March 3, 2006

2005 Year in Review: The Movies

Is it March already? Time just sort of slips away from you sometimes. I meant to do this back in January. In any case, here is my much delayed Best Of lists for 2005. This is a bit long, but I wanted to try to cover as many areas as possible. Please, read on and let me know what you think. Also, my thought processes are allowed to change with time, mood, and any number of other factors, so this could be different down the road, but for now, it is what it is.

Section I: The Stats

  • Number of Movies Seen: 153
  • Number of Movies Eligible for Lists: 132
  • Eligible films seen in 2006: 6
  • Number of Different Theaters Visited: 10
  • Longest Film Seen: 188 (King Kong)
  • Shortest Film Seen: 76 (The Corpse Bride)
  • R: 43
  • PG-13: 59
  • PG: 14
  • G: 5
  • Not Rated: 11

Section II: The Films:

Top Ten Films

  1. Sin City. This movie floored me. The gorgeous look, the over the top style and great ensemble cast combine to help show us what the future of filmmaking can be like. Rodriguez did a wonderful job getting this translated from page to screen.
  2. The Constant Gardener. This one was a surprise, a political thriller whose love story is the most fulfilling part. Fantastic editing and a moving story combine to make this one of the best of the year.
  3. Good Night and Good Luck. George Clooney directed, co-wrote, and co-starred in this smartly written and highly entertaining tale of Murrow vs McCarthy. It has a wonderfully focused script and is anchored by great performances and gorgeous black and white photography.
  4. Brokeback Mountain. Beautiful film. This film has 3 things going for it, one of the best scripts of the year, some great acting performances, and assured direction. This was a surprisingly moving film that transcends the subjects of the story.
  5. Crash. It may be a little unrealistic in relation to the real world, but taken as a microcosm of the world we live in, it is an effective and powerful film. Paul Haggis has crafted a fine film which focuses the worlds problems on all of us.
  6. Munich. Steven Spielberg's tale of the Mossad team tracking down the perpetrators of the murders at the '72 Olympics is a powerful drama. It is a reflection on the concept of revenge.
  7. A History of Violence. David Cronenberg's quiet masterpiece about violence. Are those who live by it doomed to forever be consumed, or can they transcend it? Led by some great lead performances, this is an excellent film.
  8. Mysterious Skin. Not many films make me feel icky after watching it, this is one that did. It is a story of abuse and friendship and features a nice turn from Joseph Gordon Levitt.
  9. King Kong. It is big and bold and hairy. Not to mention 3 hours long! Peter Jackson has crafted another great experience. You can't help but feel for the beast.
  10. Match Point. Woody Allen's latest is bit more Hitchcockian in nature. It starts off in one direction and ends up somewhere else entirely. It is methodically paced and cleverly written.

Honorable Mentions: Capote, Broken Flowers, Memoirs of a Geisha, Batman Begins, Millions

Ten Favorite Films: These are the films that will most likely get the most replays.

  1. Sin City. This was my favorite film for a reason, there isn't anything that I can say I didn't like.
  2. Serenity. This exceeded all of my expectations, plus it was a lot of fun!
  3. The Devil's Rejects. This was an intense and gritty exercise, and big leap forward for Rob Zombie.
  4. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Tim Burton's new take on the classic tale is visually stunning, and has yet another excellent showing from Johnny Depp.
  5. Kung Fu Hustle. Like a live action kung fu cartoon, Stephen Chow's film explodes on the screen in a blast of manic glee.
  6. Batman Begins. The finest screen representation of the iconic character. Great cast, script, and direction make this a film to revisit.
  7. The 40 Year Old Virgin. Very funny! This comedy has a surprisingly sweet core which, taken with the rawness, makes this a movie to watch over and over.
  8. The Corpse Bride. What can I say? I love Burton, and this is no different.
  9. Transporter 2. Not high art, but a blast of over the top stylized action.
  10. High Tension. Except for the ending.

Worst Ten Films

  1. A Sound of Thunder. This was flat out awful. The concept was good, the actors could have been good, but nothing came together in this terrible sci-fi flick.
  2. Aeon Flux. This would have been better served as a Sci-Fi Channel Original. I feel bad, Charlize is better than this, and this movie could have been better than it is.
  3. Alone in the Dark. Another reel of trash from the wonderful Uwe Boll. It's better than House of the Dead, but that isn't saying much.
  4. A Lot Like Love. Two lead characters who say and do the dumbest things. This movie should have been over in minutes.
  5. Stealth. Loud. Obnoxious. Dumb. Period.
  6. The Cave. Not scary, Not suspenseful. Boring.
  7. Valiant. I like the heart behind the movie, but the execution is terrible.
  8. Venom. This movie made no sense. I recommend you look elsewhere for something bite.
  9. White Noise. The concept could have been better, but the result is dull, boring, and did not make sense. I feel sorry for Michael Keaton.
  10. Rent. Obnoxious characters, forgettable music, sub par direction.

Top 5 Surprises

  1. The 40 Year Old Virgin. This movie has all the raunchy humor you need, plus it has a genuine heart. Fantastic blend of raunch and sweet.
  2. Murderball. Who would have thought a film about quadriplegics would be this good? I would love to meet these guys.
  3. Assault on Precinct 13. I am a fan of the original, and this remake took it in another direction, crafting a fun action film.
  4. Red Eye. A tight, focused script is at the center of this thriller. Rachel McAdams and Cillian Murphy are excellent as the leads.
  5. Four Brothers. An urban reimagination of an old John Wayne movie. This is one not to be missed.

Top 5 Letdowns

  1. Aeon Flux. The trailers looked good, the idea was good, the cast was good. The movie? well, there's 90 minutes I'm not getting back.
  2. The Ring 2. The first was a very good remake, one of the better supernatural horror films of recent memory. This sequel just throws that all away, delivering a nonsensical, dull sequel.
  3. The Brothers Grimm. Terry Gilliam could have crafted a masterpiece. It has some wonderful set design, and a scene stealing performance from Peter Stormare, but it is not a good story.
  4. Fantastic Four. Again, could have been a classic, but a slow story and some terrible casting sink this before it ever gets going.
  5. Elizabethtown. Cameron Crowe strikes out. Despite the adorable Kirsten Dunst, this is dull and ultimately pointless.

Top 3 Science Fiction Films

  1. Serenity. This made it to, and way beyond my expectations. I loved this film, the dialog was great, the story exciting, it surpassed on every level. See this and see the show upon which it was based, Firefly, now.
  2. Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith. Easily the best of the prequels, and possibly in the top three of the series. Plenty of action, some very good acting, and fantastic effects.
  3. Batman Begins. Incredible new start for the caped crusader. Christopher Nolan has crafted a film that really captures the Bat and Bruce, plus the cast is phenomenal.

Top 3 Horror Films

  1. The Devil's Rejects. Rob Zombie has made an incredible jump in his directorial skills. This is a hardcore, gritty revenge film. Picking up and dealing with the aftermath of it's predecessor, House of 1000 Corpses, while forging new ground in a stand alone film.
  2. High Tension. A throwback to the slashers of the 80's, this has blood to spare.
  3. Land of the Dead. George Romero shows why he is the zombie master. Not at the same level as earlier entries, but still an excellent horror flick.

Top 3 Comedies

  1. The 40 Year Old Virgin. Steve Carrell stands up and carries the funniest film of the year. Could Carrell be the new king of cinematic comedy? Well, a few more films will tell us that, but this is a great start, and also great for writer director Judd Apatow.
  2. Wedding Crashers. Vaughn and Wilson are the new dynamic duo. The montages may have been a bit long, but this is one funny movie!
  3. Waiting... Not at the level of the first two, but this has the lockdown on gross out humor, evoking memories of Clerks and Office Space.

Top Action Films

  1. Transporter 2. Over the top and completely ludicrous. Reminds me of the action films of the 80's, but with better acting. Jason Statham is an excellent action star.
  2. Unleashed. Jet Li has some brutal fights, and some good acting. This is not to be missed. Not quite as action packed as I expected, but still contains some brutal fight scenes.
  3. Mr & Mrs. Smith. Crazy, ridiculous, and a blast. Jolie and Pitt play the star card and carry this on their backs. Gun play, car chases, hand to hand combat, it has a little bit of everything.

Top Animated Films

  1. The Corpse Bride. I am a Burton fan, pure and simple. This just drips with Burton style and charm. Not to mention the fine animation.
  2. Wallace & Gromit in Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Speaking of charming, this film is all about it. Great claymation animation and an ingenius story. For the whole family.
  3. Howl's Moving Castle. While the story was a bit of a letdown, the voice acting and finely detailed animation is wonderful.

Top Foreign Language Films

  1. Kung Fu Hustle. This was an insane movie, combine kung fu and comedy in a live action Tex Avery style movie and you are close. Stephen Chow masterfully blends comedy and action in a hilarious film.
  2. Head On. This was amazing, a gritty film about severely damaged people. A German film dealing with the Turkish community. Features some wonderful performances and strikes an unexpected emotional punch.
  3. 3 Iron. Never thought a film where the leads barely say anything, with the male lead saying nothing at all, would be so compelling. Beautiful.

Top Documentaries

  1. Murderball. Interesting, funny, and offers a great insight into human nature. Follow the American team as they have a long running feud with the Canadian team, and help others deal with their adaptation programs.
  2. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. This clearly shows just how bad these guys were, and in a way that makes sense of it. Informative while remaining entertaining.
  3. Mad Hot Ballroom. Inner city kids taking ballroom dancing lessons will have a smile on your face for the entire run time. I had no idea that this would be that enjoyable.

Best Special Effects

  1. King Kong. King Kong is simply the finest digital creation yet. For that, it is the best. Special mention for Andy Serkis, who provided Kong's performance.
  2. Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith. Nearly an animated movie, the overall effects are probably the best ever put to film (I know it was digital).
  3. War of the Worlds. The walkers couldn't have looked more real. The integration of effects with the practical locations is perfect.

Section III: The People

Top 5 Actors

  1. Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote. I knew nothing about Capote prior to this (I know, I know), but more than that my eyes were opened to the absolutely extraordinary talent that Hoffman possesses.
  2. Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain. Ledger sets aside the pretty boy image, and flexes some acting muscle in this quietly understated, yet powerful performance.
  3. Joaquin Phoenix in Walk the Line. Completely overshadowing the film are the performances. I was leery of Phoenix as Cash, but he proved me wrong, nailing the role.
  4. Viggo Mortensen in A History of Violence. Viggo embodies the man trying to put his past behind him, but can a man who lived by violence ever really escape it?
  5. David Strathairn in Good Night and Good Luck. An excellent performance in a fantastic movie. He brings Morrow to life in this tightly focused film.

Top 5 Actresses

  1. Reese Witherspoon in Walk the Line. As good as Phoenix was, Witherspoon was every bit his equal as June. I am not a fan of hers, but there is no denying the talent which has emerged through this film.
  2. Maria Bello in A History of Violence. Behind every good man is a better woman. Bello has had some very good roles, and this is one of the best.
  3. Sybel Kikelli for Head On. The female lead of the gritty German film, she has captured the essence of a fractured woman in this drama.
  4. Naomi Watts for King Kong. She brings a wonderful glow to the screen and shines as the object of the giant ape's affections.
  5. Nicole Kidman in The Interpreter. Not her best role, but she does a very good job in this thriller.

Top 5 Supporting Actors

  1. Mickey Rourke in Sin City. Ignored by the awards giving community at large, Rourke gave an incredible performance, nailing the role of Marv. He brought a great sense of emotion and purpose to the role.
  2. George Clooney in Syriana. I may need a few more viewings to fully unravel the labyrinthine plot, but it only took one viewing to be struck by the powerful performance by Clooney.
  3. Paul Giamatti in Cinderella Man. I have become a big fan of Giamatti's over the past few years, and he did a great job in this one as Russell Crowe's manager.
  4. Michael Caine in Batman Begins. Caine brings an enormous weight to the role of Alfred. A quiet strength, hitting the right notes. Surprising for a character who generally is relegated to the far background.
  5. Ian McDiarmid in Star Wars Episode III. Portraying the ultimate evil in the universe is not easy, making it believable and being an underhanded and manipulative at the same time is a major feat. That is especially impressive when working with George Lucas dialog.

Top 5 Supporting Actresses

  1. Zhang Ziyi in Memoirs of a Geisha. It may not be the most accurate of films portraying Japanese culture, but I found the tale, and Ziyi to be absolutely captivating. Her performance was fantastic.
  2. Rachel Weisz in The Constant Gardener. Rachel gave a moving performance as an activist sticking up for what she believes in, and playing the focal point of a moving love story.
  3. Hee Jae in 3 Iron. Nearly silent for the entire movie, she did a great job of expressing emotion through her facial expressions, carrying on complete, silent conversations.
  4. Scarlett Johansson in Match Point. Talk about a talent, she has appeared in a few films this year, this was her best. She playing the American temptress in a dangerous game of Hitchcockian suspense by way of Woody Allen.
  5. Thandie Newton in Crash. She stood out in the ensemble cast of this fine film. Playing a range of emotions in this microcosm of race relations in LA.

Top 5 Directors

  1. Robert Rodriguez for Sin City. Rodriguez left the Director's Guild to make this. He, along with Frank Miller, and guest Quentin Tarantino, have forged a film that shows what the future of cinema can hold. He looks to the past of Noir, and the future of effects creating a hard boiled extravaganza of special effects and over the top tales.
  2. Ang Lee for Brokeback Mountain. Lee has made a wonderful comeback from the perceived failure of Hulk (I liked it). A quietly moving film which doesn't beat you over the head.
  3. David Cronenberg for A History of Violence. A rumination on the nature of violence. Cronenberg did a wonderful job combining his penchant for sex and violence in a story that gives a lot to think about.
  4. Fernando Merielles for The Constant Gardener. First impressing with City of God, his talent hits home again with a love story wrapped in a political thriller about drug testing in Africa. Wonderful movie and great direction.
  5. Steven Spielberg for Munich. Spielberg's tale of the Mossad assassination squad in the aftermath of the murder of the Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics.

Top 5 Writers

  1. Larry McMurtry for Brokeback Mountain. The adaptation of Anne Proulx' short story is a thing of beauty. The story unfolds in a beautiful way. The dialog is realistic, the conveyed emotions true. Never heavy handed.
  2. Jeffrey Caine for The Constant Gardener. Another adaptation, skillfully weaves flashbacks and romance, political dialog and thrilling suspense. Very good script.
  3. Woody Allen for Match Point. Woody has written his best script in years. Intriguing characters, plus twists that I did not see coming.
  4. David S. Goyer for Batman Begins. Goyer has become the guy to go to for a comic book adaptation. His script for the Bat captures the essence of the character and finally does justice to the story on the big screen.
  5. Josh Friedman and David Koepp for War of the Worlds. This movie has caught a lot of flak, but the screenplay works very well. It may not be the alien invasion to end all invasions, rather a more personal story is told in epic scale.

Top 3 Composers

  1. John Williams for Memoirs of a Geisha. Absolutely beautiful score. He does a wonderful job of capturing the Asian sound and matching it with the wonderful film. It also features contributions from Yo Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman.
  2. Danny Elfman for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I have always enjoyed Danny's work, and he is at his best when he is working with Tim Burton, and this is no different.
  3. John Williams for Star Wars Episode III. Williams one more time, best film of the prequels and the best score of the sequels. From brash and loud to quiet and seductive, Williams closes out the Star Wars saga.

Top 3 Cinematographers

  1. Dion Beebe for Memoirs of a Geisha. This film's beauty is captivating. The shadows, the colors, the lighting, all combine to give such a beautiful look that even if the film was bad, you'd have something to look at.
  2. Robert Rodriguez for Sin City. It can't be easy to realize a film completely on a computer with live actors in front of a green screen. Rodriguez has crafted a great look, reminiscent of films from the 50's while forging new ground.
  3. Rodrigo Prieto for Brokeback Mountain. Best looking mountains on the big screen for awhile. They form a wonderful backdrop for the actors. Very nice work.

That brings us to the end of my very long, and very late, list. I am sorry for how long it took to get this out. I also thank you for bearing with me.

Now, I am sure you have some bones of contention and major disagreements/snubs that you would like to address, so I will leave you to it.

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