Cinema Fanatic’s Favorite Fifteen Films of 2011

While, for me, 2011 was not as a great a year in cinema as 2009 (many of the films I loved from that year I didn’t get to see until Jan of 2010, but still), I found myself loving more films this year than I did last year. In fact, you may notice that although I claim this is a list of fifteen films, it in fact contains sixteen films. There is one tie and I will explain my choice when I get to it. Last year before the year ended I managed to watch 53 new releases; this year I saw 57 (which is kind of pitifully low when you consider how many new-to-me films I saw this year; but that’s neither here nor there and you have to wait until tomorrow to read about that cinematic odyssey). I want to point out that my top five films have not changed since October, but the ten (eleven) that follow have been shifted and adjusted many, many times since then. Probably when I rewatch those films late on this list might still evolve some. I also want to mention that there were at least two films that I wanted to see before the end of the year that I was not able to see (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn); as always, there is no way to know whether those films would have even made the list had I seen them, but I wanted to point out that I’ve yet to see them so that comments of “where is ***?!” didn’t ensue. Okay, enough chatter, on to the list.

1. Drive (dir. Nicolas Winding Refn)

I wrote a lot about this film earlier this year and I’m sure I could write tons more when I get it on DVD next month and then proceed to watch it a million more times. I saw this in theaters four times and I wish I’d’ve seen it even more times. A perfect film from start to finish. Also I gotta point out that phenomenal sound design one more time. PHENOMENAL I SAY.

2. Midnight In Paris (dir. Woody Allen)

Y’all know how I feel about Woody Allen. This was an epic year of watching Woody Allen films and then rewatching Woody Allen films and then watching them again, only on the big screen. This film is pure magic and basically a visual representation of everything I studied in college. Also, I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: fictional Hemingway can get it.

3. Beginners (dir. Mike Mills)

One of the most personal films I saw this year, I was so deeply moved by Mike Mills’ semi-autobiographical film when I saw it in theaters in June and upon rewatching it this past week I think I love it even more than I already did. There’s just a lot of heart here, presented in an unusual yet wholly honest way.

4. Take Shelter (dir. Jeff Nichols)

The first of two apocalyptic films that made it on to my list this year, this film has my choice for both Best Actor (Michael Shannon) and Best Supporting Actress (Jessica Chastain) of the year. The two give simply phenomenal performances in a film that never lets up its tension for an instant.

5. La piel que habito (The Skin I Live In) (dir. Pedro Almodóvar)

Pedro Almodóvar remains one of my favorite contemporary filmmakers and his newest film is one of my favorites he’s ever made. It’s a film that raises more questions than it answers and goes places few directors would dare.

6. Melancholia (dir. Lars Von Trier)

The second apocalyptic film to make my list, while different in tone from Take Shelter, has, for me, a very similar message: the importance of family. Maybe that’s not what Von Trier was trying to convey with this film, but that’s what I got from it and that’s what I will argue the ending is all about. And, boy, what an ending.

7. The Tree of Life (dir. Terrence Malick)

I only managed to see this film once and I know it’s a film that deserves multiple viewings. There’s a lot going on here, and love it or hate it, it’s impossible to not be in awe of what Malick managed to accomplish with this film.

8. We Need to Talk About Kevin (dir. Lynn Ramsay)

Arguably the most depressing film on this list (mostly full of depressing films, hmmm), Tilda Swinton gives possibly her greatest performance to date. She’s got my vote for Best Actress this year, because if it weren’t for her humanizing performance I’m not sure this film would be bearable, let alone as truly enjoyable, yes enjoyable, as it is.

9. Rango (dir. Gore Verbinski)

This film is just too much fun and filled with so many wonderful homages to so many wonderful films.

10. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (dir. Tomas Alfredson)

One of the greatest ensembles of the year, this film also features one of the greatest performances of the year period: Gary Oldman. It’ll be a real shame if he’s ignored (yet again) come Oscar time, but even if he does, this will remain a crowning moment in a career filled with unforgettable performances.

11. Hugo (dir. Martin Scorsese)

While I understand what Scorsese was saying with his use of 3D and his desire to experiment with the technology, I still think it detracts more than it adds to a film. That said, I adore film history nerd Scorsese and love him for taking all that passion and making this film.

12. tie: Shame (dir. Steve McQueen) / Young Adult (dir. Jason Reitman)

Ah we come to my elusive tie. I put these films together because I think they make interesting bookends. Both are films about individuals with problems who go on a sort of reverse hero’s journey. Both seem to devolve as the films progress and both films end with the viewer unsure if the protagonist has actually learned anything. Which, for me, makes both films more realistic than most.

13. War Horse (dir. Steven Spielberg)

People seemed to love or hate this film. Clearly, I loved it. I love Spielberg, and I mean every facet of Spielberg. Like Scorsese, this was Spielberg paying homage to those filmmakers he grew up loving and admiring – John Ford in particular. This film is old-fashioned for sure, but to quote one of Roger Ebert’s reviews from the 90s, “just because something is not done anymore doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.”

14. Martha Marcy May Marlene (dir. Sean Durkin)

The greatest first-time film I saw this year. It felt more accomplished than a handful of films I saw by more established directors and contains one of the greatest film debuts I’ve seen in a while. Who’d woulda thunk  the younger sister of the Olsen twins, Elizabeth Olsen, would have such chops? I also must point out that this film contains the most creative use of editing you’ll see all year.

15. Carnage (dir. Roman Polanski)

Accused of being “too stagey” by a few reviews I read (what, a film can’t all take place in one location? hello 75% of all horror films!), I thought this film was wonderful. The four leads (who, oddly enough, are all being campaigned as “supporting”) – Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly – hit every note perfectly. I still wish I could have seen the play on which this is based on Broadway, but if this is the closest I can get I’m not complaining one bit.

You can see all the 2011 releases I watched this year and how I ranked them here.

About Marya E. Gates

Cinephile to the max.

Posted on December 31, 2011, in Top List and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. As always I greatly enjoy your film knowledge & enthusiasm. I rarely disagree with your assessment of films. All of my favorites for 2011 are up there. I’m looking forward to the New-To-Me post!

  2. I love this list it is marvelous and made me really super happy to read.

  3. Thank you for the list and your ongoing attempt to educate me. I have only seen 3 of these movies so this year I don’t plan to make a list – living here without someone to drag me out of town to see movies limits my viewing LOL. Oh gee I saw all 3 of those with you I believe. Anyway – long live the movies!

  4. I’m glad you mentioned Carnage, which a lot of people aren’t mentioning in their “best of” lists, mostly cause I guess not everyone cared for it? I adored it.

  5. Wow, I haven’t heard of many of those films. I should definitely check them out! Thanks! 😀

  6. Drive was my favorite of the year too. I loved the cinematography of TTTS but I think I would have enjoyed it more if I’d have read the book beforehand — it felt like I might have missed some important things because it was condensed. Have been dragging my feet to see Melancholia just because I don’t think I can deal with a continual onslaught of sad movies even though they’re good right now, but I’m glad it’s something I can look forward to when I finally get the balls to watch it.

  7. Great, eclectic list. I love, love, love Drive. It and Young Adult are the 2 movies from 2011 I just can’t wait to see again. I guess I want to see TTSS again because I feel like you almost have to see it twice to get all of the plot intricacies. Plus, I was stuck watching a screener of it, so I’d like to catch it in theaters if it comes here (it won’t).

    Speaking of fictional Hemingway–I can’t be the only person who thought that was Tom Hardy, right?

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