Posted: 01/04/2012


Best Films You Didn’t See in 2011


by Barry Meyer

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I don’t see much in the theaters any more, so I can’t provide a Best Movies of the Year list. We have two little girls running about, who keep us very occupied at home. But, that’s just a lame excuse, because if’n I could go to the theater more, I probably wouldn’t anyway. I’ve fallen out of love with the films that generally go into theatrical release. Hollywood and me… we’ve broken up. I still text her once in a while. And I’ll slip out to the local megaplex to share a popcorn, if she has a good story to tell. But not much. I’ve got a new mistress… the straight to video/on-demand independent movies. Yeah. She’s much wilder, less predictable. And she speaks different languages. And… there’ a whole lot of her. Here’s the ones I liked best.

#10 — RUBBER
A winner, already, just in concept: a common tire comes to life and goes on a killing spree. What makes the film work is how ingeniously filmmaker Quentin Dupieux takes such a ridiculous idea – that of a killer radial tire — and makes the audience interested about it. He does this, in part, by breaking down the fourth wall and bringing in an “audience” to sit in on the filming of the movie, and actually question and comment on why someone would make a movie out of such a silly idea.

The gimmick that this is yet another found footage mockumentary is a tired one. But, don’t let that turn you away. The film follows a team of student filmmakers, as they make a documentary on some strange killings in the Norwegian countryside. They come upon a lone Government worker, who claims to be charged with keeping the trolls in check. Of course, they don’t believe the strange man… until they witness the gigantic trolls with their own eyes. The plot is simple and easy, and fun. But, the real treat is witnessing the fantastic CG trolls… or are they real trolls!!

I’m a great fan of subtlety in films. I love understated performances, nuanced characters, and real situations. Sleepover plays in the vein of those classic end-of-summer teen comedies from the 70s and 80s – most notably American Graffiti – but skirts the comedic trappings of those that it so closely resembles. Instead, Sleepover offers up situations that are more true, and surprisingly less cynical, than most teen movies. The excessive amount of mubling in this teen mumblecore’s first 15 minutes, almost made me switch it off. I’m glad I didn’t, or I’d have missed out on some great characters (most notably Claire Sloma’s fresh take on the so typically misunderstood bad girl).

I’m always glad to see a Adrian Garcia Bogliano movie. They’re like the craziest exploitation flicks you’ve ever seen, but cleverly filled with sound socio-political commentary. This one plays out like a typical horror scenario, with some kids getting tortured and killed in a strange old house. But, the Bogliano twist casts the killers as a pair of decrepit old men, who can barely walk. These two washed up old skool militant revolutionaries have become bored over the past few decades, so they now spend their time luring thrill seeking young ladies to their house, where they force them to solve insane mathematical problems, and douse them in nitro glycerin (which prompts the fantastic scene, in which an old boyfriend must save his ex, by slowly cutting off her nitro saturated clothing, before it ignites all over her).

I saw this one before I had the opportunity to see Super 8, and couldn’t help but wonder how embarrassed JJ Abrams must feel, being bettered by a low budget (about $13 milion) British sci-fi action flick. Like Super 8, ATB follows the adventures of a group of young kids who find themselves in the middle of an alien attack. However, these kids aren’t your usual Hardy Boys and Nancy Drews, who set out to solve the mystery and save the community. Instead, they’re mostly made up of a pack of violent, gun-totting, weed smoking delinquints, who’d incited the invasion when they cornered an alien in a shed (an nod to E.T.), and bitch-slapped it for interrupting their muggings.

#5 – DOG TOOTH (Kynodontas)
This Greek film is as bizarre as it gets. A set of parents keep their three children (2 girls and 1 boy, all young adults) imprisoned in their secluded compound, set apart from the rest of the world. The kids have been home schooled by their parents, but their education is full of misleadings and lies (they’re taught that sea means chair, or that planes overhead are just toys, like the ones they find in the grass out back). They have no clue what a telephone is, or a TV, and sex is something that the girls provide, as a duty, for their brother. When a girl, from the father’s factory, is introduced to the household as a security guard, the children are exposed to things outside their secluded world.

By far, one of the most unsettling films you will ever see. Milos, a washed up porn star, leading the straight life with a wife and six year old boy, is approached to break retirement to do one last movie. Having no other prospects, Milos agrees, and settles up for a huge financial pay-off. In return, he must agree to a highly improvised method of filming, and he must never question the motives of the filmmaker (a very well placed children’s TV producer and state security team member). Milos does as he is told, even when the film’s content starts to dip into very taboo subject matter (stuff that got the filmmaker into legal troubles). Though Milos is never directly involved in any of that stuff, he still moves ahead with the movie, and collects his generous salary. The film is an allegory for the political situation in Serbia, as addressed in the dialogue from the dangerous filmmaker, who tells Milos that he’s no better than the leaders of the country, whom systematically rape and destroy their own country.

This aptly named Canadian action flick comes from a red hot pair of twin filmmakers, the Soska Sisters, who also star in their twisted, bloody, speeding bullet of fun. All hell breaks loose when the twins, along with a couple friends, set out for an average errand trip, only to find… you guessed it – a dead hooker in the trunk of their car. What separates this micro budgeted, straight to video movie from the rest of the fanboy fare in its genre, is the Soska’s sense of complete fun. The energy and style and balls-out joyous action of this flick would make Quentin Tarantino snap a woody.

The combination of author Jack Ketchum and filmmaker Lucky McKee is shear genius. Ketchum’s style of sheer madness and McKee’s style of well etched, bizarre characterizations blends wonderfully. It also helps that they both favor strong and positive female storylines. Polly McIntosh breaks out as a wild woman, captured by a hunter, who feels it’s his God-given duty to civilize her. Enlisting the help of his skeptical family, the demented Henry Higgins shackles his Eliza Doolittle in the fruit cellar, and uses brute force to tame the nature girl. The controversial film was thrust into the spotlight at last year’s Sundance Fest, when an irate viewer misinterpreted the film’s anti-misogynic message for actual full blown misogyny.

Still without a distributor, this no budget film, made by controversial filmmaker Shane Ryan, is both disturbing and heartbreaking. Ryan made a name for himself with his self-starring film Amateur Porn Star Killer, a found footage depiction of a Ted Bundy like killer’s seduction and murder of a young woman (he went on to create two sequels to this film). The movie set up Ryan as a filmmaker who would take risks to tell a convincing and honest film. In his latest film, Ryan continues pushing the boundaries and taking risks, but this time develops his ability to create characters and situations that are painfully honest. Stepping away from the found footage style of his APSK flicks, My Name is A is shot with the immediacy of a documentary film, telling the story based on the true crimes of Alyssa Bustamante, a fifteen year old girl who confessed to the thrill kill murder of a 9 year old neighbor girl. We’ve watched this story before __ teenage girls gone bad — dozens of time on the Lifetime Channel, where we see the point of view of the distraught parents and terrified community. But Ryan turns the camera inward, onto the accused, focusing on the events that lead up to the murder. Following a group of four teenage girls (Alyssa, the Sidekick, the Performer, and the Angst), all from different backgrounds, and with different interests, but whose paths will lead them to stand over the dead body of the little girl, holding the knife that killed her. He doesn’t make excuses for them, nor does he attempt to defend them. My Name is A is just a raw and honest and poetic portrayal of life gone wrong.

Barry Meyer Barry Meyer was born to the world as the first scientifically produced Cathode Tube baby. He’s a film critic, videographer, editor, and writer, residing in Jamestown, NY.

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