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The Best Films (So Far) in 2005

The Best of Youth
by Jason Whyte

With “Star Wars” currently eating up box office records and the summer movie season on a roll, I thought it would be a good time to rewind the first six months of films and give you a look back at the ten best films that have surfaced in a sea of the multiplex crap. With so many sequels, remakes and genre pictures opening these days, you needed to look further than the #1 movie at the box office every weekend to find the good stuff. The great films lied in the art houses and the smaller releases, and they weren’t just great because of it. They were just BETTER movies that you should all be paying your money for.

Who knows where these films will rank by year’s end, but for here, right now, here are the films that I would consider the best of the best (and following this, my current choices for the ultimate cream of the crap).

#1. The Best of Youth (Italy, director Marco Tullio Gordana)

Viewed in a single day, the epic-length The Best of Youth left the same impression that I had when viewing parts one and two of The Godfather. This is not to say that the film is inspired by Francis Ford Coppola’s gangster pictures, but it is rather a film that takes a novelistic approach to two brothers, Mateo and Nicola, as they progress as teenagers in late 1960’s Italy all the way until present day, going through many life-changing events in the country’s history.

This film was successful at every film festival it played at (it was originally intended to play as a mini-series on Italian television) and has finally made its way into a limited release in the US. While one may balk at the threat of the six-hour running time, the film quickly becomes addictive thanks to the fact that the filmmakers take their time and we really invest ourselves with the plight of these two brothers. READ MY FULL REVIEW HERE.

#2. Crash (United States, dir. Paul Haggis)

A telling look on racism and fear in our culture told through the vast land of Los Angeles where stories are being born every day. Following several characters all from different ethnic and class backgrounds, this is a story about human collision in a part of the world that is dense with population yet completely isolating at the same time. Director and screenwriter Paul Haggis wowed us in 2004 with Million Dollar Baby, and his writing here is equally fascinating in the way that these characters ricochet off of each other. MORE REVIEWS

#3. Kung-Fu Hustle (Hong Kong, dir. Stephen Chow)

Stephen Chow’s ridiculously entertaining follow-up to Shaolin Soccer is just about the most fun you can have at the movies this year. Chow, who directs, produces, writes and acts, wears all of his hats in this amazing story of kung-fu fighters battling the notorious Axe Gang which is led by Brother Sum (the amazing Kwok Kuen Chan in the year’s best baddie performance), and also tells the story of Sing (Chow) and his passion to join the Axe gang, until he discovers his true power within. Filled with amazing set-pieces (the thrilling Axe Gang dance that opens the film has to be seen to be believed), great visual effects that are so over-the-top that they become a character in the movie, and beautiful widescreen cinematography, this is the kind of movie that should have had the same amount of people in line to see it as Star Wars. MORE REVIEWS

#4. Melinda and Melinda (USA, dir. Woody Allen)

Woody Allen has shaped up his best film in years by ditching his comedies and focusing on the line between tragedy and comedy. Beginning at a dinner party, we get two perspectives on a story of Melinda (Radha Mitchell in her best performance) who has come out of a terrible situation and is trying to move on with her life. As the movie progresses, we not only find out about her but we bounce between the different versions of the story, each with different actors playing roughly the same characters. Allen’s traditional dialogue, long takes and minimal coverage are here and as beautiful as ever (Vilmos Zsigmond photographed the film), and there’s a level of brutal honesty and clarity that has been missing from Allen’s work since Deconstrucing Harry and his great dramas of the 80’s. MORE REVIEWS

#5. Ong-bak (Thailand, dir. Prachya Pinkaew)

Here is what an all-out Kung-Fu movie should be. The story is lousy, the dialogue is silly and the acting, particularly by the new find Tony Jaa, is terrible. And yet here is a movie about Muay Thai boxing that is relentlessly and every bit as enjoyable as “Kung-Fu Hustle”. Mr. Jaa is a sight to behold, a real athlete in every sense of the word as a man who is set out to find an artifact that has been stolen from his small village, and since he’s so agile at what he does, he runs into all sorts of bad guys that want to tear him apart. You go to movies like Ong-bak to see performers like Tony Jaa kick ass, and he brings it here. And how! MORE REVIEWS

#6. Look at Me (France, dir. Agnès Jaoui)

Agnes Jaoui is a filmmaker I am hoplessly in love with, not just because she’s achingly beautiful but also a writer and an auteur that writes about the good and the bad in people, and that she cares about each individual in her works. Her followup to the excellent 2000 film Les Gout des Autres ((The Taste of Others)) is an ensemble piece that features a young opera singer who thinks she’s ugly, her novelist father, the singer’s teacher and a potential boyfriend who looks past face value. Like the films of Lawrence Kasdan, Jaoui puts people first in her stories with sharp, perceptive writing and fine performances. MORE REVIEWS

#7. Clean (France, dir. Oliver Assayas)

Maggie Cheung won Best Actress at Cannes in 2004 for playing Emily Wang, a woman on a journey of self-discovery. A rocker, a jailed drug addict with a son under another person’s care, Emily must come to terms with not only her son but where her life is going to go. Director Oliver Assayas tells a simple, human story with deeply conflicted people and the decisions they must make to provide their future, and the work by Ms. Cheung is unforgettable here.

#8. The Upside of Anger (USA, dir. Mike Binder)

Mike Binder’s new movie about family dysfunction would be nothing without the amazing lead performance by Joan Allen as Terry, a brash, drinking wife whose husband may or may not have left her, and the effect her attitude has on her four daughters. Kevin Costner also gives one of his best performances as a slumming ex-baseball player who takes a liking to Terry. The four daughters (played wonderfully by Erika Christensen, Keri Russell, Evan Rachel Wood and Alicia Witt) are also fully realized characters with their own dreams and goals, but it is Allen’s character (Mike Binder put together the film specifically for her) that we will remember at year’s end for all of those awards. MORE REVIEWS

#9. Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room (USA, dir. Alex Gibney)

A maddening motion picture that tells us everything about the Enron scandal, this is a strong document about an energy corporation that was once the 7th highest ranked in the United States, and how the top executives walked away with billions of dollars towards the company’s demise while tens of thousands of employees and shareholders were left with nothing. Based on a best-selling book by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind, we are given a brisk and entertaining look at the fall of a money giant that is one of the great economical disasters of our time. While it may not hit as hard as The Corporation (where Enron was also discussed), it sure hits us enough. MORE REVIEWS

#10. Downfall (France, dir. Oliver Hirschbiegel)

This film is a telling look into Hitler’s last days in Berlin has earned comparisons to the German masterpiece Das Boot for its claustrophobic interiors as a dying Nazi reich tries to survive in a war bunker while Russian forces surround the city. The film is mostly told through the eyes of Hitler’s secretary, who lived all the way until 2002 and much of her story has been the base for this film, which is a shocking look at a crumbling empire. Much of the action takes place inside the bunker with the sound of the bombing and planes distant in the soundtrack, and whenever we see action on the outside, it is only what the Nazi party can see; their world destructing before their eyes. Director Oliver Hirschbiegel (director of the 2002 film Das Experiment which should be on everyone’s “to rent” list) has been challenged on humanizing and sympathizing with the Furher, but after watching the film and experiencing Bruno Ganz’ flawless performer as Adolph, we really get a clear and objective look at the evil force. We also get the sense of what it was truly like to live in one of the most hellish aspects of the Second World War. We really feel the dirt, grime, blood and sense of death in the air. Downfall is one of the best war films in quite some time. MORE REVIEWS

The Worst Five Films (So Far) of 2005:

#1. XXX: State of the Union: The sequel that nobody wanted to see, this endless, tiring, loud piece of trash has some of the worst dialogue I think I’ve ever heard in a flick (entire sequences contain dialogue that is more like thought balloon clichés than people actually talking) and action sequences that make no sense….okay, I give up. It’s shit.

#2. Alone In The Dark: Words fail me to describe this laughable, Vancouver-shot monstrosity that features Christian Slater and Tara Reid battling really bad visual effects. It’s so bad that the eventual DVD release will spawn viewing parties with drinking games ready to go.

#3. Man of the House: Will someone tell Tommy Lee Jones to smile? In this tired and boring movie that doesn’t have a clue in its head; Jones stars as a Texan ranger who is assigned to protect five cheerleaders who witnessed a murder. The film is billed as an “action comedy” but has none of either.

#4. Robots: An absolute eyesore that irritates me the more I think about it, this pop-culture-reference filled computer animated film is made by a group of people who clearly don’t understand what made the earlier Pixar films so memorable.

#5. Are We There Yet?: I never thought I would have heard the words “Hey kids, wanna go to Vancouver?” ever in a motion picture, but it has been done here in this slice of January Movie. This moronic piece of kid-picture asks us to believe that Ice Cube plays a guy who agrees to drive two kids of the mother he has a crush on, from Portland to Vancouver. Problem is, the entire film was shot in Vancouver, so the film is more along the lines of the longest trip across Vancouver to get to mommy.

What are your choices for the best and worst of the year so far? Stop on by the forums and let us know! – Comments about this article can be sent to Jason HERE (Click to send an email)

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originally posted: 05/28/05 15:49:04
last updated: 05/30/05 03:03:06
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