The Best of the Year...So Far
Honoring the Brightest Lights of January through August

Here we are in August, and it's already been a remarkably good year at the movies, more than making up for the near-boneyard that was 2003 (especially if, like me, you weren't able to catch some of the limited-release gems like In This World, demonlover, or Monster until 2004 had already dawned). We can only assume there are more hits to come from the fall and winter, though for the first time in forever, most of the movies I was most excited about have been parceled out over the early months. If you'd asked me on January 1 which films I absolutely couldn't wait for, I would have said Dogville, Code 46, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Collateral, Young Adam, Kill Bill, Vol. 2, Distant, Father and Son, and The Manchurian Candidate. All of those have already opened, though the arthouse titles are still taking their time getting to upstate New York.

You can click here for the profiles of what I'm still jazzed about in the coming months, but it deserves to be said that if the year were over now, I'd be proud to stand by the following rosters of supreme achievements. Indeed, many of the categories were already too small to fit the deserving entrants (though, like last year, I'm still on the lookout for a few good supporting men).

So, check out these lists and, more importantly, check out these movies if you didn't already see them. They're de-lovely!

Best Picture
Before Sunset That rare phenomenon, the arthouse sequel, carried to even rarer levels of warmth and grace.
The Bourne Supremacy Paranoia is big in this year's movies, but this is the conspiracy thriller to rule them all.
Code 46 Practically its own genre, mapping the nebulous territory between desire, power, and regulation.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind A romantic drama for the ages, or is it an egghead comedy, or is it a surrealist masterpiece? Or all three?
Osama Art this compelling reminds us that testimony and maturity are our greatest weapons against terror.
Best Director
Michel Gondry
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Plumbs Charlie Kaufman's wittiest, most intricate script and makes it his most moving to boot.
Paul Greengrass
The Bourne Supremacy
Accused of overstatement, but his choreography of global agendas could hardly be more acute.
Michael Mann
Transitions from epic to anecdote without sacrificing his trademark precision or style.
Michael Winterbottom
Code 46
Still unknown to most audiences, he's the most important British director in a decade or more.
Andrei Zvyagintsev
The Return
With control this exquisite and performances this strong, why should he lighten up?

Best Actress
Julie Delpy
Before Sunset
An incandescent performance, lightening and deepening her earlier work. Love the waltz.
Nicole Kidman
Amid a recent run of failed turns, her Grace was sharp as a tack, proving she'll recover.
Helen Mirren
The Clearing
Broods and worries constantly, but somehow lets us know when the nature of her worry has shifted.
Anne Reid
The Mother
A television veteran withstands the urge to overplay the role of a lifetime. Quiet sagacity.
Kate Winslet
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Has she done too many variations on this role? Maybe, but here she attains pure perfection.
Best Actor
Paul Bettany
No longer a second-fiddle actor, he's the squirmy center of Dogville and the deepest character.
Tom Cruise
Lots of good performances are described as pared-down, but Cruise really earns the phrase here.
Ivan Dobronravov
The Return
Best in show: an emblem of envy, distrust, and anger that practically needs a surge protector.
Jamie Foxx
Nails the decency thing in the first fifteen minutes; adds continual shades of fire and remorse.
Kevin Kline
A scrupulously detailed turn that is clever without being twitty, warm without going gooey.

Best Supporting Actress
Joan Allen
The Bourne Supremacy
Should be mandatory in every Hollywood movie. Ferocious, intelligent, uncannily effective.
Cate Blanchett
Coffee and Cigarettes
Sandwiched into a cloying concept, she characteristically turns her own dual cameo into a bright spot.
Patricia Clarkson
Playing the darkest of all her big-screen characters, she lashes out and still breaks your heart.
Irma P. Hall
The Ladykillers
Like Blanchett, she's stuck in a movie that does her no favors. How kind of her to work hard anyway.
Helen Kim
Kill Bill, Vol. 2
Her single scene in Kill Bill, with a rifle and a pregnancy test, is impeccably played and made.
Best Supporting Actor
Eric Bana
Kind of a lead, but his quiet intensity amid so much floridity feels like the best kind of support.
David Carradine
Kill Bill, Vol. 2
Whether or not QT revives his career, too, he has filled the iconic demands of this character perfectly.
Willem Dafoe
The Clearing
A frequently fussy actor calms down, quiets down, and gets down to business in a sad, subtle part.
Liev Schreiber
The Manchurian Candidate
Rebuffs Demme's misplaced desire to stoke his actors; stays modest, and comes out looking best.
Shaun Smyth
As the most complex of the film's three protagonists, he brings new dimensions to the whole scenario.

Best Original Screenplay
Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, and Richard Linklater
Before Sunset
Ever heard the nightmares about actors who want to write all their own words? Sometimes it's a good thing to encourage.
Charlie Kaufman
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
We knew he was smart and we knew he understood kooky relationships, but who knew he was this mature, this reflective?
Siddiq Barmak
From the smart decision of his oblique opening to the devastating force of his conclusion, Barmak's a wizard at structure.
Vladimir Moiseyenko and Aleksandr Novototsky
The Return
Their screenplay is so confidently built and elliptically charged, it feels like the director's own vision. Experts at symbol and allusion.
Kim Ki-duk
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring
The title alone smells of cliché until you detect the layers of buried irony and sharp-edged wisdom in this deceptive scenario.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Mario Van Peebles and Dennis Haggerty
The direction leaves the script and actors dangling, but this is still a pressing tale with a big heart and a strong message.
Tony Gilroy
The Bourne Supremacy
Nimble in preserving what needs preserving and updating what needs updating in Ludlum's template. Brisk but discerning.
James Gunn
Dawn of the Dead
Writing doesn't seem like a key element in this smart movie until the characters start dropping suggestive details halfway through.
Steve Kloves
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Maybe his other two Harry scripts were equally good, or maybe not. Either way, this script's a beaut, condensing a gangly story.
Kevin Macdonald
Touching the Void
The strongest ingredient in the movie is the careful pacing of incidents and the adept decisions of when to pause for explication.

Best Cinematography
Alwin Küchler and Marcel Zyskind
Code 46
Küchler's the man for those gleaming, diagonal compositions; Zyskind is the poet of the lonely highway. Together, they're aces.
Dion Beebe and Paul Cameron
Another duo of cinematographers, working across celluloid and high-definition digital video, seamlessly blending it all together.
Ellen Kuras
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Without lingering on the movie's fancy tricks or relying on any of her own, Kuras' images are witty, affecting, and a bit lonely.
Alwin Küchler
The Mother
Küchler again, showing us how one person can be desperately alone amid a sea of people. He stays on task when the film flails.
Mikhail Krichman
The Return
Like the great Russian storytellers, Krichman gets a lot of mileage out of simple contrasts: high/low, open/shut, clear/bleary.
Best Film Editing
Richard Pearson and Christopher Rouse
The Bourne Supremacy
Some of the montage is frenetic, but they make it serve the story. And all the plotlines are gorgeously kept in play.
Peter Christelis
Code 46
Since the movie refuses to be driven by story or emotional pleas, the tacit logic of the images is what unlocks the secrets.
Jim Miller and Paul Rubell
Ever get bored inside that car? Nope. Ever unclear where we are in that building, that subway station? Nope? Great editing? Yep.
Niven Howie
Dawn of the Dead
Even if Dawn were nothing but its two credit sequences, it would be a genius instance of devastating cuts. And the middle ain't bad, either.
Valdís Óskarsdóttir
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
The revelations of new realities are timed and positioned just right. The interblending of reality and fantasy becomes a metaphor for love.

Best Art Direction
Mark Tildesley
Code 46
If the future looks this good, I'm going to have to start getting out more. Brilliance on a budget.
Peter Grant
Few production designers achieve so much with so little. Devilish props and inspired flourishes.
Tom Hannam
Some good ideas swiped from Jarman, but the integration of past and deeper past still clicks.
Neil Spisak
Spider-Man 2
The loving recreation of the comic-book aesthetic is the proudest mark of this bright piece of pop film.
Stefan Schönberg
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring
The floating domicile, the carved characters, the carefully chosen colors. Could the film be more ravishing?
Best Costume Design
Janty Yates
Though guilty of overdone work in the past, she makes everyone here as elegant as the music.
Kumiko Ogawa and Catherine Marie Thomas
Kill Bill, Vol. 2
What would the Bride wear on the biggest night of her life? These two know, and know it well.
Jerusha Hess
Napoleon Dynamite
Those priceless T-shirts, the straight-leg jeans, the headbands and valours? Swwweet.
Maria Bradley
13 Going on 30
Jennifer Garner looks exactly and funkily like a pre-teen let loose in a zany woman's gargantuan closet.
Ann Roth
The Village
Bless Ann Roth's heart for taking this all so seriously. The actors look uncomfortable enough; at least they're in cool clothes.

Best Original Score
John Powell
The Bourne Supremacy
Relentless without growing dull, global without sounding like World Muzak, this is good, nervy work.
Craig Armstrong
The Clearing
He's taking a risk with all those elegiac piano chords, but he earns most of his effects.
David Holmes
Code 46
Ethereal music for a rigidly pragmatic world, supplying a healthy dose of ironic contrast.
James Newton Howard
Also did good work for The Village, but this looser, freer score is a step above.
John Williams
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Turns out Williams was as bored as we were the last two times; here, he waves his magic conductor's wand.
Best Sound
The Bourne Supremacy As the world pops and whooshes and hums and clicks and blasts and bursts, the movie keeps up with it.
Collateral The sound design is scaled down to the minor dimensions of the story, but it's still a heady mix.
De-Lovely Wisely avoiding an original score, the sinuous blend of tunes sounds great and works perfectly.
Kill Bill, Vol. 2 Not quite the coup of the first film, but the artful silences are more modest for a good reason.
The Manchurian Candidate The best detailing in the movie comes from the chattering TVs and the uneasy, murmuring crowds.

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