Wednesday, January 18, 2006

ME AND THEM AND EVERYTHING ELSE I HAVEN’T SEEN: My Top 22 Movies of 2005, and other tidbits



For me, 2005 was a year in which I was in perpetual catch-up mode, and as a result there are easily 20 or more films available right now, either in theaters or through the magic of DVD, that I have yet to see for the year, including some titles, like Brokeback Mountain, Capote and Good Night, and Good Luck, that look to figure pretty significantly in the Academy Award nominations, to be announced Tuesday, January 31. But the reality is, my paying job is keeping me pretty busy these days (to the tune of about 50 hours a week, and even more during the last couple of months of the year), and in addition to my beautiful family and a couple of burgeoning outside interests, finding the time to write for SLIFR is an increasingly difficult task, one that I must achieve due to the fact that writing this blog has become an addictive part of my life. And so finding the time to see movies to write about is even more challenging. And I have not done a journalist’s thorough job of it as the year came to a close, I freely admit. That is why what follows should not, cannot in any way be mistaken for a list of the year’s best. Even some film critics who are paid to do what I’m doing here for the love of it can’t see everything that’s available for them to write about. What you’re about to read is even more subjective than a list like this usually is, due to the incompleteness of my movie-going year. These are my favorites, the best 22 movies (and change) out of the 60 or so 2005 releases I managed to get to this year (out of a possible 250 or so released in American theaters). I missed a bunch, but I saw an awful lot that I liked too…

1) 2046 (Wong Kar Wai) A supremely gorgeous, elliptical meditation on love, memory, loss and muted passion, the movie shimmers and undulates and expands in the imagination like a timed-release capsule filled with sense memories triggered by the faint scent of perfume and cigarette smoke. That expansion was, for me, definitely enhanced by a recent encounter with Wong’s previous film, In the Mood for Love, but on its own 2046 succeeds as a perfect expression and summation of the director’s obsessive romanticism, even as Wong seems to flirt with disappearing into his own navel. The swoon factor here is incomparably high (Tony Leung representing the XY chromosome, and Faye Wong, Gong Li, Maggie Cheung and, most memorably, Ziyi Zhang making a very strong case for XX), but the question that resonates after 2046, regarding Wong, is, where does he go from here? Will the train to 2046 bring Wong Kar Wai back?

2) LOS ANGELES PLAYS ITSELF (Thom Andersen) A supremely entertaining work of film criticism which teases out, explicates and analyzes the representation of Los Angeles as it has appeared throughout the history of cinema. Positing the best uses of Los Angeles in fiction films as geographical documentaries (Kiss Me Deadly and H.B. Halicki’s original Gone in 60 Seconds are cited as key examples) and convincingly refuting the reputations of some established classics (Chinatown, L.A. Confidential), Thom Andersen’s three-hour essay will make you laugh, make you think of the city through a different prism, and make you argue back with the director’s contentions, even as it inspires you to make a list of movies you need to see, or see again...

3) A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (David Cronenberg) Ostensibly a hired hand on this film, Cronenberg fashions a surface-straightforward narrative from John Wagner’s graphic novel that artfully straddles the line between a critique of the inevitable legacy spawned by violent behavior and a hard-boiled, Phil Karlson-esque noir that implicates the audience in that critique. In other words, he’s taken what could have been fairly routine material and teased out the concerns in its intertwining veins and musculature—he’s made it a David Cronenberg film. Bleak, frightening, and often funny, the movie features flawless work from Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, William Hurt, Ed Harris, and Ashton Holmes as Mortensen’s conflicted son, as well as two of the most revealing, effective and erotic sex scenes seen in an American film in years and an ambiguous conclusion that left the audience I saw it with stunned, and somewhat confused—they got the release they were looking for, but they weren’t prepared for the bitter lump in the throat that came after. Bull’s-eye.

4) KUNG FU HUSTLE (Stephen Chow) Gravity can be overrated, and there is no clearer proof of that absurdism than the evidence put forth in this insanely entertaining, delirious action comedy. Packed with enough clever and organic cinematic references to make Quentin Tarantino or Joe Dante blush, the movie is nevertheless something wholly original. Chow has taken Tex Avery, Chuck Jones and the whole Warners cartoon sensibility, through outstanding stunt choreography, a vivid sense of exactly where to place the camera for maximum zing, and the most clever application of computer-generated imagery yet seen, and translated it into a live-action universe where gravity and physics are not only overrated, they’re practically afterthoughts.

5) GRIZZLY MAN (Werner Herzog) Timothy Treadwell, an outcast from society as much through his own will as by circumstances, lived in the Alaskan wild for years, interacting with the native grizzly bear population and, some would say, repeatedly crossing an invisible line between man and beast that would lead to his death. Herzog, not a director unfamiliar with demagoguery in face of nature’s unbending will, uses Treadwell’s own videotapes to reveal rhe activist as both benevolent wildlife protector and, increasingly, a man consumed by instability and rage, and the director meticulously contrasts Treadwell’s insistent worldview with his own rather more grim assessment. Somewhere between Treadwell’s naive anthropomorphism and Herzog’s dark forest of the soul lies the truth, and the art of Grizzly Man acknowledges the extremes while mapping the thorny terrain in between.

6) WALLACE & GROMIT AND THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT (Nick Park, Steve Box) In a year that showcased so many entries in the animation field, from the dregs of Robots to the vivid stop-motion wonders of Corpse Bride, Aardman Animation’s impossibly delightful feature stood tall over all others, not least because it bears the unmistakable stamp of being hand-made (those visible fingerprints in some of the clay figures are a tonic and a sharp rebuke to the gleaming surfaces of a soulless contraption like Robots). But the movie’s brisk, happily inventive story, a riff on Universal and Hammer horror thrillers, as well as a tribute to the indefatigable spirit, and absurd obsessions, of post-WWII Britons, is a ripping achievement in itself; it resonates with top-drawer wit, low-grade puns and an infectiously giddy humor.

7) THE ICE HARVEST (Harold Ramis) Amongst all the year-end award-mongering and rampant blockbusterism, Ramis’ adult-oriented crime thriller crept like a thief in the night, and got about as much notice. But audiences who took a chance on this astringently funny, seductively seedy picture were rewarded with Ramis’ sharp timing and respect for their intelligence, as well as career-best turns by John Cusack, as a shady lawyer looking to bust out of Kansas City during a freak ice storm after stealing $2 million from a local crime boss, and Oliver Platt, as an alcoholic pal trapped in a frozen marriage to Cusack’s ex-wife. As critic Dave Kehr put it in an early rave, in its solid professionalism, which harkens back to the glory days of film noir and amoral action pictures like Don Siegel’s Charley Varrick, The Ice Harvest isn’t trying to be awesome, which is precisely why it is.

8) KING KONG (Peter Jackson) The current poster boy for movies that are “needlessly long” (thanks to Caryn James for solidifying this minor quibble into a blanket dismissal, the latest in jaded water-cooler conventional wisdom). In reality, Peter Jackson’s Kong was precisely as long as it needed to be. Funny, what some folks will luxuriate in on a DVD special edition, they just can’t seem to endure in a movie theater. My suggestion: drink one less 48-ounce soda during the show and allow yourself to sit still for a blockbuster that sidesteps almost every trap the format routinely indulges. Every time I felt the movie beginning to sag slightly—perhaps a little too much of, say, the Bronto stampede for my taste—Jackson turned around and unleashed a sequence like that triple T. rex battle, which ends up taking place in mid-air amongst a thicket of hanging vines, Kong and the beasts suspended above ground, Ann Darrow swinging like a pendulum back and forth toward the jaws of the giant dinosaur—as spectacular, witty and thrilling an action sequence as has been filmed in the CGI age. The 2005 model Kong is so full of riches that complaining about a sore ass, insufficient bladder or wandering mind seems especially silly-- Naomi Watts’ superlative and emotionally direct performance as Ann, and even the usually dismissed Jack Black, channeling 21st century attitude (and the spirit, if not the letter, of Orson Welles) into Depression-era survival instincts as driven filmmaker Carl Denham; the expansive, fresh, thematically resonant script; and Jackson’s undeniable gifts as a director, his ability to tap into the reserves of reverence he has for the original film and translate that into a vision that pulses with dread, wonder, surging emotion, and life. He has made a movie worthy of being held in comparison to the source material, and also one that doesn’t live or breathe on besting the original simply because the technological means to do so are available at hand. And I know it’s fashionable in some circles to knock the verisimilitude with which this Kong has been created, the implication being that the relative innocence (and ignorance) regarding gorilla behavior in which Willis O’Brien created the Kong effects in 1933 was a sort of sainted state—duplication of the results of that state would, of course, be deemed arrogance or insensitive folly, or at least misguided, yet at the same time some would have us believe that using knowledge of primates available in 2005 is supposedly evidence of lack of imagination, or the good folks at Weta Digital resting on their prodigious techno-laurels. (Never mind that a bit of action that gets one of the film’s biggest laughs, when Kong breaks the jaw of a T.rex and then toys with it quizzically, is a direct lift from the animation of Willis O’Brien.) The truth is, those who created this new Kong, from Andy Serkis, who gave the beast a human template, (much as he did Gollum), to the CGI geniuses who allow us so much suspension of disbelief, to Watts, who reflects a character in her eyes who was never really there, should all be happy in their brilliant achievement. And audiences should be happy to be able to revel in it, a giant movie worthy of the legacy of Willis O’Brien, Merian C. Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack, and worthy too of the old movie palaces (like the one I saw it in) that used to routinely show movies like King Kong (1933), and the underrated Dino DeLaurentiis King Kong (1976), and, now, King Kong (2005)—you know, the kind of movies they don’t make any more. One of the glories of Jackson’s rousing adventure movie is the discovery that it turns out they sometimes still do.

9) FUNNY HA-HA (Andrew Bujalski) An unexpectedly charming comedy of 20-something indecision. The movie is anchored by Bujalski’s teasing, unpretentious style, the near-lyrically halting curlicues of the dialogue that disarmingly dance around their true meaning and intention, and the lead performance by Kate Dollenmayer, who conveys more in a single nervous glance than two out of the last three Best Actress Oscar winners (watch out, Halle and Charlize) could ever hope to put across. All that, plus the most perfect ending of a movie since The Station Agent.

10) MYSTERIOUS SKIN (Gregg Araki) A tough film that lurches, rather than glides, along the connective tissue holding together the separate stories of two teenagers, a gay hustler and an asexual boy prone to nosebleeds who believes he was once abducted by aliens, who share a terrible secret—abuse at the hands of a Little League coach when they were both eight years old. Ambivalent and sometimes difficult to endure, the film’s devastation lies in the realization that the moment where redemption might come in a lesser work is instead the moment here where the horror clicks in and each boy now finds himself faced with a future even more daunting and desperate and agonized than the past with which he's struggled to come to terms. Araki has retained the power of the shock tactics he so readily employed in earlier films, but has added a tenderness and reserve of emotion that carries the film far beyond a shallow flirtation with immoral violation to become an artful and devastating revelation, one of the best films I’ve ever seen about the tortured, tangled relationship between the abuser and the abused.

The Second 12:

11) MUNICH (Steven Spielberg) In a recent comment about the film, George Jonas, on whose book Vengeance the movie was based, drew a distinction between the two works, claiming that his book was about the moral distinctions between a terrorist act and an act of retribution, whereas Munich is based upon the premise that terrorism and state-sponsored “vengeance” are morally equivalent. He’s right about the film, but not about that equivalence being a deficiency. Spielberg attempts to grapple with the questions the film raises through character and drama, not by posting easily read signs, and his assurance as an pure action director (despite some late, murky cutting between an Israeli assassin’s reunion with his wife and the 1972 Munich massacre) make Munich a thrilling, agonizing, intelligent thriller worth chewing on.
12) UNLEASHED (Louis Letterier) Another stunning piece of action cinema, and an emotional ambush as well—I was unprepared for how deep these filmmakers would go into the heart of this grim, yet openly sentimental tale of a man (Jet Li) trained by a Scottish thug to become a deadly attack dog who discovers a normal life, and the secrets of his past, through his friendship with a blind piano tuner (Morgan Freeman) and his daughter (Kerry Condon). The best thing Luc Besson (here, the screenwriter) ever put his name on.
13) BATMAN BEGINS (Christopher Nolan) A franchise revitalized, artistically this time… and I liked the new Batmobile too.
14) OLDBOY (Park Chan-wook) Revenge spurred by madness, and madness brought on by revenge…

15) THE WHITE DIAMOND (Werner Herzog) Herzog’s other brilliant documentary of 2005, an impressionistic, ethereal portrait of cockeyed achievement haunted by death and indifference; some of the most offhandedly beautiful imagery of any documentary film…
16) THE ARISTOCRATS (Paul Provenza, Penn Jillette) The art of the dirty joke, and its peak, courtesy of Sarah Silverman…

17) RED EYE (Wes Craven) Terror delivered in close-up; what better eyes in 2005
than those of Rachel MacAdams and Cillian Murphy?
18) UP FOR GRABS (Mike Vranovics) While sports talk radio hosts fell all over themselves promoting the ghastly remake of The Longest Yard this past summer (and, like Dan Patrick of ESPN Radio, promoting their own cameo appearances in it), this entertaining, incisive documentary, about the legal battle over Barry Bonds’ 73rd home-run ball was ignored by everyone, most egregiously the very audience who would have appreciated it most…
19) HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE (Hayao Miyazaki) Surreal and ethereal, even by Master Miyazaki’s standards…
20) WEDDING CRASHERS (David Dobkin) and 21) THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN (Judd Apatow) The best and biggest laughs of the year, and in the case of Virgin, surprising sweetness as well…
22) SKY HIGH (Mike Mitchell) Without a doubt, the biggest, most disarming surprise of 2005; if only its sly intelligence and absurd humor were the new template for Disney pictures, instead of the happy exception it more likely is…

In a perfect world, there would be no need to say I still need to see THE NEW WORLD, THE SQUID AND THE WHALE, CRASH, CAPOTE, GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK, SYRIANA, SARAH SILVERMAN: JESUS IS MAGIC, KINGS AND QUEEN, TROPICAL MALADY, LAST DAYS, TONY TAKITANI, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW, CAFE LUMIERE, SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE, ENRON: THE SMARTEST GUYS IN THE ROOM, NOBODY KNOWS, MURDERBALL and MILLIONS, but, unfortunately, I do. I’ve got Kings and Queen, Last Days and Tropical Malady in house courtesy of Netflix right now, so if I get a chance to see any or all of them in the next week, it’s entirely possible my top 10 might swell to 13.

The Bottom 10 (in descending order):

THE FAMILY STONE (Tom Bezucha) The tyranny of the progressive, done up all cuddly and symmetrical, and frustratingly well-acted…
STAR WARS EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE SITH (George Lucas) What now, Mr. All-I-Really-Want-To Do-Is-Make-Avant-Garde-Cinema?
CHICKEN LITTLE (Mark Dindal) Breathless, spastic and wit-free…
ONG BAK: THE THAI WARRIOR (Prachya Pinkaew) Tony Jaa’s athleticism is inarguable, but there’s no movie there…
THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE (Scott Derrickson) You got courtroom drama in my horror flick! No, you got horror flick in my courtroom drama!
SAINT RALPH (Michael MacGowan) Deadly earnest sports drama made by people who come off as if they’ve never heard the way real kids act and speak… and a criminal waste of Jennifer Tilly too…
THE LONGEST YARD (Peter Segal) A bubbling pot of incoherent action, relentless fag fear and laugh lines that drift off into dead air; Robert Aldrich’s terrifically entertaining, cynical, bone-crunching, hyper-masculine original looks downright enlightened by comparison…
THE RING 2 (Hideo Nakata) Listless, condescending and absent a single decent shiver; an inexplicable, ostensibly creepy attack on our beleaguered heroine and her Shyamalan-esque son by a pack of CGI deer bucks is instead the year’s nadir in dumb special effects…
A DIRTY SHAME (John Waters) Anarchic sexual expression is good… Refusal to buy into movie's wacky premise, proof of your own repression? The satire here is pitched to the choir (at this point, Waters and who else, exactly?) who might find this wacky ribaldry bracingly honest and funny. Could it be that pop culture has finally caught up with John Waters? The convincing evidence is in just how hard he has to work to seem "shocking," and in how desperately far he falls short of the mark. The man who made Pink Flamingos finally seems conventional. This is Waters' worst movie.
DOOM (Andrzej Bartkowiak) Could be the last nail in the coffin of the lingering Stallone/Schwarzenegger imprint on the American action film… Well, I can hope, can’t I? Semper fi, motherfucker…!

Worst Movie I Saw in 2005 (regardless of year of release)


THE ROOM (Tommy Wiseau) Do yourself a favor: click on the link, and if you’re not yet a registered IMDb member, become one immediately and read some of the hilarious user comments (some 45 and counting) regarding this stupefying cinematic achievement—they’ll convey the experience much better than I can at this point, as I’m still, some two months after seeing it, still reeling. Writer-director-star (and crafts services guy, for all I know) Tommy Wiseau is a one-of-a-kind auteur; we honestly may not have seen his like, his unique blend of the sincere and the utterly, heartbreakingly inept, since the halcyon days of Edward D. Wood, Jr. and Glen or Glenda? I must stop now, before I say too much. If you find the user comments intriguing at all (and how could you not?), pack yourself off to one of the midnight screenings you can find in various cities around the country, or better yet, rent the DVD-- it’s available right now! (O Lord, we can only hope for an audio commentary!) There’s simply no further excuse— drop what you're doing and get thee to The Room!

MOST REVELATORY SCREENINGS OF 2005:
Mr. and Mrs. Smith, the first movie I ever saw at the Mission Tiki Drive-In

Experiencing Once Upon a Time in the West and The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, both on the big screen, surrounded by Leone-minded friends…

And seeing Showgirls again, for the first time…

ACADEMY OF THE UNDERRATED
The Ringer, Saw II, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Assault on Precinct 13, Fantastic Four, The Dukes of Hazzard and The Skeleton Key (the movie I’m most embarrassed about walking out of when I initially saw it; a second chance at the drive-in proved to me what a clod I’d been)

ACADEMY OF THE OVERRATED
Even though I like it a lot (and it’s number 19 on my list), Howl’s Moving Castle didn’t live up to Spirited Away or even Kiki’s Delivery Service, despite all the insistent voices claiming that it did; also, War of the Worlds, Broken Flowers, Sin City and, most heartbreakingly, for me, Land of the Dead (though I do see a second shot on DVD in my future…)

MOVIE I DIDN'T LIKE BUT AM GLAD EXISTS
The Family Stone, because the actors in it, particularly Diane Keaton, Rachel MacAdams, Luke Wilson and, in isolated moments, Sarah Jessica Parker, are as good and funny and inspired as the script and direction are pat and formulaic and smug and overly tidy…

MOVIES FOR KIDS (and their parents)
I’ve already mentioned the wonders of Wallace and Gromit and the most-welcome surprise of Sky High, but two other features made taking the girls to the movies this year supremely pleasurable and offset the grim task of sitting through Chicken Little, Robots and My Little Pony: A Very Minty Christmas (don’t laugh—my teeth are still aching). Tim Burton’s perversely inventive Charlie and the Chocolate Factory scared my six-year-old right out of the theater, but when I took my three-year-old a second time, to see what we missed when we had to leave the first time, she reveled in the candy-colored wizardry of the movie’s ever-so-slightly-twisted vision; and I loved Johnny Depp’s freakishly funny Wonka and the inspired work turned in by Deep Roy as the multitude of Oompa-Loompas (in grand, catchy Bollywood-style production numbers fueled by Danny Elfman), and the bubbling-under-the-surface bitchery of the World’s Most Frightening Stage Mom, Mrs. Beauregarde, as essayed by fearless actress Missy Pyle. Both the girls and I also had a surprisingly good time at Disney’s lovely purplish pastoral, Pooh’s Heffalump Movie, a delightful cartoon (and delightfully short too, at 68 minutes) that, in its lavender color scheme, its narrative argument against preconceived notions and its plea for tolerance and acceptance, is the best defense Tinky Winky never got. Put that in your oversized bag and repress it, Jerry Falwell!

MOVIE THAT BEST PARTIES LIKE IT’S 1969
Herbie Fully Loaded

MOVIE MOST LIKELY TO DATE BADLY
The Island (evidence: the continued relevance of Logan’s Run)

MOVIE MOST AHEAD OF ITS TIME
Serenity (still waiting to explode and become something other than a browncoat phenomenon) and, for reasons obvious, and not so obvious, 2046.

BEST IMPERSONATION OF GLORIA GRAHAME IN THE BIG HEAT
Ed Harris, A History Of Violence

MOST TASTEFUL DIRECTORIAL CHOICE OF 2005
Werner Herzog listening to the tape of Timothy Treadwell’s gruesome demise, but not allowing the audience to hear it, and then advising Treadwell’s friend to not only never listen to the tape but to, in fact, destroy it (Grizzly Man).

MOST MEMORABLE DEATH SCENE(S)
Kong’s slow fade off the top of the Empire State Building, of course, but also Lumpy the cook’s slow ingestion by one of those impossibly grotesque vagina dentata slugs, in King Kong. (And kudos to Andy Serkis who, by both providing the human template for Kong’s movements, and by also playing Lumpy, is the first actor I can think of to die twice, and so memorably both times, in the same film.)

BEST RESISTANCE TO UP-CLOSE EXPOSURE TO MOLTEN LAVA
Ewan MacGregor, Hayden Christensen, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith

BEST ARGUMENTS FOR VEGETARIANISM
Land of the Dead, the sushi bar scene in Oldboy, and just how yummy all those carrots and cabbages looked in Wallace & Gromit and the Curse of the Wererabbit

BEST PUNCH LINE
“Joe Franklin raped me.”—Sarah Silverman, The Aristocrats

THE YEAR’S GIDDIEST SPECIAL EFFECTS
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

BEST ENDINGS OF 2005
Funny Ha-Ha, The Devil’s Rejects

I think I’ll take my cue right there. Good night, and good luck!


31 comments:

Roscoe said...

Excellent post Dennis, glad to see you loved King Kong as much as I did. I love your recommendations for those movies I've never heard of before. I'm going to have to get my search going for:

LOS ANGELES PLAYS ITSELF
FUNNY HA-HA
MYSTERIOUS SKIN

I also had a follow up question to my email about the idiot-savant type movies. Would "The Fountainhead" be a "Naked","Barfly", "Fight Club". Even if it's not, is it any good? I'm getting into Anne Rand and theres no way i'm going to read The Fountainhead after i somehow someday finish Atlas Shrugged.

P.S. SLIFR readers I have a small part on "Commander and Chief" that airs next tuesday at 9pm pacific. I'm the blonde haired drunk kid if you guys wanna check it out.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Roscoe: What's the scene you're in, specifically? I doubt I can sit and watch the whole show, but I'll sure tape it and look for you!

And I have to confess ignorance of the film of The Fountainhead. You might find some insight in some of the reviews here though.

As for the recommendations, Funny Ha-Ha is on DVD now, and I believe Mysterious Skin is well on its way. However, Los Angeles Plays Itself is unlikely to ever make it to home video. Andersen composed the entire film of clips taken off of VHS and laserdiscs, with no concern for clearing rights or anything like that. None of the "violated" studios or other copyright holders has ever, to my knowledge, ever made a fuss about Los Angeles Plays Itself, most likely because the use the film makes of the clips is clearly of serious intent, and in no way meant to do an end-run around legal issues for profit's sake. Even so, the only place you'll probably have a chance to see it is if a film society or some other organization runs it on a special engagement somewhere. But if you get the chance, don't miss it.

Sharon said...

In looking over your top 22 list, I quickly realized that you and I had completely divergent movie-going experiences last year. I've seen a grand total of 5 of the movies on your list -- King Kong, Batman Begins, Wedding Crashers, 40-year-old Virgin and Sky High. As much as I would like to, I don't share your enthusiasm for Kong. I did not have a problem with the length. I'm willing to sit for hours on end if I'm enthralled in the storytelling, which I wasn't here. It didn't move me or engage me the way it apparently did you. I had a similar reaction to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I admired the craftsmanship, but was not engaged by the storytelling. Loved the other four, though.

I was most pleased to see the delightful surprise that is Sky High on your list. It was much better than I expected and much better than its box office numbers might indicate. Hopefully, it will find an audience on DVD.

On the flip side, I’m sorry that you didn’t care for the charms of The Family Stone. I saw it over the weekend and really found it to be enjoyable.

Of the films on your yet-to-see list, I humbly recommend that you see Capote, Good Night & Good Luck and Syriana. On the other hand, take your time getting around to seeing Brokeback Mountain. In my estimation it’s this year’s inexplicably praised and lauded film. Is it a bad film? Heavens, no. But nor is it deserving of all the accolades that it continues to collect, in my humble opinion.

And just to add to your movie-going burden, let me also recommend Mrs. Henderson Presents, Pride & Prejudice and The Upside of Anger (In which Joan Allen gave the performance of the year. It’s criminal that it seems to be so overlooked while other less deserving films and performances collect awards).

Overall, I have to say that 2005 turned out to be a good year at the movies, much better than the last couple of years. I was getting to the point where I wondered if my love of movies had gone away. I really didn’t know if I had changed to the point where I was no longer able to connect with films or if the movies were just bad. Well, that question had been answered, at least for me. It definitely wasn’t me; it was the movies!


Roscoe said...

Sorry Dennis I have no idea, I'm just one of the drunk kids in the white house.

Brian said...

Great listing, Dennis! Another Funny Ha Ha fan, huh? Before you know it I'm going to have to break down and see this one.

I was surprised when, at the screening I saw of Los Angeles Plays Itself, Thom Anderson said he'd had such positive responses from the studio heads of various home video divisions, that he thought a video release was actually in the realm of possibility. Certainly any studio with a lot of clips in the film is going to benefit from greater interest in their catalog that a DVD release would inevitably bring.

Of course that was quite a while ago and perhaps things have transpired to make prospects less optimistic today. I can envision a scenario in which a studio that only has a few clips featured might want to hold up further exposure for the film out of of sheer jealousy/competition, for example.

blaaagh said...

Really enjoyable and thoughtful list, Dennis--full of nudges toward movies I want to catch up on (OK, OK, I'll see 2046 already! I'm finally interested).

I do, as you know, highly recommend ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW, as well as THE SQUID AND THE WHALE. I'll be curious to hear your thoughts on BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN when you see it; I wasn't as ambivalent as Sharon is about it, and as I've said it lingered with me and I liked it better as I thought about it--but especially Heath Ledger is unforgettable.

Thanks for dragging me to LOS ANGELES PLAYS ITSELF, else I might never have seen that one-of-a-kind and excellent movie, nor, I guess, been inside the Roxie Too Cinema!

Roscoe, I rented the movie of "The Fountainhead" several years ago after having read the book, and it was highly enjoyable (as any halfway decent movie would be starring Patricia Neal and Gary Cooper!), and mostly rendered silly by the true-to-Ayn-Rand dialog. For example: "Do you wish to marry me?" Uh, Americans don't really talk like that, Ms. Rand. But worth a look, I say.

Sharon, I heartily agree about Joan Allen in THE UPSIDE OF ANGER: a great and compelling performance which ought to be at the top of the list of acting nominations, but, I guess, since the movie came out in Spring...the film itself has some serious problems (some big plot holes, for one) but it's well worth seeing for Allen and for a surprisingly good job by Costner.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

That was my feeling too about what the exposure that some of these clips might do for a studio's back catalog. The comments I heard from Andersen re this issue date back at least a year and a half, though, if my guess is correct, so it's entirely possible that a crack in the ice might have formed since then. What would be so surprising, though, about finding out that one or two clips were holding up the whole process, eh?

As for Funny Ha-Ha, here's another example of upended expectations, or preconceptions dashed. When I saw the trailer sometime last March or April, my first response was, "Oh, God, I don't wanna go near that one," figuring it was simply another in a long line of whiny coming-of-age dramedies of which Sundance is so fond. But toward the end of the year I'd heard so much in the positive that I felt I had to give it a chance, and I'm so glad I did. I'm not sure I buy the frequent comparisons to Cassavetes-- Bujalski's screenplay, and his directing, are deceptively disheveled and off-the-cuff and he's obviously letting his actors feel their way into the material. But he doesn't give off the kind of vibe that he himself is feeling his way through and discovering what the actors are doing and bringing form and perspective to that. I'm not sure who I'd compare him to, though I know that one of the film's enthusiasts that I've read since starting to go through everyone's top 10 did draw a more apt parallel with Bujalski and another filmmaker-- I just wish I could remember who it was!

(Meaningless bit of coincidence drawing two subjects together: When I saw Los Angeles Plays Itself at the Egyptian here in late May, I sat right next to Andrew Bujalski, who was very animated and excited about his new movie-- Funny Ha-Ha-- opening in Los Angeles that coming weekend.)

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Blaaagh! You slipped in there while I was writing the last comment! I didn't see you until it was too late! (Dramatic sting!)

Yeah, I was kind of surprised, not only at how many movies I'd missed this year (should I have been so surprised?), but maybe even more so by how many I was able to see. Sharon, you termed it my "moviegoing burden," and I hope I didn't make it sound like seeing movies has become some kind of chore for me. On the contrary, I treasure the opportunity to see what I can when I can, probably a lot more so than when I was young and stupid and could see seven or eight movies in a weekend if I wanted to and could scrape together enough soda pop bottles to fund such a binge. And I'm glad that there really was so much to like this year.

Blaaagh, I'm going to finally start chipping away on my Netflix stack tonight-- Kings and Queen and Tropical Malady and Last Days, with Me and You and Everyone We Know hot on their heels. I will definitely let you know what I think. I think I've also got a Capote/Good Night, and Good Luck double feature lined up for early next week, thanks to the good folks at Laemmle Theaters. I'm sure I'll probably finally see The Squid and the Whale in the next couple of weeks too. You should check out The Room too... :) And you know what? I think I remember your phone number, and I'm inclined to use it-- perhaps tonight!

Sharon, I agree. It wasn't you, or me, it was the movies, though I suspect your overview was a bit bleaker than mine. I do think 2005 was a much better year overall, I think, than the past two or three, especially since I finally broke down and got Netflixed. I must say, looking at the Los Angeles Times 2006 Sneaks hasn't buoyed my spirits much regarding what the studios have on their slates for the coming year, but I'm willing to keep an open mind.

Blaaagh, Sharon: What were your movies of the year?

blaaagh said...

Ack--I wish I could find the time to write up my favorite movies of the year, and I do think it's been a pretty good year! Maybe later this week. But right now I'm stuck in rush at work, so here 7:30am-10:30pm, and only able to sneak in a little writing here and there (so maybe this weekend is a better phone-call target, not that I wouldn't rather talk to you than some insane person who wants to explain why all his textbooks should be free). Last week's movie diet was confined to MASCULIN FEMININ, which we'd had from Netflix for several weeks and which I found surprisingly rich and intriguing, and MARCH OF THE PENGUINS, predictably delightful and charming.

Thanks for the steer toward THE ROOM, by the way (I think), and thanks to you and another critic I read the other day, I've put MYSTERIOUS SKIN on my Netflix queue. I dunno about SKY HIGH, but I'll give it a shot.

Lastly, speaking of CAPOTE, a good friend told me today that she's all excited because she's going to see Philip Seymour Hoffman be interviewed for City Arts and Lectures tonight...guess I'll wait for the broadcast, but I'd like to see that movie!

Loxjet said...

What about "Best Netflix Rental of 2005"?

I liked Brokeback Mountain, except for one thing...

Peter Nellhaus said...

I thought about the Big Heat History of Violence resemblance on how to serve piping hot coffee, but forgot to mention it in my own piece. I hope you consider Kamikaze Girls for your list of 2005 catch-up films as well.

Sharon said...

You asked for it, you got it! As I have little to no recall of the films I’ve seen, I had to rely on the imdb.com top 100 films of 2005 to jog my memory. I’m sure there are others, good and bad, that I’ve left off my list.

It’s hard for me to rank the films I saw best to worst, so I came up with some categories that I think will be self explanatory.

BEST OF THE LOT
I was surprised to find that this was the longest of my lists. Maybe it’s because I seem to have completely wiped the memory of most of the truly awful films from my brain.

40-Year-Old Virgin
Batman Begins
Capote
The Constant Gardener
The Family Stone
Good Night and Good Luck
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Mr. & Mrs. Smith
Mrs. Henderson Presents
Pride & Prejudice
Serenity
Sky High
Syriana
The Upside of Anger
Wedding Crashers

DISAPPOINTMENTS
Flightplan
Fantastic Four
King Kong

WHAT THE F*#K?!
These are films that have garnered what I consider to be undeserved critical praise and/or box office success.
Brokeback Mountain
Cinderella Man
Walk the Line
War of the Worlds

SUCKED OUT LOUD
Constantine
Star Wars III

As you can see, overall my movie-going experiences this year were quite positive. I’m sure there are others that I can’t recall, but these are my hi- and low lights from 2005.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Peter: Anytime I can slip in a Gloria Grahame reference, I'm gonna do it!

I just read about Kamikaze Girls on your blog yesterday, and it does sound intriguing. I'm off to check Netflix to see if it's available right now! Thanks for stopping by!

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Sharon: I really like the physical proximity of the phrases "What the F*#K?!" and "SUCKED OUT LOUD" to the rather more genial "As you can see, overall my movie-going experiences this year were quite positive" that ends your comment!

I line up pretty well with your likes, but I guess you and I will just have to agree to disagree about Fantastic Four and King Kong. (We can also agree to disagree about the meaning of the name "San Diego"-- just ask anyone who's seen and loved Anchorman what I'm talking about.)

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Okay, Loxjet, it took me a while to get to Netflix and cull through the long list, but here's my answer to your question, "Best Netflix Rental of 2005" (and of course it's a cheat): a four-way tie between Ernest Lubitsch's hilarious WWII comedy To Be or Not to Be, Robert Bresson's spiritual drama Au Hazard Balthazar, Anthony Mann's brilliant western Bend of the River and Barbet Schroeder's horrifically funny documentary General Idi Amin Dada-- and what the hell, I'll make it an uneven five and include the eye-opening Ramones documentary End of the Century-- The Story of the Ramones as well. There's five recommendations, and I don't even have to go on Netflix to give 'em to you!

Thom McGregor said...

This is my second attempt at posting a comment, so hopefully I won't have two of these up here. I barely remember a movie I saw in 2005, although if I had half a brain, I probably could come up with at least 10. I know that I liked "A History of Violence" very much, and "Constant Gardener" to a bit less extent. Also, I am a Star Wars geek from way back when, so I very much enjoyed SWIII, despite what Sharon, my hubby and most people in the know think about it. I can't help it! I'm a geek. But my favorite cinema memory from 2005 is being at the great Mission Tiki Drive-in with my wonderful husband and sweet and beautiful little girls. I thought "Sky High" was just something I had to live through, price of being a Cozzalio. We were sitting in the back of the minivan with a bunch of pillows and blankets. My girls were all over me. And before I knew it, I realized I loved the movie-- its unexpected grown-up laughs, sweet nature, PG-rated no-cussing, non-violent ambience, and its underlying lessons about learning to be yourself and find a place in an unfair and divisive world. Spouse and kids, especially my five-year-old daughter, were enjoying it as much as I was, and even the microwave popcorn seemed tastier than usual. Just an unexpectedly joyous and perfect experience. I just can't get excited about any movies right now, but I'm gonna try better this year, for your sake, honey. But I could, right at this moment, give you a top-30 list of my favorite songs from 2005. Just let me know!

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Thanks, Thom. I think, if I'd been on my game, that I would have included that night at the Mission Tiki as one of my favorite screening so of 2005 too, simply because it seemed to me then, as it does now, a dream come true, something I always imagined, hoped I would be able to do-- be in such close company with my dearest loves, daughters and wife, all enjoying such a simple pleasure as a drive-in movie together. Here's hoping our upcoming Saturday night at the Vineland will be as magical. As for your admitted Star Wars geekitude, you won't hear me making fun of you for that one. (I have been known, after all, to get my geek on over the occasional bit of cinema myself.) In fact, even though I don't share your enthusiasm for the movies, I find it endearing that you do. I feel the same way when you get enthusiastic about almost any movie, or song, or book, but for some reason especially this series. And in that spirit, I offer you this, not so much as an olive branch (we haven't really had the knock-down, drag-out over Episode III that I thought we might-- maybe because I did think it was noticeably better than Episodes I or II), but just because I love you and think you'll enjoy knowing you're in some pretty good company. And I'm ready for those 30 songs of 2005 any time you feel like typing.

blaaagh said...

Hey you two: thanks for the link to that Zeitz piece, even though I know it wasn't a gift to me--but even before I read it I was going to say to you, Thom, that you don't have to justify having liked "Revenge of the Sith," at least to me--I loved it, too, and those of us who know you know how super-intelligent you are. The reviews I read picked on it for the sort of details you could find in ANY fantasy movie, but whatever...in ten years maybe these guys will do a retrospective blog day on it, like they've just done for "Showgirls." The first two prequels were pretty uneven, for me, but everything came together brilliantly in this latest, in my unhumble opinion. Anyway, I've already bookmarked this Zeitz character's blog. And yeah, OK, I guess I'm a Star Wars nerd, too.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Wait a minute, damn it! I thought it I made it clear from the outset-- there's to be no open disagreement with the host of this blog! :)

Seriously, however, one of the things I like most about the way it seems to work with the people who choose to comment here is that nobody feels it's necessary to use the comments column as a forum for ridiculing anyone or anyone's opinions. I may not like Revenge of the Sith much, but it tickles me that a very good writer like Matt Zoller Seitz does and that he's able to articulate it so well. And Blaaagh, it'll be interesting to see what time does for those Star Wars prequels. In 10 years (or less), maybe it'll be clearer if the criticism Lucas' movies is being subjected to is similar to that which buried Showgirls-- a general perception that the movie couldn't be much good because the previous two weren't, which ossifies into this generally accepted notion of the film's "badness," which in turn colors the opinions of those who haven't even seen it yet. We'll see!

blaaagh said...

Ha ha--sorry, O Great Blog Leader! Anyway, yeah, it's interesting to wonder what the general wisdom will be about a movie like "Sith" ten years hence, if anyone cares anymore (won't we be riding around in Jetsons-style air cars by then, anyway?), but it struck me reading Zeitz's piece (and the original review) that he was talking about the same critical group-think you were talking about with regard to "Showgirls." And I agree: one of my favorite things about this blog is that no one has (yet) resorted to ridicule or name calling of the other participants; you've apparently set the tone well. Long may you reign, O Ruler of the Blog! May I never dare to disagree with your grace again.

Roscoe said...

Thom,

I pray a Super Furry Animals song is on your top 30 list.

Thom McGregor said...

You asked for it, sweetie, and you're getting it! Sorry, Roscoe, no Super Furry Animals on my list, although I have been fond of them in the past. A lot of these songs weren't actually released in 2005, but too much work and the responsibilities of motherhood have left my brain in tatters. I know one of these songs is actually from a different decade. But they are all songs that meant a lot to me in 2005. So, forgive me, blog readers-- this has nothing to do with movies or baseball! But what Dennis asks for, Dennis gets. And thanks, Blaaagh, for sweetly coming to my defense on SWIII. You're a great friend. Here's my top 30 songs, in no order, from last year. My favorite CD of 2005 is Elbow's "Leaders of the Free World," and I love almost every song on it, but especially "Forget Myself," "The Stops" and "Mexican Standoff." Then there's Arcade Fire's wild and bracing "Wake Up." and Sufjan Stevens's beautiful "Chicago." "Hong Kong" and "Feel Good Inc." by Gorillaz take me to two different, wonderful places. Ben Folds's "Landed" may be the best song period from last year, and his acerbic "Bastard" is pretty great too. Lizz Wright's beautiful voice does me in on "When I Close My Eyes." Bright Eyes almost makes me cry with "Lua." Starsailor always makes me cry with "Born Again." U2 made me feel glad to be alive in the two concerts I saw last year particularly with "City of Blinding Lights" and "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own." My girls' favorite was Kaiser Chiefs' "I Predict A Riot." There's also the aching "Anything" by Martina Topley-Bird. "Yegelle Tezeta" by Mulatu Astatke, a great jazz piece used in "Broken Flowers." Hey, movie reference! Matt Pond PA's "Snow Day" was also used in a movie, "First Descent." I love Spoon's "I Summon You" and Joseph Arthur's "Can't Exist." Also Foo Fighters' "What If I Do?" and Clem Snide redeeming Chrstina Aguilera's "Beautiful." Sigur Ros's "Se Lest" sends me. There's also Nine Inch Nails's "Hand That Feeds." Kathleen Edwards's "Back To Me." The heartbreaking "Because of Toledo" by The Blue Nile. Two older songs a friend introduced me to sent me into a higher state-- "Souljacker Pt. 1" by Eels and "Feel the Pain" by Dinosaur Jr. "Girl" by Beck, a great summery song. "The Truth," electrojazz from Handsome Boy Modeling School. Interpol's "Slow Hands." Killers's "All the Things that I've Done." "Nos Da Cariad" by David Gray, also brought to my attention by a friend. "Spitting Games" by Snow Patrol gets catchier every time I listen to it. And I finally overcame my hatred of their name and got into Death Cab For Cutie, especially "The Death of an Interior Decorator." Hope no one read this list who didn't mean to. I'm sure it's totally boring. And I'm sure I went over 30 as well. Sorry! I gotta stop apologizing. And thanks, honey, for making your blog such a warm place for everybody to share ideas, even for your movie-deprived wife. Loves to all who write on this blog!

blaaagh said...

Wow--it's far from boring, Thom; if anything, I think you ought to start your own blog! I have never had a clue about popular/rock/whatever-you-call-it music, and still don't, but I've always been willing to listen to suggestions from friends, and have discovered a lot of good music that way. So I'll put your list to good use. I haven't even heard of most of the bands you mention!

Murray said...

Dennis, I watched 174 movies on DVD in 2005. I only made it to the theater to see 2 movies, Star Wars III and Valiant, both with my prescious granddaughters. This is a list of the most memoriable DVD movies I watched in 2005. These are in no particular order or ranking, just the movies that made a lasting impression on me, meaning I would not mind watching them again. I have not yet seen many of the newer movies you now mention in your blog as I wait for them to come out on DVD.

Troy
The Notebook
Bend of the River
Hotel Rwanda
Winchester 73
Million Dollar Baby
Must Love Dogs
Coach Carter
Star Wars III
Herbie Fully Loaded
Mr. & Mrs. Smith
Four Brothers
Serenity
The Island
Left Behind III
House of Flying Daggers
Batman Begins

Movies that I though were duds:
Ray
Love Song for Bobby Long
State Property II
Upside of Anger
Sunland Heat
Fathers and Sons
Grissly Man
A Christmas Carol - Kelsy Grammar
And any DVD movie that did not have CC or Subtitles.

If a second chance at "Showgirls" changes your opinion, do you think a second chance at "This is Spinal Tap" with CC would have any chance of changing mine?

Roscoe said...

No love for the super furries... that's too bad.

Love Kraft is the best album of 2005!!!!

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Murray: regarding your question, I guess it all depends on your objections to Spinal Tap. I always assumed that you just weren't on the same wavelength with the movie's sense of humor, or you didn't much care about the subject-- the excesses of heavy metal-- that was being parodied. If that's the case, I doubt whether a second look would make much difference-- though humor is a (forgive me) funny thing, and something that strikes you dead the first time might, due to any numbers of factors-- mood, the passage of a decade or so, the fact that a certain kind of humor is more frequently encountered in mainstream comedies than it was 20 years ago-- work altogether differently for you now.

But I suspect some of your objections might be due to the mock documentary style of the movie and the fact that, when I showed it to you, it was most certainly not closed-captioned. If you're hard of hearing, trying to navigate a movie-- comedy, drama, whatever-- that is shot in such a loose style, where many of the gags are purposely thrown away for the sake of verisimiltude to that form, and you need captioning that's not available to help clarify the goings on, well, that's understandably going to be a pretty frustrating experience. If you're willing to endure it, I know that the new MGM DVD of This is Spinal Tap has subtitles and captioning, so you'd at least be getting more of what was going on. Then, if you still didn't like it, you'd know it wasn't because you were being excluded from what everyone else finds so appealing about the movie.

And I'm curious-- what were your objections to Grizzly Man? I ask mainly bcause I'm surprised you didn't like it-- I recommended it to you because I suspected you might.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Murray: I almost forgot-- I was also surprised, and happy, to find out you were a fan of Showgirls! The missus just bought it for me on DVD yesterday. Now, that's love!

Murray said...

Dennis, Since I have never been a fan of Hard Rock music, I probably would not get the jokes anyway, so I am going to pass on viewing "Spinal Tap" again. As for Grizzly Man, Karen and I made it through the first 10 minutes and looked at each other and said what the ----! Normally I love documentary movies, but I just never could connect with the narration style of Grizzly Man. It was kind of like listening to rap, was difficult to follow and made no sense most of the time. I am more traditional and I like the facts and the get to the point in documentary narration.

I loved Showgirls the first time I saw it, the second time I saw it, the third time I saw, ... you know what I mean.

Tell Roscoe "Commander in Chief" is one of my favorite shows this year. I will definately be looking for a blond haired drunk kid on Tuesday night.

blaaagh said...

OK, if anyone's still reading this, I thought I'd finally ignore all my work for a bit and post a list of 2005 releases I liked, in (rough) descending order of how much I liked them (of course, if two or three movies are grouped together, I may have liked them just as well, but whatever). I don't think I've ever done this before, and I realize how mainstream my list looks--but it doesn't include all the old Westerns, horror movies, foreign gems I'd never seen before, etc., which I caught up on late at night on DVD. So without further apology here is my list.

Oh, and Roscoe, nice work on "Commander in Chief" last night! Not very believable that those kids could have unsupervised access to the White House, not to mention the ability to steal the Gettysburg Address, but it was enjoyable nonetheless.

ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW
THE SQUID AND THE WHALE
HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE
A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE
KING KONG
BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN
RED EYE
STAR WARS: REVENGE OF THE SITH
WAR OF THE WORLDS
CORPSE BRIDE
SERENITY
WEDDING CRASHERS
THE UPSIDE OF ANGER
BATMAN BEGINS
MARCH OF THE PENGUINS
BROKEN FLOWERS
SAW II

Not Entirely Bad, No Matter What Anyone Else Says:
HOUSE OF WAX(but couldn't they have written some witty dialog for these characters? Or make them likable in some way?)
ELIZABETHTOWN (well, some of it was very bad, but not all)
IN HER SHOES (I was tricked into seeing it, but it was all right)
SIN CITY
MR. AND MRS. SMITH (whatever, Mick LaSalle)
THE ISLAND (preposterous, but fun on DVD)

Bad:
THE DEVIL'S REJECTS
THE DUKES OF HAZZARD

Most Eagerly Anticipated Unseen 2005 Releases:
THE NEW WORLD (LaSalle doing backflips over it, so maybe I should be wary…)
2046
THE CONSTANT GARDENER
THE ARISTOCRATS (I guess)
FUNNY HA-HA

Now, wasn't that edifying? I hate lists, really, but I have to admit it was interesting to think back on the new movies I'd seen. One thing that struck me, looking over the 2005 releases in order of release, was how few good or interesting movies seem to have come out between Jan.-May, so no wonder everyone was crying about the drop-off in box office: there was nothing to see!

blaaagh said...

Oh, damn--I forgot:

LOS ANGELES PLAYS ITSELF

--which I think was a sort of unofficial 2005 release?? Anyway, it should be right up there, say #5.

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