Here’s my annotated list of favorite films released to DVD in 2011 (with their theatrical release date in parentheses):
“Beginners” (2011) by Mike Mills: Graphic designer Oliver (Ewan McGregor) must deal with the death of his father (Christopher Plummer) — who came out of the closet after the death of his wife — a new relationship with a French actress, and his dad’s Jack Russell terrier, who comments on the proceedings with Oliver via subtitles. A joyous affirmation of love and life.
“Bellflower” (2011) by Evan Glodell: Quirky first film about two slackers who spend their time building flamethrowers and a wild car that shoots flames in preparation for coming global apocalypse; their life is complicated when they both fall for the same woman.
“Blue Valentine” (2010) by Derek Cianfrance: Saga of the deteriorating marriage of a young couple (Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams), originally madly in love but split apart by different life goals. Told by cross-cutting the present and flashbacks.
“The Concert” (2010) by Radu Mihaileanu: A renowned conductor of the Bolshoi orchestra, fired 30 years earlier for hiring Jewish musicians and now the orchestra’s janitor, surreptitiously gathers together his former musicians to perform The Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35, by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, in Paris in place of the current orchestra.
“Enter the Void” (2010) by Gaspar Noe: Phantasmogoric story about a drug dealer and his sister living in the red light district of a near-future Tokyo; when the young man dies, his soul floats through the city, watching over her and observing the dramas of his friends and foes.
“Fire of Conscience” (2010 — Hong Kong) by Dante Lam: A Hong Kong cop gets caught up in corruption at the highest levels of the police force.
“Let Me In” (2010) by Matt Reeves: U.S. redo of the Swedish horror-thriller “Let the Right One In,” about a bullied young boy who befriends a 12-year-old female vampire (who hasn’t aged in centuries) who lives in secrecy next door with her guardian, a serial killer who drains the blood of his victims to supply her thirst.
“The Man from Nowhere” (2010 — South Korea) by Jeong-beom Lee: A quiet pawnshop keeper with a violent past as a special agent becomes a one-man army to take on a drug- and organ-trafficking ring to save the little girl who is his only friend.
“Mesrine: Killer Instinct” and “Mesrine: Public Enemy #1” (2010) by Jean-François Richet: The story of Jacques Mesrine (a brilliant performance by Vincent Cassel), France’s public enemy No. 1 during the 1970s, who became an infamous legend during two decades of flamboyant bank robberies, kidnappings and prison breaks until gunned down by police in Paris
“Midnight in Paris” (2011) by Woody Allen: Allen’s best film in years, about a writer (Owen Wilson) in Paris with his fiance and her parents, who, every night at midnight, mysteriously travels back to the Paris of the 1920s to meet the era’s literary and artistic luminaries, giving him a new take on his life.
“Our Idiot Brother” (2011) by Jesse Peretz: A blissful idealist and vegetable farmer (Paul Rudd) loses his farm and his girlfriend and goes off to life — in succession — with each of his three sisters, bringing havoc (and enlightenment) to their lives.
“Point Blank” (2011 — France) by Fred Cavaye: After a male nurse saves a gangster’s life, his pregnant wife is kidnapped by opposing gangsters and he has to — literally — run through the streets and subways of Paris, while evading the cops, to save her.
“Rango” (2011)by Gore Verbinski: Animated “Western” about an ordinary chameleon who accidentally winds up in the town of Dirt, a lawless outpost in the modern Wild West in desperate need of a new sheriff. Wild and funny homage to movie Westerns.
“Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale” (2010 — Iceland) by Jalmari Helander: Laplanders unearth the original Santa Claus — a monster who eats children — and his elderly, ugly, naked helpers in this bizarre take on Christmas giving.
“Stake Land” (2010) by Jim Mickle: A young boy and a rogue vampire hunter team up to travel across the wasteland of an America devastated by a vampire epidemic; their goal: to find a “New Eden” in Canada. Not as violent — and more literary — than most such examples of this genre.
“The Stool Pigeon” (2010 — Hong Kong): by Dante Lam: A disillusioned cop begins working with an informant in this ultraviolent Hong Kong crime actioner.
“13 Assassins” (2010 — Japan) by Takashi Miike: Thirteen samurais are assembled to fight off a warlord and his 200-man army. A long, spectacular final battle rivals any fight sequence ever put on the screen.
“True Grit” (2010) by Ethan Coen, Joel Coen: Not so much a remake as a redo — closer to the original story — about a tough U.S. Marshal (Jeff Bridges, wonderful, as the drunken Rooster Cogburn) hired by a stubborn young woman to track down her father’s murderer.
“True Legend” (2010 — China): by Woo-ping Yuen: The peaceful life of a retired general is destroyed when his evil adopted brother destroys his family, forcing back to action as the legendary Drunken master; set during the Qing dynasty. The opening sequencer — in which General Su Qi-Er and his army invades a fortress hidden inside a mountain is breathtaking for its martial arts choreography.
“Win Win” (2011)by Thomas McCarthy: A struggling lawyer and volunteer wrestling coach (Paul Giamatti) embezzles money from an elderly client, but his crime comes back to haunt him when the teenage grandson (and wrestling champ) of the old man comes into his life. A light-hearted comedy-drama.