For critics, bloggers, and all-around cineastes, the end of the calendar year marks a time to look back and reflect on the best offerings of the last three hundred and sixty five days (and sometimes even the worst). This is when we talk about the There Will Be Bloods and the Hurt Lockers, the Slumdog Millionaires and the Yi Yis; it’s when we decry the dreck that fills the spaces in between the better releases, the Battlefield Earths and the Giglis, the Pearl Harbors and the The Number 23s. (And I realize that this collection of titles represents only a microcosm of the cinema that makes its way to theaters year after year.)
But in between celebrating the “best”– and denigrating the “worst”– we tend to completely overlook all of the very, very good movies that either fell off the critical radar or simply never had the chance to win us over in the first place. In a way, the end of the year is when we forget about all but the most highly-prized, prolific, impacting films and leave lesser but still wonderful, worthy pictures in the proverbial lurch; this is especially true of 2012, given that this year was so flush with great films as to make composing a comfortable top ten list headache-induing.
Today, I aim to change that. Note: you may see a few of these films appear on more daring top ten lists by writers who take the year-end as a chance to think about their favorite films instead of perform academic, scientific evaluations to determine the “best” films. Conversely you may see none of these pictures appear at all, though I find that somewhat unlikely. Wherever else you see these titles honored, though– should they pop up anywhere else at all– take it from us: they’re well-worth your time and consideration.
Klown (pictured above): Oh, Frank and Casper. Atypical of most raunch-coms, Klown– unafraid of being the most profane film in the room– uses undercurrents of sweetness and heart to enhance its cavalcade of vulgarity and poor taste rather than to soften those elements. In other words, Klown aims to offend and discomfit and little else, but actors/creators Frank Hvam and Casper Christensen attack those goals with such repugnant relish that one can’t help but laugh at their endless contest to see who between them is the more horrible person.
Kill List: Drew Godard’s masterful act of meta-criticism, The Cabin in the Woods, might be the horror film of 2012 most likely to dominate the #1 slot for genre-specific lists (I certainly love it a lot myself), but for pure unnerving terror, Kill List trumps it– and every other horror release of the year. Ben Wheatley, an undiscovered quantity over here in the US, weaves an unnerving web of enigmatic portents and chilling pathos, telling the story of a shell-shocked soldier turned hitman before sending his picture into a spiral of madness and human cruelty that recalls horror classics like The Wicker Man. Meticulous, utterly frightening, and brilliantly acted.
Polisse: Law enforcers, so Maïwenn’s sprawling crime opus Polisse tells us, are people too. More to the point, these are the people who are the police. It’s not at all unfair to describe Polisse as following in the traditions set by shows like The Wire, stories about policework that peel back the layers of the men and women who choose to dedicate themselves to serving and protecting. Sometimes, the process might reveal a true super cop or two, but in the case of this French police drama we more often than not find that they’re almost as damaged as some of the criminals they pinch and the victims they comfort– if not more so.
Detention: It’s hard not to admire someone who makes films the way that they want to make them, and tells the stories that they want to tell without giving anybody else the chance to interfere. Such is my respect for Joseph Kahn, the man behind 2004’s Torque and the mad scientist responsible for this year’s Detention, a spiritual cousin to 2010’s Scott Pilgrim and yet very much its own indescribably bizarre, energetic, fresh, zany, loving, bloody beast.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home: I didn’t take an opportunity to write about this one, but don’t let that fool you into thinking Jeff, Who Lives at Home isn’t worth writing about or watching. With its small frame and huge heart, it stands head and shoulders above the majority of the brothers Duplass’ creative output; it’s more kin to a Cyrus than a Baghead, a sweet, moving, funny, and smartly made film that doesn’t let the mumblecore aesthetic or its visibly mainstream cast members overwhelm its more intimate sensibilities.