The Best Overlooked Movies & Shows of 2012

All the movies here are highly-rated (by both critics and viewers), little-known, and handpicked by our staff.

This list is ordered by most recent good movies, and therefore is not a ranking. Here are the titles considered as the best from the year 2012.
Stars: Ai Weiwei
Directed by: Alison Klayman

An inspiring documentary about famed artist Ai Weiwei who has been the source of arguably the biggest public confrontation with the Chinese government by any artist. His straightforward attitude is made to provoke and to defend the people of China against the totalitarian regime. The film portrays Weiwei’s very visible struggle for redemption and invoke a sense of accountability from the government. The documentary is also about him as a person, his intimate relationships and his interactions with his family as he prepares for a big exhibition. A rare insight into a fascinating mind.
Stars: Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Kharey Wise
Directed by: Ken Burns, Sarah Burns

The Central Park Five is a harrowing documentation of the unseen narrative surrounding the 1989 Central Park Jogger case. Five men – four black and one of Hispanic descent – have been wrongly accused, tried, and convicted for the assault, rape, and sodomy of female jogger Trisha Meili the night of April 19. No (DNA) evidence was found implicating the involvement of any of the kids to the crime and no one could identify them, but because the crime was sensationalized by the masses and the authorities were put under pressure by the media to pin a name on the case, they settled with coercing a confession out of the juveniles. This is a telling of their tale years on.
Stars: David Earl, Kerry Godliman, Ricky Gervais

If you’re familiar with Ricky Gervais’s wild, over-the-top sense of humor, you’d be getting a lot of that in here, for better or for worse. But this show is much more than that. Derek( Ricky Gervais) is a seemingly mentally lacking helper in a nursing home where people spend their last days together. Derek and his colleagues Hannah (Kerry Godliman), Kev (David Earl) and Dougie (Karl Pilkington) help take care of the elderly residents in their everyday lives, while struggling with their own problems ranging from social ineptitude to alcoholism.
While the show is mostly lighthearted and very funny, its more emotional segments are surprisingly well-done. In its essence it’s an interesting reflection on the way the elderly and the social outcasts are treated in our society.
Stars: Iwan Rheon, Joseph Gilgun, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett

Five delinquents are stuck together in juvenile detention. The kids are bored, and they are all doing their best to be as rude as possible to each other and their supervisor. One afternoon there’s a big storm and they all get struck by lightening. The next day they wake up with the realization that they are not the same people as they were the day before. Each episode follows the perspective from a different character.

This is not your average superhero gang – nor are their powers particularly desirable. In essence the show is about a group of “misfits” trying to make connections and fit in. It’s at times heart warming, at others it will make you cringe. There is some seriously good acting between Iwan Rheon (Game of Thrones) and Antonia Thomas (Love Sick). The plot is very gripping so it will be hard to not watch the whole first season (6 Episodes) in one afternoon.
Stars: Alicia Vikander, Mads Mikkelsen, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard
Directed by: Nikolaj Arcel

If you’ve been paying close attention to Royal Families in general, then get a snack and settle in, because A Royal Affair’s got it all for you: the steamy scenes, dirty, affair-laden hands, the corsets, and a stunning backdrop of 18th Century Europe. Quite literally deranged and mentally incapable King Christian of Denmark (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard) marries the brave Princess Caroline of Great Britain (Alicia Vikander), only to find out that he isn’t cut out for the wedded life. Enlightenment comes in the form of Dr. Johann Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen), a German physician to the infantile King and true-born reformer. Mostly saddened by her unfortunate fate, the now-Queen Caroline finds herself falling in love with the intellectual; thus, beginning a whirlwind of events that shakes up the entire Kingdom.
Stars: Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts, Tom Holland
Directed by: J.A. Bayona

A heart-wrenching tribute to victims of natural disasters that is one of despair, suffering, and hope. And it wouldn’t be so damning if it weren’t based off a true story surrounding the tragedy that killed more than 230,000 people.
Boxing Day 2004 was one of the most memorable dates for wedded couple, Henry (Ewan McGregor) and Maria (Naomi Watts, for an Oscar nominated performance). Just two days prior, they arrived at Orchid Beach Resort in Thailand to celebrate the Christmas holidays together with their three children. After a squabble with the crew regarding their room reservations, they are granted the privilege of staying in a peaceful villa and all seems to be well. Nature had other plans in mind, though, and facing it head-on is the bittersweet reality.
Stars: James Balog, Louie Psihoyos, Svavar Jónatansson
Directed by: Jeff Orlowski

Incredible footage combined with an incredible soundtrack will keep you frozen in your seat until global warming melts you off (so to speak). Chasing Ice is about a National Geographic photographer who tries to capture a complete overview of what climate change is doing to our planet. Consequently this movie took years to make and countless technical issues had to be dealt with in order to record amazing time-lapse videos. The result is mesmerizing, and something that has never been caught on camera before. This movie is evidence of what our planet is going through that everyone will understand. Be prepared to be charmed and saddened at the same time.
Stars: Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson
Directed by: Martin McDonagh

If you like any of the following: Irish accents, Woody Harrelson, Pulp Fiction, or dark comedy;  then this is the movie for you. This mix of violence, mafia, existential talk, and painfully comical situations might not be for everyone, but it has every component to make its target audience very pleased. And given how chaotic and crazy it can get, it should be enjoyed one take at a time, focusing on each delightful scene rather than the overall plot. Directed by Martin McDonagh, Seven Psychopaths makes a perfect comeback after In Bruges, without veering very much from it (consequently if you like this movie make sure you check out In Bruges too).
Stars: Justus von Dohnányi, Katharina Schüttler, Tom Schilling
Directed by: Jan-Ole Gerster

A black and white movie, A Coffee in Berlin is an early Woody Allen reminiscent film with a great emphasis on the emotions it handles.  It flows naturally, telling the story of Niko, a young college dropout in a period of his life where he has to face loneliness and lack of money and success. He goes from observing the people of Berlin to first realizing he is becoming a stranger to them and then lastly deciding to do something about his life. It’s a whimsical German film with a lot of heart, as much of a tribute to youth as it is a tribute to the city of Berlin.
Stars: Alison Pill, Jay Baruchel, Seann William Scott
Directed by: Michael Dowse

Goon is funny, violent, and sweet as hell. You’ll be surprised by how nasty it is but you will not care. What you will want to do, on the other hand, is rip through the screen, hug the main character and smack all the other ones. It is also a great example of a feel-good movie that isn’t solely focused on being a feel-good movie, as well as a great love story, with all its absurdities and high emotional load. The story shines a light on the players who join hockey teams not for the game but for the fights that may erupt. They are called goons. Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott) is a new goon and this movie is his journey towards success both on the ice and off.
Stars: Geneviève Bujold, James Cromwell, Ronan Rees
Directed by: Michael McGowan

A slice-of-life true-story-based film on growing old and in love. When on his own land, Craig Morrison (played by James Cromwell) starts building a more convenient house for his ailing wife Irene (Geneviève Bujold), he is faced with crippling bureaucracy. The state gives him the choice between stopping the construction or going to jail, while he is witnessing his wife’s health deteriorating even further. The act of going against the system brings out both how beautiful his relationship with his wife is, as well as his own resilience in this moving, insightful drama.
Stars: Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly, Quvenzhané Wallis
Directed by: Benh Zeitlin

The miniature powerhouse Quvenzhané Wallis earned an Oscar nomination for her breakout role in this magical film. Poetic and phantasmagorical, yet as grounded as a documentary, it’s a tale told through the eyes of a young girl living in extreme poverty just beyond the bounds of civilization. It transports into her reality as her universe is thrown out of balance by a tremendous storm in a depiction of extreme poverty that comes through the lens of childhood innocence. You will feel as comfortable as the main character, HushPuppy. Dwight Henry is a revelation as her father. The film is as close to perfect as most come, a freight train to your heart.
Stars: Belén Rueda, Hugo Silva, José Coronado
Directed by: Oriol Paulo

Without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most gripping thrillers in recent years. It starts in a morgue where a corpse of a deceased femme fatale goes missing. Her husband is the first person to be suspected as evidence starts pointing to him for killing his wife and hiding the body. He is called by the police to the crime scene to help with the investigation that is led by a shady detective. The film then takes you on a journey filled with reflections on marriage, deceit and the character’s urge to safeguard whats their own and the territories they are willing to cross to keep it. Drawing you into the atmosphere from the very start, it refuses to let you go out of it. All while maintaining a simple premise.
Stars: Abdullrahman Al Gohani, Reem Abdullah, Waad Mohammed
Directed by: Haifaa al-Mansour

Wadjda is a smart, spirited 10-year-old girl who wants nothing more than to own her own bike, something that is frowned upon in the Saudi Arabian suburb where she lives. While it’s not technically illegal for women to own bikes, it is thought of as something that is “dangerous to a girl’s virtue,” and it’s worth noting that this is a society where women are also not allowed to drive their own cars. Wadjda devises numerous schemes to earn enough money to buy a bike (selling bracelets, making mixes of Western pop songs, delivering clandestine messages between men and women), before getting caught by the headmistress at her school. It is then that Wadjda hits on the ultimate money-making scheme: there is to be a Koran-reciting contest at her school with a hefty cash prize, and she’s determined to win. There is a subplot involving a growing rift between Wadjda’s parents; while there is clearly a lot of love between both parties, it becomes increasingly clear that her father may be leaving her mother for another woman who could potentially bear him a son (a common practice). This subplot is handled with respect and little judgement though, as it is simply the way things work in this culture. Yet, as Wadjda is coming-of-age and learning about the limitations placed on her as a girl, she is obviously negotiating ingenious ways of pushing back against those limitations. The film is subtle and humane in how it handles the slowly changing cultural and gender dynamics in a traditionally conservative, patriarchal society. It wouldn’t work without a strong central performance from first-time actor Waad Mohammed though — she is never less than believable as a clever, determined and joyful 10-year-old, and her journey towards adulthood is both heartbreaking and inspiring.
Stars: Helen Hunt, John Hawkes, William H. Macy
Directed by: Ben Lewin

The Sessions is drama about Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes), a quadriplegic who is forced to live in an iron lung due to complications from childhood Polio. A poet by trade, Mark longs to experience the touch of a woman, and despite his condition, to ultimately lose his virginity at the age of 38. After consultation with his parish priest (William H. Macy), Mark begins to see a professional sex surrogate (Helen Hunt), who slowly opens his mind and his body to the pleasures of sexuality. A very frank depiction of sex and sensuality, The Sessions is unflinching yet utterly tender storytelling. Hawkes and Hunt are both wonderfully real and honest in their performances. It’s the type of film that will surprise you by the ending at how much it has moved you.
Stars: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro
Directed by: David O. Russell

This Oscar winner is an offbeat romantic comedy that still feels like a standard romantic comedy! It’s best that you go into it without many expectations, because many people enjoy it for different reasons and it’s best if you find your own. It’s also a movie that needs to be seen as a whole, despite having so many components to it. Fresh out of a mental institution, Pat (Bradely Cooper) moves with his parents and tries to get his ex-wife back. Hel he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) a girl with complex problems of her own. Silver Linings Playbook is funny, so well-acted, and takes on interesting issues and perspectives.