Out of the hundreds of movies released in 2005, I likely saw a total of 30. I missed out on many of the year's highest grossing pictures. Harry Potter? Didn't see it. Chronicles of Narnia? Nope. Hitch? Hell no. I also never had the chance to catch several of the most critically lauded: Good Night, and Good Luck? Notta. The Squid & the Whale? Missed it. Cinderella Man? Ugh. And entirely out of my control, there are those films that have not yet been released except for in LA and NY, several of which would probably have a good shot at a list like this (e.g. Match Point, The New World, Cache, Why We Fight). I guess I'm just saying that this is far from an exhaustive and comprehensive list.
So what did I see this year?
Here are a few I saw that did not make the cut. Some decent films. None of these are complete stinkers, except the one featuring an annoying, scrawny blonde-haired kid who, in a dramatic turn of events, ends up having the voice of James Earl Jones.
Star Wars:Episode III, War of the Worlds, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, In Good Company, The Family Stone, King Kong, The Jacket, Fever Pitch, Wedding Crashers.
In the next tier, a few more films that came close but eventually fell short. Each of these, I still strongly recommend.
Layer Cake, Munich, Gunner Palace, Walk the Line.
And what remains are the 10 films that make up my Best of 2005. An impressive range of filmmaking, most of the independent variety. Obviously I'm of the opinion that none of these movies should be missed. If you haven't seen one of 'em, quickly run to a theater near you or place it at No. 1 in your Netflix queue. Though I will warn you, depression may follow.
10. Batman Begins
The only popcorn movie in the bunch, Christopher Nolan's Batman epic is here for many reasons, but most of all for bringing an entirely new mood and realism to the comic-book genre. Not an easy feat.
Although far from subtle, this ensemble melodrama in the vein of Altman and Anderson is a hell of a debut for a director. Featuring an excellent cast (especially Cheadle and Dillon) this film about all types of racial tension succeeds in making even the most naively innocent among us feel implicated.
This is not an easy film. I couldn't explain the plot or half the characters if I tried. That being said, the true main character here is Oil and the corruption that follows in its wake. "Syriana" is a word Washington think tanks use to describe a hypothetical Middle East, reborn in the image of the West. And although some aspects of the plot may be ambiguous and border on conspiracy theory, the film's message is clear and hard to deny.
7. Grizzly Man
Werner Herzog's documentary tells the story of Alaska's self-proclaimed protector of the grizzly bears, Timothy Treadwell. Most of the film is taken directly from Tim's own footage shot during his summer treks living with the very bears that eventually kill him and his girlfriend. Startling in its depiction of one man's passion that is both sincere and foolishly misguided.
6. Last Days
Inspired by the last days of Kurt Cobain, this film is so sparse in dialogue and action that it borders on hypnosis. Doesn't sound like a recommendation but I mean it as one. The atmosphere is eerie as you voyeuristically watch one man's last daze in drug addiction.
Philip Seymour Hoffman. Is there any other actor who could have pulled off Truman Capote without coming off as a caricature of the notoriously flamboyant and arrogant writer? Not only did he nail the part, but this is a rare biopic that actually gets at what is going on inside the subject's mind while speaking to themes beyond the context of his story. And how does that happen? I say again, Philip Seymour Hoffman.
4. The Constant Gardner
Could have been a standard political thriller and it definitely excels in that genre...but what makes this movie stand out from others of similar ilk is the emotional weight of the relationship between Ralph Fiennes' character and his murdered wife played by Rachel Weisz. This is the second film from City of God director Fernando Meirelles and I can now say he is one of a few number of directors whose name alone will bring me into a theater.
I saw this just a week ago and I've been thinking about it ever since. I wish I could go back and see it on the big screen, because it contains the most beautiful images I've seen in any movie this year. Wong Kar-Wai is already a legendary director but I can't see how this masterpiece could be topped. It is a scenic tour of love lost and remembered, personified by various women through the eyes of one lonely dude. For my money, I'll take the perfect performance by Ziyi Zhang. This movie is an amazing combination of form and content. Amazing to look at, listen to, and feel.
2. Brokeback Mountain
I said my piece on Brokeback in my 12/19 posting, but placing this at #2 on my list should reemphasize how great a film this is and how it is so much more than a "gay cowboy" movie. If you're having doubts, get over it. Go see it. That is unless you're lucky enough to live in Salt Lake City, where the film has suddenly been pulled from theaters.
1. A History of Violence
Well this one came out of nowhere for me but it definitely deserves its place at the top. David Cronenberg directs this noirish little tale about a small-town hero whose violent actions spread like a virus to everyone around him. At first glance, this seems like a fun little thriller starring Aragorn and an excellent supporting cast (see Maria Bello, Ed Harris and William Hurt). When this film really starts to kick you in the gut is when it becomes an allegory about violence itself and how it quickly escalates in various forms throughout our safe, civilized society. As the story unfolds and you watch things unravel violently out of control, you start to realize that your very own reaction to the displays of violence depicted on screen (sometimes horrific, sometimes humorous, sometimes sexual) is exactly what Cronenberg is wanting us to question. And there is no easy answer, except that this is one hell of a good movie.
And my individual awards go to:
Best Actor: Heath Ledger, Brokeback Mountain
Best Supporting Actor: William Hurt, A History of Violence
Best Actress: Ziyi Zhang, 2046
Best Supporting Actress: Rachel Weisz, The Constant Gardener
Best Screenplay: Josh Olson, A History of Violence
Best Director: Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain