The Underrated and Overlooked Films of 2012
Now that the dust of 2012 has settled and we have arisen from our Christmas comas for the new year, it’s high time we had a look back at the films of last year. I’ve been reflecting upon the great (and terrible) movies I’ve seen over the past 12 months, and I realised that a fair number were underrated in one way or another. Whether by the movie-going public, critics or awarding bodies; so many films have gone by unnoticed, unseen or unfairly criticised. What follows is my list of films that were underrated in various capacities throughout the year. Hopefully time and at least one other person will agree with me, rather than chasing me out of the internet like some wild villagers chasing Frankenstein’s monster out of their township. I’m trying my best to stick to UK release dates, so sorry to you non-UK people. Prepare your flaming lance, it’s gonna get ugly…
Detention wasn’t great the first time I saw it. I thought it was a mess, that it wasn’t funny and that its idiocy went beyond frivolous and into pretension. However, a second, more relaxed viewing revealed a pretty smart little picture. It plays with horror/high-school movie tropes in ways that smarter-than-your-average-slasher Scream only hinted at, as well as showcasing a little bit of John Hutcherson’s range. The story is a mish-mash of parody and homage, which plays out like Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World with less ass kicking and more blood. The film plays it pretty fast and loose with the plot (a group of teens come together to survive a serial killer praying upon the local area), and ultimately the sugar-rush pacing is a little too distracting to make this a cult classic. However, Detention is a lot of fun and an entertaining wink to certain kinds of movie buffs.
9. Sound of My Voice
If you read my review of this film, then you’ll know that I actually thought that it was one of the films of the year. A documentary-style examination of a cult with a supposed time-travelling leader, Sound of My Voice is a beguiling and deceptively clever movie that will drop your jaw with its intensity and shock ending. The real beauty of this film lies within its manipulation of the viewer – the climax in particular invites questions about just what it is that makes people fall for cult leaders and charlatans. Naturally, this film did not do well financially, but its definitely one to be discovered on DVD.
8. The Raid (Serbuan maut)
The Raid is comfortably one of the greatest action films ever made. The fight choreography is astonishing, the acting is far from terrible, and it doesn’t waste time on silly things like story and character development. They get in, they beat seven shades of shit out of each other, they get out. Director Gareth Evans and star Iko Uwais have worked together before (Merantau Warrior was a solid martial arts flick), but here they have gone above and beyond what a low-budget actioner should be capable of. The plot simply concerns a SWAT team raiding the high-rise den of a local druglord. That’s it. But boy, what a ride it is! The film received very favourable reviews from critics, but not enough people had the chance to check it out for themselves. It remains one of the most under-seen greats of 2012.
7. Ruby Sparks
Ruby Sparks is a delightful rom-com with undercurrents of human darkness. A writer stuck in a creative slump writes a female character, who happens to come to life one day; acting for all the world like she is his long-term girlfriend and one true love. Furthermore, whatever our writer writes, our creator becomes. On the surface, this may sound a little like a whimsical Woody Allen romp a la Purple Rose of Cairo, but Ruby Sparks gives a little more attention to the moral quandaries of the situation. The creator slowly begins to alter his woman to suit his every need and compliment all of his flaws, which leads to a revelatory scene of significantly sinister power. The laughs come thick and fast, and the dramatic flourishes do not detract. Questions abound regarding the nature of creator and creation, and the solipsistic relationship between an artist and his creation. For an accessible film, Ruby Sparks brings up some very interesting talking points. The film did modestly at the box office and was met with some acclaim in certain critical circles, but passed without much notice.
OK, so it wasn’t necessarily the Mega City One-spanning, sprawling Sci-fi epic that Dredd fans may have wanted, but it’s a damn sight better in so many ways to Judge Dredd – the Stallone starring 1995 interpretation of the much-revered law man. As much as I consider Judge Dredd to be a definite guilty pleasure of mine, Dredd is tonally much closer to the source material. Putting aside the whole “HELMET STAYS ON!!!” issue, Karl Urban is considerably more imposing than Stallone’s gurning Dredd; allowing for the most unwavering and impressive performance by a chin you’re ever likely to see. There’s a lot to like about the premise too. Dredd and his rookie partner are called to a gargantuan tower block slum, that is basically a self-contained city, to deal with an incident. Then, due to the criminally powerful nature of the block’s top-floor resident, the Judges wind up locked in with a lot of very angry, desperate people hunting for their heads. Yes, I know, this sounds a lot like The Raid, but there is enough conviction in the idea of Judge Dredd and the universe he inhabits that it is nothing more than an odd coincidence. Dredd captures the harshness of the comic books, and maintains the blackly comic and gritty nature of the source material. The film didn’t do great business, but with a small budget for such a big film, you can’t help but be impressed by Dredd‘s gusto. Hopefully it will get more recognition now that it’s available on DVD.
5. The Watch
I’m bracing myself for some flak here, but hear me out, just a little. Whilst watching The Watch I found myself laughing a lot and thinking “why has this been so heavily criticised?”. The various media I look to for interesting reviews and features on film ripped it to pieces. My friends sneered at its very existence. I found it funny and I felt it did justice to an interesting Sci-fi concept. It reminded me in a way of last year’s very cool Brit-flick Attack the Block (minus the foul-mouthed urban youths and tower blocks) in terms of its concept, but translated to a middle-class American suburb. I feel that The Watch was lambasted unfairly due to people becoming a little jaded with the whole “frat pack” group. Sure, Vince Vaughn pretty much phones it in and Ben Stiller has been tonnes better in a lot of roles, and I think that had this been a no-name cast, The Watch would have been discussed in a much fairer manner. Richard Ayoade is very funny as the group’s comedic wildcard, whilst the more outlandish aspects of the story (SPOILER: the aliens’ brains are in their respective penises) allowed this to succeed in a much fresher way than your typical concentrated alien invasion fare. There’s something very 80’s throwback and fun about The Watch, and it’s a shame that no one but me seemed to notice it. Or maybe I’ve just got low standards. Like Bill Clinton. Or like the guy who writes my jokes.
Shame on all you haters. Picking on poor, defenseless little Brave like you did. I’m appalled. This, in my opinion, is Disney/Pixar’s first foray into the world of “less is more”. The self-contained little world of Brave is infinitely more modest than the bombast of the Toy Story series, or the apocalyptic eerie Earth of Wall-E, which lends a different feel to this film than any of its CGI-d predecessors. Ok, so Brave isn’t a masterpiece, but I have an interesting contrast to make here. If you look at the non-Western equivalent of this particular animation superpower, Studio Ghibli, then you’ll notice an interesting contrast between the two studios. Everything with Disney/Pixar is big. Even its most restrained pre-Brave piece (Ratatouille) overpowers every sense – you can almost smell the aromas wafting around the beautifully rendered kitchen. They have never really had a film that has the restraint of something like Kiki’s Delivery Service or Only Yesterday, and Brave is about as close as they have come. More of a kids’ film than any of their previous work, it contains a level of whimsy that adds a variation to the Disney/Pixar canon that is the first step in allowing the studio to boast the kind of variety that Ghibli has. It is a double-edged sword however, as I know of people who only like Spirted Away and Howl’s Moving Castle – arguably Ghibli’s crowning glories in the West. Ghibli is a better studio for having films that work on a more low-key level, and time may yet tell whether Disney/Pixar’s sweet, moral adventure will garner the respect it deserves. Not every film needs to be as emotional as Toy Story 3 or as relevant as The Incredibles you know…
3. Young Adult
Young Adult was pretty well-reviewed (it sits at 80% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes), but received a pretty lukewarm response from audiences and was more or less blanked by awarding bodies (save a Golden Globe nod for an acerbic Charlize Theron). This film is a study in arrested development, with the kinds of characters that are extremely difficult to like, yet impossible to take your eyes off. Charlize Theron plays a stunted adult who writes trashy teen fiction. She heads to her hometown to win her high school boyfriend back from his wife and newborn child. An ill-advised venture, sure, but one that makes for a very funny and ultimately tragic examination of the dangers of nostalgic romanticism. Theron is acid-tongued and pitiful as a woman who just can’t let her teen years go, like the head cheerleader with 20 years of alcoholism to fuel her. Patton Osawalt and Patrick Wilson both offer superb supporting terms, and each deserved much more recognition than they got. Wilson’s tightrope walk is a masterclass in restraint, whilst Oswalt steps away from his comic background and into a role that he commands with a believable bitterness. The re-teaming of Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody after Juno should have garnered a lot more excitement than it did, and it’s a real shame that more people didn’t see it.
Say what you like about Prometheus but it certainly doesn’t lack ambition. Ridely Scott’s return to the Alien franchise was welcome after Fincher’s Alien 3 mis-step, Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s misguided Resurrection and the mightily overrated Aliens, which saw James Cameron undo the subtle psychology and allegory of Scott’s original. Prometheus draws the series back into the murky depths of the psychological, with a degree of success that wasn’t really accredited by many. As with some of the greatest films ever made, one man’s infuriating story flaw is another man’s juicy, unrealised mystery. I’m not saying Prometheus is Citizen Kane or anything, but it is a good movie. In a world where people are so precious about their beloved franchises (I’m looking at you, Star Wars geeks – don’t worry, I’m one of you!), I felt relieved that Scott had returned to the Alien universe. Noomi Rapace does a decent job as a Ripley surrogate, with her alien abortion as badass as anything Ripley did previously. The focus on mystery and man’s solipsistic nature makes this an interesting picture at the very least. More than ever, we see the enemy has a very relatable motive. There is a significant amount of horror in the scene where one of the “Engineer” beings tears an android apart. The lack of respect shown for a creation of man by a being with God-like powers adds a feeling of insignificance to the achievements of man, and makes for some interesting food-for-thought when you think about man’s often self-centred view of the universe. There is a lot more to Prometheus than meets the eye, and multiple viewings will reward the extra effort. Hopefully there will be more to come.
Shame was adored by critics, but seen by few, which is understandable due to its content and arthouse tendencies. Hell, even the lack of awards attention has some justification, even if it is ridiculous to ignore a picture due to its certification. The reason why Shame is so underrated is that I feel it’s one of the best films ever made. Technically, it’s flawless. The direction by Steve McQueen (not that Steve McQueen) is a lesson in how to stay distant whilst having your fingerprints all over a movie. Hunger, McQueen’s debut, showed a lot of promise and maturity, and his potential is realised in Shame. The jogging scene is a sublime example of a tracking shot, and is a glorious one-take wonder. Michael Fassbender, NC-17 rating or not, eclipsed every performance of last year with ease. Predatory, vulnerable and brilliantly withdrawn; he is at once a believable, flawed human being and an unimaginable monster. The liquid form that Fassbender presents us with is the film’s greatest asset, and is alone a reason to seek out Shame. If you have the patience and time, please watch this film. Hopefully you’ll agree that it’s a masterpiece.
What do you think? Leave a comment.