The best movies of 2011


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The Mayans might have predicted the world would come to an end in 2012, but it’s hard to imagine a more apocalyptic year at the movies, both on and off-screen, than 2011.  This was the year that theater attendance dipped to its lowest level since 1995 and critics played the role of coroners, declaring the film camera — and even film itself — officially dead.  2011 was the year that digital became the dominant medium of the movies, both in terms of recording and distribution.  We still sometimes call them films, but we sure don’t watch them that way anymore, thanks to television, Blu-ray, HD digital projectors, and online streaming.

While pundits eulogized the death of film, a few directors celebrated its birth.  Michel Hazanavicius made “The Artist,” about the forgotten magic of early silent cinema; Martin Scorsese made “Hugo,” an impassioned plea about the importance of film preservation masquerading as a children’s film about an orphan who lives in a train station.  Both became critical darlings, maybe because in a time of great technological upheaval it felt appropriate to look back, with awe and admiration.

Looking ahead with anxiety, though, was a far more popular theme.   In 2011, filmmakers envisioned the start of our investment banker-led economic collapse (“Margin Call”) and imagined the start of an ape-led social collapse (“Rise of the Planet of the Apes”).  They put big name movie stars up against cataclysmic viruses (“Contagion”) and cataclysmically shitty employers (“Horrible Bosses”).  As more and more movies foretold the end of everything, more and more treated the end like a foregone conclusion rather than a point of suspense; in Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia,” Earth didn’t even survive past the opening credits.  My own list of the best films of 2011 is bracketed by two movies about men haunted by dreams of impending Armageddon.

Ah, top ten lists. So fun to read, so excruciating to make, so contentious to discuss. “These are the greatest movies of the year.” “No, these are the most important movies of the year.” I’ve never been good at drawing those kinds of distinctions. All I can do is tell you honestly which movies affected me the most and try to explain why.  That’s what I’m going to do here. Film may be dead, but cinema is alive and well.  And here is the proof.

10. “Bellflower”
Directed by Evan Glodell

“DIY” doesn’t feel like a strong enough term to describe Evan Glodell’s “Bellflower” so I’m going to call it “DIAY” — do it all yourself. Glodell had a hand in editing, producing, writing, and directing this film; he also played the lead role of Woodrow and actually built all the gadgets and weapons his character uses in movie, including a flamethrowing muscle car called The Medusa. It’s an impressive accomplishment — and I haven’t even mentioned the fact that he also designed the custom camera he shot the movie with yet — but “Bellflower” is a lot more than a hollow technical exercise; it’s also a beautiful and tragic account of what it feels like to fall in and out of love (plus flamethrowers). It’s the best directorial debut of the year and the subject of my favorite movie trailer of the year to boot.

9. “Margaret”
Directed by Kenneth Lonergan

Is this movie a mess? Yeah, kind of. But that’s also kind of the point. “Margaret” is about a teenage girl (Anna Paquin) who accidentally causes a bus driver (Mark Ruffalo) to run over and kill a woman (Allison Janney, devastating and unforgettable in just one scene). Afterwards she’s left searching for answers; the only one she ever finds is that life is messy and rarely makes any sense. Neither does this film’s tortured backstory, which involves untold numbers of cuts and lawsuits spread out over half a decade. It sounded like a disaster on paper, but it’s actually a magnificent film about people living in the aftermath of a disaster, and scene after scene hit with the impact of an oncoming city bus. Playing “Margaret”‘s spoiled, confused, angry protagonist, Anna Paquin gives the performance of 2011, creating one of the most fully and complexly realized teenagers in movie history.

8. “Win Win”
Directed by Thomas McCarthy

Our perpetually recessed economy has a lot of people asking themselves how far they would go to provide for their family. Thomas McCarthy’s “Win Win” is not only one of the best recent films about the search for the answer to that question, it’s also also one the smartest and most unusual underdog sports movies in ages. New Jersey lawyer and high school wrestling coach Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti, as good as he’s ever been) is in danger of losing his feeble legal practice when he makes a sensible but morally indefensible choice: he has himself declared the guardian of one of his elderly clients, dumps him in a nursing home, and pockets the monthly $1500 stipend that comes with the guardianship. Mike’s decision bears unexpected consequences for his family and his wrestling team, all portrayed wonderfully by a cast that includes Amy Ryan, Bobby Cannavale, and newcomer Alex Shaffer as Mike’s client’s grandson, a troubled teenager and wrestling savant. McCarthy’s film is full of astute, unsentimental observations about life in modern America and features an ending that is just about perfect.

7. “Poetry”
Directed by Lee Chang-dong

An elderly woman named Mija (Yun Jung-hee) learns she is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease and tries to keep her memory sharp by taking a poetry class in this heartbreaking film from Korean director Lee Chang-dong.  Inspiration proves elusive, and only comes along eventually at great personal cost, one involving her grandson Wook (Lee David) and his role in the death of a girl at his school. Lee’s “Poetry” is about the connection between pain and beauty, and how the worst experiences sometimes spur the greatest works of art.  Or, as Mija’s poetry teacher puts it, “It’s not difficult to write a poem, but to have the heart to write one.” It’s not hard to make a movie, either. Making one with this much heart is the real challenge.

6. “A Separation”
Directed by Asghar Farhadi

Like “Win Win,” this is another movie set in a universe of fascinating moral complexity. Like “Win Win” it’s a bit of a genre hybrid: part legal thriller, part family drama. It begins when an Iranian couple requests a divorce. The wife (Leila Hatami) wants to leave the country in order to keep their young daughter from growing up in the oppressive atmosphere of Tehran; the husband (Peyman Moaadi) can’t leave behind his father, who is afflicted with Alzheimer’s and requires constant care. After the wife moves out, a situation arises that explains her concerns. To watch the father while he’s at work, the husband hires a pregnant woman as a housekeeper, but after a few days on the job, there is an incident in the house, and the father blames the housekeeper. Who is legally at fault? Who is morally at fault? Farhadi’s outstanding film explores how hard — or sometimes impossible — those questions are to answer, with subtle writing and brilliant performances.

Gigi Does It

Date Gigi

5 Ways to Get Ready for Tonight’s Gigi Does It and Tear Up the Dating Scene

Catch the season finale of Gigi Does It tonight at 10:30P ET/PT on IFC.

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Listen up, widows and widowers: It’s time to stop your sulking! Whip up a beta blocker-and-Metamucil cocktail and hit the club, because it’s time for you to get back out there. But if it’s been awhile since you hit the dating scene, don’t fret. Tonight’s season finale of Gigi Does It at 10:30P ET/PT will guide you in the ways of modern love. Here are five ways to get ready for tonight’s episode and be a hellcat at your next senior singles mixer.

1. Maintain personal boundaries.

Courting rituals have changed quite a bit since the Eisenhower era, with physical relationships starting way before marriage. But no matter how much of a superfreak you are in the sack, don’t let anyone else tell you when you’re ready to show off those skills. Though right after the desert course might not be the best time to propose a public tryst, lest you end up on the receiving end of a drink to the face like Leonard here.

2. Cast a wide net.

As the saying goes, there are plenty of fish in the sea — so why not peruse the market before settling on a catch? Attend a speed dating event and let first impressions do all the work. You deserve a break. And it’s a great opportunity to show off your singing voice and/or share some cat stories.

3. Hide any inappropriate body art.

A first date might not be the best time to reveal your ink or your get-rich-quick scheme. That’s more of a third date thing.

4. Let Gigi keep you up-to-date with the latest trends in vulgarity.

Loose lips may sink ships, but no one wants an old fuddy duddy as a first mate. It’s time to undo that truss and check out this Gigi clip which removes the bleeps and blurs for a NSFW look at the foul-mouthed granny in action.

5. Remember: You’re a grandparent first and a lover second.

Rather than let casual sex rule her life, Gigi knows that being a grandparent trumps a roll in the hay every time. But do those nasty urchins appreciate their bubbes? As a little reminder, Gigi penned a children’s book that puts guilt back into grammar school literature. Give it a read here.

Judy Greer Arrested Development

Cheer for Greer

10 Roles That Prove Judy Greer Is a National Treasure

Catch Judy Greer on an all-new Comedy Bang! Bang! tonight at 11P on IFC.

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Judy Greer is basically the human equivalent of bacon — she makes everything better. In the last year alone she’s appeared in Tomorrowland, Entourage, Ant-Man and Jurassic World, doing her best to elevate often underdeveloped characters. With Greer stopping by Comedy Bang! Bang!, we thought it was high time to celebrate the roles that have made her a national treasure. And to see how she scores so many great roles, check out her universal audition tape.

10. Bran Lowenstein, Love Monkey

This show only lasted three episodes for hit factory CBS, but it was enough to earn a cult following. The story of a bunch of young New Yorkers navigating life and love could’ve been yet another Friends clone, but Greer and an all-star cast gave it a funky flavor that would be more at home on cable today.

9. Shannon, Addicted to Fresno

Greer earned rave reviews for her role in this 2015 film about a sex addict who accidentally kills a guy and needs her sister (Natasha Lyonne) to help her get rid of the body. Combining big, broad comedy with some real pathos, this is Greer at her absolute best.

8. Fern Mayo, Jawbreaker

TriStar Pictures

TriStar Pictures

Greer went from geek to glam in this dark cult comedy that proved she was destined for big things.

7. Alice the Waitress, Adaptation.

Is it any wonder that Greer was the dream girl for writer Charlie Kaufman (Nicolas Cage), considering her mix of beauty, brains and being approachable while also being fierce?

6. Lucy Wyman, 13 Going on 30

Here is Greer in one of her patented best friend roles, showing us that even when she doesn’t drive a scene, we can’t take our eyes off of her.

5. Lina Bowman, Married



Greer can currently be seen surviving marriage on this FX series, which allows her to showcase a wide variety of hilarious faces.

4. Julie Speer, The Descendants

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Fox Searchlight Pictures

As home in Oscar-winning dramas as she is in comedy, Greer nails this role of an aggrieved wife who’s just trying to keep her family from falling apart in Alexander Payne’s 2011 film.

3. Ingrid “Fatty Magoo” Nelson, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

Greer is perfectly cast as Sweet Dee’s arch rival, who always seems to know the exact wrong thing to say to her.

2. Kitty Sanchez, Arrested Development

Imagine Television

Imagine Television

Greer, with the help of the always on Spring Break Kitty Sanchez, helped show the world and Michael Bluth that she was a force to be reckoned with.

1. Cherly Tunt, Archer

FX Productions

FX Productions

And then there’s Cheryl, a bondage loving secretary who moonlights as a world famous country singer. If ever there was a role Greer was born to play, this is it.

D Gets Animated

Hit the Road to Festival Supreme with Tenacious D’s New Animated Shorts

Festival Supreme hits Los Angeles Saturday, October 10th.

Tenacious D Animated

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Tenacious D is very animated about this year’s Festival Supreme, which returns to Los Angeles for a third awesome year on Saturday, October 10th. With a line-up that includes Amy Poehler, The Kids in the Hall, a Mystery Science Theater 3000 reunion, Aubrey Plaza, The Darkness and many more, can you blame them?

Now all they have to do is get to Festival Supreme in time to get the party started. And you can follow along as Tenacious D hit the road in a new animated mini-series.

In episode one, tragedy strikes when The D finds out the IFC jet has been double booked. (Maron strikes again!) How will they get to Festival Supreme now?

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As the dynamic duo makes their way to California, someone crashes their road trip—literally.

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The Kids in the Hall may have forgotten to get their passports, but that will never stop them from making it to Los Angeles’ Shrine Expo Hall & Grounds by Saturday, October 10th.

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Will the gang be able to make it to Festival Supreme in time? Watch below, and be sure to grab tickets and follow IFC on Twitter for more updates on Festival Supreme 2015.

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Award Winners

Fred Armisen and Bill Hader to Receive American Ingenuity Award

Smithsonian Magazine honors Documentary Now!

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During its inspirational 50th season, Documentary Now! earned our undying love and support. Now it’s earning awards, too. The show’s creators and stars, Bill Hader and Fred Armisen, have won Smithsonian Magazine‘s American Ingenuity Award for the Performing Arts this year. Senator Al Franken will present the duo with the award in a ceremony on Thursday, Nov. 12th. No word on whether Blue Jean Committee will perform.

In addition to the award, Bill and Fred received another honor—the chance to get their mugs on the cover of Smithsonian Magazine‘s December issue. Looking good, guys. And for more Documentary Now!, check out the archives, music and full episodes.

Smithsonian Magazine

Smithsonian Magazine

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