If Living is Without You10. Walk The Line
(James Mangold) - Transcends its "...and then what happened Johnny" plotting with exuberant, foot stomping musical sequences and two of the best performances of the year. As long as Joaquin and Reese are onscreen, it all works out.9. Eros ("The Hand")
(Wong Kar Wai) - The first of two from Wong Kar Wai on the list. I know this may be considered cheating, as it's a short (and part of a trio of shorts presented together) but I don't care. The design, the impeccable craft, the elegant movement of the camera, the entanglement of his ever evocative music choices with his trademark desperate longing...it's all there. I was transfixed. The Searchers7. The New World
(Terrence Malick) and 8. Breakfast on Pluto
(Neil Jordan) - Patrick "Kitten" Braden and Pocahontas. Their connection is bigger than Kitten playing squaw to Billy Hatchet onstage (although, one can only imagine the Jamestown's colony's reaction to Bobby Goldsboro's "Honey"). The urge to define them, dress them up in a peep show or for the royal court, falls flat. They're more than the fantasy, even if both filmmakers seek to make symbols of them. I can't help but connect the two, the fluidity of style in both, as Jordan and Malick stick us inside of the heads of the characters, allowing the outcast, the colonized to tell their stories. We're engaged by people, by shared emotional experience, and as critical as the historical context is in both films, I never felt (as I did, say, with George Clooney's Good Night and Good Luck.
) like I was being lectured or given a refresher course in Social Studies. To me, both feel like diaries, of people telling their stories in a world that won't stop spinning, certainly not for them, and that they, in their own ways, continue to try to live in, to define for themselves. It's a recurring theme this year. The importance of finding a home to call your own. These two films explore that idea brilliantly.Unknown Quantities5. Los Angeles Plays Itself
(Thom Andersen) and 6. Look At Me
(Agnes Jaoui) - In one, a daughter fights against her father's indifference. She finds beauty in opera, if she can't find any in life, her conversations persistently interrupted by disinterest or a ringing cell phone. Her struggle is everyone's struggle in the film, of people desperate to be recognized as more than the role they've been assigned. And if ever there was a misunderstood and misrepresented American city, it's the place I call home: Los Angeles. Thom Andersen presents, analyzes and deconstructs Hollywood's presentation of the city and its citizens own attitudes about it. I find myself cringing any time I hear myself call it L.A. Both films are very smart and uncompromising. Brain food. Good for the soul.Back to the Future4. Serenity
(Joss Whedon) - Without question, the zingiest, smartest, most exhilarating piece of pop entertainment of the year, spawned from the failed television series, and born of fervent fandom. Joss Whedon continuously plays with genre, blending the western with sci-fi and, most of all, tackling the various twists and turns of a makeshift family's dynamic. The best time I had at the movies this year.3. 2046
(Wong Kar Wai) - Tony Leung's charmer is on a series of conquests, none of which work out (and even if they could, he won't let them), because the woman he wants is nothing more than a memory, an unattainable dream. Wong Kar Wai envelopes us, his elliptical style playing with time and memory, giving us both imagined and real scenarios that are, of course, entangled in all the same sadness and yearning. It's beautiful and lovelorn, like the saddest pop song you've ever heard. Dealing in Death2. Last Days
(Gus Van Sant) - There's a sequence towards the end of the film, where Blake (Michael Pitt) is alone in the shed behind his decaying mansion. His hangers-on are leaving the mansion and one (Lukas Haas) spots him inside the shed, from a distance. Blake is now out of focus, seemingly dressed in all red. It's obvious that Haas knows he should go over there, check in on his friend, see what's what. But, at the same time, he's afraid to or apathetic about it all, considering the inability to communicate with Blake these last few days, with him becoming little more than a mumbling, listless mess. And he goes off, never having checked in.
This sequence brings it all together for me. Watching from afar, it's all fuzzy and a little bit scary and we only know so much about what really is going on in there, in the head of the man inside that room. We may think we know more, but we only know so much. It's at once dreamy, gazing at this mythic figure (fame in conjuction with importance to the individual) and wondering what he's doing in there, wishing to know or be a part of it, his life. But, at the same time, being so frightened by this image, thoughts of pain and death and madness making the warmth of the car, and the comfort of driving away from this scene, all the more enticing. One image can mean everything and, here, it brings everything together, all the pieces that Van Sant is putting together: the corruption of the free, natural world that Blake wishes to run to (he sings "Home on the Range" with aching desperation) with his heroin buried in the earth and the trains/airplanes disturbing his Jeremiah Johnson
-like sojourn through the woods, the search for something, anything, to connect with, aside from the solitary, emotional purge afforded by his music (there are two really incredible musical moments in the film), Kim Gordon's recitation of her "rock n roll cliche" speech that she seems to have given a hundred times and that Blake gets but can't seem to do much of anything about, the desperation to connect/inability to connect arc, by way of Boyz II Men, Mormon missionaries, visits from confused salesmen asking him how his "business" is going and how many "customers" he's added in the last year, phone calls from managers and bandmates and his wife, and the Velvet Underground, which are at once disaparate but all interconnected. It all makes for one of the best films of the year and the best of Van Sant's career. (As originally posted on 7/24/05
(Steven Spielberg) - It could be didactic or, worse, bland. It could be every argument ever made on either side of the Middle East debate, made by old men on cable news, uttering the same tired platitudes which they've said over and over again. But what now? I say it again and again, be it with either extreme end, be it ultra-Zionists or suicide bombers. What now? The soul darkens from such conflict, from perpetual war, from endless tit for tat. You may, as Avner (Eric Bana) does, end up hiding in the closet, gun in hand, eyes wide open, unable to sleep, always on alert, always afraid of what then. What is so stunning here is that at once the film is a crackerjack thriller, tension at every turn, classic moments built one after the other (the blood stain turning to clouds, the conversation between Avner and Ali in the stairwell, saying the same things but not realizing it, Avner hearing his daughter over the phone, the near death of the Palestinian girl on the phone, etc.), sequences that could exist in many other thrillers of shady spy types skulking about Europe but it goes beyond this and becomes a true analysis of morality, of history and of where we are as a people. It's tough and smart and exciting in so many ways. it engages you and engrosses you and forces you to think, to talk, to wonder where we're headed. It's over thirty years now and things seem so similar. Can we remain this way? Can we find a new path? Can we solve problems that always seem to end the same way, with the same arguments. What now?The Good:
Millions, Sin City, Mysterious Skin, Layer Cake, Kings and Queen, Batman Begins, Rize, Me and You and Everyone We Know, The Beat That My Heart Skipped, The Island, The Aristocrats, Junebug, Proof, Thumbsucker, The Squid and the Whale, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, 3-Iron, Oldboy, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Broken Flowers, Brokeback Mountain, The Family Stone, Jesus is Magic, Fantastic FourWhatevs
(denoting either mixed feelings or apathy): Grizzly Man
(Treadwell's footage is, at times, incredible. But I chafe against the scenes and moments that are so clearly staged by Herzog, i.e. Treadwell's theatrical ex-girlfriend receiving Treadwell's watch from the equally theatrical coroner. And I'll admit to a childish complaint. Herzog's Udo Kier-like narration, with its morose platitudes, drove me insane.), War of the Worlds
(First hour vs. second hour.), The 40 Year Old Virgin
(Apathy.), The Constant Gardener
(It's all very beige.), King Kong
(New York vs. Skull Island.)The Bad:
Melinda and Melinda (Phrase to be forever banned when discussing the work of Woody Allen: "return to form."), Mr. and Mrs. Smith, A History of Violence
, Syriana, Good Night and Good Luck, Elektra, Constantine, The Jacket, The Producers (Matthew Broderick's performance is beyond terrible, uneven, and so lacking in charm that it makes Nathan Lane's bellowing to the balconies seem subtle and well crafted.), Eros ("Equilibrium"), The Interpreter, Kingdom of Heaven, A tout de suite, Stolen, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Red Eye, Flightplan, Elizabethtown
, Jarhead, RENT, Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (Except for Tilda.), Match Point (I'm willing to accept that somehow, this urbane piece of pulp can be found as entertaining. But it has zero depth and lacks any kind of interesting perspective on the material. Just imagine if Woody respected or had interest in the film's women. Now, once you've jumped off that bridge, imagine if Scarlett, instead of skipping towards the gallows, decided to confront Emily Mortimer outside of The Woman in White
(symbolism abounds). And if you proceed in that direction, imagine then that all Myers does is kill the neighbor. That or some derivation of that idea would have intrigued me, instead of a note for note retread of the Martin Landau half of Crimes and Misdemeanors
. If people want me to stop looking backwards, it might help if Woody would follow the same advice.)The Ugly5. Eros ("Il filo pericoloso delle cose")
- No film with this much nudity should be this unwatchable. That's the most serious thing I can say (because boobs are serious business). Other than that, Antonioni needs to stop. Now.4. A Sound of Thunder
- I have to admit that when compared to other films on this list of shame, this inept piece of garbage is a welcome respite from the grating agendas and rampant nihilism of this year's truly awful fare. At first, the Z-grade effects, lugubrious performances and sub-Mansquito
, Sunday afternoon on Sci-Fi feel work together to make for the kind of so good its bad train wreck that almost makes you wonder if something magically shlocky has come together amidst production breakdowns and the rampant burning of money. Alas, the feeling fades. Quickly. 3. Lord of War
- Okay, so I'm confused. You combine endless, shabbily written narration, wooden performances and only halfway impressive visuals (which would clearly be done better by other filmmakers to whom the style is owed), and not one, but two vile jokes about AIDS in Africa, and, to top it off, muddled politics...and a good movie isn't inevitably going to spring forth? Hmmm. Weird.2. Crash
- Sooner or later, there comes that day in junior high when fresh scrubbed, over eager high schoolers show up to perform a skit at a school wide assembly. They're accompanied by an adult (who for the purposes of this breif aside, we'll call Chad) and these kids belong to some kind of troupe. This troupe inevitably has a cheery, but willfully vague name so as to make you think they just might be there to get you into theater arts. But, alas, they're not visiting out of the goodness of their hearts. The skits they perform are meant to make you feel guilty. Each and every pimply faced kid in that audience, picking at the bits of lunch left in their braces is, among other things: a drunk driver, a terrorist, a drug addict, a racist, a homophobe, a sexist, and a ridiculous stereotype masquerading as an evocation of an actual human being with issues, related to their race, religion or sexual orientaion or any number of other things that may impact their choices in life, which, in relation to the importance of skin color (and I mean skin color in that after school special for more on the topic of race visit your library and read the following kind of way) barely register.
Now, that last part really has nothing to do with the "Fun Time Players," but it does have a lot to do with Paul Haggis. This motherfucker is probably going to win an Oscar for this bullshit. And, yeah, I laughed when Tony Danza showed up and when Sandra Bullock got all angry, turned into the Geico lizard and chewed out Brendan Fraser (before falling down the stairs and learning to love the Mexican help) and, sure, I thought it was hilarious when within ten seconds of a luke warm dispute, the pawn shop owner referred to an Iranian guy as "Osama" and made references to "mud huts," but, see, I'm not supposed to laugh at any of this. Because it's supposed to be serious. It exposes how racist we all are. Well, y'know what, this might have been done with a shred of intelligence or nuance or humanity and I might have been engaged. Instead, I'm left watching this piece of trash. I didn't miss the point. I got it, loud and clear. Now, sure, that supposed point is delivered in the broadest, most dumbed down way humanly possible and maybe the angelic glow behind Don Cheadle's holy body distracted me (when I'm not counting how many racist jokes and/or references can be thrown out in the name of showing us just how bad they all are and how single minded everyone on Earth or Los Angeles is...since we are all trapped behind glass and defined by cliches intoned with so much bogus relevance that even Morgan Freeman whilst narrating about penguins or jail breaks or God knows what else might even stand up and object), but I still get it. Paul Haggis is a bad writer. He's also a bad filmmaker. And people really dig that about him. Got it. Thanks.1. Domino
- In each lighter fluid soaked frame of filth, hate, stupidity, banality, and sadism, this film sinks beneath what can be dismissed simply as "bad" or "vile" or "fascist." Beyond the technique which veers from grating to mind numbing, beyond inept storytelling and almost laughably bad acting, there lies its core, its utter hatred of humanity, its dismissal of anything but the virtue of its own supposed intelligence. Beneath the smirk and the eye roll lies little more than petty fascism masquerading as progressive satire. It's one service is paradoxical. It's a shame that money, time and effort were wasted on it, but without that futile toil, we might not know exactly what the void looks like. The screen's big. You can't miss it. Put your money down and see what's underneath the barrel. And if you get confused, there are titles frequently scrolling across the screen, just in case you like a little condescension with your bullshit. This is the end.