Enterprises of pith and moment

Eye on the Oscars: Nominations Wrap - Best Moments of 2011

The past year in film yielded a slew of memorable scenes. Here’s a sampling of 16, as suggested by the Variety editorial team

Note: Spoilers necessarily follow. . .

“The Artist”

In the black-and-white silent “The Artist,” Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) enters the empty dressing room of George Valentin, then at the top of his game. Going up to his jacket hanging on a coatrack, she puts her arm around it and then takes the sleeve and puts it on her back. With no explanatory cards, Peppy romances the coat, conveying with her face and eyes her feelings for him. And really there is no need for words.
— Shalini Dore


Bearing the pain of his father’s passing and the uncertainty over the rest of his personal life, Oliver (Ewan McGregor) visits his late father’s boyfriend, Andy (Goran Visnjic). For their entire acquaintance, Oliver has held a kind of unease with Andy, and here we find out why: “It was because my father loved you so much.” The realization is a breakthrough for both, and they hug, finally able to begin to find some closure. A beautiful moment for heartsick people.
— Jon Weisman


The most memorable moment in “Bridesmaids” also proved the most divisive. For some, the hilariously, horrifyingly protracted centerpiece sequence — in which the bride-to-be (Maya Rudolph) and her attendants succumb to Brazilian BBQ-induced food poisoning while trying on wedding dresses — was an example of vulgarity for vulgarity’s sake. For others, it was not only an inspired piece of physical comedy but a political statement, asserting that women could be as gleefully gross as men and then some. And yet, the unforgettable image of Rudolph bolting across the street in full bridal regalia, then collapsing in the street as her bowels give way, is rendered with a touch so delicate and understated it turns comedy into tragedy; rarely has gross-out humor been so heartbreaking.
— Justin Chang

“The Descendants”

Caught in the most horrible of limbos with his wife lying terminally comatose in a Hawaiian hospital, Matt (George Clooney) is preparing his oldest daughter, Alex (Shailene Woodley), for the unwelcome task of telling their family and friends when he his blindsided by Alex’s tear-stained news that he was being cuckolded. Woodley and Clooney are heartwrenching in their bitterness over how their family has disintegrated, in a moment at once hopeless and cathartic.
— Jon Weisman


Director Joe Wright, who famously covered Dunkirk in a single five-minute tracking shot, upped the ante by devising one-shot solutions for several of the action scenes in his teenage-assassin thriller (the subway fight, the chase atop shipping containers). Most arresting is the flashback in which cold-blooded Cate Blanchett steps from behind a billboard, fires into the windshield of an oncoming car, jumps aside to avoid the off-screen crash and then pursues the survivors into a field, where she finishes the job.
— Peter Debruge

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows: Part 2”

Professor Severus Snape, played by Alan Rickman in all eight pics of the “Harry Potter” franchise, lies dying at the hands of archvillain Lord Voldemort. In his final moments, Snape reaches to his head and retrieves his memories, showing Harry the proof that led headmaster Dumbledore to trust the professor. “Take it,” he says, offering Harry Potter magical strands of memories showing his youth with Harry’s mother, Lily, and all the work he did as a double-agent working to defeat the Death Eaters.
— Shalini Dore

“J. Edgar”

To say that Clint Eastwood’s biopic takes liberties with the former FBI honcho’s life would be an understatement, especially in dramatizing the relationship between Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his No. 2, Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer). In one unforgettable scene, the duo share an intimate, homoerotically charged moment before bed when Hoover brings up his plans to propose to actress Dorothy Lamour, sparking a macho wrestling match that ends with Tolson pinning his boss to the floor, staring repression in the face and stealing a kiss.
— Peter Debruge


Over the course of Kenneth Lonergan’s long-delayed and woefully underseen film, Anna Paquin plays Lisa, an Upper West Side teen bullheadedly trying to figure out her place in the world. That process would be difficult enough without the shock of a grisly bus accident on her conscience, as Lisa’s guilt radiates from the intense experience of watching the unlucky pedestrian expire in her arms (as Allison Janney performs a deeply unsettling screen death) to the two hours-plus of emotional turmoil that follows.
— Peter Debruge

“Martha Marcy May Marlene”

An uneasy feeling sinks in early on after John Hawkes’ Manson-like cult leader is introduced to Elizabeth Olsen in “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” but his true evil is unleashed when teaching Olsen how to calmly fire a loaded weapon. When she refuses his pleas to kill a cat, Hawkes asks her to take aim at a male cohort. There’s a palpable chill among those who are under Hawkes’ spell that she actually might shoot.
— Stuart Levine

“Midnight in Paris”

Elements of the “old” Woody Allen — the more traditionally comic one — infuse “Midnight in Paris,” and nowhere is that more apparent than when Gil (Owen Wilson) first realizes that he has gone back in time and then meets his literary hero, Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll). It’s old-fashioned camerawork and editing that plays up Wilson’s reaction for laughs. F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston) takes Gil to a yellow-with-nicotine bar; as Fitzgerald speaks, the shot cuts to Stoll, who simply says “Hemingway” by way of introduction. Cut back to Wilson, whose eyes register a mix of horror that melts into surprise and delight. The rest of the scene is stolen by Stoll, who speaks in Heming
way-esque prose (naturally) and whose cadence dictates his macho body language. But what else would you expect from Hemingway?
— Carole Horst


Never satisfied with himself or much of what’s around him, Brad Pitt’s Billy Beane is driving in his truck at the end of the film when he starts listening to a recording of a song his daughter had once played for him. However, this version of the tune mixes in substitute lyrics: “You’re such a loser, Dad. You’re such a loser, Dad. Just enjoy the show.” Poking fun at Beane’s predilection for self-flagellation, the song brings home the extra dimension of “Moneyball,” the movie: Winning is all around you, if you don’t forget to notice.
— Jon Weisman


Humiliated, exposed as a liar and driven from his new home, the lizard Rango trudges through a surreal desert night. Sand rivulets roll like tears. At the busy two-lane highway where his journey began, he thinks “Who am I? I’m nobody.” Then he steps dejectedly into the road, indifferent to his own death. He’s nearly squashed many times, but makes it to other side, to be reborn as a true hero. These five minutes take a clever “movie movie” and give it a true spiritual dimension. Poetry.
— David S. Cohen

“Rise of the Planet of the Apes”

All his short life, genetically enhanced chimp Caesar — who is least as smart as a human — has looked out on the world from his attic sanctuary through a circular window with a diamond pattern. Caught by animal control, he’s put a filthy cage in a pound. Lonely and terrified, he uses a stone to draw that diamond-in-a-circle shape on his cell wall, then leans his head against it, wishing for home. It takes a flinty heart not to tear up.
— David S. Cohen

“Take Shelter”

Michael Shannon is burdened with visions of an apocalypse and what those irrepressible thoughts are doing to his lovely family. After getting fired from his job and seeing his wife and daughter slowly slip away, his frustration boils over in front of the town locals. After being knocked around by a former colleague, Shannon offers a ferocious sermon on his impending nightmare, warning the community that this meal could be their last.
— Stuart Levine

“Tinker Tailor Solider Spy”

Spymaster George Smiley needs a bit of information to trap the Soviet mole inside British Intelligence. So he brings refugee-turned-British-spy Toby Esterhase to an abandoned country airstrip. As a small plane lands, Smiley reveals to Esterhase that he’s been duped into helping the mole. Realizing the implication of the plane, Esterhase soon is sobbing “Don’t send me back, please, George.” Smiley gets the information. The scene revels how adept Smiley is at spotting a weakness — and how ruthless he can be in exploiting it.
— David S. Cohen


Knowing he’s done a horrible job of raising his kids, alcoholic Paddy (Nick Nolte) tries — to little avail — to reconnect by being supportive of their respective mixed martial art bouts. When Tommy (Tom Hardy) blows him off, however, and doesn’t allow him a chance at redemption, Paddy returns to the bottle. In the solitude of his hotel room, and with bleary eyes and a broken heart, Paddy spews the tale of “Moby Dick” in self-pity, only to be ultimately comforted by Tommy.
— Stuart Levine

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