I don't feel like I saw enough first-run movies this year to be able to confidently make a top-anything list, so, instead, I'll just talk about my favorite moments in the movies this year.
Abigail Breslin and Alan Arkin in Little Miss Sunshine. We're talking the heart of the movie here. Perhaps the best (and unlikeliest?) comedy duo since Morgan Freeman and Chris Rock in Nurse Betty?
Penelope Cruz singing flamenco in Volver. I tend to be really lukewarm on Almodovar (despite which fact, I think I've seen everything he's done since Todo sobre mi madre mainly because Benji likes to bring me along so we can fight afterwards), and, sure enough, I thought Volver was really overrated. Esp. Cruz's pretty much universally lauded performance. But, the few moments when she sings at the restaurant with tears in her eyes is the real deal.
Anything and everything Sacha Baron Cohen touched this year. Yes, including his performance in the otherwise not-my-taste Talladega Nights.
Cameron Diaz's hair in The Holiday. I don't know what movie she was performing in because it certainly wasn't the one I was watching. No matter--her shiny, lustrous perfect shade of champagne blonde hair was so unspeakably beautiful to behold it more than made up for her general lack of character development and successfully held my interest in her plot line even when her acting, um, didn't.
Christian Bale's one-note symphony of a performance in The Prestige. The anonymous commenter to my original post about the flick says Hugh Jackman's performance is superior because he changes. In any other movie, opposite any other actor, I'd be willing to concede the point. But, Bale's sustained monomania is what this movie is about. His psychotic commitment to being right, to being the best, forces him to chisel away at anything that made him human until he's transformed himself into an avatar of his own ideas and theories of magic, until he's a beautiful, noxious flame burning with the fury of self-righteousness and vindication. And, it's even more thrilling because he knows what he's done. He knows that he's trapped himself in a cage of his own devising, and the variations in the "glowering" that he can't prevent from seeping out while he strains with frustration against the bonds of his own creation make him completely pathetic, and the performance absolutely riveting.
Being reminded of why Keanu Reeves belongs in movies in A Scanner Darkly. Somehow the feline elegance of his charisma is allowed to burn more purely when his physical self is abstracted through Linklater's animation technique. I'd never be tempted to defend him as an "actor," but I'm beginning to understand how he's built a career on being used as a vital element of the mise en scene, as the specialest special effect of them all.
Matt Damon in The Departed. Absolutely the best thing I've ever seen him do. There's much to love in this movie (Alec Baldwin commanding all and sundry to fuck themselves, being reminded of just how good DiCaprio--not to mention Scorsese--can be, Mark Wahlberg's hair), but this performance of Damon's has finally lived up to the promise and potential I'd seen in him at least since Good Will Hunting but never felt was completely actualized until now. I get chills thinking about the way he subverts, with such ease and economy, the usual function of that million dollar smile of his when he flashes it, charming as hell, in the first dinner date scene with the psychiatrist. That was the scene that really hooked me into the movie and announced that Damon has officially catapulted himself into the next level as an actor. (Anybody seen The Good Shepherd yet and care to weigh in on his progress?)
The music in Shortbus: the Animal Collective songs, Justin Bond, Scott Matthew, Jay Brannan, the Hungry March Band at the end--I'm getting a little teary-eyed just thinking about all of it. In anyone else's hands, a movie as charming but uneven as this one should have been memorable mostly for all the unsimulated sex and nudity, but JCM's finely honed musical sensibilities somehow create nearly miraculous poignancy out of the chaos without ever slipping into the maudlin. Much like Shortbus the club in the world of the movie, Shortbus the film, imperfect though it may be, manages to sanctify the longing for connection harbored by the misfits and fuckups who come to it with an open, honest heart, while, y'know, humping yr leg.
The actors who universally improve mediocre movies, temporatily redeem bad ones, and provide extra but unlooked for zest to good ones. This year I hail and salute Steve Coogan in Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story and Marie Antoinette, Danny Huston in The Proposition and Marie Antoinette as well, and Stanley Tucci in The Devil Wears Prada. There's really not much that unites them as actors other than their exquisite ease in front of the camera, but that ease is an oasis of good taste for me in the midst of all the over-acting, under-writing, and general actorly attention-grabbing that so often goes on around them. It's not that each of them is not capable of a fair bit of scenery chewing on their own from time to time, but their subtly left-of-center choices, clear respect for the craft, and seeming immunity to hype keep even their boldest performances aligned with the frequency that tickles my brain and delights my imagination.
An early happy new year to you, my kittens! You guys are fucking peaches for sticking with my ramblings, and I look forward to the privilege of being allowed to metaphorically barf all over your computer screens in 2007.