by Jason Whyte
Munich -- The Best Film of 2005
Here’s something funny. With all of the remakes, sequels, tie-in and knock off’s placating the cinemas today, it comes as bit of a surprise that it took quite a bit of hard work to do my Best of 2005 list. Yes, there’s a lot of garbage out in cinemas these days, but the real key is to make an attempt to find films that branch out of the ordinary, the mundane and the Ashton Kutcher.
Now before I get onto the task at hand, I do wish to comment on some on some things. This year marked a curious one in terms of cinemagoing, which seems to me like it is the beginning of the end. There are a few reasons for this, from bloated ticket prices and overpriced concession food that makes a night out a lot less cheap than usual. And let us not forget the advent of home theatre with big screens, 5.1 sound and the promise of bonus features. The biggest problem we are facing today can boil down from all of this to just two things: the big studios aren’t exciting anymore, and boy, isn’t seeing a movie with a captive audience really blow these days?
Take, for example, two films released in the summer: “The Island” and “Stealth”. “The Island” was Michael Bay’s attempt to make a better film than “Bad Boys 2” and failed miserably due to the fact that nobody (except for silly teenage boys) wants to see undercooked action pictures any more. The same goes for Rob Cohen, “Stealth” director extraordinaire, who has made big films in the past that have made big money (hey, admit it, XXX wasn’t THAT bad!) and must assume that everything he touches will turn to gold. Cut to $40 million dollars later and his new film “Stealth” now sits on Blockbuster shelves with a lot of un-rented copies.
Audiences are somewhat smart when you think about it. Yes, “The Pacifier” made $100 million this year but so did “The 40-Year Old Virgin” which was a smart comedy that catered to a smart crowd (that’s still looking for a few laughs). I am pretty positive that there isn’t a single person who looks at the Friday morning paper and goes, “My goodness, I just want to see a BAD movie tonight!”
With that said, why wouldn’t they just shut up when watching the movie? Why couldn’t they turn off their cell phones? Seriously, the amount of times I had to shush someone during a movie this year was at a record high, and the amount of cell phones I saw turned on while the lights were down was up about about 200 percent (not actual, it just feels like it is) from last year.
And I must aside on this point. Here’s what I hate the most: the lights go down, or it’s in the middle of a movie, and somebody’s phone vibrates. You don’t notice it, right? Then they take out the phone and open the display to look at it, and the bright light flashes ALL over everyone behind them. Personally I find this more annoying than having it ring, because your retinas are thrown off the screen by the sight of unnatural light. Two hours without your cell phone, people, try to manage it.
The biggest question is this: are movies worse today than they were before? I don’t think so, as the following will prove.I want to talk about the films that I feel represented 2005 the best. The following list is based on over 250 films that I have viewed over the course of this calendar year. You may not agree with me, but hey, that’s what the message board is for, and I look forward to some arguments. Without further ado, here we go with…
The Ten Best Films of 2005
#1 – Munich – Believe me when I say that my choice for the year’s best film is not because of a prestigious, late-year release or the fact that it could arouse some very strong arguments about the political and race issues that are featured here. I think “Munich” is a great film for the reason that Steven Spielberg’s latest work -- about the revenge that occurs when a group of ex-Mossad agents is arranged, in secrecy, by the Isreali government group to track down and kill Palestinian terrorists who murdered Isreali athletes during the 1972 Munich Olympics – is a near flawless story of the personal ethics of one man (played here by Eric Bana) who must question the moral implications of what he is doing and if revenge is the best policy for their country.
As well, “Munich” is a powerful thriller that films this revenge -- in a flawless collaboration between Spielberg, cinematographer Janusz Kaminski and editor Michael Kahn that should win every possible award it can get -- with precision and skill, handling the moments of fear and the violent acts in a mature and horrifying manner; the scene where a target’s daughter unexpectedly returns to her father’s house is one of the best sequences Spielberg has ever directed. In fact, “Munich” is one of the filmmaker’s best works, and certainly the best in his “New Wave” (“Saving Private Ryan” and onward) where his visual and storytelling attitude changed, and I think for the better.
#2 – The Best of Youth – If I described this film to you by simply saying “6 hour Italian film about the struggles of two brothers over the course of 35 years of the country’s history”, what would you think? Naturally you’d balk at the running time (heck, the film was ignored by Italian television in 2003, instead getting known on the festival circuit), but then think of the time that you viewed “The Godfather I and II” together in one sitting. Got that? “The Best of Youth” has that same love of cinema going through it, beautifully depicting decades of history yet keeping the perspective between the two completely different brothers. A movie that received such a lackluster release, it will be released on DVD in February as a two disc set. And trust me when I say this: you will not notice the running time once the movie sweeps you over.
#3 – Good Night and Good Luck – George Clooney’s quick-and-dirty mfasterpiece is the kind of film that we need to see more of these days, for it paints a picture of the responsibilities and the hard work that goes into the media coverage. It is set in 1953 at the time of Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) as he and the CBS news team goes off on Senator McCarthy for his communist witchhunts that nearly tore apart the country. On just his second film, George Clooney’s direction is so sure-footed; filmed in gorgeous black-and-white and using careful and selective framing to show the claustrophobia of the news room (one of my favorite moments this year is watching Murrow’s knee tapped with a pen for his camera cue), the film is nearly flawless in depicting CBS’ historic stand up to a higher power, and is the most powerful examination of the media and the government since Sidney Lumet’s “Network”.
#4 – Match Point – If you know me, you know how much of a Woody Allen nut I am, fully prepared to defend the master for being one of the best filmmakers working today, if not the best. (And yes, I even like most of his films from the past ten years that everyone hates!) And without smacking of hyperbole, I believe that “Match Point” is one of his great works, a film that looks at the consequences of adulterous relationships through a married man who is over-racked with guilt for his mistakes, and follows him all the way until the end even as he’s messing everything up. Beautifully filmed and with some great performances, it is both a great journey and a reminder that one of our great filmmakers is still doing what he does best.
#5 – Batman Begins and King Kong -- As with “Elephant” and “Gerry” in 2003 and “Metallica: Some Kind of Monster” and “Dig!” last year, I am forced to make another tie, this time to showcase Christopher Nolan’s new take on Batman and Peter Jackson’s revisionist look at King Kong, as different as they are. Both films want to do something fresh and interesting, know their budgets and use them properly. For “Batman Begins”, the best Batman movie ever made, it is a reboot into the Batman franchise by way of Chris Nolan’s realistic and personal struggle of Bruce Wayne, while “King Kong” is Peter Jackson’s love letter to the original 1933 landmark, and the remake is powerful and unique in its own way (I either liked it more or I liked certain emotional aspects more) in telling the classic story of an ape and his lady friend. Both of these films can show that it is fine to have a large budget, a huge effects team (although in the case of “Batman”, it was more sets and miniatures than CG work) and a great sense of grandness and yet still captivate as a story, both visual and personal.
#6 – Cache – I have seen a handful of Austrian auteur Michael Haneke’s work, and he is famous for being a filmmaker that likes to push buttons, as subtle as he does it. Here he pushes past sex and pornography (“The Piano Teacher”) and post-apocalypse (“Time of the Wolf”) and gets down to the core of fear; what causes it, who challenges it and how the victim reacts to it. Daniel Auteil plays a television host who may or not be being stalked by someone close to his family, and the film has an eerie sense of dread towards it. It is also great fun to talk about afterwads (as evidenced by a gasp-filled screening at this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival) as everyone will interpret the film in their own ways.
#7 – Me and You and Everyone We Know -- “We have a whole life to live, you fucker!” A line like this may not make sense in your reality, but it exists in Miranda July’s reality; a world of performance art, quirky characters and stilted dialogue that is unlike anything I have ever heard. One of those wacky Sundance hits that knocked Roger Ebert over, this film has either confused or blown away those who have discovered it, and like “Cache”, it can hurl you in either direction.
#8 – Kung Fu Hustle -- I have seen “Kung Fu Hustle” about fifteen times this year through theatrical screenings and the DVD. With that said, it may not be the best film of 2005, but it is the most re-watchable, re-playable, most adult fun I’ve had at the movies in years, featuring Stephen Chow, fresh off his success of “Shaolin Soccer” hit as he mimics Shaw Brothers, Looney Tunes, Sergio Leone and Jean-Pierre Melville crime noirs and encapsulates it all into a great entertainment with a rich imagination by way of visuals, imaginative storytelling and wacky characters. Great, solid fun.
#9 -- Off The Map -- Valentina De Angelis gives one of the best child performances I’ve ever seen as a 12 year old named Bo, who is stuck in nowhere, New Mexico circa 1970’s where her parents (Joan Allen and Sam Elliot) are post-hipster parents who try to make a life for them without the need for society. Director Campbell Scott (also known as wicked-cool Actor Campbell Scott from “Singles” and “Roger Dodger”) directs in a unique, laid-back style that hits every right note (except for maybe some of the stilted dialogue, which is based on a stage play). The film succeeds the most on the performance of young De Angelis as a kid who may have emotional baggage but she’s too busy discovering the world around her.
#10 – Mad Hot Ballroom – When the documentary nominations for the Oscars come up in February, everybody will be cheering for the penguins, while I will be singing praises for this wonderful documentary which shows three New York based middle schools competing in ballroom dancing competitons, and much of the action is shown from the kid’s perspective to give a simultaneously eye-opening and fun experience. The most joyous documentary I’ve seen this year -- add to that a film that works wonders even on repeat viewings -- it is less about ballroom dancing than the learning process of children.
Also Worth Noting: (My annual #11 and #12 picks, along with a quick rundown of thirteen films I also felt stood out this year.)
#11 – Syriana – While I have some minor (although still valid) complaints on the film’s pacing, characterization and confusing arcs of storytelling, the film still strongly resonates on the the oil and globalization crisis of our planet that is sinking down in a sea of greedy corporations and quick profits. Its messages are bold and shocking, and even if we don’t really have a strong character to fully connect to, its hard-hitting message got to me the same way the landmark documentary “The Corporation” did last year.
#12 – Elizabethtown -- I can see my efilmcritic.com editor Chris Parry balking at this inclusion at #12, since his extremely negative review posted here in September has opened many eyes. I disagree with every word of it, but I don’t think Parry is wrong; it’s just that I think that films capture an emotional response at a different level for everyone, and I am certainly aware that Cameron Crowe’s journey of a man (Orlando Bloom) who has to come to terms with not knowing his father and the woman (Kirsten Dunst) who wakes him up is far from original. And yet, the film goes for a feeling of a moment in your life when you know you have to take that next difficult step, and the film’s final moments remind me of a time in the 1970’s, where Hal Ashby and Sidney Lumet reigned supreme, where the film would end on a feeling instead of the plot. And for what it’s worth, I admired the use of the enormous amount of music in the film, and I think it is coming from a filmmaker with his heart in the right place.
Thirteen Runner-ups, in alphabetical order
Capote – Bennett Miller’s film about the life of Truman Capote prior to his famous non-fiction work “In Cold Blood” which was instrumental in creating non fiction writing work. Contains one of the year’s best and most noted performances by Phil Seymour Hoffman as Capote, and mention must also be made for Clifton Collins Jr. who plays imprisoned Perry Smith, who may also be noticed come Oscar time.
Crash – A telling look at racism and cultural collision in Los Angeles, the film is spun off of Robert Altman’s multiple storyline idea but is given fresh energy by Paul Haggis’ screenplay and fine performances by the likes of Matt Dillon, Terrence Howard, Sandra Bullock and Don Cheadle.
Duma – Carroll Ballard’s story of a cheetah and a young boy living in South Africa is a beautiful family film that the film’s distributor, Warner, did not feel had a big enough audience, so they released the film only to Chicago and then did a minimal release outside of the city as the months went on. Which is a shame, because I feel the film would work wonders on children interested in “Kid and his pet” stories. And doesn’t that boil down to…ALL children?
The 40 Year Old Virgin – Steve Carell as an aging celibate is the funniest film I have seen this year, which is now on DVD in the theatrical version as well as an extended director’s version. I like both versions about equally; the theatrical version is tight and effective in the cinemas while the DVD is more like the “hangout” edition where you can laugh some more with some friends and beers handy.
Grizzly Man and The White Diamond – This double shot of Werner Herzog documentaries would make a great double feature. “Grizzly Man” was his more popular feature from this year, showing the footage of crazy Timothy Treadwell as he lived too close to grizzly bears in Alaska and we watch his video footage in horror. “The White Diamond”, which has been in film festivals and is finding its way to video, is about the flight of jungle airships to film rainforests in Guyana, and it shows the story from the perspective of Dr.Graham Dorrington whose friend and colleague died 12 years previous on a similar expedition. Herzog is a master of character, timing and nature, and both films show his unique flavor of storytelling.
A History of Violence – As I was watching “Munich” last week, I couldn’t help but think about this film as a parallel to how violence is shown on film. Both Spielberg’s film and David Cronenberg’s story of an ordinary man whose past comes back to him as he does a heroic act show the brutality, the mess and the sudden chaos of violence through characters who are opposed to it yet are forced to resort to it. Here, we’re less shocked by the gore and brutality of what we see but why Tom Stern (Viggo Mortensen in a fantastic performance) does what he does.
Hustle & Flow – In what I feel is the best lead performance of the year, Terrence Howard is a force to be reckoned with as a Memphis pimp who discovers a talent for rap music and the challenges he must face to put his past behind him. Not only should Mr. Howard be given an Oscar right now, but the music that director Craig Brewer creates is also very good rap, too.
Last Days – What should be the final film in Gus Van Sant’s experimental trilogy, here is a film that echoes Kurt Cobain’s persona in a moody, elemental story of the final stages of a crumbling, emotionally devastated man named Blake (Michael Pitt) who stumbles around a house in New England as he mumbles and grumbles his way through each day.
Melinda and Melinda – It’s the year of Woody Allen. While “Match Point” is nearing release for Oscar consideration, this film, which tells one story of Melinda (Radha Mitchell) through a comedy and a tragedy parallel at a dinner table discussion, is both a moody think-piece about a haunted past, and a warm and likeable comedy where the situation is laughed over. What is most interesting is seeing how we interpret the parallels, and Allen is wise to show us both perspectives.
Ong bak – Oh, how I wish I could include this on my Top 10 this year (believe me, I tried!) for this is one of the most entertaining action films I’ve seen in years, as stupid as it all is. It features the bouncing antics of Muay Thai boxing with star Tony Jaa who is sent to Bangkok to retrieve the stolen head of an important landmark in a small town in Thailand. The film features some truly bizarre and physically draining action scenes with no visual effects or wires present; just Tony Jaa as a human Bugs Bunny. Would make a great double feature with “Kung Fu Hustle” (and believe me, I have done this double feature myself).
The Squid and the Whale – Noah Baumbach, who has worked with Wes Anderson in the past, puts his own spin on divorce and family dysfunction in this 81-minute dramedy that feels like parts mixed of early day Woody Allen and John Cassavettes. We are also shown Jeff Daniels’ best performance as a blocked writer whose son (Jesse Eisenberg) is starting to rub off on the old man.
Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were Rabbit – One of the most fun movie experiences I’ve had this year, this is a long-awaited animated film from Nick Park and Steve Box who may have come a long way since their early “Wallace and Gromit” short films but still keep the innocence and creativity of their work going strong. And who can resist the lovable Gromit who says so much without a mouth?
The Wayward Cloud – I have been following Taiwan-based director Tsai-Ming Liang’s work for years now, have met him on one occasion and am still blown away by his original form of slow, orchestral storytelling. Here, Liang takes on isolation and the adult film industry, continuing the characters from “What Time is it There?” as the same characters have REALLY went down different paths.
The Worst Films of 2005:
#1 – Dirty Love – It’s funny; here I am sitting at my computer trying what to say in regards to this movie, which pits Jenny McCarthy as a sex-crazy woman who tries to get revenge after getting dumpd on. Normally if I hate something it would bring out a passion in me to scrape its existence all over the screen in a furious attempt to get back 90 minutes of my life. With this film, however, I’m just blown away by the sheer lack of care and thought that went into a sex comedy like this. Was NOBODY on the set to tell them that something has went awry?
#2 – Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo – The selection of this film is somewhat of a gimmie, because really; how could I possibly NOT put Deuce Bigalow on my worst list of the year? Sex jokes in Amsterdam? I’ve never heard of THAT before! The advertising alone is worse than anything I’ve seen this year; Jenny McCarthy included.
#3 – The Dark Hours – The worst horror film of the year was not “Saw 2” – although look a couple of entries down – but rather this dismal Canadian horror flick that no one saw. One of the more perplexing films I saw at this year’s Vancouver Film Festival, this one details a mental patient getting back at the psychiatrist who committed him in a cabin out in the woods (remember, wilderness setting is cheap and you don’t have to pay extras! What smart-thinking Canadians!). Ridiculous chaos ensues, and it features a somewhat similar ending to this year’s Haute Tension. Oh but it’s Canadian, so it MUST be good!
#4 – A Sound of Thunder – I like director Peter Hyams. He isn’t the best director working in the business, but I consider him to be the kind of blue-collar filmmaker that makes films like “Running Scared”, “Timecop” and “Sudden Death” (yes, the only two Jean-Claude Van Damme movies that I like!) that are well made and entertaining, but it leaves little room for thought afterwards (or maybe it does; the thought that he makes blue collar films that are entertaining and disposable?). Here, his long-delayed “A Sound of Thunder” has an interesting idea of thought (to wit: what if you could go back in time and hunt dinosaurs, but if you were to change anything it could disrupt the planet?) but kills it with a complete lack of directorial skill, timing and shoddy effects work.
#5 – Saw 2 – Don’t cash grabs drive you nuts? Especially the kind of cash grabs where more crap is made to supplement existing crap (in this case I am referring to the dismal 2004 “Saw”). Do I have to start writing interesting horror ideas now?
#6 – Rent – "Everybody...moo with me!!" Not just a bad musical, not just a bad musical adaptation to screen, but just a bad movie, period. If the musical sucks you in, that’s great, but even if I liked the AIDS/growing up in Brooklyn singer, it wouldn’t excuse the shoddy direction and poor staging by Chris Columbus, who has many lacking skills as a filmmaker and yet still hasn’t learned how to frame a shot properly. Start with fixing that, and go from there.
#7 – Bewitched – This is almost a factually bad film, meaning that I can’t really accept anyone being entertained by noisy yelling for two hours; let alone being yet another adaptation of a TV show that, sadly, may have been better to just straight-shot adapt it instead of making it a dull-as-dirt commentary on current television. The film also began my hatred for Shouting Will Ferrell, who also showed up in “Kicking and Screaming” as someone who felt that loud was better.
#8 – xXx State of the Union – As a big entertainment, I felt that the first “xXx” did a pretty good job as a James Bond knock-off with an extreme sports angle thrown in. This sequel just didn’t work from the start and is noisy and endless instead of attempting to be a bit on the fun side. I’ll just blame Lee Tamahori (whose last film was the James Bond trainwreck “Die Another Day”) for this one.
#9 – Supercross: The Movie – You know you’re in trouble when a dirt-bike, gear head movie like this wishes to be the next “Fast and the Furious” and still comes up as a pile of garbage. Only notable thing in this movie was Sophia “Ex-Chad Michael Murray” Bush wondering how she came from “One Tree Hill” fame to this.
#10 – Robots – Quite possibly the worst computer animated film I’ve seen to date, it’s a piece of junk that has driven me up a wall and left me hanging there the more I think about it. An eye-sore of magnificent proportions.
Also doody: The Ringer, The Pacifier, Alone in the Dark, Are We There Yet?, The Island, little man, Fantastic Four, House of Wax, Mondovino, The Ring Two & Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous
So there you have it! Another year of movies has come to pass, and through endless film screenings, a few film festivals and much time spent on my couch watching screeners, 2005 has been a great year of movies. I look forward to seeing as many movies in 2006 as possible, and you’ll be hearing from me again in about 12 months. Happy New Year, everyone! – Jason Whyte, efilmcritic.com
link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=1674
originally posted: 01/01/06 03:33:30
last updated: 01/14/06 16:37:58