With technology giving a platform to hordes of tenacious, DSLR-wielding documentarians, the short doc has never been more popular, or so mind-numbingly repetitive. But, just when you think that every ornery old lady, sensitive “artist” or performer of a single human-pet-trick has had their life digitally preserved in a gauze of shallow depth of field, Sean Dunne comes around to show you how marvelously strange our human species is. Following the annual “gathering of the juggalos” the film is a Margaret Mead level embed into the culture of these marvelous kooks. Best of al,l Dunne’s storytelling isn’t exploitive or redemptive. The rightful heir to the banner “fair and balanced”, we simply exist admidst the juggalos, and their aggressively utopian ways.
With the full arrival of Funny or Die as a premium web destination for scripted comedy, we’ve seen more and more established comedians coming to short film via the web. Among the best last year were Tim and Eric’s The Terrys as well as the entire joined forces of Hollywood cameoing in the Beastie Boys short film. But, it was Successful Alcoholics, featuring TV regulars T.J. Miller and Lizzy Caplan who took our prize, honoring and elevating a ridiculous, fratty premise by gleefully charging headlong through it, past where normal comedy dares tread. And then, just as brazenly they shift the whole scenario on its head, deconstructing the underpinnings of its fantasy behavior—an emotional jiujutsu unparalleled in film in 2011, short or otherwise.
Internet Success Story #3245, writer/director Eddie O’Keefe had this greaser throw-back gem discovered by WME after uploading it on Vimeo, secured representation, and saw his feature script hit #2 on the Blacklist. For all you “indie-purists” decrying the empty calories of much of the calling-card game, this isn’t a 5 minute sci-fi special fx spectacle, but an honest to god film, with story, development and feeling, and, oh yeah, a ton of style and attitude.
Had to make up a category to honor this film I almost didn’t watch, let alone review. Quite the change in fortune for an epic “gangsta” flick which has spurred decidedly love-hate reactions. Director Harmony Korine’s output, as Proenza Schouler has proven to us, is decidedly hit or miss, and as for rap-rave duo Die Antwoord, I’m going to stop pretending I even know what “rap-rave” means (seriously, somebody fill me in!) but in this pairing the two controversial teams work magic. In the end it’s not the shock value of automatic pistols in the suburbs or blunts the size of bouquets that prove enduring, it’s Ninja responding, “Yeah, God’s a good guy” to Yo-landi’s plaintive question of whether they will be forgiven—a heartrending exchange that caps the most touching and delicate onscreen relationship of the year.
Made entirely from found footage, The Voyagers, is a star example of the growing genre of essay films made possible by the Internet Archive, Library of Congress online catalog, and other resources for royalty-free content. It’s part documentary, part personal love letter, and part subjective musings on metaphysics. Precisely because it is so personal, it can get away with grappling with questions like eternity, and the reason for and acceptance of optimism, because those questions are given a whole new field of reference by the implicitly impending words “till death do you part”. The Voyagers was one of the most satisfying discoveries for us of 2011.
Best Production Design—Ten For Grandpa
There are lot’s of other aspects to filmmaking other than simply directorial, so I thought we’d make time to recognize a film that killed it in the critical but overlooked arena of production design. Ten For Grandpa deftly slips times, impeccably referencing different styles throughout the late 20th Century, but more than this “Mad Men” like attention to period detail, the film itself is a delight of stage planning. All the sets were constructed on soundstage in a manner that allows their easy extraction and replacement mid-shot. It’s a gee-wow effect of a practical sort, which perfectly accompanies the slightly unhinged monologue.
Best Film to Be Taken Offline—Blinky
Every year there are a few great film that are officially released online only to be pulled days or even hours later. It’s a category that sadly grew in 2011 (Remember the bizarre troubles with marketing that Mubi had with the limited release of the Spike Jonze/Arcade Fire teamup Scenes of the Suburbs?). But the Ruairi Robinson sci-fi short Blinky was easily the most memorable. Animation tests had leaked over a 2 years period, but the final version came without warning. Nonetheless, Blinky immediately began to dominate viewcounts and discussions across the web. A week and millions of new fans later, it was gone as mysteriously as it came.