The Year in Film: 2011’s Best Performances

For all the remakes and reboots and 3-D blockbusters, 2011 was a great year for film actors, with a wealth of terrific performances for us to choose from. What’s more, in sharp contrast to most years in recent memory, there was a bumper crop of terrific roles for great actresses — a trend that we’d like to see stick around for a while. After the jump, we’ll tell you about some of the best performances we saw this year, and why we’re still talking about them.

Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene

We’re willing to bet your reaction was about the same ours to the news that the Olsen twins had a younger sister who was in the biz too: a raised eyebrow, a sarcastic “uh-huh,” and maybe some sort of half-assed joke about a sequel to New York Minute. (Just me? Okay.) Then we got a look at Martha Marcy May Marlene. It is in many ways a two-part film, and this is accordingly a two-part performance; she serves as our window into a tightly enclosed collective, both in her initial reactions and participation, and in the troubling way she finds herself broken afterwards. It’s a quiet performance, and much of its genius is found in how she listens — as John Hawkes plays a song to her, or as her sister and brother-in-law argue about her — and regards what she sees and hears. Other actors on this list had showier roles that gave them the kind of big, operatic moments that an actor kills for, but you can’t get Olsen’s haunted performance out of your head.