Top Ten Movies of 2005.
There are many ways to judge films, but I don't really know any good ways. Critics are fickle. When they review a film during the year, they may rave, but then omit the same film from their best-of lists (or vice versa). Metacritic, which assigns a score to each movie based on critics' reviews, found that the two most well-reviewed films of 2005 were Capote and The Best of Youth. Yet in a year-end summary of 65 top ten lists, these two movies only appeared in a combined 32 of them. Brokeback Mountain, on the other hand, was tied as the third rated movie, and it appeared most often on year-end best-of lists: 35 times. Also rans Wallace and Gromit, Murderball, and Grizzly Man, tied with Brokeback, got just 19, 4, and 12 mentions, respectively. Finally (and then I'll knock it off) A History of Violence, which wasn't in the top 20 best-reviewed, found itself on the second-most best-of lists (29).
My own criteria is pretty idiosyncratic, too. I tend to punish melodramas but not science fiction. I respond more to movies with great dialogue than those with gorgeous visuals (not surprising for a colorblind, myopic writer). I'm generationally biased. For the most part, I can't get excited about biopics, no matter how good they're purported to be (I missed Ray and Walk the Line).
So I offer the following top ten, my own subjective ten, in alphabetical order.** One will take home the coveted Grand Jeffy, and I've starred those that I considered contenders for the prize. The others are great movies, but just a cut below.
Brokeback Mountain* - Enough has been written about this film that I can just mention why I was so moved. I grew up in the intermountain west and witnessed first hand the kind of strangled isolation we see principally in the character of Ennis. Using a gay character to highlight this loneliness was effective, but it had the unfortunate side effect of causing most people to miss the point. (director: Ang Lee)
Capote - Capote gets an exception to my biopic rule because the story's arc is confined to the period he wrote In Cold Blood. We aren't fed a fake theme that is supposed to knit an entire life together. And not quite paradoxically, in its smaller scope, Capote manages to locate a much larger theme--the nature of art and the artist. Philip Seymour Hoffman is as good as everyone says. (director: Bennett Miller)
Crash* - An ensemble piece that revels in nuance. The film follows a series of scenes interconnected by characters and circumstances, all exploring various crashes--racial, class, cultural (but mostly racial). These kinds of movies are hard to bring together, but Haggis manages it, finding both a clear throughline and a consistent tone and emotion. The acting is fantastic across the board. Despite being released almost a year ago, it has held up very well in my memory. (director: Paul Haggis)
Good Night and Good Luck - The best liberal movie in years. Or the best movie for liberals. Or the best movie by a liberal. Anyway, the key word is "best," not "liberal." The story is a straightforward retelling of the interplay between Edward R. Murrow and Senator Joe McCarthy over the "McCarthy hearings" on Murrow's landmark See It Now. But Clooney, sly dog, has bigger halibut to batter: as news of Abu Ghraib, secret renditions, and secret NSA spying saturate the press, he draws a sharp parallel between right wing exploitation of midcentury red fear with Bush's exploitation of new millennial fear of terror. (director: George Clooney)
Hustle and Flow - This was the last movie to make my top ten, and I was close to going with Wong Kar-Wei's 2046, which was a less flawed movie, but also less accessible. I gave Hustle and Flow the nod because Terrence Howard's performance is so good. He plays a pimp who wants to make it as a deejay, though that storyline's a little misleading. His pimpdom is less about exploitation, and the relationship with his girls less vertical, than you mihgt imagine. It's a movie that really tries hard, just like its protagonist--so I had to include it. (director: Craig Brewer)
Kontroll* - I saw this at the Portland International Film Fest last February and it stayed with throughout the year (the US theatrical release started in April). The Hungarian subway functions as the stage for our hero Bulscu (pr. bull-shew), who wanders around as a "Kontroll" agent--a subway policeman. The film slides from semi-reality into allegory as it emerges that Bulscu, an accomplished architect, has consigned himself to the subway—a self-imposed purgatory. He wanders this netherworld among the damned, looking for a way out (and the intention there is the allegory). Despite the arty premise, it’s neither heavy or ponderous; the director, Nimrod Antal, keeps it lively with techno music, wry wit, comedy, and action. No one I know who saw it responded quite as positively to it as I did, but I think it will charm most people who seek it out.
Junebug* - This is one of those funny indies I wonder if anyone else liked. It's a film that deals essentially with families. It's looking for little-T truth, and finds it by looking sideways at the way families treat each other--sort of like being able to understand the sun better by not looking at it too directly. It's slow and personal, and has a few moments that show the first-time hand of director Phil Morrison, but it also succeeds on a larger level.
Murderball* - I've been slowly collecting a list of "the best movies you've never seen." This may be tops on that list. It won the audience award at Sundance, and everyone expected it to kill in documentary-crazy first run. Apparently people were scared off by the topic--quadrapalegics. (It made less than two million at the box office, after landing a $10 million deal.) Ostensibly about a kind of wheelchair rugby they play (nicknamed 'murderball'), it's actually about life and the way people treat each other. It's incredibly honest and fascinating, never pitying or voyeuristic. The best example: the discussion everyone wonders about, can quads have sex? (You'll have to watch it to find out.) I've searched my memory, and I can't remember a ever seeing a documentary this good. (directors: Henry Alex Rubin, Dana Adam Shapiro)
Schultze Gets the Blues - This film barely got an American release, and may not be at a video store near you--but it's still well worth trying to find. The title character is a miner who is forced to retire, and begins to rot away in his small German town. One day he accidentally tunes in a radio station playing zydeco and he decides to go to Louisiana. It's a very gentle mosey of a film, and Schultze is a charming guide. (director: Michael Schorr)
Serenity* - Here's a potentially bold statement: Serenity has more in common with David Mamet than George Lucas. It's true: Joss Whedon's space-cowboy odyssey may have more superficially in common with Star Wars, but the themes are far more evolved. It's hard to give a thumbnail sketch of the film that doesn't do it an injustice, so I won't. I will say this: if you have a bias against sci-fi, this is one movie worth seeing anyway. (director: Joss Whedon)
**I recognize Kontroll and Junebug are out of order--it's because the pictures fit better that way.