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It’s been a strong year for movies. I have to say this up front because dozens of the films I’ve missed could and probably should be on the list. Prime, Capote, Roll Bounce, Lord of War, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Murderball, Kontroll, It’s All Gone Pete Tong, Downfall, The Beat That My Heart Skipped, 2046, Mysterious Skin, 3-iron, Save the Green Planet, Matchpoint, and Grizzly Man could replace this list almost twice. But I missed them; living in America’s heartland does have its drawbacks. I have to take what I can find. Anyway, here’s the best and worst of 2005, as I see it. Caveat emptor.
The 10 Best Movies of 2005
The Squid and the Whale—Noah Baumbach’s exuberant tale of a crumbling family combined with the humiliating rites of post-adolescence make for an odd but delightful little film, droll and whimsical, and paradoxically deadpan and passionate. Spectacular.
Kung Fu Hustle—The name says it all. This slapstick kung fu fest is funny, poignant, epic, and larger than life. Really fantastic stuff.
A History of Violence—David Cronenberg’s meta-film works both as a violent thriller and as a meditation on the effects of violence.
Brokeback Mountain—This devastating love story, revealed against a cruel backdrop of unrelenting vastness and beauty, digs at the great pains of unrequited love.
Broken Flowers—Jim Jarmusch has found his acting equivalent in Bill Murray, deliberate, understated, and slow. Finds profundity in the quotidian.
Palindromes—This melancholic experiment in form revels in Todd Solonz’s usual paradoxes. Uncomfortable, challenging, and caustic, shot with a dreamlike elegance.
Lords of Dogtown—Catherine Hardwicke brought an element of style and class to this skating movie about the first professional skaters. A period piece, yes, a high school movie, yes, but also a collection of great little moments.
Wolf Creek—This Australian horror film—think The Texas Chainsaw Massacre meets Picnic at Hanging Rock—is as much about the obliterating power of nature as it is about the perverse inner sickness that has penetrated the Outback. Fascinating and intense.
Oldboy—A vile piece of filmmaking displayed with visceral aplomb. A grisly tale told well.
Kings and Queen—This French drama follows a number of characters through a dramatic few months in their lives. Uneven, yes, but reaches moments of supreme exaltation.
Torremolinos 73—This Spanish release (almost three years after its initial release in Spain) follows a normal couple who unwittingly become porn stars after shooting a sexual instruction video for a company in Denmark. Simultaneously funny and sad.
Land of the Dead—George Romero returns to the thing that made him famous in this next installment of his zombie epic, where the zombies continue to become more human while the humans become more and more like animals. It misses excellence by a narrow margin.
Howl’s Moving Castle—A magical story about dueling wizards and a young girl who one day wakes up as an old woman. Moments of sheer sublimity.
Batman Begins—Christopher Nolan’s take on the Batman expunges the campy undertones, stripping him to his roots. For the first half, anyway. The love story subplot undercuts the film’s impact, however, and the second half falls into action movie mode.
The Aristocrats—The story of the world’s dirtiest joke, told hundreds of times. One of the filthiest movies ever made, and an interesting exploration of humor, self-censorship, and far boundaries of good taste. Intriguing, funny, shocking, but ultimately insubstantial.
Wedding Crashers—Yes, it falls into the same traps every romantic comedy seems to flail into. But it’s also funny. Very, very funny. Vince Vaughan chews through scene after scene with ribald gusto, and his performance elevates the film to high art. Almost.
Unleashed—This satisfying film with no pretense of reality follows an underground fighter raised like a dog, and his slow trek towards becoming human. Bob Hoskins, Jet Li, and Morgan Freeman all deliver the goods. The film rushes through the ending, though, losing its narrative thread.
Jarhead—A movie about the first Gulf War and the people who (sort of) fought in it. Derivative, yes, but also funny and riveting. But in the final tally it isn’t a great film, not by a longshot. But a diverting way to spend a couple of hours.
The Ten Worst Movies of 2005
The Jacket—Simply a bad, bad movie. Adrian Brody tries, but the film’s inane plot—ruining a decent conceit—steers the film into the iceberg. Time travel, insane asylums, psychic projection, wars—how did they make this film so boring? And yes, we know, the inmates are running the asylum. They’d have to be, for this movie to get made.
The Longest Yard—Just terrible; the Hollywood dream machine gone sour. Mediocre in every way, save for the script, which is non-existent, and the jokes, which someone forgot to put in. Indescribably bad.
Hustle and Flow—Great idea, great cast, on-location shooting. What went wrong? A confused script, a director unable to fully utilize the streets of Memphis, a lack of tension, and a flat tone. Tis a pity: this could have been one of the great films of the year.
Syriana—Hyped up mumble jumble. Convoluted. Histrionic. Uncertain of its own message. Characters wandering around speechifying at every chance. Throws dirty water on a muddy windshield. The message: big oil, government corruption, big business greed, the CIA, terrorism, it’s all bad for the world. Thank you, Stephen Gaghan. Now give me my money back.
Sin City—A filthy exercise in style over substance. The language and images works in the comic, but fails miserably here. The unrelenting nihilism might appeal to some, but to me seemed forced and affected. Nice to see Rutger Hauer, though.
Doom—Video game to movie adaptations. Let’s stop doing this.
The Brothers Grimm—A Terry Gilliam misstep. A great cast and a great idea, but there’s something hasty about the whole project. Rumors of studio meddling circulated but it’s probably one of those films that just was never going to quite work.
The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy—One of the long-awaited dream projects languishing for years. Solid funnymen Sam Rockwell and Martin Freeman anchor the cast, but the movie continually confounds and disappoints. Exceptionally mediocre.
Saw II—A ghastly tale signifying nothing. Idiotic, gratuitous, offensive, and worst of all, not any fun.
Kicking and Screaming—One of the year’s biggest disappointments, dropping the ball on what should have been the funniest movie of the year. Will Ferrell as a little league soccer coach? The film falters by catering to children, when it could have brought laughs to adults.
Ben Beard is a film critic and writer living in the Midwest.
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