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January 3, 2006


Top Movies of 2005

2005 was a year in which movie watchers and critics got excited about movies again. "Was this a good year for the movies or what?," wrote Manohla Dargis at the start of her list of favorites. A lot of old directors came out with some of their best work ever, and a few new ones have totally kicked some sorry old George Lucas/Woody Allen ass.

Much of the enthusiasm about this year's movies comes down to a few titles that show up again and again on Top 10 lists (Fimoculous has exhuastively compiled them, as always)--practically every list I've seen includes Brokeback Mountain, A History of Violence, Capote, and Munich. It's looking like Crash is this year's Million Dollar Baby, for inspiring either total love or complete disdain, depending on the viewer.

Two movies that didn't make my list were made by experienced screenwriters who have made their first attempt at direction. Syriana by Stephen Gaghan, who also wrote Traffic, is so smart and complex that it totally failed to engage me on any level other than the cerebral. Watching it felt like reading a good Harper's essay on the oil industry. A little more humanity would have made a big difference. Crash is the first movie directed by Paul Haggis, who wrote the much loved/hated Million Dollar Baby and also "The Facts of Life". This movie was all emotion: there was a lot of crying and important statements about race, but not enough new insights to say much more than the fact (of life) that we live in a complexly racist society. Both of these directors are great writers; I hope their next movies are better.

And a general comment to many prominent directors: any time you feel tempted to use slow-motion to add some kind of gravity to an important sequence, just don't. I'm looking at you, Steven Spielberg, Paul Haggis, and Peter Jackson.

OK, here's my list. Which is not ranked.

Truman Capote was a vain, self-obsessed, hilarious, deceitful little bastard who cared more about his writing than anything. Watching him manipulate people for the good of his book is squirm-inducing, but of course completely fascinating, too. Is there any question that Philip Seymour Hoffman is one of the best actors working today? He is so jaw-droppingly good in those scenes with Perry Smith, and also so funny and vulgar in the drunken party scenes. The movie is ultimately all about PSH and his awesomeness, but the structure and direction and all the other actors were a total knockout too.

Director Michael Haneke doesn't do it every time, but when he does, prepare to feel the top of your head blow right off. This movie about a comfortable French family forced to face events of the past works as a drama about personal guilt and responsibility, and also as an allegory for France's relationship with Algeria. How secretly delighted was Haneke when the race riots in France happened right in the midst of this movie's release? The world got to see the theme of the movie played out: you can try to hide all the bad things you've done, but sooner or later it's all coming back, and it's going to be terrible. Daniel Auteuil is especially great in a tough role--he's almost Humbertian (can I say that?) in his total indifference to how his actions affect other people.

Brokeback Mountain
This movie doesn't actually cover much new ground: unfulfilled love, regret, the emotional desolation of stoic American men. And I think we've all seen gay characters in a few movies by now. But every scene and every performance was so perfectly executed that it reminded me that the same classic themes you've seen a million times can be worth seeing again, especially if Ang Lee is involved. Heath Ledger may be a scruffy little dude skateboarding around Brooklyn in real life, but in this movie he does an amazing job of silently conveying the sense of having blown your one chance at finding happiness in life.

The hostility that Steven Spielberg has attracted for this movie makes me wonder how people would have reacted if he wasn't the most powerful pro-Israel Jewish director in the world, but I'm still proud of him for making it. Yeah, it questions the usefulness of retaliation and revenge in the Israel/Palestine situation. But the stuff about compromising your country's values to perpetuate a conflict that is more complex than eye-for-an-eye can be applied all over the world. Eric Bana is great as the Mossad agent with butcher's hands and a gentle soul. Also many beatiful settings in decrepit old Europe. The last quarter of the movie probably should have been compressed into about 7 minutes.

This movie about Turks living in Hamburg, Germany came out at the very beginning of the year, and I'm still thinking about it. It's one wild, careening, gut-buster of a movie. When the characters in this movie are feeling sad, they drive their cars into walls and slice open their wrists. When they're happy, they cut their hands on broken beer bottles and thrash around bloodily in a mosh pit. Intense, yes, but also very cool, funny, and sort of appealingly debauched.

The new one from Wong Kar-Wai, again featuring Mr. Suave himself, Tony Leung, and again about love, loss, gorgeous women, and wistful conversations between people who can't quite get it to work out between them. This was one of many movies this year that should have been a half-hour shorter, but all the beautiful lingering shots, the orchestral soundtrack, and scene after scene about how we lose at love way more often than we win all made it as great as it is.

A History of Violence
It's not everyday that David Cronenberg's end results live up to the good ideas he has for his movies: he's got some problems with execution. But this one thankfully does. How many other directors could so radically change the tone, style, and entire genre of their movie from one second to the next, making audiences so thrown off and bewildered and amused that they laugh? The freakiest comedy of the year that actually does say some good things about the hidden potential we all have for violence.

I picked this documentary about krump dancing instead of Crash. Both movies look at race in L.A., but while Crash often tells us outright that racism is at the heart of many of our country's problems, Rize shows us how race operates in more subtle ways. How many white or East coast viewers had ever heard of krumping before this movie? The divides created by race and class are clear in this movie, which uses dance as the means for examining larger issues of poverty, violence, addiction, and the search for hope among young black people in L.A.

A little movie from a first-time Hungarian director that takes place entirely in the Budapest subway system. It starts as a dark comedy about the bleak lives of a ragtag bunch of subway ticket inspectors, then turns more menacing, and ends up outright scary. Yet hopeful. A great atmospheric movie with a kickin' soundtrack and a lot of murky ex-Soviet-looking subway stations. Sort of like The Warriors meets Trainspotting, with a little bit of Mimic thrown in.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
You're not going to see this one on many other Top 10 lists, but the wiseass script by former Hollywood golden boy Shane Black, the hilarious and self-deprecating Robert Downey, Jr., and the sassy deadpan of Val Kilmer, are all absolutely super-tight and perfect. Watching this movie makes you feel like you're had too much coffee; it also has the best title of the year. Some of the funniest sequences involving dead bodies that I've seen in forever.

That's it.

I didn't see The Squid and the Whale or The New World, but I doubt they would have made it to this list anyway. Match Point blew.

One more note on the most outstandingly funny performance in an otherwise OK movie: Seth Rogen in The 40 Year-Old Virgin.

Any thoughts on most overrated movies of the year? Most neglected? Petitions demanding Dodgeball 2?

Previous lists: 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001.

categories: Movies
posted by amy at 11:55 AM | #

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We loved Wallace and Gromit as well.

Posted by: msosostris at January 3, 2006 3:46 PM

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