After highlighting other areas in film this year (here), it is time to share our favorites. Compiled in eight separate lists featuring over 100 films, you will find everything we’ve loved over the last 365 days. It was difficult to cut down my personal list, as this year has been full of many quality films I would love to highlight, with almost 350 viewed. Our hope is one will use this feature to catch up on any missed films, revisit the ones that you’ve adored and give others a second chance. I kick off things below, then look for links at the bottom of each page to venture further.
Jordan Raup’s Top 10 of 2011
10. Hugo (Martin Scorsese)
Here is living proof that 3D should only be used in the hands of veteran filmmakers. Martin Scorsese matches his adoration for cinema with a inquisitive eye into new technology in Hugo. Every frame is magical and as one slowly realizes what the director is really after here, it becomes one of the most enchanting films of the year, with an added vital dose of history .
9. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (Brad Bird)
Proving not only to be the most enjoyable time I had at a theater this year, the latest entry in the Mission: Impossible series is, hands down, one of the best action films in the last few years. Transitioning from animation to live-action, director Brad Bird delivered a spectacle like no other with his vertigo-inducing usage of IMAX cameras and pitch-perfect pacing. Our hardest-working and most intricately-woven team yet battle a villain with one clear motive that leaves the fate of the world in their hands. This powerhouse December release makes all of its summer blockbuster predecessors pale in comparison.
8. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Tomas Alfredson)
On the other side of the spy coin is Tomas Alfredson‘s finely-tuned, quiet examination of top-secret British operatives. Featuring the best ensemble of the year, this initially frustrating adaptation of John le Carré’s classic novel opens up with countless rewards on multiple viewings. Tiny revelations in each scene, whether it be a picture on a wall, a quick glance, a insert of shoes or a single phone call, add up to a stirring visual portrait of paranoia by Alfredson.
7. Into the Abyss (Werner Herzog)
A film has rarely faced death with such a delicate touch as Werner Herzog‘s Into the Abyss. More compelling and satisfying then his other over-praised documentary of 2011, the erratic filmmaker takes a single death row murder case and extends his grip on every human being touched by tragedy. Whether it is a heartbroken, jailed father who knows he is at fault for his son’s reprehensible actions, a former death row worker whose job was eating away his soul, or a young man who has made peace with death, the chills down my spine as I type this confirm Herzog has made a permanent impact on my life with his latest work.
6. We Need To Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay)
Lynne Ramsay’s visual feast excels at conveying plot points without any rambling exposition. Anchored by astounding performances from Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller, this is one of the year’s best horror films, showcasing the very worst of family dysfunction.
5. Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn)
When my overarching praise for a film is the unparalleled “cool” factor, it might seem slight. But if you’ve seen Drive then you know the praise is warranted, as there was no sleeker nor boldly stylish time at the movies this year. Drenched in a thick, wonderful coat of surging synthpop, Refn makes sure every single cut counts in this finely engineered beast. When going down a few floors on a elevator can be as pulse-pounding as a car chase through Los Angeles, then you know there is a budding master at work here.
4. Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin)
Ever since seeing Sean Durkin‘s striking debut nearly a year ago on a cold night at Sundance, I knew the film would be high on my best-of list of the year. Much-praised for Elizabeth Olsen‘s break-out debut (and it remains my favorite performances of the year), this is much more than just an acting showcase. Through the stark cinematography and tight, focused screenplay, Durkin’s examination of a torn psyche literally distorted my thought process for some time after both theatrical viewings.
3. Shame (Steve McQueen)
What some filmmakers take an entire page of dialogue to convey, the master British filmmaker Steve McQueen can portray in a single action. With his sophomore effort he extends his skill to the topic of sex addiction, a struggle that can be parsed out to many areas of our lives. Michael Fassbender proves yet again he is a break-out star at the top of his game as he commands the screen in every single scene.
2. A Separation (Asghar Farhadi)
Farhadi’s intensely intimate human drama snuck up on me like few other films this year. A seemingly standard first act leads to one of the most well-written and acted films of the year. A mistake (or is it?) spirals out of control as accusations are thrown about and character is questioned by your closest companions. Farhadi makes sure to give a consequences to each action, but brilliantly backs away from inserting his own opinion or blame. Capping off with the best ending of the year, I’ve been thinking about all my precise actions since the first viewing.
1. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick)
As vast as the galaxy portrayed in the film is the divide between Terrence Malick‘s ambitious masterpiece and the other films on my list this year. No other cinematic experience left such a staggering impact on me than this story of life, death, the universe…well, everything. Perfectly scattered and purposefully frustrating, Malick’s grand experiment peers into humanity itself, with awe-inspiring bookends of how it came to be and its eventual destruction.
The Film Stage’s Best Films of 2011
Follow: Our 2011 Year-End Features
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