PW Film Critics Discuss Their Favorite Films of 2011

By Sean Burns and Matt Prigge
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Dec. 27, 2011

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Melancholia

Sean Burns’ Top 10

10. Midnight In Paris

9. We Need To Talk About Kevin

8. Martha Marcy May Marlene

7. Certified Copy

6. Shame

5. Meek’s Cutoff

4. Melancholia

3. Carnage

2. Hugo

1. Drive

Shit, even Woody Allen made a great movie this year. That hasn’t happened since I was in college.

For film fans, 2011 was an embarrassment of riches. I can barely remember the last time I had such difficulty winnowing all these contenders down to a manageable number.

When I think about this movie year, I think of moments out of time—tiny impressions and oversized gestures that have remained with me for months on end. For whatever reason, the best films of 2011 all felt dreamier and more fluid than they have in years past.

I’m still haunted by Elizabeth Olsen’s stricken gaze, trapped between the past and the present as an escaped cult member without any identity left, in rookie Sean Durkin’s remarkable Martha Marcy May Marlene. Or I recall Michael Fassbender’s anguished sex addict, sizing up a married woman like a piece of meat on the subway during director Steve McQueen’s uncompromising Shame.

There’s also that blinkered perspective clamped by foot-long bonnets, compressing the view of Michelle Williams’ feisty frontier woman to a narrowing lack of options in Meek’s Cutoff. Or the much wider, yet equally relentless close-ups on Juliette Binoche, allowing us full access to every emotion while working and reworking her way through a relationship that could be beginning just as easily as it might be ending—and what does it matter either way?—in Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy .

I got to see Lynne Ramsay’s stunning We Need To Talk About Kevin just before making this list, and it’s the boldest, most disturbingly hilarious parental nightmare since David Lynch’s Eraserhead. Tilda Swinton stars as a mother of a teenage psychopath, refracting unreliable memories through a hallucinatory prism of mordant survivor’s guilt.

Parenting also took it on the chin in Roman Polanski’s hilarious Carnage , an adaptation of Yasmina Reza’s Tony Award-winning play that doubles as a master class in widescreen frame composition. As a bonus, it also features the side-splitting sight of Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet attempting to passive-aggressively out-bitch one another while discussing the works of Francis Bacon. (“Such cruelty and splendor.” Indeed.)

For sheer audacity, no single image from 2011 can possibly match that of Kirsten Dunst, nude moon-bathing beneath a massive, rogue planet en route to destroy the Earth in Lars Von Trier’s go-for-broke Melancholia .

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