As I made up my list of my top ten films of the year I noticed something – not one was a box office hit in terms of Hollywood executive standards. None of my ten grossed $100 million at the box office, in fact only one grossed more than $50 million. Though most pulled in an excess of what it took to make, or at least enough to break even, very few people saw the films that I would consider to be the class of 2005.
Well you’ve waited long enough true believers. I’ll not keep you in suspense anymore, here’s my top ten list of the best movies of 2005 and a couple of honorary mentions as well.
If there was a #11 on this list it would to Joss Whedon’s Serenity which follows the exploits of Captain Malcolm Reynolds and his crew in the far future. The best Sci-fi movie of the year! Cinderella Man was a hard cut for me. Russell Crowe’s performance of Depression era boxer Jim Braddock and his real life story of heroism make a very moving film. Also coming up just short was the story behind In Cold Blood with Philip Seymour Hoffman playing Capote and Felicity Huffman’s performance of a lifetime in Transamerica. And my list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the women of The Upside of Anger especially Joan Allen in one of the best performances of the year.
10. The Aristocrats
The number ten spot on our countdown was quite hard to decide on (as you saw from the honorable mentions above). In the end I decided on the deliciously wicked documentary about a single joke and starring a who’s who of comedians (George Carlin, Bob Saget, Robin Williams, Sarah Silverman, Whoopi Goldberg, Tim Conway, Eddie Izzard and many, many more). The only documentary on my list and only one of two comedies The Aristocrats is pure comic gold. My eyes watered and my sides ached from laughter on my first viewing of this film. Vile and offensive, vulgar and obscene the film is truly shockingly and hysterically funny and during parts I had trouble breathing I was laughing so hard. Not for everyone, in fact maybe not for most, but for the right audience this film is a hilarious riot of a great time. Although it doesn’t work nearly as well on multiple viewings, for 89 minutes I never laughed harder all year. (check out the full review)
We get to my first controversial pick of the list. Crash is perhaps the most divisive film of the year, which is rather poetic considering the film is about racism. The film follows the story threads of several people in Los Angeles who have hurtful experiences happen to them and turn around doing the same to others. The film has two messages; the first is how easy a chain of events can begin when negative enforcement is continued down the line. The second message is that humans are complex creatures with desires, fears, prejudices and hatreds that can be elicited or forced out of an individual from those same situations. The movie is powerful and in truth rather depressing and bleak in its views however accurate they might be, but it also caries a thread of hope as even the worst characters can find some redemption through their actions. Strong performances from Don Cheadle, Matt Dillion, Thandie Newton, Jennifer Esposito, Ryan Phillipe, Terrance Howard and even Brandon Fraser, Sandra Bullock and Tony Danza.
We move from one controversial film to another. RENT based off the Broadway musical and starring most of the original Broadway cast in the major roles was a film beloved by some but largely ignored by most. The movie tells the story of a small group of friends over the course of a year in New York City. The film deals with issues such as drug use, AIDS, crossdressing, and homosexuality (in a more open way than Brokeback Mountain). Filled with beautiful music and strong performances from Jesse L. Martin, Wilson Jermaine Heredia, Adam Pascal, and Rosario Dawson (who makes her first of two appearances on this list), this rock opera is a true joy. The only reason it scores so low on this countdown involves one scene (“Over the Moon”) which was the only thing stopping this movie from perfection. In much the same way as Hair dealt with the issues and problems of a generation RENT does as well in the same musical, emotional, and often quite humorous way. Sadly the film never found the audience in the theaters it deserved, but I’m hoping it has a long and prosperous life on DVD. (check out the full review)
Jane Austen’s love story about the strong willed Elizabeth Bennet falling for the dour and dreary Mr. Darcy never had a better telling. Keira Knightly brightens the screen in a performance that shines. Deft wit and writing match Knightly’s seductive and intelligent style in presenting Elizabeth as a modern woman who, with the exception of her father played here wonderfully by Donald Sutherland and Mr. Darcy played by Matthew MacFadyen, the world was not yet ready to handle. The film includes strong supporting perfromances by Rosamund Pike, Talulah Riley, Jena Malone and Carey Mulligan as the other Bennet sisters and a rather nice turn for Brenda Blythyn as their overbearing mother. The film is beautifully shot and captures the time and look of the period and director Joe Wright (who I hope will get some serious attention for best directing) is able to tell the rather musty old tale with a sense of freshness and new and make it his own while at the same time being true to the original work (as are a few other adapted gems on this list). (check out the full review)
Elijah Wood (who makes his first of two appearances on this list) plays Jonathan Safran Foer a rather strange young man with the unique hobby of collecting everything of meaning to him in little Ziploc bags. He travels to the Ukraine to find a woman in a picture who saved the life of his grandfather from the Nazis during WWII. What he finds is a quirky and moving journey as he travels across the countryside with a car driver who thinks he’s blind but drives nevertheless, the driver’s grandson who speaks an odd type of English, and their “seeing eye bitch,” a dog Sammy Davis Jr. Jr. Absurdly comic and extremely moving the story was developed from the novel of the same name. The movie begins with Foer looking for answers about his grandfather and becomes a journey of self-realization and understanding about so much more. Much of the film was shot in Russia and the Ukraine and includes beautiful cinematography of the area and one of the most iconic images of the year. (check out the full review)
5. Sin City
Frank Miller’s Sin City is a perfectly realized beautifully bloody masterpiece. Developed by Miller and Robert Rodriguez the story was adapted from Miller’s Sin City graphic novels and lovingly recreated frame for frame, shot for shot, on film. The story merges three of Miller’s tales “The Big Fat Kill” which tells the story of Dwight (Clive Owen), Jackie Boy (Benico Del Toro) and the beautiful but deadly women of old town (Rosario Dawson, Brittany Murphy, Alexis Blendel and Devon Aoki). The second tale “That Yellow Bastard” involves a retiring cop (Bruce Willis) who saves young Nancy from the Senator’s child rapist son (Nick Stahl) and the payback years later as Junior goes after skinny Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba). The final tale “The Hard Goodbye” is my favorite and follows Marv (Mickey Rourke in a tour de force performance) a bad man who is given a taste of something better by a woman who ends up dead and decides to abandon everything in the name of revenge. The dark film noir style shot in black and white with streaks of blinding color will take your breath away. Put simply, it’s the coolest movie of the year, and a hellava’ great film. (check out the full review)
If you blinked you probably missed Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang as it disappeared almost immediately after it opened although you might be able to find it still playing at an art house or two across the country. Much like Sin City the film is a take on the old film noir/pulp detective fiction. Where Kiss differs is it plays the same type of story in a comedic way by examining the genre and poking fun at it at the same time. The film follows thief Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.) who escapes arrest by pretending to be an actor and winds up the star of his own private detective show in L.A. Harry goes out one night with real P.I. Gay Perry (Val Kilmer) and witnesses a murder that will haunt him as he becomes a target of the killers. A winding story that is never quite what you expect. Also on hand is a childhood friend of Harry’s, Harmony Faith Lane (Michelle Monaghan) who has her own mystery about her sister that needs to be solved. How are the two linked and what do they have to do with pulp detective Johnny Gossamer? A wonderful dark comedy that entertained me for every single frame with its wit, humor, story, and terrific performances (especially from Kilmer and Downey). You’ll have to hunt for this one, but it’s well worth seeing, and if you do see it make sure you stay all the way to the end! (check out the full review)
How well do you know the person you are married to? Maria Bello’s character is forced to answer that question in A History of Violence. The film tells the story of a local businessman (Viggo Mortensen) who stops a robbery and becomes the local hero. Problems start to arise when this brings the attention of some mobsters from Philadelphia who believe they have found someone they have been looking for. Just who is Tom Stall? The movie is violently jarring from the opening scene which shows quite graphically that anything is fair game in this movie. Filled with strong performances by Mortensen, Bello, Ed Harris and William Hurt in an uncharacteristic but perfectly cast role. The story weaves through the tale of Stall’s life and that of his wife and son, who has his own problems, and the menacing force that shows up determined not to let the past die. It might well be the best film of every single person involved in the project and had it come out last year it would probably have been my #1 movie. This year though we have to other films to discuss. (check out the full review)
Stephen Spielberg’s Munich is a profound, emotionally involving, and disturbing film that examines the 1972 terrorist attacks at the Olympic Games in Munich its repercussions. Eric Bana leads an Israeli team of assassins ordered by the Prime Minister to hunt down and kill every person involved in the murders. It’s a heart wrenching tale of a struggle between seeking vengeance and the performing the duties ordered by your government and the issues of conscience and faith. The look of the film is pure 70’s style that becomes bleaker and bleaker the further these men descend into death and murder. It never shies away from asking the tough questions and points out the meaninglessness of terrorism and the rather inconsiquential acts of retaliation. In many ways it is Spielberg’s best film and a very, very close second on my list of best films of the year.
After walking out of the theater I remarked that I wasn’t sure if Good Night, and Good Luck would end up being the best movie of the year but it is certainly the most important. George Clooney takes the helm (as well as a supporting role) in the story of Edward R. Murrow’s famous on air war with Senator Joseph McCarthy. Every decision made in this film is the right one; the film is shot in stunning black and white and has just the right look of the era. The part of McCarthy is not cast, instead Clooney decided to use original news clips and let him hang himself with his own words. It’s a stunning piece of cinema that directly (though Strathairn’s speech which bookends the film) and indirectly admonishes, lectures, warns, and teaches of the need for an active and investigative media to make television more than just “wires and lights, in a box.” Clooney’s effortless acting style rubs off as the film feels so natural and real and the supporting performances are all outstanding, but it’s Strathairn that gives the performance of the year. Timely, exquisitely well done, and in the end both the most important and the best film of the year. (check out the full review)