The Avengers. The Dark Knight Rises. Skyfall. There were plenty of highly-anticipated, critically acclaimed films that wowed moviegoers this year. But you know all about that stuff already, so we at RT decided to give some love to a few of the overlooked, underappreciated, and, in some cases, critically dismissed movies that made an impression on us. Read on for a rundown of lesser-known gems from 2012 that we think deserve another look.
Matt Atchity – Editor in Chief
This was one of my favorite movies of the year (along with The Grey), but it really struggled to find an audience. So I was glad to see if get a recent re-release nationwide, and I really recommend seeing it if you have the chance. This story about two cops in South Central LA is sometimes funny, sometimes terrifying, and sometimes heartbreaking, and this movie caught me completely off-guard. I’m not sure what I’d been expecting, maybe another forgettable cop drama. What I got instead was a riveting ride-along with two cops (played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena) that I really believed had been partners for years. They had an easy familiarity that looked like a couple of guys that had gone beyond being partners or friends, and into real brotherhood. You laugh with them when they laugh at each other, and you worry about them when they’re on their own. Anna Kendrick, America Ferrera and David Harbour all put in strong supporting turns, Kendrick as Gyllenhaal’s new girlfriend, and Ferrera and Harbour as fellow cops. As I said before, I strongly recommend this movie, and I’d really like to see some of this cast (especially Pena) get some notice as the awards season heats up.
Tim Ryan – Senior Editor
Nobody makes films like Hungarian director Bela Tarr. His spare, eerie meditations on morality and mortality occupy a bleak, mystical plane that seems to exist outside of time (or any notions of contemporary cinematic influence). The plot of The Turin Horse is simple — a man and his daughter tend to their farm while waiting for an apocalyptic storm to hit — and it’s told with an absolute minimum of artifice: the camera barely moves as our protagonists eat, work, and go about their daily business in near silence. I’m not even going to try to sell you on The Turin Horse; it’s the type of movie experience that will strike some as poetic and evocative, and others as a nifty cure for insomnia. But it casts a hypnotic spell, one that I’ve been unable to shake since seeing it. If you choose to watch it, I’ll give you one piece of advice: wear a sweater, because you can practically feel a wintery chill from the screen.
Grae Drake – Senior Editor
Since I am terrible at remembering actual historical events, I love movies with revisionist history–especially when they involve pirates and claymation. Aardman Studios enlisted the help of Hugh Grant, Imelda Staunton, David Tennant, Jeremy Piven, Salma Hayek, and Martin Freeman to tell the tale of the Pirate Captain, who really isn’t a great leader, and his quest to impress a girl (Queen Victoria). Along the way, he meets Charles Darwin, enters a science contest, tries to win Pirate of the Year, and learns what friendship is really all about. This film is nothing less than what I have come to expect from the Wallace and Gromit folks– it’s hysterical from start to finish, has staggering amounts of charm, and provides phenomenal detail even within the foam on beer. Every time I watch it, I want to give this movie a hug.
Ryan Fujitani – Editor
This critically acclaimed but largely underseen documentary surprised me not so much because it was good, but because I enjoyed it for very different reasons than I expected. Lauren Greenfield’s The Queen of Versailles begins with a portrait of a wealthy family living in excess: time-share mogul David Siegel and his wife Jackie are in the process of building their dream house, a 90,000 sq. ft. mansion modeled after the Palace of Versailles. But then, the 2008 economic crisis hits them hard, and Siegel is forced to make vast cutbacks, both in his corporate empire and within the Siegel home itself; construction on the mansion is halted. At this point, one might expect to be overcome by a sudden rush of gleeful schadenfreude – and certainly, I felt some of this as I watched the beleaguered patriarch agonize over his expenses – but the film begins to reveal the layers behind the glitz and glamour, and this shift is what took me by surprise. Jackie’s been warped by her wealth, sure, but she’s well-meaning, she’s loving, she’s supportive, and she wants so badly for her family to feel like a family; I have to admit, I was kind of touched. The Queen of Versailles is an absolutely fascinating glimpse at the lives of the super rich, but its power is in its portrayal of the Siegels who, at the end of the day, are just another family trying to adapt to changes they’re wholly unprepared for. Never before have I experienced such a mix between my sympathy for and smug satisfaction with the misfortune of others.
Luke Goodsell – International Editor
What can I say, I love movies about messed-up, unpleasant people — and the more messed-up and unpleasant the better, as far as I’m concerned. Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim have been testing the dynamics of audience discomfort for years with their brilliant Awesome Show, and that laugh-or-cringe sensibility manifests in a complex, dramatic way in Heidecker’s character here. Giving easily one of my favorite performances of the year, Heidecker plays a kind of repulsive trust-fund monster whose money allows him to do literally nothing with his life — nothing, that is, apart from drift from situation to situation antagonizing people; as though some kind of slovenly Andy Kaufman had been resurrected for a Noah Baumbach movie. He’s hideous but he’s also hilarious, and The Comedy moves more like a drama — you’re just never sure whether you should be in howls of pain or hysterics. The most impressive thing about both Alverson’s direction and Heidecker’s genius underplaying is not just the truth they locate in this husk of a man-boy, it’s that they nearly make you care about his sad predicament by the movie’s end. It’s the kind of character and film that splits critics down the middle, as well it should — with 40% on the Tomatometer, there’s love and loathing aplenty. The Comedy had a miniature theatrical run, but it’s widely available on VOD. Watch it, and either thank me or despise me afterwards.
Alex Vo – Editor
Of the 6,000 films Jay and Mark Duplass were involved with this year, Jeff, Who Lives at Home stands out. Not that I have any personal identification with a slacker who lives in his mom’s basement and believes he’s getting signs from the universe to do something meaningful, Jeff who (probably) eats too much cereal and (probably) is still hung-up on his ex. No identification at all. Instead, I connected with the movie’s charm and simplicity, from the title all the way down to its surprisingly generous spirit. Jeff (Jason Segel, essentially updating his Freaks and Geeks character for the information age) is presented as a lovable oaf, who could be a real underdog if it weren’t so inconvenient to getting high. And there is exciting depth to his friends and family, which includes people played by Susan Sarandon, Judy Greer, and Ed Helms, all of whom get a few great scenes. Jeff’s adventure is madcap and full of digressions, easing its way into an affecting finale against the backdrop of a setting sun. Mumblecore, aka hipster Dogme, may be fleeting but in considering Jeff’s little heartfelt accomplishment, we can see the signs of life.
Kerr Lordygan – Review Aggregator
Tossing around in my head films such as Smashed (possible Oscar buzz on this anyway) and Bait (2012, funny, silly, exciting with quite creative gore), I ended up opting for El Dedo (“The Finger”). A selection of the Global Film Initiative, the film handles a slightly grotesque premise with lightheartedness and charm. The results are sometimes comical and always endearing. The plot is just ridiculous enough to be true. Based on real events, a few of the real-life subjects co-star, breaking the fourth wall to bring us closer. A beloved townsmen running for mayor in a town’s first election is murdered and his finger is saved for sentimental purposes. The town looks to the severed index finger for guidance, but will it still win the mayoral election? The characters are so likeable, the plot is almost surreal, this one is a winner, even for those who might not ordinarily watch foreign films.
Catherine Pricci – Review Aggregator
This Chris Pine and Elizabeth Banks drama may not necessarily be off the radar, but overall it was poorly received. And that’s unfortunate since this underappreciated film had fantastic performances by its two leads. A lot of critics felt this film lacked depth and was melodramatic, but most agreed that Pine and Banks put in standout performances. And audiences should keep an eye on newcomer Michael Hall D’Addario, who played Banks’s son; he stole most of the scenes he was in and is definitely someone to look out for in the future. If you like films with great performances, and don’t mind a tear or two, this one is worth another look.
Beki Lane – Production Assistant
I’m here to recommend a flick that got crushed on the Tomatometer, but is still tasty if you can handle a little pulp. This Means War is formulaic, but I believe that plot formulas exist because, just often enough, they work. This one really surprised me. If you don’t make the mistake of going in expecting something more than what it is, this film offers a lot of laughs and a really good time. Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine and Tom Hardy are really funny, and keep it stylish to boot. This film doesn’t fall into the chick flick category, nor does it cater exclusively to the bros. Rather it has great balance, and can be appreciated by all. In the civil unrest that can arise during the debate of what DVD to select for a stay-in date night, This Means War can bring both sides to a suitable accord.
Julio de Oliveira – Project Manager
Dredd is not one of those movies that you never heard about, but it’s probably one you didn’t care to watch when it hit the theaters earlier this year. Let’s face it, its box office was far from great, but – as a comic book fan – I decided to give it a shot, and I’m really glad I got to watch it in all its 3D glory. The guys behind Dredd did a pretty good job giving life to Mega City One, a post-apocalyptic metropolis dominated by crime, where cops enforce the law onto its citizens as judges, jury and executioners. The city looks so overpopulated, chaotic and hopeless that it convinces the audience that the unorthodox methods applied by the judges are the only way to go. Instead of spending a long time introducing this dystopic reality, director Pete Travis let you learn as you go. He basically shows a day in the life of the always-frowning Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) and rookie psychic partner Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), who get trapped in a gigantic residential complex called Peach Tree – more like a vertical concrete slum, dominated by drug lord Ma-Ma (Lena Headey). The movie is packed with action, God-they-are-not-gonna-make-it moments, and loads of gory violence. I also really like its beautiful, dark cinematography and the visual impact of the well-applied slow-motion technology and bullet-time effects. It’s a visual masterpiece. Dredd is still not available on home entertainment, but it will hit 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray, DVD and digital download on January 8, 2013.