Best of 2011

It appears that the lists have stalled and Terrence Mallick’s The Tree of Life is the most loved film of 2011, beating Drive by 10 lists – the smallest margin since Ghost World edged out Mulholland Drive  in 2001 (and far fewer lists were compiled that year).

As a final estimate, 830 lists were compiled from various critics in 2011.

50. Hanna (41 lists)

An intriguing, original thriller that owes as much of a debt to the likes of Frankenstein, the Brothers Grimm, David Lynch, and A Clockwork Orange as to The Professional and The Bourne Identity. — James Berardinelli, ReelViews

50. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (41 lists)


Whatever the movie’s shortcomings, director Bird more than compensates with a bullet train of action and an arsenal of cool gadgets. Maybe making cartoons has expanded his conception of what’s possible in a live film. — David Germain, Associated Press

49. Nostalgia for the Light (44 lists; 7 top spots)

Nostalgia for the Light isn’t didactic in the strictest sense. It simply shows the truth, illuminated by [Patricio Guzman]’s poetic voiceover narration and the found sound of wind and footsteps that echo across the desert plains. — Peter Howell, Toronto Star

48. Source Code (45 lists; 1 top spot)


Ripley’s intricate script and Jones’s brisk direction invite us to climb aboard and enjoy the ride. But if you want to dig deeper, there is some serious stuff about a guy lost in fragments of time, groping towards a sense of his own identity. — Nigel Floyd, Time Out

47. Incendies (45 lists; 5 top spots)

Most people do not choose their religions but have them forced upon themselves by birth, and the lesson of “Incendies” is that an accident of birth is not a reason for hatred. — Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

44. The Adventures of Tintin (46 lists; 2 top spots)

Had The Adventures of Tintin been a live motion picture rather than a motion capture-driven animated endeavor, it would have been compared to Raiders of the Lost Ark and Pirates of the Caribbean. — James Bernardinelli, ReelViews

44. Cave of Forgotten Dreams (46 lists; 2 top spots)

To call “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” a great movie isn’t just an understatement, it’s a wildly inaccurate way to describe an experience that, in its immersive sensory pleasures and climactic journey of discovery, more closely resembles an ecstatic trance. — Ann Hornaday, Washington Post

44. X-Men: First Class (46 lists; 2 top spots)

McAvoy and Fassbender are a casting triumph. These two have, yes, real star magnetism, both individually and together: They’re both cool and intense, suave and unaffected, playful and dead serious about their grand comic-book work. — Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly

43. The Ides of March (47 lists; 4 top spots)

The Ides of March is a pulse-racing thriller that hits where it hurts. Clooney’s performance is exceptional and Gosling is terrific in an all-stops-out role.  — Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

42. The Interrupters (48 lists; 2 top spots)

The Interrupters reminds us of the powers and pleasures of well-crafted, immersive nonfiction filmmaking — a genre vitiated within the past five years by a glut of cruddy-looking, poorly researched and argued titles. — Melissa Anderson, Village Voice

41. Le Havre (49 lists; 4 top spots)


Shot (by cinematographer Timo Salminen) with the precise choreography, exaggerated 1940s-style lighting and deadpan blend of comedy and melodrama that characterizes Kaurismäki, Le Havre sneaks up on you. — Andrew O’Hehir, Salon.com

40. Contagion (50 lists)

By the time this globe-hopping, movie-star-crammed disaster saga – directed with petrifying efficiency by Steven Soderbergh – comes full circle, you’ll never want to touch a subway pole or elevator button or ATM again. — Steven Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer

39. Poetry (56 lists; 6 top spots)

Now is the time to bestow on yourself the gift of one of the most, well, poetic films of 2010. And by “poetic,” we mean rich with soulful pauses that are at once visual and aural and deeply observant of the dance of routine and quiet surprise. — Lisa Kennedy, Denver Post 

38. Young Adult (59 lists)

A dark comedy that confirms Diablo Cody as a screenwriter of importance, eliminates the last shred of doubt that Jason Reitman is a major director and gives Charlize Theron her best showcase since “Monster.” — Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle

37. Margin Call (62 lists; 3 top spots)

he real strength of ‘[Chandor’s] debut feature is how persuasively it depicts the fishbowl world of high finance, whose executives seem incapable of seeing past their towering salaries and privileged lives. — J.R. Jones, Chicago Reader

36. Weekend (65 lists; 4 top spots)

The two leading actors give deft, expressive performances that have us rooting for both of them. Cullen has a broodingly sensual presence, while the impish New makes a charmingly prickly foil. — Stephen Farbor, Hollywood Reporter

35. Win Win (67 lists; 1 top spot)

The rare, humanist beauty of Win Win is that none of its characters is a caricature, none of its plot twists a blatant play for tears or laughs, none of its appeal based on some mythical lowest common denominator. — Ann Hornaday, Washington Post

34. The Muppets (68 lists; 3 top spots)

Is it perfect? No. Is it a lot of fun and does it successfully revive this inspired franchise? Absolutely and let’s seriously hope so. A world without Kermit is just too hard to face. — Tom Long, Detroit News

33. Margaret (68 lists; 10 top spots)

Nearly every scene is acutely observed, a strong cast fully inhabiting Lonergan’s symphonic collision of ideas and in tune with his ear for the harsh poetry of New York language, variously hyperbolic and sparing, engaged and self-protective. — Sheri Linden, Hollywood Reporter

32. A Dangerous Method (71 lists; 5 top spots)

It’s fascinating to see the exceptionally charismatic Fassbender squeeze himself into the role of the aristocratic, restrained Jung, and it’s just as enjoyable to see Mortensen bring an unexpected virility to his sybaritic, cigar-chomping Freud. — Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times

31. Rango (78 lists; 3 top spots)

Rango’s not just a kiddie-flick (though it has enough silly slapstick to qualify as a pretty good one). It’s a real movie lover’s movie, conceived as a Blazing Saddles-like comic commentary on genre that’s as back-lot savvy as it is light in the saddle. — Bob Mondello, NPR

30. Warrior (78 lists; 5 top spots)

Lovers of the sport and macho men in general be warned: Warrior is so beautifully constructed and emotionally engaging, the tears are almost certain to fall. Bring a hankie and/or a very discreet companion. — Bruce Demara, Toronto Star

29. Mysteries of Lisbon (78 lists; 11 top spots)

A sumptuous unravelling of secrets wrapped in tantalizing stories that gradually interconnect the lives of an ensemble of characters who seduce, betray and defend each other in the years surrounding the Peninsular War. — Jennie Punter, Globe and Mail

28. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (87 lists; 1 top spot)

Caesar’s prison conversion to charismatic pan-ape revolutionist is near-silent filmmaking, with simple and precise images illustrating Caesar’s General-like divining of personalities and his organization of a group from chaos to order. — Nick Pinkerton, Village Voice

27. War Horse (88 lists; 9 top spots)

Spielberg’s phenomenal skill for making images remains undiminished. The rows in a piece of knitting dissolve into the furrows in a stony field; men’s bodies fly through the air like broken dolls. Some images are too fussed over, but every one is striking. — Stephen Whitty, Newark Star-Ledger

26. The Help (89 lists; 2 top spots)

It serves as an enlightening and deeply affecting exercise in empathy for those who’ve never considered what life must have been like for African-Americans living with inequality a full century after the Emancipation Proclamation called an end to slavery. — Peter Debruge, Variety

25. Super 8 (89 lists; 7 top spots)

Put “The Goonies,” “E.T.,” “Close Encounters” and “War of the Worlds” in that blender from “Gremlins” — and transport the mixture back to 1979 in the “Back to the Future” DeLorean — and you get J.J. Abrams’ “Super 8.” — Lou Lumenick, New York Post

24. Meek’s Cutoff (95 lists; 8 top spots)

Imagine a collaboration between John Ford and Wallace Stevens and you might get a sense of what Kelly Reichardt pulls off here: a sincere re-creation of the pioneer experience, brought to life through careful, often unexpected detail. — Ben Saches, Chicago Reader

23. The Skin I Live In (96 lists; 2 top spots)

“The Skin I Live In” is like a David Cronenberg horror film as made by a director who doesn’t fear the body but revels in it, who is too sensual and amoral by nature to find anything truly disgusting or foreign. — Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle

22. Attack the Block (96 lists; 5 top spots)

 It’s a mash up of Gremlins, E.T., a stoner comedy and a monster B-movie, delivered with a visual nod to 1970s teen gang films and reflecting the comedy smarts of, well, Joe Cornish. — Jennie Punter, Globe & Mail

21. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (98 lists; 14 top spots)

While the result is pretty much the definition of a film that should be experienced, not explained, there’s no sense here that Weerasethakul is being difficult for difficult’s sake, or even attempting to conceal his mysteries. — Justin Chang, Variety

20. 50/50 (106 lists; 5 top spots)

As a comedy about a young man with cancer, it needs to be serious enough to be real as well as light enough to be funny. Though it falls off the wagon at times, it maintains its balance remarkably well. — Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times

19. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (113 lists; 3 top spots)

I don’t think I’ve seen an actor do more with deadpan expressions than Mara does in this movie. Her face doesn’t move but, whether she’s tasing a man or standing in front of a mirror watching a cigarette dangle from her mouth, we respond to her. — Wesley Morris, Boston Globe

18. Beginners (114 lists; 4 top spot)
On paper, it all could have been too cloying or self-conscious, but writer-director Mike Mills finds just the right tone every time. He also draws lovely, natural performances from Christopher Plummer and Ewan McGregor. — Christy Lemire, Associated Press

17. We Need To Talk About Kevin (119 lists; 8 top spots)

Ms. Ramsay, with ruthless ingenuity, creates a deeper dread and a more acute feeling of anticipation by allowing us to think we know what is coming and then shocking us with the extent of our ignorance. — A.O. Scott, New York Times

16. Certified Copy (119 lists; 18 top spots)

The basic plot – a man and a woman traveling and talking – is reminiscent of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise/Before Sunset films, but the way in which Certified Copy calls into question the nature of reality is more akin to Inception. — James Berardinelli, ReelViews

15. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (126 lists; 8 top spots)

Everything a summer blockbuster should be but rarely is – a whip-smart, slam-bang piece of entertainment where we deeply care about the fate of the central characters (and many subsidiary ones who return for their last bows). — Lou Lumenick, New York Post

14. Shame (134 lists; 14 top spots)

Fassbender’s performance here is riveting, haunting. He immerses himself and makes you feel as if you’re truly watching a man hell-bent on exorcising his demons through compulsive self-destruction. — Christy Lemire, Associated Press

13. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (137 lists; 9 top spots)

It is one of the few films so visually absorbing, felicitous shot after shot, that its emotional coldness is noticed only at the end, when all the plot twists are unraveled in a solid piece of thinking-man’s entertainment for upmarket thriller audiences. — Deborah Young, Hollywood Reporter

12. Take Shelter (145 lists; 11 top spots)

Here is a frightening thriller based not on special effects gimmicks but on a dread that seems quietly spreading in the land: that the good days are ending, and climate changes or other sinister forces will sweep away our safety. — Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

11. Martha Marcy May Marlene (153 lists; 7 top spots)

The story hinges on a believable lead performance, and Olsen is mesmerizing in her first film role. She starts out wide-eyed and vulnerable and eventually assumes the look of a captive, communicating raw paranoia with subtle gestures. — Claudia Puig, USA Today

10. Bridesmaids (157 lists; 6 top spots)

The movie is smart about a lot of things, including the vital importance of female friendships. And it’s nice to see so many actresses taking up space while making fun of something besides other women. — Manohla Dargis, New York Times

9. A Separation (180 lists; 12 top spots)

One of the year’s best foreign films, A Separation goes beyond its particular Iranian tale of a marital dissolution, contesting along the way gender, cultural, and religious values and taboos. — Emanual Levy, EmanuelLevy.com

8. Moneyball (198 lists; 10 top spots)

Pitt and Hill make Beane and Brand seem like the year’s most intriguing couple, bringing deep shades of humour and pathos to their characters that help make Moneyball more than just another sports or baseball movie. — Peter Howell, Toronto Star

7. Midnight in Paris (216 lists; 10 top spots)

This supernatural comedy isn’t just Allen’s best film in more than a decade; it’s the only one that manages to rise above its tidy parable structure and be easy, graceful, and glancingly funny, as if buoyed by its befuddled hero’s enchantment. — David Edelstein, New York Magazine

6. Melancholia (237 lists; 38 top spots)

Depression finally seems to have brought out the best in Lars von Trier: “Melancholia” is his strongest work in a while, a devastatingly beautiful, operatic mixture of all his signature themes and visual schemes. — Christy Lemire, Associated Press

5. The Descendants (264 lists; 34 top spots)

To call “The Descendants” perfect would be a kind of insult, a betrayal of its commitment to, and celebration of, human imperfection. Its flaws are impossible to distinguish from its pleasures. — A.O. Scott, New York Times

4. Hugo (294 lists; 37 top spots)

If ever the movie gods were to smile on an adaptation, it would be Scorsese’s take on Selznick’s bestselling book, a valentine to the cinematic artists whose work the filmmaker has toiled so tirelessly to champion and preserve. — Ann Hornaday, Washington Post

3. The Artist (295 lists; 52 top spots)

Dujardin turns his impeccable imitation skills on a host of early film stars, combining Rudolph Valentino’s smoldering appeal and slicked-back hair with Errol Flynn’s panache and pencil moustache, while preserving an essential sincerity in the process. — Peter Debruge, Variety

2. Drive (365 lists; 80 top spots)

Tense car chases, action scenes handled with crisp panache and Canadian actor Ryan Gosling channelling Steve McQueen as an existential wheel man add up to make Drive one of the best arty-action films since Steven Soderbergh’s The Limey. — Liam Lacey, Globe and Mail

1. The Tree of Life (375 lists; 76 top spots)

Wonder, dread, hope. They’re among the emotions prompted by the cascade of images in something that’s closer to epic poetry than to anything resembling narrative cinema. — Peter Howell, Toronto Star

2 responses to “Best of 2011

  1. Bartender

    Year 2011 for me:
    #1 Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
    #2 Margin Call
    #3 The Tree of Life
    #4 Rundskop
    #5 The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
    #6 Carnage
    #7 A Separation
    #8 The Artist
    #9 The Ides of March
    #10 Hugo
    #11 Les Intouchables
    #12 Rango
    #13 Moneyball
    #14 Drive

    NOTE: Haven’t seen “W Ciemnosci” and all the 14 films are in my Top 250 Favorite Films

  2. Bryan

    Plenty of good films and yet, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close snuck its way into the Best Picture field.

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