After weeks of eyestrain and frequent trips to “le cinematheque du peuple,” here’s my list of the best movies of 2005. I made this list because I think most people think it was a bad year for movies; actually, it was a great one. There is not a single movie that defined the year (no LOTR or Chicago), but look at the names attached to the films below (couldn’t believe they all came out with films in 2005) and the sheer number of excellent (but below-the-radar) movies. Contrary to what the Oscars might have led you to believe, it was the best, most diverse, and most surprising line-up in years.
In preferential order
- March of the Penguins (Luc Jacquet) – 85 minutes of snow and penguins, yet has the most emotional moments captured on film since the Battle of Helm’s Deep! A great achievement and absolutely memorable. (note: the US version, with the Morgan Freeman narration, is the one to watch).
- Batman Begins (Christopher Nolan) – probably the best superhero movie ever, from the director of Memento
Munich (Steven Spielberg) – Spielberg’s best film since Schindler’s List (better than A.I., Catch Me If You Can, and Minority Report; Ryan who?). Except for kids in traumatic situations, the Spielberg touch is almost invisible, and all the better for it.
Star Wars Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith (George Lucas) – the most celebrated series in film has concluded, and only a few came to the party. My second favorite Star Wars film (after The Empire Strikes Back)
Kung-Fu Hustle (Stephen Chow) – Hong Kong, Tarantino, and Looney Tunes, in a blender
- Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (Park Chan-wook) – Park’s stylish, pretty, funny, absurd, and brutal third installment in his vengeance trilogy (after Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Oldboy) will no doubt make Tarantino wet his pants when he sees it
- Cinderella Man (Ron Howard) – Ron Howard is a Hollywood hack compared with the auteurs on this list, but a good film is a good film, and I liked this one a lot
- Everything Is Illuminated (Liev Schreiber) – a hilarious, touching, and ultimately tragic story of a young American man looking for his grandfather’s roots in the Ukraine. Great performances by all, especially Eugene Hutz (of the band Gogol Bordello) and Elijah Wood. Great soundtrack features Ukrainian and Rusian gipsy folk music.
- No Direction Home (Martin Scorsese) – Scorsese sifted through tons of footage, pictures, interviews and music to cobble together what may be the definitive documentary on Bob Dylan as an artist during his peak years – his beginnings, influences, motivations, contemporaries, and the events that shaped his art
- The New World (Terrence Malick) – in which the reclusive Malick puts us inside the heads of John Smith and Pocahontas and shows us what it must have been/felt like when their two cultures met and clashed for the first time in 1607 Virginia, without the burden of history and knowledge of the significance of the event. Not for the impatient or uncommitted viewer, this film I think is quite an achievement and a near-masterpiece
- Mrs. Henderson Presents (Stephen Frears) – Pure delight! Features an unbelievably hilarious performance from Judi Dench. The script is hysterical and the music is great. Watch out for director/prankster Christopher Guest of Spinal Tap as…a British lord.
- Capote (Bennett Miller) – featuring the year’s best performance by a non-penguin – Philip Seymour Hoffman – whose skills remind me of (gasp!) Meryl Streep
- King Kong (Peter Jackson) – deserves more accolades than a certain cowboy movie, and I still think Naomi Watt’s performance was largely ignored (she can beat the crap out of Fay Wray any day)
- Caché (Hidden) (Michael Haneke) – someone’s been filming Daniel Auteuil and wife Juliette Binoche and sending them the tapes with creepy drawings. Who was it, and why? But is it really just a whodunit, and not a painful allegory instead (as some have pointed out) about a grim chapter in French history, largely lost to most foreign audiences
- A History of Violence (David Cronenberg) – a tightly crafted (Hitchcockian?) thriller with the Cronenberg trademark of bursting flesh that looks like sticky Christmas ham (yum). I have a feeling this film will grow in prominence over the years.
- Crash (Paul Haggis) – if indeed this movie is pretentious (as detractors have claimed), then I love pretentious
- Oliver Twist (Roman Polanski) – nothing cute or sweet in this richly detailed production. Polanski tells it like the tragedy it is: a poor orphan down on his luck in a squalid world. Polanski’s very own The 400 Blows.
Sin City (Robert Rodriguez & Frank Miller, with Quentin Tarantino) – a groundbreaking stylish film that I think actually advanced the art form. Again, I feel this movie will grow in prominence over the years.
Red Eye (Wes Craven) – 2005’s tightest thriller that has no other artsy fartsy intention than to keep you glued and, well, thrilled
- Rize (David LaChapelle) – famed photographer and video director David LaChapelle’s documentary on krumping (quick, Google it) is one of the best films on dance – and the American urban black experience – ever. Certainly the most frenetic merging of music and film since Michael Winterbottom’s 24-Hour Party People.
Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee) – a well-crafted, envelope-pushing film whose press is bigger than what it actually is
Duma (Carroll Ballard) – shot on location in South Africa and Botswana, this flawed but very engaging adventure film about a boy and his pet cheetah (a cheetah!) has heart and visual splendor to spare
- Memoirs of a Geisha (Rob Marshall) – this sumptuous Japantasy from the director of Chicagois a feast for the eyes
- The Constant Gardener (Fernando Meirelles) – a political thriller, set in Africa, involving diplomats, NGO workers/activists, evil businessmen, and spies. When was the last time you saw something like that?
- Millions (Danny Boyle) – a funny, charming, un-ironic, quasi-religious, genre-bending, feel-good family movie from the director of…Trainspotting and 28 Days Later?? This guy can do anything!
- Good Night, and Good Luck. (George Clooney) – a history lesson set in the ‘50’s that manages to be more relevant to current US affairs than 24 hours of CNN
- Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (Nick Park and Steve Box) – you can even see the filmmakers’ fingerprints on the clay in this handcrafted labor of love
- Manderlay (Lars von Trier) – not as involving as its predecessor Dogville, the brave second installment in von Trier’s America trilogy is a pointed parable aimed this time at African-Americans who refuse to rise above the shackles of slavery and poverty, even if given chance to. Had this film received Oscar attention, it could have caused riots in Hollywood.
- Jarhead (Sam Mendes) – it’s not an action movie, or a propaganda, and certainly not a satire (or a Three Kings-lite), but more like a long, painful sigh that wants to be heard
- The Island (Michael Bay) – could uber-hack Michael Bay actually have directed this smart, Logan’s Run-esque sci-fi escape movie that anticipates the horrors of cloning? I’m now officially excited to see Bay’s live-action adaptation of Transformers
- Transamerica (Duncan Tucker) – any film that manages to focus on something new or taboo deserves attention, and this movie has earned it
- Seven Swords (Tsui Hark) – a huge martial arts epic that delivers the moves and the effects
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Mike Newell) – a little-seen film. Have you heard about it?
- The Aristocrats (Paul Provenza) – 100 comedians (including Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, Bill Connolly and Hank Azaria) talk about the filthiest joke ever conceived. Yes, that’s the whole movie. Totally retarded (you have been warned!) but absolutely hysterical.
- Last Days (Gus Van Sant) – more like a study than an “actual movie,” this film imagines the last few days of a junkie prior to his suicide (the junkie just happens to have been “inspired” by Kurt Cobain). Surprising cameo by Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth. Very fascinating, but not for everybody.
- Rent (Chris Columbus) – die-hard fans (like me) of the Pulitzer prize-winning musical have a lot to complain about: the choice of Columbus as director, a third of the songs and interludes being dropped or turned to funny-sounding dialogue (the stage production is almost completely sung-through like Les Miz), and though it was a good idea to invite the original Broadway cast to reprise their roles onscreen, well, they’re now 10 years older. But the fact is the heart and essence of the musical is largely intact, and those songs that are left still have the power to touch those who will listen to them for the first time.
- The Brothers Grimm (Terry Gilliam) – to like this movie is to like the body of work of madman Terry Gilliam, for whom the phrases “noble failure” and “bloated mess” were probably coined. As usual, the production values are high, everything is over-the-top, and the tone confusing at best. But like watching a sprightly dancing cadaver, I didn’t get it, but I couldn’t look away.
- Don’t Come Knocking (Wim Wenders) – similar in theme to Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers (guy past his prime learns he had child out of wedlock then looks for mother and kid) but with better performances (Jessica Lange, Eva Marie Saint), better location (Marlboro country), and even better cinematography and music
Not among the best, but notable nonetheless
In preferential order Disappointments Full Disclosure I haven’t seen the following talked-about films from 2005 (which could have affected my rankings above): Paradise Now (Hany Abu-Assad) The Squid & The Whale (Noah Baumbach) Enron: The Smartest Guys In the Room (Alex Gibney) Sophie Scholl: The Final days (Marc Rothemund) North Country (Niki Caro)
Originally posted April 2, 2006 in paolospen.blogs.friendster.com
I haven’t seen the following talked-about films from 2005 (which could have affected my rankings above):
Paradise Now (Hany Abu-Assad)
The Squid & The Whale (Noah Baumbach)
Enron: The Smartest Guys In the Room (Alex Gibney)
Sophie Scholl: The Final days (Marc Rothemund)
North Country (Niki Caro)