Top 11 Films Of 2011

August 31, 2012 Best Of, Film Reviews

I realize we are over halfway through 2012, but I was finally able to see all the movies I wanted to before making this list. So let’s look back at the previous calendar year in film. The following is a list of my favorite movies of 2011.

11. Shame

An excruciating plunge into the world of sexual addiction. The shame of Fassbender’s character continues to sink its teeth into you well after the credits roll. The acting is possessed and unruly, leading it to be a very uncomfortable film to watch. This is one of the most provocative portrayals of a tortured and compulsive existence to which I’ve endured witness.

10. Moneyball

Six words: Brad Pitt. Jonah Hill. Aaron Sorkin.

9. Take Shelter

Probably a victim of mis-marketing, Take Shelter is actually a psychological drama; and one of the most terror-ific kind. Ambiguous endings seem to be the theme this year as we must decide for ourselves whether Shannon’s character is truly mad or remarkably prophetic.

8. We Need To Talk About Kevin

While this is not the kind of movie that I would casually recommend to someone, it deserves commendation. Great editing (especially sound), great directing, great acting, and great style. It’s a grisly and harrowing story, and one I’m still thinking about weeks later.

7. The Artist

Nothing short of amazing. What is accomplished with no (well, almost no) sound is incredible. I’m not much a fan for silent film, but somehow, perhaps magically, director Michel Hazanavicius has both captured and set free the wonder of cinema.

6. Incendies

Boasting some gorgeous cinematic moments and a story you’ll have to see to believe, Incendies is my favorite foreign film of the year.

5. Melancholia

The more time that passes the more I look back on this film with adoration. While there’s a lot left unsaid, Melancholia is begging for its audience to bring themselves to the experience and embody the gaps. With an obtuse balance of surrealism, minimalism, and meaning, Melancholia is a visionary, albeit demanding, experience.

4. Warrior

Much how 127 Hours made my top 10 last year, Warrior holds its place as the most emotionally moving film of the year for me. I’m a sucker for a good martial arts story (thanks TMNT) and the dynamic between the brothers was intensely significant to me.

3. In A Better World

In A Better World is more aptly described by its Danish title, Hævnen, which means Vengeance but also serves as a play on the spelling of “Heaven.” It is a subtle yet complex and deep drama about the struggles inherent in human co-existence. No one character is without flaw. There is no hero and there nearly is no villain(s) (unless you count the Sudanese warlord among the primary cast.) Susanne Bier has once again directed a masterpiece. Beautiful filmmaking and gorgeous cinematography undergird this Academy Award winning film that all at once captures our weakness and our beauty.

2. Martha Marcy Mae Marlene

I was completely engrossed in this film. I loved the cinematography and art direction. The performances were impeccable, especially by the star Elizabeth Olsen. The ambiguous final scene, albeit frustrating at first, is the only way this psychological suspense story could “end”, and opens up a multitude of interpretations I was blind to during my entranced viewing. This is a complex, dark, and wonderfully constructed work.

1. Drive

I love this movie. I never watch movies more than once so the fact that I’ve seen this three times speaks volumes. If you saw last year’s list you might remember that I’m defenseless against highly stylized films; and this 80s-noir thriller-drama is, for me, one of only a few five-star films of 2011.

Honorable Mentions:

Margin Call

Intelligent and well-acted. An engrossing movie for an aspiring Quant like myself.

Horrible Bosses

The funniest film of the year (yes, sorry Bridesmaids), Horrible Bosses is hilarious, a credit to the pitch perfect cast who are able to maximize this irreverent and immodest office comedy.

The Help

Another powerhouse performance movie that affected me deeply.

A Separation

While it’s almost less about divorce than the suspenseful drama who-dun-it that propels the story along, the relational complexities of this broken family are the soul of this story. I can find nothing wrong with this film. You will remember it.

Significant Letdowns:


Watching Paquin’s character, Lisa, emotionally vomit on everything in sight for two and a half hours is not my idea of a good time. Turns out, it doesn’t make for a very good movie either. If there was an actual story through-line buried in this wreckage of a handful of superbly acted and existentially meaningful scenes, it’s too much to ask to unbury it. Not to mention that the exercise of sifting through debris for meaning is a wholly pretentious one at that.

The Tree Of Life

A mesmerizing journey for the senses, The Tree Of Life, for all it does right, sinks its roots deep into Malick’s pretentious theology-art and doesn’t offer any symmetry from which to interpret its abstractions.

The Interrupters

A good documentary gets you to care about the subject(s) or the cause. This did neither.

Certified Copy

Are you satisfied with a copy, or do you want the original? I was not only unsatisfied by this “certified copy” of a disintegrated relationship, I was irritated. It’s not that I find it pretentious or too artistic, it’s more that it’s shambling to the point of frustration. I’m aware this film is a bit of a mystery, framed in the form of a question, but the lack of something real to sink one’s teeth into is both revelatory of my rationalist/realist disposition and the infuriating ambiguity of the nature of the co-stars’ relationship. This movie should come with a warning, or at least a more directly offered foreshadowing of the duality of the make-believe that dominates the majority of the runtime. But if the question to be answered is not whether it’s real or fiction, but rather whether you are content with a good copy or prefer the real thing, Certified Copy wholly succeeds. And I clearly prefer the latter.

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