Five Underseen Movies in 2011 Worth Watching

by David R.

In case you forgot, the Oscars air this coming Sunday. There’s a pretty decent list of movies making up the nominations, and as always, there are plenty of movies that I wish had been better represented. Of course, every year has gems falling through the cracks, so this is my small effort to bring your attention to five movies from 2011 that I think deserved more attention than they got.

1. Margin Call

Now, this movie has been nominated for Best Original Screenplay, but it’s not really in contention. It should be, though. Margin Call follows the employees of an investment firm over the course of one long night as they have to make a choice between good ethics and good business. Sounds like a drag, I know, but the writer keeps the focus on the people, not the business. Midway through the movie, one man climbs onto a rooftop railing, considering a suicide jump. He looks down at the street, then climbs back down. “Not today.” Stark moments like this enliven the seemingly dull subject matter.

No matter how good a script is, though, you need the right cast to bring it off. Margin Call is stacked with big names: Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci, Simon Baker and Paul Bettany all put in good performances. The story as a whole revolves around a character played by Star Trek’s Zachary Quinto, who actually manages to hold his own with each of these powerful actors. Throughout the movie, the writer throws in several memorable, chilling monologues, giving pretty much every actor (minus the observer Quinto) a great scene to chew on. The sum total of all this is that Margin Call is a movie that could have been preachy or tedious but is in actuality very, very sharp and engaging.

2. Meek’s Cutoff

Of all the entries on this list, this is probably the one that has the most “artsy” vibe and intent. It’s not perfect, nor is it for everybody. There were only six other people in the theater when I saw it, and four of them didn’t care for the movie at all. All that said, Meek’s Cutoff is nothing if not a change of pace. It follows a wagon train heading west as the people on it deal with obstacles both physical and emotional.

One cool thing about this movie’s approach is that it manages to draw suspense from tedious, mundane activities. A great example would be the scene where one of the main characters has to signal a group of people with two musket shots. She discharges one shot, and then we watch her frantically load and fire the weapon again – a process that takes almost a minute. The amount of effort required to do simple things like that, or getting a wagon from the top of a hill to the bottom, or fixing a wagon wheel, makes the journey all the more harrowing for the characters AND the audience. If you don’t mind a movie built upon silence and realism, check out Meek’s Cutoff.

3. Jane Eyre

Like Meek’s Cutoff, this movie thrives on silence and small, subtle moments. Unlike that movie, though, Jane Eyre takes these small moments and — over the course of a couple hours – builds them into a fairly expressive gothic melodrama, complete with a tragic romance. The book is a classic, obviously, but I personally haven’t had the urge to read it since high school; I went into the movie cold. So believe me when I say it works on its own terms and has a few story turns that will catch you off guard if you aren’t ready for them.

The story may be classic, but what elevates this particular version of it is the brilliant acting. Mia Waikowska (Alice in Wonderland) is a pitch-perfect blend of passion and plainness in the title role, and actor of the year Michael Fassbender delivers a brilliant, complicated performance as Mr. Rochester. Other able performers fill out the movie, delivering medium-to-small roles capably, helping the story along the slow build to its grand finale. If you need a moody antidote to something like Pride & Prejudice, look no further.

  • So glad to see some love for Black Death. It (like Centurion before it) has been passed up by most people as just another bloody medieval film, but it was a lot better than that. The acting was great and the story was better than 90% of the movies I saw last year.

    I would highly recommend both Black Death and Centurion, though I would urge people to stay away from the similarly themed Ironclad (with James Purefoy, Paul Giamatti, and Derek Jacobi). Ironclad was awful

  • Dzuksi

    Oh yeah – Take Shelter is amazing – definietly should have been nominated for Oscar.

    Shannon just destroys every lead actor nomination with his brutal performance. Best performance of the year for sure. And great sad movie too!

  • Johnny D

    Black Death was superbly eery and Take Shelter was one of the most gripping movies I’ve seen in a long time, especially one incredibly intense scene. Good picks!

  • Johnny D


    I would definitely recommend the 2011 British film called ‘Kill List’. It was probably one of the scariest films I have ever seen and its last act is absolutely terror-inducing. I would call it a modern day Wicker Man (the 70s version), only much better.

    The plot centers around a former hitman being persuaded by his partner into taking a new assignment: three new targets to kill. As each hit becomes more and more bizarre and disturbing, he realizes there’s much more to it, which is quite evident during the last target.

    It is essential that you go in not knowing anything else than that, just that it starts a little slow but the pay-off twist near the end is insane. The trailer is also very cryptic, as it reveals basically nothing, though there is a split second frame that might:–v1tg

    Let me know if you decide to check it out!

  • MarkShek

    Seen a number of recommendations on Meek’s Cutoff and Black Death and still need to see them, but Take Shelter is one of my favorite films from last year. Not much to say that hasn’t been said already, but just piling on the love.

    The movies I loved from 2011 that are under-the-radar as far as mainstream movie-goers are concerned include Another Earth, The Skin I Live In, Tyrannosaur, Bellflower, and The Guard. All ones that I would recommend (A.E., TSILI, and Tyrannosaur in particular)

  • Camden

    I Just picked up Take shelter the other day because the trailer was great, had never heard of it before that. The movie Is really Great

  • James

    Let me guess…Sean Bean dies in Black Death, right?

  • Gothic Sora

    What you can’t give Quinto the nod for Heros also?

  • MisterDeeder

    How was there a Sean Bean movie released that I didn’t know about :O Must watch now 😛 And yes… I do think he dresses like that all the time. It’s long passed wardrobe for him. They just call him onto the set and he’s good to go.

  • laurel

    Black Death? Oh, no no no….. It was grim, dark, and the ending just seals the deal. I L-O-V-E Sean Bean, but this movie had no redeeming qualities (maybe the costuming?).

  • VileThings

    I was really surprised by Arthur, a movie a friend recommened to me which I had previously heard nothing about. Its IMDB score stands at 5.7/10 but I gave it a 8/10. It has all to components of a romantic comedy but mixed in a way that makes it very enjoyable.

  • Kevin

    Take Shelter was the best movie I saw last year. And Jessica Chastain was fantastic. This movie deserved better.

  • Micah

    Another Earth could have also been added to this list. Great movie with a great ending.