Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

09 January 2006

Top Twenty-five for 2005

I've seen 65 movies so far this year, and though there will be more to come, it's time to release the big list. Films I've yet to see for 2005 (there are a lot): Breakfast on Pluto, The Producers, Rent, The Chumscrubber, Howl's Moving Castle, The World, Good Morning Night, My Mother's Smile, The Best of Youth, The Aristocrats, Kings and Queen, The Weeping Meadow, Tropical Malady, Saraband, Head-On, Yesterday, The Edukators, Love in Thoughts, Kontroll, Naked Fame, Fear and Trembling, Tony Takitani, The Girl from Monday,
The Keys to the House, War of the Worlds, 5X2, Hustle & Flow, Yes
. Most of these are on their way from Netflix.

THE LIST:

25. Millions Visually unique and touching without being overly sentimental or cloying, this film from Danny Boyle (28 Days) is definitely worth the rental if you missed it. It's on DVD now.

24. Batman Begins Though they usually are, this big-budget movie from Christopher Nolan (Memento, Insomnia) is proof that comic book movies need not be completely vapid wastes of time. Christian Bale is excellent as the hero and Cillian Murphy and Liam Neeson are great villains. The film re-writes Batman legend somewhat, but the film is sharp, clever and dark. Goodbye Joel Schumacher and the sad days of Batman Forever.

23. The Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe The longest title of the year is also a touching children's movie full of wonderful creations and a fascinating world of magic. This adaptation is leagues better than the old adaptations that played on PBS. Having read these books when I was very young, the film immediately recalled my childhood and I was pleasantly surprised by Andrew Adamson's sensitivity as a director. This from the man who directed Shrek and it's sequel.

22. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire A series of films that gets better and better. This installment, directed by Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Donnie Brasco) is the darkest one yet and it's pitch-perfect. Ralph Fiennes is wonderful as Voldemort He-who-must-not-be-named, Daniel Radcliffe might actually be becoming a good actor and that little Emma Watson just gets cuter and cuter. Bonus points for all the Fred & George shenanigans this time around.

21. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang Shane Black directs this absolutely hilarious black comedy with Robert Downey, Jr., Val Kilmer and Corbin Bernsen (!). It's a noir-ish thriller with a plot that's only person is silliness and hilarity. Don't worry about solving the mystery. It doesn't matter a bit. The jokes in this film cut to the bone and the dialogue is razor sharp. And Robert Downey Jr. is officially back. He has excellent comic timing and he's a delight to watch.

20. The Beat That My Heart Skipped (De Battre Mon Cœur S'est Arrêté) This adaptation of James Toback's Fingers is a white-hot character study about a thug who used to be a piano prodigy carving out his place in the world and deciding to take back control of his life. The central performance, by Romain Duris, is a cinematic wonder: compelling and invigorating. Directed by Jacques Audiard (Read My Lips, Venus Beauty Institute).

19. Syriana This movie, by writer-director Stephen Gaghan (he wrote the Oscar-winning screenplay for Traffic) is a convoluted, fascinating ensemble drama about Western relations with Middle Eastern oil-producing regions. The film is always smart and always at least a step or two ahead of its audience. It's tough to stomach and I definitely left the theatre feeling depressed and overwhelmed, but it's a film that's demands respect and attention.

18. The Family Stone Thomas Bezucha (Big Eden) directed this hysterically funny family drama about the Christmas that changed the lives of a whole family. The family-member dynamic is brilliantly played. Many things go unsaid and quiet understandings between family members abound. It features excellent performances by Rachel McAdams, Sarah Jessica Parker, Craig T. Nelson, Dermot Mulroney, Luke Wilson, Ty Giordano, Claire Danes, Brian White, Elizabeth Reaser and especially Diane Keaton as the clan's troubled matriarch. Touching, sensitive and very funny: a must see Christmas movie.

17. The Beautiful Country Norwegian director Hans Petter Moland directs this story about a half-Vietnamese half-American man's journey from Viet Nam to the United States to finally meet his father. The way is long and paved with sorrows but the finale is satisfying and incredibly moving. This is a story about the long legacy left by American involvement in Asia. The film co-stars Nick Nolte, Tim Roth and Bai Ling (!) but it is newcomer Damien Nguyen who plays the lead that knocked my socks off. He's quiet and patient and makes you love him instantly.

16. Downfall (Der Untergang) Oliver Herschbiegel's drama about the last days of Hitler, locked in that bunker in Berlin, is based on the actual account by Hitler's secretary Traudl Junge. It's a chilling, intriguing film featuring a truly psychotic performance by Bruno Ganz as the Führer. Hirschbiegel's direction is excellent and it's a fine line he's walking, but it's impossible not to sympathize with some of the people in that bunker: even Eva Braun.

15. Jarhead Poetic and beautiful, this non-war film by director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition) is an intriguing adaptation of Anthony Swofford's point of view of Operation Desert Storm. Jake Gyllenhaal is excellent and Peter Sarsgaard is desperate and sad. This movie boasts one visual stunner after the next and is full of powerful musings on not only the subject of war in general, but also American involvement in the Middle East and the troubling realities of American military culture.

14. Mrs Henderson Presents This comedy by mutable director Stephen Frears (My Beautiful Laundrette, Liam, Dangerous Liaisons, High Fidelity) boasts a terrific, hilarious performance by the wonderful Judi Dench. It's a shallow WWII comedy about an older woman's loves and goals and the laughs abound. Christopher Guest is hilarious and almost unrecognizable as the Lord Chamberlain.

13. Thumbsucker Mike Mills' ensemble drama about adolescent habits and hang-ups is not your run-of-the-mill high school story. It's an engaging moving film about parents letting go of their children and one young man realizing how much he's really loved by his parents. It's about growing up and leaving behind what you don't need and becoming a man. The movie features wonderful turns from Tilda Swinton, Vincent D'Onofrio, Keanu Reeves and Vince Vaughn. Lou Taylor Pucci is wonderful as the titular hero: he's expressive and heartbreaking and you watch him grow up in front of your eyes.

12. Kingdom of Heaven I hear there's a longer version of this film playing out there right now. It's supposed to be heads and tails better than the original, which I already thought was a pretty good film. Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Black Hawk Down ) directs this film about Middle East/Western relations in the time of the crusades. It's a film about a battle between religious groups that actually ends in peace without bloodshed. Orlando Bloom is excellent as the hero of the film and the film is visually incredible. The costumes are stunning and Scott's battle scenes alone are worth the price of admission.

11. Match Point Woody Allen (Hannah and Her Sisters, Annie Hall, Interiors, Crimes & Misdemeanors) is back! After serving up brilliant film after brilliant film in the seventies and eighties, he's made his best film since 1994's Bullets over Broadway. The new one is a dark, riveting suspense tale that had me on the edge of my seat and biting my nails. Allen's own brand of morality is all over the film and his musings on luck are very clever. The dialogue doesn't zing quite as much as it does in his best features, but Match Point is a great tribute to Hitchcock and an excellent vehicle for his new muse Scarlett Johanssen.

10. The Constant Gardener The new film from Brazilian director Fernando Mierelles (City of God) is superb. This adaptation of John Le Carré's novel is a seat-of-your-pants thrill ride/mystery featuring terrific performances by Rachel Weisz and Ralph Fiennes. It's stunningly well-shot and the mystery is dense and chilling. The best word to describe it is audacious: I left the theatre thinking "I can't believe anyone made this movie."

9. Capote Bennett Miller's first feature is about Truman Capote's research and composition of the non-fiction crime book In Cold Blood. It's a meta-literary piece about a fascinating character: Truman Capote, himself, played brilliantly by Philip Seymour Hoffman (he'll probably win an Oscar for this.) The film slices and dices Capote as a sensitive artist, a loving partner, a cosmopolitan celebrity and a morally bankrupt manipulator. The man/monster is all of these things and more. It's an indescribably incredible portrait: probably the most intelligent film I saw all year.

8. Junebug This film by Phil Morrison (remember this guy's name: he might be the next Jarmusch) is about red-state blue-state differences and has no easy answers to the questions it raises. It's about morality and values (though thankfully, never homosexuality... I get tired of hearing about it) and the power of family. It's also really funny and boasts a comic/poignant turn by actress Amy Adams as the film's conscience.

7. Caché Michael Haneke's (The Piano Teacher) film is about a couple (Daniel Auteuil & Juliette Binoche) who begins receiving videotapes of themselves and their son. The videos have no messages attached to them and they receive no word from anyone asking for anything. The film, very simply, creates a quiet atmosphere of terror and sneaks it up on its main characters and its audience. There are some wild, shocking scenes in the film, and the movie is unnerving and terrific without hardly trying at all. It's a superb, truly scary, portrait of terrorism and eerily prescient in its exploration of Franco-Algerian relations.

6. A History of Violence David Cronenberg goes mainstream, well, a little. Cronenberg's essay of the legacy of violence in a family, no matter how far down it is pushed is riveting and powerful. The role of violence in the American family is the film's topic of choice and what the movie has to say is fascinating and unique. Viggo Mortenson, Maria Bello and William Hurt are incredible and the range of the violence explored in the film is almost mind-boggling.

5. Me and You and Everyone We Know I recommend Miranda July's first film to everyone. It's wonderful: full of realistic magical moments, pitch-perfect performances, and a view of the world that makes me think about all of the stuff I miss out on. It's explorations of adolescent sexuality are occasionally uncomfortable but always sensitive. Not just a film, this is a performance piece about performance itself and the magic in everyday life.

4. Pride & Prejudice A delight from start to finish, this is a romantic comedy with true heart and sincerity. From material you would assume has been done to death emerges a film of cleverness and warmth with some excellent performances and loads of true ensemble work. Kiera Knightley is great, Matthew MacFadyen smoldering, Brenda Blethyn deliciously pathetic, and Simon Woods adorable. Joe Wright's romance gets under your skin and has you grinning from ear to ear. I was just about to burst when this film ended I was so happy. Truly a joyous, delectable confection of a fairy tale.

3. Good Night, and Good Luck. George Clooney (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) directs this true life story of Edward R. Murrow's public war with Senator Joseph McCarthy during the Eisenhower era. It's a rumination on the responsibilities of television journalists and the need for accountability in government. It's a film that is as much about the prisoners held in Guantanamo as it is a film about the Communist scare in 1950's America. Beautifully shot with fantastic ensemble work from Tate Donovan, David Strathairn, Robert Downey Jr., Frank Langella, the incredible Ray Wise (undeservedly ignored this awards' season), Jeff Daniels and George Clooney. Clooney brilliantly has McCarthy essentially play himself by using old footage of the man to convict him. I applauded when this film ended and I hear stories of other audiences doing the same thing. It's an affectionate portrait of a liberal hero fighting for the rights of all Americans.

2. Brokeback Mountain Ang Lee's (Eat Drink Man Woman, The Wedding Banquet, Sense & Sensibility) "gay cowboy" movie is just that and way more. It's the epic love story of the year: sweeping, rapturous and devastating with a central performance by Heath Ledger that feels like a revelation. This adaptation of a story by E. Annie Proulx is much better than the story itself, filling in the story's gaps beautifully and sufficiently. Romantic to its very core, Brokeback may not deserve all of its hype and publicity as a film that's trying to undermine this countries moral fabric, but it definitely deserves its critical accolades. Look for this to win Best Picture at the Oscars come March 2006.

1. The New World Terrence Malick (Badlands, Days of Heaven) takes his time between films. It's been 7 years since The Thin Red Line, one of my favorite films of all time, and the wait between features is frustrating but rewarding. The New World is a singular vision of newness and perception. Entirely subjective, with three main characters, it's gorgeously shot and contains excellent performances from Colin Farrell and Christian Bale as well as the amazing discovery of 15-year-old Q'orianka Kilcher, who plays Pocahontas. Kilcher is unbelievably brilliant in this part and gives one of the best performances of the year by anyone. Malick is a patient, exacting filmmaker and this is a near-perfect film about sensation and the deep internal musings of those in love. My favorite film of the year is also the most beautiful film of the year.

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As always, if you feel I've left something out, feel free to comment. Comment anyway; I'd love to read opinions about this list.

I don't see too many films that I hate, but the five worst films that I saw in 2005 were, ending with the worst: Ladies in Lavender., Transamerica, Steamboy, Chicken Little, Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith.

Related links: My Top Twenty-five for 2004. (My favorite thing that I wrote on this page is "Alexander gets the award for hottest guy in a movie where hardly anyone wears clothes but who stayed dressed all the time even though he's a total homo.)