The 10 Most Underrated Movies of 2012

Every year critics make bad calls and hurt films that don't deserve it, either out of a lazy need to cleverly tear something earnest down or simply because a movie is too off the beaten path for their tastes. Or maybe it's just something they ate that night.

Whatever the reason, here are ten flicks (with their respective Rotten Tomatoes score) that came out this year that maybe you skipped because you heard through the grapevine that they stank. We're here to tell you that grapevine was just sour.

10. 'Rise of the Guardians' (73%)

Although it's maintaining a steady foothold at the box office, the financial outlook for this intoxicating fantasy adventure right now is fairly bleak. That's a shame, because it represents a real attempt on DreamWorks' part to abandon their pop culture-reference schtick in favor of genuinely inventive storytelling, which is all the more necessary now as Pixar steadily turns into a soulless sequel factory. Alec Baldwin's Cossack-accented, tattooed Santa Claus is just one of the highlights of this adult-friendly animated feast.

9. 'Ted' (69%)

This was one of the surprise smash hits of the year, and the highest-grossing original R-rated comedy of all time, but it deserved more teddy bear hugs from the critical end of things. Seth MacFarlane subverted the manchild genre by tying it in directly to a stuffed animal, which made for a pretty scathing deconstruction of modern masculinity amid a healthy helping of drug and dick humor. Also … Flash! Ah-ahh! Savior of the Universe!

Cloud Atlas8. 'Cloud Atlas' (63%)

For as many people that despised this movie, there are those that recognize that this is, if not a true work of art, at the very least a staggering achievement. We were baffled that Time Magazine named it "Worst Movie of the Year," despite evidence to the contrary, like the latest Medea movie. That Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis could take this many risks (six simultaneous narratives, multiple roles, gender/race swapping, anti-authoritarian irreverence) with this much money and talent on the line is miraculous. If the final product is flawed, it is wonderfully flawed. Either way, it is a masterpiece worthy of celebration.

7. 'The Dictator' (58%)

Sacha Baron Cohen and "Borat"/"Brüno" partner-in-crime Larry Charles set out to prove they could go beyond their played-out mockumentary antics, and they succeed with this frequently hilarious hybrid of "Coming to America" and Charlie Chaplin's "The Great Dictator." There's a lot of ballsy, politically astute humor as Cohen's Admiral General Aladeen falls in love with a Jewish protester girl (the always-game Anna Faris) and discovers the joys of democracy while simultaneously holding a middle finger to it.

6. 'John Carter' (51%)

Okay, schoolyard bullies, quit picking on poor "John Carter." Hasn't the guy been through enough already? The massive losses incurred from this failed sci-fi franchise startup cost a studio head his job and made "Finding Nemo 2" the only alternative to McDonald's manager for director Andrew Stanton, but did you actually see the movie? It's not bad. There's a strong sense of déjà vu, but only because "Star Wars" pilfered so much from Edgar Rice Burroughs's 100-year-old source material. With some perspective, this is enjoyably pulpy fantasy fun anchored by a committed performance from Taylor Kitsch as "Shirtless Confederate Soldier of Mars."

Mirror Mirror5. 'Mirror Mirror' (50%)

With its outrageous production design and flamboyant performances straight out of British panto theater, this squarely kid-friendly take on "Snow White" made less than half of its Kristen Stewart-led competitor, "Snow White and the Huntsman." For our money, this is the fairest of them all. It has real dwarves and a more adorkable Snow in the form of Lily Collins, and it serves as a memorable swan song for late costume designer Eiko Ishioka. Between "Mirror Mirror," his majestic indie "The Fall" and the trippy Greek epic "Immortals," director Tarsem is quickly becoming one of the most delightfully eclectic helmers out there.

4. 'Beyond the Black Rainbow' (43%)

If any movie is gonna make you scared of triangles, this is it. Michael Rogers delivers a liquid-nitrogen-level chilling performance as a deranged mutant doctor who has kept a girl with psychic powers locked away in a creepy institute her whole life. Panos Cosmatos (son of late "Tombstone" director George P. Cosmatos) uses this psychedelic debut feature not so much to announce himself as a formidable talent but to sear that fact into your synapses with a hot needle, drawing from Kubrick, Cronenberg, "THX 1138," '80s horror flicks and the nether regions of the soul.

3. 'Casa de mi Padre' (44%)

"Mexico is the bestico!" Will Ferrell actually taught himself (really poor) Spanish in order to parody telenovelas in all their hyper-dramatic glory, and we'd like to salute that effort. As it stands, this is something of a one-joke movie, but that joke is pretty darn funny, as are director Matt Piedmont's deliberately fake backdrops and continuity errors, like a closeup of a villain's sunglasses reflecting a crew member eating a sandwich.

2. 'Red Tails' (39%)

Producer George Lucas spent over two decades bringing this true story of the valiant Tuskegee Airmen to the big screen, but his efforts were met with middling box office and undeservedly harsh reviews. Yes, the dialogue and drama is unapologetically dated, but that's essentially the point — to make a modern movie about old-fashioned virtue. Also, how often do we really get to see smart, driven African-American men displaying wall-to-wall heroic bravery for 120 minutes onscreen?

1. 'Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie' (37%)

Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim swam their way from the swamps of late-night basic cable to the boutique wasteland of indie film, and they brought their Dadaist sense of severe absurdity with them, along with pals like Zach Galifianakis and John C. Reilly. It's not surprising that this movie was so reviled, as its near-apocalyptic suburban mall setting and grotesque characters are relentlessly ugly, but in the best punk rock sense. As much as we had a ball with it, we must warn you: DO NOT WATCH THIS MOVIE WHILE EATING … ANYTHING (especially during the s**t bath scene).