The Ten Best Movies Of 2011

1. The Tree Of Life

It isn't always for me to call a movie a "masterpiece" or "great" but Terrence Malick's The Tree Of Life is just that - a mosaic of a film that tests an audiences limitations but more importantly the cinematic medium's limitations. No matter what faults you may have with Malick's movie, you cannot deny the sheer chutzpah and originality that went into its creation. There has never really been anything quite like it and I highly doubt there ever will be. Malick tries to transcend the boundaries of life itself by trying to find a kind of meaning that can possibly bind us with a higher power. His search is for transcendence, in the little moments that make and shape us. Death, morning, rebirth, transcendence are just a fraction of the themes being tackled here, suffice to say I don't think the Transformers 3 crowd will very warm up to the film's non linear narrative and constant use of abstract shapes and colors representing a kind of big bang.

2. Drive

Drive is not a perfect movie but it has all the traits and reasons that had us watch movies in the first place. Or at least the majority of us. It's a violently artsy action picture that doesn't meander to a particular audience. It has a way of being unique and uncompromising in its visionary dreaming. It knows what it wants to be from the get go and goes along with it. Its 100 minutes zip by like a bursting fuel drag-racing at night & Gosling -along with an incredibly villainous Albert Brooks and a heartbreaking Bryan Cranston- brings a kind of coolness that lacks in most pictures these days. By the time The Driver puts on his stunt mask and makes all hell breaks loose in the film's over the top but scattering finale, it is clear that Drive is a movie that can haunt your dreams.

3. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

Grasping a film such as this one may require some major attention from the viewer himself and even when the attention is there, frustration may come about as a result of the film's abstractedness and non-linear narrative. This is all not so surprising when you consider Apichatpong Weerasethakul's filmography and his constant acknowledgment of nature and the way it binds to us as human beings. Have I lost you yet? snoozing? That's how some folks might react when watching Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. Coming out of the screening I attended earlier last year, there was a kind of head scratching vibe in the air. It was as if Weerasethakul's film had not only confused to the general public as to its overall praise but actually angered them in frustration with what they had witnessed. After all, a word of caution is always necessary before going into any of his films, because this is really the definition of an art film, capital A in art of course. I dug it for the its mystery and its dream like tendencies.

4. Melancholia

Melancholia isn't a film for everyone but it is a thinker's movie. Love it or hate it, there is something that is being said here. Von Trier might be a madman but he's not an idiot. He is an auteur first and foremost and attention does need to be paid. In fact this would be a very interesting companion piece to 2011's best movie, Terrence Malick's The Tree Of Life - two totally different works of art but both statements about human nature and creation itself. The second half is incredibly hypnotic. The apocalypse is here and yet Justine's sister Christine is told by her oblivious husband -a playful Kiefer Sutherland- that she need not worry, nothing is coming and the mysterious planet Melancholia will just bypass earth. Dunst -knowing death is near- starts coming off her depression and Christine knowing death is near starts going into depression. It's a brilliant switcheroo that proves to us Von Trier has not lost his ability to be a real thinker. He knows how to manipulate then hit his audience hard. His images are memorable and his film a complete work of art.

5. Incendies

Canada's official entry for this year's Best Foreign Picture Oscar is a masterwork of visual and narrative storytelling. It is about family, tradition and the new world order. Directed by Quebec's Denis Villeneuve, here's a film that transcends its ambitions and becomes an incredible experience for the viewer. Featuring one of the better twist endings of the past 10 years of movies.

6. Bellflower

A general theme of my top ten list this year is explaining the unexplainable. Some of these films are too hard to explain yet resonate deeply. In Bellflower director Evan Glodell has made a shamelessly relentless pop masterpiece. As Two friends spend all their free time building flame-throwers and weapons of mass destruction in hopes that a global apocalypse will occur and clear the runway for their imaginary gang "Mother Medusa". Yet one of them falls in love and then the girl breaks his heart, what he feels afterwards is the definition of the apocalypse. Glodell wants to show us just how apocalyptic a broken heart can be and just how our hero loses track of himself in the process . The images don't always make sense and the ambiguous ending only adds to the frustration, yet Bellflower is a beauty for that very reason. it stands alone in a sea of Hollywood muck as a true visionary work that will get more fans as the years go along.

7. The Skin I Live In

Disappointment was met with Pedro Almodvar's latest yet there were a few - like Glenn Kenny and myself included- that felt like this was prime Almodovar. No kidding. The Skin I Live In was a hell of a ride that had more twists per minute than any other movie last year. Yes it was trashy but it was trash made with resonance, feeling and -above all else- real elegance. Antonio Banderas' plastic surgeon, haunted by past tragedies, creates a woman that pleases his fantasies and urges. His guinea pig: a mysterious and dangerous patient that has secrets we the audience do not know about and are scared to find out. The eventa that binds both of these tortured souls are the true heart of the picture. Featuring one of the best twist endings I've seen in a good, long while. A film that would make one hell of a great double feature with Chan-Wook's Park's Oldboy, Almodovar dares us to go along for the ride like a true master of his craft. Go with it.

8. Source Code

In Duncan Jones' followup to Moon -a great 2009 movie- Jake Gyllenhall is a dead American Soldier who's brain is used to go back in time and find clues as to where a terrorist might be. It doesn't help he has to repeat the same 8 minutes throughout the whole film in a train, which has the said terrorist as a passenger. Have you lost me yet? Don't worry. Jones infuses his movie with enough smarts and entertainment to justify its mediocre third act. Here's a film that not only trusts its audience but rewards it with some extra high octane action in the process. Gyllenhall's Captain Colter Stevens does not really know where he is yet he keeps getting transported back in time to the same event. Think Groundhog Day meets Minority Report and you might see what Jones is aiming for here. I doubt there was a smarter, more visually appealing big studio action film out there. Source Code is the kind of layered science fiction I like best; brainy and entertaining.

9) Margaret 

 Margaret" is an absolute masterpiece. It's thematically going for the tone of a grandiose opera, but in a modern day context, filtered through the emotions of a teenage girl in association with a tragedy. It expresses the emotional teenage mind-set like no other. Every performance is astounding and every character it so compelling and fully-realized. I would compare it to the likes of "Requiem for a Dream," "Magnolia," "There Will Be Blood," "Synecdoche, New York," "The Tree of Life," and other movies that tell sprawling emotional melodramas that just hook you in and don't let you go. If you're into that kind of thing, this is for you. There's no doubt in my mind that if this movie hadn't been tangled up in lawsuits years ago, it would have been a huge Oscar contender and Anna Paquin surely would be winning tons of awards for her performance. It's such a shame that a movie of this size and scope was overlooked.


10. Bridesmaids 

Bridesmaids tried to bring humane femininity to a multiplex lacking in it. Of course there's pussy jokes and a hilarious, disgusting wedding dress sequence but what The Hangover 2 lacked in human emotions Bridesmaids more than makes up for it in its witty, keenly written script by Wiig and Annie Mumolo. Bridesmaids has a contemporary freshness that brings it all the way home. No wonder it made more than 100 million dollars at the box office and has become a critical darling. Enough with the artificial numbers. Feig's film was a competition between the maid of honor and the bridesmaid, a roaringly funny rivalry that made me laugh more than anything else in 2011. Movies like these are far and few but when they do show up they really feel like one thing and one thing only; a breath of fresh.

11. The Lincoln Lawyer, Brad Furman

12. Limitless, Neil Burger

13. A Better Life, Chris Weitz

14. Pariah, Dee Rees

15. Hugo, Martin Scorsese

16. Like Crazy, Drake Doremus

17. Terri, Azazel Jacobs

18. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, David Fincher

19. Policeman, Nadav Lapid

20. Cafe De Flore, Jean-Marc Vallee

21. Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, Rupert Wyatt

22. War Horse, Steven Spielberg

23. Certified Copy, Abbas Kiarostami