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The outstanding independent films of 2011

The outstanding independent films of 2011 (photo)

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It is impossible to argue against the fact that 2011, though not terribly good for Hollywood, was a particularly smashing year for smaller, specialty films. “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” “Midnight in Paris” – Woody’s biggest hit to date — “Tree of Life,” “Shame,” “Melancholia,” “The Artist” and “We Need to Talk About Kevin” are just some of the standout films that were released this year.

“This is going to be one of those movie years like 1939 and 1968. It’ll take about 20 years, and people will look back and realize all of the little quiet revolutions that changed everything,” Patton Oswalt, a cineaste and the star of Young Adult, told the Village Voice. “If you look at movies like ‘Bellflower,’ ‘Septien,’ and ‘Martha Marcy May Marlene,’ this was the first year that people really started going: ‘Fuck it, I’m going to shoot a film. I don’t know what I’m going to do with it; I just want to make a movie.'”

“Bellflower” really is one of the most fascinating movies of the year, if not the top grossing specialty film.

Time ultimately will tell if Oswalt is correct. Indie actresses, however, like Elizabeth Olsen – hereafter, everyone’s favorite Olsen sister – as well as Tilda Swinton and Melissa Leo clearly put in what can only be properly construed as breathtaking performances. Olsen, generating a lot of Oscar buzz at the moment, is probably the biggest breakout star of the year. Michael Fassbender, who was named Best Actor by the LA Critics, was another winner (particularly for his intense portrayal of Jung in David Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method”).

Though the year is not quite over, some clear winners and losers in specialty cinema have emerged. “Shame,” also starring the ubiquitous Fassbender, is already the 14th highest grossing NC-17 movie ever – and a something of late night cult favorite. “Jane Eyre,” released early in the year, was a winner, grossing over $11 million. Emilio Estevez’s “The Way,” starring his dad Martin Sheen, has been a modest success, already grossing nearly $4 million. Finally, the tiny indie Bill Cunningham’s New York garnered a lot of buzz among the chattering classes, and healthily grossed $1.5 million.

There were, of course, losers in 2011. “American: The Bill Hicks Story,” grossed under $100,000 domestically, proving JFK’s quote “life’s not fair.” Max Winkler’s “Ceremony” – ever heard of it? me neither – starring Uma Thurman had a total domestic gross of just over $22,000. Yikes!

The most recently released and most memorable specialty cinema film is, IMHO, “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” which had the third largest opening average of 2011 on the weekend of December 10. That same weekend, we cannot fail to note, was Hollywood’s worst opening for grosses since 2008, with the god-awful Gary Marshall storyline mishmash “New Year’s Eve” as the “winner.” Not the best year for big Hollywood, but 2011 – especially for Elizabeth Olsen, future Oscar winner – was a pretty good year.

Did we miss any of your favorite films? Let us know below or on Facebook or Twitter.

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Face Melting Cameos

The 10 Most Metal Pop Culture Cameos

Glenn Danzig drops by Portlandia tonight at 10P on IFC.

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Glenn Danzig rocks harder than granite. In his 60 years, he’s mastered punk with The Misfits, slayed metal with the eponymous Danzig, and generally melted faces with the force of his voice. And thanks to Fred and Carrie, he’s now stopping by tonight’s brand new Portlandia so we can finally get to see what “Evil Elvis” is like when he hits the beach. To celebrate his appearance, we put together our favorite metal moments from pop culture, from the sublime to the absurd.

10. Cannibal Corpse meets Ace Ventura

Back in the ’90s,  Cannibal Corpse was just a small time band from Upstate New York, plying their death metal wares wherever they could find a crowd, when a call from Jim Carry transformed their lives. Turns out the actor was a fan, and wanted them for a cameo in his new movie, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. The band had a European tour coming up, and were wary of being made fun of, so they turned it down. Thankfully, the rubber-faced In Living Color vet wouldn’t take no for an answer, proving that you don’t need to have a lot of fans, just the right ones.


9. AC/DC in Private Parts

Howard Stern’s autobiographical film, based on his book of the same name, followed his rise in the world of radio and pop culture. For a man surrounded by naked ladies and adoring fans, it’s hard to track the exact moment he made it. But rocking out with AC/DC in the middle of Central Park, as throngs of fans clamor to get a piece of you, seems like it comes pretty close. You can actually see Stern go from hit host to radio god in this clip, as “You Shook Me All Night Long” blasts in the background.


8. Judas Priest meets The Simpsons

When you want to blast a bunch of peace-loving hippies out on their asses, you’re going to need some death metal. At least, that’s what the folks at The Simpsons thought when they set up this cameo from the metal gods. Unfortunately, thanks to a hearty online backlash, the writers of the classic series were soon informed that Judas Priest, while many things, are not in fact “death metal.” This led to the most Simpson-esque apology ever. Rock on, Bartman. Rock on.


7. Anthrax on Married…With Children

What do you get when Married…with Children spoofs My Dinner With Andre, substituting the erudite playwrights for a band so metal they piss rust? Well, for starters, a lot of headbanging, property destruction and blown eardrums. And much like everything else in life, Al seems to have missed the fun.


6. Motorhead rocks out on The Young Ones

The Young Ones didn’t just premiere on BBC2 in 1982 — it kicked the doors down to a new way of doing comedy. A full-on assault on the staid state of sitcoms, the show brought a punk rock vibe to the tired format, and in the process helped jumpstart a comedy revolution. For instance, where an old sitcom would just cut from one scene to the next, The Young Ones choose to have Lemmy and his crew deliver a raw version of “Ace of Spades.” The general attitude seemed to be, you don’t like this? Well, then F— you!


5. Red and Kitty Meet Kiss on That ’70s Show

Carsey-Werner Productions

Carsey-Werner Productions

Long before they were banished to playing arena football games, Kiss was the hottest ticket in rock. The gang from That ’70s Show got to live out every ’70s teen’s dream when they were set loose backstage at a Kiss concert, taking full advantage of groupies, ganja and hard rock.


4. Ronnie James Dio in Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny (NSFW, people!)

What does a young boy do when he was born to rock, and the world won’t let him? What tight compadre does he pray to for guidance and some sweet licks? If you’re a young Jables, half of “the world’s most awesome band,” you bow your head to Ronnie James Dio, aka the guy who freaking taught the world how to do the “Metal Horns.” Never before has a rock god been so literal than in this clip that turns it up to eleven.


3. Ozzy Osbourne in Trick or Treat

It’s hard to tell if Ozzy was trying his hardest here, or just didn’t give a flying f–k. What is clear is that, either way, it doesn’t really matter. Ozzy’s approach to acting seems to lean more heavily on Jack Daniels than sense memory, and yet seeing the slurry English rocker play a sex-obsessed televangelist is so ridiculous, he gets a free pass. Taking part in the cult horror Trick or Treat, Ozzy proves that he makes things better just by showing up. Because that’s exactly what he did here. Showed up. And it rocks.


2. Glenn Danzig on Portlandia

Danzig seems to be coming out of a self imposed exile these days. He just signed with a record company, and his appearance on Portlandia is reminding everyone how kick ass he truly is. Who else but “The Other Man in Black” could help Portland’s resident goths figure out what to wear to the beach? Carrie Brownstein called Danzig “amazing,” and he called Fred “a genius,” so this was a rare love fest for the progenitor of horror punk.


1. Alice Cooper in Wayne’s World

It’s surprising, sure, but for a scene that contains no music whatsoever, it’s probably the most famous metal moment in the history of film. When Alice Cooper informed Wayne and Garth that Milwaukee is actually pronounced “Milly-way-kay” back in 1992, he created one of the most famous scenes in comedy history. What’s more metal than that? Much like Wayne and Garth, we truly are not worthy.

Sundance adds premieres by Spike Lee, Stephen Frears, and more

Sundance adds premieres by Spike Lee, Stephen Frears, and more (photo)

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Just about every film at Sundance is a world premiere. So why is there a “Premieres” section, and how is it different than the Competition or the Spotlight or the New Frontiers or the NEXT or…okay, I think that’s all of them. Sundance describes Premieres as “a showcase of some of the most highly anticipated dramatic films of the coming year from new and established directors” and Documentary Premieres as “about big subjects or by master filmmakers that showcase the power of the form.”

Basically, what it really means is here’s where you find the attention-grabbers at Sundance. These are the big honking movies, the movies featuring Hollywood directors and talent coming down from their Valhalla of craft services and video village to get their hands dirty with the independents. These are the movies that have the biggest red carpets and the majority of the press coverage (see this post).

True to form, it’s a pretty star-studded Premieres lineup for 2012. Chris Rock joins Julie Delpy for “2 Days in New York,” the sequel to her 2007 film “2 Days in Paris.” “How I Met Your Mother”‘s Josh Radnor returns to Sundance, where his “Happythankyoumoreplease” was a big hit in 2009, with “Liberal Arts,” co-starring Richard Jenkins, Allison Janney, and last year’s Sundance It-Girl, Elizabeth Olsen. Director Stephen Frears reteams with his “High Fidelity” co-screenwriter D.V. Devincintis for “Lay the Favorite,” a movie about “geeky older men who have found a way to work the sportsbook system in Las Vegas to their advantage” with Bruce Willis, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Rebecca Hall. And Spike Lee comes to Park City with “Red Hook Summer,” a story of “a young Atlanta boy [who] spends his summer in Brooklyn with his grandfather, who he’s never seen before” that also features Lee himself returning to the character Mookie that he played in “Do the Right Thing.”

On the documentary side of things, Ice-T directs “Something From Nothing” about the art of rap and “Dogtown and Z-Boys” director Stacy Peralta has a new skateboarding doc, “Bones Brigade.” But the most discussed film in the Doc Premieres will surely be Amy Berg’s “West of Memphis,” a new documentary on the infamous West Memphis 3 murders in Arkansas which premieres at Sundance the same month “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory,” the last installment in the long-running documentary series that first brought the case into the public’s consciousness, premieres on television. The New York Times recently covered the rivalry and competition between the two films for access to suspects, victims, and witnesses of the crime; read more about it there. The fact that “Paradise Lost” co-director Joe Berlinger will be at Sundance with his latest film, an untitled project on singer Paul Simon, means you are going to see a lot of questions about those two movies.

The full list of premieres is below. And you can find all our “premiere” Sundance 2012 coverage here.

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Is this the age of fanfiction films?

Is this the age of fanfiction films? (photo)

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Last week, film critic Drew McWeeny wrote a really interesting piece at HitFix called “Muppets, Avengers, and Life In The Age Of Fanfiction.” It was inspired by a conversation with his colleague, TV critic Alan Sepinwall, who described the new “Muppets” movie as “the greatest work of fanfiction [he’d] ever seen.” That spurred McWeeny to write his piece on what he calls “the Age of Fanfiction.”

“What’s been truly bizarre, though, is the way the mainstream has slowly headed in the same direction, and without anyone noticing it, we seem to have handed over our entire industry to the creation of fanfiction on a corporate level, and at this point, I’m not sure how we’re expecting the pendulum to ever swing back. I know people love to blame Spielberg and Lucas for creating the modern blockbuster age, but at least when they decided to pay tribute to their inspirations, they did so in interesting ways. Spielberg has talked about how his frustrations at hearing that only English filmmakers could direct James Bond movies led to the creation of Indiana Jones, and Lucas was working out his love of Flash Gordon when he created ‘Star Wars.’ Those are healthy ways to work through your love of something, and absolutely make sense as important pieces in the creative process. What’s scary is how these days, filmmakers wouldn’t bother with that last step, the part where you take your inspirations and run them through your own filter. Now, instead, we live in an age where we are simply doing the source material again and again and again, and where original creation seems to be almost frowned upon as a ‘risk.'”

The other examples McWeeny cites besides “The Muppets” are J.J. Abrams‘ “Star Trek,” “The Twilight Saga,” and the upcoming movies based on “The Avengers” and the old horror soap “Dark Shadows.” And there are a lot more examples he could have cited from just this year alone. Early in 2011 we got “The Green Hornet” which extrapolated the metatextual rivalry between the Green Hornet and Kato on the old TV series (where the Hornet was the star and the sidekick, played by a young Bruce Lee, got all the press) into the main character dynamic of the film. Later, there was “Fast Five” with an all-star cast reunion that could have been based on a “Fast & Furious” die-hard’s fanfic about characters from every single previous entry joining forces to pull off one amazing heist. Two of the best blockbusters of the summer were prequels with classic what-were-they-like-before-we-met-them fanfic premises: “X-Men: First Class” and “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.”

McWeeny writes about how modern filmmakers don’t bother reimagining their childhood cultural addictions as new properties, and instead simply remake the the old properties over and over again. That’s not entirely true, though. J.J. Abrams followed his “Star Trek” fanfiction film with “Super 8,” where he took his love of early Steven Spielberg movies like “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “E.T.” and reworked their themes and imagery into a pastiche. In true fanfilm wonk fashion, he even got Spielberg, his idol, to executive produce the film.

This isn’t just about blockbusters, either. The Age of Fanfiction’s begun to seep into lots of other genres that have nothing to do with rebooting old television shows or films. The core idea of fanfiction — of the author assuming creative control over their obsession — is a crucial theme of several of this year’s most critically acclaimed movies. Three frontrunners for the Academy Award for Best Picture — “The Artist,” “Midnight in Paris” and “Hugo” — are clear expressions of the Age of Fanfiction. In the latter two cases, you even have directorial surrogates onscreen (Owen Wilson for Woody Allen in “Midnight in Paris,” Michael Stuhlbarg for Martin Scorsese in “Hugo”), who give the filmmakers the opportunity to indulge in the fantasy of interacting with that thing or person they love so dearly. The Artist” doesn’t include an obvious stand-in for director Michel Hazanavicius (whose two previous movies about the old spy series “OSS 117″ probably qualify as fanfiction films as well), but he does essentially rewrite history from a fan’s perspective, giving — SPOILER! — a corrective happy ending to a silent film actor cruelly discarded in the transition to sound.

McWeeny thinks the Age of Fanfiction could give way to the Age of Invention, but for that to happen the Age of Fanfiction would have to falter at the box office. Then again, it makes you wonder: if this generation’s movies are all reworkings of the previous generation’s movies, what are the next generation’s movies going to look like? Fanfiction about fanfiction? Nostalgia for nostalgia? Eventually, someone’s going to need to create something new. Maybe that’s when the Age of Invention will really begin.

What other recent movies qualify as “fanfiction films?” Tell us in the comments below or write to us on Facebook and Twitter.

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