The 10 Best Movies You Didn’t See in 2011

Hi there. My name Will and I will be your guest writer for this blog post.

Before we begin, let me start by shamelessly plugging my new blog, Velvet Curtain Reviews, over on WordPress. Most of my content is/will be film reviews and columns and I’ll be tracking as much of the awards season as I can. Or you can follow the Twitter account @VC_Reviews.

Whew! That felt good. Any who, let’s talk about the best movies of 2011 that didn’t quite get the recognition they deserved with the popular crowd (or at least the box office $$$).

In no particular order….

Beginners

Budget: $3.2 million

Box Office: $14.3 million

This little summer release is the second feature film for director Mike Mills (2005’s ”Thumbsucker”). Starring Ewan McGregor, Melanie Laurent (probably best known for burning down a theater in “Inglorious Basterds”) and Christopher Plummer, “Beginners” is about a man (McGregor) who struggles to take a chance when it comes to relationships and his ailing father (Plummer) who comes out of the closet years after the passing of his wife.

The film is worth checking out for two reasons: great performances (the film won best ensemble cast at the Gotham Awards and Plummer has been racking up awards at the smaller circuits) and the cutesy romance between McGregor and Laurent.

A Better Life

Budget: $10 million

Box Office: $1.8 million

“A Better Life” is pretty strange territory for director Chris Weltz, who has worked on everything from “American Pie” to the second Twilight movie. The film is a father-son drama wrapped up in illegal immigration and gang violence in Los Angeles. It reads like the Hispanic American version of 1948’s “The Bicycle Thief” but in this tale, the hard-working father (Demian Bichir, who’s nominated for Best Actor at this year’s SAG awards) has his landscaping tools and the truck that carries them stolen by another immigrant worker. The journey to recover said vehicle allows the father to spend quality time with the son that never got along with him. Powerful emotions, interesting story. Check it out.

Warrior

Budget: $25 million

Box Office: $23 million

You remember this movie. It was the one with the horrible trailer that made it seem like a UFC movie that would be on par with “Never Back Down” or something produced by MTV. Guess what? It’s actually a pretty great little movie. In case you did miss the trailer, the film is about two brothers (Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy) who are estranged from their once-alcoholic father (Nick Nolte). Both of them are natural fighters and, unbeknownst to them, enter into the same mixed martial arts tournament where the purse is $5 million. Whether you watch it for the great battles in the ring or the family drama or Nolte providing one of the best-acted scenes of the year, this is an action movie that packs a heartfelt punch.

Martha Marcy May Marlene

Budget: unreported

Box Office: $2.8 million

In his feature debut, writer/director Sean Durkin puts together one heckuva creepy film. Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) escapes from a cult run by a creepy-even-for-a-cult-leader John Hawkes (“Winter’s Bone”) and runs away to her sister who is vacationing with her husband in a cabin. The film essentially serves as a study into what happens when one girl is brought into, corrupted and enslaved by a cult. Suffering from delusions and years of behavior modification, Martha tries to find her place in the real world. Unfortunately, the story suffers a little from a weak script, but strong performances by both Hawkes and Olsen make up for it as much as possible. Oh, and enjoy trying to figure out the ending.

Like Crazy

Budget: $250,000

Box Office: $3.3 million

This little gem of a young romance took home the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance this past year and, after seeing it, I can tell why. Jacob (Anton Yelchin) and Anna (Felicity Jones) fall madly in love (a lesser man would make a quip about the film’s title here) near the end of their college years. Her parents love him, he is talented at his job, and they get along great. The trouble comes when Anna, an English gal, loses her student visa and must move back home. Without spoiling the rest of the film, dramatic tension ensues. “Like Crazy” is an honest little film that is worthwhile.

Hugo

Budget: around $170 million

Box Office: $52.6 million

Maybe you did see this film, and if you did, I hope you enjoyed it. Whether it was mis-marketed or people just weren’t interested, “Hugo” really didn’t do anyone a financial favor. In fact, if you calculate for marketing costs, DVD sales/rentals, etc., this film probably loses $110 million. Oops. Sadly, this isn’t because it’s a bad movie. In fact, I’d put it in the year’s 10 overall best films. For those of you out of the loop, it’s a children’s movie that plays just as well to the adult crowd. The story of an orphan who lives behind the walls of a train station is beautiful, imaginative and the first 3-D movie I’ve ever seen and actually thought was worth the extra $3.

50/50

Budget: $8 million

Box Office: $39.2 million

This is probably the only film on this list that made a large payday at the box office. While an R-rated comedy/drama about cancer shouldn’t be expected to do very well (look at 2009’s “Funny People”), I’m not sure it was as widely-appreciated as it should have been. This film, which stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen and Anna Kendrick, probably also makes my overall Top 10 for the year (or at least an honorable mention). Maybe it has something to do with my love for Gordon-Levitt and on-again, off-again favor towards Rogen, but this film had a good balance of heart and humor. I have never cried at the theatre (my heart may or may not be 3 sizes too small) but “50/50” had me feeling for the protagonist and fighting my emotions near the end of the film.

Win Win

Budget: unreported (but I’d guess $3 million)

Box Office: $10.2 million

Who doesn’t love Paul Giamatti? Whether it’s Alexander Payne’s “Sideways” or more mainstream stuff like “Cinderella Man,” he’s just always fun to watch. Director Thomas McCarthy (“The Visitor,” one of my favorite movies of 2007) assembles an interesting indie film about family drama and, of all things, high school wrestling. While it’s one of the weaker entries on this list, “Win Win” is a fun little film full of quirks.

Attack the Block

Budget: $13 million

Box Office: $5.8 million

I bet you didn’t think there would be an alien invasion film on this list. This little British film is one part “Aliens” mixed with a little bit of “The Monster Squad” and a touch of gangster influence. Within the low-income side of South London, creatures begin to fall from the sky. The only group able to face up to them is a small gang of teenagers, a nurse and random cameo of Nick Frost. Don’t let the “gang” part give you the wrong impression. Aliens aren’t being taken down with machine guns. This group of kids is around the 15 years old range. This means their artillery is baseball bats, bottle rockets, etc. For me, the concept was too good to pass up and the film was pretty fun.

The Tree of Life

Budget: $32 million

Box Office: $54.3 million

I never thought I’d recommend this movie (and I hesitate to even use the word “recommend” concerning it) but there is something to be said for daring filmmakers who try something that no one else would attempt. This film is about life, to put it plainly. It covers everything from the origin of the universe to the innocence of childhood. The film is cosmic in scope and beautiful in its telling. Of course, there are many things to get past before you can even think of enjoying it. Most lines are uttered in whispers, there is a 20 minute segment where there are neither lines of dialogue nor any actors present and what little story there is is all over the place. Definitely not an easy film to watch but there are some amazing visuals and it’s interesting overall.

I hope ya’ll check out a couple of these films and find something better than the usual Channing Tatum or Adam Sandler films at the theater. Thanks to Ian for letting me hold his blog hostage for a little while.

Happy viewing.

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One Response to The 10 Best Movies You Didn’t See in 2011

  1. Pingback: Review – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) | Velvet Curtain Reviews

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