Flawed Perfection

The Tree of Life tops our poll of 2011's best movies

We took some time out from our week-long egg nog binge to poll Scene's movie writers on their favorite flicks of the year. After a very complicated and totally scientific process that involved high-powered calculators and banana-fueled monkeys working around the clock, we came up with the Top 10 movies of 2011. Don't even think about disputing these findings; you don't mess with science.

1. The Tree of Life

No other movie this year packed the ambition of Terrence Malick's messy, flawed, pretentious, artsy, and downright mesmerizing meditation on the creation of the universe. Brad Pitt and 2011's female MVP Jessica Chastain play a 1950s couple whose history is played out in a series of scenes that links dinosaurs and Sean Penn. It's a mindfuck, but a thoroughly brilliant mindfuck.

2. Hugo

Martin Scorsese's first family movie (and his first 3D film) bustles with life. And like The Artist (see No. 3), it's a loving and magical tribute to movies past. A young boy with no family discovers a brand-new world inside of a train station that opens up to a wonder-filled look at the history of cinema. It's a visual treat all around.

3. The Artist

It's black-and-white, silent, and shot like a movie from 1925. And it's one of the best films of 2011. A silent-movie star (the so-excellent Jean Dujardin) refuses to adapt to new technology and is left unemployed and broke when talkies take over. It's a wonderful and moving piece of filmmaking by writer and director Michel Hazanavicius. (It opens in Cleveland in January.)

4. The Descendants

Alexander Payne loves to explore midlife crises, and here he gives George Clooney (in the best role of his career) a monolithic one to wrestle: His cheating wife is in a coma with no chance of recovering. He also has two daughters to deal with and a mess of family members who want a piece of the prime real estate left to them by long-gone relatives. It's funny, touching, and right-on.

5. Drive

The year's most intense action movie is near existential in its story of an L.A. stunt driver (played by 2011's male MVP Ryan Gosling) who moonlights as the getaway man for dangerous heists. Then one of them goes wrong. Director Nicolas Winding Refn spins a great tale of violence and speed that will leave you dizzy with its brutally elegant style.

6. Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen's best movie in years even sounds like a Woody Allen movie: A Hollywood screenwriter in France with his fiancée slips into another time every night. And it turns out his fantasy life is way better than his real one, with Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, and Cole Porter at his side. Romantic, funny, and prime Woody.

7. Melancholia and Take Shelter (tie)

By sheer coincidence, the two movies that tied for seventh place are both end-of-the-world stories about shattering the already-fragile minds of their protagonists. In Lars von Trier's Melancholia, Kirsten Dunst's wedding day is ruined when it looks like another planet is going to collide with Earth. In Take Shelter (acclaimed widely and shot locally — in Lorain County), the terrific Michael Shannon's breakdown is more of the evangelical variety.

8. Separation

This heartrending Iranian drama about a married couple torn between a new life and their old one is universal in its sentiments (and universally sentimental). An opportunity to improve their family in another country leaves a young couple with a potentially marriage-wrecking decision to leave an older relative at home. It's a clash of ideals, cultures, and emotions.

9. Warrior

Is it a mixed-martial-arts movie disguised as a family drama or the other way around? Doesn't matter — this terrific film about a pair of estranged brothers competing in an MMA tournament contains rich character portraits of both fighters and their recovering-alcoholic dad, played by a rebounding Nick Nolte. You know where it's all going, but that doesn't make it any less engaging.

10. Harry Potter and the

Deathly Hallows: Part Two

The final chapter in the eight-movie series is also the best, a thrilling and emotional conclusion to the boy wizard's decade-long saga. It's probably not the best jumping-in point if you're not familiar with the story, but for fans, the film pulls everything together for one final climactic battle and one long last look at Harry and his pals.

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