Del’s Best & Worst Films of 2005
by Del Harvey
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MOST ENJOYABLE FILMS OF 2005
1. Good Night, and Good Luck. From the film, this quote—verbatim—from Edward R. Murrow’s broadcast condemning Senator Joseph McCarthy’s communist witch hunt trials of the 50’s:
“We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason if we dig deep in our history and doctrine and remember that we are not descended from fearful men, not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes which were for the moment unpopular. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of the Republic to abdicate his responsibility.”
Best director nom to George Clooney, best actor nom to David Strathairn.
2. The Upside of Anger—Okay, so this one should come as a shock to anyone who has followed my Top Ten lists for the past six years. It’s a Costner film. Yes, that’s right. Kevin Costner. And it’s great, and he’s great in it. Life IS like this. Best actress nom for Joan Allen.
3. Syriana—Before Gary gives me any more B.S. for putting two Clooney films on my “Best Of” list, I contend he must see the films before passing judgment. Syriana is intelligent and true, and as such will continue to baffle many in the mainstream and especially anyone seeking hot, fast-paced action. This is a true political drama
4. The Constant Gardener—Fernando Meirelles, director of last year’s incredible City of God, this time adapts a John Le Carre novel and does so brilliantly, giving us all the emotion and sensitivity any reader could hope to take away from the novel. Beautifully acted, directed, written, and photographed. And it’s right on target, politically. Best actor nom to Ralph Fiennes.
5. Ballets Russes—Best documentary of the year, and it’s an astounding return visit to the ballet troupe whose fifty-year span changed the face of ballet forever, thanks largely to its choreographers; Ballanchine and Messine. Many of the troupe are still alive and actively involved, whether teaching at universities or running dance schools of even performing. This inspiring, elegant, historic piece is well worth viewing.
6. Après Vous—Antoine (Daniel Auteuil) could be described as the world’s nicest guy; he is considerate towards everyone. One night, late for a date with his longtime girlfriend, he stops in the park to help a destitute and forlorn man, Louis (Jose Garcia) from hanging himself from a tree. Before you know it, Louis is living with Antoine, then Antoine has found Louis a job at his restaurant. Then Antoine is trying to get Louis’ girlfriend interested in him, again. But something odd happens when he sees the ethereal Blanche; he falls in love. Writer/director Pierre Salvadori’s quirky little tale of life’s odd bumps in the road is a slap-in-the-face parable about what love will really do to your life.
7. A History of Violence—Another comic book tale, but this one odd and perverse and truly weird in a surreal, yet mythic, sense. The violence in the film is harsh and gritty; but isn’t it like that in life?
8. Cinderella Man—Russell “Don’t Talk To Me When I’m On The Phone” Crowe and Renee Zellweger are fantastic in a tug-at-your-heartstrings story of one little guy finally getting his due. Best director nom to Ron Howard.
9. Batman Begins—A sentimental favorite, as I have been a fan of The Bat ever since my oldest brother gave me his copies of the very first two issues of Bob Kane’s comics. ‘ve waited a long time for Warners (or anyone) to get it right. Bale makes up for in dramatic talent what he lacks in stature, and this latest tale of the Dark Knight is Grand Guignol at its darkest.
10. A TIE:
Oldboy—One of the oddest and most original films to come along in some time, Chan-wook Park’s story of a falsely imprisoned father’s release and subsequent revenge is heartbreaking tragedy on a Shakespearean scale. One of the best films of all time. Should be nominated and should win Best Foreign Film, but probably won’t.
Walk The Line—Director James Mangold spoke with Johnny Cash and June Carter shortly before they died, discussing his approach to filming their story. From Cash’s two biographies and his interviews with the stars, themselves, Mangold developed this film. Phoenix and Witherspoon turn in amazing performances both as actors and singers in a story that undeniably defines the term “tough love.” Best actress nom for Reese Witherspoon.
Capote—Great, Oscar-worthy performances, most notably for Ms. Keener as Supporting Actress.
The 40-Year Old Virgin—Except for the final musical number, this is the funniest film in a few years. Keener’s a keeper.
Four Brothers—Action remake of The Sons of Katie Elder is right on the money. Thanks, John Singleton, for remaking a film and getting it right.
Imaginary Heroes—Because this one was released in 2 cities before the end of 2004 in an attempt to garner Academy consideration in 2005, this film really doesn’t count as a 2005 release. But it would be in my Top 10 if it had opened just two weeks later. It’s everything The Squid and The Whale wanted to be, and handles difficult relationship questions and family dysfunctional situations much more satisfyingly.
INSIDE Deep Throat—Several early porn stars reveal what life was really like in front of the camera and off-screen during X-rated cinema’s early days, and the shocking part is how these people were treated and what happened to their health.
The Island—Michael Bay redeems himself with this thought-provoking action-sci fi flick about cloning and what can happen when we try to play God.
Kingdom of Heaven—Another perspective on the Crusades introduces us to some of the less glamorous sides to being a martyr or going to war over religion. Epic and exciting, Kingdom of Heaven was also breathtakingly photographed.
Millions—The director of 28 Days Later, The Beach, and Trainspotting gives us the most charming family film of the year.
Sahara—This one is just plain fun. Penelope Cruz is kind of a squeaker in this one, but Steve Zahn and Matthew McConnaghy are pure fun.
Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic—Speaks her mind, and we could use more people doing that right about now. Wonderfully irreverent.
King Kong—Aww, come on. How could you not love the big ape?
The Squid and the Whale—Should have incorporated the title as part of the film, rather than giving it last minute, toss-off status in a weak attempt to connect main conflict in order to bring resolution to the story. Plus, it’s an ensemble film right up until the last 10 minutes, then suddenly it’s all about the oldest boy. Weak.
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance—Chan-wook Park’s nastiest bit of cinema to date, but so enjoyably wicked.
The White Countess—Builds well, and plays beautifully, but the conflict was underwhelming. Ms. Richardson’s performance was worth an Oscar nomination, at very least.
LEAST WATCHABLE FILMS:
Dark Water—Horrid remake of a tepid Japanese ghost story.
Hide and Seek—Robert DeNiro and Dakota Fanning wasted in a poorly written exercise in too much money and not enough sense.
Hitch—Uncute, unfunny, and painful to watch. Mr. Smith should be making better choices. The last few have been real dogs.
War of the Worlds—Spielberg and Cruise show they are imminently capable of cashing in on the remake roulette so popular in Hollywood right now.
ABOMINATIONS OF CINEMA:
Man of the House, Guess Who’s Coming, The Honeymooners, Diary of a Mad Black Woman, King’s Ransom, etc.—“Black” comedies of 2005 were poor and mostly unfunny. These films are a slap in the face to good taste.
Son of the Mask—Why make this film without Jim Carrey? Such a waste.
Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith—My, what great special effects. And the action? Superb. But, where’s the story. Mr. Lucas gets an ‘F’ for bad writing, weak casting (Ewan McGregor was the only one acting in the film), and insipidly mismanaging the highest grossing franchise of all time. Way to go, George.
SHAMELESS PANDERING TO A STAR OR GENRE:
National Lampoon’s Blackball
National Lampoon’s Barely Legal
National Lampoon’s Adam & Eve
Next up, National Lampoon’s I’m A Studio Executive Without An Original Idea In My Head: Why Don’t I Just Shoot Myself?
A STUNNING DISAPPOINTMENT:
Crash—When a public is so lackadaisical about doing anything to defend their sense of dignity, it’s no wonder they rejoice when a film comes out using the “hit you over the head” method of getting their point across. Way too much of a good thing. Still, Matt Dillon did give a superb performance as the bigoted cop.
The Interpreter—Weakly plotted, miscast, misdirected, and misguided best describe this would-be thriller that distances the audience from the story and its characters right from the start.
North Country—Charlize Theron is just too damned pretty to be a mine worker. At least throw some soot on her face to make her look the part! And that silly ending where the plot is haphazardly pushed neatly into a shoebox just so we can all feel good and applaud when the credits roll…
And that’s it for 2005. I have yet to see Brokeback Mountain, but expect it to be a late addition to my Top Ten. See you next year!
Del Harvey is a film critic and writer in Chicago.
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