Today begins Serious Film's coverage of the year that was with recaps of the best and worst of 2011 and everything in between. So keep checking back all January for new 2011 spotlights as well as regular movie coverage. We are kicking it off today with the runners up to the big best of the year list.
There are those film which one enjoys but knows in his heart won't make the cut when it's crunch time (Moneyball, 50/50). Then there are those titles which one mentally pencils into their lists as soon as the lights come up in the theater. These titles only get elbowed out if and when things get too crowded. Not everybody can have a seat when the music stops, and 10 films is as good a place as any to draw the line.
So, in random order, here are the movies it pained me the most to leave on the wrong side of the velvet rope outside the VIP section:
Martha Marcy May Marlene
John Hawkes has developed into one of the most reliably mesmerizing presences in film today. Building on his powerful, Oscar-nominated turn in Winter's Bone his performance as the menacing, yet seductive cult leader in Martha Marcy May Marlene is a standout in a film full of standouts. In one of the breakout performances of 2011 Elizabeth Olsen is his equal with a subtle, perceptive performance as a girl whose intelligence isn't enough to prevent Hawkes and his followers from getting their hooks in deep. Filmmaker Sean Durkin moves freely between past and present, fantasy and reality, keeping a firm grip on the viewer's fascination as Martha's grip on her sanity becomes increasingly tenuous.
Jason Reitman continues his winning streak with this caustic character study. Young Adult focuses on Mavis Gary, the late-thirties alcoholic wreck of a former high school mean girl, and the swath of destruction she leaves in her wake when she crashes back into her home town to reclaim her happily married ex-sweetheart. Beyond Reitman Young Adult is a feather in the cap of all involved. Charlize Theron gives her best performance since Monster by walking an incredibly thin tightrope, neither softening her character nor making her intolerable. Patton Oswalt proves his stellar work in Big Fan was no fluke. Diablo Cody, meanwhile, maintains her keen ear for the way people reveal themselves in dialogue at the same time she dials back her trademark quotability in favor of newfound bite.
Yes, the story is as thin as the detractors say it is. But just because Michel Hazanavicius's The Artist is a loving tribute to silent cinema doesn't mean that it needs to be as deep as Murnau's Sunrise. Rather, The Artist is a boundlessly charming riff on nostalgia and watching your time pass you by. What the story sacrifices in depth it makes up in universality. It could be about the encroachment of any new technology pushing the old guard into the past as they dig in their heels. Every scene in The Artist has some special spin, an unexpected detail that catches the viewer off-guard and either delights or moves or both. So what if it's a soufflé? It's a delicious one.
Living in the Material World
Living in the Material World
With due respect the wonderful last third of Hugo this is the Scorsese event of 2011. Giving George Harrison the same deluxe treatment he gave Dylan in No Direction Home, Scorsese bypasses the usual clip show tour of the sixties and digs deep into the soul of his subject. Material World is a must see if for no other reason than its heroic, years-in-the-making accumulation of never before seen Beatles material. Scorsese and his team marshal it all into a mosaic that reveals a man who had the world at his feet at a young age and spent the rest of his life looking for spiritual fulfillment wherever he could find it. A beautiful, incisive portrait of a transformational artist directed by another transformational artist.