The 20 Best Movies of 2011 (So Far)
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10. Another Year
Another Year is what comedian Eddie Izzard calls “a-room-with-a-view-and-a-staircase-and-a-pond type of movie.” And it’s wonderful. Writer/director Mike Leigh takes us through a year in the life of a rather ordinary London couple and their relationships with family and friends. Like many of his films, Another Year relies on superb acting, where the study of social behavior through the actions of interesting though often sedate characters is the strength of the film.—Tim Basham
The most surprising thing about Rango is how much Johnny Depp disappears into the character of a nameless pet chameleon who creates his identity when his terrarium falls out of the back of a car into the desert frontier. Unlike a certain cartoon panda, who was basically an animated version of every Jack Black character ever, Rango is no Keith Richards with an eye-patch or crazy barber/milliner/chocolatier. He’s a cipher who becomes a fraud who becomes a hero. It’s truly gritty, and that seemed to be what my own kids loved about it. Kids don’t always need primary colors and fluffy bunnies and 3-D effects. Sometimes a scrawny, ugly chameleon in the dirty Old West will do.—Josh Jackson
Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner recorded the soundtrack for this coming-of-age tale that Michael Cera was both too old and not British enough for.
7. The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick’s sixth film in 42 years is, without a doubt, the most ambitious film that will come out this year. In two-and-a-half hours, the writer/director tackles every big question about God through a mid-20th-century coming-of-age story, long shots of the natural world, heavenly voiceovers and yes, dinosaurs. It’s a beautiful, thoughtful, emotional, disorienting and sometimes frustrating film, and your enjoyment will depend on how much you buy into Malick’s very personal and very singular vision.—Josh Jackson
6. The Trip
Two British actor/comedians playing versions of themselves travel the beautiful and bleak north England countryside, stopping to eat at various upscale restaurants, but mostly just talking. And talking and talking. And doing impressions of Michael Caine, Woody Allen, and Liam Neeson, as well as British personalities an American audience might not recognize. But mostly just talking, with overlapping affection and competition. Sound like a good idea for a film? It absolutely is. The Trip takes a cue from Seinfeld in that it’s really a film about nothing. But sometimes that’s the best way to get at something, and that is definitely the case here.—Jonah Flicker
5. 13 Assassins
Thirteen Assassins largely diverges from the rest of Takashi Miike’s films, stripping away much of his stylistic excesses such that for once he delivers a nearly traditional film. It feels like the work of a more mature filmmaker and perhaps the beginning of a new road for Miike, still unrestrained in its content but more considered with what that content is saying. It’s a Miike film that for once can be recommended without caveats, boldly treading new ground but also taking stock of what’s come before and not rejecting it outright.
4. Certified Copy
In the tradition of Journey to Italy and Before Sunrise, Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy consists almost entirely of two people talking with each other. But it hits on all levels, offering a movie that’s just as complex formally as it is emotionally. It’s been a decade since Kiarostami directed a real feature film, having spent the period working on documentaries and museum installations. Not to say that there’s anything wrong with them, but this is a film that shows why his absence in features has been so sorely missed. Happily, the intervening years haven’t dulled Kiarostami’s abilities in the slightest, and once again he’s delivered a picture that engages both your heart and your brain.
3. General Orders No. 9
Along with Man on Wire, this is my favorite documentary of the last decade. And the chances are a million to one against it playing at a multiplex near you—it has no stars behind it, no sex or drugs or cute animals, and it’s not about a controversial social issue. On top of everything else, it’s impossible to describe. The closest I’ve been able to come is “if William Faulkner wrote a memoir and it was adapted by the team that made Koyaanisqatsi.” It’s abstract, meditative, gorgeous, thought-provoking, enormously moving and unlike anything you’ll see all year.—Michael Dunaway
It’s safe to say you haven’t encountered a film character like Joseph Gordon Levitt’s title character in Spencer Susser’s fantastic Hesher. He loves pornography, heavy metal, trespassing, arson, and many other chaotic pursuits, but he pursues them with such an unselfconscious near-innocence that he’s an immediately compelling character. Hesher manages to be at once a sober and bighearted look at grief and loss, and a hilarious ride with the most enjoyably anarchistic character in ages.—Michael Dunaway
As 2011’s first deserving candidate for best director and screenplay, Beginners sets the bar high. Based on the story of writer/director Mike Mill’s own father, the film follows Oliver (Ewan McGregor) as he deals with the death of his father (Christopher Plummer) and the beginnings of a serious relationship. Through flashbacks we learn that his father, after his wife’s death, reveals that he’s gay and completely ecstatic about living a lifestyle that had been unavailable during his 40 years as a faithful husband and loving father. While Plummer is wonderful as always, it’s McGregor who gives one of the best performances of his career—with an assist from a little dog.—Tim Basham