Skip to content

Top 10 Films of 2011

I know, I know, I’m late.  Most everyone else posts their ‘best of the year’ lists in January, if not December (and alarmingly, more and more often in November.)  But I’m jut not as cool as all that, and it takes me about six months to catch up with the films released last year in order to make an informed list.

Actually, I think there’s advantages to doing it this way.  When the lists come out in December they’re filled with movies that the critics have seen at festivals or in special engagements (a couple of years ago, 8 of the 11 on Roger Ebert’s list hadn’t yet been released in theaters.  One of them, “Che,” never was.)  So unless you’re very diligent, you’ll forget what’s on their lists by the time you have a chance to see the movie (assuming you live outside of New York and L.A.)   Alternately, by the time I make my list, almost all of these movies are available on DVD.  Just add them to your Netflix queue and catch up with the best of last year over the next few weeks.

OK, It may not be the greatest argument, but it’s all I got.  Onward to the list.

Top 10 of 2011

10.  I Saw the Devil*

The best cat-and-mouse action thriller since “No Country for Old Men.”  The squeamish beware; this Korean film is uber-violent and gory, and full of images you won’t want showing up in your dreams.  Tense and smart and wildly entertaining, it’s a thrill-ride not to be missed.

9. A Separation*

““A Separation” is a brilliantly plotted morality play, a complicated (and thus honest) family story, and a courtroom drama all at the same time.  It’s a movie that sneaks up on you and draws you in, then refuses to let you go.  This is great cinema.”

8. The Music Never Stopped

This film got almost no attention from other critics, probably because it’s directed with all the dash and flair of a made-for-TV movie.  Nonetheless, the story grabbed me and never let go, and the performances (from J.K. Simmons, especially) are excellent.  Based on a story by renowned psychologist Oliver Sacks, perhaps director Jim Kohlberg knew that dressing up the story with flashy touches would only lessen its impact.

7. Martha Marcy May Marlene

“The parallels “Martha” draws between backwoods, brainwashed radicals and the more mainstream, widely accepted cult of success are penetrating and illuminating.”

6. War Horse

In a year where nostalgia and sentimentality reigned supreme on the awards circuit and in the box office, Spielberg (sort of) quietly showed everyone how it’s done.  “War Horse” is a powerfully moving film about love, friendship, courage, and the ravages of war.  You’re not supposed to be able to make a good film as nakedly sentimental as this one, but apparently no one told Steven Spielberg that.

5. Submarine

This is what I’d call a “sleeper.” I watched it, thought it was a decent but not amazing film, and moved on.  Only I found myself thinking about it – over and over again, returning to it, long after I should’ve forgotten about it.  I put it back in the DVD player, watched it again, and found it immensely satisfying, funny and entertaining. Something about it sticks; it resounds, it rings true, in ways you might not notice at first.

4. Another Earth

”Another Earth” is the kind of movie that invites your mind to wander over its possibilities, to contemplate the questions its characters are contemplating.  That might be its greatest strength — it poses interesting questions in a dramatically thoughtful way, and invites a level of engagement from its viewer that few movies can match.”

3. Of Gods and Men*

There are so many remarkable moments in “Of Gods and Men.” This film is a wonder to behold, and a joy to return to.  Generally, I know great films from good ones because they stay with me long after I’ve finished watching them– I turn over the scenes in my mind, relishing, reflecting, observing over and over again.  I haven’t been able to stop thinking about “Of Gods and Men” since I watched it, and I don’t expect I’ll be able to for a long while.”

2. The Descendants

“A lot of intensely painful things happen in “The Descendants,” …but in the end, it’s a hopeful movie, not because good things happen to people (whether they deserve them or not,) but because our protagonist has grown through the pain.  He’s rediscovered both the joy and pain of being alive, of being in relationship with other people, and of not knowing what to do next.”

1. Tree of Life

I’ll be honest: I haven’t returned to “Tree of Life” since the first time I watched it, almost a year ago.  The DVD sits on my shelf unwatched.  It’s a challenging film, a demanding film, and for that reason, I think a lot of people wrote it off as pretentious.  But I found it to be an exalting experience, a powerful, unforgettable film.  It’s a unique work of art; it’s hard to find another film to compare it to, and I found myself thinking about “difficult” art in other mediums, like the novels of Tolstoy or Virginia Woolf, or paintings by Rothko or Pollack.  Perhaps that fact that it’s demanding – and not easy to just pop in the DVD player – speaks to its greatness.  It’s easily the best film of the year.


Honorable Mention (15 more definitely worth your time) 

We Need to Talk About Kevin

Take Shelter




The Artist


The Adventures of Tintin

Super 8 

Cedar Rapids

Attack the Block

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Win Win

Even the Rain*

13 Assassins*


*These foreign films were all technically released before 2011, but made their way to the USA in 2011.  

 Other Links You Might Enjoy: 

Top 10 Films of 2010

Top 100 Films of the Decade (2000-2009)

Top 10 Films of 2009

Top 10 Films of 2008

Top 10 Films of 2007


Be Sociable, Share!

Posted in All Reviews.

2 Responses

Stay in touch with the conversation, subscribe to the RSS feed for comments on this post.

  1. Matt said

    -_- Tintin was the best movie of all time….
    OF ALL TIME!!!!

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Top 10 Films of 2013 - linked to this post on September 25, 2014

    […] Top 10 Films of 2011 […]

Some HTML is OK

(never shared)

or, reply to this post via trackback.