The 19 Best Movies That You Didn't See in 2012 - Indie Gems to Watch
by Alex Billington
March 12, 2013
The best of the best - that you didn't see. It's back again and we're a bit late, but all of these are still worth watching anyway. Back by popular demand is our sixth annual list of the 19 Best Movies That You Didn't See in 2012 (you can find our past lists here: 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007). Featured below is a hand-picked selection of the best independent and/or mainstream films that were either quietly dumped, ignored by audiences, or just not marketed well enough. So to give them some extra time in the spotlight, and to support some of the best filmmakers out there, we've put together a 2012 recap. Read on for the list!
Each year I put together this list of 19 films, it takes longer and longer to put together, and is harder and harder to figure out what should make the cut. I feel as if I'm being challenged by cinephiles to find more and more movies they haven't seen, because more and more great films are being seen/recognized each and every year. I remember the comments that say "I've seen 18 of these 19 already!" That's actually great! But there's always more. This year there's a few extra documentaries, reflecting how my own tastes have evolved and how I've discovered some of the best work in all different types of cinema. I continue to search for the kind of films that move me, entertain and excite me, make me feel emotions, and share them with you. -Alex
I would like to encourage everyone to watch at least one of these that they haven't heard of (or didn't see) beforehand. If you spend the two hours or so that it will take to watch even one of these movies mentioned below, it would mean that much more to the filmmakers who put so much time and effort into making each of these movies. This isn't about getting kudos for mentioning certain films, this article is about pointing out movies that don't deserve to be forgotten and are begging to be watched. So pick one and watch it tonight.
5 Broken Cameras
Opened on May 30, 2012
Directed by Emad Burnat & Guy Davidi
A documentary on a Palestinian farmer's chronicle of his nonviolent resistance to the actions of the Israeli army.
Why it's on here: "I have to believe that capturing these images will have some meaning." That quote, spoken by director Emad Burnat in the documentary, is the perfect way to capture not only the importance of this film, but all the excellent films on this list. Why do these filmmakers keep on filming? Why do they make these movies? 5 Broken Cameras is a phenomenal doc about a simple Palestinian farmer who chronicles the lives of the five video cameras that he's used to record his family and what's happening to the land and people around him. The way he presents everything in such a raw, but extraordinarily affecting way, is what makes this a very powerful documentary. It's one of those films that demands—needs—to be seen, because as Emad says, this story must "have some meaning."
Opened on April 27, 2012
Directed by Richard Linklater
In small-town Texas, the local mortician strikes up a friendship with a wealthy widow, though when he kills her, he goes to great lengths to create the illusion that she's alive.
Why it's on here: After a series of weak films, Jack Black came back with a vengeance and delivered an Oscar worthy turn as the title character in this hilarious dark comedy from director Richard Linklater. Sadly, the film didn't get a whole lot of publicity due to a limited release and lack of serious marketing support. In the film, inspired by a true story, Black plays the kind and jovial Texas mortician Bernie who befriends the small town's wealthiest and cold widow (Shirley MacLaine). Their friendship blossoms, but turns into more of a hellish faux marriage made all the more complicated when Bernie accidentally kills her. But despite the suspicious nature of her death, the town doesn't suspect Bernie until the lies just don't hold up anymore. It's a lighter dark comedy made all the more genuine by the use of real townspeople as talking heads, making the story feel like a dramatized documentary. It also contains another great turn from Matthew McConaughey and is available on Netflix Instant right now. (Written by Ethan)
Casa de mi Padre
Opened on March 16, 2012
Directed by Matt Piedmont
Scheming on a way to save their father's ranch, the Alvarez brothers find themselves in a war with Mexico's most feared drug lord.
Why it's on here: Will Ferrell speaking Spanish. That's pretty much all you need to know as this debut film from "Funny or Die" director Matt Piedmont. Produced by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay's Gary Sanchez Productions, the film is basically a straight-up parody in the vein of Black Dynamite that takes aim at Mexican westerns. Complete with some trademark Airplane-style, meta humor, and hilariously deadpan serious performances from actors Diego Luna, Gael Garcia Bernal and Genesis Rodriguez, this gem likely got swept under the radar because general audiences don't like subtitles, and this move is presented completely in Spanish, with the exception of the appearance of Nick Offerman which is jut awesome. Ferrell also delivers one of his trademark singing scenes, and you can watch it on Netflix Instant right now. (Written by Ethan)
An exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future, as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and an act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution.
Why it's on here: "You ever think the universe was against ya?" The little film that tried, but couldn't make it up the mountain. I still believe in it. I still love it. I love everything about it. I still consider Cloud Atlas to be a "massive cinematic accomplishment", as I'm quoted calling it, and one that got overlooked in the awards season in many ways, from best make-up to best score (the "Cloud Atlas Sextet" by Tom Tykwer, Johnny Klimek & Reinhold Heil) as well as the performances, costumes, and everything else. Tom Hanks is great in six roles, along with Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Keith David and Ben Whishaw. I think this is the Wachowskis big "coming out" film, where they went all out experimentally in a narrative way, and it's a big one to grasp, but an extraordinary journey if you're along for the ride. "I feel like something important has happened to me. Is this possible?" Now is the time to finally see this movie.
Opened on August 17, 2012
Directed by Craig Zobel
When a prank caller convinces a fast food restaurant manager to interrogate an innocent young employee, no-one is left unharmed. Based on true events.
Why it's on here: For the way it affects audiences. This is a film some hate, some despise, while others believe is brilliant, awards-worthy. The subversive nature of the story along with a couple of impressive performances and the way it makes you feel strong emotions of frustration and anger and everything inbetween are exactly why this is such a great film, one worth seeing. It's simple but effective filmmaking that tells an almost unbelievable story so believably, that you want to walk right through the screen and beat the crap out of the guy on the phone. Actors Dreama Walker, Ann Dowd and Pat Healy are exceptional, but it's also director Craig Zobel we need to keep an eye on after this.
The Deep Blue Sea
Opened on March 23, 2012
Directed by Terence Davies
The wife of a British Judge is caught in a self-destructive love affair with a Royal Air Force pilot.
Why it's on here: One hell of a heartbreaking performance by Rachel Weisz, and also because it's an impressive film that shows how much can be achieved with little dialogue. The best reasons to see this are summed up by my friend Dan Mecca of The Film Stage, who put this as his #1 film of 2012 and convinced me to give it a look. He eloquently explains: "Romance at it's most simple and most tragic. Davies has been making elegant, brutal films his whole life, and this might be the best of them all. Rachel Weisz so perfectly captures the feel of unrequited love it hurts to watch. You're afraid she might break at any moment. The great Tom Hiddleston, the object of her affection, plays the other side perfectly; he watches what he's doing to this woman, but doesn't know how to stop the pain."
Opened on October 17, 2012
Directed by Leos Carax
From dawn to dusk, a few hours in the shadowy life of Monsieur Oscar...
Why it's on here: There's no debating that this is the weirdest, wackiest film of 2012, but it's also one of the most uniquely extraordinary cinematic creations featuring one of the best solo performances you will ever see. Denis Lavant as "Oscar" travels around the city of Paris in a white limo playing various characters, from the wacky sewer guy seen in Tokyo meeting up with Eva Mendes, to a father, a criminal, and even some kind of motion capture action model. My take is that we're always performing in our lives, and this is just an exaggerated cinematic take on the idea of performance, as envisioned through the mind of Leos Carax. If you're into filmmaking, acting or the creative arts, this is a must see, one of my favorite films and Denis Lavant is beyond awesome.
How to Survive a Plague
Opened on September 21, 2012
Directed by David France
The story of two coalitions -- ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group) -- whose activism and innovation turned AIDS from a death sentence into a manageable condition.
Why it's on here: One of many incredibly moving, extremely fascinating, exceptionally inspiring documentaries that made the list this year. I first heard about this from a filmmaker friend and decided to watch it, discovering an astonishing story of hope against all odds. It may not seem like the kind of subject matter that makes for good "entertainment", but watching the archival footage of activists coming together to fight AIDS was riveting, I was transfixed right up to the end. It is an inspiring documentary, not only telling an amazing story about overcoming odds and fighting against death and disease, but by showing that hope and happiness can and will always prevail. If you want to see a documentary that will make you want to get up, get out and help change the world, start with this one.
Opened on July 13, 2012
Directed by Bart Layton
A documentary centered on a young Frenchman who claims to a grieving Texas family that he is their 16-year-old son who has been missing for 3 years.
Why it's on here: Although there are a few unbelievable stories this year (e.g. Compliance), this documentary takes the cake for being the epitome of truth being stranger than fiction. Featuring the mastermind behind it himself, this doc explores the story of how French conman Frédéric Bourdin, nicknamed the "Chameleon", tricked a Texas family into thinking he was their long-lost son, gone for years in Europe. I first saw this at Sundance and was blown away, it's a must-see-to-believe kind of story, and even when you see it you still won't believe half of it. We gave this film as much love and support as we could, it just never got enough traction, but it's a worthy watch if you want to be wowed.
After he becomes a quadriplegic from a paragliding accident, an aristocrat hires a young man from the projects to be his caretaker.
Why it's on here: When a film moves me to tears and has my smiling at the end, that usually means it's something special. It admittedly took me forever to finally see this film, even though I had been told to see it for a while. My goodness is it wonderful! So moving, so inspiring, captivating from start to finish, funny even when sad, it's a grand slam as a French drama. Even the score by Ludovico Einaudi is exceptional, though it wasn't all written specifically for the film. This will be Omar Sy's legacy, playing the lovable, rambunctious caretaker of a quadriplegic, French actor François Cluzet. I guarantee that as sad as it may make you, you'll be just as happy by the end.
Indie Game: The Movie
Opened on May 18, 2012
Directed by Lisanne Pajot & James Swirsky
A documentary that follows the journeys of indie game developers as they create games and release those works, and themselves, to the world.
Why it's on here: Though video game adaptations that have gone to the big screen haven't been embraced very well by players, this documentary should tickle their funny bone pretty efficiently. After premiering appropriately as an indie at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, the film received a quiet release, but deserves much more attention. Newcomer directing duo Lisanne Pajot & James Swirsky take the camera and point it at independent game designers Edmund McMillen, Tommy Refenes, Phil Fish and Jonathan Blow, each at various stages of success in their career and development in their projects. For gamers, this will be an eye-opening look behind the scenes of great indie games, and for everyone else, you'll never look at video games the same way. It's full of passion for video games and paints an honest and sometimes heartbreaking picture of this artistic community. Read my full review here and check out the film on Netflix Instant. (Written by Ethan)
Opened on September 14, 2012
Directed by Josh Radnor
When 30-something Jesse returns to his alma mater for a professor's retirement party, he falls for Zibby, a college student, and is faced with a powerful attraction that springs up between them.
Why it's on here: Quietly released alongside Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master last fall, Josh Radnor's sophomore effort was a major step up for the actor-turned-filmmaker, yet it sadly didn't result in any sort of increased attention. Featuring some of the finest character actors Hollywood has to offer, with both Richard Jenkins and Allison Janney, the drama certainly came across as a crowdpleaser during its Sundance premiere, but managed to only slightly outpace Radnor's debut. Seek it out now to see a hilarious cameo role from Zac Efron and another charming performance from Elizabeth Olsen. With How I Met Your Mother (maybe) coming to a close, hopefully Radnor's third effort will give him the spotlight he deserves in the filmmaking world. (Written by The Film Stage's Jordan Raup)
Opened on October 12, 2012
Directed by Pablo Larraín
An ad executive comes up with a campaign to defeat Augusto Pinochet in Chile's 1988 referendum.
Why it's on here: I thought I wouldn't see Gael García Bernal give a better performance than he has in many films before, but this tops it all. I expect No to be studied in film schools years from now, not only as a perfect historical archive of the events of Chile's 1988 referendum, but also as a look at how technique and performance can come together to create what might just be a masterpiece. Bernal stars as a young ad executive, skateboarding around Chile, who crafts a catchy vote "No" television commercial political campaign to defeat dictator Augusto Pinochet in the late 80's. The film is even shot with U-matic cameras, which makes it refreshingly unique visually even though it's not the best quality, but that's what I love about it. This is a classic, and I can't recommend watching it enough.
Robot & Frank
Opened on August 17, 2012
Directed by Jake Schreier
Set in the near future, an ex-jewel thief receives a gift from his son: a robot butler programmed to look after him. But soon the two companions try their luck as a heist team.
Why it's on here: "I'm glad to see you so enthusiastic." This charming indie sci-fi drama tells a heartfelt story of an old-time thief, played by Frank Langella, given a human-size robot helper. At first Frank refuses his help, then comes to like him, then comes to involve him in some local thieving. That's kind of a spoiler, but there's a bigger one that I think is much more important and best saved for the full experience. This film was a highlight of Sundance 2012 when it first premiered, but never got the proper marketing support it should have. It's a film that appeals to all ages, and shows just how much can be achieved on a small budget. The supporting cast is made up of James Marsden, Liv Tyler and Susan Sarandon, with Peter Sarsgaard as the voice of the robot. Another gem just waiting to be found.
Rust and Bone
Opened on November 23, 2012
Directed by Jacques Audiard
Put in charge of his young son, Alain leaves Belgium for Antibes to live with his sister and her husband as a family. Alain's bond with Stephanie, a killer whale trainer, grows deeper after Stephanie suffers a horrible accident.
Why it's on here: For the two lead performances alone. Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts play two troubled souls who cross paths and fall in love in the south of France, later overcoming a devastating physical injury. I saw this film twice at two different film festivals, it is that good, and I love the director too - Jacques Audiard, who last made one of my all-time favorites, Un Prophète. Once you find out what happens to Cotillard, yet see the exceptionally deep, powerful performance she gives, you'll be moved to tears just as I was, which is odd when there's a Katy Perry song playing, but it works. It is at times hard to like the two main characters in this, but their pain and love makes this such a fascinating story to see told in a beautiful way. I've loved Cotillard for a while, but this instantly solidified Matthias Schoenaerts as one of my favorite up-and-coming European actors.
Save the Date
Opened on December 14, 2012
Directed by Michael Mohan
Sarah begins to confront her shortcomings after she rejects her boyfriend's hasty proposal and soon finds herself in a rebound romance. Meanwhile, her sister Beth is immersed in the details of her wedding.
Why it's on here: Good romantic comedies are fairly hard to come by, and there's usually a lot of garbage to sift through thanks to the likes of Katherine Heigl and Sarah Jessica Parker. However, director Michael Mohan has made a film that can certainly be classified as a romantic comedy, but is also so much more than that subgenre label implies. The indie film follows sisters Beth and Sarah (Lizzy Caplan and Alison Brie) who are both involved with men who happen to be in the same rock band. But a marriage proposal gone wrong puts them at different stages in the dating game, and the film becomes an examination of the non-fairytale side of love, and how people mature and come to terms with commitment and their significant others. Mark Webber, Martin Starr and Geoffrey Arend also star in the film, and you can read my glowing review of the film from Sundance 2012 right here. (Written by Ethan)
Sleepwalk with Me
Opened on August 24, 2012
Directed by Mike Birbiglia & Seth Barrish
A burgeoning stand-up comedian struggles with the stress of a stalled career, a stale relationship, and the wild spurts of severe sleepwalking he is desperate to ignore.
Why it's on here: This is a film that made my list of the Top 20 Films of 2012 at #20, so it holds a special place in my heart. Comedian Mike Birbiglia makes his directorial debut and proves he can be quite the funny and charming leading man with this adaptation of his stand-up act, book and radio segment of the same name. Produced by "This American Life" personality Ira Glass, the film is inspired by Birbiglia's real-life family and sleepwalking disorder as it follows a struggling stand-up comedian and his trials and tribulations in love and this strange nighttime affliction. Birbiglia makes quite a splash with his first film, and it's the kind of indie you love to see get noticed by general audiences. You can read my full review from Sundance 2012 right here and also check out the film on Netflix Instant. (Written by Ethan)
Opened on October 12, 2012
Directed by James Ponsoldt
A married couple whose bond is built on a mutual love of alcohol gets their relationship put to the test when the wife decides to get sober.
Why it's on here: You've seen her as the alluring Ramona Flowers, but now Mary Elizabeth Winstead is an alcoholic. Well, at least she plays one in what should have been an Oscar nominated performance from James Ponsoldt's Sundance film. With a turn that rivals charming alcoholics like Dudley Moore in Arthur, Winstead puts in an amusing but also harrowing performance as a teacher coming to terms with her alcoholism and trying to break away from the poisonous relationship with her boyfriend (Aaron Paul) that only seems to be bolstered by liquor. Octavia Spencher, Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally offer some great comedic moments in a film that is funny but also has beautiful moments of drama, mostly thanks to Paul and Winstead giving it their all. (Written by Ethan)
West of Memphis
Opened on December 25, 2012
Directed by Amy Berg
A documentary examining of a failure of justice in the case against the West Memphis Three.
Why it's on here: While sitting through a nearly three hour documentary might seem like a daunting task, this film from Deliver Us from Evil director Amy Berg and producer Peter Jackson is an infuriating look at injustice and a flawed justice system. Three young boys were accused of murder, and ended up arrested and imprisoned on faulty evidence. This documentary looks at how the situation was mishandled, poorly tried and how these three boys had their childhood and more years of their lives taken away. Thankfully, it's a bit inspiring as plenty of people, including celebrities like Johnny Depp, who had no idea who these boys were, worked as hard as they could to keep the case open and bring the real killers to justice. This is the definitive account of the West Memphis Three, and it's a fascinating and maddening documentary to behold. (Written by Ethan)
I hope we've been able to introduce everyone to a few more great must-see films that you have never seen. Not everyone will love all of them, that's certainly expected, but I guarantee there is something unique to discover in every last one of these. Support an indie filmmaker today, watch one of these 19, it will make a difference! Let us know what you think of it after, too.
Honorable Mentions (want more?) other excellent films: Jon Kasdan's The First Time, Zoe Kazan's Ruby Sparks, Paronnaud & Satrapi's Chicken with Plums, David Mackenzie's Perfect Sense, Daniel Nettheim's The Hunter, Panos Cosmatos' Beyond the Black Rainbow, Chris Kenneally's doc Side by Side, Dardenne Brothers' The Kid With a Bike, Jon Shenk's doc The Island President, Béla Tarr's The Turin Horse, Michael Dowse's Goon, Jason Moore's Pitch Perfect, Cate Shortland's Lore and Julie Delpy's 2 Days in New York.
Commentary for Bernie, Casa de mi Padre, Indie Game: The Movie, Save the Date, Sleepwalk with Me, Smashed and West of Memphis written by Ethan; commentary for Liberal Arts written by The Film Stage's Jordan Raup. We hope you enjoyed this year's selection of the 19 Best Movies That You Didn't See from 2012, as we're always happy to bring you a list of films that should be added to your Netflix or Must Watch lists right away. (Even if it's already March of 2013!) Post your thoughts on any you see in the comments!