2011 has shaped up as quite the year in film, as the roster of released movies was, throughout the year, replete with strong offerings. The year was buoyed by especially provocative, original work from the international art-house cinema sector, while also including some excellent documentaries, American Indies, and even a few very stellar Hollywood productions.
In short, the embarrassment of riches made for some tough decisions when it came to winnowing down the list. As a result, I have expanded the ‘Honorable Mention’ section to account for this overabundance of quality. Even still, plenty of solid movies didn’t make my list.
And as it is now awards season—when the hype and chatter surrounding mediocre films being pawned off as masterpieces reaches nausea-inducing levels—I have added a ‘Biggest Disappointment’ list to call out a few of these underwhelming, overrated films.
With apologies to a few of the promising films I have not yet seen from 2011—amongst others, Margaret, Margin Call, My Peristroika, Mysteries of Lisbon and Silent Souls come to mind—here is the 2011 list:
1. A Separation (Asghar Farhadi) – Tragic drama at its best: a tight, complex tour-de-force propelled by exceptional performances, a sharp script and pitch-perfect direction from Farhadi.
2. The Interrupters (Steve James) – A moving documentary about street violence in Chicago and those who struggle relentlessly to end it.
3. Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami) – A clever, pensive, elusive encounter film of the Before Sunset–In the Mood for Love–L’Avventura variety.
4. Melancholia (Lars Von Trier) – Von Trier captures deep, authentic, at times terrifying emotion by employing a literally enormous, fast-approaching conceit. Dunst is at her best.
5. Meek’s Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt) – A formally rigorous, gritty yet metaphorical Western. Reichardt continues to define and dominate the American indie landscape.
6. Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen) – Sheer exuberant storytelling by Allen; and oddly inspiring to all of us Paris-enchanted dreamers out there.
7. Le Quattro Volte (Michelangelo Frammartino) – Depicting the folk practices and everyday oddities of a Southern Italian village, Frammartino’s little hamlet contains worlds of beauty and novelty. Plus, an outstanding canine performance!
8. Poetry (Lee Chang-dong) – A biting, quiet drama with a delicately captured lyrical bent.
9. The Skin I Live In (Pedro Almodóvar) – A gothic, (seemingly) absurd premise that only Almodóvar could pull off by imbuing it with his own special blend of matter-of-fact realism, rococo melodrama and humanistic intensity.
10. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick) – The nuclear family, Waco, Texas sequences in this film are perfectly realized gems that expand the boundaries of cinematic possibility.
HONORABLE MENTION: Beats, Rhymes and Life (Michael Rapaport); Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Werner Herzog); Hugo (Martin Scorsese); Moneyball (Bennett Miller); Of Gods and Men (Xavier Beauvois); A Screaming Man (Mahamat-Saleh Haroun); Shame (Steve McQueen); Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Tomas Alfredson)
1. The Descendants (Alexander Payne) – By far the #1 most overrated film of 2011; the insipid first 30 minutes of this movie prove it dead on arrival.
2. A Dangerous Method (David Cronenberg) – Expert lead performances, sure, but Cronenberg’s Jung-Freud film is surprisingly dull and uninspired.
3. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick) – On both lists. The fatal flaw of this film is not the Big Bang-to-Humans (by way of Dinosaurs) sequence, but rather the gratuitous, unnecessary framing story of the protagonist as adult (played by Sean Penn), especially those pseudo-philosophical scenes of endless beach meandering.
4. Take Shelter (Jeff Nichols) – Yes, there’s a metaphor here, but no, it does not resonate, instead smacking the viewer over the head with pomp.
5. Super Eight (JJ Abrams) – Of course, this is no awards film, but it nonetheless received a good deal of hype upon release. The first 45 minutes were promising, but then it all fell apart with the first look at the silly aliens.
6. The Future (Miranda July) – Another cutesy, overly ironic, slacker fest from July. Is she interrogating the ethos of her drifting class or 30-somethings or merely reinforcing their excuses to inaction? I fear the latter.
7. Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (David Fincher) – Fincher’s version is certainly an improvement on the stolid Swedish original, and Rooney Mara admittedly gives a brave, striking performance, but in the end, an overblown disappointment by a usually solid director.
8. The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius) – I enjoyed this film, but best picture consideration?? Come on!! Much of the second act drags and the nod to the silent era is often little more than superficial.
2011 Top Films List by Brendan Rose.