The problem with virtually every analysis of the year in film is it takes cues not only from the quality of new movies but also from how they interact with the marketplace. Indiewire's year-end poll is no exception, accounting only for films that received U.S. theatrical releases in 2011. However, there are many, many more movies that may have been lucky enough to land distribution after screening at festivals during the year, but have yet to reach audiences beyond that contained environment.
A number of them may wind up on top 10 lists a year from now, but they still belong to the collective memory of 2011 for those lucky enough to have seen them already. That provides us with the opportunity to look ahead with a guarantee of quality for some upcoming releases. It's certainly a more precise kind of anticipation than the finger-crossing involved in speculation about the next Batman sequel and other unseen items on the 2012 calendar.
Consider these 11 options from 2011 as surefire bets in 2012.
Abel Ferrara's surprisingly delicate look at a Lower Manhattan actor (Willem Dafoe, excellent) coming to grips with the apocalypse is the flipside of Lars Von Trier's likeminded "Melancholia." More surefooted than ever, Ferrara delivers a beautifully understated work attuned to the process of closure, while simultaneously composing a grungy love letter to Manhattan in tune with much of his oeuvre. Read Indiewire's review here.
This tense crime saga, recently selected as Belgium's official submission to the Academy Awards (beating out the Dardenne brothers, shockingly enough), follows a solemn tough guy named Jackie reeling from a traumatic experience in his youth. In addition to announcing the emerging talent of director Michael R. Roskam, the movie features a phenomenal turn by Matthias Schoenaerts as a Travis Bickle-like antihero teetering on the brink of insanity as he dives into the thick of a conspiracy in the underworld of the cattle industry. Indiewire covered the film here.
The Kid with a Bike
After a mixed response to "Lorna's Silence," the Dardenne brothers are back in fine form with this Cannes-winning tale of a young child attempting to find a way back into his estranged father's life. Despite featuring typical Dardenne-style naturalism, "Kid" also introduces new levels of bittersweet complexity to the brothers' work. Read Indiewire's review here.
British director Ben Wheatley follows up his dark gangster comedy and directorial debut "Down Terrace" with a much bleaker story of a hitman on the outs and pulled back into action for one last gig, only to realize he has wandered into a much stranger situation than anyone–including the audience–could have anticipated. Think "The Whole Nine Yards" meets "Rosemary's Baby." Indiewire covered the film here.
Julia Loktev returns to the arena of minimalist drama after receiving much acclaim for "Day Night Day Night," her unconventional account of a reluctant suicide bomber wandering around Times Square. In "The Loneliest Planet," she follows a seemingly happy couple (Gael Garcia Bernal and Hani Furstenberg) on a hiking trip through the mountains of Georgia, where a sudden dramatic incident forces them to reevaluate their bond. So understated it's virtually an experimental film, "The Loneliest Planet" also functions as a remarkable take on the conventions of a love story by putting them in reverse. Read Indiewire's review here.
The directorial debut of German casting director Markus Schleinzer showed up in competition at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year as a total question mark. Nobody could have guessed that it centered on a pedophile (Michael Fuith) who keeps a child (David Rauchenberger) locked in his basement. Alternately harrowing and uncomfortably funny, "Michael" divided audiences and will continue to have that impact next year, but those willing to spend time with Schleinzer's troubled antihero will discover one of the more fascinating character studies to come along in years. Read Indiewire's review here.
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan continues to build out his complex visual style with this "Zodiac"-like parable about a bunch of confused police officers on a winding path to solving a murder. Ceylan split the Grand Prix at Cannes with the Dardennes, and it's easy to see why: Like the sibling filmmakers, Ceylan's approach is like nothing else out there, and entirely self-assured. In Ceylan's case, you're either with him or you're tuned out, but the intellectual rewards of the former option are boundless. Read Indiewire's review of the film here.
Warner Bros. snatched up the remake rights to this marvelously fast-paced cop thriller that takes place almost exclusively in real time within the confines of a nightclub. But forget about the prospects of the U.S. studio version and just see the original, which features some of the best action choreography this side of the "Bourne" franchise. Read Indiewire's review of the film here.
The Hungarian director's alleged final film is quintessential Tarr, a mesmerizingly slow-going black-and-white account of a middle-aged man, his daughter and their quietly ominous routine in an isolated county house. Loosely based off an apocryphal anecdote about Nietzsche, the gorgeous, hypnotic work features masterful long takes and cryptic dialogue as only Tarr can deliver them. It's a terrifically provocative way to go out, if indeed Tarr intends it that way. Read the news about the film's acquisition here.
This Is Not a Film
Stuck under house arrest and banned from filmmaking, seminal Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi turned the camera on himself and created one of his best works, and certainly his most personal. A diary film about imprisonment in both physical and psychological terms, "This is Not a Film" was allegedly smuggled into Cannes, but has since played to great acclaim at other festivals, proving that great artists cannot be so easily censored. Read Indiewire's review of the film here.
Your Sister's Sister
Seattle-based filmmaker Lynn Shelton proves that her breakout improv comedy "Humpday" had less to do with luck than pure skill, following that movie up with another truly incredible riff on the relationship comedy that proves the lasting vitality of her Mike Leigh-style approach to off-the-cuff narrative. And the cast, which co-stars Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt alongside "Humpday" lead Mark Duplass, proves that Shelton's DIY method has begun to encroach on the mainstream, which is a promising sign. Read Indiewire's review of the film here.