20 Best Films of 2011

Here, from the prestigious film magazine Film Comment, is a ranked list of the 20 best films of 2011 as compiled by the magazine’s editors. Filmworks showed films marked √. Short summaries, most from the Internet Movie Database are provided. Many of these films will be available from NetFlix and other rental outfits in a few months.

  1. The Tree of Life The impressionistic story of a Texas family in the 1950s. The film follows the life journey of the eldest son, Jack, through the innocence of childhood to his disillusioned adult years as he tries to reconcile a complicated relationship with his father Imdb. (U.S.)
  2. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives Don’t be put off by its whimsical title, or by the name of its director, which looks strange to Western eyes: Apichatpong Weerasethakul. It’s only a movie and he’s only a man. If you are open, even in fancy, to the idea of ghosts who visit the living, this film is likely to be a curious but rather bemusing experience. Roger Ebert (Thailand.)
  3. Melancholia Two sisters find their already strained relationship challenged as a mysterious new planet threatens to collide with the Earth. Imdb. (international)
  4. A Separation A married couple [is] faced with a difficult decision—to improve the life of their child by moving to another country or to stay in Iran and look after a deteriorating parent who has Alzheimers. Imdb. (Iran)
  5. A Dangerous Method A look at how the intense relationship between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud gives birth to psychoanalysis. Imdb. (U.K.)
  6. Mysteries of Lisbon Follows a jealous countess, a wealthy businessman, and a young orphaned boy across Portugal, France, Italy and Brazil where they connect with a variety of mysterious individuals. Imdb (Portugal)
  7. Certified Copy An English author … arrives in a Tuscan village to promote his new book [about art], titled … Certified Copy. He wanted to call it Forget the Original, Just Get a Good Copy, he reveals, further playing to the crowd by answering his cell phone mid-talk. “There are no immutable truths in art,” he says. But what about life? After his self-satisfied presentation, the author acts on an invitation that is never exactly spelled out, and pays a call on a never-named woman (Binoche, who won the Best Actress Award at Cannes last year) seen sitting prominently in the audience. She operates a gallery stocked with antique replicas, and has bought six copies of his book—all to be duly certified with his signature. J. Hoberman (Iran).
  8. Meek’s Cutoff Settlers traveling through the Oregon desert in 1845 find themselves stranded in harsh conditions. Imdb (U.S.)
  9. Hugo Set in 1930s Paris, an orphan who lives in the walls of a train station is wrapped up in a mystery involving his late father and an automaton. Imdb (U.S.)
  10. Poetry A sixty-something woman, faced with the discovery of a heinous family crime and in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, finds strength and purpose when she enrolls in a poetry class. Imdb (South Korea)
  11. Film Socialisme A Godard revival. The film, Godard’s first full feature on video, looks gorgeous, though its thrust often seems obscure. When the philosopher Alain Badiou appears, lecturing to an empty hall, the meaning to be immediately discerned from it—that the average middle-to-upper-class French person doesn’t care about Marxism—feels either deep or idiotic, depending on one’s point of view. Aaron Cutler (France)
  12. Le Havre When an African boy arrives by cargo ship in the port city of Le Havre, an aging shoe shiner takes pity on the child and welcomes him into his home. Imdb (Finland).
  13. The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu The film explores the image of the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu using unknown official footage from the Romanian National Television and National Film Archives. Imdb. (Romania)
  14. Le Quatre Volte A beautiful combination of an old man’s struggle to continue his goathearding life; the birth of a baby goats; a tree which becomes charcoal; and the lives of the simple people in the hills of Calabria. We see the stages of life through beautiful imagery at times dramatic and at times comical. Imdb (Italy).
  15. The Descendants With his wife Elizabeth on life support after a boating accident, Hawaiian land baron Matt King takes his daughters on a trip from Oahu to Kauai to confront the young real estate broker, who was having an affair with Elizabeth before her misfortune. Imdb. (U.S.)
  16. Nostalgia for the Light In Chile’s Atacama Desert, astronomers peer deep into the cosmos in search for answers concerning the origins of life. Nearby, a group of women sift through the sand searching for body parts of loved ones, dumped unceremoniously by Pinochet’s regime. Imdb (Chile)
  17. A Brighter Summer Day This film is prefaced in a historical context, with the understanding that Chinese Taiwan was formed in 1949 with several million Chinese being forced to cross over into Taiwan from mainland China, into a world they knew nothing about, so they were required to build their new lives with great insecurity about the future. This film is about their first generation of offspring, the anxieties of the parents created a world of anxieties for their children, who search for their own greater security and their own self identity through the formation of street gangs, whose inner turmoil is largely a reflection of the world around them. The Taiwanese identity is revealed to be a sense of perpetual exile. Imdb. (Taiwan).
  18. Midnight in Paris Woody Allen says he’s been enamored of Paris since he wrote and acted in “What’s New Pussycat?” in 1965. You can sense his continued passion for the city throughout the film, feel the extra pep in his step and pleasure in his heart. Ken Turan (U.S.).
  19. Take Shelter Jeff Nichols’s second feature, Take Shelter, is almost as barmy as its protagonist, a man ravaged by apocalyptic visions and nightmares. But Nichols has a genius for making landscapes and everyday objects resonate like crazy, for nailing the texture of dread. David Edelstein (U.S.)
  20. Margaret A young woman witnesses a bus accident, and is caught up in the aftermath, where the question of whether or not it was intentional affects many people’s lives. Imdb. (U.S.)