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The Best Films Of 2011...So Far

by Kevin Jagernauth
June 21, 2011 4:05 AM
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I Saw the Devil” -- At what point does justice turn to revenge? And when does that revenge mutate into something even more sinister? These are the questions asked by director Kim Jee-woon in his epic, violent, ugly and bleakly funny “I Saw the Devil,” yet another astounding entry from a South Korean cinematic scene that is producing some of the most breathtaking genre films these days. When a police officer’s (Lee Byung-hun) pregnant fiance becomes the latest victim of a vicious serial killer (Choi Min-sik from “Oldboy” in a memorably deranged performance), his pursuit to bring him in turns into a battle of wills that leaves a trail of bodies and blood in its wake. Running nearly two-and-a-half hours long, director Kim Jee-woon (“The Good the Bad and the Weird”) not only allows his film to simmer into a searing boil, he unfolds a story that with each moment unveils a new unexpected twist or surprise turn that feels utterly organic in the universe for his characters, whose notions of good and bad are not just tested, but tossed out the window completely. “I Saw the Devil” doesn’t just present evil, it makes the disturbing case that, one can easily slip into madness themselves when a confronted the darkest, most horrific depths of depraved humanity. Graphic but not gratuitous, Kim makes every drop of blood count and while those moments will make your stomach churn and skin crawl, it's the ramifications of violence and vengeance that offers up the biggest scares of them all.

Win Win” -- In the unofficial list of greatest American filmmakers currently working today, one name is frequently left off and forgotten: Tom McCarthy. The writer, director and sometimes actor first made a big wave behind the camera with “The Station Agent” a film with a quirky premise -- a little person takes up residence in an old train station in rural New Jersey -- that found a lovely, relatable core of humanity and heart. For this next effort, McCarthy waded towards an “issues film” with “The Visitor” but once again defied expectations, allowing the richness of cultural diversity play out on screen between Richard Jenkins and Haaz Sleiman to quietly underscore that importance that the immigrant experience has on everyone in this country. And McCarthy scores once again with “Win Win,” a highly original story that finds him returning to a familiar theme about the rewards of reaching out to someone who needs a helping hand. In this case the unlikely hero is Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti), a not-so-honest lawyer who winds up taking care of a client’s runaway grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer). Facing financial and professional difficulties, Mike is reluctant to take on yet another responsibility but as more of Kyle’s story comes to the fore, he teams with his wife Jackie (Amy Ryan) to give the kid an opportunity at a life he never knew he could have. Heartwarming, real and absolutely hilarious, McCarthy’s film is a character driven story in the vein of Alexander Payne, with the thematic and social reach of Mike Leigh. “Win Win” lives up to its title.

Bill Cunningham New York” -- Even though everyone is ready their books and newspapers on their iPads or Kindles, the ritual of the Sunday New York Times -- the biggest edition of the week that demands to be read over breakfast with sections scattered over the table -- is something that can’t be replicated digitally. And one of the staples of the Sunday Times is Bill Cunningham’s “On The Street” section, a document of the week in fashion in one of the most fashionable cities in the country in all its creative, outrageous, refined and glamorous glory. Lovingly directed by Richard Press, “Bill Cunningham New York” is a love letter to a New York institution whose keen eye for fashion often sets or precedes the trends that later appear in the pages of Vogue or other highly influential magazines. Yet, despite working for one of the most prestigious newspapers in the world in an industry that could certainly allow him to live a life of luxury, it’s Cunningham’s humble attitude, spartan lifestyle and dedication to everyday people instead of the glitterati that makes for a fascinating and at times, surprisingly moving documentary. One of the last residents of the famed Carnegie Hall apartments -- living in apartment not much bigger than a closet -- Cunningham offers a window into a New York that is essentially gone, but it's his dedication to what the average person is wearing that makes his work so unique, treasured and relevant. A flip through his decades long work with the New York Times is essentially a history lesson and time capsule but also a remarkable social document. Through his frequent subjects, admirers of work and colleagues, “Bill Cunningham New York” paints a lovely portrait of a man, slavishly dedicated to his job, highly protective of his subjects, who keeps his private life to himself and prefers to let his work do the talking for him. However, his acceptance speech in 2008 when receiving a special award from the French Ministry of Culture says all you need to know about the man, and it will leave in you tears.

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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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