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Film Comment’s Best Released Films of 2011

By Nicholas Kemp on December 16, 2011

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Film Comment magazine's annual year-end survey of film critics, editors, and past and present contributors has been released with Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, which kicks off a five-day run at the Film Society today, topping the list of 50 Best Released Films of 2011.

The end of the year brings many "best of" and "critics picks" lists, not a few of which have also featured Malick's deeply personal and polarizing film. But with over 120 notable film journalists contributing, Film Comment's is arguably the most comprehensive assessment of the year in film. A second list of the 50 Best Unreleased Films of 2011 was also compiled, providing a glimpse of the coming year in cinema.

Editor Gavin Smith introduced both lists, saying: “Film Comment’s annual end-of-the-year lists distills the viewpoints of most of the magazine’s staff and contributors as well as many of America’s most influential film critics, writers and minds into an inclusive survey of the year in film. And the addition of the unreleased films list offers a unique barometer for the coming year in film for cinephiles and film enthusiasts, as well.”

After winning him the Palme d'Or at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival this spring, The Tree of Life went on to garner wide praise for Malick and the performances of Sean Penn, Brad Pitt, and breakout star Jessica Chastain. Though told through the lives of a family in 1950s Texas, the film is actually an ambitious and universal exploration of life and death. As Kent Jones expressed it in a recent issue of Film Comment, "the 'protagonist' is virtually everyone who steps before the camera. In other words, Malick really is making an attempt—or to put it in punitive blogspeak, 'presuming'—to tell the story of us all."

Nine of the top 10 films on the list screened at the New York Film Festival in 2010 or 2011 including our Sneak Preview of Martin Scorsese's Hugo this year. Seven films from the top 50 have played the Film Society as new releases since the opening of the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center this summer, including Edward Yang's A Brighter Summer Day, which had its debut U.S. Theatrical Engagement there 20 years after its making, and Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive, which, like The Tree of Life, starts a five-day limited run today. The top 50 also features entries from festivals that call Film Society home like New Directors / New Films, the Romanian Film Festival in New York, and NewFest.

The complete Best Released Films of 2011 list has been reproduced below and a more detailed discussion of the films included will appear in the January/February issue of Film Comment magazine, which hits newsstands January 10. Also make sure to check out our video of Film Comment Editor Gavin Smith and Film Society Associate Program Director Scott Foundas debating the films included on both lists.

The Top 10
1. The Tree of Life, directed by Terrence Malick, U.S.
2. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, directedy by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand/U.K./France/Germany
3. Melancholia, directed by Lars von Trier, Denmark/Sweden/France/Germany
4. A Separation, directed by Asghar Farhadi, Iran
5. A Dangerous Method, directed by David Cronenberg, Canada/Germany
6. Mysteries of Lisbon, directed by Raúl Ruiz, France/Portugal
7. Certified Copy, directed by Abbas Kiarostami, France/Italy/Belgium
8. Meek's Cutoff, directed by Kelly Reichardt, U.S.
9. Hugo, directed by Martin Scorsese, U.S.
10. Poetry, directed by Lee Chang-dong, South Korea

The Next 20
11. Film Socialisme, directed by Jean-Luc Godard, Switzerland
12. Le Havre, directed by Aki Kaurismäki, Finland/France
13. The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu, directed by Andrei Ujica, Romania
14. Le quattro volte, directed by Michelangelo Frammartino, Italy/Germany/Switzerland
15. The Descendants, directed by Alexander Payne, U.S.
16. Nostalgia for the Light, directed by Patricio Guzmán, Chile/France/Germany
17. A Brighter Summer Day, directed by Edward Yang, Taiwan/Japan
18. Midnight in Paris, directed by Woody Allen, Spain/U.S.
19. Take Shelter, directed by Jeff Nichols, U.S.
20. Margaret, directed by Kenneth Lonergan, U.S.
21. Shame, directed by Steve McQueen, U.K.
22. Drive, directed by 
Nicolas Winding Refn, U.S.
23. Cave of Forgotten Dreams, directed by Werner Herzog, U.S.
24. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, directed by Tomas Alfredson, U.K./France/Germany
25. To Die Like a Man, directed by João Pedro Rodrigues, Portugal/France
26. The Interrupters, directed by Steve James, U.S.
27. The Artist
, directed by Michel Hazanavicius, France
28. Tuesday, After Christmas, directed by Radu Muntean, Romania
29. Aurora, directed by Cristi Puiu, Romania
30. Weekend, directed by Andrew Haigh, U.K.

The Rest
31. The Skin I Live In, directed by Pedro Almodóvar, Spain
32. City of Life and Death
, directed by Lu Chuan, China/Hong Kong
33. Contagion, directed by Steven Soderbergh, U.S.
34. Of Gods and Men
, directed by Xavier Beauvois, France
35. Martha Marcy May Marlene, directed by Sean Durkin, U.S.
36. Bridesmaids, directed by Paul Feig, U.S.
37. The Trip, directed by Michael Winterbottom, U.K.
38. Moneyball, directed by Bennett Miller, U.S.
39. The Arbor, directed by Clio Barnard, U.K.
40. The Future
, directed by Miranda July, U.S./Germany
41. Incendies
, directed by Denis Villeneuve, Canada/France
42. Super 8, directed by J.J. Abrams, U.S.
43. United Red Army, directed by Koji Wakamatsu, Japan
44. Road to Nowhere, directed by Monte Hellman, U.S.
45. Tabloid, directed by Errol Morris, U.S.
46. Rise of the Planet of the Apes, directed by Rupert Wyatt, U.S.
47. Terri
, directed by Azazel Jacobs, U.S.
48. J. Edgar, directed by Clint Eastwood, U.S.
49. Jane Eyre, directed by Cary Fukunaga, U.K.
50. Pina
, directed by Wim Wenders, Germany/France

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