The best of the best – that you didn’t see. It’s back again and we’re a bit late, but with the Oscars coming up, perfect timing once again. Back by popular demand is our fifth annual list of the 19 Best Movies That You Didn’t See in 2011 Featured below is a hand-picked selection of the best independent and/or mainstream films that were either quietly dumped, ignored by audiences, or just not marketed well enough. So to give them some extra time in the spotlight, and to support some of the best filmmakers out there, we’ve put together a 2011 recap. Read on for the list!
I would like to encourage everyone to watch at least one of these that they haven’t heard of (or didn’t see) beforehand. If you spend the two hours or so that it will take to watch even one of these movies mentioned below, it would mean that much more to the filmmakers who put so much time and effort into making each of these movies. This isn’t about getting kudos for mentioning certain films, this article is about pointing out movies that don’t deserve to be forgotten and are begging to be watched. So pick one and watch it tonight.
A Better Life Opened on June 24, 2011 Directed by Chris Weitz A Mexican gardener in East L.A. struggles to keep his son away from gangs and immigration agents while trying to give his son the opportunities he never had. Why it’s on here: For the lead performance alone. Demián Bichir, who nabbed a surprise Best Actor Oscar nomination for A Better Life, certainly deserves it for his role as a struggling father just trying to provide a better life for his son and the hell he goes through when someone steals his work truck. It’s a subtly beautiful yet powerful film, that even impressed Guy Ritchie quite a bit, and I think it’s worth seeking out and watching simply to honor the brilliance on display with Bichir. The scene at the end where he’s speaking to his son will make anyone cry. One of the most heartwarming films that simply couldn’t get any traction this year.
The Beaver Opened on May 6, 2011 Directed by Jodie Foster
A troubled husband and executive adopts a beaver hand-puppet as his sole means of communicating. Why it’s on here: There’s a reason this film made my list of the Top 10 Films of 2011, and that’s because this is one of the most underrated films of the year, possibly of the decade. Not only is it evidence that Mel Gibson still has some powerful acting chops, despite his public foibles, but Jodie Foster makes an amazing return to director’s chair after over a decade away from it. A story that is darkly funny but strikingly poignant with an approach to depression that hasn’t been brought to the big screen before courtesy of a phenomenal script by Kyle Killen. There’s a reason Ms. Foster is sending screeners of the film to members of the Academy and that’s because it deserves to be seen by everyone, even if it doesn’t win any awards.
Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey Opened on October 21, 2011 Directed by Constance Marks & Philip Shane The Muppet Elmo is one of the most beloved characters among children across the globe. Meet the unlikely man behind the puppet – the heart and soul of Elmo – Kevin Clash. Why it’s on here: A story of true inspiration and dedication, this documentary touched my heart when it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival back in 2011. Not only does it show a miraculous series of events and opportunities for an aspiring puppeteer, but it shows Kevin Clash’s struggles and sacrifices as he quickly gains much fame and recognition for bringing the fuzzy red Sesame Street puppet Elmo to life. Seeing how happy children of all ages and races become at the sight of Clash and Elmo is enough to make this the feel-good film of the year, but there’s so much more to bring a smile to your face from this charming film.
Certified Copy Opened on March 11, 2011 Directed by Abbas Kiarostami
In Tuscany to promote his latest book, a middle-aged British writer meets a French woman who leads him to the village of Lucignano. While there, a chance question reveals something deeper. Why it’s on here: To make you think. Really think. It might even frustrate you. And, if it’s doing what it’s set out to do, it will lose you… if only for a bit. But when it catches you, reaching its hand toward yours just fingertips away from careening off that cliff, you’ll stop watching a movie and become lost in an experience. You’ll no longer be watching Juliette Binoche and William Shimell or the characters they play, but, instead, the characters their characters are playing. Copies of themselves. Facsimiles. Reminiscent of Linklater’s Before Sunrise, Certified Copy will compel you to question reality, fantasy, and that space between both where we most often interface.
The Devil’s Double Opened on July 29, 2011 Directed by Lee Tamahori A chilling vision of the House of Saddam Hussein comes to life through the eyes of the man who was forced to become the double of Hussein’s sadistic son. Why it’s on here: Another film worth seeing simply for the performances – both of them! Dominic Cooper plays two separate lead roles in this, two twins, and it’s remarkable to see, he is extraordinary. While the movie itself is occasionally over-the-top in its dialogue (since it is in English), it’s an intense and riveting look at the crazy lives of Saddam Hussein’s sadistic son and his household, and Cooper is part of what makes it so damn interesting. There definitely is as much gold as is on the poster, and plenty more craziness. This also couldn’t get much traction despite many glowing reviews and endless praise for Cooper, who should probably be winning awards for his double-performance.
Everything Must Go Opened on May 13, 2011 Directed by Dan Rush
When an alcoholic relapses, causing him to lose his wife and his job, he holds a yard sale on his front lawn in an attempt to start over. A new neighbor might be the key to his return to form. Why it’s on here: One of those “Will Ferrell was in something that’s not a comedy?” kind of indie discoveries, but it’s actually pretty good. Everything Must Go was a blacklist script that ended up just being directed by its writer, Dan Rush, and stars Will Ferrell as a guy who comes home to find everything he owns on his front lawn. His wife left, he lost his job, and is locked out, so he starts living right there and befriends a neighborhood kid as his helper. It’s a good script, the film is solid, and it also stars the beautiful, knocks-me-out Rebecca Hall, and is lightly amusing, with dramatic notes. A light watch that if you let the script play like it should, you’ll appreciate, especially with Ferrell because he does give such a great, unique performance in the end.
I Saw the Devil Opened on March 4, 2011 Directed by Kim Ji-woon When his pregnant fiancee becomes the latest victim of a serial killer, a secret agent blurs the line between good and evil in his pursuit of revenge. Why it’s on here: One of the darkest, and perhaps bloodiest, on the list this year, but ohh so good, and ohh so dark. This Korean film is about a detective who pretty much goes insane when his girlfriend is killed by a serial killer and he goes after him in very sadistic ways. Yea it takes some awesome twists and turns, it’s the kind of Korean film, like Oldboy or The Chaser, that you’ve just got to see because it’s so phenomenally well-made, yet so bloody, violent, and just nightmarish, but that’s why it’s such brilliant cinema. Kim Ji-woon is now making his first US film,The Last Stand, but before you see that get acquainted with some of his original work, like this. Lee Byung-hun (J.S.A., A Bittersweet Life, Storm Shadow in G.I. Joe) is great in it.
Le Havre Opened on October 21, 2011 Directed by Aki Kaurismäki
When an African boy arrives by cargo ship in the port city of Le Havre, an aging shoe shiner takes pity on the child and welcomes him into his home. Why it’s on here: For a taste of some French charm and hospitality. This charming film takes place in the French sea port city of Le Havre, where an elderly shoe shiner, played by André Wilms, takes in an African immigrant boy who has lost his family, and helps him find his way while keeping the police off their tracks. It’s a fun French comedy, almost a fable. The performances are all wonderful, the whole film just a delight to watch, a joy for anyone who finds it. If you’re already familiar with Aki Kaurismäki, then you know what to expect, otherwise have fun with this one – it’s guaranteed to make you smile.
Like Crazy Opened on October 28, 2011 Directed by Drake Doremus A British college student falls for an American student, only to be separated from him when she’s banned from the U.S. after overstaying her visa. Why it’s on here: To show you how to fall in love again. This honest, beautiful, raw portrait of a young couple in love, and what it’s like to go through hardships like long distance disconnects, was instantly one of my favorites after seeing it at Sundance last year and has stuck with my ever since. Anton Yelchin andFelicity Jones play two college kids, and it feels as if director Drake Doremuscaptured a real look at these two falling in love, and presents it in a fresh, captivating, emotional way. Give it a chance, let it sweep you away like it swept me away, and you may find yourself falling head-over-heels for Felicity (or Anton) because of how honest and exquisite their performances are. A stellar romantic portrait that is well worth falling in love with.
Margin Call Opened on October 21, 2011 Directed by J.C. Chandor
Follows the key people at an investment bank, over a 24-hour period, during the early stages of the financial crisis. Why it’s on here: If Wall Street and The Social Network got together and had a baby, it would be Margin Call. Thankfully, that baby has some pretty amazing Hollywood connections as the ensemble cast of this financial crisis drama is nothing to scoff at with Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Paul Bettany, Zachary Quinto, Demi Moore, Penn Badgley, Stanley Tucci all igniting a powerful script. At a time when financial dramas became as abundant as films about the Iraq War, this one stands out, and obviously Oscar voters thought so as well since the film snagged a Best Screenplay nomination for writer J.C. Chandor, who also directed this gripping drama that, despite some naysayers, is a fascinating thriller if you let yourself get into it.
Miss Bala Opened on October 14, 2011 Directed by Gerardo Naranjo The story of a young woman clinging on to her dream to become a beauty contest queen in a Mexico dominated by organized crime. Why it’s on here: For Stephanie Sigman as Laura Guerrero. Another one of my favorite films from Cannes last year that didn’t break out at all. This has aCity of God-like feeling in the way it portrays the brutal reality – almost in real-time – of one innocent teenage girl who gets caught up in the mayhem of the Mexican drug wars. Sigman stars as a wannabe beauty contest queen who takes the audience on a wild ride through the streets, slums and backyards of Mexico on a thrilling adventure into the drug underworld. This is one of those starts-and-doesn’t-stop kind of intense films, so damn good, and I feel like it barely got a release. I’m still wowed by it almost a year after first seeing it.
Perfect Sense Opened on December 30, 2011 Directed by David Mackenzie
A chef and a scientist fall in love as an epidemic begins to rob people of their sensory perceptions. Why it’s on here: To make you feel. Here’s science fiction at its most emotionally rich. Seductively written, fascinatingly plotted, beautifully directed, this film acts as an allegory for our collective disconnectedness, humans’ sheer force of will for adaptation, and what it means to be human even as we lose our very human-ness. All of this loftiness, however, is rendered on a small scale through haunting performances by Eva Green and Ewan McGregor. There was another film last year, Another Earth, that attempted to do—but ultimately could not—what Perfect Sense is able to accomplish: elucidate a macro-level event on a micro-level scale through emotionally resonant, flawed characters. All of that is to say: Perfect Sense is a film about what it is to be human even when feeling human seems impossible.
A Separation Opened on December 30, 2011 Directed by Asghar Farhadi A married couple are faced with a difficult decision – to improve the life of their adolescent daughter by moving to another country or to stay in Iran and look after a deteriorating parent who has Alzheimers. Why it’s on here: This Iranian film is receiving immense acclaim from numerous critics for good reason – it’s a phenomenal film. An intimate, complex look at law, religion and married life in Iran, the film received two Oscar nominations, and deservedly so. Let’s hope it wins at least one, because it’s a great film that lives up to the acclaim, with fierce performances from leadsLeila Hatami and Peyman Maadi as Simin and Nader, and a story that will leave you bewildered, exhausted, and stunned by the end. A Separation is being talked about as the Best Foreign Language Film of last year, and I think it is, which means it’s unquestionably worthy of being watched – you’ll appreciate that you did.
Shame Opened on December 2, 2011 Directed by Steve McQueen
In New York City, Brandon’s carefully cultivated private life — which allows him to indulge his sexual addiction — is disrupted when his sister Sissy arrives unannounced for an indefinite stay. Why it’s on here: Michael Fassbender. He gives the performance of a lifetime in this, one of the most intricate, intimate character profiles of the year (he should’ve got an Oscar nomination). Made like a piece of art by Steve McQueen, the artist, with stunning long-takes in New York, like jogging for 4 blocks or a 15 minute dinner conversation – all one shot. This film didn’t take off because of the NC-17 rating it received, but I say throw that out, screw the MPAA, this is brilliant cinema and should be seen at any cost. One of my very favorite films of 2011 from the moment I saw it in Telluride, and cannot recommend it enough, it needs to be seen. Plus, if not for Fassbender, then for Fassbender’s Fassbender.
The Skin I Live In Opened on October 14, 2011 Directed by Pedro Almodóvar A brilliant plastic surgeon, haunted by past tragedies, creates a type of synthetic skin that withstands any kind of damage. His guinea pig: a mysterious and volatile woman who holds the key to his obsession. Why it’s on here: Almodóvar is back! With a dark and deceptive, mysterious yet intense film, starring Antonio Banderas in a role that takes him and Almodóvar back to their roots. This Spanish romantic medical thriller, also starring Elena Anaya in an excellent breakout performance, will shock you with its twists and turns and reveals all the way up until the end – don’t spoil it. The film makes the viewer uncomfortable, it makes them think and makes them curious, and I love subversive cinema that does that, especially when it’s so entertaining and well-made, like this. Anaya is so beautiful to look at (until you really think about it?) and Banderas is fantastic too, do not miss this, but be prepared to be shocked.
Submarine Opened on June 3, 2011 Directed by Richard Ayoade
15-year-old Oliver Tate has two objectives: To lose his virginity before his next birthday, and to extinguish the flame between his mother and an ex-lover who has resurfaced in her life. Why it’s on here: Take the dark twisted humor from across the pond, a Martin Scorsese inspired shooting style, and a coming-of-age story that spans across generations and you get this fantastic directorial debut from comic actor Richard Ayoade. Complete with breakthrough performances from young stars Craig Roberts and Yasmin Paige, the film has flares of iconic filmmakers like Woody Allen and Hal Ashby. The film has a personality that feels contemporary and classic all at once to the point that I’d go so far as to call it timeless. This is a film that will go down as an overlooked classic and one that could very well be used to enlighten film students decades from now.
Take Shelter Opened on September 30, 2011 Directed by Jeff Nichols Plagued by a series of apocalyptic visions, a young husband and father questions whether to shelter his family from a coming storm, or from himself. Why it’s on here: To put you on edge. This film will make you feel uneasy, it has a remarkable atmosphere that Michael Shannon helps elevate to a gulp-inducing crescendo, and the way it ends will leave you talking about it for hours afterward. The score is great, the technical work is perfect, Shannon and Jessica Chastain are outstanding, this is one of my favorites as well as and a must see that you need to go into without knowing anything and just go along for the ride.
We Need To Talk About Kevin Opened on December 9, 2011 Directed by Lynne Ramsay
Kevin’s mother struggles to love her strange child, despite the increasingly vicious things he says and does as he grows up. But Kevin is just getting started, and his final act will be beyond anything anyone imagined. Why it’s on here: For Tilda Swinton. This film will take your breath away, and anger you at the same time, it’s an exhilarating experience thanks in large part to director Lynne Ramsay, adapting from Lionel Shriver’s novel. Swinton stars as the mother of one of the most demented, evil kids ever, Kevin, who eventually goes on a killing spree. Both Swinton and the kid who plays Kevin, actor Ezra Miller, are incredible in this, giving the film a chilling backbone that makes it so riveting to watch, along with all the lush red motifs Ramsay loves using. It should be seen for Swinton’s performance alone, but also for the darker, complex story it plays with and exploring the psyche and life of a person like this.
Win Win Opened on March 18, 2011 Directed by Tom McCarthy A struggling lawyer and volunteer wrestling coach’s chicanery comes back to haunt him when the teenage grandson of the client he’s double-crossed comes into his life. Why it’s on here: Everyone enjoys an inspiring sports drama, this is an excellent one. Win Win delivers all the joy that those film brings with fresh comedy and a more grounded approach to the competitive side of the story than we’ve seen in a long time. Where there’s usually contrived family melodrama there’s a genuine family unit brought to life by Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryanand newcomer Alex Shaffer with the help of a great script and direction from actor Tom McCarthy. This was yet another feel good movie from Sundance that is full of laughs, heart and really works for the whole family. Movies like this don’t come along very often, but Win Windeserves to be seen.
I hope we’ve been able to introduce everyone to a few more great must-see films that you have never seen. Not everyone will love all of them, that’s certainly expected, but I guarantee there is something unique to discover in every last one of these. Support an indie filmmaker today, watch one of these 19, it will make a difference! Let us know what you think of it after, too.
Honorable Mentions (aka Runner-Ups) other worthy films: Mike Cahill’s Another Earth, Asif Kapadia’s doc Senna, James Gunn’s Super, Andrew Haigh’s Weekend, Cary Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre, Dee Rees’ Pariah, Jason Eisener’s Hobo With a Shotgun, John Michael McDonagh’s The Guard, Mike Mills’ Beginners, Emilio Estevez’s The Way and maybe Gavin O’Connor’s Warrior, though I hope enough people have finally seen it.