This was a great year for movies, especially for blockbusters. Blockbuster after blockbuster exceeded expectations, and you had to wonder when it would end. Two of the best superhero movies ever made came out this summer. A Bond movie that was widely heralded as one of the best was released this fall. Big-time directors Steven Spielberg, Ang Lee, Quentin Tarantino, Ben Affleck (!), and Kathryn Bigelow released some of the best work of their careers, and all of those movies were hits. The only downside to this year of movies is that we’ll inevitably be let down by 2013. Thanks a lot, 2012.
It’s always easier for great movies to get lost in the whirlwind of great movie-ness when you have a year like 2012. But it’s a rare year when blockbusters get lost in the mix too, and that was the case this year. You won’t find any of the following movies on top 10 lists (if you did, fine, you proved me wrong- I’ll make you cookies or something), but don’t be fooled: all of them are stellar movies. Here are the most underrated movies of the year*:
The Cabin in the Woods: The movie equivalent of a dubstep song. The first part is still intense, but it’s slow-burning, building to the drop, and then it’s chaos. Pretty much like a bomb exploded in every horror movie ever. I’m still getting over the final 30 minutes. Joss Whedon’s Avengers got a lot of praise, and Cabin got attention**, but it was more “oh that’s interesting” and not “oh this is freaking awesome,” which is, in fact, the truth. Reminiscent of Scream, it’s a horror movie about horror movies and why we watch them, and it’s also the best horror movie in years. In years! And no one noticed!
Chronicle: Chronicle got pushed into the superhero movie pigeonhole, which is sort of accurate, but not really illuminating about the plot or characters. It’s really just a great movie about a troubled teen (Dane DeHaan) who, with his friends, acquires telekinesis. The things that sticks about Chronicle is the real human emotion present in the real problems Dane DeHaan’s character faces from a sick mother and an abusive dad, along with the real friendships that he forms because of the superpowers, the same superpowers that slowly strain those friendships. Forget the genre; see this movie for its superior story.
The Hunger Games: The first blockbuster of the year got 2012 off to a heart-racing start. Anchored by great star performances from Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson, director Gary Ross brilliantly adapted Suzanne Collins’s inspired YA vision into his own. Ross handled the child-v.-child violence with class, never showing a death onscreen, but never sacrificing the gravitas of the subject matter. Perhaps in a lesser year, The Hunger Games would have received praise more widely.
Last Ride: The only limited release I watched this year, Last Ride stars Hugo Weaving as a father, and I use the term loosely. What he lacks in fatherly attributes, he makes up for in meanness and violence. But there’s also tenderness in this movie. Tom Russell, who plays the son, is a true revelation. Last Ride is essentially about the difficult choices he must make as he and his father run from the law. By the end of the movie, Russell’s character has become a man.
Prometheus: I don’t think I know anybody who loved Prometheus as much as I did. Perhaps one person. But I know far more people who hated Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel. And I understand. But boy do I still love it. It’s an over-the-top mess, but it’s a freaky, intense, emotional, and mind-bending grab-bag of a science-fiction movie that asks big, important questions. As Scott’s movie walks farther out on the tight-rope, leaning one way and then the other, I cheered. On the inside. On the outside I was crushing my armrests with my fingers from fear.
*That I saw. There are a ton of movies I haven’t seen.
**Whedon shares a writing credit on Cabin.