Last year was a surprisingly arty time for mainstream Hollywood. This year wasn’t. Despite the fact that wise-guy Martin Scorsese dropped a remarkably good children’s movie, the majority of 2011 was Hollywood business as usual: remakes, sequels, lurching franchises, and comic book adaptations. Granted, it was also the year of the (relatively) small pro-women’s film like Bridesmaids and The Help that crashed Hollywood’s CGI-machismo party, taking home a sizeable slice of the guests. But neither of those movies are any good (nor on our list), despite their claims to feminism. Which left Hollywood right where it generally likes to be: profitable and dull.
Which also left Tiny Mix Tapes in our most favored position. We young culture writers have noticed the trends, yes, but we’ve responded mainly by eschewing the big stuff (to be fair, we did favorably review Thor and Captain America) in order to keep our keen eyes and ears on what really mattered, on where and how film really thrived: among the outsiders, in fresh forms whose relevance may take time to become clear. The list below is our proof that 2011 can stand beside the best recent years for artistic genius in film, if, as we did, you look carefully.
Perhaps the individual greatnesses of our 25 picks have some common link, a sense of vibrant loneliness that puts them in touch with the modern world. Certainly the big names that appear on our list (Kiarostami, Apichatpong, von Trier, Malick, Almodovar, July) were aiming to define the isolation made real by an ungrounded, frenetic time. But look at the films we’ve noticed that the year all but passed over — Cold Weather, The Four Times, Meek’s Cutoff, Leap Year, William Never Married, Dragonslayer — and ask yourself if the link isn’t just as much a collective, unconscious backlash against Hollywood’s tentpole mentality, a simple need for good films possessed by the times themselves. Maybe all we’re doing is keeping our eyes open. —Alex Peterson