Here's the list. I'm going by the release date in the country the film is from. This to me is the best system. Enjoy! I love all of these very much.
10. Meek’s Cutoff (Reichardt)
Kelly Reichardt's gorgeously composed Western about our confrontation with the unknown, the limits of human knowledge, and the myth of progress. It's methodical and purposefully restrained throughout so that when the ground does shake, we feel it with titanic force. Reichardt's intermingling of the ceaseless landscape with the enigma of her narrative themes is the work of a true artist. One of the years most joyous question marks.
9. Hugo (Scorsese)
Scorsese's love letter to motion pictures is, along with Le Havre, one of the least cynical fairy tales to come along in years. A warm-hearted and visually flawless tale about the importance of friendship and community, being comfortable with oneself, and overcoming tragedy. The great thing about Scorsese's film is that it asks us to cherish our cinematic past while reminding us why we fell in love with movies in the first place.
8. The Mill and The Cross (Majewski)
Lech Majewski's utterly unique inhabitation of Bruegel's The Way to Calvary works both as a piece of silent cinema and an ode to the power of artistic creation. Art can mean many things to us; it can challenge our perception of existence; it can move us; it can disturb and shake us; it can make us dream. Majewski's film is a celebration of the richness of art, the profundity of its symbolic value and the humanity it flows from. It's also one of the great visual experiences of the year.
7. The Skin I Live In (Almodóvar)
Pedro Almodóvar, the master of melodrama, returns with one of his wildest efforts yet. Wholly fucked up, deliriously entertaining, and stylistically exuberant–The Skin I Live In is an unabashedly ridiculous yet entirely genuine cinematic experience. A nightmare meditation on obsession, vengeance, sexuality, gender, identity, and endless transformation. If you give yourself over to Almodóvar's rhythms he will reward you handsomely, and send you for one hell of a loop.
6. The Kid with a Bike (Dardenne Brothers)
In a cinematic climate where it has become easy to stick someone's face in the dirt, it takes real guts to try and lift them up out of it. THE KID WITH A BIKE continues the Dardenne Brothers' insistence on the importance of empathy and redemption in the face of abuse and neglect. Like with 2003's THE SON, the Dardenne's weave a neo-realist tale of discarded youth only to offer an extended helping hand and little bit of magic to provide surprisingly–a way out. The Dardenne's aren't the cinema's only humanists, but the scope of their empathy always floors me.
5. Drive (Refn)
Nicholas Winding Refn's violent, highly stylized action masterstroke is a triumph of artistic vision. It's exciting, pulsating, rejuvenating cinema. It deconstructs the laconic anti-hero of old and turns him into fantasy obsessed, role-playing maniac. While it definitely recreates with the utmost attention to fetishism and style, it also has moments of the purest construction that make it more than empty spectacle. I've mentioned it plenty before, but the scene in the hallway with Irene (her chest heaving up and down in a longing, sexual rhythm) staring at Driver is a moment of beauty, humanity, and real desire. It's one of the moments in the film where the polish and gloss is removed and we see the heart beating steadily underneath.
4. Le Havre (Kaurismäki)
For all who pine for the sweetness, community, and magic of Classic cinema, this is your golden ticket into silver screen paradise. The kindest movie of the year as well as being one of the funniest, weirdest, and most consistently surprising. An earnest and rare gem of a movie that will make you happy beyond belief. And, of course, last but certainly not least, it has Little Bob. Enough said.
3. Take Shelter (Nichols)
Jeff Nichol's nightmarish, anxiety-drenched, but deeply human drama about one man's confrontation with his fear and the unknowability of reality is perfectly composed, nervewracking, and wonderfully moving. An atmospheric narrative wound so tightly we wait breathlessly for something awful to unravel. Shannon gives such a remarkable performance, and the scene in the cellar is easily one of the most harrowing in recent memory. A great film and the blossoming of a true talent in Nichols.
2. A Separation (Farhadi)
I made my review of it spoiler free, but it's best to go into this completely fresh. Don't read anything on it, just see it as soon as you can. Hopefully you will be as entranced by it as I was. A film so densely layered you'll want to see it again the second it's over. Let's talk more about it later.
1. The Tree of Life (Malick)
As beautiful as life itself. There's been a lot of joking about his film recently and my adoration for it, but I want to be entirely serious about both, if only for a paragraph.
The Tree of Life is ambitious, expansive, intellectually and spiritually rich, and one the most genuine celebrations of existence ever put on film. There are moments so beautiful in it that you will question how you ever for a second thought that life could be anything other than completely marvelous. Watching it a second time, it becomes much less abstract, much more lucid, and infinitely more human. You are no longer trying to figure it all out, but merely allowing yourself to be caught within its majestic sweep. The Sean Penn stuff may seem superfluous but it's completely essential for Malick to complete his evolution of life. He has given you its birth and its growth, now he wants to give you its redemption. Even if the finale is all a dream, it is still an expressed hope that there is a God who will someday take responsibility for life and save it. Sean Penn's character's world is filled with glass houses and buildings almost as if Malick is trying to let the light and vision of God in everywhere. He wants everyone and everything to be seen so that they are never forgotten. His ending is as miraculous as it is humane and bold.
Terrence Malick is modern cinema's Poet Laureate. This is his ode to everything that's ever existed and his prayer that someday it will all be saved. I rejoice and pray with him. Even if I can't believe in God, I believe in cinema. Malick rejuvenates that belief.
Honorable Mention: Melancholia (von Trier), The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (Fincher), The Ides of March (Clooney), Midnight in Paris (Allen), Attack the Block (Cornish), Moneyball (Miller), Source Code (Jones).
Overrated: We Need to Talk about Kevin, Beginners.
Still Need to See: Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Ceylan), Pina (Wenders), Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Alfredson), A Dangerous Method (Cronenberg), War Horse (Spielberg), Shame (McQueen), Carnage (Polanski).
Still Need to See but Probably Will Never Watch: Another Earth, Mysteries of Lisbon, Nostalgia For Light.
Perhaps Should See But Don’t Really Care: The Descendants, The Artist, J. Edgar, The Help.
#1 Reason John’s and/or my dating system makes the most sense: Yang’s A Brighter Summer Day. Released in 1991 in Taiwan. Released in 2011 in the U.S. Ed Gonzalez has it on his 1991 list and his 2011 list. Which is it?
Best Film: The Tree of Life
Best Director: Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life
Best Actor: Peyman Moadi, A Separation & Michael Shannon, Take Shelter
Best Actress: Leila Hatami, A Separation
Best Supporting Actor: Little Bob, Le Havre
Best Supporting Actress: Jessica Chastain, Take Shelter/The Tree of Life
Best Originial Screenplay: Jeff Nichols, Take Shelter
Best Adapted Screenplay: Hossein Amini & Nicholas Winding Refn, Drive
Best Score: Drive
Best Cinematography: The Tree of Life
Best Song: Whatever that song is that Little Bob and his band rock the house with.
Favorite Albums of 2011:
A$AP Rocky - LiveLoveA$AP
Bon Iver - Bon Iver
Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
Girls - Father, Son, Holy Ghost
PJ Harvey - Let England Shake
Real Estate - Days
Summer People - Teamwork & Do It
Tom Waits - Bad as Me