Best Lesser-Known Movies from 2011

The Best of 2011! Check out these great lesser-known films, and forgive me for the inclusion of a small number of bigger indie releases.

#1 Ceremony


The romantic desperation of flawed characters with humour, love and understanding.
Sam (Michael Angarano) is going to take his friend Marshall (Reece Thompson) on an adventure. It starts with Sam referring to liking a book in his “younger and more vulnerable years.” Sam used to think it was written about him; Marshall thinks it is written about him. And if you already know which book they are referring to, the characteristics of Sam and Marshall, and the adventure they are about to go on, instantly fall into place. 2010

Directed by: Max Winkler

Screenplay by: Max Winkler

Starring: Michael Angarano, Reece Thompson, Uma Thurman and Lee Pace
See full review of Ceremony

#2 Daydream Nation

An edge-of-your-seat coming-of-age drama.

In a small town where teachers sit in front of apathetic kids in the classroom and teenagers have nothing better to do than find household items that might get them high, "Daydream Nation" sneaks in and takes everything by storm. Caroline (Kat Dennings) is new in town and it's not that she loves to cause strife or turmoil, but she's smarter than her fellow classmates and she's looking to define herself just as any smart, lonely teenager would do. This is the year that everything happens. 2010

Directed by: Michael Goldbach

Screenplay by: Michael Goldbach

Starring: Kat Dennings, Josh Lucas, Andie MacDowell and Reece Thompson
See full review of Daydream Nation

#3 Jolene

"Jolene" is an unforgettable journey.

"Jolene" is quite a film. It's about the journey of life for Jolene (Jessica Chastain), who is quite a character. A girl who was left to be raised by the authorities, she is itching to experience more of the world and be happy—the type of girl who could get hurt. But Jolene has an indescribable quality that makes people fall in love with her, lust after her, commit crimes for her and then go crazy, and generally in that order. Likelihood is they’ll get hurt instead of Jolene.2008 (with 2011 DVD release)

Directed by: Dan Ireland

Screenplay by: Dennis Yares
Based on the short story "Jolene: A Life" by E.L. Doctorow

Starring: Jessica Chastain
See full review of Jolene

#4 Beautiful Boy


The beauty of love and the beast of life's realities.

“Beautiful Boy” is about people. Husband Bill (Michael Sheen) and wife Kate (Maria Bello) and their son who is in his first year of college. They have an emotionless marriage, one where things are done logically rather than with feeling. They’re separated, just not physically. Bill is going to save up money, then find an apartment, then put a down payment on it, and then move out. But then comes the news of a mass shooting at their son’s school. The police arrive at their door and the tears start flowing. But, wait, as the cops say, “There’s more.”2010

Directed by: Shawn Ku

Screenplay by: Michael Armbruster and Shawn Ku

Starring: Maria Bello and Michael Sheen
See full review of Beautiful Boy

#5 Howl


Poetry and its education brought to life.

Allen Ginsberg's poem Howl brought to life with a mix of adult animation, court-room drama and the beliefs of a young hero of sorts. Ginsberg represented the new generation of the young, confused nonconformists and he wrote poetry that ignited the wrath of the older generation that rejected their freethinking ways. The great thing about "Howl" is that I didn't know any of that before the film, it was able to educate me about a remarkable young man and literary voice. 2010

Directed by: Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman

Screenplay by: Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman

Starring: James Franco
See full review of Howl

#6 Little Fish, Strange Pond (AKA: Frenemy)

Perfect mix of intrigue, danger, tragedy, love, sex, violence and plain old American fun.

I saw this titled as "Frenemy" but the original "Little Fish, Strange Pond" is a much better title. It's not just that Mr. Jack (Matthew Modine) and Sweet Stephan (Callum Blue) are small players in the grand schemes of the world, but that the world is a strange place.

Directed by: Gregory Dark

Screenplay by: Robert Dean Klein

Starring: Matthew Modine and Callum Blue
See full review of Little Fish, Strange Pond

#7 HappyThankYouMorePlease


Happiness, gratitude and wit all in good measure.

Based on the plot line, six New Yorkers juggle love and friendship, and the fact that it is written and directed by and starring Josh Radnor of "How I Met Your Mother" fame, one could easily assume that "HappyThankYouMorePlease" is a 3-part episode of "Friends" on the big screen. Surprisingly, that's not it at all. The humour is in the dialogue, not the situations.

Directed by: Josh Radnor

Screenplay by: Josh Radnor

Starring: Josh Radnor, Malin Akerman and Kate Mara
See full review of HappyThankYouMorePlease

#8 Peep World


A true comedy that you don't have to hold up a mirror for.

"Peep World" is a peek into a world of a dysfunctional family. It's a dysfunctional family comedy and it's funny. Henry had four children, even though he really shouldn't have had any, and they all pretty much hate each other and him. This movie is set on one particular day: Henry's birthday, and right after the youngest sibling, Nathan (Ben Schwartz), wrote a best-selling book revealing the family's secrets. 2010

Directed by: Barry W. Blaustein

Screenplay by: Peter Himmelstein

Starring: Ben Schwartz, Kate Mara and Michael C. Hall
See full review of Peep World

#9 The Waterhole

Hilarious dialogue for drunk, angry, twenty-something guys.

In a non-descript small town, "The Waterhole" centers on Miller (Patrick J. Adams) as he frequents a bar with best friend and roommate, Jim (Jade Carter), and bar's owner Murphy (Matt Stasi). Although it's about a group of friends hanging out in a bar discussing life and navigating love and relationships, it's better written than that, making it better than most of its contemporaries.
2009 (With 2011 DVD release)

Directed by: Ely Mennin

Screenplay by: Nathan Cole

Starring: Patrick J. Adams
See full review of The Waterhole

#10 That's What I Am

Teaching tolerance and loving one's self in a realistic, mature way.

Human Dignity + Compassion = PEACE. That’s Mr. Simon’s (Ed Harris) award-winning four-word solution to world peace. Unfortunately, children are cruel, and there isn’t even peace in his 1965 junior high classroom. “That’s What I Am” is narrated by an adult Andy Nichol, who, as an awkward 13 year-old is popular enough that he gets bypassed by the bullies but he wouldn’t want to jeopardize that by socializing with the outcasts.2011

Directed by: Michael Pavone

Screenplay by: Michael Pavone

Starring: Ed Harris and Chase Ellison
See full review of That's What I Am

#11 Dear Lemon Lima


A smart, boy-obsessed girl creating a unique, quirky indie.

I have discovered a missing genre in the American film landscape: the smart, quirky girl teen comedy. Most notably with “Rushmore” (1998) and filmmakers like Wes Anderson, the smart, isolated male teen have become heroes in quirky indie films. Up until now, there hasn’t really been a female equivalent. But here comes “Dear Lemon Lima” where our heroine is awkward and boy-obsessed, but she’s also ambitious, kind-hearted and smart, and those are the qualities that drive this film. 2009 (with 2011 DVD release)

Directed by: Suzi Yoonessi

Screenplay by: Suzi Yoonessi

Starring: Savanah Wiltfong and Shayne Topp
See full review of Dear Lemon Lima

#12 The Bang Bang Club

Internal conflict between observation and action.

The war rages on in the final days of apartheid in South Africa. "The Bang Bang Club" is a group of four, young, fearless photographers who drove in head first into the racial fighting. Why they did such a thing is certainly in question. At first, I would chalk it up to the male-driven need for action. Other reasons will be there, but even they question it after awhile.2010

Directed by: Steven Silver

Screenplay by: Steven Silver

Starring: Ryan Phillippe, Malin Akerman and Taylor Kitsch
See full review of The Bang Bang Club

#13 Miss Nobody


Murder in a fun, cartoon-like environment.

Sarah Jane McKinney (Leslie Bibb) is "Miss Nobody", a secretary for a pharmaceutical company who has no boyfriend but faith that her guiding angel will send her messages as to what she should be doing. Her mother ensures her that everybody lies, so a very smudged resume gets her a promotion to junior executive. 2010

Directed by: Tim Cox

Screenplay by: Doug Steinberg

Starring: Leslie Bibb and Adam Goldberg
See full review of Miss Nobody

#14 The Entitled


Rich kids, poor kids, their parents, and all their attitudes locked in a house.

A group of under-privileged kids starving for money and attention; a group of over-privileged kids starving for action and attention; a group of over-privileged adults trying to be content with their current state of life. That’s “The Entitled.” One group wants what the others have and the others just plain want. If you want an intelligent, thought-out thriller, you’ve got it. 2011

Directed by: Aaron Woodley

Screenplay by: William Morrissey

Starring: Kevin Zegers and Ray Liotta
See full review of The Entitled

#15 Little White Lies


You will laugh and cry as you are sure to find at least one character to care about.

“Little White Lies” is a multi-relationship drama; one about love, loss and life. It has witty situations, witty lines, and a near-fatal accident. Oh yes, this is an attempt at the hard-to-write comedy-tragedy genre. Thankfully, it doesn’t really fail, but instead of being overly comedic or tragic, it plays out mostly dramatically.2010

Directed by: Guillaume Canet

Screenplay by: Guillaume Canet

Starring: Marion Cotillard, François Cluzet and Benoît Magimel
See full review of Little White Lies

#16 The Oxford Murders

Great use of actual math and philosophical logic in an old-fashioned murder mystery.

An ambitious mathematics grad student in number theory, Martin (Elijah Wood), arrives in Oxford eager to work with famed Professor Seldom (John Hurt). The film refreshingly starts with a brief history of math and the philosophical stances of both characters on the subject. Then the first murder occurs, with of course the use of a symbol that begs the assistance of Professor Seldom and Martin in the police case. 2008

Directed by: Alex de la Iglesia

Screenplay by: Alex de la Iglesia and Jorge Guerricaechevarria

Starring: Elijah Wood and John Hurt
See full review of The Oxford Murders

#17 Bitter/Sweet

Light and sweet and an enjoyable trip to Thailand.

A part Thai film, part U.S. film, "Bitter/Sweet" did a wonderful job of merging the two cultures for both audiences. It centers on Brian (Kip Pardue) a young American, for the Western audiences to connect to, but takes place in Thailand. It even manages to include a small-town girl in big-city who comes back to her hometown storyline, without me completely noticing. 2009

Directed by: Jeff Hare

Screenplay by: Jeff Hare

Starring: Kip Pardue and Napakpapha Nakprasitte
See full review of Bitter/Sweet

#18 Flypaper


A crime comedy that's unique and messy and nowhere near realistic.

There comes a time in every criminal's life when he has to make sacrifices. "Flypaper" takes place in a bank where two criminal groups have simultaneously arrived to rob the place. But this is not a crime drama; it's a dark comedy revolving around some very unlikely characters. Namely, Tripp (Patrick Dempsey), an autistic hero of sorts who is super-observant but unable to behave appropriately. 2011

Directed by: Rob Minkoff

Screenplay by: Jon Lucas and Scott Moore

Starring: Patrick Dempsey and Ashley Judd
See full review of Flypaper