Of the best films so far this year,
only two are currently playing in theaters. That’s the scary news for 2011’s
half-time movie report. The summer mantra “Bow Down to Hollywood” has finally
resulted in literally disposable film culture where good movies vanish
quickly—they can no longer hold their own in the marketplace. Worse, they
vanish from what we now imagine/recall as “the cultural discourse” because they
don’t receive widespread discussion.
Cynical non-thinkers like to say,
“There are no good movies,” but the truth is there always are; just not the
movies that boast the biggest promotion or, consequently, the quid pro quo media
attention. This means the revelations and insights of our most inquiring
filmmakers go largely ignored. If you’ve missed the best recent movies, you
also missed some crucial spiritual, political and aesthetic insights:
1. Denis Villeneuve’s global family
drama Incendies made a moving discovery of our utter connectivity,
despite our conflicts as nations, religions, cultures and generations.
2. Don McGlynn’s Rejoice and
Shout traced black American gospel music as a history of survival
aesthetics with personal testimonies and glorious performance footage that is
immediate and timeless.
3. Greg Mottola’s comedy Paul used
sci-fi mania to tease and affirm the most profound meanings in the most
lighthearted pop culture trends of the past 40 years.
4. Eric Mendelsohn’s revisionist
melodrama 3 Backyards explored suburban isolation, bringing disparate
miseries together in montages that probe our emotional community.
5. Jean-Luc Godard’s multi-part
essay Film Socialisme daringly opposed outmoded technology and
philosophy, capturing current artistic and political confusion in a visionary
6. Polytechnique, a masterful
school-massacre elegy, finally premiered in the U.S., confirming Denis
Villeneuve’s spiritual-political sensitivity. He is, so far, the filmmaker of
7. Steven Peros’ meta-drama Footprints toured the Hollywood delusions lived out by fans, wannabes and the modern
dispossessed—ultimately all of us.
8. Michel Gondry’s comic book satire
The Green Hornet is a franchise movie for adults; its inventive
characters and nifty images challenge the genre’s childish precepts.
9. S.J. Clarkson’s biopic Toast charmed
its way through English writer Nigel Slater’s gastronomic childhood; honestly,
unsentimentally depicting the formation of gay male sensibility.
10. Gregg Araki’s screwball comedy Kaboom turns millennial fatalism and bisexual opportunism into comic book farce.
11. Franois Ozon’s women’s picture Potiche updates melodrama into feminist soap opera/comedy and a Deneuve-Depardieu
And then there’s the enormously
imaginative, moderate successes: Terrence Malick’s undisciplined epic The
Tree of Life, Massy Tadjedin’s intimate romantic epic Last Night,
Alex Cox’s satire Repo Chick, Sean McNamara’s faith-based testimonial Soul
Surfer, Bernard Rose’s stoner saga Mr. Nice, Jodie Foster’s
melodrama The Beaver, Peter Mullan’s teen tragedy Neds, André
Ovredal’s monster movie Troll Hunter and David Gordon Green’s stoner
fantasy Your Highness. Plus, Joe Nussbaum’s serene Prom and Tom
Hanks’ also serene Larry Crowne.
This abundance kept the cinematic
idea alive—against the odds of the industry’s self-annihilating digital,
live-streaming change-over and criticism’s collapse into untrustworthy
boosterism. It’s just enough to make you believe 2011 still has a movie