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I’m a sucker for trailers. I’ve recently become very fascinated by them as pieces separate from the movies they’re showing. Some might call it a cheap thrill. I call it a simple pleasure. Using things like hip music, quotes of critical acclaim, and accumulated hype from a brilliantly executed marketing campaign might all seem like gimmicks, but they do serve a purpose, and if they make you say “ooo I want to see that!” (and don’t act like that hasn’t happened to you) then they’ve done their job.

There can be some terrible movies that have fantastic trailers, and there can be some great movies with crappy trailers that gave away far too much. I’m not here to judge, but this also shows that there is definitely an art to making a good trailer that might only be partially related to the thing itself. Either way, I’m just here to list the ones that stick out the most in my memory from 2012.

(When I say 2012 I include both trailers for movies that were released this year, as well as trailers released this year for movies coming out next year.)

The Dark Knight Rises

Just from watching it you’re not exactly sure what will happen, except a lot of Gotham-sized mayhem (and clearly Bane’s expression of violent hatred toward pro football). The hype for this final movie was years in the making, so expectations were high. And however you felt about the actual end result itself, I think this trailer was really well put together and helped to propel the hype along all the way to the debut.

Prometheus

This trailer sets up the premise of the movie in the first half, and in the second part of it we see something has gone disastrously wrong–but once again we don’t know exactly what just from watching the trailer, and we are only shown brief flashing images of chaos and terror (and occasionally, Michael Fassbender’s pretty, android face) as the alarm-like music reaches a frenzied pitch.

Argo

Great premise of a gripping political drama (thanks, real life!), the promise of a top-notch cast, and great use of Aerosmith’s “Dream On”.

Man of Steel

If, like me, you’ve listened to the Lord of the Rings soundtracks one too many times you’ll know that the music playing in this trailer is taken directly from it. But, I must grudgingly admit, it’s used well. I’m a little wary of Zack Snyder and his penchant for excessive slow-motion fight scenes, and whether or not he does for the Superman mythos what Christopher Nolan did for Batman , this teaser trailer at least gives me hope. But, you know, no pressure, Zack.

The Great Gatsby    

You can always count on Baz Luhrmann to take bold risks with the stories he tells. The trailers opens with scenes of Jazz-era New York, underscored with contemporary music that captures the spirit of the affluence of the 1920s without being slavish to the form.

Les Miserables

I’m sold mostly on the music, but the montage of scenes in this trailer flows well with it, and in just two minutes and thirty seconds it gives you a sense of the epic scope this story will have. Say what you want about the casting choices, this one gives me chills.

Rust and Bone

Maybe I’m overly influenced by the multiple accolades that flash across the screen throughout, telling me over and over again how freaking amazing this movie is, combined with M83’s achingly beautiful song “My Tears Are Becoming a Sea”, plus brief images of killer whales, Marion Cotillard being most likely amazing, and no dialogue whatsoever, and the fact that at the end I still don’t really quite know what the movie is about; but I would have to admit the trailer has definitely done its job. Well done, trailer.

One common theme in my list seems to be the use of music. I don’t know why that is, but the right song makes all the difference, and my hope is that with each one the carefully selected music will strike just the right emotional chord for the movie itself. But what I like best is when the trailer doesn’t give away too much. It’s always disappointing to see a trailer and feel like you’ve watched the whole movie in two minutes. Some people seeing these trailers may disagree, but I think each of these strike a good balance, giving away enough, but still retaining a sense of mystery. There may be an art to a good trailer, but it’s still just the means and not the end, after all.

Toronto Film Scene’s “Best of 2012” series continues throughout December.

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