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The Best Films Of 2011...So Far

by Kevin Jagernauth
June 21, 2011 4:05 AM
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"Meek’s Cutoff" -- The defining reaction to Kelly Reichardt’s meditative Western, shot in good ol’ 4:3 aspect ratio like in the old days (square, not widescreen), might be best articulated in a recent debate by The New York Times magazine vs. The New York Times movie critics. Former Vulture writer Dan Kois took to the NYT mag to write a sort of apology of sorts for finding slow, meditative art films, well, boring; vegetables you should eat, rather than want to eat. The Grey Lady’s estimable critics A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis then wrote a piece which was titled, “In Defense of Slow & Boring.” Who was right? Well, both of them. Kois is correct in assessing that the slow-moving experience of “Meek’s Cutoff” can be soporific to a certain viewer, but perhaps what he’s missing, which Dargis and Scott so eloquently articulate, is the resonance and value the picture has; a haunting and spellbounding quality that lingers in the mind, far, far long after the picture is gone; a bewitching quality most films don’t possess these days (which makes the "this is dull" assessment a little unimaginative and lazy). So while it’s easy to be short-sighted and write off “Meek’s Cutoff” -- Reichardt’s 4th micro-minimalist excursion, this one about an ill-fated journey through the Oregon Trail in 1845 starring Michelle Williams, Zoe Kazan, Bruce Greenwood and Paul Dano -- as a lethargic, formalist exercise, this cultural vegetable is not only beautiful and austere, it’s dreamy and oblique like, say, the early films of Alain Resnais. And while that may not be for everyone, we still think you’re definitely missing out.

Bridesmaids” -- Sold as a raunchy female version of “The Hangover,” the real surprise of “Bridesmaids” was not that it was riotously funny (it was, though it should be noted, it bears no resemblance to that Wolfpack movie) but that the film had the biggest heart and deepest thematic roots of any Judd Apatow produced movie to date. Directed by Paul Feig, the surface of the story centers on the single Annie (Kristen Wiig) tasked with organizing her best friend Lillian’s (Maya Rudolph) wedding. And while plenty of laughs are wrung out of that situation, these aren’t just characters ping-ponging around a sitcom setup. Instead, the film builds real characters with Annie’s desperation at her singlehood, age and economic status played as much for drama as it is for chuckles. Melissa McCarthy handily walks away as the Zach Galifianakis breakout star of the film, with Jon Hamm running in a close second as a sleazebag fuckbuddy and if anything, you will never look at a Jordan almond the same way again.

So, the above were our top choices, and the films we think could still linger in our Top Ten at the end of the year. Below, are the runners up -- by no means bad or unworthy films, these also made going to the movies in the first half of 2011 enjoyable and memorable, and while they may not slot into our final list in December, they stood out from the pack and deserve to be tracked down.

Hanna” -- We have to admit, we were worried. The early footage didn’t wow us, nor did the trailers, and coming off last year’s attempt at little-girl-kills-adults in the tepid “Kick-Ass” we hoped it wouldn’t be more of the same. But Joe Wright showed everyone how it's done, with his stylish, slick and Chemical Brothers powered “Hanna.” Steely-eyed Saoirse Ronan takes her role as the heartless titular assassin with an unnerving ease, while Eric Bana as the on-the-run father left us wondering why Hollywood isn’t courting the man for smart, adult action movies -- the subway sequence where he squares off against three men in one breathless, fluidly shot ballet of ass-kicking will likely be one of the best set pieces all year. No, it doesn’t all work -- Hanna’s sudden internet/computer hacking abilities in the last third are silly and nonsensical -- but it all comes together in one wiry, wicked package that is wildly entertaining.

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  • jamesyd | August 25, 2012 5:14 PMReply

    the warrior all the way for my film of the year! here's my top 10 for anyone interested

  • bum fluff | February 10, 2012 6:42 PMReply

    they are all FUCKING shit!!!

  • faresline | November 29, 2011 3:41 PMReply

    I like this faresline dot com

  • Movie Lover | December 12, 2011 9:53 PM

    please stop posting your crappy websites on here!

  • Jabcat | November 25, 2011 1:39 PMReply

    Top 10 Art House Films Of 2011: Vote For Your Favorites!

  • caleb | November 4, 2011 3:00 AMReply

    Moneyball is the best film of the year so far. However, I have a feeling that The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo will be the best at years end.

  • kels | October 26, 2011 3:51 AMReply

    I know this list was compiled in June but no love in the comments section for "The Devil's Double"?
    Dominic Cooper is fantastic in a real scene-chewing way. I really hope he gets recognized come awards season.
    Loved "Beginners" and "The Trip".
    "Jane Eyre" was beautifully acted, even if the story is one of my least favorite "classics".

    Am looking forward to "Melancholia" and "Shame", which have both received heaps of praise in the press but have been divided amongst friends who caught them at fests.
    The last few months of 2011 are shaping up nicely.

  • Film_Shark | October 19, 2011 7:04 AMReply

    I agree with many of the selections. Some of my favorites are 'The Tree of Life,' 'Midnight in Paris,' 'Hanna,' 'Meek's Cutoff, 'Beginners,' 'Drive,' 'Submarine.' I haven't seen 'Melancholia' yet but I heard Kirsten Dunst gives a career-changing performance. She won Best Actress at Cannes this year. However, I doubt this film will get one award on Oscar night due to the bad press Liers Von Trier has attracted from his 'Nazi' scandal.

  • jingmei | October 18, 2011 5:18 AMReply

    Personally I appreciate 50/50, Drive, Melancholia, Hesher and Super, etc.

  • Pls send list of best film of the year 2011 | October 16, 2011 6:42 AMReply

    Pls send the best film

  • khalid | September 5, 2011 12:34 PMReply


  • georgy | August 23, 2011 7:31 AMReply

    Expect "A Separation" to appear in this list in the next months.

  • Lisa | August 22, 2011 8:01 AMReply

    Best doc of the year for me: "Marathon Boy"

  • anonymous | August 18, 2011 6:44 AMReply

    Jane Eyre was really good. The ending was a little weak but it was romantic in a way that few films today are.

    I also liked Super 8. It was very entertaining and the child actors were all talented and likeable.

  • Bucky | August 12, 2011 9:19 AMReply

    Sorry, just do, "The Getaway" the way it was written....ya know? Jim Thompson's view of a journey through HELL?

  • Bucky | August 12, 2011 9:17 AMReply

    Howzabout a remake of, "The Getaway", but more along the lines of the way it was ACTUALLY written, by Jim Thompson, instead of the drivel of a remake by Baldwin doing a remake of McQueen's wet fart of a movie? Now THAT would be a game changer.

  • reg | August 12, 2011 2:15 AMReply

    "hanna" is the only movie on this list that i've seen and it was a total waste of a free movie pass. i honestly can't remember when i've been more bored by a movie. the premise and the first 15 minutes are fine, but the rest of it (aside from a mostly wasted eric bana) is pointless running, a weird fixation on the girl's face, an absurd cate blanchett accent, and a nowhere subplot with that camping family. what a snoozefest! if joe wright has ANY hope of making action movies in the future, he needs to do a LOT better in the future.

  • pradeep | August 2, 2011 8:47 AMReply

    deiva thirumagal super

  • afan | July 29, 2011 6:25 AMReply

    Hanna by far the best movie released this year.
    simply outstanding.

    Hanna and Limitless are the two biggest surprises.

    Take me home tonight is best comedy.

    1. Hanna
    2. Thor
    3. The Adjustment Bureau
    4. Take Me Home Tonight
    5. Limitless
    6. X-men First Class
    7. Super
    8. The Lincoln Lawyer
    9. Unknown

  • Duder NME | July 13, 2011 9:55 AMReply

    No love for Page One?

    An upcomer getting a bit of buzz as of lately seems to be The Myth of the American Sleepover. The title sounds typical, but the trailer looks intriguing. But I'm sure once Oscar season hits in full stride, this and a majority of the above listed will be forgotten.

  • Max Roh | July 9, 2011 4:47 AMReply

    Very nice review.

    "I saw the devil" the actor's real name is
    Lee byung hun from G.I.Joe and 'The good, The bad, and the weird."

  • John | July 3, 2011 5:24 AMReply

    Glad "Hanna" made the list. It's a polarizing film no doubt, but it's still the most unique and refreshing film that was released that had a wide released. It's one of those films that make you think AFTER you watch it. An interesting take on character study.

  • Actor Tom Truong | July 1, 2011 12:51 PMReply

    these movies made in 2011 are not as exciting as earlier movies made back in the 90s when I was around 16 years old :(

  • chris | July 1, 2011 7:24 AMReply

    In response to Tom Truong: I think no films ever compare to the films of one's youth. My favorites are still from the mid-70's when I was around 16 as well. I think a lot of it has to do with the discovery of cinema and the newness/novelty of it all. No films seemed bigger to me than those of my youth.

  • Greg | June 27, 2011 6:58 AMReply

    Certified Copy is a great addition, yes, where is Boonmee? US theatrical release is 2011. And Poetry? BOONMEE! I also dig on Film Socialisme but maybe that's just me.

  • Leah Zak | June 27, 2011 6:49 AMReply

    @michael, what would you add?

  • michael | June 27, 2011 5:52 AMReply

    Reportedly, some years ago, an experiment was conducted in which a group of subjects were to enter a room painted a memorable green. One of them was not informed that the remainder had been instructed to adamantly declare, afterward, that the room was blue. Though he initially protested,he eventually capitulated to the persuasion of the others that the green he'd witnessed was, in fact, blue. I've sat in cinemas whose wall was coloured with palpable, authentic and profound artistry. The paltry, empty, and contrived work anointed in the above article is green. Still.

  • Bethanie | June 26, 2011 7:34 AMReply

    I think 'Suing the Devil' starring Malcolm McDowell is the film to watch in 2011.

    I heard about the film at the Berlin Film Festival then went to an early-screening of it and was really blown away - Malcom really does play a good devil and it's a pretty tour-de-force performance. Also the story is very well-done - I kind of like underdog stories where the hero is this nobody and has to contend with the powerful - anyway that's my two-cents.

    Haven't seen 'Tree of Life' so I can't comment.

  • Kamil | June 25, 2011 7:41 AMReply

    Wait. Where is Lars Von Trier's 'Melancholia'. Despite Von Trier's faux pas at Cannes, the movie has gotten spectacular reviews so far especially for Kirsten Dunst's performance!

  • Miles Maker | June 25, 2011 5:06 AMReply

    "PARIAH" (2011)

  • Daniel Shuber | June 25, 2011 3:08 AMReply

    Don't forget The Adjustment Bureau - a solid minor film that was a nice surprise this past spring...

  • Johan | June 22, 2011 4:04 AMReply

    X-Men: First Class!

  • reginaroadie | June 22, 2011 4:01 AMReply

    Good selection. Agree with the majority of your pics. Still haven't seen Tree of Life and Meek's Cutoff yet, but really want to.

    I know this is a bit of an odd choice, but I would also include KUNG FU PANDA 2 in the mix as well. Does what a real sequel should do. It builds upon the world and characters of the first film while doing it's own thing. Plus it's the one summer blockbuster I've seen this year twice within the span of a week.

  • azguki | June 22, 2011 3:59 AMReply

    The name of the actor from Oldboy is Choi Min Sik, not Kyung Chul. Kyung Chul is the name of the character he plays in I Saw The Devil. Just for clarification.

  • Jonathan | June 22, 2011 3:24 AMReply

    Great list! Very close to my own, except that my top 10 so far also includes The Sunset Limited (HBO), Rango, and Of Gods and Men.
    Also, count me among those who didn't care for Meek's Cutoff. It was at times impressive to look at, but as I struggled to keep my eyes open, I felt almost nothing for the characters.
    Overall, 2011 is turning out to be a great year! I'm looking forward most to The Guard, but there are so many great films that got great buzz at the festivals that I simply can't wait to see!

  • Franqui Says Relax | June 21, 2011 9:54 AMReply

    I LOVED "Tree of Life." I saw it twice and I am writing a dissertation on it .

    What about the Liam Neeson vehicle "Unknown"? It deserves to be on this list based on the star's performance alone.

  • Mister B | June 21, 2011 8:41 AMReply

    Miss BALA!

  • JP | June 21, 2011 8:35 AMReply

    "where the fuck is martha marcy may marlene?"

    Mike: "Martha Marcy May Marlene" isn't in U.S. theaters until October.

  • YND | June 21, 2011 7:04 AMReply

    For my money, 2011 has been the best year for film in a long time. Even without the towering achievement that is TREE OF LIFE... 13 ASSASSINS, MEEK'S CUTOFF, CERTIFIED COPY, UNCLE BOONMEE and COLD WEATHER all trump just about everything on my Best of 2010 list. And we still have Cronenberg and von Trier and DRIVE and Dardennes and Ceylan and a bunch of other promising stuff coming up. Lots to be thankful for this year.

  • Nik | June 21, 2011 6:28 AMReply

    Bonus: "I Saw The Devil" is available on Netflix Instant.

  • Mr Dog | June 21, 2011 6:21 AMReply

    Apologies, i retract my comment. I'm just mad cuz i haven't seen Tree of Life yet.

  • Mr Dog | June 21, 2011 6:13 AMReply

    Three words: "Blizsh Blarzsh Blursht."

  • howson | June 21, 2011 6:02 AMReply

    Drive Angry 3D was the most enjoyable movie of the year by far.

  • tyrone jibbs | June 21, 2011 5:11 AMReply

    i'm surprised "Ceremony" isn't on here. It seemed like you guys really dug the hell out of that film.

  • Edward Davis | June 21, 2011 4:59 AMReply

    @mike It hasn't come out in proper theatrical release yet. Just film festival circuit which we bypassed per the intro.

    @mark yes, it should, it's our list. on your list it won't be there, right?

  • Cory Everett | June 21, 2011 4:58 AMReply


    It's in Around The Corner, for all the films that have yet to be released.

  • TimParker | June 21, 2011 4:58 AMReply

    Source Code as an honorable mention?

  • Mark | June 21, 2011 4:55 AMReply

    Super 8 shouldn't be on the list.

  • Overstreet | June 21, 2011 4:54 AMReply

    By the way, three cheers for your inclusion of "Beginners," a film that *should* have been a disaster. How do you successfully weave a coming-out story, two deaths from cancer, a tormented love story about melancholy artists, and a talking dog into one film? Somehow, Mike Mills has done just that. "Beginners" has been the year's most pleasant surprise so far, for this moviegoer anyway.

    Personally, I found "Hanna" intolerable. So much sound and fury signifying nothing. I didn't care, and the gaudy exploitation of cultural styles for the sake of decoration was really annoying. Worst Cate Blanchett performance ever.

  • mike | June 21, 2011 4:53 AMReply

    where the fuck is martha marcy may marlene?

  • Marya | June 21, 2011 4:45 AMReply

    no love for Rango?

  • Elton Telles | June 21, 2011 4:44 AMReply

    One word: "Poetry".

  • Overstreet | June 21, 2011 4:41 AMReply

    Two words: "Certified Copy."

  • Jill | December 13, 2011 2:18 AM

    One word: "Hanna."

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