Well, you’ve had a chance to check out the stuff I thought was the worst excuses for cinema that I subjected myself to this year, I’m sure you’re wondering what I saw that I actually liked (because contrary to how it seems sometimes, I do actually enjoy movies) and while some of the films popping up on this list will mirror those appearing on other Best of 2012 lists, I’ll try to give a good explanation of each so I’m not just rehashing the same shit you’ve seen from every other blogger/reviewer/website.
Holy shit, I know you’re clutching your chest in shock and awe that the much lauded Cabin in the Woods isn’t my #1 film of the year. And it was…..until Excision came along and rocked my world. Excision does a lot of things really, really well, not only from a writing perspective but also from a cinematography stand point, as well as outstanding performances from star Annalynne McCord, Traci Lords, Ariel Winter and Roger Bart, not to mention minor roles filled by John Waters, Malcom McDowell, Marlee Matlin and Ray Wise. I try not to dwell on how “Pretty” a film is when I review it, trying to keep my focus not only on the visuals but on the story and performances, but with Excision it’s all a feast. The colors pop off the screen in vibrant blues, greens and glistening gorey reds, every actor inhabits their role to the point that after the initial “Oh hey it’s____” wears off, you forget you’re watching an actor as you’ve become completely absorbed by the character and the story. While comparisons to Lucky McKee’s May are inevitable, Richard Bates Jr’s Excision out does May, not only in its portrayal of a damaged female character but in sheer shock value and an ending that sucker punches you not only because of the writing of the scene, but because of McCord and Lord’s award worthy performances.
2. The Cabin in the Woods
It’s the film that people loved or hated, praised or shit on. You either “Got it” or you didn’t. While much has been said about Joss Whedon’s other bigger budgeted blockbuster this summer, it was Cabin in the Woods that deserved the attention the other film got. Much has been said about how Scream changed the horror genre in 1996, and in the years to come I have a feeling that much will be said about how Cabin in the Woods has done the same. Blending genre tropes and cliches with biting criticism and a loving nod to the movies we love so dearly, Whedon and Goddard threw down the gauntlet by not only giving us the most original wide theatrically released film of the year, but also giving us something to think about while we laughed, cheered and screamed. Is it a love letter to b-movie schlock or a stern look at how fickle we horror fans can be? Frankly it’s both, and thankfully someone finally had the balls to make horror straight up fun again. Well written, well acted and entertaining from start to finish, Cabin in the Woods is the horror film that will change the way the genre proceeds from here on out, and only the people who got it will be smart enough to learn it’s lessons.
3. Grave Encounters
A sleeper hit that has luckily found its audience thanks to word of mouth and Netflix streaming, Grave Encounters balances clever parodying of ghost hunting realities series with genuinely creepy moments and effective use of the found footage style. While everyone laps up the Paranormal Activity bullshit, the Vicious Brothers brought us a truly creepy found footage ghost movie where we actually get to see something happen aside from doors closing.
4. I Spit on Your Grave
Yes, I’m putting a remake on my list. I’ve never been a fan of the original I Spit on Your Grave, it’s a meandering, dull and poorly made exploitation film with an eye catching title and an undeserved legacy. Of course, when I heard they were remaking I Spit my first thought was why? I said the same thing about The Last House on the Left but was proven wrong when that remake proved itself to be not only good but better than its predecessor. Yes, I Spit on Your Grave is a vicious film, and it’s not for the faint of heart or those who are bothered by sexual assault in films, but where the original wallows in its grindhouse trappings, the remake ratchets things up several notches, knows that we as modern audiences have seen far worse in the thirty plus years since the original film was released, and makes us actually give a damn about our main character. Rarely do I find myself cheering on a character in a horror film, but more than once Sarah Butler’s Jennifer had me rooting for her and eager to see what vengeance she would wreak on the scum who had tortured and abused her. Speaking of Ms. Butler, her performance in this film is breath taking, and if I were to give out a “Best Actress” award, she and Ms. McCord would be battling for it.
Yes, it’s technically sci-fi, and I don’t care. I’ve heard the complaints, I’ve heard all the bitching and moaning about this film and while I have my own minor gripe (the last two minutes of the film) I found Prometheus to be not only an entertaining sci-fi film, but a film that had standout performances from not only Noomi Rapace, but also from Michael Fassbender (and the fact that he probably won’t be getting an Academy Award nomination for his performance here is travesty) who helped to anchor the film. Is it an Alien prequel or a standalone series that just takes place in the same universe? Who cares, it’s Ridley Scott returning to sci-fi in a bombastic fashion that we haven’t seen since Blade Runner.
6. The Loved Ones
Oh Australia, why can’t you give us more wonderful horror films like this? Treading similar ground as Otis before it, The Loved Ones brings the thunder not only because of Xavier Samuel’s Brent or Robin McLeavy’s Lola (both are fantastic and play off each other brilliantly) but because it’s not afraid to get really fucking sick and violent without ever going too over the top or unbelievable. Sporting one of the single most horrifyingly saccharine pop songs I’ve heard in a long time that not only bores into your skull like a drill *wink* but a song that perfectly encapsulates our lead villain perfectly. If you haven’t seen The Loved Ones yet, you’re doing yourself a disservice.
7. The Woman
The phrase “Tastefully shot rape scene” is one I never thought I would hear, let alone agree with, but then again, after watching The Woman I’ve said a lot of things I didn’t think I would. Vicious, intense and certainly not for everyone, Lucky McKee and Jack Ketchum’s The Woman is more than the sum of its exploitation parts, telling a compelling story of a deeply broken American family, exploring the depths of human depravity with style and without resorting to the typical exploitation schlock that a movie like this would have quickly devolved into if not for the capable hands of director McKee and author Ketchum’s razor sharp vision.
Much has been said about the found footage subgenre, both positive and negative, and I freely admit that I’ve been incredibly harsh on it with my utter hatred of the Paranormal Activity franchise and it’s imitators like The Devil Inside, but what happens when you gather a group of up and coming horror directors and give them the task of creating a found footage anthology? The incredibly entertaining, albeit uneven, V/H/S. Yes, the wrap around story for the film is flimsy at best, yes Ti West’s segment drags on and on and really doesn’t pay off in the end, and while there are some moments of dodgy CGI throughout the film, for a first try at this meeting of two subgenres, it could have gone so much worse. Instead of a giant clusterfuck, we instead get a nice blend of found footage vignettes that manage to handle the nagging question of “Why are they still filming” in creative ways without breaking the fourth wall, as well as a few genuinely creative stories that we haven’t seen approached in this style before. Is it perfect? Far from it, but V/H/S is an admirable first try and the good outweighs the bad on this one.
9. The Bleeding House
Sometimes you stumble upon a film that is just damn good. This is one of those films. Beautifully shot, featuring excellent performances and a compelling story, The Bleeding House is the kind of first film every film maker wishes they could produce, and Philip Gelatt should be proud of what he accomplished with this film. One of the few hidden gems floating around on Netflix instant.
10. Troll Hunter
I’ve made no secret of my love for foreign horror, and Troll Hunter is a film I wish I had taken the chance on earlier. Another found footage film following a group of documentarians who stumble upon real trolls in the wilderness of Norway, Troll Hunter manages to use its CGI to great effect and every time one of the trolls appears on screen or strikes a tree or a stone, you believe the creature actually exists, even when it’s the proverbial “zipper on the back” shows in the CGI.
Low budget films are always a little hit or miss, either because of budgetary restrictions or the limitations of the actors involved, but Absentia rises above these limits by telling a compelling story that is not only creative, but genuinely creepy. Yes there are a couple of spots where the CGI looks bad, but these aren’t moments the break the film. Like The Bleeding House, Absentia is another gem to be found on the onslaught of schlock released to Netflix instant.
12. The Last Circus
A beautifully shot, deeply disturbing human drama from Spain, The Last Circus features excellent performances, a few moments of regrettable CGI and a sometimes uneven story that none the less needs to be seen.