Red Dawn wasn’t the only film Josh Hutcherson had in 2012 that was sitting on the shelf for a bit, and it darn sure wasn’t the best. Detention is a wild mix of John Hughes meets Scream meets The Cabin in the Woods meets Heathers meets…well, pretty much everything you can think of all balled into one. It makes for a hilarious and unpredictable horror mash-up following a 90s obsessed teen heroine who…kinda sorta tries to find the one killing her classmates? Honestly, most of characters don’t seem all that interested until it effects them, which is funny in its own way. Completed in 2010 by Torque director Joseph Kahn(who isn’t afraid to reference his own movies) and winning acclaim on the festival circuit, it hit DVD earlier this year and I believe it’ll eventually end up a cult favorite.
9. The Forgiveness of Blood
Joshua Marston hit the ground running in 2004 with Maria Full of Grace, a thrilling and introspective look at the cultural impacts of the drug trade in Colombia. His Silver Bear award-winning follow up is no less exciting and intricately crafted, taking us to Albania to chronicle a generational family feud that ends in violence and devastates the lives of two young teens(amazing newcomers Tristan Halilaj and Sindi Lacej). Ironically, the film caused a bit of a feud itself, as it was to be Albania’s entry for the Academy Awards, until an angry Bujar Alimani(Amnesty) protested it on the grounds of Marston’s nationality.
8. The Innkeepers
The House of the Devil may have established Ti West as one of today’s brightest horror maestros, but it was The Innkeepers that truly showed the extent of his powers. The casual and upbeat atmosphere, aided by the bantering chemistry of stars Sara Paxton and Pat Healy, is all just a means of lowering your defenses for the real shocks and scares to come, building to one seriously screwed up climax.
7. Ace Attorney
More insanity from the prolific Takashi Miike, who I think has completed three movies in the time it took me to type this sentence. Ace Attorney is, to be perfectly blunt, the best video game adaptation ever made. A low bar, for sure, but the cartoonish courtroom craziness (points for alliteration) and comical rebuke of the Japanese legal system perfectly captures the sheer audacity that the game’s fans will be expecting. Found guilty of being awesome.
Like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo if done by Quentin Tarantino, Headhunters is a stark-raving mad Norwegian thriller about a headhunter/art thief who steals from the wrong dude(Game of Thrones’ Nicolaj Coster-Waldau), leading to a deadly and depraved game of cat ‘n mouse. Hilarious for all the wrong reasons, nothing is too far out of bounds(dog lovers may want to stay away) for the top black comedy of the year.
5. Robot & Frank
The weirdest buddy movie of the year is also the strangest heist film. Set in the not-too-distant future, Frank Langella gives an Oscar-worthy performance as a mischievous old cat burglar who comes out of retirement when he discovers his caretaker robot makes for the perfect partner in crime. Subtle, charming and occasionally a little goofy, the film from debut director Jake Schreier also makes a compelling statement about the nature of technology and its effects on the older generation.
4. Ruby Sparks
Not all of this year’s romantic comedies came straight from the formulaic wasteland. There were a few that were wildly inventive and took a novel approach to the flagging genre. So it’s a little distressing that audiences mostly ignored Ruby Sparks, which brings a fresh perspective thanks to co-writer and star Zoe Kazan. Like a younger and hipper Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the fantasy romance follows a neurotic writer(Kazan’s real life boyfriend Paul Dano) who magically writes into existence his dream girl, only to have his own vulnerabilities and failings keep him from true happiness.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead is more than just another pretty face, but WOW WHAT A FACE!!! *Ahem* Anyway, the Scott Pilgrim vs. The World star shows a fragility and darkness behind her perky exterior in Smashed, where she’s terrific as a barely-functioning alcoholic in a relationship that only seems stable when everybody’s drunk. Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul plays her opposite, whose distrust of the system causes a rift when she tries to turn her life around. Debut director James Ponsoldt paints a powerful portrait of a marriage where alcohol makes for a shaky foundation upon which to build.
2. Sound Of My Voice
Brit Marling made a splash on the festival circuit with a pair of thought-provoking efforts, the sci-fi drama Another Earth, and the cult thriller Sound of My Voice. A spell-binding and and magnetic performance by Marling powers the atmospheric mystery surrounding a charismatic cult leader, who may or may not be from the future, and the pair of journalists who have infiltrated her group in hopes of exposing her as a fraud. An intricate puzzle box of a conundrum, answers are hard to come by all the way to the film’s final explosive moments, but the questions are so much fun to ask!
1. Hello I Must Be Going
I feel like I’ve said so much about this film that it’s unfair to have here at the top, but the strength of Melanie Lynskey’s performance, along with a Sarah Kaskoff’s smartly-written script, are simply too good to overlook. Tender and honest, Lynskey is perfectly cast as Amy, a woman who has settled into a deep malaise after an unexpected divorce shook up her world. She finds new hope and a chance for love again in the arms of a much younger man(Girls’ Christopher Abbott). Directed with a delicate touch by actor Todd Louiso, the trust he places in Lynskey to carry such a wonderfully complex character shows in every marvelous moment.