!