The Best Films of 2011: An Alternate to the Oscars

I considered "A Separation" one of the best films of the year, if not the best film of the year.

Every year, to coincide with the Academy Awards, I try to roughly rank all the films I saw in the previous year. I do this, instead of picking out a top five or 10, because I think those lists are inherently flawed — I think it’s important for the reader to know that I didn’t see certain films, and they weren’t left off the list because I didn’t like them. The rankings are, by the way, approximate. A lot of these films are like apples and oranges; it’s really hard to compare a documentary with an action flick with an understated drama. Still, if something appears at the top of the list, it means I definitely liked it more than something that appears at the bottom. I also make a distinction between films I felt were excellent, films that were good, but flawed, and films that were just bad. This year, I was fortunate enough to not see anything I’d really consider a bad film. As usual, I’ve written the API films in bold font. The print version of this will have commentary on API films and films with API content, but that is probably going to have to wait ’til after the SFIAAFF.

The Best of 2011

“The Tree of Life”

“A Separation” (Asghar Farhadi)

“Mother” (Bong Joon-Ho) (in Korea, it’s a couple years old)

“The Green Hornet” (Michel Gondry) (API because Jay Chou is featured in the principal cast)

“Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol”

“Cave of Forgotten Dreams”

“The Black Power Mixtape”

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1”

2011 Runner-ups

“J. Edgar”

“The Trip”

“The Interrupters”

“Kaboom” (Gregg Araki)

“The Descendants”

“13 Assassins” (Takashi Miike)

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2”

“Surrogate Valentine” (Dave Boyle) (API because it features Goh Nakamura as the lead, and Boyle is part of API filmmaking community)

“The Legend of Kamui” (Yoichi Sai)

“Drive”

“Midnight in Paris”

“Outrage” (Takeshi Kitano)

“The Muppets”

“The Adventures of Tintin”

“Red State”

“Hugo” (didn’t see in its original 3D format, which might influence low-ranking)

“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”

“Moneyball”

“Rise of the Planet of the Apes”

“The Artist”

Note: I make these rankings in, essentially, real-time as I see films. When “The Artist” won best picture, I almost considered moving it up a notch or two, so as not to appear to be a contrarian. But I thought about the reason it’s there, (both it and “Planet of the Apes” were pretty good and pretty flawed, but I felt much more of a connection with the main monkey from “Apes” than with anyone in “The Artist,”) and decided changing the rankings would be disingenuous. I’m not prejudiced against silent films either; some of my favorite films are silent films! (Like Maya Deren’s “Meshes of the Afternoon.”) Oh, and there are two films that would certainly rank high in the list, but I didn’t feel comfortable ranking because I know the filmmakers: they were “The Virtues of Corned Beef Hash” (Kerwin Berk) and “All We Could Carry.” They are both very good, (and I think, much better than “The Artist.”)

About Ben Hamamoto

Ben Hamamoto is a writer born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. He’s been published in the Oakland Tribune and has written for New American Media’s YO! Youth Outlook and the Nichi Bei Times. He is a research manager for the Health Horizons Program at the Institute for the Future. He also edits Nikkei Heritage, the National Japanese American Historical Society’s official magazine and contributes to Nichi Bei Weekly.

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