Archive for Friday, December 30, 2005

The top films of the year

December 30, 2005

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"The sky is falling." Not only was that a tagline from this year's animated hit "Chicken Little," it also was Hollywood's mantra after experiencing a 19-week box-office slump during the summer.

Then the blame started being thrown around as to why people weren't going to the multiplex.

"Too many sequels." "Nothing but soulless, special-effects blockbusters." "Movies just aren't as good as they used to be."

Hogwash.

As someone who sees films for a living, let me assure you that each year the exact same ratio of good ones (and bad ones, for that matter) get released in theaters. Whether audiences flock to them is another story. But they are out there. And with the miracle of DVDs/Video On Demand/Pay-Per-View, those who missed them the first time have a second chance at seeing these mainstream and indie standouts.

From first to tenth, here are the best pictures of 2005:

Crash

Hollywood's portrayal of race has become either so stereotypical ("The Longest Yard") or so PC ("Coach Carter") that it is rarely relevant. But here's a movie that addresses America's most complex issue with total fearlessness. Rookie filmmaker Paul Haggis (the Oscar-nominated writer of "Million Dollar Baby") weaves an ensemble tale of a Los Angeles where everybody is both a perpetrator and a victim of racism. What could have been a preachy, disjointed mess turns out to be the year's most potent film.

A History of Violence

It's not so much the subject matter of a small-town family man (Viggo Mortensen) who dispatches two lowlifes when they bring their crime spree to his diner, but director David Cronenberg's detached, deliberate approach that gives this movie an otherworldly quality. The film reinvents itself with each new act, but the underlying message remains: Once violence is part of one's lifestyle, it's impossible to escape from it.

Munich

Steven Spielberg's disturbing drama functions well as a dynamic retelling of the terrorist catastrophe at the 1972 Olympics in Munich and its aftermath involving a Mossad agent (Eric Bana) who is recruited to hunt down those responsible. But more importantly, it serves as an examination of the cyclical blood feud between Israelis and Palestinians that is no closer to being resolved now than it was decades ago. That Spielberg can present this material "objectively" is quite a balancing act. This movie could just as easily be titled "A History of Violence."

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

The most memorable documentaries - from "The Thin Blue Line" to "Fahrenheit 9/11" - are usually those that make a viewer the angriest. "Enron" will have one rooting that the executives who ran the failed mega-corp get the electric chair. Alex Gibney's adaptation of the book by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind does a fine job at taking an enormously tangled tale of government-sanctioned corruption and presenting it in easy-to-digest form.

Pride & Prejudice

The problem with cinematic period pieces is that the characters often seem like museum fixtures. Not so with this lively adaptation of Jane Austen's revered novel. Keira Knightley gives her best-ever performance as the feisty Elizabeth who shares a love/hate relationship with the rich but implacable Mr. Darcy (Matthew MacFadyen). The look, feel and emotional resonance of the picture are flawless.

King Kong

Sure, it's over three hours long and Jack Black is miscast, but Peter Jackson's "King Kong" is as spirited a remake of a classic as one could hope for. As the film climbs toward its inevitable conclusion, the full impact of Jackson's vision becomes evident. The sight of the mighty ape taking futile swipes at bullet-spitting biplanes from the top of the Empire State Building remains one of the most awe-inspiring and utterly sad images in movie history.

Sin City

In the hands of multitasking filmmaker Robert Rodriguez ("Spy Kids") and artist/writer Frank Miller, "Sin City" is as vibrant and hostile as the fictional metropolis of the same name. It's a film noir world populated by gritty detectives, putrid pedophiles and ninja-trained hookers. Several modern movies have tried to bring the look and feel of a comic book to life, but Rodriguez is the first to fully capture the colorful, episodic, exaggerated texture of an actual ink-and-paper product.

Downfall

This fascinating, excruciating drama focuses on Adolf Hitler and his inner circle's final days spent in a Berlin bunker as World War II comes to a suffocating end. The great Swiss actor Bruno Ganz gives a performance so "believable" (for lack of a better word) as the conscienceless central figure that the German-language feature almost attains a documentary level of realism. This ain't "Springtime for Hitler."

Me and You and Everyone We Know

Miranda July writes, directs and stars in this Cannes and Sundance winner about a performance artist who falls for a just-divorced shoe salesman (John Hawkes). The result is an offbeat, elliptical, often explicit story that recalls the work of Todd Solondz ("Happiness"). But July offers a more poetic approach. Perversity has rarely been delivered with such humanism.

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

It's not just the detail-oriented novelty of stop-motion animation that makes Nick Park's "Wallace & Gromit" so delightful (the similar "Tim Burton's Corpse Bride" was a yawn), but how consistently lovable these characters come across. The relationship between the absent-minded professor and his silent, semi-expressionless dog is worthy of comparisons to some of the screen's greatest comedic duos.

Honorable mention:

"Kung Fu Hustle," "Batman Begins," "Hustle & Flow," "Walk the Line," "The Constant Gardener."

Comments

chzypoof1 9 years, 3 months ago

Crash was a great call. Probably the best movie I watched all year. It's great to see a refreshing, unhdaunted look at true American society come out of Hollywood. Most of the time it's just recycled scripts, like King Kong, Dukes of Hazzard, etc....

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