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3be0e best films 620x311 The Best Films of 2011

After highlighting other areas in film this year (here), it is time to share our favorites. Compiled in eight separate lists featuring over 100 films, you will find everything we’ve loved over the last 365 days. It was difficult to cut down my personal list, as this year has been full of many quality films I would love to highlight, with almost 350 viewed. Our hope is one will use this feature to catch up on any missed films, revisit the ones that you’ve adored and give others a second chance. I kick off things below, then look for links at the bottom of each page to venture further.

Jordan Raup’s Top 10 of 2011

Honorable Mentions:

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10. Hugo (Martin Scorsese)

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Here is living proof that 3D should only be used in the hands of veteran filmmakers. Martin Scorsese matches his adoration for cinema with a inquisitive eye into new technology in Hugo. Every frame is magical and as one slowly realizes what the director is really after here, it becomes one of the most enchanting films of the year, with an added vital dose of history .

9. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (Brad Bird)

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Proving not only to be the most enjoyable time I had at a theater this year, the latest entry in the Mission: Impossible series is, hands down, one of the best action films in the last few years. Transitioning from animation to live-action, director Brad Bird delivered a spectacle like no other with his vertigo-inducing usage of IMAX cameras and pitch-perfect pacing. Our hardest-working and most intricately-woven team yet battle a villain with one clear motive that leaves the fate of the world in their hands. This powerhouse December release makes all of its summer blockbuster predecessors pale in comparison.

8. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Tomas Alfredson)

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On the other side of the spy coin is Tomas Alfredson‘s finely-tuned, quiet examination of top-secret British operatives. Featuring the best ensemble of the year, this initially frustrating adaptation of John le Carré’s classic novel opens up with countless rewards on multiple viewings. Tiny revelations in each scene, whether it be a picture on a wall, a quick glance, a insert of shoes or a single phone call, add up to a stirring visual portrait of paranoia by Alfredson.

7. Into the Abyss (Werner Herzog)

f0517 into the abyss The Best Films of 2011

A film has rarely faced death with such a delicate touch as Werner Herzog‘s Into the Abyss. More compelling and satisfying then his other over-praised documentary of 2011, the erratic filmmaker takes a single death row murder case and extends his grip on every human being touched by tragedy. Whether it is a heartbroken, jailed father who knows he is at fault for his son’s reprehensible actions, a former death row worker whose job was eating away his soul, or a young man who has made peace with death, the chills down my spine as I type this confirm Herzog has made a permanent impact on my life with his latest work.

6. We Need To Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay)

f0517 we need to talk about kevin1 The Best Films of 2011

Lynne Ramsay’s visual feast excels at conveying plot points without any rambling exposition. Anchored by astounding performances from Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller, this is one of the year’s best horror films, showcasing the very worst of family dysfunction.

5. Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn)

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When my overarching praise for a film is the unparalleled “cool” factor, it might seem slight. But if you’ve seen Drive then you know the praise is warranted, as there was no sleeker nor boldly stylish time at the movies this year. Drenched in a thick, wonderful coat of surging synthpop, Refn makes sure every single cut counts in this finely engineered beast. When going down a few floors on a elevator can be as pulse-pounding as a car chase through Los Angeles, then you there is a budding master at work here.

4. Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin)

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Ever since seeing Sean Durkin‘s striking debut nearly a year ago on a cold night at Sundance, I knew the film would be high on my best-of list of the year. Much-praised for Elizabeth Olsen‘s break-out debut (and it remains my favorite performances of the year), this is much more than just an acting showcase. Through the stark cinematography and tight, focused screenplay, Durkin’s examination of a torn psyche literally distorted my thought process for some time after both theatrical viewings.

3. Shame (Steve McQueen)

f4a11 shame2 The Best Films of 2011

What some filmmakers take an entire page of dialogue to convey, the master British filmmaker Steve McQueen can portray in a single action. With his sophomore effort he extends his skill to the topic of sex addiction, a struggle that can be parsed out to many areas of our lives. Michael Fassbender proves yet again he is a break-out star at the top of his game as he commands the screen in every single scene.

2. A Separation (Asghar Farhadi)

f4a11 a separation The Best Films of 2011

Farhadi’s intensely intimate human drama snuck up on me like few other films this year. A seemingly standard first act leads to one of the most well-written and acted films of the year. A mistake (or is it?) spirals out of control as accusations are thrown about and character is questioned by your closest companions. Farhadi makes sure to give a consequences to each action, but brilliantly backs away from inserting his own opinion or blame. Capping off with the best ending of the year, I’ve been thinking about all my precise actions since the first viewing.

1. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick)

f4a11 the tree of life The Best Films of 2011

As vast as the galaxy portrayed in the film is the divide between Terrence Malick‘s ambitious masterpiece and the other films on my list this year. No other cinematic experience left such a staggering impact on me than this story of life, death, the universe…well, everything. Perfectly scattered and purposefully frustrating, Malick’s grand experiment peers into humanity itself, with awe-inspiring bookends of how it came to be and its eventual destruction.

The Film Stage’s Best Films of 2011

[Jordan Raup] [Dan Mecca] [Nick Newman] [Kristy Puchko]

[Jack Giroux] [Raffi Asdourian] [Danny King] [Jared Mobarak]

Follow: Our 2011 Year-End Features

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e5fb6 directorial debut 620x311 The Top 10 Directorial Debuts of 2011

There are few things more exciting in cinema than witnessing the birth of a new talent. We’ve covered the breakthrough performances of the year and now it is time to get behind the camera. Every one of our favorite directorial debuts bowed at film festivals, and while some sadly don’t even have distribution or release plans yet, these are 10 talents to keep a keen eye on in the coming years. Check out our countdown below and let us know your favorites.

10. Magic Valley (Jaffe Zinn)

e5fb6 magic valley The Top 10 Directorial Debuts of 2011

What a shame that this never found distribution. Jaffe Zinn’s first outing as a director is a delicate, moody anti-mystery that takes conventions of the “murdered teen” story and spins them on their head. Thanks to quiet language and contemplative direction, this ranks as one of the best independent films I saw in 2011. – Nick Newman

9. Beyond the Black Rainbow (Panos Cosmatos)

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Combining an amalgam of vertical slices from a wide range of influences, Panos Cosmatos‘ debut feature film Beyond the Black Rainbow is an orgy of sci-fi cinematic style. Easily one of the most visually creative films of the year featuring ominous deadpan performances, candy colored cinematography and a wickedly surreal soundtrack of ambient textures, BtBR is an experience like no other. Cosmatos, whose very name evokes wonder, instantly creates a moody atmosphere filled with reflective homage to classic sci-fi and horror films. And while at times it may not seem completely coherent, there is a religious like layer of deeper symbolism and metaphor that forcibly elevates the complete effect of the film, making it the year’s trippiest mind f*ck. – Raffi Asdourian

8. Ceremony (Max Winkler)

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Operating with a level of confidence equal to that of Wes Anderson in his splendid debut Bottle Rocket, Max Winkler offers a coming-of-age tale involving a twenty-something (Michael Angarano) in need of getting his heart broken and the thirty-something beauty (Uma Thurman) who does the breaking. Also featuring scene-stealing turns from Reece Thompson, Jake Johnson and Lee Pace. – Dan Mecca

7. The Guard (John Michael McDonagh)

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The key to The Guard is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously, which eventually leads to it’s climax being all the more poignant. Brendan Gleeson offers up a wonderful performance as the unorthodox cop in rural Ireland, and is ably supported by Don Cheadle as the American officer assigned to work with him, and Mark Strong as the wise-cracking villain. The jokes are certainly not mild, but nor do they have any false pretensions, and there are many hilarious moments. This is a hugely entertaining and rather unique spin on the “good cop, bad cop” movie. – Jack Cunliffe

6. Attack the Block (Joe Cornish)

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Joe Cornish is positive proof of how a newcomer director can be truly confident with his debut feature film. The filmmaking prowess of his debut Attack the Block is amazingly headstrong, seamlessly balancing humor with action-horror like a seasoned vet. It also possesses one of the trickiest and most important traits for a film to feel special and treasured for years to come: heart. With an uncanny ability to extract fantastic performances from a troupe of fresh-faced teenagers, Cornish is a cinematic force to be reckoned with, brimming with clever ideas and humorous dialogue that even attracted the attention of Steven Spielberg, who hired him to help write The Adventures of Tintin. – Raffi Asdourian

5. Margin Call (J.C. Chandor)

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J.C. Chandor’s feature debut has undeniable power about it. Revolving around the 24-hour period in 2008 when the Wall Street crash hit, it shows just how ignorant many of the individuals behind it actually were. It also makes the astute observation that the further up the chain you go, the less the person actually knows about the numbers involved. And one thing that supports the film well is the fact the viewer doesn’t need to know anything about stocks to be utterly absorbed. Compelling dialogue and a sublime ensemble cast make this understated thriller well worth a watch. And who knows? Maybe you’ll have a little more sympathy for the bankers too. – Jack Cunliffe

4.  Submarine (Richard Ayoade)

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Far too often have we seen stories of teenage love be turned into twee little tales of growing up, learning, and, yes, Getting By. Submarine stands out because it treats the audience with respect, asking them to work with a complicated lead and rewarding with a true work of art. Richard Ayoade handles everything with an adroit touch that balances on that all-too-thin line between comedy and tragedy. As the film suggests, they can sometimes be indistinguishable. – Nick Newman

3. Tyrannosaur (Paddy Considine)

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Never has a romance been so brutal. Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman anchor longtime actor Paddy Considine‘s brilliant first film, each offering performances that are at once hard and soft. Despite the tough subject matter and even tougher character arcs, Considine stays true to his tale, and produces a wholly singular viewing experience. – Dan Mecca

2. Bellflower (Evan Glodell)

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There really is no reason why Bellflower should work as a movie. I mean that as the highest compliment. The film mixes violent dreams, sweet romance, seething jealousy and furious anger in a fantastical fever dream that only jells together because of the deft hand of writer/director/engineer Evan Glodell. Aided in a small part by his own performance as the film’s lead, he daringly shows us the countering extremes that live inside all of us in a beautiful and terrifying way. It’s a film that, months after seeing it, I still cannot shake. – Mike Anton

1. Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin)

df6cc martha marcy The Top 10 Directorial Debuts of 2011

There are debuts that are quietly auspicious, debuts that are extravagantly acclaimed and then there are the debuts that are a strange hybrid of the two. Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene lands in that rare territory. A character study of young woman recovering from the psychological scars left by her time spent in a cult, Durkin treats this story with subtlety and restraint, completely free of easier histrionics. Between that tonal modulation, the narrative finesse of the cerebral editing and the dreamy-yet-confident gaze of the camera, Durkin creates a first feature of unparalleled sensitivity and insight. – Brian Roan

Follow: The Film Stage’s 2011 Year-End Features

%name The Top 10 Directorial Debuts of 2011

d145e Mark Wahlberg Shooter mark wahlberg 245154 1400 9371 jpg 627x325 crop upscale q85 620x321 Mark Wahlberg Talks His Basketball Drama and Co Star Justin Bieber

We reported back in April that former teen hearrthrob Mark Wahlberg and current teen heartthrob Justin Bieber were planning on starring in a film together. No matter how odd the duo seems, Wahlberg recently spoke to MTV (via ThePlaylist) and discussed his enthusiasm about the project.

The currently untitled drama from How to Make It In America creator Ian Edelman will take place in the “gritty world of street basketball.” Wahlberg joked about how the project came about in the quote below.

“Think of, like The Color of Money. So I get this call from Paramount [with a story about] an old guy and a young guy. I’m like, ‘ Cool, let’s get Jack [Nicholson]. Let’s get Robert De Niro. Let’s get Robert Duvall.’ And they go, ‘What about Garret Hedlund?’ I’m like, ‘For what?’ They’re like, ‘For the young guy.’”

d145e bieber Mark Wahlberg Talks His Basketball Drama and Co Star Justin BieberWahlberg
will have no trouble fitting into the gritty “serious” tone, but I fear that Bieber‘s tween fandom and boyish good looks will hinder the success of the project. However, Wahlberg told MTV the following about his co-star,”I see the guy and spent time with him, and you see what he does and how he does it, and then you actually have a conversation with him and it’s there. It’s there — and if it’s not, I will extract it.”

It was actually Wahlberg‘s idea to get Bieber to star as “the young guy.” Paramount approved, with Wahlberg fully aware of the huge risk he is taking on having Bieber as his co-star. Judging by Wahlberg‘s successful acting career over the past few years, it isn’t completely impossible to crossover from pretty boy band member to Oscar-nominated actor, but I just don’t get the same feeling for Bieber‘s career. The script is still in the works, with no director on board as of now.

What do you think about the untitled basketball drama? Do you think Bieber will make it in Hollywood?

%name Mark Wahlberg Talks His Basketball Drama and Co Star Justin Bieber

b0039 pariah header 620x311 [Interview] ‘Pariah’ Writer/Director Dee Rees Talks Music, Characters and Coming Out

Pariah is a film that has slowly gathered steam since it premiered at Sundance earlier this year and is finally seeing limited release this week. I recently had a chance to see the film with little idea of what I was getting myself into — a strong recommendation and an upcoming screening will do that sometimes. This story of a young black gay girl raised by a mother that is devoutly religious and a father that is oblivious is a powerful reminder of the struggles societal pressure puts on those simply trying to find their place in the world.

Affecting no matter what your background, Pariah reminds us that adolescence is a delicate period that will shape the trajectory of our lives and young love and loss can come in many different ways. I had the opportunity to sit down with writer/director Dee Rees, who has made a powerful splash with narrative debut, and discussed how the film came about, the decision to bring back the actresses from her short, and the influence and importance of music in the film.

3a0a0 dee rees [Interview] ‘Pariah’ Writer/Director Dee Rees Talks Music, Characters and Coming OutThe Film Stage: First off, I just want to say that I really enjoyed the film. It was very affecting. I heard Gwen [Reyes] mentioning in the lobby that even if you don’t have struggles with your sexual identity, it’s encompassing. It really makes you latch onto these characters.

Dee Rees: Thanks.

Let’s talk about being in Dallas. Is this your first time in Texas? First time in Dallas? How’s it been going so far?

This is my second time in Dallas. I was here when I was in film school for some little, short film festival—I couldn’t even tell you the name of it. And in college, I knew people from Dallas. It feels a lot like Nashville, where I’m from. Yeah, it’s fine.

What does it mean to be part of the Lone Star Film Festival?

Well, it’s a huge honor and vote of confidence to be chosen as the closing night film. I’m just really glad that the audiences gave the film a chance. They came out and saw it last night. I think the city is really more open-minded and cosmopolitan than people give the state credit for. It’s been great to be here to kind of disprove the stereotypes.

3a0a0 pariah 620x413 [Interview] ‘Pariah’ Writer/Director Dee Rees Talks Music, Characters and Coming Out

Well, that’s nice to hear.


[Both laugh]

You brought back Alike and Laura from the short that you shot initially. Was there any difficulty in bringing them back? Was it pretty seamless?

Pariah‘s had a weird kind of evolution because it actually started as a feature film. I first wrote the feature back in 2005 and then I needed a short film to graduate from NYU, so I shot the first act. So we shot the short film, which is good because it helped get attention and raise money for the feature. But it wasn’t hard to bring them back. The actors were committed, they were really into it.

Pernell Walker is the actor that plays Laura, and after casting them for the short I knew that they were the ones to play this role. They had the chemistry and we had already done these exercises where I sent them in costume to Times Square so they could feel what it was like to be a gay woman in a straight environment. I sent them to lesbian clubs so they could feel what it feels like to be a gay woman in a gay environment. So they already had these shared memories together, so I absolutely knew I wanted to bring them back. And I kept checking back with them and gave them updates, so it was great that they were able to come back.

3a0a0 pariah set 620x413 [Interview] ‘Pariah’ Writer/Director Dee Rees Talks Music, Characters and Coming Out

Coming up as a writer/director, it seems really beneficial to have someone to lean on and bounce ideas off of. Do you have a confidant? A go-to person?

Yeah. The film’s producer, Nekisa Cooper, is my go-to person. She actually inspired me to write the script. I wrote it because I was going through my own coming-out process. My parents had flown in to have an intervention. I thought they were coming to visit so I’m buying theatre tickets and making restaurant reservations. [Laughs] But they were actually flying in to intervene. So we had a tough time for a while where I was trying to convince them that I was the same person I always was, and I was OK. That it was nobody’s fault.

And Nekisa was my personal support during that time and she’s the one that said, ‘You should write about this.’ And I was like, ‘Are you crazy? I don’t want to tell anybody about this. This is awful.’ And she pushed me to write about it and that’s why I first wrote the feature script. Anytime that I have drafts, she is always the first person to read my scripts and give me feedback because creatively I trust her to give me real feedback and she’s not going to give me feedback based on what’s commercial or what’s Hollywood or box-office-sellable. She’s all about how to tell the best story possible.

7f481 pariah 1 [Interview] ‘Pariah’ Writer/Director Dee Rees Talks Music, Characters and Coming OutAnd obviously with the naturalistic feel, that’s going to keep the budget low and that’s some of the reason that these films get made. They are low-budget feature films. You mentioned you coming out to your parents. It always seems like for these stories, a very key element is how the character ends up revealing to their parents; to their friends; whoever it may concern. For you, was it a gentle, casual process versus the film itself?

Well, for Alike in the film it’s funny because everybody knows everything. It’s like, everybody knows Alike’s gay. Everybody knows Arthur’s cheating. But everybody pretends not to know so there’s already this passive aggressive tension going on. For Alike, it’s not so much coming out as it is coming in to. She knows that she loves women. That’s not the question. But her question is how to be in the world. She’s got her best friend who’s super kind of masculine and telling her that she needs to wear the baggy jeans and the boots. And Alike’s not really feeling that’s her scene.

At the opposite side she’s got her mother who’s trying to put her in skirts and heels. And that’s not her scene either. So a lot of the film is Alike trying to figure out how to be in the world. For me, personally, that’s the same story I faced. I’d go to lesbian clubs and I’d be in jeans and a turtleneck, and not feeling like I was fitting in. So I came to realize I could just be myself. With my parents, I never experienced any physical violence, but I definitely had to be strong emotionally and be firm in who I was.

7f481 pariah 2 [Interview] ‘Pariah’ Writer/Director Dee Rees Talks Music, Characters and Coming OutAnd for Alike in the film, was that set up like that to make a narrative jump? If you have this slow, drawn out process it will add running time. Was it just an easy narrative jump?

No. It’s just who the character was. The back story I created for Alike was that she knew that she liked girls at a young age but then she met Laura maybe in middle school and they became best friends. Then Laura dropped out of school but they remained in touch. And Laura was her kind of mentor and took her under her wing into the world and showed her how to be.

But when we meet Alike when the story begins, that has started to chafe. Alike has realized that’s not how she is.That’s not how she wants to be and her question is how to find that. So she meets Bina. And it’s funny because Audrey introduces her to Bina to get her away from Laura, and, you know. Audrey brings about the very thing she’s trying to avoid. Although Alike is able to consummate who she is with Bina, she realized that there’s another way to be. She’s able to come as you are. You don’t have to put on a costume or dress for anybody; you can just be yourself. So even though it doesn’t work out, that’s what she is able to take from that.

Talking about Bina and Alike’s relationship, they really have a rough time at it initially. And then they hit it off based on music. How important is music in your own relationships and how important is it to this film in particular?

Music is really important to the film because we wanted it to be the voice of each character. Alike’s voice is acoustic soul, Bina’s voice is punk, and Laura’s voice is hip-hop. It’s really important to show that these girls are different. They speak differently, they listen to different things, so there’s not this monolithic presentation of Black femininity. They’re all different. They all have different likes and tastes. It really helped to establish them as separate characters.

928a6 pariah still 650x312 [Interview] ‘Pariah’ Writer/Director Dee Rees Talks Music, Characters and Coming Out

And it was really important to us to have an all female soundtrack to be the voice of the film. And all these music artists that we would be introduced to by the filmmaker friends or that we’d go see perform live and just asked to be a part of the film. So it’s a big part of the film and I like music. I like all types of music. The thing that Alike learns is that she doesn’t have to check the box of be one thing. She can have a diverse range of tastes and that’s OK.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask character name, Alike. Obviously, Dee Rees, that’s not all that out there. But Alike is very different. What was the decision behind naming your character that?

So Alike is a West-African name that means ‘Girl who drives out beautiful women.’ So in some ways Alike drives Bina out, and that’s why I chose it.

928a6 pariah ver2 xlg 620x918 [Interview] ‘Pariah’ Writer/Director Dee Rees Talks Music, Characters and Coming Out

Pariah is now in limited release.

%name [Interview] ‘Pariah’ Writer/Director Dee Rees Talks Music, Characters and Coming Out

fef35 annehathaway 2009 oscars academy awards red carpet photos 02232009 02 820x582 620x440 Anne Hathaway Talks Inspiration for Catwoman In ‘The Dark Knight Rises’

There’s a very good chance that you’ll get Dark Knight Rises fatigue within the next four or five months, so enjoy this story in a not-sick-of-it manner while you can. Said story comes to us from 24Frames, who spoke to Anne Hathaway about her preparation for playing Catwoman; turns out that a big part of the process came from an unlikely source.

Yes, for a blockbuster with new technology like IMAX at its disposal, the actress is looking back to mid-20th century icon Hedy Lamarr. Best known for work in films such as Samson and Delilah, Ziegfeld Girl, and Algiers, the beauty served as a big influence on Batman creator Bob Kane — thus, Hathaway took note. A main point of observation on her part was the actress’ breathing, since she sees the woman’s “long, deep, languid breaths” as “extraordinary.” With this important characteristic in mind, Hathaway claims she “started working on my breathing a lot.” Not something you’d expect for what’s probably going to be the biggest film of 2012, but whatever works is fine by me.

On that note, Christopher Nolan expressed the notion that being “an incredibly talented but naturalistic actress” with “terrific theatrical skill” was a factor in portraying someone who must “project a persona.” (Catwoman, that is.) This will not come to any single person as a surprise, but director and star were very complimentary of one another; Hathaway feels as though Nolan “has given us all such complex, defined, sophisticated worldviews.” Plus — shocker! — she praised the screenplay by he and his brother, Jonathan.

And, of course, Hathaway is a fan of her attire — “because everything has a purpose, nothing is in place for fantasy’s sake” — which is emblematic of the world established in this trilogy. I’m none too keen on the design of her outfit myself, but I a) don’t want to be one of those people, and b) would probably kill your mother to see The Dark Knight Rises at this moment. Details on the fashion side of things (or a scene that the article discusses, which I’ll let you decide if you want to know about) don’t amount to a hill of beans.

The Dark Knight Rises opens on July 20th.

Are Hathaway’s acting methods of interest to yourself?

%name Anne Hathaway Talks Inspiration for Catwoman In ‘The Dark Knight Rises’

fe795 784347565 243x300 Schwarzenegger’s ‘Black Sands’ Gets Updated Title and New DetailsWe, some two months ago, brought you the news that Arnold Schwarzenegger would soon jump in front of the camera for Black Sands, an — oh, come on, what else? — actioner that casts him as “a loner who wages war against a ruthless weapons manufacturer and his private army in the Southwest.” Scott Waugh and Mike McCoy, the duo behind next year’s Act of Valor, would be directing a script from A Good Day to Die Hard scribe Skip Woods. Somebody was bound to get shot in the process.

Things have changed here or there in the time since, with TheArnoldFans telling us that the prospective thrill ride has not only been renamed to Black Sunday, but will also see him playing “an immortal” — or, as the man himself put it, “a kind of angel.” First, that title: Though I don’t expect a heap of originality from an Arnold Schwarzenegger film, it’s odd to bestow one of his next projects with such a generic, familiar moniker. And, yes, I’m aware that he has a forthcoming movie called The Last Stand. (There have been quite a few films titled Black Sunday, among them a Mario Bava horror picture and a Thomas Harris adaptation that doesn’t concern a high society cannibal.)

Otherwise, Schwarzenegger playing an immortal killing machine is only the next logical step for a career that’s seen him play a basic equivalent for the past four decades; there’s at least that much to look forward to, if it’s anything at all. Shooting on the project is expected to kick off on April 1st, making a release in early 2013 for Black Sands a strong possibility. I’m marginally interested, personally speaking.

Any reaction to this new title? How about Schwarzenegger’s character?

%name Schwarzenegger’s ‘Black Sands’ Gets Updated Title and New Details

781ac docs header 620x311 The Top 10 Documentaries of 2011

2011 has been a fantastic year for documentaries. In fact, you might see more than one on our best films of 2011 list. But in order to give the genre the recognition it deserves, we wanted to highlight all those that missed the cut. These films often provide more engaging drama with their veracity and technique than most narrative features and it killed us to skip over some we loved.

Just to mention a few that didn’t make the cut in no particular order: Tabloid, Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest, Public Speaking, George Harrison: Living In The Material World, Self Made, Project Nim, The Swell Season, Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop, Page One: Inside the New York Times and Cave of Forgotten Dreams. But we’ve narrowed it down to just ten with write-ups from our own John Fink, unless otherwise noted. Check them out below and let us know your favorites.

10. Being Elmo (Constance Marks)

781ac elmo The Top 10 Documentaries of 2011

Constance Marks’ loving portrait of Kevin Clash, a Baltimore boy who built his own muppets for public access TV in his teens and made it to New York and Jim Henson’s inner circle. After turning the disregarded Elmo into a sensation, he struggles to keep up with the demand for his talents, allowing his marriage (and relationship with his daughter) to suffer in an honest look at the rise and life of an artist.

9. Life in Day (Kevin Macdonald)

639b6 life in a day The Top 10 Documentaries of 2011

A crowd-sourced project incorporating submitted footage from YouTube (all filmed throughout the world on July 24, 2010), Life in a Day is a documentary film about the complexities of humanity – fear and love being amongst its strongest themes. Co-directed by Kevin MacDonald, with essentially the entire world, he has the task of assembling a complex puzzle into a memorizing document of life.

8. Armadillo (Janus Metz Pedersen)

639b6 armadillo The Top 10 Documentaries of 2011

Armadillo pulses with the intensity of a Bourne film. Following a group of Danish soldiers at war in Afghanistan, the film’s professional style (and use of filters/effects) has been considered controversial amongst doc purists, but doesn’t dissuade it from being one of the most powerful in the genre.

7. How to Die in Oregon (Peter Richardson)

6ceb6 oregon The Top 10 Documentaries of 2011

An alarmingly personal documentary examining the ethics and politics of killing oneself through what some call “physician-assisted suicide” – in Oregon it is called “Death with Dignity Law.” Director Peter Richardson strikes a delicate balance in creating a compassionate documentary that respects both sides of a complicated debate.

6. Bill Cunningham New York (Richard Press)

6ceb6 cunningham The Top 10 Documentaries of 2011

A warm portrait of New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham, who bikes around the city snapping photos of what’s currently in within the fashion world. An intimate and fascinating film by Richard Press, Cunningham (despite some push backs) allows the filmmaker into his rather monk-like life.

5. Whore’s Glory (Michael Glawogger)

701d3 whores glory The Top 10 Documentaries of 2011

Concluding a trilogy that goes places even Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs could never go (not on a basic cable anyway), Michael Glawogger’s Whore’s Glory is lucid, exotic and heartbreaking, tracking the world’s oldest profession in three segments from Thailand, Bangladesh and Mexico. And while, from the outside, these lives look harsh, this is an experience that aims to draw us in, sharing the joy, hardship and glory.

4. The Arbor (Clio Barnard)

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Documentaries can take several paths on their way to portraying what the filmmaker perceives as the relevant truth, a good majority of them fitting into a comfortable, perfectly acceptable mold. The Arbor, however, is unlike any I’ve seen before, mixing the form with portions of theater and covering it all with a narrative sheen. It would be satisfactory to simply sit through such an experiment, but the thing has got to go and break your damn heart over and over, right up to the point where reality is almost too much to take. – Nick Newman

3. The Interrupters (Steve James)

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As epic a documentary as can be, Steve James and Alex Kotlowitz‘s film examines gang violence in Chicago and the group Ceasefire, an initiative determined to put an end to it. The group itself is made up of mostly ex-gangbangers, who use their own personal loss and regret as ammunition in pleading those still active in the gang world to leave it alone and move on. This doc is 2-and-a-half hours long and provides no precise answer on how to solve the problem, making it a difficult experience to swallow. Yet it’s this kind of honest documentation that makes all of the small victories that occur here all the more meaningful. – Dan Mecca

2. Senna (Asif Kapadia)

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I’ve never been to a Formula 1 race, have never seen one for more than three consecutive minutes, and could not name one current driver, yet Senna was more thrilling than at least 90% of films, documentary or not, that I saw in 2011. The archive footage compiled by director Asif Kapadia and editors Chris King & Gregers Sall is presented like an action scene whose stakes are the career and image of a man we’re sympathetic to in no time. Anyone going in probably knows that Ayrton Senna didn’t live to an old age – and it could, like some other choices on this list, be a bit of a downer. But it’s ultimately a story about conquering the world that’s lying right in front of you. I’d call that uplifting. – Nick Newman

1. Into the Abyss (Werner Herzog)

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A mesmerizing Herzogian journey. It is not journalism, as the facts of the triple homicide at the core of the film are known, but Werner Herzog instead creates a travelogue peering deep into into humanity and breaking the boundaries of any documentary this year.

Follow: The Film Stage’s 2011 Year-End Features

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6e8b6 KEVIN DAY 27 0735 574x381 Oscilloscope Pushes Up Theatrical Release Date For WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN Starring Tilda Swinton

I’ve received this press release from Oscilloscope Laboratories stating the new U.S. theatrical release dates for the Lynne Ramsay-directed film WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (watch the trailer) starring Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly and Ezra Miller.
The film, which has been receiving Oscar buzz especially for Swinton’s performance, will open in New York on Friday, January 13th, 2012 and in L.A. (Arclight Hollywood) on Friday, January 20th, 2012
Along with that are these new hi-res images. Check out details after this jump..

72815 Mark Wahlberg Mark Wahlberg Thinks PAIN AND GAIN Is A Great Script. Can’t Wait To Work With Justin Bieber. Explains Why His PLANET OF THE APES Remake In 2001 Was Bad

We are so close to the end of the year 2011 and the arrival of New Year 2012. Slow info movie week and I’m ok with that, it gave me the chance to get some sleep, boy did I badly need it or what!
So let’s go for a quick he says she says moment. Mark Wahlberg was out promoting his upcoming action flick CONTRABAND and he took the time to talk to MTV about Michael Bay’s comedy PAIN AND GAIN, about the possibility of collaborating with Justin Bieber, and what he thought his Planet Of The Apes reboot in 2001, directed by Tim Burton, failed miserably..

819cc Point Break POINT BREAK Remake Will Be Fresh. HONG KONG PHOOEY Is Tested With Improved Technology. PRISONERS’ Problem Is The Casting, Not The Screenplay

Producer Andrew Kosove, the man who recently revealed that you the fans will get to hear an announcement on the new BLADE RUNNER movie in the next couple of months, also talked to The Playlist about POINT BREAK remake and the animated film HONG KONG PHOOEY and the project PRISONERS which has been in development hell for quite some time…

ff86c Loki The Avengers So… Who’s Helping Loki In THE AVENGERS?

As you know, Loki is the main villain in the upcoming Marvel’s superhero movie, THE AVENGERS, it’s obvious from the trailer that Loki is the big bad villain. But for a while now there’d been theories as to who may be helping him fight The Avengers. Some said it’s the alien race Skrulls/Kree, because Loki did mention having an ‘army’ in the trailer. Well, the secret may now have been revealed..