The Best Films of 2011

By Ray Manukay


2011 was one of the best years in recent memory from the film industry. This movie year was so good that I couldn’t even narrow down my selections to a Top Ten. It didn’t seem right to leave three of these movies off this list, considering that they could have easily been bumped up, if not for something as arbitrary as my current mood. Who the hell decided that 10 would be the ideal number for a list anyways? Everyone knows my favorite number is 13! So why not make this list the Top 13 films of 2011.



Honorable mention:

War Horse, The Guard , Rise of the Planet of the Apes,  50/50, The Ides of March, Bridesmaids.

There were also some outstanding films that didn’t make this list. Some of them are featured in our other list The Best Films of Summer 2011.  I felt these honorable mentions were noteworthy, because they represented what I felt was the best of the sub-categories of films for 2011. Bridesmaids was the best raunchy comedy. The Ides of March one of the best political thrillers this year. 50/50 was the best dramatic comedy. Rise of the Planet of the Apes was the best action film. The Guard was the best indie film and War Horse was the best big budget drama.





And now the 13 Best movies of 2011… according to me at least.



13. 13 Assassins

Audiences never could have imagined that Takashi Miike could make a film like this. Known for his over-the-top exploitation films, Miike surprised everyone with this updated remake of the Eiichi Kudo film.  With 13 Assassins he has crafted an epic, sweeping and enthralling men-on-a-mission drama. Granted the movie is based on some outstanding, even classic sources. But Miike’s update of 13 Assassins surprises at every turn. It is also easily Miike’s best film to date. Not only that, 13 Assassins, is an impressive, exciting mainstream piece of cinema. Something one would probably never imagine to hear as a description of a Takashi Miike film. Not only that, 13 Assassins is easily one of the best films of 2011.







12. Drive

An homage to 80’s character action films, Drive succeeds mostly on the charm of Ryan Gosling. His performance elevates an essentially, standard double cross heist film into something truly memorable. Gosling’s character is at once mysterious and transparent. Through impressive internal character work, Gosling expresses his thoughts and opinions to the audience with simple glances and looks. His work is so expressive that he even turns the movie at one point into a romance. Just by his looks of longing and affection. Of course, Gosling’s performance is not the only reason to watch Drive. There are  also some memorable performances from Carey Mulligan, Christina Hendricks, Bryan Cranston and a menacing Albert Brooks. There is also some exciting, well staged action sequences. The movie also marks the emergence of a new exciting directoral talent in Nicolas Winding Refn. But make no mistake about it, Gosling steals this show with his excellent understated performance.








11. The Tree of Life

Here we go. Let the arguments begin. Yeah the film is pretentious but the The Tree of Life also provokes, sincere, contemplative thought. Some argue that the film is half baked, or even overly ambitious. But The Tree of Life is admittedly more about raw feelings and catching and sharing genuine moments of wonder and awe. The Tree of Life also demonstrates that our choices in life can be boiled down to two ways, either ways of nature or grace. How we make those choices define and shape ours lives. Those are lofty elements at work. Things that aren’t easily absorbed in just two hours. But Malick chose to tackle those issues with abandon. Isn’t it refreshing that a film can keep us thinking for hours, days, weeks, even months after? I suspect watching this film years later will effect me in an absolutely different profound way than when I first saw the film. How many films can we say will ever do that?









10. I Saw The Devil

Violent, disturbing, horrific, the title of this film describes it all. I Saw The Devil explores the darker side of humanity. The really dark, hopeless side. In all it’s ugly, unbearable, unimaginable terms. Often times horror films try to bring a sense of redemption and justice to a story, to take some of the sting off of it’s morbid journey. But there’s none of that here. I Saw The Devil starts bleak and ends hopeless. If anything, the film drives home the  point of the emptiness of violence and ultimately the pointlessness of revenge.  I Saw the Devil is brave and hard to watch storytelling. Definitely not for everyone. But the film has a power, suspense and strangely enough, invigorating, cathartic drama which separates itself from the standard horror film.  I Saw the Devil illustrates that  life’s stories rarely fit into a neat little box. Sometimes life’s stories are just brutal, rough and soul sucking.







9. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Girl power has never been so disturbingly sexy on the screen. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo isn’t just a great mystery film. It’s also a unique and complex character study of one of the most interesting, anti-heroes to ever come to the screen. Lisbeth Salander is at once, strong and vulnerable,  scary and beautiful, coarse and sentimental, confident yet painfully insecure. It’s a fascinating character and is fleshed out by a thrilling award worthy performance by Rooney Mara. As far as the  film as a whole, it’s a well-made, expertly, crafted mystery thriller. Not surprising coming from David Fincher. And with the utmost respect to the original, this movie is clearly superior to the Swedish version.  But comparisons aside the film deserves to stand alone , if only for the star making performance of Rooney Mara, who shines in a career defining role.








8. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is more about mood and atmosphere than plot. Which is unique for a mystery thriller. Usually plot is what drives a mystery film. But Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy confidently takes its time to reveal itself. It defies conventional story telling. It forces the audience to catch up, rather than play down to us. Most of the initial plot is concerned with setting a dark, ominous tone. Which the film delightfully accomplishes.  Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is full of mystery-filled interactions with lots of paranoid stares, fake smiles and peering around corners, to see who’s following.  Which in effect creates wonderful  suspense, uneasiness and stomach knot-turning filled tension. It’s a fascinating, unique film that relies on the audience to fill in the gaps with their imagination. But what’s most refreshing is that Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy always treats the audience with respect. This is a smart movie, made for adults who aren’t afraid to be challenged to think. A welcome relief from the typical mindless fare usually presented to us on screen.







7. The Descendants

Alexander Payne is a master of the awkward and The Descendants  is chock-full of  uncomfortable moments. It’s remarkable how Payne can bring to the surface so many emotions from painfully awkward encounters between characters. Humor, pain, suspense, understanding and relief are all experienced through the course of The Descendants and it’s always done in a unique, interesting way. But what’s most impressive about these character interactions is that their sincerity always ring true. It’s never done for cheap laughs. What The Descendants illustrates so well, is that we all tend to stumble around awkwardly through life. Often times unintentionally bumping into one  another, sometimes too intimately. It doesn’t matter if the backdrop is the gorgeous, awe-inspiring, tranquil, paradise beauty of Hawaii. Life’s adventures tend to swirl us around  in a tornado of emotions. What The Descendants reveals and enjoys reveling in, is that how we handle  those real, heartfelt, awkward, painful moments in life, are what ultimately define us.







6. Submarine

The best romantic coming-of-age comedy of the year is also one of the least known films of 2011. Which is shocking to me, considering how charming and entertaining Submarine is. I’m confused as to why a great film like Submarine hasn’t sparked more popularity via word of mouth.The film is entertaining, quirky, fun. As well as being sincere, touching and visually unique, Submarine also boldly brings to light an exciting, new artistic voice with director Richard Ayoade. Who is definitely an exciting director to keep an eye on.










5. Moneyball

As a die hard Los Angeles Angels (of Anaheim) fan, I can’t emphasize how hard it was for me to like this film. I dislike the Oakland A’s. Well…actually…I more or less hate them. And I don’t subscribe to the statistical baseball principals laid out and practiced by Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt in the film. But Moneyball, the film, isn’t really about Oakland A’s baseball or even the sport itself. It’s about being the underdog. It’s about a Maverick going against the system. It’s also about making lemonade, out of lemons. But ultimately, Moneyball  is about enjoying the ride of life and not taking it for granted. As Brad Pitt’s character states in the film ”It’s easy to get romantic about Baseball.” What Moneyball tries to impart through Stephen Zallian and Aaron Sorkin’s fantastic script,  is that we should all just slow down and notice the magic in our lives. Before it passes us by.







4. Warrior

Warrior is easily the most emotionally, engaging, sentimental and touching film of 2011. Hard to believe, considering the use of such a brutal and macho backdrop as Mixed Martial Arts for a setting to the film. But Warrior isn’t about competitive, professional cage fighting. It’s about family. This is a relatively simple tale of two estranged brothers and their repentant father. This simple story moved me like no other film in 2011. Part Rocky and part prodigal son, Warrior isn’t just about the underdog. It’s also about how family ties are bound together by more than just blood. It’s bound together by love, sweat and tears. Life’s adversities can’t break that bond no matter how hard we may try. Warrior is about how by battling and fighting through pain and loss we can find our family and ultimately ourselves.







Our #3 Favorite Movie of 2011 was….








3. The Artist

Let’s get past the fact that The Artist is a silent film. Yeah, the silent film convention is a bit of a gimmick. But the film doesn’t use the convention as a parody  or quirky joke. The Artist is also not just an homage to the silent film era, it’s a celebration of the entire cinematic art form. The Artist uses the silent film format to enhance the story of one of the most historically significant moments in film. A period of time which created and unfortunately destroyed careers. But before I get too grandiose about the merits and significance of the film. Lets just strip all that away and say that The Artist is a fun, well-made, touching film with memorable, comedic moments and heartfelt, romantic drama. The film also features a fantastic break out performance from Jean Dujardin.





Our #2 Favorite Movie of 2011 was …








2. Midnight in Paris

It’s not surprising that the Best movie of the Summer of 2011 has landed on this list. What IS surprising is how high on the list Midnight in Paris lands, especially considering that there were so many great films released during the end -of -the -year awards season. It’s a testament to how great  this time traveling,  humble, enchanting and charming little film is. Midnight in Paris is arguably Woody Allen’s best film. Which is, of course, saying a lot.





And Our Favorite film of 2011 was …






1. Hugo in 3D

For the record, I’m not a fan of the 3D format. In fact, if presented with the option, I tend to go with the traditional viewing format, over the 3D version for a film. As a whole, I just find 3D to be unnecessary, excessive and at worst distracting. But Hugo directed by Martin Scorsese is in my opinion the best 3D movie ever made. And yes, I’m including Avatar in that comparison.  The reason for this was that I felt the 3D in Hugo was not just a gimmick or even a special effect. But it was actually used to enhance the film and it’s plot. It wasn’t just eye candy. It was almost like a character in the film. But just in case, someone were to mistake my enthusiasm for the use of the 3D in this film as the main reason for my appreciation for the film, I want to point out that I also found the story to be touching, moving, and simply enchanting. Even without the 3D effects, I found Hugo to have an almost magical quality. I literally didn’t want the story to end. Several times during the film I found myself transported back to my  own childhood. I was reminded of my excitement and wonder as I flipped through my first pop-up book. The fact that the film was also a celebration of movies just added to my appreciation. I was reminded of the reason why I loved films.What Hugo so excellently shows us is that films, good films, help shape and inspire our lives. In ways we never could have ever imagined. As far as the direction of the film, for a movie about movies there is simply no other story teller better than the brillant Martin Scorsese to bring that story to the screen. He’s an authority not just on filmmaking, but the history of films. Ultimately, I would argue Hugo is one of Martin Scorsese’s greatest films, if not his best. A bold statement for sure, but an accurate description of what I felt was the Best Film of 2011.








Also see the articles 2012 Biggest Films , The Best Films of Summer of 2011 and Favorite Films of 2011 by R.M. King.

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