A muted reception upon initial cinematic release is no indication of a film’s true worth. It’s A Wonderful Life was panned by critics and Casablanca labelled a “cliché”. Lawrence of Arabia was considered “laborious” by the New York Times while esteemed critic Roger Ebert thought Die Hard to be “a mess”. Audiences make mistakes too, with The Wizard of Oz taking over ten years to make any money, while Fight Club barely scraped together $11m on its opening weekend. In honour of those films that beached far from the billion dollar barrier, here are ten cinematic gems you may have missed this year.
This Norweigian thriller didn’t make quite the splash its Nordic cousin The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo did a few years earlier, but Headhunters is easily on a par for thrills and knocks Stieg and co out of the park for its “none more black” humour. The tale of a businessman and art thief whose extravagant life is stripped away from him, no other character was put through the ringer this year quite as much as Aksel Hennie’s Roger Brown. Proves Norway shouldn’t just be famed for its wood.
Before you fall head over heels in love with Christoph Waltz’ Dr. Schultz in the extraordinarily brilliant Django Unchained next month, it’s worth noting that it isn’t just Quentin that draws phenomenal performances out of everyone’s favourite multi-linguist. In Roman Polanski’s well-observed adaptation of Yasmina Reza’s stageplay Waltz plays one quarter of the married couples to perfection, his polite smile masking utter contempt. Reilly, Foster and Winslet more than hold their own making Carnage one of the best examples of screen acting this year,
Lost amongst the equally marvellous Marvel’s Avenging Avengers and the exquisite ending of The Dark Knight trilogy was a little superhero film that could. Breathing life into the very tired found footage format, Chronicle was the first hero movie to really make you feel like you were witnessing an everyday kid become extraordinary. Shades of Carrie gave Chronicle weight while Dane DeHaan’s central performance was the definition of breakthrough. All for a relatively modest $12m.
A hockey movie starring Stifler, one of the year’s missed gems? Perhaps it was my brief respite to Canada that made me enjoy Goon so much – after all hockey is to Canadians as Maple Syrup is to Canadians – but regardless of any ex-pat patriotism there was real heart in Jay Baruchel’s love letter to pucks and pugilism. As for Sean William Scott, to call it a career defining turn sounds like a backhanded compliment. It isn’t. The guy deserves more credit.
Two films this year featured small boys with fat friends and an unhealthy interest in the undead. The best of the two was the one you might not have seen. While Frankenweenie was enjoyable enough (Catherine O’Hara’s “Weird Girl” a notable highlight) its intentional mash of monster pics ultimately made it too shopworn. Paranorman, on the other hand, felt fresh and sparky, scary as hell and funnier than the majority of adult comedies released this year. We will admit that ParaNorman is a fairly rubbish title though.
Seeking A Friend For the End Of The World didn’t warrant awards aplenty and a detailed Criterion home release, but it did deserve a little more love than it got. The directorial début of Lorene Scafaria – who scripted the equally cute meet-cute Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist – SAFFTEOTW traded laugh-out-laugh moments for a hushed treatise on the preciousness of the little in life. It’s not the greatest film of the year, or even the greatest film of the year about the end of the world (take a bow, Take Shelter) but give it a try on December 21st and I’m pretty sure it’ll make you feel a bit happier when you wake to find the world still turning.
Confession time. The film that most are calling the documentary of the year, The Imposter, is one that I’ve missed. While I plan on rectifying this as soon as humanly possible it does afford me the chance to champion Indie Game in the obligatory “documentary slot”. The real-life tale of three differing computer games at various stages of development and the unique designers behind them, Indie Game is a love letter to art itself. You don’t have to be a gamer to enjoy it, you just have to appreciate passion.
Much maligned for it’s stupidity – and it sure is stupid – Joseph Gorgon Levitt’s smallest film of the year (after Looper, Lincoln and some little film about a bat man) is exactly the right kind of stupid. Only falling a yard or two short of its “Speed on a Schwinn” label, Premium Rush was original, old fashioned action cinema with a 21st Century makeover. And in Michael Shannon’s bent cop it had the most deranged villain of the year.
“In a million years, when kids go to school, they’re going to know, once there was a hushpuppy and she lived with her daddy in The Bathtub.” As hidden away as the piece of America depicted in the film, Beasts of the Southern Wild couldn’t lay claim to a great narrative to hook in viewers thus it was overlooked on both sides of the Atlantic. A potential Oscar nomination for its child star Quvenzhane Wallis might help give it the audience it merits.
As far as arthouse cinema box office takes goes the near £1m Amour took in the UK is far from disappointing. Coupled with it rightfully being awarded every other Best Film prize going you may be wondering why it’s top of the list of films you may have missed. Because, honestly, even if only a handful of people reading this have missed it, while it’s still playing nationwide I implore you to correct this. It might not be the most festive of flicks but venture to the cinema this week and catch Michael Haneke’s tale of love and death to see a film which evokes emotion and triggers a response like only the best cinema can. To quote a Beatle, “It’s Real Love”.