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The 50 best movies of 2011

11. The Guard

The Movie: The year's best odd couple comedy, as strait-laced Fed Don Cheadle meets his worst nightmare in corrupt, racist Irish cop Brendan Gleeson.

Impact: John McDonagh's debut follows brother Martin's In Bruges, suggesting we're looking at cinema's funniest siblings since the Coens.

10. We Need To Talk About Kevin

The Movie: Brits Lynne Ramsey and Tilda Swinton conquer the American art-house in a disquieting take on Lionel Shriver's icy dissection of a mother's relationship with her psycho son. The year's feel-bad film for parents.

Impact: Ramsey was foiled in her attempts to film The Lovely Bones. This proves she should be first choice for literature adaptations.

9. Bridesmaids

The Movie: Judd Apatow's cuddly/crude formula + Kristen Wiig headlining an ace ensemble of laydeez = the year's best comedy.

Impact: The American box-office's highest grossing original screenplay... which is going to mean several years of unoriginal rip-offs.

8. A Separation

The Movie: An Iranian film about a divorce doesn't sound like anybody's first choice for a good night out, but proved a compulsive, challenging (and argument-generating) watch.

Impact: Iranian cinema is no stranger to critical accolades, but the Berlin Film Festival winner had narrative twists and taut style to become a crossover hit with a wider audience.

7. Animal Kingdom

The Movie: Alongside Snowtown, David Michd's debut announced Australia as the film world's capital of intelligent, provocative crime thrillers. Also, the year's best film about a Smurf.

Impact: See above. The unwritten assumption that Australia only produces one classic film a year has been well and truly shattered.

6. Kill List

The Movie: A Mike Leigh-ish comedy of manners that descends into hell via a gripping thriller plotline. Ambitious, assured and very disconcerting, it marks director Ben Wheatley as one to watch.

Impact: More than any film this year, this highlights the renaissance in homegrown filmmaking. Plus: it can be used as a public service film on the dangers of hammers.

5. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

The Movie: Tomas Alfredson's follow-up to Let The Right One In finds a different kind of chill in John Le Carr's Cold War thriller, with Gary Oldman toplining an astonishing cast of British big-hitters.

Impact: Trust us, this'll sweep the board at the BAFTAs, and if there's any justice will score Oldman his hugely overdue first Oscar nomination.

4. Blue Valentine

The Movie: Years in the planning--and it showed. Total commitment from nakedly emotional stars Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams made Derek Cianfrance's time-hopping study of a relationship's rise and fall into arguably the definitive example of its genre.

Impact: Gosling put an early marker down on his ownership of 2011, while Williams cemented her own growing reputation. It's hard to argue against them being the best of their generation.

3. Black Swan

The Movie: Darren Aronofsky's second film in a row about a tormented artist driven to desperate measures by their need to perform. Except The Wrestler never had Natalie Portman engaged in weird lesbian clinches or swanning off in madness.

Impact: A career high point for Portman that she's spent 2011 trying to erase (Your Highness, No Strings Attached). Meanwhile, one of the most creative poster campaigns in years should hopefully raise everybody else's game.

2. The Tree Of Life

The Movie: Terrence Malick's personal odyssey weaves autobiography, metaphysics and dinosaurs into a mesmerising, beautiful and transcendental remix of art-house cinema.

Impact: Sean Penn, who declared himself baffled by the finished film will read his scripts more carefully in future. The floodgates have opened on Jessica Chastain's career. And Malick has a real chance to win a Best Director Oscar to go with his Palme D'Or... but will he show up at the ceremony? Probably not.