The 2011 Also-rans – Part One: The American Cinema

Thanks to genuine end-of-year contenders being released so late in the day (*cough*Dragon Tattoo*cough*) we’re having to stagger this years end of year list. First up is part one of our Also-rans section, part two of which will be posted on Boxing Day, after Fincher’s latest has opened. Awkward, we know, but by the same measure there have been some fantastic releases this year, so splitting the ‘Also-rans’ across two instalments means that more than the usual ten can be accommodated.

So, without further or do, here are the American films of 2011 that we really liked, albeit not enough to make it in to our top ten.

Blue Valentine – Derek Cianfrance’s film might not have been the most lauded Ryan Gosling feature of the year but it was certainly his most intense. Michelle Williams proved a worthy female adversary for Gosling (something lacking in Drive), practically overshadowing the male lead. With Blue Valentine director Cianfrance flips and inverts the American dream, a treaty summed up most explicitly in the closing shot of the film, as a broken Gosling steps away from the camera to a sky illuminated by a 4th July firework-lit sky. Interesting, explorations of Americana and the proverbial Dream make up this first package of titles in this years ‘Also-rans’. Full Review.

True Grit – This Western from the brothers Coen might just be the most successful “straight” Hollywood western of the modern cinema. Postmodernity is kept to a minimum, as Hailee Steinfeld, Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon head out in trace of the killer of Steinfeld’s father, in a work which pays tribute to Charles Laughton’s majestic Night Of The Hunter. Full Review.

Meek’s Cutoff – Kelly Reichardt reclaims the Western for a post-Katrina American cinema. Michelle Williams again leads the way, quite literally in some respects in this tale of pioneers working their way in to the heart of the American west. Bruce Greenwood is barely recogniseable as the mountain man who draws the party across the land. Jimmy Stewart he ain’t. Full Review.

Bombay Beach – One of the great surprises of 2011, we caught Bombay Beach at DocFest, a festival at which Alma Har’el’s film captured the imagination of everyone who saw it. A unique, profound work of great beauty, Bombay Beach is nigh on impossible to sum up in such few words. Full Review.

Take Shelter – While the film may have faultered in other areas one cannot deny the power of Michael Shannon’s performance. He is, quite simply, awe-inspiring as the complex figure at the heart of Jeff Nichols film. It’s just a shame that the rest of the film cant maintain the power of Shannon’s turn. Full Review.

Super 8 – Cut from the same cloth as a couple of other films who made it on to our top ten, in which note-perfect homage is perfectly balanced with a concurrent narrative. Like the famous five and the fantastic four before them, the super 8 (albeit erm, all, 5 of them…) may be a bunch of characters as metaphor, yet that doesn’t mean J.J. Abrams film is lacking in heart. Far from it in fact.

The Adventures Of Tintin – A wonderful return to the genre that Steven Spielberg made his name in, and one of the few (if not the only) genuinely engaging animated films of the year. Full Review.

Drive – Nicolas Winding Refn takes his inspired and evolutionary blend of introspective machismo to the next logical level with Drive. Equal parts fairytale, superhero film and meditation on delusion, Winding Refn’s film is a visceral and unnerving exploration of heroism. Full Review.


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