Blogcritics really dig documentaries, and they don’t shy away from violence (even stylized violence, as in the lone film to be selected by more than one of our critics). They like foreign films, and they’re not too pretentious to admit that action movies can be amazing, too. But the best thing that can be said about our Blogcritics is that they have opinions, lots of them, and they can back them up. Here are their opinions on the best movies of 2005 — and it’s not always the movies you might expect.
Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man, a documentary about Timothy Treadwell (1957-2003), who spent 13 summers among the grizzlies in Alaska until one killed him, was my favorite movie this year. Heroism presents the greatest problem for movies. The educated are skeptical of romance, the genre of conventional heroism, but naturalism, the opposite of romance, isn’t much to any moviegoers’ tastes. The market prevails and we get almost nothing but romances, which receive praise to the extent they mirror the viewer’s beliefs. Even history becomes romance — Good Night, and Good Luck., North Country, even, in the final analysis, Capote — and people
who should know better cheer. Irony, by contrast, presents a disenchanted view of humanity, counteracting the sugar-poisoning of romance, even when it ends upbeat, as did two enjoyably raucous, ironic comedies this year, The Upside of Anger and The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Grizzly Man is freezing irony, Herzog’s virtue that of the visionary ironist addressing the very real problem of living right, on every level from the local to the interplanetary. Heroism is not impossible, but not, perhaps, likely. Herzog does show some tenderness for the hapless Treadwell but also sees what’s buffoonish about him. Irony can strike wonderful balances. Thus, the Alaskan footage (from 100 hours of video shot by Treadwell) endows the movie with an element of nature rhapsody that raises even Treadwell the yapping narcissist to a (somewhat) higher plane. He’s a great big fool in a great ambiguous paradise.
Film history is going be made with the release of King Kong because Peter Jackson has made the film that is destined to become the new box office champ and you can take that to the bank. It is everything that “Titanic” was and more. It’s filled with breath-taking action, thrilling adventure, marvelous special effects, but at its core it succeeds where Titanic failed by creating believable characters and an amazing story that will tug at your heartstrings. Forget gay cowboys — this is a love story for the ages
King Kong is so good that not only will you want to relive the experience in a theatre with an audience like a child racing back onto a roller coaster once he gets off, but you will want to bring everyone you know with you. You will see and hear a thesaurus full of adjectives to describe this film. Everything positive you hear will be true. Anything negative is a lie by someone trying, and failing, to look cool.
Jackson has put everyone on notice on how to make a movie. And I don’t just mean the hacks with parents in the business or those that have garnered movie deals because they were able to complete a music video or commercial. I’m talking the big boys and hot shots of Hollywood. Spielberg, Tarantino and especially Lucas are exposed for the frauds that they are and taken to the woodshed. You will never see movies the same way again, and thankfully so.
Jenifer: Having to choose one movie from 2005 as my pick for the best is like squeezing blood from a turnip. It’s a difficult chore, and not because there were so many great movies to choose from. But rather, I feel like I’m simply settling with my pick. There are still several movies on the December horizon that seem much better than what we’ve seen so far this year. But here goes …
I really liked Sin City. And this was a surprise to me, who usually shies away from the dark, blood-and-gore types. Begrudgingly, I went to see it thinking I’d hate it, yet I came away from the theater lauding it for many reasons. Namely, Mickey Rourke as Marv. Rourke played the rock-solid, comic book-ish thug to perfection. Marv was completely antithetical to the typical movie superhero, and for that, I fell in love with him, despite his tendencies for murder and mayhem.
I also loved the stylized violence juxtapositioned against the stark black-and-white background. Blood disguised as bright splashes of color was like cinematic eye candy. At times, I wanted to look away, like when Benicio Del Toro’s head was nearly chopped off and left dangling like a Pez dispenser (thanks to special guest director Quentin Tarrantino, who helmed that particular storyline). But Robert Rodriguez’s film noir direction throughout kept me reeled in until the end.
Chris: The best movie of the year is, beyond the shadow of a doubt, Sin City. Robert Rodriguez brought the tough, hard-boiled tales to the screen with great style and an over the top attitude.
The movie is a departure from anything you’re likely to see this year. The tales of a detective on the verge of retirement, a low-level thug looking for the one that got away, and a man on the brink of a turf war all intertwine in this new age noir. It is filled with tough guys, damsels in distress, guys in distress, and tough damsels. It takes traditional roles and flips them around inside a surrealist’s bag of tricks.
This is quite possibly the most literal translation of the printed page to the screen ever made. The source graphic novels are practically storyboards for this film. It was made in black and white with the occasional effective use of color. If you want style, Sin City is dripping with it.
If you want realistic images or dialogue, go elsewhere. This is all about the image — truly revolutionary filmmaking. The convergence of content and concept are drawing nearer. Too often you get great stories or you get great visuals; rarely do they come together. I have envisioned a future where storytelling and visual inventiveness converge, and Sin City is that glorious future.
House of Flying Daggers
Directed by Zhang Yimou
Few films are as drenched in color as Zhang Yimou’s, and House of Flying Daggers is no exception. The rich color palette lends itself to this tale of love, deception, and betrayal, and both the beauty of the film and the choreography of its action sequences fully serve the story itself. Government officers Leo and Jin (played by Andy Lau and Takeshi Kaneshiro) try and destroy a rebellious group called the House of Flying Daggers by tricking a blind woman (Ziyi Zhang) into leading them to the group’s hideout. But the larger conflict becomes personal as the relationships of the three evolve. Zhang manages to fuse the disparate components of his tragic love story with incredible visuals; it is truly a film that must be seen to be believed.
War of the Worlds
Directed by Steven Spielberg
My favorite/best movie of 2005 is easily The Constant Gardener.
But I’m choosing War of the Worlds instead.
But you knew Cruise would try too hard being Cruise. And Spielberg’s smiley-face ending (dead aliens + father/son reunion)? Big deal. Have you seen his movies? Happy Happy Joy Joy’s in his contract and his DNA.
WotW truly scared me. (Watch it as a nightmare Cruise’s Ray Ferrier is having when he wakes from a nap ten minutes into the film & it suspends disbelief much better). Spielberg still knows the geography of jaw-dropping images & balls-out action: the ferry disaster’s a master class in how to out-Titanic Titanic in fifteen minutes, channeling the terror of the T-Rex reveal in Jurassic Park.
But why WotW? Cos’ Spielberg’s work reminds me – forcefully, subtly, accidentally – why I fell in love with movies.
Spielberg midwived many of my seminal movie-going experiences. Ones that shook my earth. Changed my life. Where I remember where I sat. Who I was with. And how I felt – heart in throat, tears in eyes, smitten.
I chase that feeling like a Grail quest each time the lights go down and I’m surrounded, holding my breath, hopeful, sharing secrets in the dark.
Harry Potter, Hobbits, X-Men, & Jedis are box office gold because a lot of us can’t shake that feeling. The one we got watching Jaws, E.T., Raiders. And for me, WotW.
Co-directed by Dana Adam Shapiro and Henry Alex Rubin, Murderball tracks the likes of Mark Zupan and Christopher Igoe in this smashing documentary about quadriplegic rugby players. Yes, you read that right. Guys who can’t walk are playing rugby. They have hardcore wheelchairs that can take more of a beating than your mother’s SUV.
The impressive camera work, fast-paced editing and great soundtrack follow Team USA’s Quad Rugby Team as they make it to the 2004 Paralympics in Greece. Along this journey we learn of the accidents, fights and diseases that landed these men in their wheelchairs and the training it took for them to become world-class athletes.
Don’t think for a moment that this is a sappy and depressing film, though. It is crude, creative, foul and funny. These guys enjoy their alcohol, tattoos and getting laid. Sure, they do their part to inspire other quadriplegics, but they are out to crush them too. Don’t feel sorry for them, feel afraid of them. Murderball is a murderously funny film that is definitely one of the best this year.
Duke De Mondo
Directed by Neil Marshall
Neil Marshall’s 2002 Dog Soldiers, whilst all the fun of a doped-up finger-fumble back-row-centre on a Friday afternoon, was hardly all that terribly memorable, all that terribly brain-scarring. Eerie and amusing, most certainly, but forgotten half-way cross the car-park, or the carpet if maybe you downloaded it an killed half a Hollywood to screeching digital death. The Descent, though, that’s a different sorta affair altogether, t’is, the kind staples the eyes to the screen an the fist to the yap, the kind grabs hold the guts five minutes in an doesn’t let go for a damn second, not one, batterin the brains to blazes wi claustrophobic, white-knuckle, lung-molestin terror, and at the end, all a fella can say is “thank you,” cause that adrenaline, that sense a all-encompassing dread, invigorating a feeling as can be found this side of a brothel.
What it concerns is a buncha ladies setting off for a cave-explorin expedition in the outer reaches a Someplace far removed from Anywhere. Shit happens. That’s as much as anyone needs to know.
The Descent is never content if it thinks you might be feelin a bit relaxed around the scream-glands. It piles unpleasantry upon unpleasantry for the best part of an hour, and then, then it gets really fuckin unpleasant.
It’s about trust, paranoia, grief, and about the fear a being stuck in the dark wi barely space to breathe, and worse, chances are you got company of the foulest, most psychotic sort.
There’s been a few flicks knocked me backwards out my arse this year, this one knocked me furthest. Masterful, it is, and thank god in heaven for a brilliant horror flick that’s actually scary. I bit the fingers to the biceps, truth be told, an I’m still scared to pee on my own.
A History of Violence
Directed by David Cronenberg
A timely, relevant film, A History of Violence uses the conventions of a typical mystery-thriller to deconstruct some self-deluded mythologies bought and sold by American thrillers, the American family, and America itself. As the title would suggest, the subject of the film is the way violence has many roots in modern culture, both biological and social, and the way this violence expresses itself in as many ways. It also takes some time to explore the insidious way violence sneaks into child-rearing, work, and sex. Intense, wryly funny at times, and well-acted, the film is never didactic or judgmental and, on its surface, works as a conventional mystery-thriller. Additionally, it’s admirable for the honesty with which it describes the effects the well-told lies about violence have on individuals, as well as offering some good reasons as to why they need exist.
The movie’s focus is on Mortensen’s character, whether he is who he says he is, and he handles the idenitity issues at the core of the film nicely, with a layered performance that gives truth to both answers to the question. William Hurt nearly steals the movie in a brief appearance toward the end of the film, in a role that would have been rote in lesser hands. Kudos, also, for exploring marital relationships in such a frank and believable way. This is one of the most intellectually satisfying movies of the year, and it’s an entertaining movie to boot.
Directed by Park Chan-wook
After earning the Grand Jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2004, Korean import Oldboy quietly slipped in and out of theaters in America earlier this year. But for my money, no film, foreign or otherwise, has delivered as much of an impact in 2005.
In what had to be a grueling experience, Choi Min-sik delivers a powerful performance as a man hellbent on revenge after 15 years of captivity for reasons unknown. His character undergoes emotional and physical exhaustion in his unwavering obsession to discover who decided to ruin his life and why. Director Park Chan-wook shows a real eye for striking visuals with a story mixing violence, sex and humor into a concoction that shows the true toll that vengeance can take on all parties involved. Undoubtedly, the film has got aspects that are sure to be polarizing to audiences (those with sensitive stomachs need not apply). But for those willing to press on through its tough to watch sequences might just discover a film that actually has an emotional payoff. True, its conclusion is a bit drawn out, but it most certainly packs a wallop. That’s more than can be said for many of the more predictable denouements to American movies nowadays. By the way, an American remake is already in the works for 2006. But don’t wait until then to see Oldboy, as it’s hard to imagine topping this version.
No Direction Home
Directed by Martin Scorsese
I use to joke that scrawling “Clapton is God” on a wall meant the person didn’t know how to spell Dylan. Martin Scorsese’s No Direction Home, a documentary about Bob Dylan released on DVD and aired on PBS, shows the truth behind that humor.
The two-disc set traces Dylan’s roots, influences and impact up through his 1966 tour of England, where he was usually booed during the second, electrified half of each show for being a “traitor” to folk music. The use of extensive archival footage and new interviews gives unparalleled insight into Dylan’s significance to modern music. It also shows the burdens of being called the poet of and spokesman for your generation when all you think you are or want to be is a musician.
The interviews with Dylan may be among his most cogent and coherent, not just the joking toss offs often seen in the past. Interviews of others are equally straightforward and cover the period from those with him when he was just a young face in Minneapolis through those who toured with him in 1966.
The film is not perfect. By starting with and interspersing the 1966-era electric performances throughout, the film muddles the timeline. The conclusion is a bit disjointed, with Dylan talking about wanting to return home but using screen text to tell of the motorcycle accident that helped keep him off stage for the next eight years. Still, any flaws are insignificant compared to the whole.
Grafitti writers everywhere, take note.
Like Chris Beaumont and Jenifer Gonzales, I considered Sin City. That film breathed life into graphic novels in a way that the terrible League of Extraordinary Gentlemen couldn’t even imagine, and that even the excellent From Hell couldn’t manage. And then, like Tiffany Leigh, I considered War of the Worlds, which is at best an imperfect film, but like Tiff, I found myself glued to the screen, fist stapled, as the Duke might say, to my yap, squealing like a little girl. That film owned me, stole my soul and left me drained. I didn’t care about the flaws.
But after I saw Brokeback Mountain, there was no longer any question of what I might choose for this end of the year list. I have always hated plucking one movie out of the pack to hold up as the best (my personal top “ten” is really about twenty), and I’m notoriously indecisive, but Brokeback Mountain stands so far above anything else I saw this year that I relented, helpless, and am now cheerleading for the Brokeback cause. Rarely has a movie approached romance, acceptable or taboo with such considerate honesty as this one, and the script is one of the best adaptations of all time. See it not for the controversy, but for the mastery of film that should be held up as an example for aspiring filmmakers everywhere.