The best moments I had in a movie theater in 2007 were the last 12 minutes of Paris, je t'aime, the anthology film about "The City of Lights." The segment, written and directed by Alexander Payne (Sideways, About Schmidt, Election), is called "14th arrondissement." It stars the great character actress Margo Martindale (late of "Dexter" and The Savages) as a Colorado letter carrier who bumbles around Paris being your typical American tourist in tennis shoes. Yeah, there are other eminently watchable moments in Paris, je t'aime, including some Steve Buscemi goodness. But when she has her emotional awakening to the beauty of life -- the delicacy and Everyman-ness of her epiphany over a baguette -- I think I'm tearing up a bit even now as I recall it.
Martindale carries these 12 minutes all by herself (erm, not strictly true, since Paris itself is a major character, but you get my drift). The camera follows her and her peregrinations while we get voice-over of her Paris postcards. At first, it seems like a comic piece, and you will smile at her wretched French accent, her tennis shoes and fanny pouch, and her provincial observations. But then you get caught up in real sadness, like her pitiably upbeat reporting on a solo vacation in Paris, only to have it all whipsaw on you again. It's not sad that she's all alone in Paris. It's not sad that she's not having a romance there. Payne, a good Midwestern boy, shows us that in fact, it's condescending to think that her life is sad. We can only guess at the richness and fullness of the inner lives of others.
I don't know how the Academy Awards will deal with such things, but if Judi Dench could get an Oscar for her eight minutes of Shakespeare In Love, and if there's any justice, Martindale will be clutching a statuette in the spring.
Number two on my list would have to be a fun, throwaway moment in 3:10 To Yuma. Now there were several enjoyable moments in that movie, but I allude, in particular, to the scene where the Pinkerton man McElroy (Peter Fonda) meets his maker, after which Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) murmurs, "Even bad men love their mamas." Truer words were never spoken.
Finally, there's a lengthy scene at the end of Michael Clayton where the camera just stops on George Clooney's face for, like, more than a minute, as he sits in the back of a cab and reacts to everything he's been through. It mimics the famous scene at the end of The Long Good Friday, where we see two minutes of crystal clear emotion play across Bob Hoskins' features. There never was and never will be another like Bob Hoskins, but Clooney is not just a pretty face and he proves it in this long take.
Got a favorite scene to share?