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The 50 best movies of 2011

21. Senna

The Movie: Fiction director Asif Kapadia brings his flair for narrative to a zippy drive-by of F1 legend Ayrton Senna's turbulent life and tragic death, using only found footage for an authentic driver's view.

Impact: Belying its niche subject, Kapadia brought huge crossover appeal to make this one of the highest grossing documentaries at the UK box office. And after its baffling snub on the Best Documentary Oscar long-list, there's talk of campaigning for it to become the first doc to be nommed for Best Picture.

20. Take Shelter

The Movie: Michael Shannon goes loco in the belief that a storm is a-coming, and drags wife Jessica Chastain along for the ride.

Impact: If you hadn't already twigged from Revolutionary Road or Boardwalk Empire, then his performance as General Zod in Man Of Steel will leave no doubt that Shannon is the go-to guy for scary-eyed nutters right now.

19. Super 8

The Movie: Did you grow up watching Spielberg and Amblin movies? So did J. J. Abrams, only now he's in a position to pay homage by making his own. Beats writing a blog about how great The Goonies is.

Impact: In a summer dominated by sequels and Avengers trailers, Abrams redefines first principles: story, characters, soul. Learn the lesson, Hollywood.

18. Tyrannosaur

The Movie: Heard the one about the dog-killing drunk (Peter Mullan) and the abused charity shop worker (Olivia Colman)? Paddy Considine directs like he acts: shafts of tenderness wrapped in bleakness and rage.

Impact: A new directorial voice? Or a one-hit wonder? Let's hope Paddy doesn't follow the path of Gary Oldman or Tim Roth, who still haven't followed up their own great debuts.

17. The Skin I Live In

The Movie: Pedro Almodovar and Antonio Banderas reunite in a sort-of horror about a weird plastic surgeon with a live-in patient. To say any more would spoil; suffice to say, Pedro's not known for his restraint when it comes to flamboyant twists.

Impact: Business as usual for Almodovar, but Banderas grabs his chance at a more complex and crueller character than Hollywood allows ol' Puss In Boots. More, please.

16. The King's Speech

The Movie: A little film about a king with a public speaking problem snowballed into award-hogging glory thanks to Colin Firth's charm and Weinstein's schmoozing. It has a voice.

Impact: The relative failure of bolder takes on the British period drama (Wuthering Heights, for one) makes it even more likely that producers will play safe with King's Speech-y clones in the next few years.

15. The Fighter

The Movie: For his dream project about Boston boxer Micky Ward, star/producer Mark Wahlberg surrounded himself with real-life brawlers (director David O. Russell, Oscar-winning co-star Christian Bale) for a punch-drunk cocktail of hugs, hits and coarse humour.

Impact: A much-needed shot in the arm for controversy magnets Bale and Russell... but keep an eye on Wahlberg. Between this, Entourage and Boardwalk Empire, he's becoming a producer of real talent.

14. Neds

The Movie: Peter Mullan goes back to his roots in his violent drama about delinquents in 1970s Glasgow. Released the same month as The King's Speech, but worlds apart.

Impact: That's three-for-three for Mullan as director, and still he's the best kept secret in British cinema despite Tyrannosaur highlighting those acting chops.

13. True Grit

The Movie: Jeff Bridges replaces John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn as the Coen brothers go west and find they can be traditional crowd-pleasers after all.

Impact: A thousand 'Dude vs Duke' comparisons, and a brief renaissance in Westerns that lasted until Cowboys And Aliens blew everything up.

12. Source Code

The Movie: Jake Gyllenhaal only has eight minutes to live. The good news? He gets another chance if he fails.

Impact: Ignore the reductive comparisons (Inception meets Groundhog Day meets North By Northwest meets Quantum Leap) and settle for Moon on Earth. This confirms Duncan Jones' as sci-fi cinema's brightest hope.