Christianity Today will announce its Best Movies of 2011 here online in the coming weeks (and in the February print issue of the magazine), but but in the meantime, here are six off-the-beaten-path indie films that didn't get as much attention as they deserved in 2011. All six are either currently available or coming soon to DVD/Blu-ray.
Paddy Considine's Tyrannosaur (Strand Releasing) [5 stars] is about an unlikely friendship between a petty hoodlum (Peter Mullan as Joseph) and a Christian thrift store operator (Olivia Colman as Hannah). Joseph is initially contemptuous of Hannah's faith, but he is ultimately struck by her sincerity and generosity of spirit. When he learns that Hannah's life is not as free from suffering as he had assumed, Joseph must decide if he is willing to stop raging over his own condition long enough to acknowledge and help those around him.
An audience award winner at a couple of major festivals, Cindy Meehl's Buck (Sundance Selects) [4 stars] is a moving portrait of horse trainer Buck Brannaman. Meehl sensitively documents Brannaman's troubled childhood, including years of beatings from an angry father that left his body battered and his soul bruised. The mystery and majesty of Brannaman's story stems from the fact that while so many victims of abuse perpetuate the cycle, his pain fuels a conviction that gentleness and love are the indispensible tools for breaking horses and building up broken people.
An Encounter with Simone Weil
Julia Haslett's An Encounter with Simone Weil (Breaking Glass) [3 stars] is as much about the director's attempts to document and explain how the French philosopher and Christian mystic's life and teachings have spoken to and influenced her as it is about Weil herself. Including but not limited to biographical summary, the film attempts to paint a picture of a world full of personal and political suffering, one which Haslett argues could stand to rediscover and take seriously Weil's contributions. Haslett takes Weil's quote that "Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity" as her film's motto. Her attention deserves our own.
Le Havre (Janus Films) [4 stars] is about a political subject—illegal aliens and political refugees—but Aki Kaurismäki has made a film devoid of much of the stridency and gloom that pervades most narratives about social issues. That the main character, an elderly shoe shiner who encounters an African stowaway, is named "Marx" is more ironic than symbolic. In tone and plot the film is more of a Good Samaritan parable than a communist manifesto, and one of its real pleasures (and insights) is the way in which it insists that people, individually and corporately, will listen to their most generous instincts as often as their most base ones.
Made in Dagenham
Nigel Cole's Made in Dagenham (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) [4 stars] was inspired by an actual event in England, a strike at the Ford Dagenham car plant where female workers protested gender-based wage inequality. When Rita O'Grady (a superb Sally Hawkins), the women's spokesperson, delivers a climactic speech in which she must try to convince her male colleagues to support a work stoppage, it is a brilliant evocation of the values they share and that the men fought two wars to preserve.
Documentarian Steve James (Hoop Dreams, Stevie, At the Death House Door) is already something of a culture-historian laureate. The Interrupters (Cinema Guild) [5 stars], James's latest, chronicles a year in the work of CeaseFire, an organization that attempts to decrease violence in Chicago by offering conflict intervention and mediation. The relentless, constant accumulation of violence in the city over the course of the year brings the viewer to the edge of despair, yet the film manages to give glimpses of hope even while rejecting the temptation to focus exclusively on those story arcs with positive resolutions.
Kenneth R. Morefield, a CT film critic, is associate professor of English at Campbell University. He blogs at 1More Film Blog.
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