With the beginning of the new year, it’s time to do some looking back at what 2012 brought us. For today’s Roundtable, we offer our picks for some of the most underrated films of last year. Perhaps these movies received unfairly negative criticism, or perhaps they just flew under the radar and went unnoticed. In either case, we think they deserve a little more attention than they got.
I never thought that ‘Snow White and the Huntsman‘ deserved the vitriol that was spewed about it. Does it make any of my top lists for the year? No. Did I think it was a fun experience at the theater? Of course. So many people have a problem with Kristen Stewart that they either wrote the movie off beforehand, or went in with scowls on their faces thinking they were going to sit through another ‘Twilight’ movie. What I ended up experiencing was a decent darkly imagined fairy tale where Stewart was able to actually show more emotion than just nervous lip biting. (Her ‘Braveheart’ battle speech could’ve easily been laughable, but it wasn’t.) The movie also has a great villain in Charlize Theron, who gives it her all. I was entertained and satisfied after I left the theater, although it’s apparent that not too many people felt the same way I did.
I’m on a mission to get as many people to see – and purchase – ‘Dredd’ on Blu-ray. It’s a balls-to-the-wall action flick that’s far more faithful to its source material than any other comic book film released this year. Karl Urban knocks it out of the park as Judge Dredd, and the 3D is fantastic. It’s a shame that the stink of the old Sylvester Stallone film tainted the box office for this one, because it’s the best movie you didn’t see last year.
For me, the most underrated movie of last year was ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter‘. As a fan of the novel, this was one of my most anticipated films of the summer, and I found it to be quite enjoyable. Like the book it’s based on, the movie takes the story seriously (or at least semi-seriously) and uses actual events in Lincoln’s life to weave its tale of our 16th President battling with vampires. While it obviously doesn’t hold a candle to Speilberg’s incredible film, ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’ deserved better box office (and critical reviews) than it got.
Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)
‘Detention‘ is in the running as the most gleefully insane movie I’ve ever seen. Grab any garden variety slasher off the shelf, then mash it up with ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. the World’, ‘Bring It On’, the ‘Teen Titans’ animated series, ‘Clueless’ and two scoops of ‘Donnie Darko’, and you might get a glimmer of an idea what I’m talking about here. It’s an unhinged, aggressively meta, Hypercolor-tinted horror/darkly comedic/sci-fi/teen-sex-comedy/outcast-superhero flick, shoving 27 different movies into the blender and mashing the “Puree” button over and over and over again. Spastic, unpredictable and infectiously fun, ‘Detention’ easily gets the nod as my favorite under-the-radar release from the class of 2012.
I know it received some positive press around the time it premiered at Sundance last year, but all in all, ‘Liberal Arts‘ got a bum deal. I can’t figure out why companies buy certain films, only to barely show them anywhere. As soon as I heard about Josh Radnor’s second movie as writer/director, I was dying to see it. Unfortunately, not having cable, I couldn’t order it On Demand when it was quietly dumped in VOD limbo. Then, when it finally played in Seattle, the film was here and gone before I had a chance to check the bus route to the theater. Once a Blu-ray release date was announced, I couldn’t even find a PR rep who was working to publicize the film! I finally, finally got to watch this two weeks ago, and it was one of those rare occasions where something you’ve been trying your damnedest to check out was actually worth the trouble. This film deserved much, much better treatment. I think it’s destined for a strong and very loyal following.
There are two smaller films from 2012 that I wish would have received a little more recognition. Both made their way into my Best Original Screenplay nominations list. Over the last year, I’ve really come to love the Duplass Brothers, Mark and Jay. My favorite of their films is easily ‘Jeff, Who Lives at Home‘. I love that they were able to unabashedly take a theme from ‘Signs’ (the idea that everything happens for a reason) and create a unique, heartfelt, funny, unpredictable and emotionally charged film that’s 100% endearing and entertaining.
The second title that sticks out in my mind is ‘Seeking a Friend for the End of the World‘. An asteroid is on a cataclysmic world-ending collision course with Earth. Mankind knows it. Instead of going the route of ‘Armageddon’ or ‘Deep Impact’, we get a human story, one that doesn’t focus on a team of space cowboys trying to change their doomed fate. In an occasionally comical way, we get an intimate story that focuses on a few realistic characters. We get a personal tale. One of my favorite aspects is that there isn’t a single shot of people looking up at the sky to see the doomsday asteroid. We never see it and, as an audience member, it doesn’t matter. I didn’t find myself longing to see the asteroid. Watching a film about people in the situation is much more entertaining than watching a movie about the situation itself.
M. Enois Duarte
The one movie that really surprised me in 2012 was the directorial debut of Richard Bates Jr. ‘Excision‘ is a visually gruesome little film starring TV vixen/bombshell AnnaLynne McCord, and it tells the twisted tale of a maladjusted and delusional teen with aspirations of being a surgeon. Her social awkwardness makes it difficult for her to make friends, and leaves her feeling continuously pressured by her controlling mother, played by Traci Lords. The story patiently unfolds as it churns your stomach upside down until the shocking and disturbing conclusion will leave you breathless. This is not a movie for everyone, but if you like and can stomach extreme psychological body horror, ‘Excision’ is a great surprise from 2012.
After their decreasingly effective ‘Matrix’ sequels and the disastrous ‘Speed Racer’, I was ready to write off the Wachowski siblings. However, the visually sumptuous trailers for ‘Cloud Atlas‘, their epic adaptation of the David Mitchell bestseller co-directed by Tom Tykwer, intrigued me enough to check it out in the theater. Apparently, I was one of the few who bothered. The movie was a box office bomb and received numerous negative (sometimes scathing) reviews.
As I explained in a blog post at the time, the movie is certainly flawed in several major ways. Having the same set of actors appear as multiple different characters in six different storylines, under often unconvincing makeup, turns out to be more distracting than clever. Some of the stories feel more consequential than others, and a lot of the sci-fi stuff is too cheesy for its own good. With that said, the film’s ambition is commendable, and it’s quite emotionally engaging. I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected, and look forward to revisiting it on Blu-ray.
Those are the movies that we thought deserved better treatment in 2012. Tell us about some of your picks for this topic in the Comments below.