Sunday, January 01, 2006

The Top Ten Films of 2005 - (Year End Round-up, Pt.1)

Top Ten Films of 2005

Well, we must now bow our heads in mock shame. Earlier, we too had been bemoaning this seemingly lackluster year of moviegoing. And for the most part that was true. Until late November, when the major studios began their yearly Oscar bait round-up and delivered the goods with some wonderful movies. Turns out, the year wasn’t that painful, well at least artistically – box office wise, it appears to be a turning point in Hollywood history.

In any case, in compiling our Top Ten Films of 2005 list, (we know, you’ve been breathless with anticipation – we thank you for your patience) we were surprised we had to actually whittle down the list from at least twenty films we loved! This year in particular has been exceptionally kind to the genre flick. From the invigorating reinvention of the Caped Crusader franchise “Batman Begins”, to the final, we hope, Star Wars episode “Revenge of the Sith” which neatly and surprisingly emotionally tied up all the Jedi loose strings. We ate up the popcorn flicks, “War of the Worlds”, “Charlie & The Chocolate Factory”, “Mr. & Mrs. Smith”, “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit”, “Serenity”, and the monstrous “King Kong.”

But our list is not a box office champ rundown. It is a list of the best experiences we had in the dark . . . in a theatre . . . with our clothes on. These are the films that entertained us, moved us and transported us to another time and place. When all was said and done, we regretted not being able to squeeze in a few more, notably: Match Point”, “The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio”, “Hustle & Flow”, “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada”, “Good Night and Good Luck”, “Oliver Twist”, “Serenity”, “North Country”, “2046” and Breakfast on Pluto. But hey, we had to draw the line somewhere. And so, without further ado - These are our Top Ten Films of 2005! Let the countdown commence!

(No peeking bitches! We promise to be brief - please read our full reviews for the complete details.)

11. “Caché.” Eleven? “Bitch, can’t you count? You said Top Ten Films?” Calm the fuck down. There is a sensible reason; you’ll just have to wait for it. At number eleven on our list is the marvelously taught and blisteringly acted French thriller – “Caché”. A stylish, intelligent and most importantly riveting look at the haunting nature of past sins.

10. “Capote comes in at number ten, with its impressive title turn by Philip Seymour Hoffman leading the charge this year of powerful performances by male actors. Hoffman is amazing in his Truman Capote homage, with equally fine turns by Catherine Keener as Harper Lee and Clifton Collins Jr. as the quietly murderous Perry Smith. A wonderful evocation of the early 1960s milieu that Capote called home while investigated his now landmark true crime novel “In Cold Blood”. A terrific script by actor Dan Futterman and top notch direction by newcomer Bennett Miller.

9. “King Kong – a giant in every sense. This three hour CGI laden mega-movie would have meant precious little without the assured directorial hand of Peter Jackson and his breathtakingly talented leads. Naomi Watts pulling out all the stops in a masterful leading actress turn and Andy Serkis providing the human template for the incredible creation that is Kong. A fine tribute and expansion to the original 1933 classic that captures the magic of populist moviemaking.

8. “Herzogpalooza” – So labeled by our fellow documentary-loving partner in crime this summer, Goochie. Werner Herzog, the former enfant terrible of German cinema has of late been focusing on exploring the passions and singular obsessions of men on the margins of life. With his one-two punch of “Grizzly Man” and “The White Diamond”, Werner discovered two similarly obsessed men – one egomaniac turned conservationist who perished at the paws of his Grizzly Bear subjects, and an amateur flight enthusiast who attempts to recreate the deadly solo flight that killed a companion on their previous excursion. Call them an investigation into the minds of madmen, they were riveting from start to finish and mesmerizing in their execution. Special mention to his third documentary to go into wide release this year – “Wheel of Time” a look at the Buddhist monk ritual – the intricate sand mandala.

7. “Millions – An instant children’s classic? Perhaps. Told by the director of “Trainspotting” which makes it not only palatable - but hip, edgy, humorous and ultimately heartbreaking. The perfect antidote to Dakota Fanning. A spellbinding celebration of moviemaking magic. One to run out and buy and watch every Christmas.

6. “The New World.” Terrence Malick’s fourth film in thirty two years demonstrates his unparalleled artistic genius, and reinvigorates the epic film. A painterly paean to the spiritual and mythic qualities of the New World that White Colonists first encountered in the 17th century. A reexamination of the Pocahontas myth that provided one of the great cinema-going experiences this year.

5. “Brokeback Mountain.” Jake Gyllenhaal and an exceptionally rich performance by Heath Ledger anchor this meditation on manliness. Yes, the cowboys fuck. No, it isn’t a “Gay Cowboy” movie. And if it wins the top honors at this years Oscars, it won’t be a reflection on how far we have come from the Stonewall breakthrough – but it might hopefully be a harbinger of Hollywood’s “A” list newfound willingness to tackle the hitherto subgenre of “Gay Films” in an intelligent, passionate and artistic fashion.

4. “A History of Violence.” David Cronenberg’s crowning glory. Thus far. Always at the outside of the mainstream, but never short on artistry and panache, he nails this small parable of the cost of violence right on the snout. A solid lead performance by Viggo Mortensen, fine supporting work by Ed Harris and Maria Bello – and the best performance of the year courtesy of William Hurt in a bristling turn as the coldest of the cold.

3. “Saraband.” Legendary filmmaker Ingmar Bergman’s latest and last. He also said that in 1983 with his masterpiece “Fanny & Alexander.” He lied. As do we all. This emotionally devastating examination of lives past, broken promises, and the complexity of human relationships plays like a brilliant Mozart chamber opera. Filled with stunning camerawork and incredible performances by Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson in their masterly reprisals of the characters they created way back in Bergman’sScenes From a Marriage” in 1973.

2. “Last Days by Gus Van Sant. If anybody had told us that a great film was to be made out of the last days of Kurt Cobain’s life – we would have told them to grab the shotgun. Well, Gus Van Sant continues his sparse, metaphysical and meditative vein he instigated with “Gerry” and the brilliant “Elephant” with this near perfect elegy on loneliness, fame, depression and yes, death. A treat for the senses, with rich evocative camerawork by that master of chiaroscuro Harris Savides.



The Best Film of 2005 is . . . .

1.Classe Tous Risques” by Claude Sautet! Made in 1960. HEY!!!! “You’re cheating!” Oh, pop the pill cap and relax you cunts. While this film was technically made and released in 1960, it was never officially distributed in this country until this year. A perfect blend of 1950s crime noir and its eventual deconstruction by the Nouvelle Vague auteurs, “Classe Tous Risques” is a genuine film masterpiece. It was finally and officially released this year, in a completely restored version with new subtitles that perfectly capture the seedy crime world of hoods on the lam in mid-century-last Paris. The bullish Lino Ventura is hypnotic as the thug with famille in tow, and Jean-Paul Belmondo positively sizzles as his would be savior. A master class in visual storytelling, atmosphere, pacing and execution. The smallest bit part is so perfectly cast and beautifully etched; we witness a complete world in the span of less than two hours. A feat that Hollywood directors of today would kill themselves to echo. And yes, we agree that even though it was released this year – the fact that it is a forty year old film should disqualify it from our list. But it remains the best time we had in a theatre this year. So there. (And that is why we threw you the bone of number eleven, for all you nitpickers. You know who you are. Bitches.)

On to the Oscars, and a hopeful joyous New Year filled with more movie magic! Coming this week – our Best Performances of 2005! Bless you all!