This year's movies have a lot to live up to.
In 2012, movies were good. Even the franchise ones. "The Avengers," "The Dark Knight Rises," "The Hunger Games" and "Skyfall" led the North American box office, which hit a record $10.8 billion, and were critical hits as well.
"For a long time, a lot of the big sequels and brands were just dumb popcorn films," said Gitesh Pandya, editor of the box-office website boxoffice.com.
Not now. Studios stepped up their games, Pandya said, to keep viewers from waiting to see films on DVD or streaming, and to combat fatigue experienced by audiences who, in previous years, would drop $20 a pop to see 3-D blockbusters and then be disappointed.
After years of declines, actual ticket sales -- a number unaffected by 3-D or IMAX surcharges -- rose 6.4 percent in 2012, according to numbers-tracking site boxofficemojo.com.
Franchise films likely will rule the box office again in 2013. A few, like "Star Trek Into Darkness" and "Hunger Games: Catching Fire," also might be really good, judging by their predecessors.
In honor of the discerning filmgoers of 2012, here is a very picky 2013 preview, composed only of movies I really want to see. I have seen one of them -- the Oscar-nominated "Amour," which arrives here in February. The rest were picked based on the track records of the directors, actors and studios involved.
Except the comedies. They were chosen purely on goofball factor. Dates are subject to change, and can vary from city to city.
"Identity Thief," Feb. 8
"The Heat," April 5
Directors: Seth Gordon, "Identity"; Paul Feig, "The Heat"
Cast: Melissa McCarthy and Jason Bateman, "Identity Thief"; McCarthy and Sandra Bullock, "The Heat"
Why: Because this is the delightful comic actress McCarthy's moment as a Hollywood lead, or at least the moment the movies that were made because of her success with "Bridesmaids" are being released.
In both films, she plays characters who do not have a hoot to give, and that is always McCarthy's best look.
In "Identity," her character has stolen Bateman character's identity (his name is Sandy) and run up his credit-card bills. In "Heat," she is the rough-hewn cop who teams, buddy-comedy style, with Bullock's by-the-book FBI agent.
Bullock and Bateman both make great straight people (see Bullock in "Two Weeks Notice" and Bateman in "Arrested Development" and ... everything). The directors' bona fides impress as well if you liked "Horrible Bosses" (Gordon) or "Bridesmaids" (Feig).
"Anchorman: The Legend Continues," Dec. 20
Director: Adam McKay
Cast: Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, David Koechner, Christina Applegate
Why: Because quotes from this comedy about a pigheaded 1970s San Diego anchorman (Ferrell) will never leave the lexicon. When someone urges you to stay classy, that's because of a certain mustached Scotch lover from the 6 o'clock news.
Ron and his news team of pervs, grotesques and idiots (Koechner, Rudd, Carell) will return. So will Applegate, as Ron's co-anchor and lady love, Veronica. Look for important history lessons like the one Ron gave Veronica in the first film about how San Diego was "discovered by the Germans in 1904."
"Monsters University," June 21
Director: Dan Scanlon
Voice cast: Billy Crystal, John Goodman
Why: There is no more reliable brand in moviedom than Pixar, which this summer will show how Sulley (Goodman) and Mike (Crystal), the monster duo from 2001's "Monsters, Inc.," first met back in college.
"Monsters, Inc." was great fun, even if it relied too much on vocal star power, as those "Ice Age" films do. But it's a small quibble, as quibbles with Pixar films tend to be. It also is worth pointing out that Pixar movies have only increased in humor, warmth and loveliness in the 12 years since "Monsters, Inc."
If its website (monstersuniversity.com) is an indication, "Monsters University" will be a blast. Set up like a college website, it touts athletics and diversity and lists campus rules for students: "No pets are allowed on campus, with the exception of seeing-eye snakes."
"Amour," Feb. 8
Director: Michael Haneke
Cast: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva
Why: Aging as a cinematic subject usually serves only as a springboard for grumpy-old-men or bucket-list comedies. "Amour," a French-language film by Austrian director Haneke, takes an intimate, unsparing look at real issues tied to aging and illness.
The film, nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Picture, arrives at every sentiment honestly as it shows Georges' (Trintignant) challenges in caring for his wife, Anne (Riva), after her debilitating stroke. Frustrations arise on both their parts, but love never leaves them.
"The Place Beyond the Pines," spring
Director: Derek Cianfrance
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Rose Byrne
Why: Cianfrance and Gosling made "Blue Valentine," one of the most powerful and authentic, if also occasionally excruciating, portraits