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Best films of the year (so far)

By this point in the year, most film critics have already given their updates as to which films are their favorites so far.

These lists are typically formed around June or the halfway point of the current year, but that never makes much sense considering there are still two months of summer blockbusters to sit through, as well as the entire fall season.

With the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) mere weeks away — including a whole roster of films vying for audiences’ attentions and awards consideration — Scene & Heard takes a look at a few of the best films we’ve seen this year to see if they change come December.

“Meek’s Cutoff” 


Florida-born director Kelly Reichardt created one of the most stirring portraits of modern society that there has been in quite awhile, yet she went back in time to do so. Set in the late 1800s, “Cutoff” follows a fleet of wagons making their way across the Western desert in search of a place to call home.

While that just about covers all that takes place onscreen in the film, the beauty of “Meek’s Cutoff” is that the real grit is in the details.

The fleet is quickly led astray by the misguided Meek, who firmly believes he knows what is right for those blindly following him en route to nowhere. While Terrence Malick struggled with finding the meaning of life in “The Tree of Life,” Reichardt brings a lot to light in this seemingly abstract film.

“SUPER”

A holdover from last year’s TIFF, “SUPER” walked away from that festival with loads of acclaim, but didn’t really catch on with audiences until its short mid-2011 theatrical run.

Finding little joy in subtlety, director James Gunn’s “SUPER” follows Frank who begins masquerading as a superhero by the name of Crimson Bolt in an effort to earn his wife’s love back from a murderous drug dealer.

When Frank recruits a young college-aged comic book addict as his sidekick, things begin to head downhill as Frank’s quest grows increasingly crazier.

“Attack the Block”

While “Super 8” was a standout adventure film set against an alien invasion, it didn’t exactly deliver the laughs and thrills quite like “Attack the Block.” Though the pair would make for a great double feature, “Attack the Block” will likely win the title of best alien invasion film of 2011.

The film sets the extraterrestrial attack against a British public housing area known as “a block,” and fills in its cast with more than a few memorable characters — particularly Moses, an unloved tough guy who’s the leader of a group of ragtag thieves.

The breathless action is paced by moments of genuine comedy that were missing from J.J. Abrams’s “Super 8,” and the final action sequence in “Attack the Block” may just be the most memorable of the year.

“Captain America: The First Avenger”

While it’s bookended by two scenes that are simply meant to serve the forthcoming 2012 film “The Avengers,” there is something to be said for a superhero film that takes itself seriously, but never loses its sense of fun.

“Captain America: The First Avenger” is part “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and part “Iron Man,” though it is much more engaging than the latter comic book adaptation. Starring the always-charismatic Chris Evans, the film’s moments of superhero silliness are permeated by smartly choreographed action scenes, witty dialogue and even a musical number.

While all three of those previously mentioned components would normally feel out of place in any rote superhero movie that makes it into theaters, they’re all blended together very well in this enjoyable action concoction.

“Submarine”

If Richard Ayoade’s coming of age film “Submarine” doesn’t at least pick up a “Best Adapted Screenplay” nomination at this year’s Academy Awards ceremony, it’ll be a great disservice to this adaptation of Joe Dunthorne’s racy novel.

A young boy named Oliver gets swept up by a dashing young girl by the name of Jordana, and as most stories of this nature go, the two don’t end up living happily ever after. More obsessed with setting off firecrackers than having any sort of meaning in their relationship, the two start to drift when Oliver starts looking for more.

The film features an ensemble of great performances, a few atmospheric tracks by Arctic Monkeys’ frontman Alex Turner, and a resolution to Oliver and Jordana’s relationship that leaves quite a lasting impression. Ayoade has made this generation’s “Harold and Maude” in spirit, but in an effort that is admirable simply on its own.