Cyrus – Dir. Jay and Mark Duplass (John C. Reilly, Jonah Hill, Marisa Tomei)

 CyrusIn addition to being the funniest film of the year, “Cyrus” is the first big film to have emerged from the ultra-indie “mumblecore” movement. Like the twisted stepchild of an Apatow film, the humor here is much less obvious and a lot more uncomfortable, but much more authentic. I have become a fanboy of the sibling directors, having loved each of their previous films with increasing respect starting with “The Puffy Chair” and “Baghead” and most recently the perversely hysterical “Humpday.” In some ways it helps to have this insight going into “Cyrus” whose humor might otherwise seem slightly cloying. That said, both John C. Reilly and Jonah Hill have never been better, and taking them one standard deviation away from Apatow and Ferrell gives them a chance to explore something weirder and in some ways more honest than what we have come to expect from them.

The film largely gravitates around the increasingly awkward relationship between Reilly, a lonely heart who has recently been reawakened by Marissa Tomei, and her grown son played by Hill whose odd relationship with his mother spins the threesome into chaos. Unlike most modern comedies, this one is bold enough to explore dark emotional areas generally uncommon in the genre. But herein lies the secret sauce. “Cyrus” is so well written and strangely compelling, it is hard not find yourself sucked into this wacky vortex, laughing unexpectedly and consistently throughout. I will be hard pressed to see anything quite as clever this year.

The Kids Are All Right – Dir. Lisa Cholodenko (Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo)

The Kids Are All RightMostly the movies that remind me how much I love movies are the ones that don’t utilize special effects, 3D technology and megastars. Midway through 2010 the clear winner, six months in, is this small, perfectly written and acted talkie, about a modern family in our modern age. “The Kids Are All Right” is easily the most honest and insightful film of its kind since 2000’s “You Can Count on Me” (also staring Ruffalo).

Ten years later though, Ruffalo, having perfected his trademark slacker persona, delivers perhaps the best performance of his career. Ruffalo is an organic farmer and restauranteur who is hurled headlong into an unexpectated chapter when he is contacted by the children his anonymous seeds gave life too 18 and 15 years before. The children who have grown up to become the precocious offspring of a lesbian couple played by Julianne Moore at the top of her game, as an unfocused new age idealist, and Annette Benning recreating her character from “American Beauty,” as a high strung OBGYN.

In a film like this everything depends on the authenticity of the dialogue and the chemistry of the actors, but on both counts it soars. In almost every family that appears to have achieved a sort of rare normalcy and happiness there is always something missing below the surface. “The Kids Are All Right” is a minor masterpiece that explores a family that is superficially different, but at its core is the same as most. In the end perhaps it is too subtle for the masses, but maybe this is what makes it so special.