So finally having reached a point of almost normalcy America re-elected George W. Bush, and the liberal elite that runs Hollywood sank back into cynical paranoia. Besides “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” and “40 Year Old Virgin” there weren’t that many good comedies gracing the screens in 2005. We got tight political documentaries like “Why We Fight,” “Our Brand is Crisis,” or “The Fall of Fujimori,” or heavy weight dramas like “Syriana” or “Munich.” But we were also treated to Woody Allen finally making a decent picture since “The Sweet and Lowdown,” even if “Match Point” was little more than a remake of the Martin Landau half of “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” it was still a happy day waking out of his miscast gem.
10 BEST FILMS OF 2005
1. 2046 – DIR: Wong Kar-Wai Sci-fi is Wong Kar-Wai’s pallet here in this quasi-sequel to “In the Mood for Love.” The picture he paints has ample ambiguity, but is more of a tone poem than anything else he’s ever made. Once again Tony Leung Chiu Wai turns in an engaging performance as the time traveling author, and Chris Doyle’s photography stuns as much as it draws in the viewer. It isn’t impossible to watch this movie without having seen “In the Mood for Love,” but it sure helps in understanding Wong Kar-Wai’s ultimate vision. Nonetheless the film is still more engaging visually than anything else released that year, even including “The Matador” with Pierce Brosnan in a Speedo and cowboy boots
2. BATMAN BEGINS – DIR: Christopher Nolan Not all superhero movies can be done like this. That’s because “Done right” is a relative term, so if all of the movies in the genre were this amazing then the term would have no meaning. Nolan’s tone, dark and grimy, perfectly captures the world of Gotham, and Christian Bale embodies Bruce Wain’s rage better than any other actor to portray the role (yes, even Adam West, though there is an inner menace to the man I can’t put my finger on). Everyone is spot on in this film with the exception of Katie Holms who, as a hot name at the Pre-Cruise time, seemed like a studio trade for accepting Bale as Batman, who was not a hot name at the time. Nolan originally wanted Guy Peirce, and I thank the studio exec that put the kibosh on that one. Not that I don’t like the Guy, but the scene with the two models in the restaurant fountain just wouldn’t have been the same without Bale’s Patrick Bateman grin.
3. BREAKFAST ON PLUTO – DIR: Neil Jordan In this story of transsexual self-deception and liberation Jordan employs some of the directorial whimsy he displayed in “The Butcher Boy,” and some of the gender bending thematic of “The Crying Game,” resulting in one of his most entertaining, yet tragic, films to date. Cillian Murphy gives a fearless performance as Kitten, and was just one of three powerful roles he had that year (Scarecrow in “Batman Begins” and the stupidly named Jackson Ripper in Wes Craven’s solid thriller “Red Eye). On hand, like in all of Jordan’s films, is Stephan Rea, and again he’s here taking in a wayward Tranny. Good for you Rea, way to be consistently open-minded.
4. BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN – DIR: Ang Lee This is Lee’s third time on my lists for the decade, and it is his best film. Despite the obvious backbone of the picture, the gimmick of having two straight Hollywood heavy weights play homosexual cowboy lovers, this is one of the most moving love stories ever put to film. Ang Lee coaxes amazing performances out of the whole cast, but namely Heath Ledger. His Ennis Del Mar will forever be one of the most tragic men in film history, and Ledger, usually prone to flights of over acting, tones down his performance and comes away with the best work of his short career.
5. BROKEN FLOWERS – DIR: Jim Jarmush Finally a movie where Bill Murray lives through a midlife crisis! Though to be fair in this movie he actually brings the character he had been cultivating like a fragile orchid for years to satisfying fruition. Not since 1995’s “Dead Man” had Jarmush made this tight of a film, and never this widely palatable (that isn’t an insult). Jeffery Wright shines as Bill’s best friend and neighbor, as does the amazing Mulato Astatqe soundtrack, as does the couches in Bill Murray’s house. If you look closely all of the street signs are metal/punk/prog rock bands like Danzig or Prong. Nice touch.
6. CACHE – DIR: Michael Haneke This movie is profoundly disturbing, not unlike the rest of Haneke’s movies. The beauty of this film is that so little happens, but the force of the moments that do happen are eerie in a way it is hard to pin down. When watching any of his films I get the feeling that Michael Haneke has something against me, that I wronged him in some way, and his films are revenge, like they are intended to do me harm. The only other time I felt like that watching a movie was “Fando & Lis,” though I’m almost positive Jodorowsky does want to harm me in some way.
7. THE CONSTANT GARDENER – DIR: Fernando Meirelles This is a very interesting political movie that is less interested in the actual politics than the main character’s love of his murdered wife. Thus his disinterest in the guilty or innocent becomes a statement in its own right. Ralph Fiennes is a perfect impotent British diplomat, as is Rachel Weiss the questionably promiscuous wife. While this isn’t the hyper-kinetic world of “City of God,” Meirelles plows through the streets of Nairobi with the same confidence as the favelas of Brazil. Though he isn’t as comfortable in the halls of power the film teems with a rage that bubbles just beneath the surface, and its lack of eruption is what makes this movie such a tight thriller.
8. GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK – DIR: George Clooney I didn’t think Booker from “Roseanne” had it in him, but this is one of the most moving pictures of 2005. Clooney and Grant Heslov’s script is a razor sharp, allegorical success. Desperate to make a name for himself as a director, the black and white photography screams to be taken seriously, and luckily for Clooney it was at the right pitch because this film is nothing at which to scoff. Having blown all of his rookie stylization in his debut feature, “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” Clooney masters subtlety here, and the one scene where Ray Wise’s suicide is shown not withstanding, the film plays like a diamond, cool and flawless.
9. A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE – DIR: David Cronenberg Coming back from a sojourn into the wonderful world of experimental film making (namely the unwatchable “eXistenZ,” and the watchable, but barely coherent “Spider”) Cronenberg made this film, his most easily followed picture of his career, and one of his best. The simple story of a man who is not who he says he is might have come out easy with a less interesting director, but here the film plays with a tone of seedy evil, a knowledge of pain and violence. “A History of Violence” and his follow-up, “Eastern Promises,” were a new career direction for Cronenberg, a simple style of film making that stuck with a lot of his darker tones, but moved away from the sci-fi/horror body-morphing work of his past, and they skyrocketed him to the top of the A-List of directors. His placement there is tenuous, and all depends on if he can keep up the quality of work without slipping back into guns made of penises or whipping pop-stars on the far reaches of the UHF dial.
10. THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADAS ESTRADA – DIR: Tommy Lee Jones This is the second film of 2005 that was a great jump of an actor from in front of the camera to behind. Jones crafts an excellent Western that relies heavily on the powerful script by Guillermo Arriaga. Most known for his work with director Alejandro González Iñárritu on the films “Amores Perros,” “21 Grams,” “Babel,” his script here isn’t as over-stuffed with melodrama than the others. Jones knows how to handle the material, and gives a terrifically grizzled performance. Equally good is Barry Pepper who has been working extra hard at every role he takes in what seems like penance for “Battlefield Earth.”
10 WORST FILMS OF 2005
1. THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE – DIR: Andrew Adamson This sure ain’t “The Lord of the Rings.” No matter the annoying overtly Christian didacticism of the picture, it is just down right boring. There is almost nothing to the movie, the effects are bad, and was that really supposed to be Santa Claus giving the kids weapons? The movie made me want to punch Mr. Tumnus in the face.
2. THE CHUMSCRUBBER – DIR: Arie Posen Again, another shining example about why American Suburbs are boring – even the movies about them are boring. The movie plays like an Indie Film Yearbook with Jamie Bell, Justin Chatwin, and Lou Taylor Pucci, and that just lends itself to the over inflated sense of purpose the film has. Hopefully the Great Recession has stifled the promulgation of the woes of White Suburban America, though in all probability has made it worse.
3. ELEKTRA – DIR: Rob Bowman It is never a good idea to spin off a movie from a completely terrible movie, but hell it’s Hollywood so what passes for good ideas are impossible to understand. To be honest “Elektra” is marginally better than “Daredevil,” but not by much. It reminds me more of the original “Street Fighter,”… okay not the original – JCVD not Sonny Chiba – which isn’t a good thing. However I guess this movie has to exist as a counterpoint for “Batman Begins,” as an example of how not to do things.
4. FLIGHTPLAN – DIR: Robert Schwetke There is nothing wrong with any of the direction of this movie; it is all Peter A. Dowling and Billy Ray’s script. The utter nonsense that is the twist of this picture is made worse by the fact that by the end every character in the film has acted in ways no rational human being would ever act. The two main leads, Jody Foster and Peter Scarsgaard, can’t save this picture from the dumps because no matter how they act the characters that were written for them are so thin and unbelievable. Nothing could help this picture from crashing and burning.
5. HAVOC – DIR: Barbara Kopple In her thirty year career Kopple has been almost entirely a documentary director, even winning an Oscar in 1976 for “Harlan County U.S.A.” If that movie had been about a mine in which all the workers were happy it never would have succeeded. That’s because making a documentary is primarily about choosing your subject. Often a Narrative feature follows the same rules. Once again, white kids in the suburbs. This one at least shows them for what they are; spoiled, dumb, and confused about their lack of cultural heritage, the events, however, are just not as tragic as Kopple imagined them to be. And I just don’t find it believable that Anne Hathaway and Bijou Phillips would be best friends, in reality or in fiction.
6. LOVERBOY – DIR: Kevin Bacon The third actor to step behind the lens in 2005, and by a mile the worst. Bacon’s wife, Kyra Sedgwick plays an insane woman who is obsessed with her son. It could have been creepy the way she calls him Loverboy, but really it just comes off as annoying. There is nothing about her behavior that seems remotely human, rather just a creation of an author trying to prove a point. The movie is a one note bore made worse by the fact that every character in the film is so unbelievable it is hard to take any of it serious.
7. PALINDROMES – DIR: Todd Solondz It seems like after the bomb that was “Storytelling” Solondz decided to alienate as many people as possible. In “That Obscure Object of Desire” Luis Buñuel used two different actresses to portray the same character making the film a surrealist masterpiece. Here Solondz gets eight different people to play the same character, and it is a piece, but not of the master kind. Solodnz doesn’t really care about making a movie, but rather just getting a reaction out of the audience, and he seems to have little care as to what that reaction is as long as there is one. With the pettiness of this picture Solondz comes off as little more than a petulant art student who puts a crucifix in a jar of urine and hopes to be patted on the back for it.
8. REEKER – DIR: David Payne This is one that I saw at SXSW, and I don’t know if it ever got a distributor. It was about a monster that you knew it was around because it smelled really bad. And that was serious. No joking. That was the idea of this movie. Done. Next.
9. A SOUND OF THUNDER – DIR: Peter Hyams This movie sat on so many shelves you can see the dust all over Ed Burns’ stagnant performance. The whole lot of CGI effects were dumped after the films’ completion, and redone for the final release. If the effects released were the replacements I would love to see the ones they threw out. The idea behind the movie from the original Ray Bradbury story of the same name is interesting, but in Peter Hyams’ hands it goes all wrong. And I usually like Peter Hyams. He should have stopped with the time travel movie after “Time Cop.” Now that was a movie.
10. STAY – DIR: Marc Forster I don’t even know what happens in this movie. It isn’t that I don’t remember I just couldn’t figure it out when I was watching it. The movie is so confusing, and dare I say, stupid. I don’t think I have liked any of Forster’s films, but at least I understood why Billy Bob Thorton would want to have sex with Halle Berry.
MOST OVER RATED FILM OF 2005
THE ARISTOCRATS – DIR: Paul Provenza This film was sold out at every screening, everyone said it was so funny. I love stand-up comedy, and there were some tellings of the joke that were hilarious – Gilbert Gottfried is the best in the film – but by the end it really wasn’t a movie; it works better as a cable special. It is just a bunch of comedians talking about, or telling, one joke for an hour and a half. They could have used that joke to discuss the nature of cultural taboos and how they’ve evolved, or something, anything, it would have given the picture some sort of spine, but as it is watch five minutes then go do the dishes, come back for another five minutes, whatever. You’re not going to miss much.
MOST UNDER RATED FILM OF 2005
THE WEATHERMAN – DIR: Gore Verbinski I really liked “Mouse Hunt,” and “The Pirates of the Caribbean” series are fun if not forgettable diversions, but the one non-genre movie Verbinski made before this, “The Mexican,” is terrible so I was weary of “The Weatherman.” What I got was a tight, sad, and poignantly funny dramedy about a real loser who turns it around with the use of a bow and an arrow. Nicholas Cage is perfect as this sad sack who just needs to nut up with his life. Verbinski employs some obvious touches, like the desaturated blue hue that dominates every frame, but the acting and writing are solid. The real reason this movie jumps out of the dramedy doldrums is the camel toe joke in the middle. I won’t ruin it if you haven’t seen it, but it could be one of the funniest things in a movie for the whole decade.
I know I didn’t make it before year’s end, but I will finish it, I promise.
By Paul S. Myers