As the year comes to an end, the heavy concentration of movies still in theaters — or, even worse, not yet in them — can get a little frustrating. In preparing our own “best of 2012” list (keep an eye out for it next week), we wanted to take the opportunity to point out some of the less-discussed films of this very, very good year for movies. These are films that didn’t quite make it on our final list, but runners-up that are not only well-deserving of your time and attention, but available for viewing via Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, Vimeo, or other services — at this very moment, for anywhere from ten to zero dollars. Do some holiday-break movie cramming after the jump, and just follow the link to find out how to watch it now (via our friends at GoWatchIt).
The New York Film Critics’ Circle threw the awards season a curveball when they bypassed go-to choices Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence to give their Best Actress honors to Rachel Weisz’s wondrous work in this little-seen adaptation of Terence Rattigan’s play (previously adapted for the screen in 1955). This story of a securely married woman who embarks on a destructive affair is, admittedly, a tad on the pokey side — but Weisz is indeed remarkable, embodying the contradictions and paradoxes of a woman who knows what’s right, and follows her heart anyway.
“Listen to the city, contaminated by shitty music… It’s time to strike back.” That’s the premise of Ola Simonsson and Johannes Stjarne Nilssons’ endlessly clever movie, which first looks like yet another Scandinavian police procedural, then takes on the form of a heist movie, before finally revealing itself to be… a musical. It’s got a hearty, rowdy energy, sending up the clichés of crime movies (its band of “musical terrorists” burst into a bank and announce, “We don’t want to hurt anyone — we’re only here for the music!”) while cultivating a rather poignant central relationship that is left thankfully understated.
Joachim Trier’s drama deals with a recovering addict (the terrific Anderson Daniels Lie), but it has an intimacy lacking in boilerplate addiction dramas of the Flight school. This up-close portrait of a flawed man trying to re-enter the world, and to reconnect with those he left behind (often with great difficulty) is filled with uncomfortable moments and striking imagery; it’s tough to watch, but it is quietly compelling, and ultimately, somehow, both unsentimental and compassionate.
Addiction is also the primary subject of this harrowing, difficult, yet strangely funny documentary portrait of Bobby Liebling, longtime frontman of an underground deep-metal group called Pentagram. Simply put, Bobby’s a mess: in his fifties, living in his parents’ basement, and deep in the thrall of a serious (and decades-long) drug problem, he’s an accident perpetually waiting to happen. Don Argott and Demien Fenton’s documentary focuses on a dedicated fan (and friend) attempting to clean Bobby up; it is also a fascinating portrait of a man who never stopped being a sullen, high-as-a-kite teenager.
Frederic Jardin’s tough, breathless thriller is something of a smarter, international riff on Taken, in which a dirty cop tries to rescue his son, who has been kidnapped by a drug dealer in exchange for some coke the cop lifted. The plotting is tight, the action is intense, and the pacing is ridiculous — this is a fast and furious bit of genre craftsmanship, but smarter than your average action flick.
Neil Berkeley’s endlessly entertaining documentary concerns Wayne White, the droll visual artist, puppeteer, sculptor, art designer, and cartoonist, and director Berkeley remarkably finds a style that captures (and, at its best, matches) the wry wit of its subject. White is a fascinating guy; Beauty is Embarrassing has a blast just hanging out with him, and so do we.
This complex morality tale from director Gerardo Naranjo concerns a beauty pageant contestant (the remarkable Stephanie Sigman) who finds herself in a wrong place/wrong time situation, and ends up a tool of the criminals in her border town. It has the immediacy of on-the-ground reporting, told exclusively from our protagonist’s uniformed point-of-view — only aware of the present moment, where gristly violence is always potentially just a moment away. It’s an unnerving picture, unfolding logically yet unpredictably, and casts a scary spell that lasts well beyond its 113 minutes.
It’s not so much that Paramount mis-marketed this warm comedy/drama from the Duplass Brothers as they under-marketed it; it looks like a likable stoner comedy, but there’s much more going on here than that. As with their underrated 2010 effort Cyrus, Jeff has a premise that seems built for a big, dumb comedy, but the incisive filmmakers burrow deeper, digging out the pathos and disappointments underneath. Intelligent, well-developed, and laugh-out-loud funny.
Lynn Shelton’s wise and funny semi-improvised comedy/drama uses a classic low-budget three-hander premise (a love triangle in a remote location), and fleshes it out with genuine sadness and a tremendous ear for the wit and rhythms of intelligent conversation. It’s a raw, direct, and honest movie — like Jeff (co-directed by Mark Duplass, one of Sister’s co-stars), it gets the laugh, and then it refreshingly does more.
Bart Layton’s gripping documentary tells a story too implausible to be true: of a 13-year-old boy who disappeared from Texas in 1994, only to turn up, without identification, months later in Spain. His family was so happy to have him back that they overlooked (or bought his strange explanations for) the fact that his hair and eyes had changed color, he seemed years older, and he spoke with a French accent. Layton examines how a French con artist hustled his way into an American family — and how they let themselves be hustled — with precision and skill; it’s a fascinating examination of not just the pathology required to tell a lie, but to keep believing it.
Those are some of the great 2012 movies we’re catching up with — feel free to share your recommendations in the comments!