If you’re a Lobby reader, you may have already pored over my personal 10 Best Films of 2011 list (or not), and perhaps a list or two (or three) from some illustrious peers or critics groups. But our favorite year-end list is the one compiled annually by Indiewire, based on a poll of 168 critics. The knowledge and opinions of the reviewers involved are nothing to sneeze at, and the sheer numbers are likely to yield a reliable consensus, so we tend to pay closest attention to this poll. It may not reflect future awards bestowed on movies and actors, but it certainly gives you more interesting, challenging films to consider. You can see the entire Indiewire Best Film list here.
This year’s #1 movie of the poll is no surprise to anyone following the critical response to Cinema 2011: Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, recent winner of seven Online Film Critics Association Awards. In Indiewire’s methodology, Malick’s highly personal tale of physical and emotional evolution tallied a score of 439 (which will make more sense compared to other films, of course.) We think The Tree of Life is more of a fascination than a great film, and the finale teeters on cliched psychological melodrama. Barely. The Tree of Life only played on a few hundred screens here in the U.S. (a Brad Pitt film?!), but it was one of the most successful small release movies of the year.
:: The Tree of Life is available on Blu-ray, DVD and Amazon Instant Video.
The #2 film on the critics’ poll is Melancholia, another fascination from another fine-eyed auteur, Scandinavian bad boy Lars von Trier. Although the film’s distributor made a minor push for lead actress Kirsten Dunst to be recognized for awards, that’s yet to stick — but the movie stays in the minds of many, including ours, appearing in my own Top Ten here on Meet In the Lobby. Melancholia has 383 points in the poll.
:: Melancholia will be available on Blu-ray and DVD on March 13, 2012.
The poll’s #3 film is A Separation, with 356 points. This Iranian set film about a dissolving marriage and the events surrounding it, has a perfect score of 100 on Rotten Tomatoes, after 54 critics’ reviews.
:: A Separation is currently playing on just a few screens in the U.S., having opened on December 30, 2011. No Blu-ray or DVD release date has been announced.
With 328 points on the poll, the #4 movie is Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, the surrealist film from Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and winner of the 2010 Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. A tough film to find over its 22-week run — it played on no more than six U.S. screens at one time — but one that apparently had an effect on its viewers.
:: Uncle Boonmee is currently available on Blu-ray and DVD.
#5 on the poll is the hugely buzzworthy crime drama, Drive, with 325 points. A finalist for the OFCS’ best film, this one could be an Oscar dark horse, especially with a star as visible, popular and intriguing as Ryan Gosling (it doesn’t hurt that he’s a former Oscar nominee).
:: Drive will be available on Blu-ray and DVD on January 31, 2012.
And the rest of the Indiewire critics’ poll list:
6. Certified Copy, Abbas Kiarostami’s two-character tease, with William Shimmel and the great Juliette Binoche traveling through Italy, intertwining the film’s reality with that of another genre. Are the characters keeping up the game for themselves, or are the actors the only ones in on the puzzle?
:: Certified Copy can currently be seen on Amazon Instant Video. It’s also available on Netflix Instant.
7. Mysteries of Lisbon, an epic, 4 1/2-hour costume drama from legendary Chilean filmmaker Raoul Ruiz, who died roughly two weeks after the film’s theatrical release, at age 70.
:: Mysteries of Lisbon will be available on Blu-ray and DVD on January 17, 2012.
8. Hugo, Martin Scorsese’s foray into family storytelling, 3D execution and aggressively infusing his passion for film history into a piece of fiction. We think the film has plot issues that slow it down, but the 2nd half is a visual doozy for anyone remotely interested in the movies.
:: Hugo is currently playing on over 900 screens in the U.S. The Blu-ray / DVD combo can be pre-ordered now.
9. Margaret, also known as The Long Suffering Kenneth Lonergan American Classic That Nobody’s Seen. Nobody, that is, except for many critics in most cities and some folks in NY and LA. Lonergan’s directorial follow-up to the excellent 2000 drama You Can Count On Me was actually shot in 2005, and then sat in editing and legal limbo for years. Anna Paquin stars as a young woman who undergoes changes after playing a part in a fatal bus accident. Movie sounds great — I’ll let you know once I see it, if Fox Searchlight gets behind distributing it more widely.
:: Margaret is, well, not playing anywhere. That we know of.
10. Meek’s Cutoff, a slowly paced, beautifully photographed trek across the Oregon Trail in the mid-1840s. There’s a slight mystery involved in the storytelling, but most of Kelly Reichart’s film is about style and pacing, as she embraces the repetition and tedium of the journey.
:: Meek’s Cutoff is available on Blu-ray, DVD and Amazon Instant Video.