Release dates are kind of a weird thing, especially when it comes to festival or foreign films. A film premieres at a festival, spends a couple of months (or even years) on the festival circuit, and then gets some kind of release somewhere, maybe. Foreign films have to deal with translations, assumed popularity, and a whole host of other issues. Because of these things, the year of that film’s completion may or may not coincide with its year of wide release. There is no question that 2011 had some great films, but some of its more obscure gems actually premiered or released in their native countries back in 2010.
These are five of those movies.
South Korea Release Date: August 12, 2010
US Release Date: March 4, 2011
There were a lot of amazing Korean movies that came out in 2010. So many, in fact, that this list could very easily have been 100% Korean. In order to introduce some variety, however, I will limit myself to just one, and it has to be I Saw the Devil. This movie is truly incredible, and is easily one of my favorite Korean revenge films. The action is top-notch, the direction and cinematography are beautiful, and the acting… oh the acting is beyond amazing. Choi Min Sik (best known for his role as Oh Dae-Su in Oldboy) makes a truly terrifying psychopath, and Lee Byung-hun does a great job playing opposite him. As the film progresses, the events get darker and more disturbing, and, by the end, you really lose your faith in humanity (which may or may not be a compliment). Obviously, I Saw the Devil is not for the faint of heart, but if you can handle it, it’s one hell of a ride.
First showing: 2010 Toronto International Film Festival
US Release Date: April 1, 2011
I’ll just list a few things found in Super: Nathan Fillion as a superhero version of Jesus Christ, someone being wrenched in the face for cutting in line, Kevin Bacon, and tentacle porn. So yeah, it’s strange, but it’s generally strange in a good way. The plot, which follows Rainn Wilson trying to get his wife back from a drug lord and becoming a costumed vigilante, is surprisingly sensical. Beyond the moments involved Nathan Fillion as Jesus, everything is firmly grounded in some kind of reality. There are police who actually do their jobs, bullets actually kill people, and happy endings aren’t guaranteed. The worst part of the film is Ellen Page’s character, who eventually becomes Wilson’s sidekick. As soon as she’s given any kind of power, she becomes incredibly obnoxious, and it becomes grating almost immediately. Fortunately, Super is pretty short (a little over 90 minutes minus credits), so it doesn’t overstay its welcome. The movie has a lot of heart, something which is clear through both the uproariously funny moments and the quiet moments of despair, and that heart is really what makes it worth watching.
First showing: 2010 San Sebastián International Film Festival
US Release Date: June 3, 2011
If nothing else, Beautiful Boy must be commended for the way it tackles the immensely difficult subject matter of school shootings. Rather than dealing with the shooting itself, the film tells the story of the boy’s parents and how they deal with the event. It’s all very real, very dramatic, and very sad. The vast differences between the way strangers and friends perceive and react to the parents is really powerful, and the toll it takes on their already rocky relationship is kind of heartbreaking. Fortunately, the parents (played Michael Sheen and Maria Bello) are always believable, which makes a film that could have very easily failed to achieve any sort of emotional resonance into something very special… and, at times, very tough to watch.
First showing: 2010 Cannes Film Festival
US Release Date: February 25, 2011
If Samuel Beckett had made a feature film, it would be Rubber. It’s slow, very little happens, and nothing gets accomplished, but its refusal to follow any sort of conventions, narrative or otherwise, makes it well worth the ride. I expected something kind of crazy given the fact that it’s about a tire that blows things up with its mind, but what I got was something entirely different. The film uses hilarious pseudo-intellect (the monologue about “no reason” at the beginning is amazing) to show just how absurdist its universe is, and seeing the way things devolved, whether they made sense or not, was certainly enjoyable. I actually believe that, done properly, the movie would be even better on stage. However, in lieu of that show’s existence, you’re just going to have to settle for the film, which is still pretty awesome.
First showing: 2010 Sundance Film Festival
US Release Date: September 30, 2011
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil was one of my choices for the Flixist 2011 Mega Sweet Fall Movie Preview of Radness, so I had high hopes for it. It met all of my expectations, and perhaps even exceeded them. I love the resurgence of these Grindhouse-style films, and Tucker & Dale is definitely one of the best. The gore is great, but it’s really the acting and writing that make everything so fantastic. It’s honestly shocking how believable the absurdity of the story is. Each misunderstanding is backed by a sequence of events which makes all of the accidental deaths completely plausible. It’s kind of incredible and is certainly an amazing accomplishment.