By Stephanie Zacharek
By Robrt L. Pela
By Aaron Cutler
By Amy Nicholson
By Simon Abrams
By Chris Klimek
By Nick Schager
By Stephanie Zacharek
5. The Arbor (Clio Barnard, U.K.): Not just the best nonfiction film of 2011, Clio Barnard's hybrid of primary-source reporting and dramatic staging to tell the tale of alcoholic British council estate bard Andrea Dunbar and the daughters she left behind is also the most innovative.
6. A Separation (Asghar Farhadi, Iran): A master class in storytelling and character study under any circumstances, Asghar Farhadi's Berlinale winner, about the reverberations of one middle-class housewife's decision to leave her family when her husband refuses to leave Iran, is all the more impressive as an implicit — but, in an incredible feat of footwork, never direct — critique of the standards and practices of the Iranian government that sanctioned its production.
7. Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn, Denmark): The best music video Michael Mann never made. Ryan Gosling's campaign ad for the crown of Sexiest Man Alive. A movie-length escalating joke about the manipulative seduction of genre-film tropes, Drive is the visual-pleasure bomb that critiques itself.
8. Contagion (Steven Soderbergh, U.S.): A filmmaker whose primary obsessions have been work and sex, Steven Soderbergh turned an outbreak story that demonizes both into an unflinching, dispassionate nail-biter. Contagion is uniquely Soderberghian in its appropriation of a Hollywood genre for personal ends. When the big emotional catharsis comes, it's all the more devastating as a break from the total coldness that preceded it.
9. The Future (Miranda July, U.S.): The best of 2011's many Sundance hits turned box office bombs. The reception accorded Miranda July's second feature — a deeply personal and fully unique hybrid of hipster relationship drama, lo-fi sci-fi, and filmed performance art — only affirms its courage as a would-be commercial endeavor.
10. Moneyball (Bennett Miller, U.S.): Less an adaptation of Michael Lewis' bestseller than a cinematic rendering of the unlikely marriage between passion and fiscal rationality that motivated the sport to put its faith in sabermetrics, Moneyball moved me to tears. Twice. My vote for most satisfying popcorn movie of the year.
The following films almost made the cut: The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu, Beginners, Certified Copy, City of Life and Death, A Dangerous Method, Dragonslayer, Fast Five, Go Go Tales, House of Pleasures, Jane Eyre, The Lincoln Lawyer, Love Exposure, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Mysteries of Lisbon, Rubber, Silver Bullets, Take Shelter, The Trip, Uncle Boonmee, and Winnie the Pooh.
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