'Tree of Life' easily tops Sight & Sound's Best of 2011 poll

Posted by · 1:45 pm · November 28th, 2011

I’m always interested in the outcome of Sight & Sound magazine’s annual critics’ poll, since it’s perhaps the broadest and most international of its type: its 100 contributors range from their own writers to Peter Bradshaw to Armond White, ensuring a list that’s reflective of the year’s critical trends. This year, I feel slightly more invested than usual, because for the first time, I was invited to participate.

Every critic was asked to submit a list of their five “best, favorite or most important” films of the year. You’ll be able to see mine, along with everyone else’s, when Sight & Sound publish the full results of the poll online next week. For now, however, we have the Top 10 (or 11, given a tie at the bottom), and it’s a typically credible if not terribly surprising one.

It was pretty much a foregone conclusion that Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” would top the list: divisive it may be, but the film remains unrivalled as the critical talking point of 2011. It won the poll by a comfortable margin: editor Nick James reveals that it had half as many votes again as the similarly predictable runner-up, Asghar Farhadi’s “A Separation.” Check out the full list below.

1. “The Tree of Life” (Terrence Malick)

2. “A Separation” (Asghar Farhadi)

3. “The Kid With a Bike” (Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne)

4. “Melancholia” (Lars von Trier)

5. “The Artist” (Michel Hazanavicius)

=6. “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia” (Nuri Bilge Ceylan)

=6. “The Turin Horse” (Béla Tarr)

8. “We Need to Talk About Kevin” (Lynne Ramsay)

9. “Le Quattro Volte” (Michelangelo Frammartino)

=10. “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” (Tomas Alfredson)

=10. “This Is Not a Film” (Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmash)

It’s a sign, to me at least, of what a strong year it’s been that I’m delighted by many of these inclusions — and yet not one of the five films I included on my list made the cut. (Had we been invited to submit Top 10 lists, there might have been more overlap.)

I’m pleased the expected critical backlash to “The Artist” in some quarters isn’t in evidence here, and am thrilled that “We Need to Talk About Kevin” is holding up so well. It’s the highest local inclusion here, though the unexpectedly strong showing for “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” here suggests to me it’s still set to be the prime British crossover title of the awards season. (I thought it might be a touch mainstream for this traditionally high-minded list, but there’s clearly a place for genre work here: James writes that two of the films tied for twelfth place are “Attack the Block” and “Kill List.”)  

Still, it’s the overwhelming dominance of Terrence Malick’s Palme d’Or-winning opus that’s the main takeaway here: the fact that a challenging American art film with its fair share of detractors still managed to sail to victory in a critics’ survey on this scale strengthens my conviction that the film could be a force to be reckoned with in the upcoming slew of US critics’ award: I’m predicting it will pip “The Descendants” to the post when the NYFCC vote tomorrow. (In case you’re wondering, “The Social Network” handily topped the Sight & Sound list last year.) 

I’ll be sure to provide a link when the full results go up online: for now, you can read half the entries in the print edition, on shelves now. Before you complain that it’s too early for Best of 2011 lists, bear in mind the long-lead restrictions of magazine publishing, and the fact that any late-breaking critical hits can always show up next year. With international release schedules varying wildly, and critics permitted to include festival-only releases on their lists, it’s never going to be an exact science. 

For more views on movies, awards season and other pursuits, follow @GuyLodge on Twitter.

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