Play It Again

Most Overlooked Movies of 2012: ‘Cabin in the Woods,’ ‘Bernie,’ & More

The best films you missed this year, from black comedy ‘Bernie’ to a kick-ass ‘Haywire.’ By Marlow Stern.

Summit Entertainment, via AP; Lionsgate, via AP; Indomina Releasing; IFC Films, via AP

Summit Entertainment, via AP; Lionsgate, via AP; Indomina Releasing; IFC Films, via AP

By Marlow Stern

 

Amid blockbusters like ‘The Avengers’ and ‘The Hunger Games’ and cash-cow sequels such as ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ or the final ‘Twilight’ film, there was also a plethora of fantastic movies that were, for one reason or another, overlooked by audiences, critics, or both. From the kick-ass action flick ‘Haywire,’ featuring Channing Tatum and Michael Fassbender, to the heartbreaking coming-of-age film ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower,’ The Daily Beast presents the best movies you may have missed this year.

Concorde Filmverleih/DAPD, via AP

‘Haywire’ (Jan. 20)

Released on Jan. 20—a.k.a. box-office purgatory—filmmaker Steven Soderbergh’s action-thriller Haywire only mustered $33 million worldwide. It’s a shame because the movie, about a black-ops agent (Gina Carano) who is double-crossed by her agency leader, played by Ewan McGregor, boasts fantastic action sequences and a game A-list cast, including Channing Tatum, Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas, and Antonio Banderas. The epic hotel-room brawl between former MMA fighter Carano and Fassbender, who plays a dirty MI6 agent, is one of the year’s best onscreen fights. And Carano proves to be one of the more convincing action heroines in recent memory. She’s not spindly like Rooney Mara or Angelina Jolie, but solid as a rock, and you truly believe she can kick these guys’ asses.

Photo by Sabrina Lantos, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

‘Damsels in Distress’ (April 6)

The oeuvre of filmmaker Whit Stillman (The Last Days of Disco) may be the epitome of #whitegirlproblems since it chronicles the travails of female one-percenters, but Damsels in Distress, his first movie in 14 years, is simply delightful. The film follows a trio of ravishing, refined young ladies—Violet (Greta Gerwig), Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke), and Heather (Carrie MacLemore)— who makeover “lost” students through primping and song and dance numbers at grungy Seven Oaks University. Things get messy, however, when the group gets mixed up with a crew of lascivious men. Stillman’s observations on upper-crust campus life are crisp, witty, and hilarious, and the performances shine as well.

Diyah Pera/Lionsgate, via AP

‘The Cabin in the Woods’ (April 13)

Forget The Avengers. Filmmaker Joss Whedon’s other, comparatively minuscule film he released this year, The Cabin in the Woods, was the superior work. Unfortunately, it got lost in the mix due to distributor MGM’s financial troubles so, despite filming wrapping in 2009, it wasn’t released until 2012. On the surface, this film about a group of college kids (led by Thor’s Chris Hemsworth) who are manipulated by a group of scientists into adhering to certain scenarios in the titular cabin in the woods, seems pretty hackneyed. But the batshit-crazy plot takes so many intriguing twists and turns that by the end of the film you’ll be completely flabbergasted. It’s a bold, incredibly clever take on a well-worn genre.

Deana Newcomb/Millennium Entertainment, via AP

‘Bernie’ (April 27)

It seems no director can handle actors Jack Black (School of Rock) or Matthew McConaughey (Dazed and Confused) quite like Richard Linklater. And here, the three have reunited for this engaging, based-on-a-true-story black comedy about a small-town Texas mortician’s assistant (Black) who befriends an 81-year-old millionairess, played by Shirley MacLaine, only to eventually murder her after months of verbal abuse. All the performances are top-notch, including McConaughey as the D.A. on the case, and the film is funny as all hell, yet only managed to score just north of $9 million at box office.

Strand Releasing

‘Oslo, August 31st’ (May 25)

Norwegian filmmaker Joachim Trier has fast become one of the most talented young filmmakers of his generation. His last effort, 2008’s Reprise, was a haunting meditation on authorship, love, and mental health, and his sophomore effort, Oslo, August 31st, doesn’t disappoint. Anders is a recovering drug addict who’s both disillusioned and depressed by where his life is. He’s granted day leave from an Oslo drug rehab clinic to attend a job interview, but after he torpedoes it, the 34-year-old spends the rest of the night stalking the streets of Oslo, encountering many demons from his past along the way. It’s a fascinating portrait of a lost generation that bears more than a few similarities to Joyce’s Ulysses.

Courtesy of FilmDistrict and Big Beach

‘Safety Not Guaranteed’ (June 8)

Comedic filmmaker-cum-actor Mark Duplass has had one hell of a year, between starring on the F/X comedy The League, directing the film Jeff Who Lives At Home, his cameo in Zero Dark Thirty, and a pair of droll comedies (more on the second later). Safety Not Guaranteed is based on an actual 1997 classified ad that ran as follows: “Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. P.O. Box 91 Ocean View, WA 99393. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.” The film follows a trio of newspaper reporters, played by Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation), Jake Johnson (The New Girl), and Karan Soni, to investigate the bizarre man who placed the ad, played by Duplass. It’s a charming, tender film about dashed dreams and endless possibilities.

IFC Films, via AP

‘Your Sister’s Sister’ (June 16)

…And here’s the other Duplass starrer. This almost entirely improvised film from mumblecore vet Lynn Shelton (Humpday) follows Jack (Mark Duplass), a depressed intellectual who’s mourning the death of his brother. The brother’s former flame, Iris (Emily Blunt), invites Jack to spend some time collecting himself at their family cabin. When he gets there, however, he’s shocked to find Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), her troubled sister, there. Things get very awkward very fast in this acted screwball comedy featuring droll dialogue and wonderfully naturalistic performances. Sadly, the film managed to gross only $1.5 million.

The Weinstein Company

‘Easy Money’ (July 11)

Swede Joel Kinnaman is going to be a huge star. If the heralded AMC drama The Killing didn’t persuade you, Easy Money—or Snabba Cash, as it was called in Sweden—will. Directed by Daniel Espinosa, it’s an expertly crafted heist film that centers on a struggling Swede (Kinnaman) who falls in with a gang of rich banker-types and busts his ass to keep up with their luxury lifestyle. In order to quit flaunting his would-be wealth and hit the big time for real, he plans to launder a sizable sum of money through a failing bank. Things, unfortunately, don’t go as planned. The film features brisk pacing and is beautifully shot. And Kinnaman oozes charisma in the title role. It’s no wonder both Espinosa (Safe House) and Kinnaman (the upcoming Robocop remake) were quickly snared by Hollywood.

Independent Pictures, via AP

‘Killer Joe’ (July 27)

Director William Friedkin’s (The Exorcist) Southern dark comedy marks the first collaboration between the filmmaker and screenwriter Tracy Letts since 2006’s Bug (also fantastic, and overlooked). When young Texas drug dealer Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) finds himself indebted to loan sharks, he hatches a plan to hire a police detective-cum-contract killer named “Killer” Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) to murder his mother for the insurance money. The film is disgusting, violent, and completely enthralling. And the scene where McConaughey’s Cooper makes Sharla, played by Gina Gershon, perform mock-fellatio on a piece of fried chicken between his legs is one of the most disturbing scenes of the year.

Scott Garfield/Sole Productions, via AP

‘End of Watch’ (Sept. 21)

What first seems like a routine inner-city cop drama—pitting the boys in blue against rowdy street gangs—soon morphs into a fascinating study of male camaraderie under the most trying of circumstances, as two dedicated LAPD cops (Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Pena)—and best friends—find themselves pitted against vicious Mexican drug cartels that have spilled into Southern California. David Ayer’s direction is brisk and brutal, and the chemistry between Gyllenhaal and Pena is mesmerizing in this, the best cop film in years.

John Bramley/Summit Entertainment, via AP

‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ (Sept. 21)

Author Stephen Chbosky decided to adapt his celebrated epistolary Bildungsroman into a feature film and thankfully chose an exceptional troupe of actors to do so. Set in a Pittsburgh suburb in the early ‘90s, Charlie (Logan Lerman) is a high-school freshman with no friends and a mysterious, troubled past. One day, he’s befriended by Patrick (Ezra Miller) and his stepsister, Sam (Emma Watson)—a pair of popular, free-spirited seniors. His new merry gang of vagabonds help the insular Charlie come out of his shell and confront his childhood traumas. The performances are spectacular across the board—especially Miller, who delivers one of the best, most overlooked performances of the year as the closeted, capricious Patrick—and the ‘90s soundtrack, including The Smiths, Cocteau Twins, and Sonic Youth, is so good it’s worth purchasing as new year’s gift to yourself.

Photo by Oana Marian, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

‘Smashed’ (Oct. 12)

This adaptation of a popular YA novel made just south of $300K at the box office, which is a crying shame because it’s a superbly acted comedy-drama. The film follows Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Charlie (Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul), a young married couple who get off on their love of booze and partying. When Kate decides to get sober, however, she’s forced to confront her past demons as well as her new marital-relationship dynamic. Winstead and Paul deliver unhinged, courageous performances as the two leads and Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer (The Help) pops in a crucial supporting role.

Indomina Releasing

‘Holy Motors’ (Oct. 17)

The most maddening, bizarre, and fascinating film of the year comes courtesy of French filmmaker Leos Carax (Pola X) and stars character-actor Denis Lavant as up to 10 different characters—including a sewer monster, film-set designer, and gangster—who experience a series of bizarre scenarios during late-night limousine rides. Eva Mendes and pop star Kylie Minogue appear in supporting roles, as well. It’s rare to see a true original like this, which recalls the work of surrealist maestros like Buñuel. You have never seen anything like Holy Motors and many of the images and scenarios will haunt you for days after.