The Best Indie / International Films of 2011

The year's best independent and international films are highlighted by a duo from iconic director Werner Herzog, a staggeringly brilliant frontier-western and a score of top-notch documentaries that illustrate how filmmaking continues to reach new highs.

Film: Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

Director: Eli Craig

Cast: Alan Tudyk, Tyler Labine, Katrina Bowden, Jesse Moss, Chelan Simmons


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Display Width: 200Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

The redneck. It’s a cliché that’s been carefully conceived and crafted since the wooded areas of the Deep South were discovered to be full of rapists, killers, and psychopaths. Forever undone by James Dickey’s Deliverance (and John Boorman’s big screen adaptation) the supposedly stupider, more sinister members of the closet Confederacy are now a genre given. Perhaps this explains why this twisted take on the type is so magical. Nothing is as it seems, or should be, and that’s a down and out in Dixie truth. Bill Gibron

Film: Fightville

Director: Petra Epperlein, Michael Tucker

Cast: Dustin Poirier, Albert Stainback, Tim Credeur, Gil Guillory

Studio: Pepper & Bones

Year: 2011


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As Gil Guillory sees it, his career is an extension of human history. A former fighter, he now runs USA-MMA, promoting mixed martial arts bouts in Lafayette, Louisiana. "There's something about beating another man into submission that the world is attracted to," he says, while you watch a few fighters bouncing on the balls of their feet, shadowboxing and kicking. A percussive beat on the soundtrack punctuates their movements. Framed by doorways and silhouetted, they're poetic here, at the start of Fightville. They're also products -- of their own lives, of a culture committed to particular masculine and also commercial ideals. "By nature, [man's] a warrior," Guillory goes on, "So when you say 'fight,' everyone is gonna turn and look." In his world (the one "attracted to" cage fighting), selling that entertainment is as important as providing it, the show and the look work together. Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker's new documentary considers the effects of this apparent shift -- from fighting as primal contest to spectacle for paying consumers -- a shift that depends equally on that fighting's brutality and its poetry. Cynthia Fuchs

Film: Trollhunter

Director: André Øvredal

Cast: Otto Jespersen, Hans Morten Hansen, Tomas Alf Larsen, Johanna Mørck, Knut Nærum, Robert Stoltenberg, Glenn Erland Tosterud


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With the way the found-footage horror genre has exploded in the past few years, it’s easy to make the mistake of thinking the subgenre is already worn out. But Norway’s Trollhunter is evidence to the contrary. A small crew doing a documentary on the country’s strictly regulated bear hunt stumbles upon a mysterious man who always seems to be hanging around the fringes of the hunt. The crew follows the man and inadvertently discovers that his real job is dealing with the Norway’s secret troll problem. It’s amazing that the government has managed to keep the problem a secret, because the trolls are huge. The special effects in the film are spectacular. There are several different types of troll, and each one looks distinctive and utterly convincing. Writer/director Andre Ovredal had the audacity to do this sort of effects-heavy concept on a small budget, and he pulled it off with impressive skill. Trollhunter is a weird, fun movie that is worth discovering. Chris Conaton

Film: The Mexican Suitcase (La Maleta Mexicana)

Director: Trisha Ziff

Cast: Lorna Arroyo, Sebastian Faber, Susan Meislas, Pedro Meyer, Ben Tarver, Juan Villoro, Brian Wallis, Anna Winand

Studio: 212BERLIN

Year: 2011


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The Mexican Suitcase (La Maleta Mexicana)

Memory is at the center of The Mexican Suitcase (La Maleta Mexicana), Trisha Ziff's magnificent, complex documentary about the Mexican Suitcase, that is, three lost boxes of images of the Spanish Civil that were discovered in Mexico in 2007. The film's particular assembly of the images represents another way of remembering, as the photos constitute memories, instants of life and death captured by photographers Robert Capa, David Seymour "Chim," and Gerda Taro. The film includes as well another set of memories, as curators and photographers, academics and survivors of the war sort through their recollections. As their pieces come together to form the film, they're much like the contact sheets produced from the negatives -- each separate and all connected.

Their connections can be imposed, as an expert explains the significance of a photo or elucidates a context. Thus, Lorna Arroyo notes that what we now know as the "war correspondent" was only beginning to come into being during the Spanish Civil War, when these three photographers and others traveled to the battleground and recorded what they saw. "They're foreigners," says Arroyo, "who come for the Spanish Civil War." The concept is remarkable once you get past what has become so seemingly normal, that reporters would immerse themselves in battle in order to show people -- "the public" -- what they would never see firsthand, risking their lives in order to do so. Cynthia Fuchs

Film: The Interrupters

Director: Steve James

Cast: Ameena Matthews, Cobe Williams, Eddie Bocanegra, Tio Hardiman, Gary Slutkin

Studio: Kartemquin Films

Year: 2011


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The Interrupters

The murder of Derrion Albert seemed a turning point. A 16-year-old student at Fenger High School in Chicago, Albert was beaten to death in September 2009 during a confrontation in Roseland, a confrontation that happened to be caught on video. The video shows that the boy is hit multiple times with a railroad tie and then stomped on once he's on the ground. It's a horrific, hectic scene, and it has helped to convict four suspects. But even as the video attracted international attention, as well as public statements by Jesse Jackson and then Mayor Richard M. Daley, Eric Holder and Arne Duncan, it also only exposed what too many Chicagoans already knew, that "invisible violence" was ravaging the city.

CeaseFire is one group working to intervene in this "war zone." And their efforts are made visible in The Interrupters. This magnificent documentary, from producer/director Steve James and author-turned-producer Alex Kotlowitz, was the centerpiece screening of last year's Silverdocs Film Festival. It describes its focus in an opening title: "One year in the life of a city grappling with violence." That year is laid out by seasons in the film, but it's shaped by three Interrupters, former offenders now dedicated to stopping acts of violence. As it details their backstories and their current efforts, the movie also considers CeaseFire's premise, that violence can be treated like a disease, that its transmission can be interrupted. Cynthia Fuchs

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