Working for the Skin-Deep Trade

Girl Model (2012)


The dichotomous nature of the modeling industry is brutally exposed by documentarian duo David Redmon and Ashley Sabin in this stark exposé of the realities of the business. It’s a bleak and damning indictment of a trade that shatters any glamorous or aspirational illusions that may have still surrounded it, instead revealing it to be as sordid as many might have suspected.

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Finish Line, With a Lick and a Promise

2011 Los Angeles Film Festival

I’m going to caveat my choices with this: These are probably not the 10-best films of 2011. I suspect that the list lacks much-admired critical darlings — "Drive," "Melancholia," "Margaret" and "The Artist" — but for whatever reason, these and others have passed me by; and so while risking critical castigation for neglecting them, I simply cannot pass judgment on what I have not seen. What this list is, though, is the best of what I have.

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A Private Afterlife

Dreams of a Life (2011)


The story of Joyce Vincent (played by Zawe Ashton in re-enactments) — a woman who died alone in her North London bedsit just before Christmas 2003 and lay undiscovered until January 2006 — forms the devastatingly moving basis of Carol Morley’s superb documentary.

Fascinated by the story, Ms. Morley’s investigative determination to unravel the mystery and get to the bottom of how Vincent could seemingly slip so readily through the cracks of society actually ends up being so much more than a quest for answers.

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A Justice League of Their Own



In a perverse sort of sense, documentarians play a very similar role to that of an investigative journalist. They sense a story, pursue it endlessly, albeit with the permission of their subject and eventually bring that unreported story to the masses. It’s an important vocation imbued with passion and dedication; and yet while the aim of the documentarian is invariably didactic, his or her work is more often than not rip-roaringly entertaining.

Mike Barnett’s “Superheroes” is a fascinating example of a genre pic that manages to effortlessly suffuse entertainment with unbridled insight into a little known subject: that of the real-life superhero.

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Billions of Bilious Blue Blistering Barnacles

The Adventures of Tintin (2011)

DW Studios

It has taken nearly 30 years for Steven Spielberg to bring Tintin to the big screen, having optioned the rights to a film adaptation way back in 1983. Whether he was sitting on the project until technology caught up with his vision or he was simply undecided as how to realize a film that comes with an enormity of expectation from a salivating fan base is uncertain. Regardless, by co-opting in his Kiwi buddy Peter Jackson — who brings all his Weta magic to the party — Mr. Spielberg has managed to deliver a film that captures all the joyful frivolity of Hergé’s works with a typically Spielbergian sprinkle of unabashed rambunctious action.

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Crying in the Night So Many Tears

The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence) (2011)

IFC Midnight

Tom Six promised that “The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence)” would make the first installment “look like My Little Pony.” By shunning the implied grotesqueness of the mad-scientist-gone-mental farce of the first “Human Centipede” in favor of in-your-face graphic violence, streams of blood, feces and gore, Mr. Six has done just that. Yet, whereas the original verged on the fantastical and as a result was laughable at times, Mr. Six seems determined to push the boundaries of taste further than ever before and as such there is very little of that lightness of touch here.

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The Most Unkindest Cut of All

Anonymous (2011)

Reiner Bajo/Columbia Pictures

Roland Emmerich has never been one to let history get in the way of a good story. His 2000 film, “The Patriot,” took untold liberties with the facts of the American Revolution, idolizing Mel Gibson’s Benjamin Martin while utterly damning the actions of the British. It should come as no real surprise, then, that Mr. Emmerich luxuriates in creating a wildly and wholly inaccurate world of Elizabethan-era London for his latest picture, “Anonymous.”

Utilizing a discredited niche conspiracy theory that William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) was a bumbling fraud and a mere front for the refined Earl of Oxford (a brooding and camp Rhys Ifans) as the basis for this alternative history, Mr. Emmerich and scribe John Orloff make the critical mistake of promoting this faction as in any way credible.

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Trial by Error

Guilty (2011)

Jean-Claude Lother/Mars Distribution

Vincent Garenq’s “Guilty” is signposted in its exposition as a faithful adaptation of a series of memoirs entitled “Miscarriage of Justice” by Alain Marécaux. Mr. Marécaux (a remarkable Philippe Torreton), a family man who is too often distracted by his job as a bailiff, is left shattered when he and his wife are arrested in the middle of the night on suspicion of involvement in what would come to be known as the notorious Outreau pedophile ring.

The accusations leveled at Mr. Marécaux seem incredible and baseless, yet in an instant his life begins to disintegrate around him. As it transpires, the Marécauxes have been accused of the worst sort of infidelity by persons unknown; and yet despite the lack of evidence or motive, they are remanded in custody.

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Right Person for the Inside Job

Headhunters (2011)

Erik Aavatsmark/TrustNordisk

Stieg Larsson’s phenomenally successful Millennium trilogy has bought gritty Scandinavian thrillers to the world’s attention, which has undoubtedly rubbed off on Norwegian novelist Jo Nesbø. Famed for his pitch-black Harry Hole crime-thriller series, Mr. Nesbø is particularly skilled in crafting the flawed good-guy character (Hole, a brilliant detective, is also a heavy smoker and an alcoholic), an art that is clearly evident in Morten Tyldum’s adaptation of Mr. Nesbø’s 2008 stand-alone novel “Headhunters.”

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Seoul Survivor

The Yellow Sea (2010)

Cho Won-jin/20th Century Fox

Such was the success of South Korean director Na Hong-jin’s debut, “The Chaser,” that Hollywood took notice and Fox International signed on to bankroll his next project. Despite the cash injection, Mr. Na doesn’t deviate too far from what made “The Chaser” such a hit with his follow-up picture, “The Yellow Sea.”

Sticking to the gloomy thriller genre, Mr. Na even puts faith in “The Chaser’s” two leads, casting Ha Jung-woo and Kim Yun-seok as chief protagonist Gu-nam and gangster Myun-ga respectively; and Mr. Na is richly rewarded for putting faith in the tried and tested.

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