Little Miss Sunshine-One of the few movies in which the phrase, "You'll cry, you'll laugh, you'll jump for joy" isn't just a movie cliche. Coming from Sundance Film Festival, the movie opened at 1.4 million dollars but broke into the top 10 two weekends later and stayed there for 7 weeks for a reason: it's just that good and word got around. Within the structure of a typical road trip movie, Little Miss Sunshine is an emotionally resonant film that contains some very dark moments en route to higher highs.
Runner-Up: Prairie Home Companion-The biggest misconception about Prairie Home Companion was that it was a film about Garrison Kiellor, but that's also it's greatest strength. Those familiar with the director know that Rob Altman uses the film as a springboard for meditations on art, life, and death. On top of a great soundtrack, humor and color come from all sorts of colorful characters (Maya Rudolph as the frustrated stagehand, Kevin Kline as the bumbling private eye or Meryl Streep and Lilly Tomlin and the chatty Johnson sisters, etc.) within a great ensemble
Best Pure Comedy: Talladega Nights-From the comedic team that bought us Anchorman (writer/director Adam McKay and Will Ferrell) comes a solid follow-up that certainly has its funny moments. The primary thing that distinguishes Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby from regular comedic outings of the frat pack is assembling a great cast of comedic talent that can surround Will Ferrell and keep up with him line-for-line as he veers off what's written in the script (if there's one at all). Might have been a little less funny than Anchorman but it makes up for it with heart in the endearing father-son relationship between Ferrell and Gary Cole.
Best Popcorn Movie: Da Vinci Code-The fact was that Ron Howard was in a damned-if-you-do damned-if-you-don't position in adapting the most popular book of the day, and all things considered, whether it was too close to or too far away from the book, it made for good entertainment if nothing else. Ian McKellan, Paul Bettany, and Jean Reno added interest to the movie with parts that support Tom Hanks, and considering how many well-liked French actresses there are to chose from, landing Audrey Tatou was a steal. Howard's picture works as a carefully-paced thriller and the controvoursey behind it all provided some good water cooler talk if nothing else
Runner-Up: X-Men 3-Another movie with high standards to live up to coming in, X-Men 3 was an admirable third leg of a very solid trilogy with the stakes of life and death being raised up a little (characters actually died, that's not supposed to happen in superhero movies?!), good special effects, and I liked the intergenerational theme of the new cast of characters (Iceman, Kitty Pride, etc.) having to step up when the time was right for them
Paul Giamatti, Lady in the Water-Some people would insist on giving Giamatti the best actor award for everything he does and I'm not approaching the role from that angle. Still, with the stutter and everything, I actually thought Giamatti stuck out strongly as a beacon of well-constructed character acting amid a very bizarre world and cast of characters that M. Night Shamylan created.
Greg Kinnear, Little Miss Sunshine-All the actors in the movie were very good, but he has great comic instincts, look at the scene where Kinnear is about to be busted by a cop but saved by porn magazines for what i'm talking about
Jonny Depp, Pirates 2-The movie was mediocre but Depp might have been even more electric in this film than the first. His physical movements and control over his body is a throwback to the great silent comedians and he shines in every scene he's in.
Best Supporting Actor:
John C. Riley, Talladega Nights-It's hard to compare a pure comedy role to a dramatic role like Robbins but more props to him for keeping up with Ferrell laugh-for-laugh at making up his own lines. Besides, is there any truer definition of supporting than Riley's role?
Ian McKellan and Paul Bettany, Da Vinci Code-Da Vinci Code worked for me, at least, on the strength of the supporting players. McKellan made a very nuanced and sophisticated villain that reminds me of someone who could easily fit into an Indiana Jones or James Bond movie. Despite the fact that he had to show his backside naked (something I could've done without), Bettany imbued the role with a little more of a fragile side than his counterpart in the book had.
Toni Collette, Little Miss Sunshine-I saw Collette as the glue that held the whole dysfunctional family together. She played the straight woman to everyone else's comic hijinx and hopefully Little Miss Sunshine will get the neccessary exposure this talented actress deserves.
Best Supporting Actress:
Meryl Streep-Prairie Home Companion-Now this was a Meryl Streep performance I really, really liked. With her interactions with Garrison Kiellor, you felt like there was a lot more to her than was being shown, and you really grew to love her character in a sort of "I wish she was my mom, too" way. I loved her non-stop babblings with her sister and loved her singing even more.
Runner-Up: Emily Blunt, Devil Wears Prada-The attention has gone to Streep for the movie and she's even receiving early Oscar buzz but I personally thought that Blunt proved slightly more adept at the acerbic one-liners that the movie is most memorable for.
Best Special Effects:
X-Men 3-Superman saving a flaming plane from gravity and ability to deflect bullets is all well and good but it's hard to top the playground of possibilities special effects special effects you can have when playing with characters who can control ice, fire, metal, and the weather. Highlights include, Wolverine's rampage through the jungle, Jean Grey stopping an army of guns firing at her, and ice and pyro using their powers in a dead heat
Best Animated Film:
Cars-Cars was without a doubt better than....wait, it was the only animated film I saw this summer, but, hey, none of the other ones looked intriguing enough to watch (except Over the Hedge, I do regret seeing possibly the only time that Avril Lavigne, Steve Carrell, and William Shatner will star in the same movie together). Nevertheless, Cars was a fine picture with a relatively bold theme about the importance of community, taking the sceninc route and the need to preserve the finer things in life. Bonnie Hunt, Owen Wilson, and Larry the Cable Guy all had great chemistry with each other.
Best Movie I didn't see:
Unlike most critic wannabes, I am not ashamed to say that I did not see every movie that came out this summer. Akeelah and the Bee, about a talented young girl who is too afraid to show that she's smart for being unpopular and starring the usually underrated Lawrence Fishburne, sounded like a worthwhile film I will regret not seeing.
Best end credits:
Clerks II-As an usher in the movie theater, I did see the end credits of many movies while I was cleaning up and Clerks II never dissapointed. Kevin Smith thanks everyone he's ever met for all sorts of things (i.e. He thanks his parents for having sex) as well as people he's never met. He lists 10,000 of his myspace friends in the end credits. Finally, he has a disclaimer that he spends way too much time on the internet
Route 66, John Mayer-A great cover by John Mayer, who while having a reputation as a boy bandish pop singer, is actually a devoted student of past guitar greats and he pays ample tribute to Chuck Berry adding a little more spice along the way
My Minnesota Home-Prairie Home Companion
Bad Jokes-Prairie Home Companion
This Land-Sujfan Stevens
Lady in the Water-The haunting score lingers in your memory long after the film does. M. Night Shamylan's last film picked up an oscar nod for best score, so it might be likely that Lady in the Water follows suit.