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50 Beautiful Films from 2011 (and 5 Ugly Ones)

It is time again for what has become an annual tradition here at My end of year Best Of movie post. In years past I’ve created some version of a Top 10 (see: 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 ). 2011 brought a considerably more active year of film festival attendance via my role at Twitch. I was lucky enough to put in serious film viewing time at Sundance, LA Film Fest, Toronto, Fantastic Fest, and AFI Fest. Therefore, I’ve decided to expand things a bit this year and bring you my 50 Beautiful Films from 2011 (and 5 Ugly Ones). I’ve included a few words about each film along with my original impression of the film via my first tweet after seeing it. You’ll also find a link to my full review if one was written. As always, I look forward to your comments below.

50. Hobo with a Shotgun – Jason Eisener’s bloody Rutger Hauer extravaganza sneaks onto the list because of how gut-blasting fun it was to see this movie as one fo the film’s first audiences at Sundance. It’s bloody, ridiculous, and hilarious – in my opinion the perfect midnight flick.
“Hobo With a Shotgun more than delivers on everything it promises. Blood, guts, gore, & ridiculous laughs. Full commitment.”
My Review of Hobo with a Shotgun at Twitch

49. Elite Squad: The Enemy Within – Another Sundance film clocks in at #49 with the sequel to 2007’s Elite Squad. While this Brazilian actioner has more politics than the original, there are still plenty of guns blazing and the political intrigue only serves to add depth to the world and especially Wagner Moura’s towering Lt. Col. Nascimento.
“Elite Squad 2 is a truly awesome Brazilian actioner. Padilha went more political than the 1st = less action – but def a success.”
My Review of Elite Squad: The Enemy Within at Twitch

48. The Day – I was a huge fan of the world created by writer Luke Passmore in his post-apocalyptic actioner. Yes, this is a super low budget movie which is pretty obvious from the painfully poor CGI – but it is an excellent script with very competent performances. I’m very much looking forward to the next portion of the story.
“THE DAY is an excellent post apocalyptic actioner on a tiny budget. Lookin fwd to big things from new talent Luke Passmore.”
My Review of The Day at Twitch

47. The Invader – Nicolas Provost’s Belgian immigrant drama is a stunning debut with halting visuals and performance from lead Isaka Sawa. This little film is definitely worth seeking out.
“Nicolas Provost to top of my directors to watch list w/ his strikingingly personal tale THE INVADER. Whatta perf by Isaka Sawadogo.”

46. Perfect Sense – There hasn’t been a whole lot of love shown for David Mackenzie’s Ewan McGregor/Eva Green high concept love story. I was a fan at Sundance and hope it finds an audience when it opens stateside February 10th.
“Perfect Sense is a love story that completely commits to its very high concept. A lot to like – though maybe not for everyone.”
My Review of Perfect Sense at Twitch

45. The Adventures of Tintin – Yes it runs a bit long, but I pretty strongly believe this animated feast for the senses is Spielberg’s best film in years, if for no other reason than it is so damn fun.
“ADVENTURES OF TINTIN is part video game, part rollercoaster, & a whole lot of fun. A bit long perhaps, but a true visual feast.”

44. Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope – Morgan Spurlock might be on to something with his latest docu focusing on the cult of fandom around SDCC. The key: he isn’t the film’s focus. Instead we get a very interesting portrait of some odd but compelling characters.
“Morgan Spurlock’s COMIC-CON doc is his best, most human film. It also has the least Morgan yet. Hmm.”
My Review of Comic-Con at Twitch

43. Young Adult -Sharp writing and fantastic performances carved out a T50 spot for Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody’s latest coupling. I might have hoped it would be a bit higher on the list, but it was Patton Oswalt’s showing that made sure the film wasn’t just an honorable mention.
“Propel’d by Chalize Theron & Patton Oswalt’s performances, YOUNG ADULT is a mature work that excels at creating mostly enjoyable discomfort.”

42. The Lady – Luc Besson’s Aung San Suu Kyi biopic moved me in Toronto and grabs spot #42 for its emotional resonance, stellar performances, and beautiful cinematography.
“THE LADY is a heartwrenching tale of devotion with superb acting from Michelle Yeoh & David Thewlis. Magnificent job by Besson.”

41. The Ides of March – It’s hard to imagine a film starring Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Marisa Tomei, Paul Giamatti, and George Clooney not making a best-of list, even if this political drama lacked the little bit of spark needed to propel it from stage adaptation to Best Picture contender.
“Big fan of IDES OF MARCH. Compelling char driven political drama with awards ready performances & a plot that moves.”

40. Jeff Who Lives at Home – The Duplass Bros. continue to impress with their latest Jason Segel/Ed Helms two hander. While it kinda feels like the guys just went out and shot the movie one afternoon, the end result is pretty damn funny from beginning to end and a definite feel good film.

39. Sleepless Night – Frederic Jardin’s French cop flick takes place over one evening in a night club. Kind of like an action version of Noises Off, characters come and go through the same locations, nearly missing each other on many occasions. A simple concept but executed brilliantly with a star making role by lead actor Tomer Sisley, even the tacked on feeling conclusion can’t stop the film from being a big success.
“SLEEPLESS NIGHT is a polished French actioner w/ solid fight seqs & a good story. Great intensity but could lose few mins.”

38. Martha Marcy May Marlene – Sean Durkin’s debut will likely be remembered less for its Sundance buzz or minor box office success for Fox Searchlight, and more for launching the career of the seriously talented Lizzie Olsen. Her role as the emotionally damaged cult escapee left me reeling. As always, John Hawkes puts in a stellar performance as well.

37. Viva Riva! – Kinshasa is calling in the most polished crime thriller you’ve ever seen come out of The Congo, nay, all of Africa. Just check out the trailer for Djo Munga’s impressive debut here.

36. Pina – Wim Wenders’s love letter to modern dance choreographer Pina Bausch is, without a doubt, the best use of 3D I’ve ever seen. Wenders places his cameras at just the right vantage to capture the stunning dances in a way you could never imagine on a flat screen. With his variety of routines and voice-over cutaways that feature some of the most stunning backdrops I’ve ever seen, the film was able to keep me enthralled from start to finish. This is a remarkable film and a must see whether you are a fan of dance or not.

35. The Artist – This likely Best Picture nominee (winner?) had me smiling all the way through. Sure it is a bit gimmicky but the gimmick is executed to perfection and used to enhance the narrative instead of just put butts in seats. It’s not my favorite films of the year (it’s my 35th favorite), but I think it deserves the nom.
“Loudest applause I’ve ever heard at a film for Hazanavicius’s brilliant THE ARTIST. Its best Oscar bets likely actors.”

34. Your Highness – Surely the most controversial pick of my list so far, I was unapologetically delighted to tears by David Gordon Green’s medieval stoner fantasy. Sure not every joke works, but Danny McBride carries the film and it’s always fun to see Franco actually act stoned on purpose. To all those who hated this move, here’s a hint. Don’t see it sober.

33. The Corridor – Evan Kelly’s low budget cabin-in-the-woods thriller is part Stephen King and part Donnie Darko and really works because of its commitment to the premise that comes together so well at the film’s awesome conclusion.
“Wow. THE CORRIDOR is the first absolute must see of FantasticFest! Pass. It. On.”
My Review of The Corridor at Twitch

32. Somewhere Between – Linda Goldstein Knowlton’s LAFF identity docu about girls adopted from China and raised in America is a success because of how interesting the characters and subject matter are, but also because of the expert job of telling the stories of these four different girls with nothing in common other than their background, and putting it together into a perfectly digestible package. Bravo!

31. Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest – Michael Rapaport’s ATCQ doc comes in at #31 with its compelling look at one of the most influential hip hop groups of our time.

30. The Guard – While I wasn’t able to see John Michael McDonagh’s black crime comedy at Sundance, I’m glad I caught it when it finally rolled around this Fall. Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle turn in excellent performances and McDonagh’s writing is just as sharp as his brother Martin’s (In Bruges). This is the perfect rental if you missed it in theaters.
“Finally caught up with THE GUARD. Very funny & smart action comedy with a brilliant performance by Brendan Gleeson. Worth catching.”

29. Jiro Dreams of Sushi – David Gelb’s ode to raw fish (in particular, the man who is probably the most accomplished Sushi chef alive) is a wonderfully photographed and surprisingly compelling doc. Gelb nails the little details, taking us behind Jiro’s counter and inside Tsukiji market to great effect. But be careful, this film will make you extremely hungry.
“JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI is a beautiful portrait of a master striving for perfection, well aware it doesn’t exist”

28. 13 Assassins – Takashi Miike’s samurai action extravaganza is probably his most accessible film to date and an easy pick for a high spot on my list.

27. Clown – This Danish slapstick comedy is so hilarious I had to see it twice in one week. I wouldn’t dream of spoiling any of the laughs, but make sure you seek it out when Drafthouse Films puts it out later this year, hopefully with all (private) parts intact.
“CLOWN is pure Danish hilarity with way more heart than I expected. One of my faves so far at FantasicFest.”

26. The Descendants – Alexander Payne’s latest has turned out to be a bit more divisive than I believed when I saw it at Toronto. It might not be his best, but Clooney is a worthy successor to the leading male throne previously occupied by Giamatti, Nicholson, and Broderick.
“THE DESCENDANTS is a superb drama in Payne’s signature comedic style. Lock for Best Pic nom and Actor nom for Clooney.”
My Review of The Descendants at Twitch

25. Magic Trip – I have yet to see an Alex Gibney doc I didn’t like. Enron, Eliot Spitzer, Jack Abramoff, and Hunter S. Thompson are a few of his more notable subjects. In Magic Trip, Gibney (alongside Alison Ellwood) turns his attention toward Ken Kesey, Neal Cassady, the Merry Pranksters, and the bus called Further. The job done to pour through the footage and turn it into this fascinating doc is seriously impressive. More than anything, it is just so cool to see these mythological figures come to life.
“Magic Trip is a must see for fans of Kesey, Cassady, and all merry pranksters. Gibney masterfully docus the birth of 60s counter culture.”

24. Bellflower – Now we are getting into the midst of the films really competing for Top 10 status. What else can I say about Evan Glodell’s debut feature (I called it the year’s biggest surprise in this Twitch piece)? You’re probably better off just reading my review below – which happens to be my favorite review I’ve written. To add to that I’ll just steal what I wrote in the Twitch piece and say, “the single most surprising part of the year of Bellflower, for me, is just how much the story has stayed with me. I find myself thinking about the blossoming of Woodrow and Milly’s love and its tragic demise all the time. It’s a surprise, but this is a truly great film.”
My Review of Bellflower at Twitch

23. The Innkeepers – Ti West’s haunted hotel horror-comedy won me over for its perfect combination of those two elements. The tweet really sums it up, but more than anything, this expertly put together film is just so damned fun.
“I see INNKEEPERS like a rollercoaster. Thrills & chills w/ a safety bar. More comedy than horror, thus a complete success.”

22. A Separation – Asghar Farhadi’s Iranian family drama is a beautifully nuanced story about 2 completely sympathetic characters torn apart by circumstances and stubbornness. It’s incredibly mature filmmaking and one of the most honest films of the year. That it is set in Iran only makes it more interesting.

21. You’re Next – I walked into my second Midnight screening at Toronto thinking there was no chance it would come close to being as awesome as my first, The Raid. I was wrong. Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett’s film is the home invasion genre turned on its head. Described by Todd Brown as Friday the 13th meets Home Alone, You’re Next asks what happens if the home being invaded happens to inhabit one badass babe (Sharni Vinson in this case). Like The Innkeepers (and any great Midnight flick), I loved this movie because more than anything, it’s fucking fun.
“Gigantic grin across every face in Ryerson after the home invasion thriller chiller major blood spiller YOU’RE NEXT!”

20. Attack the Block – Joe Cornish’s urban London alien invasion actioner gets all the action comedy beats right (obviously producer Edgar Wright knows a thing or two about that). With standout performances by the young cast, Attack the Block turned out to be one of the year’s biggest crowd pleasers.

19. Page One: Inside the New York Times – This year-in-the-life of the NY Times’s Media Desk journalists is fascinating as a snapshot of such a quickly changing media landscape. That David Carr is such an interesting character makes Andrew Rossi’s film one of the most engaging docs in years.
“Page One is a captivating doc about why journalism will always be important, even in the changing face of the media landscape.”

18. Sound of My Voice – It still surprises me that it was Another Earth that garnered Brit Marling so much attention at Sundance and not Zal Batmanglij’s considerably more engaging and better put together film which Marling also co-wrote. Maybe this one will make a bigger splash when it comes out later this year.

17. The Skin I Live In – I put off seeing Pedro Almodovar’s latest film for a few months because of relatively lukewarm reviews out of Toronto. So I was very pleasantly surprised by how engaging and batshit bonkers this film turned out to be when I finally got around to seeing it. Not to mention it is technically brilliant and simply a joy to look at.
“Almodovar’s THE SKIN I LIVE IN is a beautifully twisted story of love & obsession w/ frighteningly good performances. Sry I waited so long!”

16. Shame – Steve McQueen’s Michael Fassbender starring tale of addiction really struck a nerve for me. While it doesn’t make you feel good, it certainly makes you feel – long after the credits roll.

15. 50/50 – Jonathan Levine’s The Wackness has been one of my all-time fave’s since seeing it one cold Park City morning. It feels like it took forever, but it warms my heart to see his latest continues his string of excellent work. I’m excited to see what he and writer Will Reiser and producer Seth Rogen do with their next film, Jamaica
“50/50’s exceptional script & excellent cast hits all the right notes. Equal parts funny & touching. Levine is 3 for 3. Homerun 4 @SummitEnt”
My Review of 50/50 at Twitch

14. Beginners – Christopher Plummer’s role alone as the freshly out-of-the-closet geriatric is good enough to get this film a spot on the list. Director Mike Mills does a beautiful job of weaving the Ewan McGregor and Melanie Laurent love story into the father-son story, giving us a truly touching feature.
“Quite enjoyed BEGINNERS – a heartwarming love story w/ 1 minor flaw in its idealistically round corners. Plummer and Laurent deserve nods.”

13. Take Shelter – Pretty much any movie from here on out could be my favorite film of the year. It’s Michael Shannon that makes Jeff Nichols’s mental illness drama so resonant. I also think it’s important to point out that Nichols avoided the easy way out of making Shannon’s character simply deny he has a problem. Instead, he is completely aware that something in his head is fucked up, which makes the film all the more frightening.
“TAKE SHELTER a fascinating journey into a man’s soul. Brilliant filmmaking & acting. Exactly what I’d hoped to see.”

12. Win Win – Tom McCarthy is truly one of the most talented directors working today. The subtle emotion in his characters is something too often overlooked in most filmmaking. This is another example of taking a small story and making the audience care way too much about high school wrestling. Bobby Cannavale also gives one of the most underappreciated performances of the year.
“Win Win is a superbly acted family/sports drama. Another huge success for T. McCarthy – one of the best directors working today.”

11. The Interrupters – I’ll let my tweet speak for itself in the service of Steve James’s excellent documentary.
“The Interrupters is a brilliant & incredibly inspirational doc about people doing good. The only way to stop violence is to try.”

10. Natural Selection – Robbie Pickering’s SXSW sweeping coming-of-age road comedy between a barren middle aged church wife and her husband’s illegitimate son is equal parts hilarious and touching – and all parts marvelous.
My Review of Natural Selection at Twitch

9. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – This ultra-smart spy thriller is perfectly scripted by Peter Straughn and the late Bridget O’Connor and directed with inspirational detail by Let the Right One In‘s Tomas Alfredson. But the real masterpiece factor comes from the incredible performances by just about every amazing actor in Europe today; including: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds, and the inimitable Benedict Cumberbatch. Best ensemble in a long time.
“TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY just made a strong play for my Top10. Look & music impeccable, cast ridiculously good, & a truly brilliant script.”

8. Super 8 – It has its detractors, sure, but J.J. Abrams take on what made the films of our youth so great took me exactly where I wanted to go and again made me believe in that magical quality of cinema.
“‘Super 8’ is mint condition summer fare. The kind of Amblin adventure I’ve been waiting since childhood to see. Tons of fun + tons of heart.”
My Review of Super 8 at Twitch

7. The Raid – The best action movie in decades was also one of the most exhilarating film watching experiences I’ve had in a long time. It was so cool to be part of the first audience to see the movie at the Midnight Ryerson Toronto screening, hooting and hollering with every head kick, the whole crowd well aware we were witnessing something that everyone would soon be freaking out about.
“Forget Tony Jaa, Jet Li & even Tom Hardy. THE RAID is the best action movie in decades! Gareth Evans & Iko Uwais FTW!”
My Review of The Raid at Twitch

6. Bullhead – Actor Matthias Schoenaerts and director Michael Roskam exploded onto the scene with this taut and touching crime story set in the Belgian bovine hormone trade underworld. Don’t fuck with Belgian farmers.
“Wow Wow Wow BULLHEAD! Wow Michael Roskam! Wow Matthias Schoenarts! Late to the party bus but taking a seat at the front.”

5. Like Crazy – The most buzzed about film at Sundance was also my favorite film I caught there. Drake Doremus’s long distance heart wrencher works so well because it so honestly depicts how hard we work to fool ourselves into thinking we can get back there again.
“Like Crazy is a more hopeful Blue Valentine – an incredibly honest look at love and distance. It is a MUST SEE.”

4. Melancholia – Rarely have I enjoyed a film so thoroughly with so little motivation to defend it. I simply accept this movie didn’t work for some people. Some people hate it. All I can say is that I was completely on board for every moment. Call it my unapologetic love for Kirsten Dunst, but I was transfixed by her performance, her world, and this film.
“Put me down in the huge-fucking-fan category for MELANCHOLIA. Thought it was brilliant even if it is long. Potential Top10.”

3. Oslo, August 31st – Joachim Trier moves up one spot from his #4 finish for Reprise on my 2008 Top 10. Watching this remarkable depiction of addiction with a stellar performance by Anders Danielsen Lie, I was suddenly struck with the precognition that Trier will someday be recognized amongst the most talented directors in Europe.
“OSLO, AUGUST 31ST is a beautiful, honest & unpretentious journey inside what it means to be a real person. Trier is a master.”
My Review of Oslo, August 31st at Twitch

2. Senna – Asif Kapadia has put together one incredible documentary with his chronicle of legendary Formula One racer Ayrton Senna. That that film is completely assembled from over 15,000 hours of archive footage makes it one of the most impressive projects ever completed. Knowing that a 6 hour cut exists out there is enough to make me feel like a kid on Christmas morning. Let us see it, Kapadia. Let us see it.
My Review of Senna at Twitch

1. Drive – The big numero uno is actually pretty easy for me this year. I knew the moment I walked out of Nicolas Refn’s Hollywood debut that this was going to be it. A second viewing only cemented its position. With the perfect of mix of tension and explosive action, Drive does absolutely everything right. Not only is this my favorite kind of movie, this is, without a doubt, my favorite film of the year.
“Refn’s DRIVE is stunningly beautifuly & shockingly intenese. If ur on board with the slow burn, u won’t want the ride to end.”
My Review of Drive at Twitch

With a list of 50 films it seems a bit unfair to list runners-up, but a few films that narrowly missed the list include Carre Blanc, Submarine, The Trip, On the Ice, and Crime After Crime. Notable movies I failed to see include A Dangerous Method, Margaret, Midnight in Paris, Tyrannosaur, and Le Havre. Now on to the fun part…

…and the 5 Ugly Ones

The Son of No One – Dito Montiel’s third feature certified the director as a hack, but piling on after the film’s anemic $30,000 box office on a $15,000,000 budget seems a bit mean. No, the real ugly of this movie belongs to the sales agent who mounted an aggressive campaign of lies after the films embarrassing Sundance press and industry screening. Although at least half the audience was gone by two-thirds of the way through, the sales rep claimed that only a few people walked out early, and all reports of a mass exodus towards the film’s conclusion were due to the projectionist making a mistake and bringing up the lights too early. Whoa! That didn’t happen at all. What took place could only be described as a mass exodus (of the few people who were left) and sarcastic applause from the scattering of people who stayed for one of the most bafflingly horrible conclusions in Sundance history (and there have been a lot of baffling conclusions at Sundance). No sales rep spin can detract from how terrible this movie really is.
“Son of No One is a real mess. Baffling character motivations & one of the worst endings I’ve seen. Big slump for Dito.”

Machine Gun Preacher – Not even a heroin addicted Michael Shannon could rescue this mess of a film from the ridiculous emotional manipulation, borderline racism, and rambling overstuffed plot. The one good thing about this film is that it cemented the number one slot on my list of overrated Hollywood directors for Mr. Marc Forster. I just wish he hadn’t dragged Chris Cornell down with him.
“MACHINE GUN PREACHER is just as bad as I feared. Typical manipulative H.wood drivel from Forster & way too long.”

Smuggler – I quote this from my Noble Failures piece on Twitch: Only one film this year made me so angry I actually questioned my decision to pursue a career in film. That film is Japanese director Katsuhito Ishii’s Smuggler. The story starts out quite promising with a pulpy yakuza crime feel involving two rather compelling assassins Vertebrae and Viscera. Unfortunately, about three-quarters into the film, Ishii takes a left turn into a very graphic and hard to stomach sequence of torture porn (yeah, I get that some people don’t like that term, but that’s what it is). The real crime is that Ishii is inflicting the pain on the protagonist we have spent the whole film learning to feel empathy for. Ishii isn’t saying anything about the torturer–he’s simply saying, “here’s how uncomfortable I can make you feel.” It’s disgusting and made me extremely angry–especially since I went in expecting the whimsy of Ishii’s wonderful film The Taste of Tea. Swing and a big miss.
“Rly disappointed w/ Ishii’s SMUGGLER. Perfectly good crime actioner ruined by more disgusting torture porn. Whats wrong ppl?”
My Review of Smuggler at Twitch

War Horse – Hoooo boy this movie was bad. From the “will the horse plow the field?” drama to the “will the horse walk to the crippled kid when he makes the clucking sound?,” this is manipulative Hollywood emotional drivel at its worst. What is so amazing is how many people fall for it. Next time, please at least tell us a story.
“WAR HORSE is one of those 2.5 hour movies that feels way longer. Zero substance. No character. Pure emotional drivel. Critics will love it.”

Hugo – Yep, I’ve saved the most controversial for last (that it narrowly bumped Warrior as most overrated film of the year will only ruffle more feathers). Well I’m sorry folks, but Scorsese’s love letter to silent cinema is manipulatively nostalgic and little else. I had some fun with the reenactment stuff towards the end, but no way does it justify the total failure of plot logic and character depth throughout. If the kid has been living in the station and fending for himself for so long, why is he so bad at it? If he has so many secret passages, why does he always bumble right into the path of the station guard? The kid should be wily. Instead he is pitiful. And why the hell is the old man so mean? Give the kid the drawings back! They’re his, for God’s sake! But it is just easier to paint these conveniences into the plot to make the artificial arc seem more dramatic. I say Bah! What’s worse is all the buzz over how this movie does something new for 3D (see: Pina). No, this is just the same layering and technological trickery masquerading as story.
“Not a fan of HUGO. Pretty pictures marred by poor writing that paints broad ugly strokes of characterization instead of int’rstng character.”
“HUGO fails by talking down to its young aud w/ illogical plot & forehead slapping dialog – unlike SUPER 8 & TINTIN, both better fam films.”

I look forward to your thoughts.

Posted by enderzero at 4:28pm on Jan. 16, 2012  


  1. Jrod says:

    I was waiting for your list to come out! I now have my work cut out for me . . . thx.

    Jan. 16, 2012 at 9:28pm  
  2. sm says:

    ryland, i’d be lost without you. i’ve only ever heard of a few of these, and now i want to see them all. cheers.

    Jan. 17, 2012 at 8:24pm