12 for ’12: A Dozen Movies Worth Being Excited For

Any critic that attends a film festival has a tough choice awaiting them when it comes time to write a “Best of the Year” list: Do you include films that you saw at a festival that haven’t been released to the general public yet. Some films, like the masterfully directed drama We Need to Talk About Kevin, have only been released in select cities with a larger expansion set for early 2012. Other films, such as my favorite movie of the year Sound of My Voice, don’t even have a release date set.

In the past, I’ve included unreleased films on my “Top 10” list for Inside Pulse. This year, though, I have decided to only rank films that have had some sort of release in 2011. There are a lot of great movies headed audiences’ way over the next twelve months, though. These are films that very well could have ended up in my “Best of 2011” list had they actually been released this year. As it stands, though, they are currently topping my “Best of 2012” list. These are 12 movies worth getting excited about for in 2012.

A Boy And His Samurai
Read my original review here.

This delightful family comedy does not yet have American distribution — which is a crying shame. The film, about a time traveling samurai whose new relationship with a single mother and her son helps the samurai discover he secretly wants to be a pastry chef, is one of the best family films I saw this past year. To put it very plainly, it’s The Iron Giant with a samurai. Charming, sad and inspiring in all in the right places, the movie could very well be a crossover hit. Heck, I’d even be OK with the film being dubbed as that would probably be the only way children would watch the movie and it really is a movie that audiences of all ages should be able to enjoy. Writer/director Yoshihiro Nakamura’s previous films have taken a while to cross American shores but many of them have eventually made that leap. Hopefully a studio steps up to the plate and takes the reigns to help make A Boy and His Samurai the film that introduces Nakamura to mainstream American audiences.

A Bag of Hammers
This movie really should have been released by now. MPI picked up the film for distribution earlier this summer and scheduled a release date for August 2011. Unless I completely missed something, August came and went without any release — either theatrical or VOD. Jason Ritter and Jake Sadvig star as two friends who go through live pulling off a series of cons. Bound together since they escaped foster care as kids, the friends’ relationship is tested when the duo become unlikely guardians of a young boy played by Chandler Canterbury. Brian Crano directed the film and co-wrote the script with Sadvig. A cynical guy, I shouldn’t liked the film as much as I did but, thanks to the cast (which includes Rebecca Hall in a supporting role) and a utterly lovable script, the movie manages to not only overcome an especially syrupy ending but actually convince audiences that the ending is richly deserved. Touching and very funny, the film will be a feel-good hit with audiences when it finally finds a release date.

Clown: The Movie
Set for release in 2012 by Drafthouse Films, Clown (or Klovn as it’s known in its native Denmark) is the funniest film I saw in 2011. A big screen adaptation of a long-running Danish television show, Clown stars Frank Hvam and Casper Christensen as a pair of stand-up comedians whose friendship frequently pushes the two into extremely awkward, socially irredeemable situations. Think a raunchier version of  “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” The plot of Clown finds Frank and Casper attempting to take a canoe trip to a legendary riverside brothel. Unfortunately, Frank (who has recently found out he’s about to be a father) must bring his young nephew along on the trip — leading to some very “R” rated antics including a joke that could very well be illegal in America. If The Hangover can become a box office sensation, there is no reason (besides the fact that American audiences don’t like to read subtitles, of course) that Clown can’t find a dedicated audiences in the states as it is 100 percent funnier than anything Todd Phillips has ever directed. The film is outrageous and I can’t wait for more audiences to be able to share in the humor. As a starter course, though, might I suggest investing an a region-free DVD player and a complete set of the television series Klovn? It’s an investment more than worth making.

Comic Con Episode Four: A Fan’s Hope
Read my original review here.
The result of a collaboration between a dream team of geeks including Joss Whedon, Morgan Spurlock, Harry Knowles and Stan Lee, Comic Con is a feature-length documentary exploring the fan culture that surrounds the San Diego Comic Con every summer. Following an assortment of fans — both young, old, creepy and clever — the documentary manages to be funny without resorting to cheap and cruel portrayals of a group of people who can be very passionate about their love for comics, video games, toys and cartoons. For the mainstream audiences, an assortment of celebrity interviews helps legitimize the convention and its fans but for those that already share a passion for the fringe elements of pop culture, Comic Con is a wonderful portrait of an ever growing fan movement. The film is set for release throughout 2012 thanks to a partnership between Wrekin Hill and NECA, who plan to tour the film throughout the next year.

Detention
Read my original review here.
There’s a lot going on in Joseph Kahn’s Detention. While I may have originally been somewhat dismissive of the film upon my first viewing, the more I’ve thought about the movie in the months since South by Southwest, the more and more my appreciation has grown towards what Kahn accomplished in his tribute to teen films, the horror genre, time travel and everything in between. The movie is a a non-stop kinetic wavelength of ideas similar to Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs The World and there is a lot of message and commentary wrapped up in Kahn’s movie — made extra enjoyable by a real craft in his filmmaking. The movie looks, sounds and (I suspect) even smells like nothing you’ve ever seen and I can’t wait to watch it again and more thoroughly digest the strange new creature Kahn is prepared to introduce to film fans. Sony has picked up the film for distribution but no release date has been set. I’m just glad it’ll get some sort of theatrical release because this is a movie that demands an immersive experience that only a theater can deliver.

Extraterrestrial
Read my original review here.
I loved director Nacho Vigalondo’s new film in the same way I have loved previous pets. The movie, a romantic comedy set against the backdrop of an alien invasion, speaks so much of humanity, relationships, love and jealousy that the movie seems to be created from a chunk of living, breathing tissue. It may be simple in concept — a one-night-stand becomes complicated when the pair wakes up to find their Spanish town has been evacuated in the wake of an alien encounter — but the chemistry between the leads and Nacho’s hilarious script makes this film one of the movies I’m most excited to share with a loved one in 2012. It’s a date movie for genre nerds and, quite frankly, there just isn’t enough of those type of films out there in the world.

Headhunters
Summit Entertainment has already tapped Jo Nesbø’s novel “Headhunters” for a new adaptation for American audiences. Thankfully, this has not stopped Magnolia Pictures from scheduling a release for director Morten Tyldum’s Norwegian adaptation in 2012. Starring Asksel Hennie, Headhunters is a crime/action/comedy about a corporate headhunter who moonlights as an art thief. When his latest heist lands him in hot water, the thief finds himself in the middle of a cross-country chase that has drastic effects on his life. Violent, witty and full of great, unexpected twists, Headhunters is the type of genre film that audiences are going to eat up — granted they are given the chance to see the film. Thanks to Magnolia’s great VOD distribution model, audiences really have no excuse, though.

Juan of the Dead
Read my original review here.
2011 officially saw me suffer zombie fatigue. With the walking dead everywhere you looked in popular culture, it was very easy to grow sick and tired with the shambling undead. Then came a film like Juan of the Dead, a zom-com that managed to forge its own vivid identity in a sub-genre full of copycats and lazy filmmakers. Part live-action Loony Toons cartoon, part heartfelt buddy picture, Juan of the Dead is the first Cuban horror movie and it is a home-run. Written and directed by Alejandro Brugués, Juan of the Dead is clearly influenced by the zombie films that have come before it but, at the same time, is a movie with something new to say about the sub-genre. Cuba’s political history is given the same loving skewering that George A. Romero once provide American culture with his zombie movies. Juan of the Dead is currently without an American distributor but don’t expect that to remain true for much longer. Juan of the Dead is going to be a hit when it’s finally released stateside and any distributor would be lucky enough to add it to its catalogue.

Manborg
Steven Kostanks’ low-budget sci-fi comedy is satire for the YouTube generation. A 60-minute absurd spoof of Robocop, Kostanks’ film stars Matthew Kennedy as a fallen soldier brought back to life as a cyborg to fight the demon hordes that have overrun the Earth in a nightmarish dystopian future full of CGI, Street Fighter rejects and stop-motion demons. Much like The FP, another low-budget comedy that will be released in 2012, Manborg manages to hustle past any limitations set forth by a lack of finances or fancy computer animation equipment thanks to a sharp wit and a willingness to dream big. The film may be short in running length but the humor is packed into the film like an overweight woman in cheetah print stretchy pants. If Tetsuo: The Iron Man fucked a Sega Genesis console, Manborg would be the result.

Michael
Coming in the spring of 2012 from Strand Releasing, Michael is an uncomfortably funny film about a man and the 10-year-old boy he keeps locked in his basement. Presented completely straight-faced, writer/director Markus Schleinzer’s film focuses on the mundane existence that surrounds such a horrible situation. This is not a film meant to shock for exploitive reasons nor is it meant to parody a real-life horror. Instead, Michael seeks to paint a portrait of how a sick and twisted man can openly operate. The black humor that is prevalent in Schleinzer’s film is just a by-product — a bit of sugar to help the otherwise bitter truth go down. Michael is not an easy film to sit through (the horror comes from implication alone) but it is a film that will settle into your gut and haunt you for days and months following the screening.

Rabies
Israel is known as a place where real-life horror is a daily backdrop for many. What happens, then, when two filmmakers attempt to create the country’s first horror film? Rabies is a fantastic little movie  that constantly defies audiences’ expectations. To describe too much of Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado’s film would spoil the fun for audiences. The film is a collage of interconnected stories about people pushing themselves into increasingly dire situations without the help of any monster or villain. The film is gory, yes, and frequently nerve-wracking but the film’s biggest strength is the imaginative way it tackles so many staples of the horror genre with a completely off-kilter approach. This really is a culture showcasing their impression of the American horror genre and the reflection completely blows away most everything that has came out of American horror in 2011. While a theatrical release was announced with Image Entertainment picked up the film earlier this year, it never came to fruition — unless I missed something. Instead, the film will be released on DVD next February.

Sound of My Voice
Sound of My Voice was, hands down, the best movie I saw in 2011. The film, directed by Zal Batmanglij from a script co-written by Brit Marling, details the infiltration of a cult by two filmmakers and the infiltration of the cult’s ideas into the mind of one of said filmmakers. The film is super low budget but it never shows. Looking crisp and fresh in its cinematography and using any financial restraints that may have been present to actually drive the film’s look and aesthetic, Sound of My Voice is a testament to how great movies can be made for any amount with the right script and the right talent behind the project. Marling, who co-stars in the film as Maggie, the cult’s leader and claimed time traveler from the future, also starred in Another Earth this year. Fox Searchlight bought the rights to both films but released Another Earth and sat on Sound of My Voice. Why this happened we may never know for sure but it was probably born from the minds of Fox’s marketing team. Whatever the reason, let’s hope that 2012 will see a formal release date announced for Sound of My Voice and the film find the audience that is waiting patiently. Sound of My Voice is great cinema and every day that goes by where audiences aren’t able to appreciate it is time wasted.

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