Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Best of 2011: The Runners Up

Ah, 2011...we hardly knew ye.  Luckily, there's never a shortage of "best of" lists each year to aid us in remembering the good times (or, in most cases, to help us catch up...whatever that means).  With this in mind, what's the harm of one more, eh?

The compiled list of top favorites will have to wait for now, since I found it nearly impossible to limit myself to only 20 selections for the year.  As a result, I've put together this list of honorable mentions.  Think of them as films that were, for some reason or other, edged out of the top 20.

It's worth mentioning that on both lists there are a few films that were released prior to 2011.  My rationalization for including these films is simple: I didn't have the opportunity to see them until 2011.  An example?  One of the highest ranking flicks on the upcoming top 20 list screened at festivals all over the world in 2010 but didn't hit Portland until last February.

So, in no particular order, here are the runners up---->>>

Midnight in Paris (dir. Woody Allen):

Just pure fun.  Owen Wilson hasn't been this likeable in years.  Meanwhile, Paris actually resembles a city you'd want to visit, rather than a picked over, tourist hell.  Probably the best film Allen's made since Deconstructing Harry, definitely his best comedy since then.  It also contains wonderful supporting performances by Corey Stoll as Ernest Hemingway and Michael Sheen as the kind of boring "pseudo-intellectual" that Allen (or his proxy in those pictures where he's absent onscreen) routinely lambasts in his movies.

Amer (dir. Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani):

An edgy, experimental and provocative homage to Italian horror of the 60s and 70s, Amer transcended the horror genre (is it really a horror film at all?) by mixing the stylistic flourishes it grabbed from giallo cinema with a post-modern take on feminist film theory.  Hit the link to see what I said about it when it came out on dvd in October.

Poetry (dir. Chang-dong Lee):

It's hard to say which event is sadder in this one; the protagonist's discovery of the evil her grandson has wrought or the too little, too late opening up to the beauty of the everyday.  Either way, the delicate balance that is built between the two is fully fleshed out by the transcendent performance of Jeong-hie Yun.

Submarine (dir. Richard Ayoade):

There are some who would try to convince you that this is just a less effective Wes Anderson film.  Sure, Anderson's conceits are in the mix, but so is James Thurber's short story, "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty", the temporal freedom of the French new wave, Hal Ashby's whimsical morbidity and the warped fantasies of Billy Liar (a film also in debt to Thurber's henpecked husband).  Hit the link to read what I had to say back in October.

The Strange Case of Angelica (dir. Manoel de Oliveira):

A magical film grounded in its own logic, detailing obsession and the passing of an era.  In The Strange Case of Angelica, photography, love and life itself is fleeting Oliveira's film possesses such a light touch that most of its themes wait until after the closing titles to surface; it's a film that stays with you.

Cedar Rapids (dir. Miguel Arteta):

Arteta's earlier films Chuck & Buck and The Good Girl were distinctive indie hits that bear repeated viewings.  His sadly forgotten debut Star Maps (still unavailable on dvd) was no slouch eitherThe marketing strategy for Cedar Rapids sought to draw in the massive crowds that flocked to The Hangover.  This one's far less broad than that hit film, though.  It's actually quite touching at times, patiently wading through the emotional struggle of its protagonist with honesty.  In the hands of a lesser director, the same material could just have easily mined the central character's failings for cheap laughs.  Cedar Rapids ends up displaying far more depth for resisting the easy road.

Silent Souls (dir. Aleksei Fedorchenko):

A beautiful meditation on loss, both personal and cultural.  Hit the link to see what I had to say about it during PIFF last year.

If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle (dir. Florin Serbin):

A tough look at life in a Romanian prison for adolescent boys.  Here's what I wrote back in February about it.

Rocaterrania (dir. Brett Ingram):

A documentary portrait of scientific illustrator Renaldo Kuhler; a man who funneled his woes into the life-long creation of an imaginary country that rests between the U.S. and Canada.  Rocaterrania relays this story mostly through Kuhler's art and words.  The film came out in 2009 but was really difficult to see until last year's release on dvd.

The Trip (dir. Michael Winterbottom):

Michael Winterbottom's six episode British television series as distilled down into a feature-length vehicle for U.S. audiences.  Do I wish we yanks had been given the full thing?  Of course.  But you can't argue with something as fun as watching Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon riffing on their own personalities as they travel through the English countryside.  It's The Odd Couple grafted to some kind of meta satire of reality tv, travel-based cuisine shows.

Barry Munday (dir. Chris D'Arienzo):

An unreasonable premise--a man made sterile by a brass instrument--is only the teeing off point for this very funny comedy.  Even with the well-worn redemption through loss motif in play, Barry Munday distinguishes itself by not treating its characters as the comedic material.  Surely, the joke is on them but it's the circumstances that are funny, not the failings of the people being portrayed.  Like Roccaterrania, this one was made in a previous year but only came under my radar after its release on dvd.

And that's it for now...
We'll hit you up with the a chunk of the top 20 list sometime over the next few days.  Keep an eye out for that post!

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