Hidden cinematic gems of 2012
Actress Rachel Weisz appears as Hester Collyer in the drama The Deep Blue Sea. (Mongrel Media)
From a rebooted Bond to naughty teddy bears or Batman taking his final bow, it's been a year of the fast, the filthy and the familiar at the movies. As we pause to catch our breath during the holiday season, however, it's a great time to rediscover some of hidden gems of 2012.
More than macho
Both Goon and The Grey fall under the heading of better-than-expected. The Grey took a slender little survival tale and milked it for maximum impact, anchored by Liam Neeson in the ultimate grudge match with Mother Nature.
Actors Liev Schreiber, left, and Seann William Scott appear in a scene from the hockey enforcer comedy Goon. (Magnolia Pictures/Associated Press)
Meanwhile if you're suffering because of the NHL drought and you haven't experienced the fowl-mouthed, blood-stained pleasures of Goon, consider it for your evening's entertainment. One of the best movies about the minor leagues since The Bad News Bears, Goon follows the life of Doug Glatt, an idiot savant enforcer who falls for hockey-groupie Eva. If you winced at Alison Pill's mousy Maggie on TV's The Newsroom, Goon is the antidote. Co-written by (and co-starring) Jay Baruchel, it's a rock-em, sock-em rom-com steeped in true love for the good ol' hockey game.
Miss Bala and Trishna are two films that flew under the radar of most. But they're linked by a pair of unforgettable performances. Miss Bala grabs you by the neck and provides a terrifying first-person-perspective on Mexico's drug war. Stephanie Sigman portrays Laura, a typical teenager whose beauty-pageant dreams come true in the most terrible fashion.
Stephanie Sigman, centre, appears in the noted Gerardo Naranjo film Miss Bala. (Eniac Martinez/Mongrel Media)Meanwhile, Trishna, by director Michael Winterbottom, relocates the Thomas Hardy novel Tess of the d'Urbervilles to India. What begins as a tale of romance and adventure takes a dark turn. It's a film with a seductive power, in no small part due to the luminous presence of Freida Pinto.
Though The Three Stooges seemed like another film just cashing in on name recognition and nostalgia, the Farrelly brothers stay true to the Stooges legacy by offering a manic, Looney Tunes-like tale that's a symphony of slapstick. Plus, Larry David appears as a nun. What more can you ask for?
The ensemble comedy Pitch Perfect stars Anna Kendrick, seen third from right. (Peter Iovino/Universal)
Definitely one of my guilty pleasures of the year, Pitch Perfect had the whole package: a whip-smart script and fabulous cast, topped off with finger-snapping musical numbers. Skip Les Misérables and instead give this Glee-meets-Clueless mash-up (about competitive a cappella groups) a shot.
You'll get great stuff from Anna Kendrick, who plays the snobbish DJ, but it's more than worth the rental for Rebel Wilson, an Aussie actor set to be Hollywood's new Queen of Comedy.
If you're looking for something more meditative in your movies, two Canadian films will help slow down the season's manic pace. The End of Time is director Peter Mettler's ruminations on the nature of time. This is a free-form documentary that leisurely skips from sub-atomic quandaries at CERN to the slowly creeping lava flows in Hawaii.
From time ticking to people watching, Bestiaire focuses on our relationship with animals in a "cinematic inquiry" by Quebec's Denis Côté. Long, lovingly composed shots of animals in a zoo make up this exploration of captivity and voyeurism.
Small town truths and tragedies
Shirley MacLaine and Jack Black appear in the film Bernie. (Alliance Films)
These two very different films are tied together by their humble settings and no-frills approach.
Bernie not only features Jack Black actually underplaying a role, but it is also a deft mixture of truth and fiction by Texas-born director Richard Linklater.
Le Vendeur is a quiet little sonnet of a film about a small-town car salesman in Lac Saint-Jean and the slow-motion collision between ambition and economic reality.
Recently, producers behind the next Spider-Man instalment announced Dane DeHaan would be playing the role of Harry Osborne.
Dane DeHaan gives a memorable performance in Chronicle. (Alan Markfield/20th Century Fox/Associated Press)
While this summer's reboot of Spidey was a misguided mess (A cool Peter Parker? Blasphemy!), it's worth watching the 2012 movie that brought DeHaan to their attention.
Chronicle is a found-footage twist on the superhero story, with zero spandex and an ending worthy of Akira. Oh, and the director, Josh Trank, was recently hired to reboot Marvel's Fantastic Four franchise.
Deeply, madly, lovely
Here are two British baubles you might have missed. Directed by Dustin Hoffman, Quartet is a film with music constantly bubbling in the background. It's fitting, since its location is a retirement home for performers. With home's annual fundraiser approaching, a formerly famous opera quartet must put aside past grudges to find harmony again. It might sounds boilerplate, but veterans Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly and, in particular, Tom Courtenay make the most of it.
I'll confess to being a late convert to the charms of The Deep Blue Sea, a movie melodrama that aches like an open wound. Rachel Weisz gives a career-changing turn as Hester, a married woman caught in a torrid love affair with an Air Force pilot. Watch it and understand why this movie -- which came out in April! -- is now making waves on the awards circuit.
Here's a trio of documentaries that prove the adage that life is stranger than fiction. Undefeated is a film about a high school football team that nearly had me in tears. Beauty is Embarrassing is a portrait of artist Wayne White, the Frank Zappa of the art world.
Finally, for Monty Python fans, don't miss A Liar's Autobiography: a series of short films telling the untrue story of Graham Chapman. As you'd expect, it's absurd and silly, but it's also a frequently touching tale about an awkward British boy who found his place before losing himself in fame and drink.
Superb supporting actors
I'm highlighting this group of actors who will likely never see an Oscar for their roles, but deserve special mention. Killer Joe stars 2012's cinematic MVP Matthew McConaughey as the titular Joe. He's a detective who moonlights as a hitman and has his way with a trailer park family of schemers and dreamers. Strong and stomach-churning, but worth watching.
Premium Rush was a better-than-average chase film on two wheels, but is worth viewing simply on the strength of Michael Shannon's turn as an unhinged NYC cop who's equal parts Elmer Fudd and Ratso Rizzo. Finally, Looper had sci-fi smarts to spare, but Jeff Daniels's Abe, a ruthless but easy-going dude from the future, was so good he deserved his own movie.
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