Combustible Celluloid
 

2005: The Year in Film

What Happened to Me in the Dark...

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

2005 was the year of the message, as Hollywood struggled to put on long pants and to seem relevant and important in an increasingly divided and cynical world. Unfortunately, art suffered in the process; many of these messages were so bald-faced and obvious that they may as well have skipped the movie altogether and just hammered ticket-buyers' heads. Very few movies bothered to use the medium, its textures and tones, its physical spaces and capacity for emotional revelation, for anything at all. Happily, I found ten that will endure long after the messages have faded.

1. Saraband
Ingmar Bergman's big screen comeback after a 20-year hiatus was greeted with indifference when it should have been a major event. "Saraband" revealed a master still at the top of his game and capable of heart-rending emotional integrity. It was as good as his best, and very possibly his last.

2. Broken Flowers
Working with writer/director Jim Jarmusch, Bill Murray enhanced his deadpan persona with a new emotional resonance, cynical and dismissive in every aspect of life except with women, who for him still remain a wonderful, horrible mystery.

3. A History of Violence
Armed with his biggest budget to date, David Cronenberg made his most easily digestible film and his biggest mainstream success, all without losing his remarkable touch. Struggling with Cronenbergian inner conflicts, Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) suppresses one identity but discovers that the soul knows all.

4. The World
Set in a massive, oddly beautiful, but vaguely disturbing theme park, this new film by Jia Zhang-ke (Platform, Unknown Pleasures) brilliantly explores the rewards and punishments of crossing boundaries and the tentative nature of human connection.

5. 2046
Continuing his string of tragically missed romantic connections, Wong Kar-wai burrows ever deeper for this elusive, visually expansive yet intensely private view of a writer, his own little world, and the women he can't quite fit inside it.

6. Land of the Dead
Forget this year's "message" movies like Crash, North Country and Syriana. George A. Romero's fourth zombie film contained the scariest warning and the most perceptive microcosm of America at large.

7. Good Night, and Good Luck
George Clooney understood that great showmanship must accompany "sending a message," and he does it here with his palpable black-and-white mood, as thick as cigarette smoke, and as rich as Edward R. Murrow's poetic on-air copy. The most exciting journalism movie since All the President's Men.

8. Capote
More than just a great mimic job, Philip Seymour Hoffman's performance as Truman Capote has haunted me for months now, indulging so deeply his need for truth and glory that he sacrifices a part of his soul. It's one of the most perceptive portraits of the writing process ever filmed.

9. Mysterious Skin
Based on a novel by Scott Heim, this film could have been another frightening, brutal tale of child molestation, but instead Gregg Araki treats the subject gently, focusing on the two boys' whose lives were changed in different ways and the shockingly beautiful way in which they find closure. It's the only film this year that understood the power of the human touch, as evidenced by the scene in which a sinister, snaked-eyed man (Billy Drago) covered in HIV-related sores, wishes nothing more than a backrub.

10. The New World
Only Terrence Malick's fourth film in 32 years, the maddeningly opaque, intermittently brilliant "The New World" watches Pocahontas (Q'Orianka Kilcher) and John Smith (Colin Farrell) slowly enter and absorb one another's worlds. Of course, one world finally and completely envelops the other, but Malick tells the familiar story with a poetic grandeur and an almost brutal, physically visual potency that unmasks this season's other award-contenders for what they are: a bunch of pretty postcards. It's a messy masterpiece and the year's only act of artistic lunacy.

7 Runners-Up

Honorable Mentions:

  • Cache (Michael Haneke)
  • Corpse Bride (Tim Burton)
  • Funny Ha Ha (Andrew Bujalski)
  • Head On (Fatih Akin)
  • The Holy Girl (Lucrecia Martel)
  • King Kong (Peter Jackson)
  • Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (Shane Black)
  • Kung Fu Hustle (Stephen Chow)
  • Pulse (Kiyoshi Kurosawa)
  • Red Eye (Wes Craven)
  • The Squid and the Whale (Noah Baumbach)
  • Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (George Lucas)
  • Turtles Can Fly (Bahman Ghobadi)
  • Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (Nick Park)

5 Best Revivals

  • Elevator to the Gallows (Louis Malle)
  • Major Dundee (Sam Peckinpah)
  • Masculin-Feminin (Jean-Luc Godard)
  • Los Olvidados (Luis Bunuel)
  • The Passenger (Michelangelo Antonioni)

10 Best Documentaries

  • Grizzly Man/Wheel of Time/The White Diamond (Werner Herzog)
  • Henri Langlois: The Phantom of the Cinematheque (Jacques Richard)
  • The Joy of Life (Jenni Olson)
  • Los Angeles Plays Itself (Thom Andersen)
  • Mad Hot Ballroom (Marilyn Agrelo)
  • New York Doll (Greg Whiteley)
  • No Direction Home: Bob Dylan (Martin Scorsese)
  • Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic (Liam Lynch)
  • We Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen (Tim Irwin)

Guilty Pleasures

Movies I liked that no one else did...

  • Bee Season (Scott McGehee/David Siegel)
  • The Brothers Grimm (Terry Gilliam)
  • Cursed (Wes Craven)
  • Eros (Wong Kar-wai/Steven Soderbergh/Michelangelo Antonioni)
  • Herbie Fully Loaded (Angela Robinson)
  • House of Wax (Jaume Collet-Serra)
  • Man with the Screaming Brain (Bruce Campbell)
  • November (Greg Harrison)
  • Oliver Twist (Roman Polanski)
  • Pooh's Heffalump Movie (Frank Nissen)
  • Transporter 2 (Louis Leterrier)

The Best of 1956

These ten movies will be celebrating their 50th anniversary in 2006. With luck, some of them will be shown in revivals or on new DVDs.

  1. Bigger Than Life (Nicholas Ray)
  2. A Man Escaped (Robert Bresson)
  3. Written on the Wind (Douglas Sirk)
  4. The Killing (Stanley Kubrick)
  5. Seven Men from Now (Budd Boetticher)
  6. The Wrong Man (Alfred Hitchcock)
  7. The Searchers (John Ford)
  8. Giant (George Stevens)
  9. Aparajito (Satyajit Ray)
  10. The Girl Can't Help It (Frank Tashlin)

See also the year's worst.

December 30, 2005

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