The Best Overlooked Movies & Shows of 2011

All the movies here are highly-rated (by both critics and viewers), little-known, and handpicked by our staff.

This list is ordered by most recent good movies, and therefore is not a ranking. Here are the titles considered as the best from the year 2011.

Stars: Anna Kendrick, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen
Directed by: Jonathan Levine

It’s often said that trying to make a comedy movie featuring a character with cancer is just a bad idea. And while there may be a good share of failed attempts in that category, 50/50 is not one of them. In a movie that comes closer to a believable real life situation than most, 50/50 manages to mine humor, pathos and simple honesty from a dark and traditional situation.  Starring Seth Rogan and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, this film isn’t afraid to ‘go there’ but you’ll enjoy the journey.
Stars: Ashley Walters, Kane Robinson, Shone Romulus

The first season has four episodes, expect to watch them in one take. Top Boy is a compelling and gritty crime drama set in London about a kid who grows up in a crime filled neighborhood.  His mom is admitted to hospital and he has to take care of himself in a time where two drug dealers are trying to rise and gain more control of the neighborhood. Top Boy has an intricate plot that builds a lot of tension and which will have you completely hooked, but it also has a lot of amazing non-plot related moments. It depicts the concept of morality in a neighborhood like the one portrayed, and the tough decisions its people have to make every day. If you liked The Wire, this show is for you.
Stars: Gaspar Galaz, Lautaro Núñez, Luís Henríquez
Directed by: Patricio Guzmán

Nostalgia for the Light is a documentary about Atacama desert and the two activities that go on there: astronomers in ALMA space observatory examine the sky, and the relatives of murdered people dig the ground hoping to find their loved ones. The way the director compares these seemingly totally different topics (searching the sky and searching the sand) is pure poetry. It’s a serious, but not depressing nor boring movie. All the interviewed people are amazingly relevant and have great insight. They made me feel like I want to get to know them personally. If you’re looking for a detailed “for dummies” introduction about Chile, ALMA observatory or Pinochet’s concentration camps, this movie is not for you. It’s for viewers who want to learn to appreciate the beauty of life and history, and the surprising parallels they sometimes offer us.
Stars: George Harrison
Directed by: Martin Scorsese

The story of one of the most influential musicians of recent history, George Harrison, told through the eyes of one of the most prominent filmmakers, Martin Scorsese. Directing and producing, Scorsese offers one of the most complete documentaries on any artist – ever. And What an artist he was. Successful and talented, yes, but also incredibly inspired and very spiritual. Through interviews, home movies, and concert footage, this long and intimate film will allow you to travel the world of The Beatles and their time, and explore the incredible mind of George Harrison. Such a heartfelt documentary.
Stars: Iwan Rheon, Joseph Gilgun, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett

Five delinquents are stuck together in juvenile detention. The kids are bored, and they are all doing their best to be as rude as possible to each other and their supervisor. One afternoon there’s a big storm and they all get struck by lightening. The next day they wake up with the realization that they are not the same people as they were the day before. Each episode follows the perspective from a different character.

This is not your average superhero gang – nor are their powers particularly desirable. In essence the show is about a group of “misfits” trying to make connections and fit in. It’s at times heart warming, at others it will make you cringe. There is some seriously good acting between Iwan Rheon (Game of Thrones) and Antonia Thomas (Love Sick). The plot is very gripping so it will be hard to not watch the whole first season (6 Episodes) in one afternoon.
Stars: Dermot Crowley, Idris Elba, Warren Brown

An 11-time Primetime Emmy nominated BBC series. Two words: Idris Elba. This is his show. He stars as DCI John Luther (watch this show and you’ll never be able to pronounce that without a British accent), an extremely smart, committed yet unpredictable and sometimes violent detective.
The creator and writer, Neil Cross (Doctor Who), has said to be inspired by a mix of Sherlock Holmes and Columbo. The show really succeeds at hitting that right balance. The only difference is that both the crimes portrayed and the context of the show are very modern.
Luther will sometimes play with your mind, entertain you at others, but mostly it will keep you captivated. And without realizing it, it will make you develop an interesting closeness with Elba’s character. The supporting cast, from other police officers to villains, are all terrifically acted. This is British mystery at its very best.
Stars: Ewan McGregor, Jorge Lorenzo, Valentino Rossi
Directed by: Mark Neale

A documentary that reveals just how insane the men that compete in the MotoGP are. It follows Valentino Rossi, one of the best riders of all-time if not the best, in a very pivotal season for him, 2010-2011. An in depth look into his competitiveness but also his passion for the sport and for the machines in it, it’s the kind of portrait that will make you feel you know the subject in person. And when it’s not focused on Rossi, it becomes a a real-life thrill fest of bike-mounted cameras of riders going at it at 200+mph.  A must-watch for gear-heads and uninitiated fans alike that plays with the idea that “if you want to win it all…you have to risk it all”.
Stars: Amr Waked, Emily Blunt, Ewan McGregor
Directed by: Lasse Hallström

A light and simple feel-good movie with great performances from an impressive cast. Ewan McGregor plays the country’s best fisheries expert who is approached by a consultant (Emily Blunt) to help bring the sport of fly-fishing to a desert in the Middle-East, a place at the peak of tensions. The Prime Minister’s office, with the help of the media, try to then bring this story to the public as a show of something good happening in the region. It’s a quirky movie with a beautiful love story and a few interesting ideas on the current state of journalism. Both leads are absolutely charming together.
Stars: Craig Roberts, Paddy Considine, Sally Hawkins
Directed by: Richard Ayoade

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.
Stars: Aasha Davis, Adepero Oduye, Kim Wayans
Directed by: Dee Rees

A beautiful and subtle masterpiece exploring the life of Alike, a teen in Brooklyn navigating her identity as a gay black girl. Caught between the traditional world of her family and the butch and sexual world of her friend who has already come out, director Dee Rees allows the audience to see the trials and tribulations of Alike’s attempts to be comfortable and sure of herself.  It’s a moving and raw coming-of-age story with many characters in the film being quite lovable and relatable making it easy for the viewer to become attached.

Stars: Samuel L. Jackson, Tommy Lee Jones
Directed by: Tommy Lee Jones

A one-act play remade by HBO starring Samuel L. Jackson and Tommy Lee Jones (who also directs). Two men with different beliefs debate the existence of God after a failed suicide attempt. Starting with subtle conversations, the audience quickly gets plunged into deep philosophical musings resulting in relatable yet interesting ideas. Fans of The Man From Earth and similar thought-provoking dialogue-driven films will definitely appreciate this. The following will serve both as a warning and as an argument to go watch it: the whole 90 minutes it spans revolves solely around a smart discussion between two characters in the same room.
Stars: George Clooney, Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Directed by: George Clooney

A slow-burning US political drama, The Ides of March is a character-driven film with great performances from Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman and George Clooney (who is also the director and in part the writer) among many others. Taking place during the last days of the primaries, Stephen Meyers (Gosling) is an aspiring campaign staffer who uncovers a dirty truth about his candidate (Clooney). When Meyers confronts his boss (Hoffman), moral issues arise that collide with the political profession but which are not only limited to it. A smart film, The Ides of March is less of a political thriller and more of a really well made drama that delivers.
Stars: Jeanne Disson, Malonn Lévana, Zoé Héran
Directed by: Céline Sciamma

I don’t want to go too much into detail, but this film is an acting masterpiece. From start to finish it drags you into the characters’ life and really makes you feel for the main character. It shows you how hard it really is for the main character to struggle with what she’s going through. I hate being left in the dust to wonder like I was left after Tomboy and this film did it and it really gets on my nerves, but it is so good. A true masterpiece.
Stars: Brenda Fricker, Kristin Booth, Olympia Dukakis
Directed by: Thom Fitzgerald

Cloudburst is the very funny and heartwarming story of two old ladies, Stella (played by Academy Award winner Olympia Dukakis) and Dotty (played by another Academy Award winner, Brenda Fricker) who escape their nursing home and drive to Nova Scotia, Canada to get married. Along the way they meet Prentice, a hitchhiker on his way home to Nova Scotia as well. Cloudurst is the story of their road trip. Dotty is lascivious and loving. Expect to be shocked by Stella’s potty mouth. The whole film is a great love story about devotion, acceptance and living life to the fullest.
Stars: Amanda Palmer, Peter Ho-Sun Chan, Steve James
Directed by: Steve James

This documentary is about a unique program in Chicago called CeaseFire whose sole aim is to stop violent deaths in poor urban areas. CeaseFire is staffed by ex-gang members and ex-convicts who try to intervene in conflicts in their community, particularly those that may escalate into extreme violence or death. In these neighborhoods though, violent conflict can result from something as minor as someone making a funky comment about someone else’s shoes. This makes total success for a project like CeaseFire nearly impossible. It is not a totally depressing film though as the program and its practitioners are all pretty amazing, and director Steve James (who made Hoop Dreams) has unparalleled access to these struggling communities.
Stars: Jamie Bell, Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender
Directed by: Cary Fukunaga

A sleek revision of the classic Charlotte Brontë novel, the 2011 version of Jane Eyre features Mia Wasikowska as the titular governess and Michael Fassbender as her employer-and-lover-with-a-secret, Rochester — both lending stunningly aggrieved performances to the tale of their burgeoning love affair. The film is somber yet wonderfully polished as it plays out their individual complexities and growing passions. This film is also notable as the sophomore directorial effort of Cary Fukunaga, who would go on to great acclaim for his work on the first season of True Detective as well as Beasts of No Nation. Fans of Fukunaga’s work are just a likely to enjoy this one as are devotees of well-crated adaptations of classic literature.