63 Best Movies & Shows Released in 2011

Staff & contributors

Find the best movies and show to watch from the year 2011. These handpicked recommendations are highly-rated by viewers and critics.

This French-Canadian slow-burner, written and directed by Denis Villeneuve, will pull you in with one of the best movie beginnings of all time – and its outstanding ending will leave you shaken. To fulfill their mother’s last wish after her sudden death in Montreal, the two twins Jeanne and Simon must travel separately to an unnamed Middle-Eastern country (with strong resemblances to civil-war-torn Lebanon) to deliver letters to close relatives they never knew they had.

The twins’ quest into a dark and staggering family history makes them experience themselves and the violence of war like they had never imagined. Their ordeal is interrupted by a series of flashbacks telling the story of their mother, Nawal Marwan, before leading them to uncover a deeply disturbing secret. Based on Wajdi Mouawad's 2003 play of the same name, this melodramatic war thriller takes a poetic and poignant look at how families are shaped by atrocities – even long the after wars that produced them have ended.

Genre: Drama, Mystery, War

Actor: Abdelghafour Elaaziz, Ahmad Massad, Allen Altman, Baraka Rahmani, Baya Belal, Dominique Briand, Hamed Najem, Hussein Sami, Jackie Sawiris, John Dunn-Hill, Karim Babin, Lara Atalla, Lobna Azabal, Lubna Azabal, Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin, Majida Hussein, Maxim Gaudette, Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin, Mohamed Majd, Mustafa Kamel, Nabil Sawalha, Nadia Essadiqi, Rémy Girard, Rémy Girard

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Rating: R

Not one but two Oscars as well as a Golden Globe are among this movie’s never-ending list of accolades. It was the first Iranian film ever to get an Oscar and the first non-English film ever nominated for Best Screenplay. Originally titled The Separation of Nader from Simin in Persian, it homes in on the dissolving relationship of a middle-class couple from Teheran – and the unintended consequences of tragic events.

However, this film is so intense, well-acted, and well-written, it defies categorization. To be sure, the movie does offer a painful look at a deteriorating marriage. It’s also timely, dealing with the politics of theocracy, economic underdevelopment, and social alienation. It presents tense moral dilemmas without pointing a finger. If you’re curious to learn about the humans of Iran and, by cultural extension, the humans of the Middle East beyond the scope of global politics, A Separation is also for you.

But please don’t call it world cinema, because this is no Slumdog Millionaire. Above all, it is a searing portrayal of human conflict, relationships, and morals. It is an almost perfect depiction of how many bad people are simply good people running out of options.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ali-Asghar Shahbazi, Babak Karimi, Bahareh Riahi, Kimia Hosseini, Leila Hatami, Merila Zare'i, Payman Maadi, Peyman Maadi, Peyman Moaadi, Sahabanu Zolghadr, Sare Bayat, Sareh Bayat, Sarina Farhadi, Shahab Hosseini, Shirin Yazdanbakhsh

Director: Asghar Farhadi

Rating: PG-13

Living in the Material World tells the story of one of the most influential musicians of recent history, the “quiet Beatle” George Harrison. It is, in turn, told through the eyes of one of the most prominent filmmakers of recent history, the always amazing Martin Scorsese. Famous for his feature films, Scorsese has been a champion of documentary films and an avid maker of them. Drawing on archive footage, home movies, and many newly recorded interviews, including with Paul and Ringo, Eric Clapton, Phil Spector, and Terry Gilliam, he tells the complete story – and this is to be taken quite literally – of an indeed quiet, torn, and searching human being as well as an immensely talented, inspiring, and spiritual artist. This heart-felt and intimate 3.5-hour documentary is an awe-inspiring exploration of Harrison's time with The Beatles as well as his subsequent solo career as a musician and as a philanthropist. In case you had your mind made up on who's your favorite Beatle, Scorsese might make you rethink.

Genre: Documentary, Music

Actor: Astrid Kirchherr, Billy Preston, Bob Dylan, Brian Epstein, Cynthia Lennon, Dhani Harrison, Dick Cavett, Eric Clapton, Eric Idle, George Harrison, George Martin, Jackie Stewart, Jane Birkin, Jeff Lynne, Jim Keltner, Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, Julian Lennon, Klaus Voormann, Linda McCartney, Louise Harrison, Mick Jagger, Olivia Harrison, Pattie Boyd, Paul McCartney, Peter Harrison, Phil Spector, Ravi Shankar, Ray Cooper, Ringo Starr, Roy Orbison, Terry Gilliam, Tom Petty, Yoko Ono

Director: Martin Scorsese

Rating: Not Rated

Told through a series of flashbacks and personal archival footage, Beginners gives us the story of Oliver (Ewan McGregor), a 38-year-old graphic designer from Los Angeles, and his two parents across three timeframes. Oliver has never had a meaningful relationship. Six months after his mother dies, his father, Hal, played by the amazing, Academy Award-winning, and, sadly, late Christopher Plummer, comes out to Oliver. He lives the last days of his life in liberation and, well, gaiety, before protracting terminal cancer. Some months later, Oliver meets Anna at a party, a young French actress (Mélanie Laurent) who is beautiful and warm-hearted, and they start an affair. Through this all, there's Arthur, a Parson Jack Russell. But don't worry. He doesn't talk. Beginners is a beautiful and intricate film about finding love and happiness. It's funny, warm, and sincere. A beautiful movie.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: AlgeRita Wynn, Algerita Wynn Lewis, Amanda Payton, Bambadjan Bamba, Bruce French, Catherine McGoohan, China Shavers, Christopher Plummer, Cosmo, Ewan McGregor, Goran Visnjic, Jennifer Hasty, Joanna Trzepiecinska, Jodi Long, Jose Yenque, Kai Lennox, Keegan Boos, Lana Young, Lou Taylor Pucci, Luke Diliberto, Mélanie Laurent, Maria Semotiuk, Mary Page Keller, Mélanie Laurent, Melissa Tang, Michael Chieffo, Patrick Birkett, Patryk Wisniewski, Rafael J. Noble, Reynaldo Pacheco, Rodney Saulsberry, Terry Walters, Tymon Tymanski

Director: Mike Mills

Rating: N/A, R

Between 1967-1975, a group of Swedish filmmakers traveled to America to document the Black Power movement. The resulting archival footage of Black activists and intellectuals, including Bobby Seale, Huey P. Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, and the amazing Angela Davis, was hidden in an archive until it was unearthed and woven together by Göran Olsson, a Swedish director. Angela Davis also supplies some contemporary voice commentary alongside many others, such as Erykah Badu, Harry Belafonte, and The Roots drummer and rap culture's No. 1 record keeper Questlove, who also co-scored the film. This adds to the mixtape feel of the film as does the raw and unfiltered piecing together of the historic footage, giving the viewer an authentic impression of the movement and the struggles of the time. Being Swedish, the filmmakers dared to go where American mainstream TV might have never gone.

Genre: Documentary, History

Actor: Angela Davis, Bobby Seale, Erykah Badu, Harry Belafonte, John Forte, Kathleen Cleaver, Melvin Van Peebles, Sonia Sánchez, Stokely Carmichael, Talib Kweli

Director: Göran Olsson

Rating: Not Rated

The Sanskrit word Samsara refers to the wheel of life and roughly translates to “continuous flow”. And, indeed, Samsara takes us on an entrancing journey, chronicling the never-ending cycle of birth, life, death, and re-birth that life, big and small, goes through—at least according to the religions that were born on the Indian continent. Shot on 70mm film and utilizing computerized camera movements as well as time-lapse photography, this film by American director Ron Fricke delivers absolutely breath-taking visuals. Whether it's awe-inspiring vastness or the close-up of a human face, its narration-less narrative integrates every aspect of human and natural life regardless of scale or location. The scope of this effort is truly awe-inspiring and the clarity of it has to be seen to be believed. An unusual and magical film!

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Balinese Tari Legong Dancers, Hiroshi Ishiguro, Ni Made Megahadi Pratiwi, Olivier De Sagazan, Puti Sri Candra Dewi, Putu Dinda Pratika

Director: Ron Fricke

Rating: PG-13

, 2011

It might seem like a no-brainer that trying to make a comedy movie featuring a character with cancer is not a great idea. And while there may be a good share of failed attempts in that category, 50/50 is not one of them. And then it might come as a surprise that this subtle attempt at cancer comedy comes courtesy of Superbad creators Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. It also stars indie cutie Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the young and fit Adam Lerner, who works as a writer for public radio before learning that he has malignant tumors all along his spine. Between his overbearing mum (Anjelica Huston), slightly obnoxious but good-hearted bestie (Seth Rogen), self-help groups, and his therapist (played by Anna Kendrick), he struggles to find a way of acquiescing to his 50/50 chance of survival. Similarly, 50/50 strikes a delicate balance between the bromance gags, the date-movie elements, and the grave subject matter at its heart. It manages to mine humor, pathos, and simple honesty from a dark situation, and is not afraid to “go there”. The result is truly compassionate comedy.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Adrian Glynn McMorran, Amitai Marmorstein, Andrea Brooks, Andrew Airlie, Anjelica Huston, Anna Kendrick, Beatrice King, Brent Sheppard, Bryce Dallas Howard, Cameron K. Smith, Chilton Crane, Christopher De-Schuster, D.C. Douglas, Daniel Bacon, Donna Yamamoto, Jason Vaisvila, Jessica Parker Kennedy, Jonathan Levine, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Laura Bertram, Lauren Miller, Luisa D'Oliveira, Marie Avgeropoulos, Matt Frewer, Matty Finochio, P. Lynn Johnson, Peter Kelamis, Philip Baker Hall, Sarah Smyth, Serge Houde, Seth Rogen, Stephanie Belding, Stephen Colbert, Sugar Lyn Beard, Tom MacNeill, Veena Sood, Will Reiser, William 'Big Sleeps' Stewart, Yee Jee Tso

Director: Jonathan Levine

Rating: R

Fasten your seatbelts because this nasty little chase film will jerk the wheel when you least expect it, featuring balls-to-the-wall action and lots of Norwegian humor – dark humor that is. Based on a novel from the country's most famous crime writer, Jo Nesbø, Headhunters is brutal, insane, and incredibly good. This twisting, turning thriller tells the story of a corporate recruiter (Aksel Hennie), who has a secret side hustle as a nightly art thief. He ends up being pursued by the charismatic Clas Greve, a Dutch businessman played by none other than GoT-star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. And this plot summary is as far as you will get without the whole thing swerving into another direction. Headhunters does not slow down unless it wants to destabilise you further with simmering suspense. Like a Lars von Trier on speed, expect all the raw colors, emotion, and slightly off-kilter characters you want from a Norwegian production – and brilliant entertainment!

Genre: Action, Crime, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Aksel Hennie, Baard Owe, Camilla Augusta Hallan, Eivind Sander, Gunnar Skramstad Johnsen, Irina Eidsvold Tøien, Joachim Rafaelsen, Julie R. Ølgaard, Julie R. Olgaard, Kyrre Haugen Sydness, Mats Mogeland, Mattis Herman Nyquist, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Nils Jørgen Kaalstad, Nils Jorgen Kaalstad, Reidar Sørensen, Reidar Sorensen, Signe Tynning, Sondre Abel, Synnøve Macody Lund, Synnøve Macody Lund, Valentina Alexeeva

Director: Morten Tyldum

Rating: R

Poetry is a masterpiece from one of South Korea's most cherished movie directors, Lee Chang-dong. The simple story follows the everyday life of a grandmother, Mija, who works as a caretaker for a living. To fill her inner emptiness, she decides to join a poetry club with other grandmothers in her neighborhood. Meanwhile, as Mija deals with her own financial and health problems, she struggles to connect with her teenage grandson — only to find out that he is keeping a dark secret. If you are familiar with Lee Chang-dong works, then you know that the movie will tug at your heartstrings. But if you aren't, prepare to be moved.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ahn Nae-sang, Chang Hyae-jin, Eun-yeong Kim, Hee-ra Kim, Jang Hye-jin, Jeong-hie Yun, Kim Eun-yeong, Kim Gye-sun, Kim Hee-ra, Kim Hye-jung, Kim Ja-young, Kim Jong-goo, Kim Nam-jin, Kwon Hyuk-soo, Lee Da-wit, Min Bok-gi, Nam Joong-gyu, Park Hyun-woo, Park Myung-shin, Yoon Jeong-hee

Director: Chang-dong Lee, Lee Chang-dong

Rating: TV-PG

This surprising documentary follows Jiro, an 85 year old Japanese chef, his Michelin-starred restaurant in the Tokyo underground, and his eager sons. While ostensibly about sushi – and believe me, you’ll learn about sushi and see absolutely gorgeous images of the raw-fish creations – the film’s dramatic impetus is carried by the weight of tradition, the beauty of a labor of love, obsession, and the relationship between father and son. Truly a must-watch.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Daisuke Nakazama, David Gelb, Hachiro Mizutani, Harutaki Takahashi, Jiro Ono, Masuhiro Yamamoto, Yoshikazu Ono

Director: David Gelb

Rating: PG

In 2005, Palestinian olive farmer Emad Burnat bought a camera to document the birth of his new son, Jibreel. But what was intended as an act of celebration quickly grew into something else, as Burnat inadvertently became a documentarian of the oppression his West Bank village faced when a wall was erected through it and Palestinian farmland illegally appropriated by Israeli settlers. As we come to witness, this reluctant pivot is just another example of everyday life in Bil’in being forcibly reoriented by the occupation, as Burnat captures the daily struggles of life in the village and charts the innocence-shattering effect the occupation has on young Jibreel’s burgeoning consciousness. 

Over his footage of encroaching illegal settlements, the arrests of Palestinian children in the middle of the night, the point-blank shootings of blindfolded and handcuffed peaceful protestors — plus tender snapshots of nature and joyful events in the village — Burnat delivers a poetic, reflective narration that miraculously ties these horrible and hopeful images together. It's this intimacy of perspective that makes 5 Broken Cameras profoundly harrowing and unexpectedly transcendent — a personal document of oppression that is also a testament to the miraculous persistence of the human spirit, the resilience of life and the urge to seek beauty even under truly awful circumstances.

Genre: Crime, Documentary, Drama, War

Actor: Emad Burnat, Mohammed Burnat, Soraya Burnat

Director: Emad Burnat, Guy Davidi

Rating: NR

Awkward. That is how Oliver Tate can be described, and generally the whole movie. But it is professionally and scrutinizingly awkward. Submarine is a realistic teen comedy, one that makes sense and in which not everyone looks gorgeous and pretends to have a tough time. It is hilarious and sad, dark and touching. It is awesome and it's embarrassing, and it's the kind of movie that gets nearly everything about being a teen right, no matter where you grew up.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Adrienne O'Sullivan, Ben Stiller, Claire Cage, Craig Roberts, Darren Evans, Elinor Crawley, Gemma Chan, Lydia Fox, Lynn Hunter, Melanie Walters, Noah Taylor, Paddy Considine, Sally Hawkins, Sarah Pasquali, Sion Tudor Owen, Steffan Rhodri, Yasmin Paige

Director: Richard Ayoade

Rating: R

A thoughtful drama about the financial crisis, Margin Call is gripping. Seriously, even something as convoluted as the 2008 global economic meltdown is not only accessible and understandable, but it's gripping. Margin Call transports you to the heart of Wall Street, both the financial institutions and the street, literally. It is exciting, well-acted and informative. Uh, also: Kevin Spacey.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Aasif Mandvi, Al Sapienza, Ashley Williams, Demi Moore, Grace Gummer, Jeremy Irons, Jimmy Palumbo, Kevin Spacey, Maria Dizzia, Mary McDonnell, Oberon K.A. Adjepong, Paul Bettany, Penn Badgley, Peter Y. Kim, Simon Baker, Stanley Tucci, Susan Blackwell, Zachary Quinto

Director: J. C. Chandor

Rating: R

The Kid With A Bike is a deceptively simple title for a film this stirring. At 12 years old, Cyril (Thomas Doret) has been abandoned to social care by his father (Jérémie Renier) — but what’s really heart-wrenching is that he’s in denial about the finality of their separation. Cyril’s muscles are seemingly always coiled, ready to spring him away from his carers and onto the next bus that’ll take him to his disinterested dad, who has secretly moved away to “start anew.” It’s only through the random force of Cyril’s few words — like the moment he asks the first stranger to show him some kindness (Samantha, played by Cécile de France) if she’ll foster him on the weekends — that we get to sense the depth of his desperation, because neither the film nor Doret is showy in that regard.

The film pulls off transcendency because of these restrained performances and its unfussy realism. In the quietness of the storytelling, emotion hits unexpectedly — and deeply. The everyday tragedy and miraculous hope of Cyril’s life are set off by some enormously moving orchestral Beethoven, the very grandeur of which underscores the effect of the humanist filmmaking: affirming the inherent preciousness of his troubled, oft-rejected child.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Baptiste Sornin, Cécile de France, Fabrizio Rongione, Jérémie Renier, Myriem Akheddiou, Olivier Gourmet, Samuel De Rijk, Thomas Doret

Director: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne