Every year we’re overwhelmed by blockbusters, overpaid movie stars and over produced money spinners, and many times a few very good films slip through the cracks or under our radar. Whether due to its small budget, the timing of the release or simply bad advertising and distribution, some gems tend to escape us.
Here in South Africa we tend to fight an even greater battle because we know we only receive a percentage of the films released (although honestly, many that don’t make it to our shores are better left abroad). So we’ve assembled a list of 2012’s best unsung heroes, several of which are foreign language affairs, because admittedly, if it’s not English, SA audience’s tend to steer clear and that sadly prevents a lot of quality from being highlighted timeously.
(Ang Lee, Guilermo Del Toro, Gavin Hood, Fernando Mereilles, Luc Besson, Nicolas Winding Refn, Pedro Almodovar – if these names mean anything to you, then you’ll know they started in their homeland before gaining international recognition, and in Almodovar’s case, he is recognized abroad despite only making Spanish language films…)
Disclaimer: Some of these films we haven’t seen, so we’re merely going on gut feelings, user reviews, independent critiques and our general sixth sense when it comes to reading the film world’s smoke signals.
10. Premium Rush
Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s other 2012 release after the more fancied Looper and TDKR. It’s a ‘chase’ movie about a bike messenger who attracts the unwanted attentions of a dirty cop, played by the ever more visible Michael Shannnon. In the Kan’s review here.
For a little less brain power and more entertainment value, this film does the trick. It’s not without its flaws, but a refreshing new hard-core action star and a talented cast make it worth a look. (I do hate the corny trailer voiceover though)
A colourful cast and another classic Woody Harrelson display makes this film quite a viewing treat. Added to that, the story was also penned by renowned writer James Ellroy (LA Confidential). Set in the 90’s, a seemingly racist city cop must face retirement or sanctions after nearly beating a man to death.
7. The Ambassador (documentary)
It has been described as “a dark comedy” and “when Borat meets investigative journalism”. A Danish journalist/filmmaker Mads Brugger (because he had to have a name like Mads) poses as a bent businessman venturing into the politically enshrined blood diamond trade in Central Africa.
A wealthy head-hunter attempts to steal a painting owned by a former mercenary. A Norwegian film starring Aksel Hennie and Game of Thrones’s Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. I do worry for this movie though – many that have seen it have voiced concerns over a potential soulless American remake.
5. Elite Squad: The Enemy within
Technically this is not a 2012 film, but I took the liberty of including it because it just so happens to be Brazil’s most successful film in their domestic box office (even eclipsing Avatar) – it was initially submitted to the 2012 Academy awards in the best Foreign language Film category, but ultimately lost out in the shortlist. It released to a tepid response in a handful of cinemas and only garnered a modicum of attention this year – way after its limited initial international release. See this as HEAT/The Departed mashed up with City of God. Set in Rio it tracks the efforts of a former police captain caught in political disputes, drug cartels and corrupt paramilitary unit officials after a bloody prison riot. It’s directed by Jose Padilha, who’s more accustomed to filming documentaries – note: he’s currently working on the 2014 Robocop reboot. Oh, and yes, for those of you a little more clued up, this film is the sequel to 2007’s impressive Elite Squad. As praised as The Enemy Within is, I think it’s still underrated. Our review here.
The only R-rated film on this list, and it’s largely due to Michael Fassbender that it’s gotten so many nods of critical approval. Also starring Carey Mulligan and directed by Steve McQueen (yes that’s his name). About a man who’s sex addiction habits are rudely interrupted by the unannounced arrival of his sister.
3. Cloud Atlas
The Wachowski Brothers (ahem, siblings); their last major hit was 2005’s V for Vendetta (forget Speed Racer). The fantastical Cloud Atlas makes for something of a return to their groove in a collaborative effort with talented German director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run). Read our review here.
2. Rust and Bone
Marion Cottillard plays the lead in this French film based on a collection of short stories . It’s billed as a love story that starts where two worlds fall apart… Oh and once again, it stars Marion Cottillard – you don’t need another reason – though judging by this trailer, it seems like its “love story” that even guys can enjoy.
1. The Hunt
A man needs to evade the hostile attentions of his local village after a little girl tells a white lie. This Danish film, which was released earlier this year, has been hailed as a masterpiece by a few critics whilst the rest just seem to agree that it’s a darn good movie. Also, it stars Mads Mikkelsson, so it’s automatically on my watch list. Early indications reveal that the Oscars have overlooked it for the Foreign language film nod, though Oscar is often blind to brilliance – They snubbed The Dark Knight and once told us that Halle Berry was the best actress in the whole world…!?!
Sound of my voice – a limited release American psychological thriller about a couple (investigative journalists) who infiltrate a cult. It’s been described as “subtly menacing”. Watch the trailer here.
Your Sister’s Sister – A very low budget/marketed/distributed comedy drama with three talented actors commanding flawless performances, led by Emily Blunt. If you see this film somewhere, give it a look-see. Give the trailer a gander here.
About Steven Benjamin:
A Capetonian – the only son, amongst four siblings, of a demure working mother and a missionary (once upon a time) for a father. Humble and God fearing, I’m a writer looking to add a different perspective whilst also telling stories on the side. I’ve lugubriously turned to writing after failing in a mental attempt to become a Formula 1 driver. I’m currently also working on my spicy debut novel, The Quiet Days!