The Top Ten Overlooked Films of 2012

The best films you heard were bad, or didn’t hear about at all.

William Bibbianiby William Bibbiani

Hundreds of movies come out in any given year, thousands if you count straight-to-video flicks, TV movies and pornography. The job of a film critic is to keep up with them all because, odds are, you can’t fit them all into your busy schedules. Hell, we can barely do it, but still we work our buns off to perform quality assurance tests on every motion picture you could possibly consider spending your money or, worse, wasting your time on, and letting you know if it’s worth seeking out for yourselves.

So while none of the following films were quite good enough to make it on CraveOnline’s Top Ten Movies of 2012 lists, that’s kind of the point. The best films find an audience eventually, and the even the bad ones get harped on over and over again because they bug us so much. The films that do their jobs, and do them very well, but don’t get all the acclaim or, sadly, get critically evaluated on the wrong level (often thanks to marketing ploys that sell them as something very different than they actually are, or just plain make them look bad for one reason or another), often get lost in the tidal wave of cinematic content Hollywood tries to shovel down our throats all year long.

So here, CraveOnline presents ten films that you either heard were bad, and are actually pretty danged good, or that we think got overlooked in a year overstuffed with excellent motion pictures that snatched all the attention away. These are the underdogs. The little pictures that could. These are our picks for The Ten Most Overlooked Films of 2012.

About Cherry (dir. Stephen Elliott)

Stephen Elliott’s understated drama about a young woman turning to pornography in difficult times barely eked into theaters this fall, so you probably missed a chance to catch this earnest look at a day job often demonized in the mainstream media. Ashley Hinshaw (Chronicle) stars as Angelina, who finds the community within the adult industry to be more inviting than the one in her “normal” life, despite the unexpected personal decisions she has to make to get ahead in the business. Co-written by adult performer Lorelei Lee, and bolstered by a strong supporting cast including James Franco, Dev Patel, Heather Graham and Lily Taylor, About Cherry is anything but the weepy melodrama you’d expect from the premise. It’s a very mature work.

Dark Shadows (dir. Tim Burton)

Though touted as a potential summer blockbuster, Dark Shadows had the misfortune of coming out a week after the juggernaut that was The Avengers and satirizing soap opera storylines that most audiences weren’t very familiar with. But if you accept Tim Burton’s adaptation of the cult TV series as an over-the-top gothic ensemble film, and not the fish-out-of-water yuckfest it was marketed as, Dark Shadows is a very funny, surprisingly involving film about the secrets most families would rather keep out of the light, and features one of the greatest sex scenes of the year. The cast, including Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green and Jonny Lee Miller, milks their every line like it was Shakespeare. Dash your preconceptions and appreciate Dark Shadows for what it really is.

The Divide (dir. Xavier Gens)

Fred Topel called The Divide one of the worst movies of the year, and he wasn’t alone in declaring the film one-dimensional and thematically thin. He’s wrong, of course, and so are the rest of them. Though not a genre classic by any stretch of the imagination, director Xavier Gens (Hitman) turned a familiar concept – a group of survivors trapped in a bunker after the nuclear holocaust – into a harrowing tale of social conventions dissolving into the kind of apocalyptic anarchy we take for granted in typical sci-fi movies. Watching the excellent cast – including Michael Biehn, Roseanna Arquette, Milo Ventimiglia and Courtney B. Vance – abuse each other because nothing else matters was one of the scariest experiences of the year.

For a Good Time, Call… (dir. Jamie Travis)

After Bridesmaids broke records in 2011 everyone thought female-driven comedies would be the next big thing. But 2012’s lone reaction to its success failed to catch on with critics and audiences, despite a charismatic cast, infectious humor and a refreshingly open attitude to sexuality that’s both progressive and kinda hot. Lauren Miller and Ari Graynor star as mismatched roommates who eventually bond after starting their own phone sex line. Attitudes evolve, heterosexual romance ensues and ultimately it all boils down to a healthy and supportive life partnership with just a dash of naughtiness thrown in on a daily basis. For a Good Time, Call… definitely deserves another look.

The Hole (dir. Joe Dante)

An excellent throwback to the days (mostly in the 1980s) when genuinely scary movies were made with kids in mind, Joe Dante’s The Hole – the director’s first feature film in nine years – is exactly the right way to do a PG-13 horror flick. Chris Massoglia and Haley Bennett star as bickering brothers who find a mysterious hatchway in the basement of their new home, only to open it and release their deepest fears into the world. Dante’s energetic direction makes the familiar concept into something genuinely scary, particularly when the cast finds out what’s actually inside the title crevasse, but never so gut-wrenching that you couldn’t show it to your kids. And the ultimate message is as positive as any other family movie that came out this year.

John Carter (dir. Andrew Stanton)

At some point in March, practically every film critic in the country must have had a stroke of some kind, because that’s the only way they could have missed just how entertaining John Carter is. Now the film is a notorious box office bomb, and everyone seems to be discovering too late that – while it may not be one of the best films of 2012 – it’s actually a roaring adventure tale with thrilling visuals, exciting ideas and some of the best music of the year, courtesy of the great Michael Giacchino (Up). Your expectations couldn’t get any lower anyway, so why not pick up a copy of John Carter and enjoy a pleasant, guaranteed surprise?

Rec 3: Genesis (dir. Paco Plaza)

Folks keep saying that 2012 was one of the greatest years for movies in recent memory, but they should probably make an exception for the horror genre. Besides The Cabin in the Woods, there weren’t a lot of exceptionally frightening films in theaters this year. But one of the better ones, and the one a lot of people missed out on, was this scary and surprisingly funny sequel to the Rec franchise, which helped start whole “found footage” craze and, with Rec 3: Genesis, seems determined to end it once and for all. Zombies attack a wedding party at a Spanish country villa, the two newlyweds are separated, and they have to slash open their entire families to get back together again. There are a lot of unexpected treats in Rec 3: Genesis that shouldn’t be ruined, but here’s one to get you started: they slaughter Spongebob. Who hasn’t fantasized about that?

Safe (dir. Boaz Yakin)

Jason Statham may be the action star of our generation, but his latest – and best – movie came and went without most audiences even knowing about it. Safe stars Statham as a thug who pissed off the mob, so they decide to punish him by murdering everyone he even talks to for the rest of his life. Just when he’s about to commit suicide, he stumbles upon a little girl who’s somehow having an even worse day, and together they take on every cop, criminal and politician in New York City. Writer/director Boaz Yakin makes even the most familiar action movie beats seem new again thanks to clever writing and unusual cinematography, and Statham gets the best character of his career so far, outside of the Crank franchise anyway. Safe came very close to making my Top Ten Movies of the 2012. Check it out.

Sound of Noise (dirs. Ola Simonsson & Johannes Stjärne Nilsson)

Foreign films sneak under a lot of people’s radar, but Sound of Noise isn’t the kind of serious drama that everyone associates with movies from a distant land. It’s actually an energetic and magical heist picture, about a team of anarchist musicians who cause increasingly elaborate public disturbances in their efforts to promote their art. They break into a hospital to play a patient like a bongo during his surgery. They storm a bank to shred money as a musical instrument. And on their tail is a tone-deaf police officer who slowly discovers that these harmonic hooligans may be exactly the thing he needs fulfill his dream of eliminating music from his life altogether. Infectious, unexpected and truly unique, Sound of Noise is an ideal foreign film for folks who would normally never watch them.

The Three Stooges (dir. Bobby Farrelly & Peter Farrelly)

Every film critic was sitting on their hands when the lights went down for The Three Stooges, a cinematic reboot of the iconic slapstick comedy trio, but – within minutes – everyone in my theater started to realize that, against all odds, The Three Stooges was actually very, very funny. I know, I know, we couldn’t believe it either, but despite how bad this movie really does look (and it just looks awful, doesn’t it?), the comic timing is impeccable, the cast – including Sean Hayes, Will Sasso, Chris Diamantapoulos and Jane Lynch – fully embodies the classic comedy archetypes and the story is just interesting enough to actually care about their shenanigans. It’s a dumb, stupid, silly comedy, but against all odds it’s actually the best dumb, silly, stupid comedy of 2012.

William Bibbiani is the editor of CraveOnline's Film Channel and co-host of The B-Movies Podcast. Follow him on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.