The Tree of Life, The Artist, Drive: top rated films of 2011

Annual summary of 2011 critic's top10 lists

A sure sign that 2011 was a good year in film is the diverse number of films that made up critic’s top ten lists this year. Although there were a large number of films that came up on everyone’s list, there were also many I had never heard of and there were representations from all film genres. 

The family drama seems to be popular this year with women figuring prominently in them; The Tree of Life, Melancholia, The Descendants, A Separation, Martha Marcy May MarleneMargaret, We Need to Talk About Kevin, The Skin I Live In, Poetry and Shame.

Although the Tree of Life was the best rated film of the year according to critic’s top 10 lists it was not the best rated film by many movie goers. Most people and friends of mine that saw it were confused by it and thought it was weird. It’s quite unlike any movie I’ve ever seen but the experience left me somewhat baffled. There is no doubt that the movie is beautifully photographed and is likely to win an Oscar for best cinematography. 

The story centers on a suburban family in 1950s America and is about the stages of life and our experiences growing up from birth. It even goes into a cosmic story that tries to show us the birth of the universe. I guess it tried to show how all our experiences and tragedies in life are just part of a larger life cycle. It’s a very philosophical and meditative film that feels like a poetic church sermon and I suppose that many critics liked it because it showed a lot of common experiences that everyone could relate to as we grow up. It’s a wonderful film but definitely an acquired taste. It’s more of an art-house film for serious cinephiles but it’s probably not for the casual film goer.

The Artist looks to be the popular favorite with most people and will be the one to beat at the Oscars this year as it has already won the top honors at the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, The Golden Globes and the British Film Awards (BAFTA). This is quite an extraordinary film in today’s movie environment of special effects driven films because this is a black and white silent film made in the style of the old Hollywood silent films of the 1920s.

Drive will appeal to a larger audience as it is an intense, suspenseful gangster film along the same lines as Léon: The Professional (1994) with excellent performances by Ryan Gosling and Albert Brooks. The human story is very realistic and compelling; a stunt driver and car mechanic hires himself out to criminals as a getaway driver. This is an extremely dangerous job but he is very good at it, so when he meets a girl whose boyfriend gets into trouble with a mafia boss he offers to help him do one more job that will release him from his debt. Of course it all goes very wrong and there is a lot of bloodshed. 

Below are the results of this year’s critic’s top 10 lists compiled form 160 lists, with highest rated films appearing on the most number of lists and ranked highest on each list.  The Tree of Life appeared on 89 lists and on 24 of them as number 1. The Artist appeared on 59 lists and on 20 of them as number 1. Drive appeared on 60 lists and 14 of them as number 1. See the full list of critic's top 10 lists here.

Summary of 2011 Critics Top 10 Lists

The Tree of Life
The Artist
The Descendants
A Separation
Certified Copy
Take Shelter
Martha Marcy May Marlene
Meek’s Cutoff
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
We Need to Talk About Kevin
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
A Dangerous Method
Midnight in Paris
Margin Call
The Skin I Live In
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Cave of Forgotten Dreams
The Interrupters
War Horse



Sandra McLeod Humphrey said...

Boy, a lot of those films I've never heard of. Thanks for helping me stay current on what's going on in the film world!

Anonymous said...

I used to be a professional movie reviewer so I've seen every one of the critics' Top 30 except for "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives." I've never had the opportunity. I saw "Separation" in London last summer and it was wonderful. And when I travel to New York, I make sure to cram in every film that probably won't make it to Hawaii (and that's a LOT of films).

I thought "The Tree of Life" was visually fascinating but otherwise a waste of my time. The emperor clearly was wearing no clothes in that one. By mid-movie, we had lost about 1/3 of the audience. Of those who stayed to the bitter end (the key word there was "bitter"), about half applauded and half booed. Just like at Cannes.

The other thing that I found fascinating about "The Tree of Life" was watching 30 people crammed around a blow-up of a movie review in the theater lobby after the credit roll, all desperately trying to figure out what they had just seen. Frankly, it left me cold. And the fact that Brad Pitt, who starred in the film, has admitted in interviews that he has seen the finished product and has no idea what the movie is about is a big clue that I am not alone in my feelings.

I am a former film producer, so I see cinema from a slightly different point of view. What did you like this year?

Kay Lorraine
Honolulu, Hawaii

JP said...

Thanks Kay for a great comment. It's an honour to have a former pro movie reviewer and film producer gracing my humble blog.

I totally agree with you on The Tree of Life as you can see from my own review. It's a beautiful but peculiar and unemotional film.

You can find my list of favorite films at 'My favourite films of 2011'.

Shiran Vyasa said...

2011 was a very good year for quality films. I saw quite a few, and many more yet to be seen. A good recap of important movies of last year.

Vivian said...

Sandra wrote the same thing that I was thinking I also have not heard of any of them. I am probably going to hate "The Tree of Life" not artsy fartsy enough but I am going to watch it out of curiosity anyway.