For audiences around the world, 2011 will be remembered for a lot of things:  a strange trend in terminal illness plot lines(50/50, The Descendants), the most sequels ever released in a year (28 in all), and the year that we saw the Transformer’s trilogy sink to new and unthinkable lows. Still it wasn’t all bad, so here is the Varsity’s list of 10 best films of 2011.

1) The Tree of Life
Director: Terrence Mallick
Starring: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain
Lyrical in delivery, poetic in vision , and spiritually evocative, Tree takes on the overwhelming task of elucidating the mysterious origins of humans and Mallick does this topic justice that has been unparalleled since Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Still tiers below Kubrick’s champion, Mallick’s Tree is a contemporary indication that truth seeking is forever a marketable concept, especially when executed with such undeniable finesse.


 2) Cafe de Flore
Director: Jean Marc Vallee
Starring :Vanessa ParadisKevin Parent and Hélène Florent
Cafe is an ambitious project, to say the least. Quebecoise filmmaker Jean Marc Vallee established his original, and now unmistakable, dj turned director style in his previous film, C.R.A.Z.Y (2005), but Cafe’s brilliance resides in Vallee’s adept connection of a frenzy of seemingly unsynchronized life events into a psychedelic cataclysm of grand proportions.

3) Martha Marcy May Marlene
Director: Sean Durkin
Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, Sarah Paulson, John Hawkes
Martha’s  heavy fragmentation, surrealist methods, and over all ambiguous aesthetic concocts a potential recipe for disaster, but director Sean Durkin, aided by the impeccable performances of  newcomer Elizabeth Olsen and fellow cast, shows that he knows what all these ingredients can surmount to. Martha is an extremely Bergman like effort (Persona 1966), that pleasurably rivals its prototype in its haunting execution.

4) Shame
Director: Steve McQueen
Starring: Michael Fassbinder, Carrey Mulligan
Shame is all about sex, but don’t let that fool you about what you are getting into. Mcqueen’s vision is stark, ravenous, and desirably unapologetic in its style and all this surmounts to an incredibly vivid, focused, and unparalleled gaze into sex addiction; a top notch film from a top notch auteur.

5) Melancholia
Director: Lars Von Trier
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland
Although burdened at times by its broad range of issues (the Apocalypse, depression, a troubled wedding), Melancholia is in unison with Von Trier’s previous effort Antichrist (2009).  Von Trier mystifies, entices, and then terrifies viewers into submission and the acceptance of his explanation of how the world works. This is O.K. because the end of days has never looked more stunning.

6) Drive
Director: Nicholas Winding Refn
Starring: Ryan Gossling, Carrey Mulligan, Ron Pearlman, Brian Cranston
Refn dazzles with a sleek, fluorescent pink, 80’s synth-pop film that nods its head to Hobo with a Shotgun’s definitive true exploitation revival aesthetic. Drive wins with stellar performances and dreamy art house imagery that negotiates the proper, and long awaited, resurrection of the 80’s action hunk (Stallone, Schwarzenegger, etc).

7) 50/50
Director: Jonathen Levine
Starring: Josehp Gordon- Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard
You’d be hard pressed to find another film of 2011 that accomplishes the daunting feat that 50/50 does: laugh at Cancer. Written by Cancer survivor Will Reiser, 50/50 deserves a place on this list because its original blend of humour and humanity admirably juxtaposes itself with the flock of horribly unoriginal sequels of 2011.

8) Bridesmaids
Director: Paul Feig
Starring: Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, Melissa McCarthy
Initially presumed to be a female response to The Hangover (2009), the dexterity of Bridesmaids’ wittiness left audiences and critics happy to finally see where women fit in a male dominated world of gross out humour. Two years of script crafting at the hands of co-stars Wiig and Mumolo show that Bridesmaids is far ahead of any wolf pack.

9) Carnage
Director: Roman Polanski
Starring: Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christopher Waltz, John. C Reilly
Carnage is relentless in its revelation of layer after layer of the deep rooted marital malfunctions that ail two yuppie couples. Carnage demands both careful attention and a wild sense of humour from its audience, but its comical War of the Roses (1989)/ anti-romance sentiment is every bit worth it.
10) Hobo with a Shotgun
Director Jason Eisner
Starring: Rutger Hauer, Pasha Ebrahimi, Robb Wells
Jason Eisner’s Hobo with a Shotgun is a bumpy, yet pleasurable, ride into exploitation recreation at its finest: 15 year olds inhaling mountains of cocaine, headless corpses spewing blood, and hobo’s chewing broken glass. Still, Hobo’s 1980’s inspired neon imagery makes its horror hypnotic, evocative, and chic; a stellar Canadian production.

Remember when the term sex addict was only that excuse sleazy married business men used as for why they banged twelve hookers on their kitchen table while their wife was out of town? Thanks to multi millionaire golfers and biker bad boy celebrity-husbands, the issue of sex addiction has lost its taboo status and become a household name in recent years. With that said, it couldn’t have been a better time for Brit experimental artist turned experimental filmmaker Steve Mcqueen to release Shame (2011). After viewing Shame, I immediately thought that this was a film that will undoubtedly divide viewers into two very different camps: those who will find Mcqueen’s lack of restraint in the delivery of his methods an overly obvious exercise; tiring and uninvolved. The other group is comprised of those who can look passed the issue of Mcqueen’s overt autuerism, and find his bleak and downward spiralling vision of one of the most universal of human instincts (the sexual), a tacit and unmistakably devout example of Shame’s dedication to uprooting uninhibited emotions. Fortunately for myself, I was of the latter group, and found Mcqueen’s ‘fill in the blanks’ process an enjoyable and worthwhile experience, both challenging and rewarding.

Shame affords little time for us to  familiarize ourselves with the sexually addicted Brandon’s (Michael Fassbender) world, and instead slings us along at his waist side (quite literally the film opens with torso and penis shots of Brandon as he walks around his condo naked) for an uncomfortable descent into sexual cataclysm. Brandon, a wealthy suit, enjoys the luxuries of being the prototypical New York City single yuppie: a greyly lit high rise art deco condominium, an abundance of alcohol, fine women and an insatiable sexual appetite. It’s between Brandon’s routine jerk off sessions in the bathroom of his work place and the discovery of the ‘smorgasbord of pornography’ on his office computer’s hard drive that the reality of his sex addiction begins to bleed through his smooth, GQ demeanour. When his eclectic hipster sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), unexpectedly shows up in his condo with plans to stay for an unspecified amount of time, Brandon’s sex dictated lifestyle is put in jeopardy. Mcqueen’s genius here is that Shame manages to be all about sex (the signals, the attraction, the act itself) but isn’t concerned with the euphoria of any climax. Instead, Mcqueen shows there is absolutely nothing glamorous about the shallow and wearisome nature of Brandon’s unsatifiable addiction, which Brandon uses as a means of escaping a troubled past that Mcqueen’s exhaustive direction frequently alludes to.

With excellent performances from both Fassbender and Mulligan, Shame resonates as a testament to Mcqueen’s ability to hone in on his actors’ most vulnerable states for convincing performances. Having worked with Fassbender on his debut film Hunger (2008) (which showed the most barbaric portrayal of prison I’ve ever seen) Mcqueen and Fassbender’s impeccable chemistry is second lived in Shame. One may even argue that if it were not for the incredible control and manipulation that Fassbender exhibits over his own emotions, Shame would crumble under the tremendous weight of Mcqueen’s heavy auteuristic ambitions. Despite these risks, Shame translates as a lonely and jarring picture and Mcqueen provides an alternate perspective of the capabilities of his prowess displayed in with Hunger (2008). Shame is completely unapologetic in its style, and this is Mcqueen’s calling card.
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