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Long Live the King: the Best and Worst of 2005
by Collin Souter

I desperately needed 2005 to be a great year for movies. From January through December, I had been in a rotten mood and I needed movies to lift me out of that. You can imagine my disappointment. Week after week after week of bad romantic comedies, ill-conceived high concept films, mediocre adaptations and sequel after remake after sequel after remake after sequel. This year was a true litmus test for film critics. If you’re still reviewing at the year’s end, you’re a film critic for life. I almost decided to call it quits at the end of the year. Why not? Hollywood keeps dishing out crappy product and the public accepts it. Even the arthouses remained limp. But then, something happened in December that snapped me out of my year-long funk. Something BIG.

The 20 BEST reasons for leaving the house in 2005:

1. King Kong This is not a perfect film, but it’s the most perfect filmgoing experience I had in 2005. No other movie this year swept me off my feet, kept my eyes wide open for 90 minutes straight or moved me to tears with its unusual love story. Peter Jackson’s tribute (not remake) to the 1933 classic shows a filmmaker who could have easily rested on his laurels, but has instead pushed the boundaries of commercial filmmaking even further. A PT Barnum-like showman with the sensibilities of a poet, Jackson delivered the one film this year that reminded me of why I love movies. Without it, I might have quit this gig altogether.

2. Junebug I realize I’m repeating myself from 2003 (Jackson movie at #1. Eccentric, character-driven North Carolina movie from Sony Pictures Classics at #2*). I don’t care. I fell in love with this movie. It almost made my #1 spot with Angus MacLachlan’s finely-tuned and original screenplay, Phil Morrison’s assured and startling directorial debut and, of course, the performances, particularly Amy Adams. Her performance as the pregnant and spirited Ashley reveals so many layers beneath the giddy façade that her sheer happiness ends up being less of an eccentricity (or stereotypical southern hospitality, for that matter), and more of a cry for help in a lonely and emotionally bankrupt household. Not so hard to believe then that one of the saddest movies of the year also has the catchiest, happiest theme song. That’s Junebug in a nutshell.

(*--All the Real Girls… was my #2 choice in 2003)

3. A History of Violence David Cronenberg’s best film since Dead Ringers examines the deeply hidden violent nature that exists within us all. Some of us are lucky enough to never have to tap into that side, while others, like Viggo Mortenson’s character, unwillingly have it conjured up for them. This movie beautifully portrays the downfall as well as the domino effect of violence within the typical American nuclear family and it does so without the slightest hint of artifice or pretension. With only 10-15 minutes of screen time, William Hurt gives the best performance of his career, but it’s the wordless performances in the film’s final scene that transcend one of the film’s central themes: Only when you finally confront the root of the violence can you truly be at peace with yourself and maybe, just maybe, your family.

4. The 40-Year-Old Virgin This film accomplishes a lot more than you’d think. First of all, it benefits from being the one and only truly great comedy of the year (seriously, this was an awful year for comedies). But it also has the distinction of being a comedy that can run over the 2-hour mark (the new DVD cut runs 133 minutes) and still not wear out its welcome. This is not only the funniest, smartest comedy of the year, it is also the sweetest and most endearing. There also lurk some painful truths about relationships and the courage it takes to want to start one up in a dating world that puts more emphasis on sexual prowess and lust than sensitivity and friendship. You don’t have to be a virgin to relate to this film. You just had to have been there and I think we all have.

5. The New World Terrence Malick’s soulful, sprawling epic might have been higher on the list were it not for the disastrous screening I attended where the sound went out half-way through, causing an annoying 20-minute intermission. Also, I hear Malick has gone back and re-edited the film. Nevertheless, I did see a great film that day and it will hopefully not differ much from the final product. Malick’s techniques clearly don’t suit all tastes, but I, for one, was spellbound with his fearless and uncompromising take on the story of Pocahontas (beautifully played by newcomer Q’Orianka Kilcher). While most filmmakers use cinema to tell stories, Malick uses it to compose sonnets, with some of the most breathtaking verses I’ve ever seen.

6. Murderball The year’s best documentary was over-shadowed last summer by a bunch of lovable penguins, but will hopefully find a grand new life on DVD. A documentary about a quadriplegic rugby team may sound like a bit of an uncomfortable downer, but it’s amazing how much action, suspense and comedy there is in this film. Unlike the cluttered and overblown Mad Hot Ballroom, Murderball focuses on only a few central characters and tells its story economically. Yes, their story is inspiring, but that’s almost beside the point. At the end, it’s about finding your own potential no matter what the circumstances.

7. OldBoy ‘Twas not a strong year for foreign language product, but this Korean import may very well be the year’s most original film. It has prisoners who live in hotel rooms, men eating squid whole, giant ants on subway trains, the most kick-ass single-take fight scene ever, creative dentistry and a knock-out twist ending that breaks several taboos. What more could you possibly want? A little rough for some tastes, but its operatic tone and unrelenting knack for the bizarre make it a treat for the truly adventurous.

8. Batman Begins “Why do we fall? So we can learn to get back up.” Don’t ask me why, but Christopher Nolan’s take on the Dark Knight hit a personal spot with me last summer when I really needed it. That aside, this is still a tremendous piece of entertainment, written and directed with the sophistication and precision of a Mamet play. It’s a perfectly realized comic book story come to life without resorting to the usual means. There’s no hero anthem, no ultimate fight scene, no central, scenery-chewing villain and no forced love interest. Yet, there’s still plenty of adventure, wit and smarts on display with Christian Bale at its center, who gives the best superhero performance I’ve ever seen.

9. Hustle & Flow Few movies last summer were as alive and kicking as this electrifying story of a pimp who suddenly finds himself in a mid-life crisis and decides to try his hand at being a rapper. This could have been a formulaic and phony rags-to-riches story, but Terrence Howard’s brilliant, understated performance gives the movie its charisma, its edge, its soul and one of its many triumphs. Craig Brewer’s screenplay crackles with great dialogue while walking a fine line as it asks us to root for a flawed, misogynistic character while never truly following him down that path. Not only that, but the music is terrific.

10. Millions It’s too bad Fox Searchlight didn’t feel it necessary to push this film for awards consideration, considering the originality on display, the delightful score, the sumptuous cinematography and wonderful editing. Danny Boyle’s ingenious little movie about two boys who find a duffle bag full of cash with only a few days to spend it could have easily fallen into the trap of preaching against the evils of greed. Instead, it goes the other way by celebrating sainthood and being a good person. Even if the film’s finale didn’t really happen, I can’t help but think this movie has the happiest ending of the year (well, okay, maybe not quite as happy as The 40-Year-Old Virgin, but it’s up there).

11. Up For Grabs A documentary that barely got a release, but isn’t that one of the reasons we make these lists in the first place? This is a hugely entertaining, edge-of-your-seat film about two greedy baseball fans fighting over a coveted homerun ball hit by Barry Bonds. Two men claim to have caught it. Neither back down. The film effortlessly pits the viewer against one, then the other, until you just sit there waiting for someone—anyone—to do the right thing.

12. Sin City Cut from the Top 10 only because I already have two other films on there about dark, tormented souls out for revenge and/or justice. At the end of the day, Robert Rodriguez’s noir anthology is really just a good mimic of Frank Miller’s graphic novel, but that doesn’t make it any less of a joy to watch. Mickey Rourke makes a triumphant comeback in the year’s best Supporting Actor performance.

13. Twist of Faith Another documentary that didn’t get much of a push, which is odd considering it was nominated for a Best Documentary Oscar in 2004. Still, it didn’t get released until this past summer. In it, a man confronts the fact that he was molested by a priest many years ago at a summer camp. The film achieves startling intimacy as the subjects are given cameras of their own, which they speak to when no one else is around, as though having their own digital confessional.

14. Walk the Line A film that vastly improved upon second viewing as I was able to put all my qualms and annoyances with bio-pics aside and just enjoy the film for its flawless performances, its central love story and its authenticity. This is just great entertainment and Reese Witherspoon hasn’t been this good since Election.

15. Lord of War This movie succeeded where Syriana failed. It took a relevant topic—arms dealing—and managed to make its point through telling a coherent and involving story. In Andrew Niccol’s whip-smart satire, Nicolas Cage plays an arms dealer who gets by on his wits, his charm and his morale-free focus on getting the job done. This was one of the year’s most entertaining surprises that everybody ignored, a trend that could continue on with two other films.

16. Capote This should probably be higher, but I have yet to see it a second time and I find that I haven’t exactly had the urge. Don’t worry, I’ll kick myself later. Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s perfect performance isn’t lost on me, nor is the film’s sad tale of what it took to write a classic piece of literature.

17. The Ice Harvest Like Lord of War, Harold Ramis’ The Ice Harvest got lost in a shuffle of quality movies, but because it didn’t sport Oscar-worthy performances, corsets or advance hype (based on a Broadway musical or popular book), critics and audiences just didn’t take enough notice. This is the darkest, funniest, most sophisticated Christmas movie since The Ref.

18. Howl’s Moving Castle Even with a fun Wallace & Gromit movie and this Hayao Miyazaki film, 2005 will probably not be remembered fondly as a great year for animation. Like all his other films, Howl’s Moving Castle is a parade of visual delights accompanied by a storyline that takes you in directions you can’t possibly imagine.

19. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang Like Lord of War and The Ice Harvest, this movie came out with better-than-expected reviews, but with no fanfare and no help from its studio (Warner Bros. strategy for a small platform release followed by gradual expansion proved to be a mistake). Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer exuded great buddy-film chemistry within the film’s self-referential storyline. It also makes a good Christmas double feature with The Ice Harvest.

20. Me and You and Everyone We Know The indie darling of 2005 never really got under my skin, but there’s no denying the high amount of originality and charm at work here. There were actually quite a few films this year that dealt with relationships in the digital age, but none of them as observant or prolific as Miranda July’s breakthrough film, one that shows great promise.

Further works of Beauty: (In no particular order) Keane, Downfall, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, Turtles Can Fly, The Interpreter, Kung Fu Hustle, Crash, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead, War of the Worlds, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, March of the Penguins, Broken Flowers, The Aristocrats, Grizzly Man, The Brothers Grimm, Wallace & Gromit—Curse of the Were Rabbit, Good Night and Good Luck, The Weather Man, Jarhead, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Match Point, Proof, Assisted Living, Brokeback Mountain, Rize, Munich, Mrs. Henderson Presents, The Talent Given Us, Pride & Prejudice

Not quite “Beauties,” but I wouldn’t throw them out of my DVD player either: Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior, The Jacket, Dear Frankie, Melinda and Melinda, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, The Heights, Rock School, My Summer of Love, The Squid and the Whale, I Am David, My Date With Drew, Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, Transamerica, Elizabethtown, North Country, Thumbsucker, In Her Shoes, Mysterious Skin, Inside Deep Throat, Zathura, The Producers, Paradise Now, The Ballad of Jack and Sarah, 9 Songs, The Skeleton Key, An Unfinished Life, Protocols of Zion, The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till, Breakfast On Pluto

I don’t love you just the way you are, but I might like you enough to want to change you: Bride & Prejudice, Robots, The Upside of Anger, Fever Pitch, The Amityville Horror, Sahara, Kicking and Screaming, Mad Hot Ballroom, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Madagascar, The Bad News Bears, Bee Season, Sky High, The Wedding Crashers, Overnight, Serenity, 2046, Chicken Little, Lords of Dogtown, Syriana, Memoirs of a Geisha, Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, The Fastest Little Indian, The Beat That My Heart Skipped, Roll Bounce, Pretty Persuasion, Shopgirl

Best/Funniest Gag: John Cusack hitting his head on the sign in The Ice Harvest (Just perfect)
Best Use of Music: Lionel Richie’s “Hello” in The 40-Year-Old Virgin
Best Line of Dialogue / Favorite Line of Dialogue or Dialogue Exchange: From Junebug: “God loves you just the way you are, but he loves you too much to let you stay that way.”
From The 40-Year-Old Virgin: “I want you to be like David Caruso in 'Jade'.”
Best Dramatic Pause: Naomi Watts in King Kong crawling away, unaware there’s a giant dinosaur next to her.
Best Fight: King Kong vs. the dinosaurs
Best Newcomer: Director Phil Morrison
The “You Must Stop Making Movies” Award: Jenny McCarthy and her stupid ex-husband
Worst Decision by an Actor: Tommy Lee Jones, Man of the House
Worst Decision by an Actress: Scarlett Johanson, The Island
Best Ensemble: Sin City
Best Brainless Movie: Kung Fu Hustle
Worst "Smart" Film: Last Days
Movie That Made Me The Hungriest: Munich
Most Underrated (Critically): Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, The Ice Harvest, Lord of War
Guiltiest Pleasure: My Date With Drew
Best Action Scene: Skull Island in King Kong (pick one)
Most Romantic Scene: King Kong and Naomi Watts on the ice
The "F. U." Award (Given to someone - director, actor, anyone - you'd like to get out of the movies permanently - based on a film released in 2005): Rob Zombie
Worst Sequel: The Devil’s Rejects
Worst Remake OR Movie based on a TV show: Bewitched
Best Cameo(s): Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, 9 Songs
Sexiest shot, moment or scene: Rosario Dawson giving Alexis Bledel a little love bite in Sin City
Best Actor: Terrence Howard, Hustle & Flow
Best Actress: Naomi Watts, King Kong
Best Supporting Actor: Mickey Rourke, Sin City
Best Supporting Actress: Amy Adams, Junebug
Best Director: Peter Jackson
Best Cinematography: The New World
Favorite Song: “Opening Night,” from The Producers
Favorite Score: Proof
Favorite soundtrack: Thumbsucker
Favorite moment that made me break down and cry: The sublime final sequence in The New World
Best Movie That Has Yet To Receive A Proper Release: The Great Yokai War
Favorite Bad movies: Alone In the Dark, Hostage
Worst actor: Tyler Perry, Diary of a Mad Black Woman
Worst actress: Jane Fonda, Monster-In-Law
Most overrated whatever (Picture, actor, director, etc.): Syriana, Mad Hot Ballroom
Best Monologue: “If you could sing one song that would sum up your whole life…” from Walk the Line
Favorite Character: Ashley (Amy Adams), Junebug
Most nail-biting moment: Naomi Watts on the ladder at the end of King Kong
Most stomach-turning moment: The first sex scene in The Devil’s Rejects (and pretty much everything thereafter)
Best DVD: The Harold Lloyd Collection, Vol. 1-3 and Peter Jackson’s Production Diary

My final word on Brokeback Mountain: I like this movie. Very much, in fact. I always appreciate Ang Lee’s unconventional approach to any genre in which he delves. His latest has been receiving plenty of critical acclaim and Best Picture awards. I don’t quite agree with all the accolades, but I‘m not going to let some overblown praise change my mind about the film so I can jump on the backlash bandwagon.

However, I strongly disagree with anyone’s claim that Lee’s moving and beautifully acted film is any kind of a cultural “breakthrough.” Just because the movie is about gay cowboys, doesn’t mean the cinematic landscape has changed in the slightest.

Top 10 Reasons why Brokeback Mountain is NOT a “Breakthrough Film”:

1. Midnight Cowboy
2. Even Cowgirls Get the Blues
3. My Own Private Idaho
4. The complete works of Greg Araki
5. Love, Valor, Compassion
6. Making Love
7. Cruising
8. Top Gun
9. Can’t Stop the Music
10. Blazing Saddles

…and those are just off the top of my head. Come on, people. Get over it already.

FINALLY, THE WORST:
1. The Devil’s Rejects
As if I didn’t have enough to be miserable about last summer, Rob Zombie’s soiled condom of a movie made me want to just say “to hell with it,” and blow my brains out.

2. Dirty Love I have a list in the works of the Best Break-up Movies of All Time. This movie alone commands the Worst Break-up Movies of All Time list. Once you put this at the #1 spot, what else is there to say? By the way, was Jenny McCarthy ever funny?

3. Son of The Mask If 2004’s Dumb and Dumberer taught us anything, it was that if you can’t get the original cast, original writers and original director(s), then DON’T DO THE SEQUEL!!! Spare us all the headache.

4. The Perfect Man Geez, it must suck to be as ugly and troll-like as Heather Locklear. To be cursed with that hideous smile, those gnarled fingernails, all that hair under her chin and her armpits. No wonder she can’t get a date. What? That’s what the movie is about.

5. The House of D This is what happens when a Celine Dion fan (David Duchuvny) writes and directs a movie. This is also what happens when that same author uses the word “penis” to try and elicit tears from the audience. Where the hell is Gillian Anderson anyway!?!

6. Monster-In-Law If Jane Fonda’s stunt in Vietnam was her biggest mistake, this has to come a close second (Old Gringo being a distant third). Stay home, Jane. We weren’t really missing you.

7. Diary of a Mad Black Woman I had to see this film a second time just to make sure I didn’t dream it. Yup. It happened. Oh my God, it really happened!!!

8. Man of the House The film that, for me, defined the first half of 2005. Whenever people discussed the box office slump this year and attributed it to the simple fact that “the movies suck,” this film was always the first to do a pop-up ad in my brain while nodding in agreement. In it, Tommy Lee Jones plays a cop who babysits a bunch of rambunctious cheerleaders. This is what Hollywood thinks you want to see. This is how much they hate us.

9. Boogeyman The PG-13-ification of horror hit some major lows this year, this one being the lowest of the low. 85 minutes of some doofus staring at a door. Tsai Ming-Liang movies have more action than this.

10. The Family Stone A movie that made me want to be alone at Christmas. Anything would be better than spending it with these self-important jerks. Oh, and I’m supposed to care because one of them has cancer? Please.

Beasts far more deserving to be shot down from the Empire State Building: Hide and Seek, Constantine, Uncle Nino, Off the Map, Dust To Glory, House of Wax, Palindromes, High Tension, Herbie: Fully Loaded, Hitch, Prozac Nation, Get Rich or Die Tryin’, Rent, Happy Endings, Where The Truth Lies, Racing Stripes, Cursed, Be Cool, The Ring Two, Kingdom of Heaven, Bewitched, Must Love Dogs, Undiscovered, Last Days, Aeon Flux, Fantastic Four, Hoodwinked, Elektra, XXX: State of the Union, The Undead, The Pacifier

Thank God that year is OVER!!!


link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=1682
originally posted: 01/12/06 13:04:32
last updated: 01/28/06 02:15:51
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