12 Great Films You Missed in 2012, Part 1

I've spent the past week going through my archives and building spreadsheets of reviews for all the media I cover. By the time I got through 2012, I realized what an amazing year it's been for film. To make the cut for my Top 10 list for 2012, a film needs to score an 8/10 or higher; only one of those 8/10 films can get in at this point and I still haven't seen Les Miserables, Zero Dark Thirty, or Django Unchained. Yet, there are a number of strong, inventive films from 2012 you might have missed for any number of reasons. Maybe they bombed at the box office due to a poor marketing campaign. Maybe they only did a one week qualifying release in New York and Los Angeles and spent the rest of the year shipping out screeners to critics and Academy members. Maybe it's a genre of film you don't typically seek out or a big budget blockbuster that you dismissed in summer movie season. Whatever the case, these 12 films deserve your attention.

As a quick note, this list purposely excludes the end of the year one week qualifying releases like Rust & Bone and Amour. Even if I do get to see them before 2013, they're going to open in a more substantial way in the next few months.

1: The Devil's Carnival

How You Missed It:

The Devil's Carnival The ScorpionThe Devil's Carnival decided to steal a page from the golden age of Hollywood and screen as a series of events. Darren Lynn Bousman toured the show throughout North America with large, immersive screenings. Cast members and circus performers showed up to interact with the crowd before the hour long film played. The ticket price was high for a film--$22 just to get in, significantly more for the full experience--and the lower price sold out quickly in most markets.

Why You Should See It:

Forget the nightmare of the previous Bousman/Terence Zdunich collaboration Repo: The Genetic Opera. The Devil's Carnival is an old-fashioned musical with a dark edge. Three cosmic revenge stories pair recently deceased sinners with carnies and attractions that riff on Aesop's Fables to create big music hall-styled song and dance numbers. The cast is great and the songs are strong and memorable. This is what horror musicals should be like.

Full Review

2: Holy Motors

How You Missed It:

Holy Motors MakeupHoly Motors had a very strange release schedule. The film is slowly crawling its way across America, playing a handful of cities for a week or two before moving to the next market. That's how documentaries used to be released for Academy Awards eligibility and there's a good reason the rules were finally overhauled. The marketing campaign was limited to posters and online ads, and the posters didn't exactly reveal the splendor of Holy Motors.

Why You Should See It:

Holy Motors is a love letter to the creation of special effects films. It's a bizarro sci-fi story about a man hired to become all sorts of different characters--an elderly beggar woman, a punk rock accordion player, a troll-like creature with a taste for human flesh--in real life scenarios for the amusement of an unknown audience. He applies prosthetic makeup and elaborate costumes in a long stretch limousine as he travels throughout Paris. This is a mind-bending story about the magic of film and the creation of film magic. It's an experience you won't soon shake off.

Full Review

3: The Collection

How You Missed It:

Wait. The Collection came out already? What is it? Those Saw writers made it, so it must be a Saw-knock-off. What? It's a sequel to another film by those guys? Forget it. Limited release + online only marketing + intentional disassociation from a bland and forgettable horror film = no audience.

Why You Should See It:

The Collection ElenaThe Collection is actually a really smart and intense horror film in the vein of Aliens. After a rich man's daughter is abducted in a brutal attack on a night club, the only known survivor of the serial madman is forced back into the torture chamber with a team of highly skilled mercenaries to recover the young woman. The Collection is edited within an inch of its life to keep you guessing. It deftly balances between two to three separate stories within the mayhem of the horror hotel for most of the running time before merging into one epic battle between an evil genius and a group of people desperate to get home.

Full Review

4: Anna Karenina

How You Missed It:

Anna Karenina AudienceTwo and a half hours of period Russian satire of social standards and manners? I have to travel how far to see Keira Knightley and Jude Law in elaborate period dress? Forget it. Limited release and a less than honest advertising campaign led to a small but dedicated audience of Tolstoy/costume drama fans.

Why You Should See It:

Anna Karenina is a bold experiment in using alienation effects to draw the audience into soap opera theatrics. Told in a representational palette of mood-reflecting costumes and literal theatrical devices, the story of the fall of St. Petersburg's most popular socialite has never felt so alive. Credit has to go to screenwriter Tom Stoppard for paring away most of the subplots to focus on the two stories best suited to the silver screen.

Full Review

5: Chronicle

How You Missed It:

Chronicle CrashUgh. Isn't this stupid found footage trend over yet? And what the heck is going on? Is this a horror film? Superhero story? Or just a stupid tale of whiny teenagers whining after getting amazing abilities? You just know how this one is going to end because all these modern sci-fi effects films have the same ending: total destruction. It's even in the trailer.

Why You Should See It:

You know nothing about this film from the trailer beyond the super power premise. Chronicle is the closest thing we've ever gotten to a Carrie for teenage boys. That's an amazing thing. This is a dark and thoughtful story about a young man who thinks he finally has a chance to claim something resembling a normal, happy life for himself. It took the unlikely development of superpowers for him to actually make friends and start to rise up in the world.

Full Review

6: Lawless

How You Missed It:

I honestly couldn't tell you. Lawless was a lower-budget film pushed out by the Weinsteins starring Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, and Jessica Chastain. It came out Labor Day weekend with a big marketing push and no one showed up. It slowly pulled out of theaters and that was that. Audiences weren't interested in a historical bootlegging drama.

Why you Should See It:

Lawless ReviewLawless is far better than it has any right to be. For starters, the film is carried by an excellent performance from Shia LaBeouf. You know, the Shia LaBeouf who kind of disappeared after carrying Disturbia with a surprising amount of nuance and star quality? He's re-emerged after his Transformers experience and it's a welcome return to form. The rest of the cast is equally strong. It's a solid, if unimaginative, telling of a strange chapter in American history with enough laughs and excitement to keep your interest.

Full Review

So what do you think so far? Did you see any of these films? Sound off with your thoughts and choices below.

Go on to Part 2

12 Great Films You Missed in 2012, Part 2

Ruby Sparks Review (Film, 2012)