Friday, April 16, 2010

Year in Review: 2005

Ever since 2005 ended, I have been going back and forth on my top ten list. The top 5 have been set during pretty much that entire time, but there are so many really good to great movies from this year that the final five positions seem to be in constant flux. This is what it is at the moment, but it could change if you ask me next week.

10. 2046 (Wong Kar Wai)
Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love was a brilliantly stylized, simple love story about two people who get together when their spouses are busy having an affair with each other. His sequel to that film, 2046, is completely and totally different. Where the other movie was simple, this one is gloriously complex. The film flashes back and forth in time to tell the story of what happened to Tony Leung in the aftermath of the first film. Leung is brilliant, but the best performance in the film belongs to Zhang Ziyi, who is desperately in love with Leung, but is treated with abject cruelty by him. But the real star of movie is Wong Kar Wai himself, who brilliantly loops the movie together, with a supreme mixture of cinematography, art direction and acting. A masterwork of style.

9. King Kong (Peter Jackson)
Peter Jackson’s King Kong is blockbuster filmmaking at its finest. No, I don’t think it needed to be three hours long (the first act should have been cut a little bit), but mainly King Kong is brilliantly realized, exciting filmmaking at its best. Naomi Watts takes on the iconic Fay Wray role, and does more than just scream. She falls in love with the giant ape, who reciprocates and does everything he can to try protect her. There are some wonderfully magical moments in the film - none more so than the sequence when the two slide around on the ice in central park. When the finale comes, it is absolutely heartbreaking. I will never forget the look on Kong’s face, especially in his hugely expressive eyes before he finally gives up and falls. The film is probably my favorite of Jackson’s career next only to Heavenly Creatures.

8. The New World (Terence Malick)
The New World is far and away the most beautiful film of 2005. Terence Malick has always made films that depend more on mood than story or character, and in The New World he takes it to an entirely new level. He takes the Pocahontas story and turns it into a wonderful tone poem, as first the heroine (Q’Orianka Kilcher) falls for Colin Farrell’s John Smith, but hard winters force him to leave, and then she falls for Christain Bale’s more down to earth farmer. The film is a beautiful film, excellently scored and photographed. The actors are cast more for their physical presence then their skills. Malick is a master filmmaker, and The New World is yet another of his wonderful movies.

7. Oldboy (Chan-wook Park)
Oldboy is a wonderfully violent, sick, twisted little mind fuck of a movie. A man is kidnapped and held prisoner in what looks like a hotel room for 15 years with no explanation as to why - no contact with the outside world except what he gets on TV. When he is released as suddenly as he was captured, he decides he wants revenge on whoever did this to him, and thus begins a movie that twists and turns brilliantly in ways that are completely and totally unthinkable. Chan-wook Park, making the second of his revenge trilogy, has crafted one of the best revenge movies in history. A sick little movie to be sure, but a great one.

6. Batman Begins (Christopher Nolan)
With Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan begins what would become, in mind, the best superhero franchise in history - and it will remain so no matter if the third part of his series is ever made are not. In this film, Nolan does not concentrate on the villains in the film - although Cillian Murphy is excellent as Scarecrow, Ken Watanabe is underused, but good, as Raj Ahl’s Ghul and Tom Wilkinson chews the scenery brilliantly as a mob boss. Instead, Nolan concentrates on Bruce Wayne (Christain Bale in an excellent performance) and what would make a rich playboy dress up like a bat and try to catch criminals. The movie is expertly crafted, brilliantly well made and acted by the superb cast. A superhero movie that actually exists in the real world.

5. Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee)
Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain gained notoriety for being a sentimental homosexual love story. But the film works beyond its hook, and really does become one of the best cinematic love stories - gay or straight - of our time. Heath Ledger gives the performance of the year as a manly man cattle rancher with a pretty wife (Michelle Williams, also brilliant) and kids at home, who cannot get over his brief love affair with another cattle hand (Jake Gyllenhaal). Lee’s film is a little slow moving, but that’s necessary so that Lee can develop his characters - all of whom are real people, not just characters in a movie. This is marvelous love story, one that breaks my heart every time I see it.

4. Last Days (Gus Van Sant)
Of all the great films that Gus Van Sant made over the course of this decade (and I would count Elephant, Paranoid Park and Milk as great films), Last Days was, for me, his best. It follows a rock star named Blake (brilliantly embodied by Michael Pitt) modeled after Kurt Cobain, as he stumbles around in a drug induced haze in his remote, dilapidated mansion. The film is mesmerizing as it sits back and follows Blake on his daily routine. The conclusion of Van Sant’s death trilogy, three films about young men who do not value their own lives, let alone anyone else’s, Last Days is a perfect mood piece – utterly transfixing. I know that many (if not most) audience members will find this film boring, but for me I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen for a second.

3. Munich (Steven Spielberg)
It has been a very dark decade for Spielberg in his films – and none of his films were as dark, or as brilliantly conceived as Munich, his study on revenge, and the endless cycle of violence that it brings. Eric Bana heads up a team of Israeli Secret Agents, who are tasked to eliminate the people behind the planning and execution of the Munich Olympic Massacre, where a group of terrorists kidnapped and killed 11 Israeli athletes. At first Bana and his team are all for the mission – they want vengeance as much as anyone does, and they see this as their way to serve their country. But as one killing leads to another and another, and innocent people start to become involved and the mission continually expands, they all start having their doubts about the mission. Every assassination they carry out doesn’t really accomplish anything, as the terrorists simply respond in kind, and as such add more people to the list, or simply replace the man killed. Bana becomes disillusioned, and eventually leaves the mission, but becomes increasingly paranoid about his safety. In the scene that many critics point out as being the weak point of the film, or even downright stupid, Bana has sex with his wife, as we flash back to the Munich massacre – something that Bana never witnessed. But since he has lived with this moment for years – it has been the driving force behind his actions – it does make sense that he could be haunted by an event he didn’t actually witness. Far from being the na├»ve movie some critics have claimed – slamming the film for saying that government should never retaliate for wrongs done against them (which is just stupid), the movie instead offers a critical examination of the moral doubts that come along with taking retaliation, and more argues that a black and white policy of tit for tat vengeance leads to a kind of group insanity. Munich is the most complex film of Spielberg’s career, and one of his very best.

2. Cache (Michael Haneke)
Michael Haneke has always liked to play games with the audience, and in none of his films has he done so as brilliantly as he does in Cache. The movie is about an upper middle class couple in Paris (Daniel Auteil and Juliette Binoche) who start to receive strange packages on their doorstep that contains videos of their house. When they try and find the camera, they can’t. Then when other things start appearing, it forces Auteil to search his past to find out what exactly he is being punished for. Haneke has made a thriller in the best Hitchcockian sense of the word – the videos are really a McGuffin, and it doesn’t really matter who is sending them. What matters is why they are being sent, and how they shake this family out of their complacent, happy lives. The final shot of the movie seems to finally explain who sent the videos, but it simply raises more questions then answers. How do the two people in the final shot know each other, and why do they want to punish they people involved? And perhaps even more eerily, who the hell is shooting that final shot anyway?

1. A History of Violence (David Cronenberg)
David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence updates the Western to modern day America, and then pushes it even further into murky moral waters. Viggo Mortenson gives an excellent performance as a seemingly normal family man – married with two kids – in small town America. Hell, he even runs the local diner, and is so mild mannered that everyone in town loves him. Then things spin out of control after two men try to rob the diner, and Mortenson acts quickly, killing both of them (in a horrifically bloody scene, where Cronenberg invites us to feel the bloodlust of the moment, then makes us sit in the aftermath). This makes him a hero to the town, and brings news attention. And that’s when a horribly disfigured Ed Harris shows up in town, and starts calling Mortenson by a different name – believing him to be a gangster out of his past. Cronenberg’s film delves into the identity issues that have always been a part of his work. Is it really possible to change the person you are? When Mortenson kills those two robbers, we see a flash of his former life, that old killer instinct kicking in again. But once he’s started to go back down that road, he has trouble stopping it (the mild mannered guy he became would never have pretty much raped his wife on the stairs). The final scene in the movie, where Mortenson comes back to his family after doing what he had to do, suggests that the family just wants to go back to normal. The question is, now that Mortenson has allowed that old life to resurface, can he put it away again?

Just Missed The Top 10: Match Point (Woody Allen),Capote (Bennet Miller), The 40 Year Old Virgin (Judd Apatow), Mysterious Skin (Gregg Araki), The Squid and the Whale (Noah Baumbach), Good Night, and Good Luck (George Clooney), Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog), Downfall (Oliver Hirshbiegel), Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith (George Lucas), The Constant Gardener (Fernando Meirelles), Sin City (Robert Rodriguez & Frank Miller), Palindromes (Todd Solondz), Memories of Murder (Bong Joon-ho), Pride and Prejudice (Joe Wright), Hustle and Flow (Craig Brewer).

Oscar Winner – Best Picture: Crash
Some people ridiculously claim that Crash is the worst best picture winner of all time. I don’t even think it’s the worst Best Picture winner of the decade. Having said that, Crash was far and away the least of the five best picture nominees that year - and the film is exceedingly average. It had no business winning the Oscar that year, but it isn’t awful.

Oscar Winner – Best Director: Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain
Brokeback Mountain was the film that was supposed to win the Best Picture Oscar this year, but it had to settle for Lee winning director instead. I would have voted for Spilberg for Munich myself, but Lee’s direction of Brokeback Mountain is masterful itself, so no complaints here.

Oscar Winner – Best Actor: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote
I do think that Capote is a wonderful film, even if I have a few problems with it (Capote was not quite the bloodsucking vampire portrayed here) and the main reason the film is so good is because of Hoffman’s amazing performance in the title role. He embodies Capote in body and spirit, transforming himself into the role. Heath Ledger and Philip Seymour Hoffman would have been neck and neck with me for who is the victor, so no complaints here.

Oscar Winner – Best Actress: Reese Witherspoon, Walk the Line
Reese Witherspoon was probably the best of the nominees, and one of the best of the year - which means that I do think that 2005 was one of the weakest years for this category in recent memory. She is excellent as June Carter Cash, no question about that, but it is notch below the best winners this category has seen.

Oscar Winner – Best Supporting Actor: George Clooney, Syriana
George Clooney is really quite good in Syriana playing a CIA Agent trying his best to alert people of what is going on in the Middle East. But let’s make this clear - Clooney won not just for his performance here, but also because he directed and co-wrote Good Night and Good Luck, a best picture nominee this year, and they wanted to give him an Oscar. No complaints, as this is a fine performance, but William Hurt really should have won this award for A History of Violence.

Oscar Winner – Best Supporting Actress: Rachel Weisz, The Constant Gardener
Rachel Weisz gives an excellent performance in Fernardo Meirelles twisty, turny murder mystery of a movie. She dies right at the beginning of the film, and her husband (Ralph Fiennes) tries to piece together what happened, falling in love with all over again in flashback. This was a tough choice this year - Weisz, Williams and Amy Adams in Junebug are all excellent. I do wish Weisz had made more of her post Oscar career - which so far, she has not done.

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