My Favorite Overlooked Films of 2012

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Look at enough year-end lists and they start to run together a bit. Prestige pictures, big Fall releases, arthouse hits and a documentary or two for good measure. There are variations here and there but you can usually count on seeing some of the same films show up again and again. (Unfortunately, my list will probably not be much different!) But if you’ve seen most of the year’s big releases and are still looking for some of the year’s undiscovered gems — the ones that just missed my Top 10 list — this is a good place to start. Here are 10 of my favorite overlooked films of 2012.

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1. Sleepwalk With Me (Mike Birbiglia) Anyone familiar with comedian Mike Birbiglia would probably not be surprised to know that his directorial debut is incredibly funny. What might be surprising however, is what an accomplished filmmaker he is right out of the gate. Adapted from his one man show, Birbiglia (who also co-wrote the screenplay) expertly handles the emotional currents of his character’s relationship falling apart while still making one of the year’s funniest films. Available now on Netflix Instant.

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2. Wanderlust (David Wain) Speaking of comedies, the absolute funniest film I saw in 2012 was this Apatow-produced gem which features Paul Rudd & Jennifer Aniston as a Manhattan couple trying out life in a hippie commune, and snuck out quietly last February. Just watch this scene where Rudd tries to psych himself up about his newly acquired infidelity pass and you’ll see why the film is destined for cult status. Available now on Netflix Blu/DVD.

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3. Nobody Walks (Ry Russo-Young) If I had to describe this underseen indie to someone I would probably call it an “emotionally complex and sensual film.” Pull-quotes aside, this Lena Dunham co-written dramedy was actually my favorite film at Sundance ‘12 (and held up quite well on a second viewing months later). A sharp script, pulsing score by Fall On Your Sword and great cast elevate this far above so many other indies of its type. Available on Netflix Blu/DVD 1/22.

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4. Smashed (James Ponsoldt) It could’ve been a bad afterschool special: alcoholic schoolteacher (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) decides to get sober after she hits rock bottom. Instead it takes a well worn premise and mines it for untapped heartbreak and hilarity. Aaron Paul, Octavia Spencer, Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman all co-star but its Winstead who gives what should’ve been a career changing performance. Available on Netflix Blu/DVD 3/12.

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5. Compliance (Craig Zobel) Despite no onscreen acts of violence, this is one of the most disturbing films I’ve seen in quite some time. Based on a series of real incidents involving someone calling up a fast food restaurant posing as a police officer, the film explores the disturbing lengths people will go to while following orders. If you’re looking for a film to push buttons, this one definitely does. Available on Netflix Blu/DVD 1/8.

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6. Lawless (John Hillcoat) Based on a true story of 3 bootlegging brothers in Depression-era Virginia, Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain, Gary Oldman, Mia Wasikowska, Guy Pearce and Jason Clarke star in this prohibition-era western which has, if not the greatest cast of the year, certainly the most fun. (Apparently Shia LaBeouf is in this too.) Available now on Netflix Blu/DVD.

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7. Safety Not Guaranteed (Colin Trevorrow) Of all the films I saw at Sundance last year, this was the one I thought had the likeliest chance of being a “Little Miss Sunshine”-style hit (but unfortunately an underwhelming ad campaign buried that). Based on the infamous classified ad (above), this unexpectedly sweet comedy is a great vehicle for “Parks and Rec“‘s Aubrey Plaza and Jake Johnson (“The New Girl”) as reporters investigating the ad and Mark Duplass, as the weirdo who posted it. Available now on Netflix Blu/DVD.

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8. The Perks Of Being A Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky) It’s rare that you see a film (especially one aimed at teens) with as much heart-on-a-sleeve sincerity as this one. The writer/director adapts his own novel which has the messiness of real life and gives the impression of being incredibly personal (even if its not) and really just nails what it feels like to be young. Available on Netflix Blu/DVD 2/12.

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9. Sound Of My Voice (Zal Batmanglij) A young couple go undercover to investigate a local cult which is gathering followers in an undisclosed basement in Los Angeles and whose leader claims to be from the future. Is it a crock? Or could she be telling the truth? I completely missed this small scale thriller when it played Sundance back in ‘11 which is a shame because it’s one that has really stayed with me. Available now on Netflix Blu/DVD.

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10. Chronicle (Josh Trank) January/February is typically a dumping ground for studios so I think like most people I was taken completely by surprise by this found-footage gem which imagines what it would really be like if a trio of teens got super powers. Thanks to the film allowing us to invest in the characters, the action sequences are more thrilling than films with 10x the budget. Available now on Netflix Blu/DVD.

Sleepwalk With Me review

One of my favorite films so far this year, “Sleepwalk With Me” is a remarkably funny and surprisingly poignant debut for comedian turned filmmaker Mike Birbiglia. In the film, Birbiglia stars as Matt Pandamiglio, a Brooklyn bartender and aspiring standup moving in with his longtime girlfriend Abby (Lauren Ambrose). As his fledgling career begins to pick up, he begins to develop a sleeping disorder which causes him to sleepwalk. During the dreams Matt is being pursued by an attacker which send him out of bed and running away from imaginary danger, ending up in hilarious and unexpected places. Directed by Birbiglia & co-director Seth Barrish, the film was adapted - by the co-directors along with Joe Birbiglia and Ira Glass - from the standup’s autobiographical one-man show of the same name. Knowing that the film is so rooted in Birbiglia’s actual experiences makes the film register even more greatly comedically and dramatically.

Also featuring appearances by a cadre of local comedians like David Wain, Jessie Klein, Kristen Schaal, Wyatt Cenac, Marc Maron, John Lutz, Hannibal Buress among others, the film is frequently funny but that shouldn’t come as a surprise for anyone who has seen Birbiglia’s stand-up. The sleepwalking scenes alone are easily some of the biggest laugh-out-loud moments I’ve had at the theatre all year. What was completely surprising and perhaps more interesting about the film is how effortlessly it weaves in more dramatic threads - like a long-term relationship that just isn’t working anymore - without stopping the film in its tracks. I was just as invested in the relationship between Matt and Abby as I was in watching Matt’s standup career begin to take off. While it may have been ambitious to try to mix all these different elements together, the story feels completely cohesive, never like a series of sketches. At not even 90 minutes long, my only complaint about the film is that I wanted more. I could have easily watched Matt Pandamiglio for another 90 minutes just to see what would happen next.

Check out my recap for The Playlist of the BAMcinemaFest Opening Night Party featuring “Sleepwalk With Me”

2012 Films (So Far This Year)

July means that we’re officially halfway through the year. I’ve seen 52 films in the theatre which includes many at Sundance and SXSW of which most of this list is comprised. Like last year at this time, I still haven’t seen anything I would consider an “A” film yet but I have seen some very good films that will likely stick around for my end of year list. So here are the very best films I’ve seen this year so far (click for full reviews)…

  1. The Raid: Redemption
  2. Shut Up And Play The Hits
  3. Nobody Walks
  4. Smashed
  5. Beasts of the Southern Wild
  6. Magic Mike
  7. Simon Killer
  8. Chronicle
  9. Cabin In The Woods
  10. Sleepwalk With Me 

Notable: The Avengers, Wanderlust, Compliance, Sound Of My Voice, Safety Not Guaranteed