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The 10 Best Films of 2011

The 10 Best Films of 2011

Yep, another bloody year-end list...
Jan 5, 2012

It’s 2012 now, in case you didn’t notice, so before the world comes to an end and Roland Emmerich can say “I told you so!”, I think it’s best we reflect on the year that was.

Speaking for myself here – and not for Tom Clift, whose list is also below — 2011 was one of those years where the average quality of movies was quite high, yet no one film in particular stood out as being the best. In previous years, there’s always been a film that, upon leaving the cinema, I would think “that’s my number one right there.” Not so in 2011. There was a lot of “that’s in my top ten”, but nothing more. Still, most of the films listed below are what you’d call “growers”, and although my number one had me absolutely spellbound from start to finish, it was only in the days that followed that I truly fell in love with it.

I should also mention that two of the films on my list have yet to be released in Australia. Still, I saw them in 2011 (thanks to screeners and early previews), and the rest of the world saw them in 2011, so just you try and stop me from putting them on my list for 2011! It’s hardly my fault globalisation isn’t all it’s cracked up to be…

Anyhow, enough chit-chat; let’s get down to business.

Anders Wotzke’s Top 10:

martha marcy may marlene poster1 e1325734191609 The 10 Best Films of 2011

10. Martha Marcy May Marlene (US)

I don’t think I’ll ever correctly remember the title — I usually end up blurting out a dozen things starting with ‘M’ — but I’m never going to forget this salient passive-aggressive thriller from Sean Durkin. It’s the story of a teenage girl (Elizabeth Olsen) who is lured into a Manson-like cult, where she’s psychologically conditioned by their seductively sinister leader (John Hawkes) to comply willingly in their dubious activities. It’s chillingly credible, thanks in no small part to Hawkes’ deeply unsettling performance and Olsen’s tremendous ability to wear Martha’s trauma in the absence of being able to verbalise it.

1270798 The 10 Best Films of 2011

9. X-men: First Class (US)

I don’t like to re-watch many movies, if only because there’s so many movies I haven’t seen, it seems counterproductive to revisits those I have. Yet when I was propositioned to see X-men: First Class in the cinemas for a second time, I jumped at the opportunity. There was just something weighty and consequential about this origin story that very few prequels possess, from the pitch-perfect development of Magneto and Professor X’s relationship, to the way in which the events are cleverly woven into Cold War history. Watching it a second time did reveal the seams of the movie – the effects are a little sloppy, and some of the supporting characters are token – but I left the cinema feeling much like I did the first time: completely and utterly content that I had witnessed the beginnings of something BIG.

1242460 The 10 Best Films of 2011

8. We Need to Talk About Kevin (US/UK)

Much like Martha Marcy Monkey Mr. Magoo, We Need To Talk About Kevin is another psycho-drama about everything that goes unsaid. A never-better Tilda Swinton spends most of the film with her jaw wide-open in disbelief that her son Kevin climbed out of her womb and not the pits of hell. The treatment of Kevin’s psychology is a tad too black and white for my liking, but director Lynne Ramsay’s fingernails-on-a-blackboard approach to horror is ferociously effective, as every sight and sound – however mundane – feels as though it’s scratching away at your soul, bit by bit.


1321860 The 10 Best Films of 2011

7. The Beaver (US/UAE)

Jodie Foster’s The Beaver was widely overlooked because of Mel Gibson’s insanity, but as those who saw it will attest, the film actually benefited from the parallels with the actor’s tumultuous personal life. The fact that Gibson gives a career-best performance as Walter Black — a broken man who uses a Beaver puppet to help purge his depression — doesn’t hurt either. But what I appreciate the most about Foster’s film is its underlying optimism, beginning with the road to recovery rather than wallowing in despair, which films about depression (unsurprisingly) tend to do. The road ahead isn’t without potholes, though. And when The Beaver wants to hit, it hits hard.


0478304 The 10 Best Films of 2011

6. The Tree of Life (US)

After emerging from Terrence Malick’s arthouse opus The Tree of Life in one piece, I overheard someone say “next time we go to the movies, I vote we see a movie.”

And they’ve got a point: The Tree of Life is more of a sensation than it is a movie. Malick set out to recreate the sensory experience of life, which as we all know, is profound as often as it is ponderous, inspiring as often as it is insipid — just like this movie. The Tree of Life is deeply flawed, yes, but that’s what makes it so perfect.


1605783 The 10 Best Films of 2011

5. Midnight in Paris (US/Spain)

I’m no literati, so I must admit I wasn’t familiar with a number of the famed artists depicted in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, but that didn’t stop me from falling in love with the serene energy this beautifully reflective film exudes. The whole thing could have been such wank, what with its philosophical themes and aristocratic characters, but Allen chose his perfect replacement in a humble Owen Wilson, the perfect city to dote upon in the cobblestoned streets of Paris, and the perfect era to reflect upon in the artistically alive 1920s.  Few other films on this list will leave you as warm and at peace as this one.


1598778 The 10 Best Films of 2011

4. Contagion (US/UAE)

Kate Winslet, Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Marion Cotillard, Jude Law, John Hawkes and Laurence Fishburne. Usually, when there’s that many stars in the one movie, it’s for dredge like Valentine’s Day or New Year’s Eve. But not when Steven Soderbergh is at the helm, a veritable master of ensemble casts whose pandemic thriller Contagion is a prime example of how to tune multiple characters and multiple storylines to the beat of one entrancing rhythm.



1124035 The 10 Best Films of 2011

3. The Ides of March (US)

Why can’t real elections be this exciting and engaging? No, wait, I know the answer to this one: real elections don’t star George Clooney or Ryan Gosling. Clooney also directs this slick political thriller, which progressively had me leaning closer and closer to the screen until I just about fell out of my chair. But fear not! I was prepared to make it look like I was picking my drink bottle off the floor. You’ve got to plan for these things.



0873886 The 10 Best Films of 2011

2. Red State (US)

As the film’s numerous dissenters like to point out, Kevin Smith’s Red State is an absolute mess. But as they tend to overlook, that’s the bloody point! By way of an unhinged and chaotic narrative, Smith offers up a subversive critique about the hypocrisy of modern society, where religion and the law are as bad as each other. Bold, bloodthirsty and wonderfully wry, Red State is the best Coen brothers movie they’ve never made.



hugo movie poster1 e1325733996154 The 10 Best Films of 2011

1. Hugo (US)

It pretty much goes like this: if you don’t like Hugo, you don’t like movies. After decades of depicting the seedy side of society, Martin Scorsese pulls an about face and makes his first family film, in 3D no less.  The result is a thing of rare beauty: poignant, funny, mysterious, exciting, moving, whimsical and every other adjective that can be used to describe the perfect cinematic experience. When people talk about the magic of movies, this is the kind of movie they’re talking about.



Honourable Mentions:
Beginners, Melancholia, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Insidious

Yet to see:
The Artist, Shame, Senna, A Separation, Take Shelter, War Horse, 50/50, Certified Copy, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives



Tom Clift’s Top 10:

1230385 The 10 Best Films of 2011

10. The Yellow Sea (South Korea)

A slow burning thriller for the first half, an all out action movie for the second, The Yellow Sea is a chaotic South Korean crime movie in the vein of Oldboy and I Saw The Devil, filled with audacious and often blackly comedic violence, as well as savage social commentary about immigration, modernity and the dogfight of urban decay.




1605783 The 10 Best Films of 2011

9. Midnight in Paris (US/Spain)

Woody Allen’s best film in years is a fantastical comedy about art, artists and the beauty they inspire. Bolstered by wonderful endearing performances, and set against the splendour of the most romantic city in the world.




1478964 The 10 Best Films of 2011

8. Attack the Block (UK)

The debut film from British comedian Joe Cornish manages to balance laughs, suspense, and heart-pumping extra-terrestrial action, and is also one of the most genuine portrayals of contemporary youth put to the screen in quite some time. A blast from start to finish, with an awesome soundtrack to match.




1598778 The 10 Best Films of 2011

7. Contagion (US/UAE)

Stylistic chameleon Steven Soderbergh balances a multitude of characters, plotlines and ideas in this methodically shot and emotionally chilly medical thriller that features an all-star cast and is driven along by Cliff Martinez’s electric metronome of a score.




1291584 The 10 Best Films of 2011

6. Warrior (US)

My inner cynic urges me to dismiss this clichéd story of two brothers fighting out their differences in the ring. But I can’t deny the boldness of the performances – nor the raw emotion they provoke – in this heart-pounding sports movie about family, loyalty and mixed martial arts.




1242460 The 10 Best Films of 2011

5. We Need To Talk About Kevin (US/UK)

Even without a single moment of onscreen violence, We Need To Talk About Kevin is one of the most viscerally unsettling movies of the year. But while the viewing may not be pleasant, it is certainly rewarding, both for the craftsmanship displayed by director Lynne Ramsay, and for the bravura performance from Tilda Swinton as the mother of the titular teenage sociopath so desperately in need of discussion.



1424432 The 10 Best Films of 2011

4. Senna (UK)

This documentary about famed Brazilian Formula One driver Ayerton Senna is as moving as it is exhilarating. Constructed entirely from archival footage, even those with no interesting in racing will find themselves swept off their feet.




0873886 The 10 Best Films of 2011

3. Red State (US)

A unexpected departure from Clerks director Kevin Smith about a church versus state showdown of bloody biblical proportions, Red State is every bit as broad, unpleasant and cynical as its critics proclaim. But it is also thrilling, visceral, mercilessly satirical and completely and utterly unpredictable. A messy film, but a compelling one.




1832382 The 10 Best Films of 2011

2. A Separation (Iran)

A gripping, tragic and sublimely moving human drama, A Separation uses its intimate story – about two families on the brink of falling apart – to explore issues of religion, gender and class in contemporary Iranian society.





0780504 The 10 Best Films of 2011

1. Drive (US)

A film that hypnotizes with slow burning intensity and drips with glossy neon artistry, Nicholas Wending Refn’s version of a Michael Mann style action movie is a vibrant mural of colour, music, carnage and sly cinematic homage. The most thrilling, fascinating and mesmerizing motion picture of the year.




Yet to see:
The Artist, 50/50, Shame, War Horse


Well that concludes that. What do you think? Agree/disagree with our lists? Let us know in the comments below!

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