Finally...I have completed my TOP TEN FILMS OF 2005! 

 

Now, I say "finally" more in reference to my sheer inability to get this list out any earlier.  Whereas most print and internet critics (well, the professional ones, for that matter) have published their lists by as early as mid-to-late December, I was limited to unveiling mine far later into January of 2006.  The reason behind that is simple.  Firstly, I feel it's somewhat unjust for me to compile a final and justified list of what I think are the ten best films of the year until I have satisfactorily seen everything that is available to me.  Furthermore, since I am not a professional critic and I see most - if not all - of the films I review one my own dollar at the local cinemas, I do not have the distinct luxury of going to press screenings.  As a result, many of the films that I wanted to see before I carried this list to fruition did not open locally here to the public until mid-January.  Subsequently, this precluded me to put off this list...

 

...until now!

 

Having said all of that, I have opted to do things a bit differently here this time around.  I have been creating these TEN BEST LISTS since the beginning of the decade and many times I have heard people ask me, "Why did you exclude this one?  Are ya nuts?  Did you have a lapse in good common sense?"  Well, for starters, I must be absolutely clear that these lists are my lists and they are personal ones at that.  I don't feel the need to place a film on my list that was a hit with audiences and other critics just by default.  There have been, in fact, many films that I have not appreciated that have been successful both commercially and critically.  These TEN BEST LISTS are my choices and the reasons behind my inclusion of the films mentioned are largely subjective.  One friend once told me that I lacked objectivity as a critic.  Of course I do!  Film criticism is the most personalized form of editorial journalism.  Films work on me and I have a reaction to them.  There's no such thing as objective film criticism.  It's always, and ostensibly, subjective.

 

However, it is because of the limited range of a TEN BEST LIST that I have decided to stretch things out a bit.  Instead of just having a list of my TEN BEST films of 2005, I have also decided to progress the list even further to a TOP 25, something that many other critics never seem to do.  Now, with all due fairness, it will be the TOP TEN that will be the most crucial and significant, but the remaining 15 films that I have ranked serve a twofold purpose.  Firstly, it will tell my readers that I have not forgotten about some of the other great offerings that were out there for the year.  Secondly, it will appease my own sensibilities.  More than any year, I found this list to be the most difficult to trim down to a workable TOP TEN that sat well with me.  This year alone I gave over a dozen films 4 stars and even more three and a half and three stars respectively.  Overall, I saw many good to great films (2005 was a phenomenal year at the movies - it was just a matter of looking hard for the diamonds in the rough amidst all of the bile).  As a result, a TOP 25 LIST is my way of honoring the other films that I could not, in good conscience, place in the top ten, but could not just disregard and forget altogether.  The films ranked between 11 and 25 are all superior works that deserve an honorable mention, at least.

 

One final note.  This list - as with all of my other lists I have compiled - is an attempt to be as broad and eclectic with my picks as possible.  For example, I have seen many fantastic, 4 star documentaries this year, all of which could easily make my TEN BEST LIST.  However, doing that would seem kind of redundant.  Instead, my goal was to go for variety - as with other past lists - with my picks.  I did not want a list forged completely out of documentaries or completely out of dramas and so forth.  Doing that would make for stale and dull lists. 

 

So, enough pompous babbling from me...lets finally check out my...

 

 
     
 

1.  MUNICH

 
 

Steven Spielberg is easily the most successful filmmaker of the last century, an accolade that often is used against him when he attempts to invest in themes and stories of an otherwise solemn and more noticeably somber vein.  In MUNICH – easily the best film of 2005 – he has solidified himself as a true film auteur with sensitivity and intelligence by focusing on a potentially polarizing subject matter.  The essence of MUNICH lies with a seemingly modest question – Do two moral wrongs make for a right?  In this film’s case, Spielberg explores a narrative of an assassination squad that is hired – off the grid – to hunt down an exterminate the people responsible for the kidnapping and murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games.  This is tough, unsettling, morally complex, and utterly invigorating work that does not, as Spielberg himself has stated, want to be a “pamphlet”.  The genius of MUNICH is that it is neither anti-Israeli nor anti-Palestinian.  Spielberg is democratic to both sides in a layered, nuanced, and deeply penetrating vision that dares the audience to look constructively at the film and make up their own minds.  He has definitely tackled films with troubling and disturbing content before (most notably in AMISTAD, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, and SCHINDLER’S LIST), but this is his most daring work yet.  It’s equal to – if not greater than – his 1993 Oscar winning about the Holocaust in the way it places a larger burden and set of demands upon the viewer.  No film from 2005 was as challenging and faced and dodged so many potential socio-political bullets as this one.  After miscalculated steps with this year’s WAR OF THE WORLDS and 2004’s disastrously overrated THE TERMINAL, MUNICH is Spielberg’s fine return to masterful form.

 
 

2.  BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN

 
 

Ang Lee’s BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, at its very core foundations, is one of the best stories of tragic love, yearning, isolation, unspoken passion, and inner despair to grace the silver screen in a long time.  The fact that its lovers are two men – at least by the time the end credits roll by – feels largely redundant.  This is so much more than an ill-defined “gay cowboy film.”  More appropriately put, Lee’s film is a frank, poignant, emotional, and heart-wrenching love story.  The film is able to completely overcome its so-called “controversial” overtones and instead transcends them.  BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN tells a story of depth and weight in terms of how two people who only long to be with one another for a lifetime are unable to due to time and circumstance.  Ennis and Jack (played in two of 2005’s best and most courageous performances) love each other, but they unfortunately live their lives in the in the 60’s and 70’s where any hint of homosexuality was shunned and demonized.  Their desire for one another does not – in any willful way – hurt anyone one.  Yet, it is the morally conservative society that has bred them to hate a gay lifestyle that subverts their true feelings,  so much so that to even acknowledge their own homosexuality would be disastrous.  Because of this, they end up hurting themselves and the ones that are close to them.  They try to slip into a life of normalcy so that society will accept them, but their true passions just can’t dissolve.  Lee paints the film so strongly and assuredly with strokes involving such basic, universal themes that - when all is said and done - BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN becomes a powerful human story brimming with sad and unavoidable melancholy. 

 
 

3.  THE CONSTANT GARDENER

 
 

 

Fernando Meirelles – who made the astonishingly well-crafted CITY OF GOD – has made an equally invigorating film in THE CONSTANT GARDNER, yet another film with a decidedly bleak moral view of world politics.  This film is many things.  It’s a rather pointed and critical moral parable about the unscrupulous and unethical practices that pharmaceutical companies utilize in some of the most impoverished Third World countries in the world.  It’s also, on top of all of that, a brilliantly and poignantly constructed love story combined with a murder mystery.  THE CONSTANT GARDENER starts out as a love story, then engages into a murder mystery, then progresses to be a preachy and politically charged activist film that really says something that deserves to be heard, and then finally concludes as a touching, if not tragic, love story again.  The fact that it marries all of these disparaging elements together so successfully and cohesively is to its ultimate credit.  Its tale of Third World strife, corporate malfeasance, and heartfelt love creates a framework for a powerfully resonant drama.  Meirelles is perhaps one of the most interesting visualists working in contemporary cinema.  He creates a veracity with his camera work and paints Africa in stunning and beautiful strokes as well as in harsh, brutal, and uncompromising ways. 

 
 

4.    CRASH

 
 

Can the oppressed also become the oppressor?  CRASH tries to enlighten and daringly answers this question.  This is a stirring drama that everyone must see, especially for those who suffer from some sort of deluded tunnel vision and believe that only a small segment of society can have hateful and bigoted feelings towards other human beings.  This captivating and always involving film, written and directed as confidently and competently as any work this year by Paul Haggis (Oscar winner screenwriter for MILLION DOLLAR BABY), is a masterpiece of interlocking stories and characters.  It ostensibly tells stories that all involve one night in the lives of several people of different races and how all of them, whether they are willing to acknowledge it or not, are simultaneously capable of both being racist and become the victims of prejudice.  No other film this year made me think and reflect upon myself as a person as much as this one did.  If there was ever a film that aspires to make its audiences want to become better human beings, then this is surely it.  This is a work that pulls no punches and dares to go into thematic avenues that other films would never dare.

 
 

5.    SYRIANA

 
 

2005 could aptly be remembered as the year of "CYNICAL CINEMA."  First there was MUNICH, a film that dealt with far-reaching and distressing themes.  Then there was the THE CONSTANT GARDENER’s oppressive look at political and business malfeasance.  Then there was CRASH, a drama that looks hard at the realities of racism in 21st Century America.  Rounding off this CYNICAL QUADRILOGY is Steven Gaghan’s intoxicating, complex, and thrilling SYRIANA, which itself focuses on other divisive issues – like oil, big business, world politics, and how all of them are inextricably intertwined.  SYRIANA is a unapologetically bleak picture, and in our current geo-political, post-9/11 climate, it just may be one of the most indicative films of our current decade.  It’s equal parts fascinating, compelling, involving, and demanding.  It presents an extraordinary confluence of characters, divergent motives, and subplots to which a clear view of the proceedings and how everyone relates to the other is not clear until close to the end.  This is a convoluted and patient film, one that may require repeated viewings to fully understand.  Perhaps this was the ultimate point – in a world where it’s characters feel ambivalent, confused, and angry, it’s fitting that the film promotes equal sensations in it’s viewers.   Gaghan's film is as intoxicating as they come - a real life mirror into contemporary world politics and business that hits very close to home.

 
 

6.  SIN CITY

 
 

SIN CITY is undeniably a vicious, cold hearted, mean-spirited, and malevolent visual and auditory assault on our senses, but it is also one of the most truly visionary film noirs of recent memory, not to mention that it is easily the most faithful comic book adaptations of all-time.  Directors Robert Rodriquez and Frank Miller base their gritty film noir on Miller's own graphic novels, which feature interlocking stories of lowlifes and scum that would make the thugs from PULP FICTION blush with envy.  Yet, what makes SIN CITY such an overwhelming and complete vision is its artifice - it was shot completely with actors against green screens and it used individual panels from Miller's comics to flawlessly reproduce the mayhem.  The result is a CGI inspired and guileless vision of oppression, a sort of post-modern film noir that amalgamates computer wizardry with age-old characters and stories.  Nothing else this year has topped SIN CITY's invention and vivaciousness.  Yes, the slight of hand tricks that it employs are nothing new to the cinema, but how they are used and the results that are created are undoubtedly bold and impressively original. 

 
 

7.    BATMAN BEGINS

 
 

After nearly 70 years in comic book and graphic novel form and after countless TV and film interpretations, BATMAN BEGINS is a film that miraculously and finally gets the dark and gritty mythology of Bob Kane's Caped Crusader absolutely right.  Director Christopher Nolan and writer David S. Goyer realized - where so many previous writers and directors failed to -  that the key to portraying a character as layered and faceted as Bruce Wayne/Batman is to focus on character, story, and psychology.  This new Batman film is neither a prequel nor a sequel to the other four existing films in the once profitable Batman franchise.  Instead, this is more like BATMAN RELOADED as it starts the whole universe off on fresh and grounded footing and explores, finally, the main character with the right level of depth and intrigue that he has deserved all along.  An all-star cast, thankless performances by both Liam Neeson and Christian Bale as the title character, and a wonderfully focused and involving script make this BATMAN the single best super hero film since 1978's SUPERMAN.  Trust me - this comic film will soon become a benchmark work.

 
 

8.   JARHEAD

 
 

Sam Mendes' JARHEAD is not only the best of the recent crop of war films, it’s one of the finest war films that does not actually involve at lot of actual combat.  This is the WAITING FOR GODOT of war films, a searing, penetrating, and psychological investigation into the type of unrelenting pathos and paranoia that can develop in a soldier's mind when he is not given the opportunity to be all that he can be.  The young warriors in JARHEAD don’t go crazy from the action of the battlefields but rather by the inaction they experience by not going to them.  That is the subtle brilliance of JARHEAD;  It is a masterstroke work in the genre for the way in sort of reinvents the conventions of it.  It has all of the necessary prerequisite elements that have made up countless other past war films, but in Mendes’ hands this war film is not just made up of the same nuts and bolts of other films.  JARHEAD takes these components and puts them all together to create a much different narrative and thematic machine.  Other war films, ever the great ones, revel in their respective details on how the men in war are driven to the point of madness.  They go nuts by the needlessness and insanity of all of the slaughtering that they perpetrate as a result of their training and skills.  JARHEAD achieves the opposite vibe.  The soldiers in this film are bored, depressed, and melancholy because they can’t use their training to kill like they want to.  JARHEAD, as a result, reveals itself to be one of 2005’s most intrinsically fascinating and unconventional works - a resonating portrait of ineffectiveness and agonizing uselessness.  Gyllenhaal and Sarsgaard are brilliant together in their Oscar-worthy turns as the film's hapless soldiers.

 
 

9.    THE NEW WORLD

 
 

No other modern filmmaker creates such moody and evocative audio-visual odysseys quite like Terrence Malick, and his newest film - just his fourth in 30-plus years – epitomizes his esoteric trappings.  Malick has always been observed as being a maverick director who often works on the fringes of standard cinematic conventions.  His painterly eye, love for the natural beauty of the world, as well as his poetic and mythical handling of even the most basic of human dramas has allowed him to infuse in THE NEW WORLD a familiar, but decidedly different take on the lore of the Pocahontas legend.  He gets all of the period details absolutely correct in this fascinating and beautifully mounted tale of the first meeting between the Algonquian Indians and the English settlers of the 17th Century in the “new world.”  Not only that, but he is able to forge a breathtaking work of metaphysical imagination in exploring the more grandiose elements of not only the relationship between the settlers and the Indians, but also of the love between Pocahontas and John Smith.   Films about the past rarely have THE NEW WORLD’S sense of a sweeping, natural exquisiteness with such an ethereal, poetic fervor.  Like an master artist at a canvas, Malick is able to forge a film with remarkably composed visual nuances and balance that with a strong emotional current.  This is 2005's most atmospheric of films.

 
 

10.   THE SQUID AND THE WHALE

 
 

THE SQUID AND THE WHALE is one of the most perceptive, harsh, frank, and unrelentingly honest films about a suffering family that I have ever seen.  Noah Baumbach's film (based loosely on his own life growing up with two noteworthy writers as parents) sheds away some of the awful pretentiousness that other witless, family dramas offer up.  Instead, THE SQUID AND THE WHALE is unapologetically unflinching and unsettling in how it offers us a story of how the parents are so self-obsessed that they'll do unsavory things to curb the favor of their children.  Yet, the film is also incredibly democratic with its characters.  The children are not overwhelmingly presented as innocent figures either; they often lash out with cruelty towards their parents in defiance.  The film demonstrates how deceptively easy it is for a family to implode under the weight of its own cyclical pattern of destructive behavior.  This is one of 2005's most brutal and powerfully touching films.  Jeff Daniel's performance here is both a career-high and Oscar-worthy turn.

 
  ...and now to round off my BEST FILMS OF 2005 with my selections from 11-25:  
 

11.  STAR WARS: EPISODE III - REVENGE OF THE SITH The obnoxiously nitpicky and needlessly antagonistic STAR WARS fan base needs to get a collective life, because this final film in George Lucas' grand and sprawling STAR WARS SEXTET finished the series on secure and inspiring footing.

 

12.    ENRON: THE SMARTEST GUYS IN THE ROOM: Transfixing documentary that focuses squarely on one of the biggest corporate frauds of the last century and introduces us to all of the players involved.  An unnerving and absorbing film through and through.

 

13.    HUSTLE AND FLOW:  Terrance Howard gives one of the year's most intoxicating and provocative performances in this naturalistic, emotionally raw and honest urban tale of redemption.

 

14.    CINDERELLA MAN:  Ron Howard's biopic of Depression-era boxer James J. Braddock is a prime example of how an uplifting tale can be still have the ability to move and stir.

 

15.    THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN: Without a doubt, Steve Carrell gives the funniest performance in the funniest film of the year: a comedy that has a larger heart than it's otherwise raunchy material would first let on.

 

16.    MURDERBALL: Second best documentary of 2005 that discusses, among all things, athletes that live for playing in National, competitive extreme sports.  The sport in this case is wheelchair rugby and the athletes are quadriplegics.  Surprisingly involving and revealing.

 

17.    MARCH OF THE PENGUINS: Stunning and beautifully shot documentary about the migratory and mating practices of  emperor penguins. Wonderfully emotional and touching.

 

18.   WALK THE LINE: Joaquin Phoenix gives the performance of his career as the late, great country music legend Johnny Cash.  This is a docudrama that is grand, sprawling, and introspective.

 

19.   WALLACE AND GROMIT: THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBITThe most delightfully quirky and fun animated film of the year, and it was all done in the subtle art of claymation.  Wonderfully wacky, droll, and spirited.

 

20.    THE UPSIDE OF ANGER: Kevin Costner gives one of his finest performances in recent memory in this underrated film that co-starred the equally wonderful Joan Allen; an endearing look at terribly flawed personas.

 

21.    ROBOTS: One of the more lavish CGI animated films to come out of Dreamworks, with a level of density and scope with its visual palette to rival other great escapist opuses like STAR WARS.  See this on the IMAX - of you can - and drink in all of its terrifically constructed eye candy.

 

22.    KINGDOM OF HEAVEN: Fascinating and epic scale historical work by the master of this genre, Ridley Scott.  Scott does double duty here - he provides the type of large scale spectacle we expect from these films as well as forging a story of that has echoes of contemporary socio-political concerns.  This is a rare epic done with intelligence and thoughtfulness.

 

23.    LORD OF WAR: One of the more captivating films of the year, one that showcases the great Nicolas Cage playing a role of a world arms dealer with a moral barometer that is utterly skewed.  Directed by Andrew Niccol with a combination of dark laughs and bleak social commentary.

 

24.    THE PRODUCERS: A cinematic first: a remake of a remake!  Mel Brooks made the 1968 comedy THE PRODUCERS, then made a remake of it into a successful 1990's Broadway musical, and now has remade that musical into a film musical.  Regardless of the permutation of this material you prefer, this PRODUCERS is still a lively laugh riot.

 

25.    LAYER CAKE: Future James Bond Daniel Craig headlines this British gangsta flick that is polished and slickly made to the point of deserving some worthy comparisons with GOODFELLAS and CARLITO'S WAY.

 
  Beyond my TOP 25, here's a further selection of films that are definitely worth seeing, but just not quite great enough to make the final cut:  
 

MELINDA AND MELINDA: The beautiful Rahda Mitchell gives one of the great, overlooked break-out performances of 2005 in this delightfully offbeat comedy by the master of material like this, Woody Allen.

 

FEVER PITCH: The Farrelly Brothers have indeed gone soft, but there is no denying that their fantastic adaptation of the Nick Hornby novel is one of the more rousing and entertaining romantic comedies since WHEN HARRY MET SALLY.  Amusing, touching, and insightful.

 

THE MATADOR: Pierce Brosnan gives one is best and most oddball performances as a hitman with issues.  Terrifically realized black comedy.

 

CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY: Some of Tim Burton's previous "re-imagined" works have been decidedly so-so, but this colorful, exuberant, and sly adaptation of the children's classic was undeniably scrumdiddlyumptious.

 

BRIDE AND PREJUDICE: The unique and original adaptation of Jane Austin done to date.  This films takes the themes, characters, and situations from the classic novel and marries them with the conventions of the Bollywood musical.  A rousing, funny, and silly roller-coaster ride of unbridled goofiness.

 

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE: Kiera Knightly gives one of 2005's best performances in the other film adaptation of Austin's most beloved literary work.  Flawlessly performed and confidently directed.

 

INSIDE DEEP THROATAbsorbing and frank documentary about the making of the most watched porn film of all-time.

 

HOSTAGE: Bruce Willis is in pitch perfect form here in one of the more ingeniously constructed thrillers of 2005.  Tense, taut, and exciting.

 

SKY HIGH: One of the most delightful surprises of the year; a wonderfully daft and sly super hero satire.  Kurt Russell and company ham it up to sardonic perfection.

 

KUNG FU HUSTLE: This is - hyperbole aside - one of the most insidiously moronic and inane films I have ever seen.  It's a work that crosses kung fu, classic musicals, and Chuck Jones cartoon aesthetics....and for that I loved its audacity.

 

WEDDING CRASHERS: Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson are spectacularly money in the second funniest comedy of the year.

 

IN GOOD COMPANY: Frequently funny and surprisingly dramatic film with solid performances by Dennis Quaid, Scarlet Johansson, and Topher Grace.  A very good film that got lost in its early January release.

 

ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13: A dependable, edgy, and stirring remake of the famous 1970's John Carpenter low-budget exploitation flick.  A great remake and a great escapist action film.

 
  Finally, here's a list of good films from 2005 that deserve mentioning:  
 

THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE: Well crafted storytelling, spectacular art direction and visual effects highlight this winning adaptation of C.S. Lewis most famous literary works.

 

CONSTANTINE: Whoa!  The quintessentially stoic and sullen Keanu Reeves battles Lucifer in this adaptation of the DC Vertigo comic...count yourselves in.

 

GUESS WHO: Effective retelling and modernized version of the classic GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER, with a decided twist.

 

HITCH:  Will Smith gives a charming and winning performance in this enjoyable lightweight romantic comedy.

 

THE INTERPRETER: Sean Penn and Nicole Kidman star in this solid and tense thriller directed by Sydney Pollock.

 

THE JACKETOdd, perplexing, impenetrable, but stylish and entertaining sci-fi time travel drama.

 

KICKING AND SCREAMINGThe comic duo of 2005 - Mike Ditka and Will Ferrell - are enormously hilarious in this thoroughly entertaining comedy.

 

THE LEGEND OF ZORRO: Sequel to the 1998 revisionist Zorro film; a bit long overdue, and no where near the relative worth of THE LEGEND OF ZORRO, but this film is still a solid and snappy adventure filled romp.

 

MINDHUNTERS: Renny Harlin gives the proceedings style and intrigue in this well conceived murder/mystery thriller.

 

THE PACIFIER:  Yes, this is the same film that starred Vin Diesel as a staunch, tough military figure that must baby-sit a targeted woman's family.  Ridiculous at its core, but it's also sweet, carefree, simple-minded, gentle, and sufficiently entertaining.

 

SERENITY: Joss Whedon's big budget film sequel to his doomed TV series FIREFLY shines with sharp and droll dialogue and well drawn characters, a rarity for the sci-fi genre.

 

TIM BURTON'S CORPSE BRIDE: A kooky, darkly humorous, and jolly animated film.

 

TRANSPORTER 2: Simply put: "An incredible romp of complete and utter incredulity."  For that, it was brainless escapism at its least pretentious.   

 

KING KONG: Big, bold, and action-packed remake of the classic 1933 film; Jackson is as good as Lucas and Spielberg for concocting entertainments with alluring and arresting visual effects that create genuine awe.

 

A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE: David Cronnenberg's meditation on the nature of bloodshed and dealing with an unwanted past creeping up on oneself; uncompromisingly directed and well acted.

 

INTO THE BLUE: Jessica Alba parades around in a bikini...okay...it ain't Dostoyevsky...and it never aspires to be.

 

RUMOR HAS IT: Moderately funny and original "what if" comedy that has clear echoes of THE GRADUATE.

 

GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK: George Clooney's wonderfully atmospheric direction of this tale of Edward R. Murrow's battles with CBS and Joseph McCarthy in the 1950's is a solid achievement.

 
 

 

 

 
     
 

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