#13 BUBBLE - A lot of directors working under the Hollywood umbrella have a tendency to give in to studio demands if it means occasionally having the creative freedom (and funding) to produce something a bit more personal than a director-for-hire blockbuster type of movie. Steven Soderbergh is probably one of the more extreme examples of this. A quick glimpse at his filmography will reveal an inclination to go back and forth between mainstream and indie films. BUBBLE, a small-town murder mystery with non-actors in the lead roles, was made for a little over a million dollars in between the big-budget second and third installments of the OCEAN'S movies. Aside from being a director that I deeply admire, Steven Soderbergh is also a wonderful cinematographer, and BUBBLE partly seemed like a project for him to kinda play around with photography; it has a dark beauty to it that ties in to the film's decayed Midwestern setting.
#12 SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK - My brain hurts just thinking about how to put my thoughts and feelings on this film into words, so I won't even bother. SYNECDOCHE runs the gamut of emotions and moods. It's funny, sad, depressing, quirky, and there's even a bit of Cronenberg-esque body horror in it. Most of all, it's downright odd, but it never feels like it's being weird just for the sake of being weird; it genuinely comes across as the work of the mad genius that is writer/director Charlie Kaufman.
#11 DISTRICT B13 - A fun French action movie that was recommended to me by Elwood Jones as part of the whole Reader's Choice theme I did last year. I was well aware of this movie beforehand but didn't really have any desire to see it despite my fondness for modern genre films from France, so I can't thank Elwood enough for finally giving me an excuse to watch it. There's never a dull moment in the film and the stunts are nothing short of amazing. You can read my full review of it here.
#10 [REC] - I made the mistake of watching this film's insta-remake QUARANTINE first; not that it didn't make me want to see [REC] eventually (I actually quite enjoyed the remake), but seeing as they're basically the same movie, it was one of those "why bother" kinda things. I finally got around to seeing this in early 2011, and unlike most modern-day horror movies that bloggers and various critics seem to gush about, this thrilling Spanish found-footage horror movie actually lived up to the hype. Of course there's an insane amount of suspension of disbelief when it comes to this movie, but the same can be said for many horror movies out there, found-footage or not. From start to finish, [REC] is a fun ride full of well-executed scares and "holy shit" moments. Also, I personally found the lead actress, Manuela Velasco, to be really sexy, so that helped too. I also watched the sequel last year when it hit DVD, and while I did enjoy parts of it, as a whole it felt like it was just beating a dead horse.
#9 LONDON - A surprisingly solid little rom-dram (is that even a term?) that, according to IMDB, was only made for approximately 21.5 thousand dollars. I'm not sure how accurate that is considering the film's lead roles were played by A-list actors including Jessica Biel, Chris Evans (although his profile was considerably lower back then), and Jason Statham. Did they all work for free or something? Whatever the case, this film was impressive on many levels. I wrote a little bit about it in my Jason Statham retrospective, which you can check out here.
#8 LOOK - LOOK exposes the viewer to what happens when the lives of various people - ranging from a teenage girl who's trying to seduce her teacher to perverted department store manager to a pedophile who stalks young children - clash in some form or another; the catch is that the entire film consists of surveillance footage. Even more so than the concept of the film (and how well it was executed), I was impressed by how sleazy and graphic this movie was. And, for a movie that technically lacks a plot and is made up, essentially, of small-talk and gossip between people, it's truly captivating. Giuseppe Andrews, who plays a convenience store cashier, also provides a few songs for the film's soundtrack.
#7 TERRIBLY HAPPY - Matt from Chuck Norris Ate My Baby farted in my direction when he recommended this movie for my Reader's Choice theme, and MAN did it smell good. This is a weird Danish drama about a cop who gets re-assigned to a small rural town and subsequently uncovers some dark secrets about the citizens who live there. Doesn't sound like much, but trust me when I say that it's tense, well-written, and masterfully executed. You can check out my review of it here.
#6 ELECTRIC DRAGON 80.000V - Because of a childhood accident, lead character Dragon Eye Morrison has 80-thousand volts of electricity running through his body at all times. Of course that much electricity running through his body makes it extremely complicated to live a normal life, causing him to sort of isolate himself from the rest of society in his adult years. On the other hand, his unique defect has made him pretty awesome at playing guitar, which he does on occasion throughout the film to an audience of various reptiles that he lives with.
This Japanese art film builds to a battle between Electric Dragon Morrison and a half human/half robot character by the name of Thunderbolt Buddha (pictured above). It's not exactly clear why Thunderbolt Buddha has a vendetta against Electric Dragon, but it doesn't really matter. It's not about the plot, but more so the visuals and the atmosphere. Even the dialogue is few and far between. And, speaking of visuals, if SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD went back in time, had unprotected sex with ERASERHEAD and got struck by lightning at the point of orgasm, its baby would be this film. This sixty-minute juggernaut of manga-style action mixed with relentless, heavily-distorted rock n' roll blew my mind and had me doing backflips by the time it was over.
#5 SUNSHINE - In my opinion, one of the most visually-stunning films of the last decade, and a good companion piece to Sci-Fi films like SOLARIS and MOON. It would probably be higher on the list if it weren't for the controversial and much talked about conclusion of the film; it wasn't so much that I had a problem with the awkward, unexpected turn that the film takes in the back end, but rather the execution. Otherwise solid, with an amazing score by John Murphy.
#4 IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH - I'm sure this is "been there done that" old news to everyone by now, so I won't waste a lot of time talking about the movie or explaining why I liked it so much. Charlize Theron is easily one of my top three favorite actresses working right now, and I love seeing her in non-glamorous roles such as this as much as I do in her sexier roles. It's also no shock that Tommy Lee Jones turns in one hell of a performance, and probably one of the bests of his career that I've seen. Finally, it says a lot when a film is able to truly disturb me with a certain revelation without actually showing me anything. This military-themed murder mystery is a movie that sort of hits close to home, and it's one of the few movies I saw in 2011 that impacted me on a significant level.
#3 THE PUSHER TRILOGY - Decided to go with the whole trilogy instead of just my favorite of the bunch (Part II) despite the first not fitting into the criteria of movies made after the year 2000. Over a period of nine years, director Nicolas Winding Refn (DRIVE) made three films that each follow a flawed character who's somehow connected to the criminal underworld. In the first, a small-time dealer finds himself in some deep shit with a drug lord and scrambles to get himself out of it. In the second, an ex-con (and also the former best friend of the lead character in the first movie) attempts to go straight but finds that it's easier said than done. In the third and final film, the same drug lord from the first movie tries to juggle both planning the wedding of his daughter and making the best of an underwhelming drug shipment that he needs to get rid of, all while trying to stay sober. In the PUSHER films, you really get to see Refn grow as a filmmaker, seeing as the first was his directorial debut and he had two other films under his belt by the time he made the second, and with that you get a variety from these films in terms of how they're presented and structured (although there are definitely recurring themes and flourishes of note). Personally, I loved the second one significantly more than the other two because of the performance of Mads Mikkelsen in the lead role, and also because of the score and soundtrack (it's safe to say by now that Refn is a master when it comes to using music in his films).
#2 TALK TO HER - I'm almost ashamed to say it, but this was my first - and to this date, only - Pedro Almodóvar film. I'm glad that I started with this one, because it left such an impression on me in regards to Almodóvar as a filmmaker. TALK TO HER (also written by Almodóvar) is a romantic drama with elements of black comedy that revolves around two women in a coma and the men who love them. The film spirals out of control as the characters involved (namely the men) seal their fates based on certain questionable decisions they make, building to an unexpected outcome for everyone involved. Nothing much to say about it other than it's a gorgeous, extremely well-written film with wonderful performances from everyone involved. I attempted to follow this up with Almodóvar's VOLVER, but when it became clear that it wouldn't be as half as good as this one, I decided to take a rain check.
#1 EXILED - Another director first for me, EXILED was my first ever Johnnie To film, and it marked the beginning of a short-lived run of his movies that failed to live up to how excellent this one was. EXILED is a crime movie with a twist, in that a marked man develops a friendship between the two hitmen who were sent to kill him and the two who were sent to protect him. Of course there's a reason why these characters develop a mutual respect for each other that blossoms into a friendship, but talking about it would reveal one of the surprises that this superb and surprisingly endearing Hong Kong crime movie has to offer. Everything about this film, from the cinematography to the Gun Fu to the shimmery electric guitar score is top notch. Great ensemble cast (apparently they all worked together on at least one other Johnnie To movie) and a wonderful tale of friendship that transcends a life of crime, if that makes any sense. Yep, I'm pretty much head over heels with this movie.