Underrated: 2011 Edition, Part 2

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Justin has the Official All-Knowing Top Ten List covered in print this week (even though any list without Hugo nestled snugly into the top spot is clearly very wrongheaded and misguided), so I thought I'd take a different look at 2011 and run with the Underrated theme.

It's kind of a useless theme in general, to be honest, but it works for our format here, and by now you've all heard about how positively smashingly great The Artist, Shame, Moneyball, The Tree of Life and Hugo are. So instead of all that waffle, here are the Top Ten Underrated 2011 Offerings in the roughly the order in which I liked them.

Here's part 2:

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Weekend - Andrew Haigh (UK)

Tom Cullen and Chris New have an uncanny amount of chemistry with one another, forming the most natural couple I think I've seen this year. It comes off so effortless, so much like a pair of soul mates meeting in front of hidden cameras, that there almost appears to be no acting, scripting or directing. The craft was as seamless as it was skillful, which is always the best kind of craft.

(Available on Netflix Instant.)

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Tyrannosaur - Paddy Considine (UK)

Paddy Considine's feature directing debut was criminally mismanaged by Strand Releasing in the States, who barely gave it a push at all. For me, it should be in with the contenders for Oscar noms, especially Peter Mullan (Trainspotting, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1) and Olivia Colman (Hot Fuzz, The Iron Lady), who deliver brilliant, delicate performances as a pair of deeply damaged people living in the English Midlands. Mullan is Joseph, an angry, violent man, trying to reform his hard life ways since the death of his wife, and Colman is Hannah, wife of a middle class religious husband (Eddie Marsan, who also gives a great performance) who everyone thinks is perfect, except for the small fact that he regularly beats her.

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Le Quattro Volte (Four Times) - Michelangelo Frammartino (Italy)

A serene, beautiful meditation on the cyclical nature of life, this wordless film set in the Italian village of Calabria will not be everyone's cup of tea, but is deeply rewarding if you can make it through. In equal stretches it is devastating and funny, as its animals (especially the sheepdog and the baby goat) steal scenes left and right. It's one of those films where you will just sit there, staring at the blank screen for 10 minutes after it's over. Or, that's what it did to me anyway.

(Available on Fandor.)

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50/50 - Jonathan Levine (USA)

There is a tender nature to this dramatic comedy about a man in his twenties (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) getting cancer, and his best friend (Seth Rogan) trying to help him deal with it. I wish Rogan would have turned it down to maybe 6 or 7, but he is his usual 11 in 50/50, which does put a rather big dent in the flow of an otherwise low key comedy that is much about Rogan's character learning how to grow up as it is about JGL's character dealing with the specter of death.

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Warrior - Gavin O'Connor (USA)

I know, I know. The Warrior is silly, contrived mainstream underdog nonsense where the world happens to collude in order for two brothers to work out their demons in an MMA cage with a $5m purse. But it is damn good contrived mainstream nonsense that was ignored, I think, largely because it was sold as typical contrived mainstream nonsense with an awful title, much like Unstoppable was last year. Edgerton, Hardy and Nolte all put in great performances, and the MMA fights are satisfying to me, but possibly only because of my ignorance of the sport, just like Rocky.

Obviously, I wrote these up before I saw Justin's top 10 list, as 50/50 and Warrior were mentioned on his list. However, I chose not to change it since they're not getting all that much love from other lists.

Honorable Mentions: (Alphabetical Order)

Attack the Block - Joe Cornish (UK)

Cornish actually made alien-monster movies damn cool again with this tongue-in-cheek take on what would happen if aliens tried to attack a counsel estate in London. Despite the jokes, the characters take the situation as seriously as Roy Neary takes his Devil's Tower visions, which is a major plus, and something that is keeping Super 8 and Paul off of this list.

The Guard - John Michael McDonagh (Ireland)

While the film was severely lacking in plot, it made up for it and then some with its knowing, biting comedy. There is an issue with the balance of the film (namely, that Brendan Gleeson outshines everyone in it by a very wide margin), so it is less satisfying that it should be.

I Saw the Devil - Kim Ji-woon (South Korea)

For the most part, this gets a glowing mention because it's Choi Min-sik's return to cinema after going on strike to protest the screen quota system being dismantled thanks to the lobbying of Bush-era negotiations with the South Korean government. (Available on Netflix Instant.)

Jane Eyre - Cary Fukunaga (USA/UK)

Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender star as Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester in the latest retelling of Charlotte Bronte's novel. The problem is that they're being judged against Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine, which isn't really all that fair. They somewhat oddly fill out the roles much better in the scenes where they are separate than when they are together, which is something I can't account for. Still, it might be Brazilian director of photography Adriano Goldman (City of Men, The Year My Parents Went on Vacation) who steals the show with his wonderful palate and light manipulation.

Winnie the Pooh - Stephen Anderson, Don Hall (USA)

This seemed to get buried as the year went on, which is a surprise because it was a really weak year for animated films. This was everything my inner child Pooh fan could ever have hoped for. I have no complaints.

Win Win - Thomas McCarthy (USA)

Just a solid, well made family drama. Giamatti, as always, is superb, as are Amy Ryan, Burt Young, and newcomer Alex Shaffer.

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