With hundreds upon hundreds of films getting theatrical releases this year, it’s easy to see how many got lost in the shuffle. A fair share have garnered proper recognition, whether it be on year-end wrap-ups, in the awards circuit or through strong box-office, but we are here today to showcase films from 2012 that are unfairly lacking in all three categories. Below you will find twenty films that are seemingly absent from year-end discussion, all grossing less than $2 million at the domestic box office (with actual grosses next to each to give you an idea). But we promise each film is well worth your time, so take a look below and get watching.
Beyond the Black Rainbow (Panos Cosmatos; $56,491)
It’s been nearly twenty months since I caught this sci-fi headtrip, but the experience is impossible to ever fully shake. In just his debut feature, writer-director Panos Cosmatos took his bigger cultural and artistic influences, particularly from the ‘80s, blending them together into a psychedelic nightmare that shook yours truly in some inexplicable way. Weirder, yet, is the seamless integration of a fun, funny nature that transforms something I found myself concerned about into a total blast. – Nick N.
The Comedy (Rick Alverson; $35,768)
Since making you feel bad for a chuckle or two is neither a new or consistently effective approach, The Comedy and its helmer, Rick Alverson, deserve some heavy praise for doing both so effectively. It also showed a different (but disturbingly familiar) side of funnyman Tim Heidecker, here playing a perverted version of his, already, typically off-putting persona; the odds you’ll hate yourself for watching him are equal to you also deriving some enjoyment. The same, thankfully, is not true of The Comedy as a whole. – Nick N.
Cosmopolis (David Cronenberg; $763,556)
This one’s been stewing in my brain for months, and none of the reflection has tainted this film one bit; if anything, it’s only grown more valuable over time. David Cronenberg’s limousine trip into the damaged perspective of a young, emotionally hollow fat cat — played to perfection by a not-as-advertised Robert Pattinson — can’t really be considered the most accessible work of 2012, but those willing to go with its strange rhythms and mysterious internal logic are bound to get… something. While I think it’s best people make the thing out for themselves by just letting it all sit, those simply hoping for a left-of-center cinematic experience ought to find themselves more than pleased. And that’s without even considering the incredible music of Howard Shore & Metric. – Nick N.
Chicken with Plums (Vincent Paronnaud, Marjane Satrapi; $253,705)
After being charmed by this fantastical tale of lost love at Toronto International Film Festival, it was disappointing to see the lack of response when Chicken with Plums got released this past summer. While I wasn’t expecting the next film from the Osacr-nominated duo behind Persepolis, Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi, to break any sort of box office records, it seemed to fly completely under the radar. Filled with imaginative magical realism touches and a strong emotional center, this is a fable that deserves to be seen. – Jordan R.
Damsels In Distress (Whit Stillman; $1,008,455)
Damsels in Distress is a strange kind of movie, the sort that keeps you on the outside even as it slowly wins you over both in the moment and in reflection. Written and directed with an off-kilter sense of whimsy and pluck by Whit Stillman, it creates an alienating, fantastical world and fills it with even more fantastical characters. Luckily, the basic sweetness of the story and a weirdly winning turn by Greta Gerwig come through strong enough to ultimately elevate the movie above that emotional distance. All these elements cohere to make this a subtly triumphant film that should definitely be sought out. – Brian R.
Detention (Joseph Kahn; Not reported)
Blisteringly frenetic, it’s easy to see why so many were turned off by Torque director Joseph Kahn‘s latest feature. Mixing a variety genres from horror to science-fiction to romance to comedy, this is a prime example of a film that throws just about everything at the wall and considering I thought the majority of it sticks, it certainly deserves a watch. Led by Josh Hutcherson, the film was released soon after his major hit The Hunger Games, but sadly it didn’t give this indie any major boost. With the film now available on home release, it’s well worth seeking out. – Jordan R.
Extraterrestrial (Nacho Vigalondo; Not reported)
Nacho Vigalondo’s Extraterrestrial is an extraordinary blend of science fiction, farce and just plain bad timing for an alien invasion. Julio (Julian Villagran) wakes up next to the gorgeous Julia (Michelle Jenner) after a one night stand they can’t quite explain. Her live-in boyfriend returns and along with their creepy next door neighbor and several very long evenings unfold. Extraterrestrial is one of the most brazenly original sci-fi films, mixing part Scott Pilgrim, part mumblecore with an added dose of UFOs. – John F.
Girl Walk // All Day (Jacob Krupnick; Not reported)
Easily the smallest film on this list in terms of budget, this experimental musical is by far the most delightful. Leaving a smile on your face for the entire, brief 70-minute runtime, director Jason Krupnick follows three characters (Anne Marsen as “the Girl”, Dai Omiya as “the Gentleman” and John Doyle as “the Creep”) through a living, breathing New York City as they express their interactions through nothing but dance. All set to the album Girl Talk‘s All Day, you can stream the entire thing for free here. What are you waiting for? – Jordan R.
Headhunters (Morten Tyldum; $1,200,010)
Looking back on the year, this small Norwegian thriller managed to entertain more than most summer blockbusters. A slick tale of twists and turns, this art heist gone wrong film marks the a break-out for director Morten Tyldum, but sadly it went mostly unnoticed, getting released a few days before the biggest box-office hit of the year (hint: it featured many superheroes assembling and avenging). Following a wealthy man who gets himself further and further down a rabbit hole, it’s easy to see why Tyldum already secured his big Hollywood debut with the upcoming drama The Imitation Game, thanks to this polished thriller. – Jordan R.
Killer Joe (William Friedkin; $1,987,762)
This year was dominated by unusual Matthew McConaughey performances, ranging from a closeted homosexual lawyer in Lee Daniels‘ The Paperboy to a male stripper in Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike. Yet none of these seem to hold a candle to his haunting, menacing and effective performance as the titular character Killer Joe in William Friedkin’s Southern Gothic dark comedy. Set in trailer park America, the film could be described as a surreal cross section of vulgar theatrics with pulpy film noir, while McConaughey’s creepy rendition of a crooked cop who moonlights as a hired killer will make you never want to eat fried chicken again. – Raffi A.
Klown (Mikkel Nørgaard; $68,795)
Mikkel Norgaard’s Klown is perhaps the most awkward and hilarious comedy of the year: Frank Hvam stars as 40-something who we later discover isn’t good looking enough to enter a brothel with the rest of his “book club.” After he dodges a cat burglar while leaving his girlfriend’s nephew, he kidnaps young Bo for a canoe trip, along with his best friend and troublemaker Casper. Wackiness (and awkwardness) ensues in this painfully funny comedy, now streaming on Netflix. – John F.
Liberal Arts (Josh Radnor; $319,176)
Debuting to stellar response at Sundance (especially during the premiere I attended), one of the biggest question marks of 2012 has been Josh Radnor‘s Liberal Arts. While his college-set tale of a peculiar relationship didn’t break any new boundaries, the crowdpleaser featured an excellent cast (including Elizabeth Olsen, Allison Janney, Richard Jenkins and a hilarious cameo from Zac Efron), yet it came and went this past September without a peep. While I question why IFC Films didn’t go the VOD route with this one, hopefully more audiences will seek out this enjoyable diversion when it lands in home release – Jordan R.
The Loneliest Planet (Julia Loktev; $123,174)
Julia Loktev recently received a Best Director nomination from the Independent Spirit Awards for her tense, assured follow-up to the similarly stirring Day Night Day Night, but, outside of a handful of choice critical notices, that’s about all the widespread recognition The Loneliest Planet has been greeted with thus far. And that’s a real shame. With a small, intimate cast that includes international star Gael García Bernal, there was a potential here for the film to be a breakout of sorts for Loktev into larger-scale recognition. But it’s such a tough, upsetting piece of work that, in retrospect, commercial notoriety was always going to be a pipe dream. Still, this is one that’s entirely worth seeking out in home-viewing formats. If you care at all about discovering vital, on-the-fringe cinematic voices, The Loneliest Planet has two searing personalities to offer: writer-director Loktev, of course, but also lead actress Hani Furstenberg, whose blazing red hair only hints at the volcano of emotions her performance unleashes throughout the course of the film. — Danny King
Oslo, August 31st (Joachim Trier; $101,475)
Scandinavian films are rarely even art-house hits in the United States, and Oslo, August 31st is no exception, but with the glowing reviews, it could be the one that puts Joachim Trier and Norwegian cinema as a whole on the map. The film is far from radical, following a day in the life of a recently-recovered alcoholic/drug-addict named Anders, but it’s an honest exploration of loneliness and uncertainty that, thanks to strong writing and terrific direction and cinematography, also turns into a city symphony quite unlike any other. Quietly devastating and paced with the same aimless haste that the protagonist feels, Oslo, August 31st does a fantastic job of invoking the hopelessness and paranoia, thanks in large part to a beautifully understated performance by Anders Danielsen Lie, who has the ability to suggest a world of subtext simply by responding to a line of dialogue. The juxtaposition of Oslo and Anders evokes a sense of privilege and missed opportunity, and it all leads to what is certainly one of the best endings of 2012. – Forrest C.
Sleepless Night (Frédéric Jardin; $3,358)
Apparently subtitles are all that held Sleepless Night back from really making an impression on the U.S. mainstream. That’s about the only excuse I can imagine for this streamlined French action thriller that was a critical darling last year when it made the festival tour. Taking place in the perfectly executed setting of an enormous Parisian nightclub, we follow one hellacious night for a dirty cop who has lost his cocaine with his son at stake. With off-the-wall fights that have plausibility and enough flair to keep you intrigued, this is well-acted, simple in premise, and one thrill ride that has nearly checked every box or the requirements of something great but it just couldn’t find an audience earlier this year. Here’s a sign of the quality of the film, though: WB is planning to remake it for the U.S. I suggest you seek this out now before the watered down variant comes out. – Bill G.
Sound of My Voice (Zal Batmanglij; $408,015)
Considering the comparatively minuscule budget for this cult drama, it can certainly be considered a success, but as one of my favorite films of the year, my hope was that it would garner a little more recognition. While Brit Marling‘s other break-out Sundance 2011 film Another Earth went on to gross three times as much as Zal Batmanglij’s debut, her performance here is the only that completely sold me, as she plays the mysterious leader of this group. With Batmanglij’s next drama landing at Sundance in a few months, I couldn’t be more excited to see his career take off. – Jordan R.
Smashed (James Ponsoldt; $356,987)
Although this one is still expanding in limited release, James Ponsoldt‘s Sundance alcoholism drama has seemingly been forgotten at the end of the year. Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, the young actress delivers a stirring performance that easily outclasses many of the much-talked-about awards as we track her character’s downward spiral of addiction. Add in strong supporting performances from Aaron Paul, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally and Octavia Spencer, and we can only hope Ponsoldt’s return to Sundance in a few months with The Spectacular Now will garner more interest. – Jordan R.
The Snowtown Murders (Justin Kurzel; $8,452)
Justin Kurzel’s Australian serial-killer drama is a terrifyingly impressive debut-film statement, emanating a formal assurance that’s so commanding and controlled it almost makes the film unbearable. That would explain, of course, why the film made such an invisible commercial splash, but it is, artistically, a top-notch achievement on all sorts of levels. For one thing, it creates a protagonist not out of Daniel Henshall’s intimidatingly brilliant interpretation of John Bunting, but rather out of Lucas Pittaway’s vulnerable teenage outsider, a fatherless kid looking for a strong man to look up to. It’d be an outright lie to say that the film’s ultimate sensation is anything other than sheer horror, but the deep psychological penetration keeps things on a human level, crafting something all the more scarily identifiable in the process. Louise Harris — another non-professional, like Pittaway — is also scarring as Pittaway’s perpetually depressed-looking mother. – Danny K.
Starlet (Sean Baker; $70,568)
Perhaps it’s because it came out right as the first flurry of awards-contenders hit or perhaps a slice-of-life drama about such an unglamorous twenty-something woman was never going to take off in the first place without prestige names attached, or perhaps it’s something else entirely, but no number of positive reviews could save Starlet, the fourth feature by Sean Baker. In fact, there’s very little to the film, but Dree Hemingway adds endless layers of complexity to her character, who strikes up an unlikely friendship with an octogenarian. Each plot development is small in scope, lending all the attention to characters and trusting the audience to find their own essence. It’s discovery purely through observation, and Starlet shows just how effective and intelligent that kind of minimalism can be. – Forrest C.
Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie (Tim Heidecker, Eric Wareheim; $201,436)
If you’ve seen any previous work by Tim Heidecker (including the aforementioned The Comedy) and Eric Wareheim, then you at least have an inclination as to why their feature debut was not beloved across-the-board. However, sitting in a theater one late night at Sundance this year, I had never seen a frame of their previous work, yet what followed was one of the most ridiculously funny films I had ever seen. Falling in love with their absurd, no holds barred style of comedy, this was easily one of the most entertaining moviegoing experiences of the year. – Jordan R.
How many films have you seen this year from this list? What films did you feel were overlooked this year?