|by Greg Ursic
Unlike previous years where I’ve struggled to come up with ten top films, this year was flush with so many great entries: I’m not sure if it has anything to do with the pure number of films I saw (about 260), but after three hours I had 17 solid contenders for greatness (not counting docs!). As no one was forthcoming with “incentives” (I’m still waiting for my Academy invitation) I was forced to wrack my brain for another couple of hours before I could definitively winnow the list down to the final ten. Whether you agree or disagree with all the choices, there’s some great viewing to be had.
Batman Begins – ever wondered how the billionaire-turned-caped-crusader learned all those awesome fighting moves and where he got all those cool gadgets? Wonder no more. Chris Nolan is a Hollywood miracle worker – not only did he resurrect the Batman franchise (remember the bat nipples?), his prequel is the best movie of the bunch. How did he do it? He made sure that the focus was on Batman – from his backstory to his evolution into the Dark Knight - rather than giving center stage to the villains. Next, Nolan brought in Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson and Morgan Freeman, got a great script, then for good measure threw in some great action sequences and truly awesome toys (me want Rambler…). Not even the future Mrs. Cruise’s dismal performance could slow down this juggernaut. The hands down best action flick of the year.
Best of Youth: follow the lives of brothers Nicola, Mateo and their families over four decades. This six-hour epic, originally an Italian miniseries plays like a mini-version of Zelig, with the brothers playing both tangential and pivotal roles in watershed events in Italian history from the 1960’s to 2000. The evolution of the characters both visually and contextually is seamless and their stories demonstrate a finesse rarely seen on screen: the scene in which the younger brother finally puts his past to rest, is subtlety in its purest form. If you’ve been concerned about the state of Italian cinema, put your fears to rest and check this out masterpiece. Just remember to get comfy.
Brokeback Mountain: in 1963, two rugged cowboys working in isolation embark on a secretive affair that develops into a lifelong relationship. The “gay cowboy movie” tag has done little to dampen audience enthusiasm: the film has consistently slain the blockbusters in earnings per screening since opening. And it’s not hard to see why: with a gripping, sensitive story, gorgeous cinematography, and a stellar cast – Randy Quaid, Michelle Lee, Anne Hathaway, and Jake Gyllenhall– it delivers on every level. Heath Ledger is the stand out of the piece however as Ennis, deftly balancing his passion and pain, all while maintaining a stoic tough as nails front. A sensitive lyrical love story it will surprise anyone going in with preconceived notions.
Crash – a carjacking serves as the catalyst for a series of seemingly unrelated incidents. Using his real-life carjacking experience as the starting point, writer/director Paul Haggis skillfully interweaves parallel plot lines, while keeping track of a host of myriad multiethnic characters to demonstrate how peoples’ actions and perceptions affect everyone around them and cause an unintentional ripple effect. Boasting a talented ensemble cast that includes Matt Dillon, Don Cheadle, and Thandie Newton, it was Sandra Bullock’s solid dramatic performance that most impressed me. Using the microcosm of LA as a metaphor for the world around us, Haggis forces viewers to do some serious introspection. See it with a couple friends and be prepared for a powerful post-screening debate
Good Night and Good Luck: journalist Edward R. Murrow takes on Senator Joe McCarthy and his paranoid legions as they trample civil liberties and destroy lives. George Clooney, who wrote and directed the film, went to great lengths to capture the look and feel of the newsrooms from the era, complete with permanent clouds of billowing smoke. The film features a powerful supporting cast, David Strathairn’s dead on portrayal of Murrow, an iconoclast who refused to be intimidated (easily his best work to date), and disturbing archival footage of McCarthy in action. The subject matter is especially timely given the current abuse-of-power predicament south of the border (Cheney? McCarthy? Can you see the difference?)
Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang: written and directed by Shane Black (whose script for Lethal Weapon spawned the buddy-cop genre), this neo-noir satire/thriller about a small-time crook who literally stumbles into show business boasts a razor wit, rapid fire dialogue, and don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-em gags. It is both hilarious and action packed. Robert Downey Jr. is luminous as Harry, the frenetic lead who suffers from a perpetual case of verbal diarrhea, delivering his best performance since Chaplin. He is nearly upstaged by Val Kilmer who reveals his seldom seen comic side as Perry the stoic private dick/mentor. I’ve seen it twice and still missed dialogue because everyone around me was laughing so loud.
Match Point: a tennis pro places his newfound station in high society in jeopardy when he becomes obsessed with another woman. Some may argue that this film still has not yet received wide release, but I saw it in 2005, and damn it, it’s going on my list. There are no comic insights to temper the lurid storyline in Matchpoint, the darkest Woody Allen film yet and his best film in over a decade. The cast, which includes Brian Cox, John Rhys-Myers and Scarlett Johansson, is universally outstanding, but it is relative newcomer Matthew Goode who steals the spotlight whenever he’s onscreen. Welcome back Woody.
Me and You and Everyone We Know: Richard and Christine are a pair of misfits desperately in search of love, acceptance and a way out of the relationship void. Performance artist Miranda July, wrote, directed, and starred in this cinematic gem which is equal parts drama, comedy and romance it smoothly segues from the sublime to surreal to silly, without a misstep. The chemistry between July and quirky lead John Hawkes (Richard) the scruffy anti-Romeo, is real and refreshingly sweet. Brandon Ratcliff, is hilarious as Robby, Richard’s youngest son and Carlie Westerman is eerily composed as the 10 year-old next door who has her whole life figured out. If you’re tired of cookie cutter plots and looking for a film that doesn’t fit into any particular mode, look no further.
Munich: when 11 Israeli athletes are killed by terrorists at the 1972 Munich Olympics, Israel dispatches a secret squad of assassins to liquidate the ringleaders behind the massacre. Spielberg’s grittiest movie to date examines what happens when a group abandons the moral high ground to exact vengeance - in this case the price was arguably too high and the after effects are still being felt today. Spielberg doesn’t posit any easy answers and in spite of the volatile subject manner keeps the story balanced. Another reason to see this is Eric Bana’s astonishing transformation from idealistic patriot to a morally conflicted, borderline recluse.
The Squid and the Whale: Noah Baumbach’s semi-autobiographical film follows a couple’s break up and the effect it has on their children. Jeff Daniels is the picture of bitterness as Bernard, a professor and has-been writer who spends his time denigrating everyone around him. Laura Linney also shines as the quirky mother with a penchant for being too honest with her kids. Often painful, sometimes humorous and always riveting this picture of the titular dysfunctional family is the “Ordinary People” of the new millenium.
Martial Arts Mayhem: Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle riffs on marital bliss (or lack thereof) romance, slapstick, martial arts masters, special attacks and kick ass fight scenes. The kind of movie Jackie Chan wishes he could remember how to make but with way better FX.
Coolest Comic Book Adaptation: shot in stark black and white with the occasional burst of fluorescence Frank Miller’s Sin City features intersecting plots lines, tough chicks, gritty cops and Mickey Rourke as a one man wrecking crew. Sweet!
Most Revealing Doc: Inside Deep Throat examines the dirty-little-film-that-could which dragged blue movies out of dingy basements and into the mainstream, made a pop culture icon out of it’s star and spawned the War on Pornography that still rages today. The cast of quirky characters is as hilarious as the politics are scary.
The Teddy Bear’s Picnic – The Story Behind the Music: Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man uses footage from self-proclaimed eco-warrior Warrior Tim Treadwell, to show why no one has ever not successfully carried off the moniker Dances With Grizzlies. Stick to stuffed bears.
Cronenburg Can Make a Mainstream Movie. Who Knew?: There are no big bugs, fetishes, or exploding heads in A History of Violence , just a small town guy who gets dragged into the spotlight, illuminating his shady past in the process. The subtle nuances in Viggo Mortenson’s portrayal of bad-guy-turned-good-guy-turned-bad-guy makes him all the scarier. And it's caveat on stairway sex is best taken seriously.
Movies Much Music and MTV Should Make – Paul Kaye is brilliant as Ibiza DJ god Frankie Wilde who plummets back to earth after snorting mountains of coke and losing his hearing. The other star of It's All Gone Pete Tong, besides the rabid coke badger, is the ever present throbbing sound track which reverberates through your chest.
You Think You Got It Tough? - next time you start moaning about the horrors of the bar scene/blind dates/internet dating/ consider the protagaoinists in [b}March of the Penguins. These creatures cross a frozen continent, endure sub zero temperatures for months and exist in a state of near starvation so they can perpetuate the species. Beautifully shot under the most extreme conditions, Morgan Freeman’s soothing voice helps to accentuate the drama. Thankfully they opted not to give voices to the individual penguins like they did in the French release (and no I’m not kidding).
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originally posted: 01/13/06 23:32:42
last updated: 01/18/06 12:33:00