May 13, 2006 | Comments ()

By Miscellaneous | Miscellaneous | May 13, 2006 |


I think we can all agree with Dustin that it’s kind of arrogant and self-indulgent to make a big deal about your favorite movies of the year, but it’s not exactly modest to spend several hours each week alternately carping and squealing with delight about individual films on a website that exists solely for that purpose, either. So let’s get over the bellyaching and on with the pontificating.

Here at Pajiba, we spend a lot of time slamming Hollywood for its cynicism, hypocrisy, and mind-numbing lack of originality, and it’s a damn good time; we enjoy sharpening our claws and going in for the kill. (Please, when you picture us, imagine a cross between drag queens and Gremlins — ‘cause we’re bitchy. No, wait — you’re bitchy; we’re scathing. So maybe you’re all drag queens and we’re more action-movie hero-types, like Vin Diesel. Eww. Never mind.) And, more often than not, our ferocious attacks are well earned — anyone not repulsed by all the unnecessary remakes and adaptations of TV shows and video games that the studios are currently sending down the conveyor belt is either not paying attention or should be treated with kind condescension and offered something shiny to play with. But, knee-jerk viciousness aside, in many ways 2005 was a great year at the movies. We had an unusual number of summer blockbusters with a bit of heart and plenty of brains; three of them even made my list of favorites. And, through many months of the year, there was an exciting multiplicity of options, at least for those of us who live in or near urban areas. The studios found out — much to the surprise of their supposedly omniscient marketing departments — that there were avid audiences for movies about all kinds of subjects and all kinds of people, whether filthy, filthy jokes; horny, horny penguins; working-class black folks; or, yes, even gay cowboys. And while Hollywood raises its self-pitying hue and cry about the 7-percent drop in theater attendance this past year, both the studios and moviegoers are benefiting from the ongoing DVD boom, which is allowing us many options preferable to their standard fare — maybe someday they’ll catch on that the way to get butts into seats is to put more movies on the screen that are worth watching.

All of this is my way of saying there were a lot of good movies (and even more bad ones) released in 2005, and unfortunately I missed quite a few I would have liked to see. Between writing for Pajiba, taking the odd freelance gig, having some semblance of a social life, and occasionally reading a damn book to work some of the Hollywood sludge out of my head, there’s not a lot of time left over to see movies I’m not writing about. I missed out on some that looked really interesting: The Aristocrats, The Chronicles of Narnia, Everything Is Illuminated, Jarhead, Syriana, Wedding Crashers, etc. And the ones I wasn’t reviewing that I did get to see often turned out to be things like Because of Winn-Dixie — Hey! My little sister wanted to see it! — and The Island, which actually wasn’t as bad as I’d heard.

So, all that is my way of saying that this list is necessarily provisional, that it could easily have turned out very differently if I had seen some more movies or just some different ones, or even if I’d sat down to write it an hour earlier or later. And it’s my explanation for why, by default rather than by design, all but one of the films on both my lists are movies that I reviewed.

Finally, to point out the obvious, critics deal in opinions, and opinions may change over time — some movies that I loved at first viewing have diminished somewhat in my esteem as I’ve had time and space to reconsider my initial impressions, and others that had distracting flaws have risen as I realized that their achievements stayed with me more than their defects. This isn’t an exact science, and there can be no final authority as to which are the “best” films of the year or the “worst” so, with uncharacteristic humility, I offer instead my favorite and least favorite films of 2005.

My Favorites

1. Brokeback Mountain — Anyone who read my review saw this one coming, and adding more to that monograph is a bit self-indulgent even for me. Suffice it to say that I have rarely been more moved by any filmed performances or more awed by visual beauty.

2. The Squid and the Whale — Not only the year’s most thoughtful, unflinching look at a family in meltdown both as a group and as individuals, this movie is also painfully funny and has great, vivid performances across the board. Why can’t we get Noah Baumbach on one a them Woody Allen movie-a-year schedules?

3. Broken Flowers — Funny and poignant seems to be a theme here. Like Squid, this one is also a portrait of Boomer anomie, but with a focus that’s both more specific — it’s mostly about one man — and broader — in the minor characters, it examines many kinds of middle-aged discontent. Jim Jarmusch’s most accessible film and Bill Murray’s most elegant performance. Screw Lost in Translation.

4. Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic — A movie so dirty and so wrong it made me feel like a naughty kid and then like I’d been absolved of all my sins. Maybe the naysayers are right and Silverman’s no Lenny Bruce, but hey — are you? Come back when you’re as funny as this foul-mouthed hussy and we’ll talk.

5. The Constant Gardener — The best of the white-people-concerned-about-Africans movies (hey, there’s a nifty trend), this movie is also a mystery and a love story. In a year that saw Ralph Fiennes excel in playing everything from a little clay jerk in Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit to Voldemort, this is still the performance to watch. And Rachel Weisz doesn’t get nearly the recognition she deserves; between this and her roles in The Shape of Things and Runaway Jury, she’ll soon blot those horrible Mummy flashbacks from all our minds.

6. Mr. & Mrs. Smith — Funny story: The very day after I reviewed this movie, I went to a bar with some friends and was randomly introduced to the director’s cousin. He found out that I write about movies, and I told him what my most recent review was. He went batshit, going on about how overrated his cousin was, but I argued with him (for a couple drinks longer) that the movie (which he hadn’t seen) was funny and clever as all git-out. I was right; he was wrong. Too bad about Ms. Aniston, though.

7. Batman Begins — Christopher Nolan has the good sense to realize that grounding a myth in realism only makes it more potent, and his Batman — scared, unsure of himself, and haunted by a trauma he can only overcome through ritualistic vengeance — is the most convincing and compelling interpretation of the character ever to reach the screen. Let’s hope the inevitable sequel is half as good.

8. Capote — The script plays fast and loose with some facts about Capote’s life and underestimates his art, but Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance captures both the genius and the freak under that pale, thin skin, abetted by spare, Wyeth-esque cinematography and a supporting cast that knows how to support. If they’d made Catherine Keener’s part twice as big, this would be twice as high on the list.

9. Happy Endings — “Lord, what fools these mortals be!” But they’re damned funny fools, and touching, too, when you see how hard they strive and how often they fail to live by their treasured illusions. Every movie on this list has some great performances, but few have as many or have any as unprecedented as the ones Don Roos got from his cast. (Tom Arnold moved me!)

10. War of the Worlds — I actually held off on making my list until I’d had a chance to see Munich, expecting that it might occupy a space here somewhere, but it just didn’t do it for me; sometimes movies that see Israel as an overpriced kitchen (!) are like that. When Spielberg spins our traumas into metaphor, he’s a magician, but when he goes grimly literal, he gets all gummed-up in his own nobility. His strengths lie in fantasies that resonate far beyond their immediate details; nothing else I’ve seen has evoked my own feelings about September 11 as well as War of the Worlds or added as much to my understanding of those emotions.

And, because there were a lot more than 10 good movies this year, a few runners-up, in alphabetical order: Breakfast on Pluto; Grizzly Man; Just Friends; Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang; Kung Fu Hustle; Match Point; Proof; Shopgirl; Three Extremes; Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit; and Wong Kar Wai’s 2046 and “The Hand,” his portion of the anthology film Eros.

In planning these lists, we all agreed — at my suggestion — that there would be 10 best and five worst films on our lists, and damn if I just can’t play by my own rules — not only do I have runners-up for my favorites, I had to cheat and declare a couple of ties for my least favorites. For those still willing to humor me, here they are.

My Least Favorites

1. Alone in the Dark — Another no-brainer, in this case literally. When I saw this one last January, I knew it would be hard to find anything all year that was worse and, thank God, I was right. Director Uwe Boll’s new film, BloodRayne, premieres today. Consider yourself warned.

2. Wolf Creek/Amityville Horror — There are bad movies that are bad because they’re poorly made and then there are bad movies that are bad because they simply shouldn’t have been made; both of these are the latter, and Amityville is both. Basing films, however loosely, on real-life stories of innocent people murdered as a creepy turn-on for jaded horror fans isn’t just tacky, it’s a slap in the face to the victims’ surviving families and friends. If there were any justice, the DeFeos of Amityville and the victims of Ivan Milat and Catherine and David Birnie would rise from their graves like something out of a Romero movie and drag the people who made these atrocities back in with them.

3. Domino — Speaking of trashing the dead. … Actually, Domino Harvey was still alive when this travesty was filmed, but it may be a mercy that she didn’t have to sit through it — 127 minutes of eye-gouging, brain-ripping excess from Tony Scott, the man who gave eye-gouging, brain-ripping excess a bad name.

4. Herbie: Fully Loaded/Fantastic Four — I didn’t think you could polish shit, but here it is. Two high-gloss 100-minute commercials without even the creativity we expect from Madison Avenue. 20th Century Fox sexed FF up, while Disney sexed Herbie down, but both were equally sterile of any entertainment value.

5. Diary of a Mad Black Woman — I thought about leaving this one off the list because of all the hate mail I got when I first posted the review (and the few stragglers that still come in from time to time), but it would be dishonest of me to pretend it doesn’t belong here. I know it made lots of money; I know lots of people loved it; I don’t care. If this movie means something special to you, that’s all fine and dandy, but it’s still as badly structured, ineptly written, overacted, unfunny, and thoroughly derivative as any other movie on this list. If I really had any balls, it would be number 1.

Jeremy C. Fox is a founding critic of Pajiba and a member of the Online Film Critics Society.You may email him at jeremycfox[at]gmail.com.

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Raindrops on Cowboys and Whiskers on Squid

My Favorite Films of 2005 / Jeremy C. Fox

Miscellaneous | May 13, 2006 | Comments ()



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