2011 was the year of the indie. The majority of adaptations and blockbusters all fell completely flat, and numerous big studio dramas were missing that something special. Normally I’m one to say that every year is a great year, but this is no There Will be Blood Vs. No Country for Old Men, or even Moon Vs. Inglourious Bastards. That being said, the end of this year has been packed with award-worthy films and Sundance seemed to produce a number of films that made it big throughout 2011.

20. Ides of March – Dir. George Clooney

This film had such potential to be a top 5 film, but sadly, just barely made the list. The film itself was good, but lacked in depth and complexity. That being said, there are some moments in this film, far superior to the others on this list, including one hell of a monologue-off between Ryan Gosling and George Clooney towards the end of the film. Luckily when these two guys go to steal the show, they do it well.

Read Ides of March Review

19. Trust – Dir. David Schwimmer

Who knew Schwimmer had it in him? This was one of those films that few people really wanted to go see, because of the subject matter, but it was actually extremely relevant, timely and interesting. It not only discussed rape, but also the effects that it has on an entire family, and the unexpected responses that it draws out of people. Truly a fascinating piece of filmmaking if you can stomach it, with many stunning performances.

18. Contagion – Dir. Steven Soderbergh

Don’t touch anything! Few films can’t illicit such a strong response from its audience as this one. It was hard not to run from the theater because of all the germs around you, while at the same time, they’re dying to see what’s next (hopefully not literally). This was Soderbergh playing fast and lose, and it was fun to go on the ride. Thankfully he had Matt Damon to anchor down the film, and really give it the heart that took it from thrill ride to a meaningful piece of filmmaking.

Read Contagion Review

17. Moneyball – Dir. Bennett Miller

This was the film that brought in the Fall and reminded us all that films aren’t only made to entertain us, sometimes there’s that little something more that warms our heart and possibly even teaches us a thing or two. This was one of the first meaningful films of the year, that was finely made and an easy pick for everyone.

16. Shame – Dir. Steve McQueen

Provocative, innovative and starsring Michael Fassbender, a man who has three films on this list. He must be a lucky charm of some sort. The film is by far the most scandalous on the list, mainly due to its subject matter, NC-17 rating, and a whole lot of nudity. That being said, the film is poignant, strong and undoubtedly has paved the way for other films to talk about “sex addiction.”

Read Shame Review

15. Bridesmaids – Dir. Paul Feig

Wait, women can be funny too? Let’s face it, there were a lot of bad comedies this year, especially within the studio released arena. Not only was this the best broad comedy of the year but it also helped remind us of comedic female power. And that there are more funny women out there than just Tina Fey!

Read Bridesmaids Review

14. X-Men: First Class – Dir. Matthew Vaughn

Out of the many half-assed blockbusters this summer, this was the only one that really stood out as a quality film, with fine acting, interweaving subplots and a story-line that actually added up to something. This was one of the only comic book adaptations that really felt like a film instead of just a wash of special effects.

Read X-Men: First Class Review

13. My Week with Marilyn – Dir. Simon Curtis

It’s hard not to just see this film as an Oscar device for Michelle Williams, but if it was, she played the game well. The film did what any good bio-pic does, it showed us the Monroe that we didn’t know, the one that made her reach for the stars and eventually perish too young. Williams was amazing, but even more amazing was the stellar supporting cast that really brought this film to life.

Read My Week With Marilyn Review

12. Beginners – Dir. Mike Mills

This was a small film, that seemed to get over-looked for the most part, but really deserved some attention. Visually and conceptually, the film took a number of creative risks and dealt with a number of heavy topics with a sense of meaningful levity. It was meaningful and yet not overtly dark. It definitely is a “small” but great film.

Read Beginners Review

11. Buck – Dir. Cindy Meehel

Another Sundance darling that was so popular at the festival that Buck himself had to give up his own seat. Buck’s dedicated his life to helping horses and healing people. This a film where you will not only be transported into a life that is likely not anything like your own, but much like Buck, it has a subtle and unpretentious way of teaching you a thing or two about your own life while watching it.

Read Buck Review

10. Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil

I saw this film at Sundance two years ago and was waiting for its release for years, only to see it never get the attention it fully deserved. This is the best comedy of the year, highly underrated, but well worth your time in theaters. It plays on stereotypes in a new way and will have you laughing the whole way through.

Read Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil Review

9. Midnight in Paris – Dir. Woody Allen

Here is a filmmaker who loves making film and you can literally smell it on the screen. This is Woody Allen at his best, playing with a fun idea and really indulging in the art of cinema. From the music, to the settings, to the colors and the concept, this was a brilliantly made film all around.

Read Midnight in Paris Review

8. Red State – Dir. Kevin Smith

The indie film that pushed all the boundaries and said fuck you to the system. Not only was it a film worth remembering, but the film itself it a story worth following. With its mix of graphic violence and witty one-liners, this film gets both big laughs and big jolts. It walks that magical line of horror and comedy and does it well. Plus, Michael Parks gives probably one of the best performances of the year.

Read Red State Review

7. Senna

I hate car racing and sports, I just don’t get them, and yet I loved Senna. They were able to beautifully capture the heart-ache, stress and drama that goes into car racing in a way I never thought possible. They do a wonderful job at always keeping the story balanced and somehow managed to give a pulse to stock footage like I’ve never seen before — impressive.

6. Take Shelter – Dir. Jeff Nichols

This is one of the best examples of how to take a high concept and run with it.  This is quite possibly, the most beautiful film of the year. The way they managed to not only capture the scenery in a beautifully informative way, but also visually portray the psyche of a man on the verge is nothing short of stunning. This is one of those films that seems near impossible to portray on the big screen, and yet with the right vision, it’s breathtaking.

Read Take Shelter Review

5. Win Win – Dir. Thomas McCarthy

Sweet. Simple. Truly wonderful filmmaking here. Extremely well written, acted and executed. This film sets the bar for all other comedic dramas out there. Win Win is simple but not dumbed down and smart without being preachy. The film perfectly walks the line of drama and comedy without ever losing momentum and most importantly doesn’t rely on any romantic undertones or cliches to help it! It’s a high class Rom-Com!

Read Win Win Review

4. The Guard

Some of the best dialogue of the year. You don’t need to go big to be remembered, sometimes you just need a simple story and to tell it well. This is a definite must-see film, packed with action, comedy, suspense, and proper macho charisma. Brendan Gleeson’s character completely absorbs you from beginning to end and leaves you wanting more. And it’s sure to leave you with numerous one-liners to quote for some time!

Read The Guard Review

3. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Yes it’s a remake, but it’s also David Fincher, who is able to take just about any source material and put his own finger print on it. It’s edgy, risky, and at the end of it, you’ll know you just saw something worth remembering.

2.  A Dangerous Method

Now this is a FILM in the true sense of the word with beautiful sets, an immersive story, and Viggo Mortenson at his absolute best. It’s one thing to talk about indie filmmaking, it’s a whole other thing to watch the masters at work. Though Keira Knightley pushes a bit much at the start, this is a great film, that leaves you knowing you just saw something worth remembering. And this marks Fassbender’s third time on the list.

Read A Dangerous Method Review

1. Martha Marcy May Marlene

The little indie for the win! Yes it has fine acting, filmmaking, the whole package, but the reason it’s my #1 pick, is because it sticks with you long after it’s over and leads you into so many interesting debates with others. It’s one of the must stressful watches of the year, that literally will have your stomach churning from start to finish, but it’s also one of the most intense and interesting films that’s come out.

  • Honorable Mentions: Project Nim, Submarine, Tree of Life, Anonymous, Hesher, Beautiful Boy, Born to be Wild, Source Code, Another Earth, We Need to Talk about Kevin
  • Haven’t Seen (but heard were amazing!): Young AdultI Saw the Devil, The Skin I Live In, Hugo, Real Steel, Descendants, Certified Copy, Margaret

So that’s it for the year! Let us know which films you loved in the comments below!