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May 13, 2006 |

By Daniel Carlson | Miscellaneous | May 13, 2006 |

It’s pretty hard to come up with a list of the year’s best films, as both Dustin and Jeremy have mentioned. They’ve also written about the inherent pretentiousness that comes with writing up a list of the Top 10 or Worst 5 or Coolest 7 or Bloodiest 13 or who cares what kind of list you want to make. So I guess I’m either derivative for repeating their sentiments or wise for agreeing with them; let’s go with the latter for now. Still, it’s tough to put together a group of what I consider to be the year’s best films without committing an even greater sin than critical arrogance: Constantly placing things on lists or assigning them rank values can overshadow their true artistic value. As the races for awards season begin to heat up, it’s easy to become convinced that some films are quantifiably better than others. Yes, good films are better than bad ones, and true filmmakers aspire to a level of art that some lesser directors, writers, cinematographers, etc., will never reach. But while The Godfather is infinitely better than Glitter, what about The Godfather Part II? Both films are amazing, but there’s no point system or way to add anything up to mathematically prove one is better than the other. A film’s quality stems from its ability to have an emotional impact on the viewer.

All that to say: These are what I consider to be the best 10 (and worst five) films of 2005, but I purposely haven’t numbered the list because I don’t want anyone thinking that, for example, Brokeback Mountain is categorically “better” than The Constant Gardener. I loved them both, but for different reasons. They’re both beautiful films, and attempting to compare them or make one measure up to the other wouldn’t be fair to either. Similarly, the films on the worst five list are all actually abominable for their own unique reasons. Rent them and find out.

With that in mind, behold yet another list of the year’s best films from the staff here at Pajiba. Enjoy.

The Best

Munich — Steven Spielberg made 2005 another double-shot year (along with 1989, 1993, 2002) and, like earlier examples, he proved that he could produce two radically different but fundamentally strong films (well, maybe not Always, but everything else) released only a few months apart. The kid in the toy shop who made Jurassic Park seemed miles away from the burdened storyteller of Schindler’s List, but Spielberg has matured significantly in the last decade; War of the Worlds and Munich are different tales, yes, but it’s easy to see them inhabiting the same neighborhood. It’s telling that Spielberg didn’t name his film Vengeance, like the tome from which the screenplay drew inspiration, but Munich, underscoring that no amount of retribution can erase the original horror.

Brokeback Mountain — A heartbreaking story about the impossibility of hanging on to something once you’ve found it. Two people stumble into something they don’t understand, and it rips their lives apart. Ang Lee’s film is the strongest, saddest love story in a long while.

A History of Violence — David Cronenberg ditches the gore of The Fly for a much more emotionally disturbing violence, the kind that normal families and people can inflict on each other. The fights, shootings, and other outbursts in the film are all in our faces, unavoidable in the wide lens and strong framing. Seeing Viggo Mortensen in this made me forgive him for working with Peter Jackson, and Maria Bello returns to the wounded woman she first brought out in Payback. A great film.

Syriana — It’s hard to recap the plot, though I knew what was happening in the film at any given moment. A big, sprawling, complex tale, Stephen Gaghan’s indictment of American foreign policy is a stirring and uncomfortably real story about the world we could be living in, say, next year.

Capote — Powerfully written, skillfully acted, flawlessly made. It’s all the more amazing to realize that this is the first feature for screenwriter Dan Futterman and director Bennett Miller’s second film. When the pop buzz from Brokeback Mountain dies down, people will realize this brilliant film slipped off their radar.

Good Night, and Good Luck — George Clooney’s latest directorial outing proves he’s got some genuine skill behind the camera. It’s just too bad he has to alternate films like this with dreck like Ocean’s Twelve to grease the wheels in Hollywood. David Strathairn is amazing as Edward R. Murrow, fed up with McCarthyism. Shot in black-and-white with no exterior establishing shots, the brief film manages to distill the paranoia of the era into a resonant parable for modern media.

The Squid and the Whale — Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney are painfully funny as the loving, selfish, and divorcing parents of two young boys in mid-1980s Brooklyn. Director Noah Baumbach, who co-wrote The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, moves beyond Wes Anderson’s reflexive self-love and produces a relatable, heartrending film.

The Constant Gardener — Ralph Fiennes doesn’t get nearly as much respect or as many leading roles as he deserves. He’s perfect in Fernando Meirelles’ adaptation of the le Carre thriller about a diplomat searching for the secrets behind his wife’s death. The giant story arc carries Fiennes through a slow burn in one of the most beautiful, real portraits of a relationship and grief I’ve ever seen. Rachel Weisz is amazing.

Broken Flowers — A moving little film that got stamped as Lost in Translation 2 and quietly buried over the summer, which is a shame. Bill Murray moves further into the sad old character he’s been refining since his days as Herman Blume. It’s probably Jim Jarmusch’s most accessible story, and the soundtrack is road-trip perfection. Uplifting, hilarious, haunting.

Serenity — That’s right, the sci-fi actioner with quirky dialogue and loads of heart that no one bothered to see is one of my favorite films of the year. It’s funny, but not campy; exciting, but not groaning under the weight of ILM. This is a real, habitable, lived-in world that director Joss Whedon is bringing us, and we’d be fools not to go along for the ride.

Special Mention

Murderball — I didn’t know if it would be fair to place the documentary Murderball with regular features, or maybe it’s just that I wanted 10 full slots for fiction films and didn’t know what to do with this one. Either way, Murderball is a funny, honest, moving look at the U.S. Men’s Wheelchair Rugby team and their refusal to conform to a label. After the first half-hour, you actually forget about the wheelchairs. Make anyone who won’t stop raving about the penguins watch this instead.

The Worst

The Great Raid — A cloying, derivative WWII film that feels like watching the History Channel hungover. If your grandparents decorate their rooms with porcelain eagles clutching blood-stained American flags, this is their movie. Anyone else, watch a test pattern.

Undiscovered — Ashlee Simpson.

A Sound of Thunder — A laughably bad time-traveling yarn with direct-to-cable special effects. A regrettable, awful film…

Yours, Mine & Ours — … but not as awful as this one. A family comedy without the family or the comedy, the film is so poorly written and constructed that it makes Cheaper by the Dozen look good (and no one should ever do that). I’m still marveling at the unexplained presence of Linda Hunt’s character, who wanders through the background with all the purpose and reason of the cowboy in the dinner scene of Mulholland Dr., only more confusing.

The Fog — A remake of a bad movie will probably be another bad movie. Tom Welling and Maggie Grace, who’ve proven on TV that they can’t act, bring their chiseled bodies and lack of emotion to the big screen. Grace’s character is killed at the end, and her spirit is taken as payment by the ghosts of leprous gypsies who were betrayed 100 years before by her grandfather. Not making this up.

Daniel Carlson is the L.A. critic for Pajiba and a copy editor for a Hollywood industry magazine. You can visit his weblog, Slowly Going Bald.

The Best and Worst Films of 2005 / Daniel Carlson

Miscellaneous | May 13, 2006 |

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