Joshua Chaplinsky Adds To The Glut of 2011 Top 10 Lists

I don't want to hear any bitching- 2011 was a great year for film. Especially if you live in New York or got your ass to Fantastic Fest like I did. But even if you don't live in close proximity to a bustling cultural epicenter, it's still possible to see great movies. It just requires a little more effort. What with the internet, Video On Demand, Apple TV and Netflix, you don't even have to leave the bosom of your own home. So if the best film you saw all year was Bore Horse or Extremely Lame and Incredibly Cloying, that's your own damn fault. Don't blame geography.

Speaking of geography, I don't think all my picks have gotten an official release as of yet (at least in the US). But if I saw it at an advance screening or a festival I'm going to extend my arm, limp my wrist, fall back on one foot and yell, "Count it!" as the ball goes swish.

So here they are, in all their alphabetical glory- my Top 10 films of viente-once. Some of these have already been covered in my contributions to the Twitch Crew best-ofs, so don't hate if I do a little recycling. It's not plagiarism if you plagiarize yourself. Or so I'm told. 

Bullhead.jpgBULLHEAD

Bullhead is a dramatic coming-of-age crime story set in the hormone-soaked underbelly of the Belgian meat industrial complex. Matthias Schoenaerts gives an impressive performance as Jacky Vanmarsenille, an emasculated juice-head learning the ropes of the family trade. He gives off a distinct Tom-Hardy-in-Bronson vibe, which is never a bad thing. From moments of quiet insecurity to moments of blazing rage, he is part of what makes this film so captivating. Also deserving of praise is first-time director Michael R. Roskam, who handles this multilayered narrative with the assurance of a vet. Bullhead was a big hit at this year's Fantastic Fest, as well as a number of other festivals worldwide. It is also Belgium's official selection for Best Foreign Language film for the 84th annual Academy Awards.   

Drive.jpgDRIVE

I love the fact that a film with this type of art house sensibility was given such a wide release (almost 3000 screens!) I also love how Joe Movie-goer lined up expecting to see another Fast and the Furious flick and wound up leaving the theater scratching his head. Hell, one enterprising young woman even attempted to sue the distributor for false advertising. (Nice try, lady. No handouts today.) But what I love most about Drive is the movie itself. This is an instance where style over substance actually works. Because without the brutal violence and the recycled 80's chic, this would have been your average noir B picture about a damaged loner with a past. But great music, great directing, and great casting turned this film into one of the year's biggest must-sees. Glad to see the general public getting a taste of what long-time Refn fans have been crowing about, even if they didn't appreciate it.

The-Innkeepers JC.jpgTHE INNKEEPERS

Maybe it was the collective excitement of seeing it with a packed house. Maybe it was the boomin' system inside Manhattan's famed Walter Reade Theater (the film has great sound design). Maybe it was the superb chemistry between the Rainn Wilsony Pat Healy and super-cutie Sara Paxton. Or maybe it was the fact that Heather Graham was sitting behind me (YOWZAS! Has she still got it!) Either way, seeing The Innkeepers was one of this year's best film-going experiences. Ti West takes his time and does it right, delivering one of the creepiest slow burns I've seen in a long time. It was so scary that some burly tough guy sitting next to me jumped out of his skin at least a dozen times. And for once I actually cared about what happened to the characters in a horror movie. They weren't obnoxious shitheads who deserved what might or might not be coming to them. It was also refreshing to see the really stupid decision making kept to a minimum for a change. If you like horror, see this.

Kill-List.jpg
KILL LIST

Ben Wheatley, director of the kitchen sink crime drama, Down Terrace, gives us another original take on tried and true tropes. Only this time he expands his pallet to include multiple genres. This film is truly an unexpected journey (take that, Bilbo Baggins!), one that goes from point A to point B to point "Where the fuck am I?" It's the cinematic equivalent of taking the family dog on a long drive and leaving him on the side of the road. The audience is the dog, and we don't know why we're here or what we did to deserve this, but in the end it doesn't matter as long as we survive the ordeal. Just make sure you go into this one blind. You'll thank me later.

MELANCHOLIA.jpgMELANCHOLIA

The destruction of the Earth in Melancholia is the perfect bookend to its creation in The Tree of Life. And like in its creative cousin, the event is only a small part of a much larger story (if you could call the creation and destruction of the world "small"). Capricious little Lars dials back the provocation as he explores the psychology of depression, which both he and Kirsten Dunst have first hand experience with. He even goes as far as injecting a little- what is that? Could it be... humor? In a von Trier film? Amazing. If you found Antichrist too intense, don't worry, there's nary a bloody ejaculation or clitorectomy in sight. All of the torment takes place inside Kirsten's head, and her performance actually makes her relevant as an actress again.

Michael.jpgMICHAEL

Michael is the directorial debut of long-time Michael Haneke casting director, Markus Schleinzer, and what a debut it is! Not since Happiness has a film about a pedophile so touched the hearts and genitals of the film-going public, in public. (And just so we're clear, I'm talking about THIS film about a pedophile named Michael, not THIS one.) The film is subdued, even-handed, and never sensationalistic. It is matter-of-fact in its horrors, but doesn't rub your nose in them. The performances of both man and boy are so steeped in realism that it is downright unnerving. You can tell Schleinzer has been paying attention in class, because there is a definite Haneke vibe here. He successfully prevents your knee from jerking while making you think critically about a subject you'd probably prefer to forget existed.

Shame.jpgSHAME

Yes, Michael Fassbender actually makes being devilishly handsome, having a gigantic cock, and getting laid all the time look like it totally sucks! If that's not acting, I don't know what is. Someone give this man an Oscar, quick. And at least nominate Steve McQueen for Best Director. Dude is a serious talent behind the camera. After this and Hunger, I'll see anything he makes. The acting, the cinematography, the score (*puts fingers to mouth, pantomimes kiss)... MWAH! Magnifique!

take-shelter-650-2.jpgTAKE SHELTER

Here's another great acting Michael- Michael Shannon. He does repressed-weirdo-who-could-explode-at-any-moment so well, I'm beginning to wonder if he isn't just playing different variations of himself. Take Shelter is a perfect example of how controlled a performance he can give and how effective that is. So when his character finally goes off the rails on the crazy train, it takes you completely by surprise, even though you were expecting it the whole time. Of course, credit is also due writer/director Jeff Nichols, who has crafted a slow burn drama masquerading as a horror film that turns out to be a horror film masquerading as a drama. A meteorological tour de force. 

the-tree-of-life.jpgTHE TREE OF LIFE

A divisive film, to be sure, and yeah, we could have done without the whole "Sean Penn in the afterlife" bit, or Brad Pitt making his "What's In The Box" face when he receives bad news, but they just don't make 'em like this anymore. And it's a shame. Because even if you don't love The Tree of Life, you damn well gotta respect it. It's poetic and audacious and self-indulgent and aesthetically beautiful. I defy even the most cantankerous critic not to be awed by the 20-minute creation of the universe/evolution of life sequence. If you saw the film in a quality theater with top-of-the-line sound equipment, you were treated to a borderline transcendent experience. Considering the amount of samey crap churned out by Hollywood, no cineaste has the right to write off such a distinctive and personal film.

Tyrannosaur.jpgTYRANNOSAUR

This film involves yet another wounded character who can go from zero to sixty in the sip of a pint. Peter Mullan plays Joseph, an alcoholic widower in a self-destructive spiral who gets one last chance at redemption. Yeah, you've seen it before, but not as heart-wrenchingly honest as this. No emotional manipulation here. Just raw, exposed nerves and people who need people. Streisand would approve. Mesmerizing.

American-Indie-Debuts.jpgBONUS #11 PICK

AMERICAN INDIE FILM DEBUT MEDLEY:

ANOTHER EARTH, BELLFLOWER, MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE

Gonna do a little cheating here. In addition to being a great year for film, 2011 was a great year for directorial debuts (as Todd pointed out, HERE). I've already got three on this list (Bullhead, Michael, Tyrannosaur), but I'm about to squeeze in three more. Because not only was it a great year for directorial debuts, it was a great year for American indie directorial debuts.

That's not to say these films are perfect. They all have their flaws and all have their detractors here at Twitch (I'm looking at you, Bellflower). But I feel all three function perfectly as a showcase for emerging talent, and are harbingers of great things to come. These are three careers I'll be following very closely.

Joshua Chaplinsky is the senior editor for LitReactor.com. He also writes for ChuckPalahniuk.net. He was a guitarist in the band SpeedSpeedSpeed, and is the poison pen behind thejamminjabber, although he's not so sure he should admit it.


 


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