The Academy Awards are right around the corner, and when I was at the Pitt News this time of the year was when we did our top 10 lists for movies. So why not carry on the tradition?
For all the ballyhooing from critics like Roger Ebert -- by the way, Rog', could you please call it quits? Please? Please. -- about how great 2005 was for movies, when you break it down it was pretty lame. The biggest movies of the year were sequels, prequels or remakes, the most anticipated films were sequels, prequels, remakes or adaptations, and most of the critically acclaimed films were nothing more than trite pap that would have been laughed off the screen if this were 1999, for example.
Of course, there were movies that hit the bull's-eye, and when a movie did hit it did so astutely. And I think that's what the list below is a reflection of. In some cases, the films were major releases that had a decent amount of buzz behind them; in others, the films were sort of dumped off in indie theater oblivion to die a quick death while awaiting the DVD afterlife.
But no matter the situation, release or size, the films listed below are what I thought to be the best cinematic works of 2005. Read, discuss, argue. Mischief, mayhem, soap.
10. (tie) 2046, New York Doll
"New York Doll" and "2046" both caught me off-guard, but for different reasons. I had an idea of what "2046" was going to be because I had seen "In the Mood for Love," but I wasn't prepared for the veritable visual buffet it offers or the crazy-style narrative, twisting and turning in seemingly no direction in particular. "New York Doll" was a film I knew virtually nothing about, but I wanted to see because a documentary about a member of the New York Dolls sounded intriguing. The film ended up being much more than that -- it's a documentary of unusual power and resonance that sucks you in and spits you out emotionally exhausted. The way the filmmakers handle the journey of NYDolls bassist and born-again Mormon Arthur "Killer" Kane is strikingly honest and unmanipulative. But what both "2046" and "New York Doll" have in common is that they offered refreshing times at the theater, even if they weren't exactly groundbreaking.
9. The Beat That My Heart Skipped
Many, many directors care to evoke
"Syriana" is a difficult film if only because you need to be absolutely, one hundred percent committed to being engaged in what's happening on-screen. More and more, audiences are having trouble doing that. But if you can muster the energy to stay focused, what you'll find in "Syriana" is an explosively compelling look -- even if it is heavy-handed -- at the perils to everyone and every culture of the oil business and a reliance on it. Stephen Gaghan certainly can craft a picture; this film and his similar script for "Traffic" are evidence of that. But stellar performances from George Clooney, Matt Damon (!), Alexander Siddig and the always-intense Christopher Plummer push the film over the top. (Read my original review here.)
When you go into a Terence Malick film, you can be sure of two things. First, the pace is going to be slower than molasses. And second, what you'll see is going to be beautiful. Check to both in "The
6. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
When you see the name "Shane Black," chances are most casual filmgoers won't know who he is. But they'd certainly know his writing -- "Lethal Weapon," "Last Action Hero," "The Last Boy Scout" -- and they've certainly felt his effects on
5. Match Point
Woody Allen gets knocked around a lot anymore. Hell, I've done it myself. Most of his output over the past five or six years has been uninspired and derivative. Worse, he's being derivative of himself most of the time. And when that happens, perhaps it's time to step away from writing and directing. But in "Match Point," a film with many, many similarities to "Crimes and Misdemeanors," Allen reveals he's still got some fight left in him. Great performances all around, a black-as-night story and glorious camera work highlighting the beauty of
4. Good Night, and Good Luck
George Clooney is an amazing director. His first film, "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," was a taut comedy-thriller that coaxed incredible performances out of Sam Rockwell and Drew Barrymore while announcing to the world that Clooney is more than just a matinee idol. Unfortunately, his close working relationship with Steven Soderbergh rubbed off too much and you'd be hard-pressed to find any shots in the film that didn't look like they belonged in a Soderbergh film. But all of that's gone in "Good Night, and Good Luck," an economic retelling of Edward R. Murrow's battle with Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the '50s. The film is striking for its small-scale, star-studded cast (Clooney, Jeff Daniels, Robert Downey Jr., Frank Langella, Patricia Clarkson) and its efficient storytelling. But what's most noteworthy is the film's cinematography. Black-and-white has never looked this good -- maybe in the '50s, but no modern film shot on black-and-white can hold a candle to it. Mix into that a lush jazz score of '50s tunes performed by Diane Reeves and what you have is a recipe for success -- and a sign of brilliant things to come from the directorial eye of George Clooney. (Read my Pop Matters blurb here.)
3. Last Days
Say what you want about Gus Van Sant. He might be pretentious and a bit too self-indulgent, but if the results are films like "Last Days," by all means keep on keepin' on. In a fictional account of what Kurt Cobain's final days might have been like, Van Zant drops us right into the beginning of the end, with his Cobain stand-in, Blake, played with haunting intensity -- and very Cobain-like -- by Michael Pitt, and shows us the minimalist depression and fame-induced overextension faced by Blake. Through the use of extremely long takes and a looping narrative, Van Zant makes us feel an extreme amount of emotion towards Blake despite never really telling us about him. Perhaps he uses our own feelings towards Cobain and his death as a catalyst, but it's still impressive that Van Zant can accomplish so much with so little. (Read my original review here.)
While not a biopic in the traditional sense of the term, anyone who ever endeavors to make a film about a real person or the events experienced by a person should use "Capote" as a blueprint. Director Bennett Miller perfectly captures the mood and atmosphere of the '50s cosmopolitan environment Truman Capote existed in as well as the stark nothingness in comparison of the Midwestern town where two men murdered an entire family -- the impetus for Capote's "In Cold Blood," the writing of which is chronicled in the film. But it's Philip Seymour Hoffman's blindingly remarkable performance as Capote that gives the film its emotional oomph. He captures perfectly Capote's lilting inflection while portraying him perffectly as the at-once user-friend of the two murderers. Central to the film is the question of how far should you go for art, for your work? And how much of your sanity and well-being, and that of the people around you, are you willing to give up in that pursuit? This is a heady film, to be sure, and not one easily quantifiable. It defies genre as well as the conventional wisdom of how to craft a biopic (for comparison, view "Capote," "Walk the Line" and "Ray" back-to-back-to-back and the differences between "Capote" and the other two films are striking). "Capote" was by far one of the best films of the year, but it was also one of the biggest surprises.
Like "Capote," "
Other notable films: Jarhead, Brokeback Mountain, Walk the Line, Pride & Prejudice, Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith, Batman Begins, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Broken Flowers, March of the Penguins, Red Eye, 40 Year-Old Virgin, Corpse Bride, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Wedding Crashers
Worst Film of 2005
When people ask me what I think the worst movie ever made is, I usually say "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines." The reason for this is its budget, cast, lack of story, pitiful action, awful special effects, and the rendering of moot the previous two -- better -- films in the series. But after seeing "Mysterious Skin," I think my Worst Movies list found a new topper. Any way you slice it, this is one atrocious sin of a movie. From the wholly manipulative way director Gregg Araki twists his characters and the scenarios they find themselves in to elicit some sort of sympathy from his audience to the piss-poor acting (these characters are supposed to be Southern, yet Heath Ledger, an Australian, had a better Southern accent than every American member of this cast!) to… Oh, fuck it, everything about this film is bad, and the more I think about it the more things I find to be angered about. Watching the film, I felt totally used by Araki, who seems to think that throwing a bunch of child molestation on a screen is equal to a frank depiction of child abuse -- which is how many critics have described this movie ("Boo!" to all of you overpayed, underqualified hacks who thought this!). I'm sorry, but seeing a child -- a child -- who is supposed to be a victim of abuse initiate said abuse doesn't equal child abuse. If that same child enlists other children into abusive situations, that child is the person who should be vilified on screen, no celebrated. If that child participates -- nay, suggests -- sex games with adult males that requires him and other kids to see how far they can shove their small arms inside the adult, that child is a monster, not a martyr. Yet, Araki would want you to think just the opposite on every account. And when there is a character that warrants some honest sympathy, he's treated as a freak. Why? Well, it would seem that in Araki's world, anyone who's not a gay hooker, who isn't a sexual predator, who isn't a drug addict, who isn't a fucking scumbag, is worthy of nothing but scorn -- and somewhere, even Bret Easton Ellis is squirming at this idea. The word "hate" is too tame to describe my feelings towards this piece of trash -- and that, my friends, is not a word I use lightly.
Most Overrated Film of 2005
Like "Mysterious Skin," "Crash" is a very manipulative picture. Unlike "Mysterious Skin," though, "Crash" doesn't manipulate the audience for some nefarious purpose -- at least, it doesn't seem that way. Rather, it tries to preach to those watching the film things viewers probably already know: people are racist, usually for no good reason, and, wow, black people get the brunt of such racism. To hear people and critics discuss this film as one of the best, if not the best, films of 2005 (Ebert listed it his number one film of the year), is very disappointing. Has everyone forgotten that racism has existed for as long as