The Descendants tops the list of 2011’s best films

by Mark Burger

The Southeastern Film Critics Association, or SE- FCA, has selected The Descendants as its best film of 2011, as voted by its members, all film journalists working in print, radio and online media in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. Yours truly is a member in good (?) standing and was one of the 47 SEFCA members to have participated in the 20th annual awards.

The Descendants, based on the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, took three top awards: Best Picture, Best Actor (George Clooney) and Best Adapted Screenplay. The film also placed as runner-up in two categories: Best Ensemble Cast and Best Supporting Actress (Shailene Woodley).

For the last several weeks, SEFCA members — and critics everywhere — have been tearing through screenings and screeners of eligible films. There are those who think being a film critic is fun. They would be correct. There are those who think being a film critic is easy. They would be incorrect. It’s hard work, especially when you’re watching two, three and four films a day up until the voting deadline. This year it was Dec. 18, and I can honestly say I was watching films until the last minute.

Fortunately, most of the movies are good — because the studios (both large and small) bunch their big guns at the end of the year, so as to keep the films fresh in the minds of critics and, more importantly, Academy voters. It’s rare that a big Oscar winner is released before autumn. Last year, The King’s Speech (which won four including Best Picture) didn’t see a wide theatrical release until early January.

There are, of course, exceptions: The Silence of the Lambs was released on Valentine’s Day 1991. Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven was released at the end of summer 1992, and Gladiator (2000) was also a summer release. But, by and large, Hollywood saves its best for last… which means, in a roundabout way, that they unleash their worst first!

The official SEFCA website is: http://

The top 10 films in SEFCA voting were as follows: 1. The Descendants 2. The Artist 3. Hugo 4. Moneyball 5. The Tree of Life 6. Drive 7. Midnight in Paris 8. Win-Win 9. War Horse 10. The Help

Best Actor: George Clooney, The Descendants. Runner-up: Michael Fassbender, Shame.

Best Actress: Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady. Runner-up: Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk About Kevin.

Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer, Beginners. Runner-up: Albert Brooks, Drive.

Best Supporting Actress: Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs. Runner-up: Shailene Woodley, The Descendants.

Best Ensemble Cast: The Help.

Runner-up: The Descendants.

Best Director: Martin Scorsese, Hugo.

Runner-up: Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist.

Best Original Screenplay: Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen). Runner-up: The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius).

Best Adapted Screenplay: The Descendants (Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash). Runner-up: Moneyball (Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin, Stan Chervin).

Best Documentary: Project Nim.

Runner-up: Tabloid.

Best Foreign Language Film: A Separation. Runner-up: The Skin I Live In.

Best Animated Film: Rango. Runnerup: The Adventures of Tintin.

Best Cinematography: The Tree of Life (Emmanuel Lubezki). Runner-up: Hugo (Robert Richardson).

Gene Wyatt Award: The Help.

Runner-up: Undefeated.

Of course, now it’s time for me to unveil my own selections for the 10 Best and 10 Worst Films of 2011. Although I’ve been a “professional” film critic for 20 years, I’ve been doing a 10-Best and 10-Worst list for 30 years — the first 10, nobody cared. In 1981, when I was 13, my best film was Raiders of the Lost Ark and my worst was Jerry Lewis’ Hardly Working, which was hardly a movie.

This year was a pretty good year, all things considered. I had more than enough films to fill a 10-Best list … and I also had more than enough to fill a 10-Worst.

My 10 best films of 2011, some of which have yet to play in the area: 1. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy 2. The Descendants 3. 50/50 4. We Need to Talk About Kevin 5. Margin Call 6. The Artist 7. The Muppets 8. Coriolanus 9. Contagion 10. Everything Must Go

Some very good films that didn’t make the cut but were still worthy: Take Shelter, Puss in Boots, Life in a Day and We Were Here.

My 10 worst films of 2011: 1. Immortals 2. The Rite 3. Sucker Punch 4. The Smurfs 5. The Sitter 6. The Future 7. Insidious 8. Season of the Witch 9. Beastly 10. Conan the Barbarian

Indeed, there were a few films that didn’t make the cut for this list, either — but I choose not to revisit or consider them at this time. Once was more than enough!