The L Magazine's 2011 Film Poll 

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1. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick)
Like the God of Job, Malick can leave his supposed intimates struggling to make sense of themselves within his cosmos: he's burned through who knows how many editors, worked sound teams to the bone, and left composers and many actors feeling cheated. But his methods have also inspired devotional loyalty among those who've achieved their capacity for grace under his eye: in The Tree of Life, he coaxes the work of a lifetime out of Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain and Emmanuel Lubezki (and Jack Fisk, whose realization of Malick's hallowed spaces is his own life's work). And by prodding us to engage with our own capacities, he makes us into better, more open, attentive moviegoers. And people? Sure. Mark Asch

2. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
This leisurely examination of a dying man preparing for his next life creates intense, dream-logic poetry from visuals and sounds that always register strongly but often seem disconnected from one another. Like Tree of Life, Uncle Boonmee made me tear up over the beauty, value, connectedness, and fragility of all forms of life, but I'm damned if I know how they did it. Elise Nakhnikian

3. Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami)
A bittersweet, Two for the Road-style romance set in a hall of mirrors, Kiarostami's meandering masterwork follows a couple (the febrile Juliette Binoche and a coolly reserved William Shimell) through a day that spans the entire emotional arc of their relationship. Their marriage may be fictional, but the impassioned thoughts they share about love, marriage, and how art can catalyze or crystallize our feelings could not be more real. Nakhnikian

4. A Separation (Asghar Farhadi)
Farhadi's critic-pleaser is not your film prof's postmod Iranian elliptical, but it does deliver a rivetting aerobic workout, as a collapsing modern marriage in Tehran triggers a spiraling cascade of disaster and cross-purposes worthy of a Balzac novel. It's a grand but everday tragedy; however energized by mesmerizingly authentic performances across the board, it's the tightly-wound screenplay, also by Farhadi, that gives it the whirlwind energy of a thriller. Michael Atkinson

5. A Brighter Summer Day (Edward Yang, 1991)
The teenagers of A Brighter Summer Day live stories of gang lords, floozies, wannabe movie stars and rock and roll kings, but Yang's history of the 60s through a circling, half-dozen Taipei locales is also the history of a flashlight, a radio, a tape, a grocer's bill, book, grade report, and laundry line: the characters, as they react to a passed-around girlfriend, seem mostly tracked in their emotions towards/uses of objects of their everyday life. What's probably the realest moments to the characters—gang wars, rock shows, love affairs—become high-schoolers' fumbling genre-work; the movie's at its most expressive showing a mother pausing to hold a shirt." David Phelps

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