Tuesday 27 December 2011

The Best Films of 2011 That Did Not Come Out in 2011

I must have lived in Britain for too long because I am now obsessed with lists. And while more lists of best/worst films of 2011 are being published, a debate is raging. Should such lists only include films that were actually released in the country the journalist/blogger is based in, or should it also include films seen at film festivals? I would go for the former to keep a connection with readers who might not have the chance to see so many films at festivals. Yet, frustratingly, my two favourite films seen in 2009 then 2010 were at film festivals and never made it to the UK screen. They were the Japanese Air Doll and then the Estonian The Temptations Of St Tony (think Bela Tarr meets David Lynch meets Aki Kaurismaki). No such dilemna this year, however I still saw a whole bunch of films that are worth mentioning, even though they have yet to be released in here.

1) The Day He Arrives by Hong Sang Soo

I had described this as an arthouse Groundhog Day originally. In it, a South Korean film director spends a few days in Seoul visiting a friend and a former lover, with the same scenario playing over and over again with sometimes subtle, sometimes much wider variations. What might have sounded like a style exercise (especially with the arty black & white) turned out to be a real gem, with much more depth than anticipated. Despite raising powerful issues of regrets, memories and melancholy, it is a film full of life, wit and warmth, with copious amount of screen time spent watching friends drinking and chatting away, the sort of scenes that are usually very tricky to pull off without being artificial. Had this been released this year, it would have found itself very high in my top 11 of 2011. I particularly like the trailer which gives a great impression of the mood of the film (despite being bizarrely in colours when the film is in black and white). No UK release date announced as yet sadly.

2) Copacabana by Marc Fitoussi

This film was shown at the BFI as a double bill with a Q&A with Isabelle Huppert earlier in the year, as she was being presented with a well deserved fellowship. And what a perfect choice this was, a film which truly showcased the range and subtlety of her talent. Here she plays a free spirited and slightly eccentric woman who has never quite managed (or wanted) to settle down. Her world comes crashing down when her more conservative daughter refuses to invite her to her wedding,  and she takes on an unlikely job as a seaside resort time-share seller to prove her she has finally grown up. Her character had the potential to become a caricature but it is all thanks to her talent that she went for a much more understated approach and infused her character with much depth and likeability. No release date planned in the UK sadly although die hards Huppert fans can buy this off Amazon France (no English subtitles though)

3) Poupoupidou by Gerald Hustache-Mathieu

This French whodunnit was an unlikely proposition to begin with: mix Twin Peaks with Marilyn Monroe's troubled life, transpose it all in a snowy French village where a local starlet's life and death bear some uncanny similarities with the Some Like It Hot actress et voila! And yet, it works, because again, far from being an empty style exercise, there is enough of an emotional connection thanks to the multi-layered acting of Sophie Quinton, the lost soul seen in flashbacks or as a ghostly figure, whose murder sets the story in motion. The acting is great all around however, with the added bonus of Atom Egoyan's muse Arsinee Khanjian, who makes every film she is in 10% more awesome. Lynch fans in particular will be in heaven, with an explosion of references from the Ereaserhead master's films all around. Poupoupidou came out in France in June this year, and, yet again, sadly no UK release is planned so far.

And a few honorable mentions:

Damsels in Distress by Whit Stillman: The long awaited return of the Last Days Of Disco's director did not disappoint. This was the Surprise Film at the London Film Festival and rarely has a film polarised opinions so dramatically, with praise and vitriol tweeted in equal measures after the screening. I loved it, being one of the funniest film I saw all year, with the usual blend of wit and quirk of this too rare American director in full swing. Plus he seems to have found his muse, mumblecore queen Greta Gerwig, whose deadpan delivery is a perfect match for his precious dialogue.

Rabies by Aharon Keshales & Navot Papushado, which sounded like a intriguing Israeli version of your run of the mill US slasher, yet it turned out to be something else completely, a much more cerebral and engaging experience than expected.

Stateless Things by Kyung Mook Kim: A tough South Korean double tale of a North Korean clandestine immigrant and a rent boy who come clashing half way through. Slow and experimental enough to try many audience's patience but ultimately rewarding. It also features the second best scene set in a lift this year. The top one being obviously in Drive. Except that, unlike Stateless Things, the Drive lift scene did not involve non simulated gay oral sex featuring a leather hood. It would have taken things to a whole new level.

The Turin Horse by Bela Tarr: I might have walked out of it half way through at the Edinburgh Film Festival screening as the unrelenting tale of the the end of times in black and white, featuring Nietzsche, is not best seen hungovered and with less than 2 hours sleep on the previous night. Yet the more I think about it and the more I want to watch it again, and in full this time. Art house does not get any more powerful and radical than this.

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