Best Movies of 2011 - Featured

2011 was a year where ambitious filmmakers embarked on deeply personal projects. From Terrence Malick’s ambitious chronicling of the universe in Tree of Life to Martin Scorsese’s tribute to filmmakers of the past with Hugo, there was plenty for cinephiles to chew on this year.

Now that there’s been some hindsight, StudioBinder presents to you the 20 best movies of 2011. It’s part of an ongoing series to review and rank the best movies of the last decade, so make sure to continue reading through our blogs to see what else topped the lists. For those of you wanting to go back to the time of Royal Weddings and Charlie Sheen’s meltdown, this is the list for you.

If 2010 was interested in exploring reality and illusion, then 2011 was the year of paranoia. Perhaps it was the belief that the world would end in 2012, but many films dealt with oncoming apocalypses. Many of these films took the route of blockbuster spectacle, but Take Shelter, a movie about a father with premonitions of the disaster who goes to great lengths to protect his family skews away from convention to provide a more character-based terror. 

It’s also possible these paranoia films center around the 2007/2008 financial crisis. The disaster in Take Shelter, and how it impacts a suburban middle-class family, could easily be taken as an allegory for a family worried about another disaster they won’t be able to predict or protect themselves from. It’s a film about how no matter how much you prepare, disaster can always find you.

TOP MOVIES 2011

20. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

“May I kill him?”

David Fincher delivered a fantastic one-two punch at the start of the decade with The Social Network and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo lighting up the zeitgeist. With the latter, Fincher returns to his Se7en roots by delivering darkly sick crime thriller that builds on the source material to create something you won’t be able to shake for some time. 

There are two main standouts in this film. Rooney Mara captures the brooding mentality of Lisbeth Salander, a wronged woman out for revenge as she helps a detective solve a murder. Despite the film running nearly 2  hours and 40 minutes, Lisbeth holds our attention the entire time she’s on-screen. And then, of course, there’s one of the best mesmerizing scores by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. The duo would go on to score some of the best films and TV shows of the decade, providing uniquely atmospheric tones for everything they would work on.

    2011 IN REVIEW

    Conclusion

  • Awards: Won Best Film Editing at the Academy Awards. Won Best Horror or Thriller Film at the Saturn Awards. 
  • Tomatometer86%

GOOD MOVIES 2011

19. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

“You weren’t followed?”

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a challenging film to watch. The movie itself is an enigma, demanding the audience pay attention to every detail to decipher the puzzle at play. For the audience’s trouble, we’re rewarded with a thrilling tale of espionage anchored by a subtle yet powerful performance from Gary Oldman. 

Despite dealing with the Cold War, the film’s themes are just as pertinent today as they were in the 70s. Everything the film stands for is encapsulated in the line, “Don’t you think it’s time to recognize there’s as little of worth on your side as there is on mine?” It makes you question political allegiances and how people on the other side of the realm believe fervently they are right just as much as you do.

2011 IN REVIEW

TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY

  • Awards: Won Best Adapted Screenplay and Outstanding British Film at the British Academy Film Awards.
  • Tomatometer83%

BEST MOVIES OF 2011

18. Contagion

“When did we run out of body bags?”

In ContagionSteven Soderbergh uses a multi-narrative style to tell the story of an airborne virus ravaging the planet and how it impacts the medical community and everyday citizens alike. Whereas other disaster movies focus on a grand spectacle you have to run away from, Contagion brings it down to a human level. People die from something they can’t see, and they aren’t sure if they can even contain it. 

You’ll love the fast pacing in the moment, but once the dust settles, you’ll feel yourself becoming unhinged at how plausible it all seems. It will have you examining every movement, every touch the characters make. Much like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the film touches on themes of paranoia, relevant to an increasingly fearful world.

2011 IN REVIEW

CONTAGION

  • Awards: Nominated for Best Horror or Thriller Film at the Saturn Awards.
  • Tomatometer84%

2011 GREAT MOVIES

17. Mysteries of Lisbon

“They all had surnames. I was just Joao.”

Mysteries of Lisbon tells the tale of the bastard son of two members of an aristocracy, who are forbidden to marry. The boy goes on a journey to discover his parentage and connects with various mysterious characters along the way. Running at 272 minutes, Mysteries of Lisbon is not for the faint of heart. But if you have the time, you’ll be rewarded with a masterclass of filmmaking. 

The film takes great care in its use of flashbacks. You’ll enter one character’s POV only to emerge through another character’s eyes. It’s an intriguing device and makes it so that by the end, you feel as though you’ve known these characters for years.

2011 IN REVIEW

MYSTERIES OF LISBON

  • Awards: Won the Critics Award for Best Film at the São Paulo International Film Festival.
  • Tomatometer85%

BEST MOVIES TO WATCH 2011

16. Margaret

“You know what? You're a little c*nt.”

Margaret centers on a 17-year old who believes she is responsible for a woman’s death by means of a car accident. She tries to make things right, but along the way she realizes life goes on. After you die, everyone you ever knew or ever would know will go on with their lives and eventually forget you. 

While it sounds like a downer, Margaret is a testament to the importance of living life while you still have it. But that’s only one side of the coin. The movie also functions as a post-9/11 allegory and the collective PTSD the nation experienced together after witnessing such horrors. The film avoids many of the pitfalls that would plague other arthouse films by sidestepping overly maudlin sentiments and offering something genuine.


2011 IN REVIEW

MARGARET

  • Awards: Anna Paquin won for Best Actress at the International Cinephile Society Awards. 
  • Tomatometer73%

BEST FILMS OF THE YEAR 2011

15. A Separation

“Does he even realize you are his son?”

A woman wants to leave Tehran, but her husband can’t leave his ailing father. Such is the plot for A Separation, which details a couple’s dissolution of marriage with a daughter caught in the middle of everything. 

What makes this thrilling drama so engaging is how it’s shot. It’s filmed documentary-style where it feels as though you are an outsider looking in. There are a few dramatic flourishes. For most of the film, the characters are allowed to act in a natural manner, and while you may sit there looking for clues, the camera won’t give them to you. Instead, it forces you to live like these people and see how they see.

2011 IN REVIEW

A SEPARATION

  • Awards: Won for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards. 
  • Tomatometer99%

BEST FILMS OF 2011

14. Melancholia

“I smile, and I smile, and I smile.”

A woman’s depression mirrors the oncoming annihilation of planet Earth. At its core, Melancholia is a film about depression and how it can skew one’s perception. A rogue planet has a trajectory toward Earth, and we spend the last remaining time with characters who embody facets of sadness and nihilism. 

From believing the planet should be destroyed to nervously Googling every detail about the planet Melancholia, the film holds no bars in showcasing depression in a way few films would dare. Depression is not treated as being “extremely sad” here. Instead, it’s presented as being untethered to the events around you and losing all sense of identity. Through brilliant cinematography and a fine performance from Kirsten Dunst, the film sticks with you and may just send you into a spiral of sadness, too.

2011 IN REVIEW

MELANCHOLIA

  • Awards: Won for Best Film, Best Designer, and Best Cinematographer at the European Film Awards. 
  • Tomatometer79%

THE BEST MOVIES OF 2011

13. Take Shelter

“I'm sorry that you feel bad but you need to drop the attitude.”

If 2010 was interested in exploring reality and illusion, then 2011 was the year of paranoia. Perhaps it was the belief that the world would end in 2012, but many films dealt with oncoming apocalypses. Many of these films took the route of blockbuster spectacle, but Take Shelter, a movie about a father with premonitions of the disaster who goes to great lengths to protect his family skews away from convention to provide a more character-based terror. 

It’s also possible these paranoia films center around the 2007/2008 financial crisis. The disaster in Take Shelter, and how it impacts a suburban middle-class family, could easily be taken as an allegory for a family worried about another disaster they won’t be able to predict or protect themselves from. It’s a film about how no matter how much you prepare, disaster can always find you.


2011 IN REVIEW

TAKE SHELTER

  • Awards: Won for Best Actor and Best Writing at the Saturn Awards. 
  • Tomatometer92%

TOP GROSSING MOVIES 2011

12. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

“Always.”

Despite having source material to draw from, ending the Harry Potter film series in a satisfying manner was still a difficult task to achieve. And yet, the film succeeds. It provides resolution to all of the characters we’ve come to love over the years as well as a magical spectacle to draw wonder in the movie theater. 

From childlike adventures in Sorcerer's StoneDeathly Hallows is appropriately a war movie that sees friends and family dying to protect the greater good. It’s a visual delight and represents everything we go to the cinema for. It provides awe and wonder while simultaneously hitting you in all of the feels.


2011 IN REVIEW

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2

  • Awards: Won for Best Visual Effects at the BAFTA Awards. 
  • Tomatometer96%

LIST OF TOP MOVIES 2011

11. Attack the Block

“It smells like a sh*t did a sh*t.”

Too many people slept on Attack the Block, despite it being one of the most kick-ass sci-fi/action flicks in recent memory. The premise is simple. A group of South London thugs robs a woman, and shortly after, they find themselves in the middle of an alien invasion, forcing them to grow up and become heroes. 

The film has plenty of lessons for aspiring screenwriters. The pacing is top-notch, and it’s filled with ample social commentary. The film forces us to ask whether these young boys are truly “thugs” or if they’re merely boys trying to make their way in the world in the only way they know-how. Throughout the film, we see our protagonist Moses grow and learn, becoming an upright citizen, but it’s still not enough to rectify him in the eyes of the law. Attack the Block is undoubtedly one of the most important sci-fi/horror films of the last decade, and it helped set the course for ushering in more socially conscious horror films of late.

2011 IN REVIEW

ATTACK THE BLOCK

  • Awards: Won the Audience Award for Best Film at SXSW.
  • Tomatometer90%

TOP 10 MOVIES 2011

10. Bridesmaids

“Help me I’m poor.”

Without a doubt, Bridesmaids was the funniest film to come out of 2011. Most comedies age incredibly poorly. Whether it’s due to jokes that are no longer seen as appropriate in the culture or making dated pop culture references, comedies tend to disappear out of the zeitgeist quickly. Bridesmaids is a welcome exception. 

Not only do the jokes still land, but the film has a lot of important things to say about taking responsibility for one’s life. It proves to be an outstanding vehicle for the many talented actresses in the film as well as for director Paul Feig.

2011 IN REVIEW

BRIDESMAIDS

  • Awards: Melissa McCarthy won for Best Supporting Actress at the Boston Society of Film Critics.
  • Tomatometer90%

RANKING THE BEST FILMS OF THE YEAR 2011

9. Moneyball

“How can you not get romantic about baseball?”

Combining sports with in-depth statistical analysis had the potential to alienate a lot of cinephiles. However, Moneyball grounds these concepts in a heartfelt story of an underdog looking for another chance at redemption. It also deals with ideas of fighting off misconceptions people can develop about you, which is seen both in the baseball players other teams pass over and in Billy Beane himself. 

But ultimately, Moneyball is just one of the most entertaining sports movie that will have you rooting for Beane and Brand’s plan to work. You won’t find any rousing sports speeches here. Instead, the film takes a cold, hard look at baseball, presenting criticisms while never losing its appreciation for America's pastime.


2011 IN REVIEW

MONEYBALL

  • Awards: Won for Best Adapted Screenplay at the Alliance of Women Film Journalists. 
  • Tomatometer94%

BEST MOVIES TO WATCH 2011, RANKED

8. Meek’s Cutoff

“Women are created on the principle of chaos.”

Meek’s Cutoff follows American settlers as they traverse the Oregon Trail. Their leader takes them off-course, and when they begin running out of rations, they resort to desperate measures. The tension brings out the worst in everyone, leading to terrifying scenarios where you’re never sure if the people are going to make it out alive. 

While survival is a major force in the film, the story also deals with gender roles. Throughout much of the film, the audience is placed in the shoes of the women of the group, and it’s not a pretty outlook. Many times, the film itself feels like it’s wandering, not unlike the characters present within. Fortunately, the audience remains in an auteur’s hands, guiding us along a perilous journey where hope is in short supply.

2011 IN REVIEW

MEEK’S CUTOFF

  • AwardsKelly Reichardt won for Best Director at the Gijón International Film Festival.
  • Tomatometer86%

LISTING THE BEST MOVIES OF 2011

7. Martha Marcy May Marlene

“Marcy! Marcy May! Where ya goin'?”

Elizabeth Olsen made a big impression with a star-turning role in Martha Marcy May Marlene, a film about a young woman who escapes a cult but never feels at ease. It’s a haunting psychological thriller that expertly employs flashbacks to give the audience insights into Martha’s psyche. 

At its core, the film deals with the need for connection and how that desire can lead to consequences that follow you for the rest of your life. It can be easy to mock those who get caught up in cults, but the film holds such reservations, instead portraying how exactly people are drawn to such organizations. In an increasingly isolating world, everyone just wants to be with others. We’re social animals deep down, but jumping into a new relationship or friendship too soon may result in disaster down the road.

2011 IN REVIEW

MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE

  • Awards: Elizabeth Olsen won for Best Actress at the Vancouver Film Critics Circle Awards. 
  • Tomatometer90%

TOP MOVIES 2011 FOR FILMMAKERS

6. Shame

“I find you disgusting.”

Shame was out of reach for many American audiences due to its NC-17 rating, but Shame is essential viewing for anyone wanting a deeper glance into addiction. Michael Fassbender plays a sex addict who desperately wants to get better and carve out a new identity for himself. 

Fassbender’s performance as Brandon is one of the greatest acting feats of the last decade. Instead of showcasing the sex addict character as a leech, Brandon comes across as someone deeply shameful of who he is deep down and how that manifests itself in the real world. He is someone with a secret, and subtly, it comes out in every scene. Director Steve McQueen also deserves praise for not just stopping at portraying an addict. It’s clear the film is driven to getting to the “Why” of the situation.

2011 IN REVIEW

SHAME

  • Awards: Michael Fassbender won the Volpi Cup for Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival.
  • Tomatometer78%

2011 GREAT MOVIES YOU NEED TO WATCH

5. Rango

“I couldn't help but notice you noticing me noticing you.”

The best-animated film of 2011 didn’t come from Pixar or Disney. It was all about a chameleon thrown into the chaotic world of the animal kingdom and has to become the hero he wants the town’s residents to believe he is. While there’s slapstick galore for children, adults will find film references and sly jokes toward their direction. 

Above all else, Rango is simply gorgeous to look at. To this day, there’s never been anything quite animated like Rango, departing from photorealism that would come to encapsulate most animated films in the years to come. It’s all the more impressive when you consider how the filmmakers captured live-action performances and then transposed them into animation. While photorealism is nice, a bit of style goes a long way, and it’s nice to see a piece of children’s entertainment that swings for the fences and really lands.

2011 IN REVIEW

RANGO

  • Awards: Won Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards.
  • Tomatometer88%

THE BEST MOVIES OF 2011, RANKED

4. Certified Copy

“I'm afraid there's nothing very simple about being simple.”

You wouldn’t think a tale of a man and woman touring Tuscany would open up such existential questions, and yet, Certified Copy transcends most romantic dramas into something more. The entire film is a puzzle box, constantly forcing the audience to question whether this relationship is all that it seems. Questioning the nature of reality continues in interesting directions in this film grounded by fantastic performances from Juliette Binoche and William Shimell. 

Much of the film centers around the conversation between the two protagonists, showcasing the first-class work of the screenwriter. It’s a seductive film, drawing you in and engaging your senses. It refuses to offer any easy answers, but part of the charm is how you’re constantly intrigued by the pair, wondering where their excursions will lead them next.

2011 IN REVIEW

CERTIFIED COPY

  • Awards: Juliette Binoche won the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival. 
  • Tomatometer89%

LIST OF THE BEST FILMS OF 2011

3. The Tree of Life

“Help each other. Love everyone. Every leaf. Every ray of light. Forgive.”

Terrence Malick does not make easy films to watch. With every frame, you’re constantly being challenged to comprehend what precisely is happening and what the film wants you to take away. A personal-seeming family drama is juxtaposed with the creation of the universe and the prehistoric history of Earth. It’s Malick’s rumination on the big questions of the universe, such as, “What is the nature of God?” 

One thing remains constant: the film is a visual splendor. Malick understands the language of cinema beautifully, giving the creation of the universe the gravitas it needs to true impact the audience. Those looking for hard answers will need to look elsewhere. While the film raises questions and challenges, it never provides firm answers. It only provides a feeling. It sparks an emotion within you. It ranges from intimate to cosmic, and you’ll feel a bit closer to the universe once all is said and done.

2011 IN REVIEW

THE TREE OF LIFE

  • Awards: The film won Movie of the Year at the AFI Awards. 
  • Tomatometer84%

POPULAR MOVIES 2011 THAT MAKE YOU THINK

2. Drive

“I drive.”

Drive is the thinking man’s action flick. It has all the hyper-violence you could want, but it also deals with themes like loneliness and redemption. The Driver breaks the law because it’s a way to make ends meet, but he still thinks of himself as a hero. His desire to make his actions match his inner self comes to head when he meets a woman he falls in love with. 

Drive isn’t afraid to get quiet, and the silences throughout the film speak volumes. It redefined what a “cool” action movie could do. It expertly weaves through contemplative moments and scenes of intense violence, all of which serve the greater story. Drive proves you can achieve greatness by bringing arthouse sensibilities into what would have otherwise been standard Hollywood fare.

2011 IN REVIEW

DRIVE

  • Awards: The film won Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay from the Austin Film Critics Association. 
  • Tomatometer92%

THE BEST MOVIE OF 2011

1. Hugo

“Come and dream with me.”

When it comes to discussions of Martin Scorsese’s best films, Hugo belongs right up there with Goodfellas. It’s a touching tribute to the history of cinema while advancing technological wonders for the future. Similar films this year (looking at you The Artist) were content with looking back at film history with rose-colored glasses and essentially saying, “Gee, aren’t movies great?” Hugo takes it a step further by showing what movies are truly capable of while pushing the limits of 3D technology, making it one of the few films where watching in 3D enhances the story rather than detract from it.

While it succeeds as a piece of entertainment, Hugo shows how movies have the power to transform lives. When looking for purpose, movies can lead the way and show you a way of life you maybe never considered before. And for any cinephile, the references to old filmmaking are a delight. It looks backward while never keeping one eye toward the future and wondering where filmmaking may lead us next.

2011 IN REVIEW

HUGO

  • Awards: Won Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Sound Editing at the Academy Awards. 
  • Tomatometer93%

Up Next

The Best Movies of 2012

With 2011 in hindsight, it’s time to look now toward 2012. It’s the year Marvel’s The Avengers kicked off shared cinematic universes, but even if you’re not into superheroes, there was still plenty of fine offerings from directors such as Paul Thomas Anderson and Ang Lee. See what topped the list and earns the StudioBinder title of the best movie of 2012. 

Up Next: The Best Movies of 2012 →
Solution - Shot List and Storyboard

Showcase your vision with elegant shot lists and storyboards.

Create robust and customizable shot lists. Upload images to make storyboards and slideshows.

Learn More ➜

2 Shares
2 Shares
Copy link