Top Ten Films of 2011

Since I live in New Zealand, we get films much later in the year than most countries. So my top ten films of 2011 is coming considerably later than one might expect. It’s not overly late, but I decided not to wait too long before compiling it, even though I haven’t seen a whole heap of 2011 releases. For example, Shame and The Artist are two films I haven’t seen, and would almost certainly warrant a spot on this list if I had seen them, but since I haven’t, they’re not here. Anyway, what follows is the ten best films of 2011, ranked and counted down from ten, to my number one film, which most of you probably haven’t seen, but which I definitely hope you’ll seek out. I hope you try to watch all the films on this list if you haven’t seen them, as they’re all great. Beginning with number ten…

10: Drive

Completely kickass and utterly awesome the whole way through, Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive is the best action film of 2011, and for that matter, 2010, 2009, and many other years. It oozes coolness and modern style, and is also a throwback to the classic action films, such as Jean-Pierre Melville’s all-time great Le Samourai. Ryan Gosling is superb as The Driver, a character whose name will become legend and whose silence speaks a million words and betrays not a single emotion.

9: Take Shelter

Jeff Nichols’s Take Shelter is one of the creepiest and most mysterious films of the year. The skies are never clear and terror is on the horizon. Michael Shannon’s Curtis can sense it. The film is his descent into insanity and disquieting clarity of mind, as his conflicting emotions, nightmarish premonitions and inner turmoil begin to swallow him.

8: Hugo

Spurred by a comment from his wife urging him to make a film their kids can watch, Martin Scorsese directed Hugo, which despite its flaws (namely the use of 3D, which is clever but a little unsuitable for this sort of film, and also the often below-par acting) is an engaging, thoroughly interesting and even revelatory film, opening eyes wide to the history of cinema and its importance in the lives of all.

7: The Trip

This is one of three films on this list that does not have a plot; it has a scenario. Two best friends, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon playing themselves, decide to go on a road trip across England, entertaining themselves ad-lib along the way. Their uncanny impressions of celebrities are among the highlights of this hugely hilarious achievement, the funniest film of 2011.

6: Melancholia

Lars von Trier’s Melancholia is the follow-up to Antichrist. Both films mark a significant step in a more artistic, visual area for von Trier. Abandoning the visual graininess of earlier films like The Idiots and Dancer in the Dark, von Trier is now making films with a much more significant focus on the visuals. From the stunning opening sequence, you can tell that Melancholia is more stylised and focused than the earlier films, and though this doesn’t have the charming sadness and brutal cynicism of the much greater earlier films such as Dogville, The Idiots and Breaking the Waves, it is stunning to watch and thoroughly profound.

5: Midnight in Paris

I don’t care about the shit I’ve had to take for it: I fucking love this film. Almost everything about it is perfect. The only thing I didn’t like was the casting choice of Owen Wilson, an actor I hate, but director Woody Allen manages to make the film rise above Wilson’s meagre ability, and he is supported by a superb cast and a sensational screenplay. True cinephiles such as myself will find it hard not to have a film-gasm at the sight of such figures as Luis Buñuel being portrayed on screen.

4: Incendies

Denis Villeneuve’s Incendies is a brutal, violent, emotional, sweeping masterwork, which earns a place on this list for its opening scene alone. Even the first few stunning minutes made me know I was going to love it, and the two hours that follow only confirm it. Incendies is a shattering, profound work that will have you gasping, sighing, lifting your head up for air and even yelling in protest at some of its shocking revelations.

3: A Separation

Every single second of Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation is meticulously planned, carefully organised, and thoughtfully shot. The acting is nothing short of marvellous, the screenplay rightfully earned an Oscar nomination, and the film’s careful, twist-ridden plot relies more on the audience’s intelligence than the filmmaker’s, but makes use of both in equal measure, creating a powerful, important and revelant film that deservingly won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

2: Le Quattro Volte

Though unsurprisingly my review of this film, published the other day, didn’t get much attention, I must reinforce and remind all readers that this film, despite not containing a single word of dialogue or any conceivable plot whatsoever, is inarguably worth going out of your way to see. At times silent, at times loud, at times bright and at times dark, Le Quattro Volte implies there are four stages of life. We are shown three in the film: human, animal and plant. What is the fourth? That’s up to the audience to decide, but there is so much beautiful to think about and to ponder while watching Le Quattro Volte, a film that will not leave your head for days.

1: The Turin Horse

I’ll forgive you if you haven’t heard of this film. It isn’t exactly the most well-known. When I reviewed it after seeing it back in January, I said that its true worth was “incalculable and indescribable.” I also said the film puts you into a trance, and only your breathing reminds you you are there. I wrote most of my best writing about the film in my review, but I’ll try briefly to sum it up here: The Turin Horse is outstanding, magnificent, stunning, profound, and simply un-fucking-forgettable. Every single shot of the film (there are only 30, and the film is 150 minutes) is so perfectly framed and filmed, every single human action is so careful and precise, and Tarr’s mise-en-scene is so startlingly overwhelming that the film itself becomes an incredible specatacle… a once-in-a-lifetime film event. This is to be cinematic genius Bela Tarr’s final film, and I can think of nothing better for him to have chosen. The Turin Horse is one of my fifteen favourite films ever made, and it can only climb upward on that list.

So there. There are my ten favourite films of 2011 (until I see Shame and The Artist, two films which are certain to take a spot somewhere here). So, how many of these have you seen? How many do you agree with, and/or disagree with? Leave a comment below.


Posted on March 30, 2012, in Lists, Movies and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 53 Comments.

  1. I’m with you on Take Shelter and A Separation. Two of the finest films of the past year. Drive is good, but not my kind of thing. Midnight in Paris is decent, which is saying something coming from someone who hates most Allen. I hated Hugo.

    Have you seen Certified Copy yet?

    I’m interested in seeing Le Quattro Volte and The Turin Horse is obviously a must see once I can get a hold of it. Given that I hated Antichrist, I doubt I’ll like Melancholia, but I’ll probably watch it at some point.

    • I have seen CERTIFIED COPY, though I thought it counted as a 2010 film. If people think it’s 2011, then I’m happy to alter my list and insert it in here, because I did LOVE that movie.

      LE QUATTRO VOLTE and THE TURIN HORSE are the two must-sees of this list. I look forward to your thoughts on both. BTW, Le Quattro Volte was very kindly uploaded to YouTube a few weeks back, but I wouldn’t wait too long to watch it in case it gets taken down. I’ll embed it here:

  2. Great list! Melancholia and Drive were 2 of my favourite movies this year. I loved Melancholia more and found it to be beautiful yet somewhat unsettling. I was on edge the entire time and often questioned how I would feel in that situation.

    Fantastic blog. Thank you for sharing!

    • No problem, glad you like the list. MELANCHOLIA is very unsettling but that is so much of what makes it brilliant. Thanks for commenting.

  3. I’ve seen exactly none of them 😦 Circumstances being what they are for me…

    With regards to the above comments on Certified Copy, I’d also count Incendies as a 2010 film. I go by the year in which a film was first exhibited, not by when it got released in my area (otherwise I’d have to count most films as having no year at all…).

    • None? Oh well. At least you have ten great films to look forward to.

      The whole year release thing is tricky. It’s difficult to make one concrete decision.

  4. Who gave you shit for loving Midnight in Paris? Idiots. Midnight in Paris is freaking amazing.

    Yeah, I like this list. I think it’s quite funny that your list came before mine (well, my official one) since I’ve probably seen more 2011 stuff than you. I’ll probably end up doing mine by May/June…when no-one gives a shit any more, haha.

    I’m glad you counted Incendies as a 2011 film, too. It came out here in August. That’s as 2011 as you can get.

    • You have definitely seen more 2011 films than me, but I just wanted to get my list out of the way quickly. I don’t think I’ll be adding much more to it or making too many changes.

  5. Excellent list and agree with most of these choices. Still have not seen your top 3 though

  6. I think it’s great that you’ve held off on making this list for a while. Back in January, everyone and their grandmothers were posting theirs, and a degree of fatigue set in for me since it was mostly the same set of 25-ish films brought up in various combinations. Now there’s been a bit of a break in the craze, which means that it’s nice to be reminded of the good stuff from 2011 again.

    As for the selections, it’s an interesting bunch. I’ve only seen four of them myself: Drive (effing awesome, probably my favorite of the year so far), Hugo (pleasant but awkwardly paced), Melancholia (loved the Justine half, was bored with the Claire one), and Midnight in Paris (gets better the more I think about it). Drive and maybe Midnight are the ones that may show up when I get around to making my 2011 list.

    The rest is all stuff on my watch list, stuff I hope to get to see sooner than later. Take Shelter and The Trip in particular look like they could be right up my alley.

    Great write-ups, Tyler!

    • I could NOT have made this list in January. Even in late March I think I’ve done it too early. But oh well.

      You would LOVE The Trip. One of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen.

  7. Great list man! It’s refreshing to see someone appreciate foreign language films more, although I still haven’t seen your top three. I’m eager to now though. You are the first person I’ve came across that’s included Melancholia. I would too but most people have completely ignored it. A little known Scottish film with Ewan McGregor and Eva Green called “Perfect Sense” was a marvellous film of 2011, that hardly anyone has seen. Check it out, if you can. Cheers.

  8. A great list and for once when coming here I have actually seen all 10!!!

    Thanks for sharing matey

    • Haha WOW you’ve seen LE QUATTRO VOLTE? Didn’t expect that. Mind you, a few weeks ago I hadn’t even heard of it. Then I saw it and was fucking floored. And THE TURIN HORSE… oh what a film, what a film…

      Glad you’ve seen all ten mate. Thanks.

  9. I’m really glad to see your love for Incendies, which in my view was pretty overlooked in the film blogging community. It was way up on my top list. As was Melancholia and Drive. I’m afraid I have yet to see several on your list, including your number 1 and 2. I’m particularly annoyed that I haven’t had the chance to see Take Shelter. I hope I’ll be able to rent it on DVD eventually.

    • Incendies could not get left out. Love it to pieces. Good luck seeing the number one and two. I think you would like LE QUATTRO VOLTE especially… it’s quiet, calm and very, very beautiful. I’d love to read one of your awesome reviews on it when you get to see it. Same with Take Shelter and all the rest.

    • Great article but it didn’t have eviyrtheng-I didn’t find the kitchen sink!

  10. Nice List !! I still haven’t seen Shame or The Artist either – one of the reasons I am holding off updating my list. When I made the list, I had not seen A Separation, Take Shelter and The Trip and I still haven’t seen your Top 2 but 5 that I did see made my list too. I did not care much about A Trip, but other two are almost certain to make my top 10 if and when I update it, A Separation might even make it to top 3, like your list. Nice to see Incendies, it was my number 1.

    • A lot of filmbloggers (especially ones based in Europe and Asia) are giving love to INCENDIES, which is great, because many people haven’t seen it and it deserves more attention. Same with A SEPARATION, which was helped by its Oscar win and nomination.

  11. I really enjoy reading your blog and think the list you’ve compiled is spot-on.

    I also want to know who didn’t enjoy Midnight in Paris! I guess I have a nostalgic streak and one that fancies the 1920s (The Artist therefore would be on this list for me as well), but I do not think I’ve ever seen a whimsical, literate (but not overly so), romantic (in more ways than just relationships-romance, but a more general feeling) film that was as well done. This movie was basically perfect for me. I admit, I am a Woody Allen admirer and seeing Adrien Brody as Dali (my favourite actor and favourite artist) could not be beat.
    I’m glad you defend this movie!

    I cannot wait to see your two top suggestions, but Incendies, A Separation, and Melancholia were among my favourites. I know Drive got a lot of acclaim, but maybe it was all the hoopla, I was disappointed when I saw it.

    Did you like The Skin I Live In?

    • Haha well I’m a sucker for a good classic film (or a film that emulates the style and beauty of classics), so that’s why I loved MIDNIGHT IN PARIS. I’ll keep defending it!

      I have not seen THE SKIN I LIVE IN.

  12. Brilliant list. Many of your picks also made my top of 2011. Gonna watch Le Quattro Volte this weekend, and try to get ahold of The Turin Horse ASAP.

    See SHAME as soon as you can!

    • SHAME has finished its very short theatrical run here (and it came nowhere near my city), so I’ll have to wait for the DVD.

      I know you will love Le Quattro Volte and I hope you review the shit out of it, because I could write about it all day. So much to get from it.

      I read on Twitter that TURIN HORSE had a Blu-ray release date of July 17 in the USA. Hopefully you catch it in an arthouse cinema before then, but if you don’t, then look out for the DVD/BD and definitely buy it. If you regret buying it, I’ll refund your fucking purchase. I’m THAT confident you will love it. Haha 🙂

  13. Overall I think and agree with Alexander Payne that 2011 was a week year for movies. On the foreign movie side it was a stronger showing.

    There were a few highlights, Midnight in Paris being the biggest highlight for me (only movie I rated 10 having seen a little more than 100 last year movies).

    There are a few films I really want to see before I make my own top 10 of 2011 – Shame, a couple of documentaries and foreign films including Cannes winner.

    • It was pretty weak. Lots of good foreign ones though.

      Hope you see the top three on this list before you write yours. If you love foreign film, you cannot write a list without seeing those three, the only 2011 films I gave 10/10.

  14. No Tree of Life in your top 10? I personally consider it to be one of the most beautiful and breathtaking films that I have seen, along with being one of my favorites of all time.

    • I liked (but did not quite love) The Tree of Life a lot. I gave it 7/10, then when I thought about it some more, upgraded my rating to 8. I do LOVE the arthouse-type film that The Tree of Life is, but for me, Malick tried to do too much too quickly. I much prefer slowness, pacing, and long, unbroken shots over the frenetic energy that took over much of that film. However, the Creation of the Universe sequence was brilliant and I don’t think it was out of place at all, unlike many other people. The Tree of Life would be my #11 or #12, probably.

  15. Super list!!! Australia has the same problem with release dates, which is why I’ve not done a best of 2011….that and I’m lazy. A Separation would probably be my favourite of the year though, along with Tree of Life. I found the Trip incredibly funny, and I really, really, really need to see The Turin Horse! I must have heard you talking about it on Twitter, but I’ve been wanting to see it for a while now. I still haven’t seen Drive (shame on me, it’s out on DVD now). The only one I don’t agree with here is Melancholia. It had its moments, but otherwise I found it incredibly dull and dense. I might return to it one day after I’ve seen more of Von Trier’s work. Kirsten Dunst was great though.

    • I went on and on about THE TURIN HORSE on Twitter. But it really is AMAZING!

      Melancholia (like Antichrist) is not the best place to start with Von Trier. I recommend the much more accessible films such as Breaking the Waves, Dancer in the Dark and Dogville.

  16. As I virtually never go to the cinema anymore I have only seen 4. And of those 4 I highly agree with you. Drive, Take Shelter, Midnight in Paris and The Trip were all very good and definitely at the top of the pack.

    If it were my list though I would certainly consider not adding The Trip solely for the reason that I was able to catch a few episodes of the series on Rialto channel. The film literally is just an edited down version of the series, no re-shoots, and so if I had indeed seen the series first I would certainly have less of an inkling to included it.

    As far as Midnight in Paris goes Woody haters be hating all the time. I am a huge Woody advocate and even though he certainly has had few disappointing films his best films are infallible. Midnight in Paris is one of those films. It may sound elitist but anyone would did not enjoy it’s whimsical escape to the past is an uncultured buffoon.

    Since I first saw the trailer I was amped for Take Shelter and it did not disappoint. I have seen several films with similar plots and devices, all of which were inadequate, leaving me with a strong distrust for these types of films. Every mistake these films made was rectified by Take Shelter and glorified Michael Shannon’s brilliant performance.

    Drive speaks for itself. I thought it ironic you referring to it as an ‘action movie’ when the main reason the people who dislike this film is because they think they are going to indeed watch an ACTION! movie.

    I keep meaning to watch Incendies and will eventually.

    Curious about Hugo but not overly excited to watch it. You mention it has sub-par acting and I would assume you’re referring to one of the worst child actors to have a successful career, Chloe Grace Moretz. God she’s awful. She makes Charlton Heston look good.

    Looking forward to Melancholia this month.

    I’m sure The Descendants will make the list along with The Artist. Jean Dujardin is infectiously charming in the OSS 117 films I’ve seen him in and I’m sure he’ll be just as captivating in his winning role.

    Glad Tree of Life didn’t make the cut. I have been trying so hard to be converted, reading a lot of reviews and opinions (during work hours) but no one can convince me it is not a solipsistic vanity project that has far less to say than it pretends to.

    Side note: Found Godard’s Pierrot le fou in the Wharehouse bargain bin for less than $3! Sacrilege on their part, miraculous for me.

    • I agree with you about the ‘uncultured buffoon’ comment. That’s exactly what I will say from now on to people who say they don’t “get” Midnight in Paris.

      It’s not so much Moretz that’s bad in HUGO as it is Asa Butterfield. Both don’t really do the film any favours.

      Pierrot le Fou for $3 is brilliant. Never found any DVDs like that at the Warehouse. The most “foreign” film I’ve ever found there is THE BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN, hiding away in a squirrely bargain bin corner.

  17. I’ve only seen HUGO and Midnight in Paris and both of those made my list as well. I’m curious about Melancholia and A Separation, will have to rent those soon. Oh and The Turin Horse also, especially having been so highly recommended from you and Scott @ FRC.

    • All the ones on this list are worth seeing of course, but movies like A SEPARATION and THE TURIN HORSE deserve a list of their own. They’re really spectacular.

  18. I haven’t been able to watch a lot of these, but who has given you shit for liking Midnight in Paris? I haven’t seen it yet myself, but it seemed to get a lot of good buzz.

    And i went through a Trier marathon in preparation for Melancholia(After waiting for it to release on dvd), and i don’t think his earlier films are necessarily greater. Sure they are more depressing, but i don’t think that makes them better movies. Just ones of a different type

    • I don’t mean that his early work is greater – I love the pace, beauty and style of ANTICHRIST and MELANCHOLIA – but I think the movies he made on a lower budget are the ones that I prefer. They aren’t as insistent upon themselves, and they feel more free and boundless than his latest stuff.

  19. Great list Tyler. Haven’t heard of the Turin Horse so I’m definitely super intrigued. You are cheating though, Incendies is so 2010 ahaha 😉 (Else it would be my #1)

    • I didn’t see Incendies till December 2011 (its release here) so I count it as 2011. I suppose I did cheat a bit though. In all fairness, I was going to include Certified Copy until I was told it was 2010.

  20. Great list Tyler. I knew what #1 was going to be, but #2 was a nice surprise.

    More people need to see LE QUATTRO VOLTE, hopefully this list encourages some.

    The one I haven’t got the chance to see is THE TRIP but it’s been high on my list for months.

    Also the only title I’d say is missing is ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA, but I can’t remember if you’ve seen that one yet.

  21. Hey Tyler,

    I finally started following your blog. I know… what took me so long? To be honest I don’t meet many people who watch foreign films let alone have a passion for them. So it’s nice to see a fan of Haneke, von Trier, etc. I try to watch so much stuff that I haven’t seen some of those on your list. (Heck I still haven’t seen Wreckmeister Harmonies or Berlin Alexanderplatz yet… although I have seen the 9 hr Shoah) Although I’ve seen most of those films or they are on my radar I hadn’t heard about Le Quattro Volte or Incendies. I’ll check them out. I gotta say how much I really liked Drive. I’ve been following Winding Refn since Pusher and was hoping he’d make a breakout film. It had a lot of Friedkin’s To Live and Die In L.A. in it, don’t you think?

    I’d be curious to know what you think about NZ cinema like Whale Rider, Heavenly Creatures, The Navigator, Vigil, The Piano, Rain, The Quiet Earth and Once Were Warriors. I liked all of those film very much. I own most of those.

    Great work and I look forward to your blog.

    BTW I have a brother who lives in Kaikohe, NZ up north.


    • Hi Dave,

      Nice to have you along! I will check out your site once I get back from holiday.

      Man, you have to at least see Werckmeister Harmonies. Hell, buy it if that’s what you’ve got to do. It’s just fantastic.

      Haven’t seen To Live and Die in LA, but Drive reminded me of Melville’s Le Samourai.

      Of those NZ films you mentioned, I have seen Whale Rider, Heavenly Creatures, The Piano, The Quiet Earth and Once Were Warriors. I’m not a big fan of Heavenly Creatures or The Piano but Once Were Warriors and Whale Rider blew me away. The Quiet Earth has Bruno Lawrence, so what more can you ask for? I recommend another Bruno Lawrence film, Smash Palace, which is excellent.

      Again, thanks for commenting! Much appreciated.

      • You know I’ve actually seen Smash Palace. I think I was checking out the early films of Roger Donaldson and it was bundled with Sleeping Dogs on DVD for like $10.

        Yeah my site is on hiatus so there’s not a lot of recent content. I’ve been very busy but I hope to pick it up again soon.

  22. I think tree of life should be somewhere here…Have you seen it? You probably have, can you please tell me what you thought of the film?

    • I have seen it. I loved it, but not enough for it to make this list.

      • Not Malick’s best work. Amazing visuals and soundtrack but a little too lose with the story. Supposedly he’s going to release just the intergalatic portion of the film on its own. If it reminded you of 2001: A Space Odyssey it’s because Douglas Trumbull supervised the effects for both films.

        • I read that factoid about Trumbull. A great sequence, and it is admittedly reminiscent of 2001.

          I would totally watch the space sequence movie if it was released separately.

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