We’re such whiners. Last year at this time, we were complaining that 2010 was “two or three weird movies shy of being a great year.” We didn’t know how good we had it back then, frankly. Movies like Black Swan, Inception and even Scott Pilgrim vs. the World all got major theatrical releases, while of this year’s nominees only The Tree of Life can claim the same level of exposure. Perhaps the great weird films of 2011 are still lurking in the shadows—we’ve found a few of them, but we expect more revelations as these unseen gems crawl their way out of the festival circuit and start getting belated DVD releases. (Of course, that process can take a while: we’ve been waiting a year already for Jan Svankmajer‘s Surviving Life).
The truly deranged stuff just doesn’t make it into theaters, and 2011 continued the trend of re-releases and delayed DVD releases blowing away the theatrical releases in terms of weirdness. We finally saw Bill Plympton’s worth-waiting for angelic black comedy Idiots and Angels (2008), Otto Preminger’s amazing psychedelic flop Skidoo (1968) surfaced after almost four decades, and the Criterion Collection resurrected Louis Malle‘s two major forays into weirdness—Zazie dans le Metro (1960) and Black Moon (1975)—along with new editions of cult classics Shock Corridor and Solaris. In terms of vintage oddities, 2011 was another banner year.
Though weirdness wasn’t omnipresent this year, the cinematically surreal did get a serious prestige boost from our top weird movie of the year.
- The Tree of Life: The year’s best weird movie is also the year’s best movie, period. Stunning cinematography, sacred music, the birth of the universe, graceful dinosaurs, childhood hallucinations and a glimpse of the afterlife all mixed together in the most ambitious movie of the past decade. We dare the Academy to nominate this for Best Picture.
- Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives: Technically a 2010 movie (it won the Palme d’Or exactly a year before The Tree of Life), but we’ll allow it in our 2011 list because it played US theaters this year, and because we didn’t honor it last year. Per Andreas Stoehr, “It’s not a puzzle box, but a cornucopia of mysteries. In its subdued way, it’s among the weirdest movies in history.” If you still doubt its weirdness, we have two words for you: catfish cunnilingus.
- Keyhole: Continuing a longstanding tradition established last year, we once again nominate a movie we haven’t seen for our year-end top 10 list based on nothing more than the trailer and the director’s reputation. Guy Maddin’s latest looks like another journey into the labyrinths of the subconscious as mobster Ulysses (Jason Patrick) journeys through his own deserted house, room by mysterious room, searching for his wife (Isabella Rossellini).
- Maximum Shame: Another 2010 copyright movie we’re reclassifying to 2011, simply because no one saw it in 2010. Truth in advertising is a rare thing these days, so when Maximum Shame‘s tagline describes it as “an apocalyptic fetish horror musical chess sci-fi weird feature movie,” you may be shocked to discover that the movie actually lives up to that description. Watch in awe as the Queen of Catalan Love drips transdimensional spaghetti into a slave girls mouth.
- The Oregoninan: A completely surreal horror movie featuring an astounding “rainbow pee” sequence and a terrifying green Muppet who shows up at the most disturbing times. We’re not sure about a DVD release but look for it to show up on Video on Demand, at least, in January.
- Father’s Day: Alex Kittle explains: “An eye-patched vigilante, a topless stripper with a chainsaw, a nearsighted cannibal rapist, incest, demonic possession, trips to both heaven and hell, a non sequitur commercial for low-budget sci-fi ‘Star Raiders,’ hallucinogenic berries: Father’s Day has a lot of weirdness to recommend it.” Created by the absurdist art collective Astron-6, this is our most anticipated release from Troma Studios in some time. Look for a limited theatrical run and DVD release in 2012.
- The Catechism Cataclysm: “It starts off as a funny, somewhat quirky canoe trip, relying on dialogue and a few offbeat stories to entertain its audience. But then it gets weird. Really weird,” teases Alex Kittle. The second feature from the director of the ultra-quirky The Guatemalan Handshake.
- Frankie in Blunderland: “Plays as a post-modern L.A. hipster bounce on Lewis Carroll’s well known tale, and possibly ‘The Odyssey’ as well.” We really liked scream queen Debbie Rochon‘s cameo appearance as a spider.
- Melancholia: Lars von Trier‘s followup to the deranged Antichrist is a more subtle and measured exploration of depression. Of course, for von Trier “more subtle” means imagining a giant planet destroying the earth. The opening sequence is beautiful slo-mo surrealism, with Kirsten Dunst dragging huge vines behind her as she trudges forward fatalistically in a wedding dress.
- The Gruesome Death of Tommy Pistol: A low-budget portmanteau film containing three anxious, blackly comic dreams about being a struggling actor in Los Angeles. It features many of the same cast and crew as Blunderland above.
And that about covers it for 2011. Take us to task for our choices or tell us what we missed in the comments section. See you in 2012!