The 40 Best Films of 2011

by PopMatters Staff

22 January 2012

 

20 - 16


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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

Director: David Yates
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, John Hurt, Jason Isaacs, Matthew Lewis, Kelly Macdonald, Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, David Thewlis, David Bradley, Jim Broadbent, Ciarán Hinds, James Phelps, Oliver Phelps, Clemence Poesy, Julie Walters, Bonnie Wright

20

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2


The final film adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s saga of the boy wizard Harry Potter took its bow, melding “feel-good” fantasy with a realistic mix of happy and unhappy endings. Loose ends were woven together, gifting even minor characters with their moment in the sun. The ensemble cast of young performers and seasoned actors turned in fine performances without seeming tired of roles they have played for the better part of a decade. Director David Yates can also be credited for wringing the maximum amount of emotion from moments that could have—in less capable hands—become mere flickers of light on the screen. Poignant without being sappy, the eighth and final installment of the Harry Potter franchise was a fittingly epic end to a modern epic. Lana Cooper

 

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Bridesmaids

Director: Paul Feig
Cast: Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Ellie Kemper, Melissa McCarthy, Chris O’Dowd

19

Bridesmaids


Paul Feig, who previously toiled in a younger version of feminine pathos mixed with laugh-out-loud comedy in the legendary Freaks and Geeks (which he also worked with Judd Apatow on), guides the fast-paced Bridesmaids with the steady hand and occasional ability to slow things down (i.e. the wonderful airplane scene, Melissa McCarthy’s climactic speech to Kristen Wiig) that made his prior work so great. Enough about Feig, however, this movie is built on a great script by Wiig and co-writer Annie Mumulo, and some fantastic performances. Aside from the never-better Wiig and the now official comedy big-timer McCarthy, Bridesmaids is packed with a bench of well-known comedic utility players. John Hamm’s scenes, heavily promoted and rightfully so, are almost forgotten amongst the work of Rose Byrne, Ellie Kemper, Maya Rudolph, Chris O’Dowd and Jill Clayburgh (in her final on-screen performance). It’s a film loaded with comedy and affection for its characters. Steve Lepore

 

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Poetry

Director: Lee Chang-dong
Cast: Yoon Jeong-hee, Lee David, Ah Nae-sang

18

Poetry


At the beginning of Lee Chang-dong’s haunting film Poetry, elderly writing student Mija (Yung Jun-hee) learns two disturbing facts: The first concerns her neurological health, which she chooses to keep secret. The second is her grandson’s participation in a crime that resulted in the suicide of a young girl. The fathers of the other delinquent boys want Mija to help them cover up the crime; while Mija’s encroaching dementia will eventually rob her of her memory, the people around her commit to an appalling and willful forgetting. As a burgeoning poet, Mija’s efforts to “see” begin as a creative gesture, but when she realizes she cannot force her grandson to atone within his own heart, they take on a moral dimension. Director Lee Chang-dong quietly observes her journey, trusting viewers draw their own conclusions. His depth is matched by the astonishing performance of Yung Jun-hee. In subtle, disarming fashion, she conveys how Mija is awakening to all the good and destruction in the world just as it’s slipping away from her. By the conclusion, she and the film itself have achieved a rare and heartbreaking grace Marisa Carroll

 

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A Separation (Jodaeiye Nader az Simin)

Director: Asghar Farhadi
Cast: Leila Hatami, Peyman Moadi, Shahab Hosseini, Sareh Bayat, Sarina Farhad

17

A Separation

There’s a good reason A Separation is being hyped as a strong contender for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars: it’s a powerhouse drama, at first challenging, then scintillating and finally overwhelming. All of its characters are basically good people confronted with the consequences of small moral wrongs; in turn, they carry around a palpable, pent-up rage which threatens to burst forth at any moment. Writer-director Asghar Farhadi structures the film like a procedural thriller, but uses this basis to explore deeper, perhaps irresolvable conflicts. It resonates strongly with a feminist perspective of life in contemporary Iran, exploring the entrapment of its female characters. Tightly scripted, appreciably nuanced and flawlessly acted, A Separation will come to be seen as a pinnacle of Iranian cinema. Andrew Blackie

 

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Take Shelter

Director: Jeff Nichols
Cast: Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Katy Mixon, Shea Whigham, Kathy Baker, Ray McKinnon, Lisa Gay Hamilton

16

Take Shelter


With its languid pace and promise of a last act payoff, Take Shelter becomes an exercise in extended dread. We are instantly invested in Curtis’ issue, willing follow as he become more and more misguided, and then pray that all the handwringing and personal pain lead to something legitimate. Luckily, it does, but there is more to this movie that discovering just what our hero is haunted by. Shannon is superb as the man haunted by Apocalyptic visions, a percolating performance that builds to a believable breaking point. We keep waiting for the moment when Curtis will pop, when his fire and brimstone omens will lead to a violent outburst or a shouting match. There is a pivotal scene where things come to a head, but for the most part, Shannon suffers in silence and we willingly watch as he twists the sorrow inward. Bill Gibron

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