Posted: 01/21/2006


Erin’s Best & Worst Films of 2005

by Erin Paulson

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The Best of 2005

1. Pride & Prejudice

One of the most pleasant surprises of the year, it is a heartfelt adaptation that touches you yet manages not to become saccharine and annoying. It’s perfection really—the way movies were meant to be made. Keira Knightley is perfect as the clever and independent Lizzie Bennett, and her supporting cast is far from outshined. Donald Sutherland gave a performance that definitely deserves to be applauded, and Matthew Macfadyen’s Mr. Darcy is honest and surprisingly vulnerable. I don’t think I can stress enough how much I adore this movie.

2. Millions

Directed by one of my favorite directors, Mr. Danny Boyle. Seemingly a total departure from everything he had done previously, but after viewing it you realize it lacks none of the magic that we’ve come to expect from his work. It is a beautiful and honest movie about two children and the money that comes to change their lives. The cinematography is amazing enough to bring tears to your eyes, even if the score sounds like the biggest Danny Elfman rip-off you’ve ever heard.

3. MirrorMask

Written by fantasy and graphic novel author Neil Gaiman (my favorite) and directed by renowned illustrator Dave McKean, MirrorMask is an adventure story about a girl trapped between the realms of light and dark. Along the same lines of Labyrinth, but without the feeling of being trapped in the 80’s. It is a perfect, seamless blend of Jim Henson creatures and CGI—it feels like being pulled into one of McKean’s beautiful and awe-inspiring illustrations, so lush and rich that you feel like you could touch everything you see. The story itself is not as unique as most of Gaiman’s other work, but it feels familiar in a comforting way—like a dream you could have had years ago.

4. 2046

Directed by Kar Wai Wong, 2046 is the sequel to his phenomenal In the Mood for Love, the story of what happens next to Tony Leung Chiu Wai’s Mr. Chow. Much darker than its prequel, 2046 reveals the desperate and jaded loneliness one experiences when one goes through heartbreak and loss. Although no less subtle and touching than In the Mood for Love, 2046 is far more successful at twisting the knife that has exists in your stomach whenever you watch Wai’s beautiful and haunting scenes.

5. The Chumscrubber

In the first opening scenes of the film, Dean (Jaime Bell of Billy Elliot) finds his best friend Troy’s hanging body, and leaves without informing Troy’s parents. This definitely sets the tone for the rest of the movie—a really dark, comedic satire about the ridiculous of suburbia and the detachment it breeds amongst its families.

6. A History of Violence

The juxtaposition of ridiculous, cliché stereotypes and incredibly graphic and realistic sex and violence, A History of Violence is the most recent successful venture by director David Cronenberg (Spider, Naked Lunch). Disturbing and chilling, the film tells the story of a quiet small town family led by Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello, who one day, face the destruction of their happy family when Mortensen’s Tom defends his restaurant from two criminals. The situation leads to many pleasant discoveries, including what can happy when the identities of the ones you love are called into question.

7. King Kong

Need I say anything about how amazing this movie is? Peter Jackson is pretty much the coolest guy around. Anyone who can take any of his fandoms and make them into such monumental, epic, action-packed adventures that keep you glued to your seat deserves praise. And he certainly didn’t let us down with this one. Three hours and 15 minutes of non-stop entertainment—campy dialogue juxtaposed with some truly amazing CGI Tyrannosaurus Rexes and a completely lovable giant ape. Not to mention Naomi Watt’s beautiful tear-filled eyes constantly on the edge of spilling over. And what incredible screaming skills!

8. Me and You and Everyone We Know

The first feauture of beautiful and talented performance artist Miranda July. She wrote, directed, and starred in this subtle and quirky film about the fragility of the human heart and the attempt to find connection in an isolated world. John Hawkes is also a favorite as July’s love interest—his performance is understated and honest. There are very few characters that I’ve wanted to give a hug to more. And for once, the children seem like real people, not tools with which to manipulate a certain cut of the audience. It is at times both funny and poignant, but always comforting and familiar.

9. Sin City

Not a single frame of film was used in the shooting of this shocking and high contrast movie based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel; instead, it was entirely shot in HD. Surprisingly I was able to forgive the movie for this, and I loved the incredibly graphic aesthetics of the film. The rare use of color made it that much more effective, and some of the dialog is brilliant. Bruce Willis had the pleasure of reciting one of my favorite lines of dialog of the entire year: “When it comes to reassuring a traumatized [teenager], I’m as expert as a Palsy victim doing brain surgery with a pipe wrench”.

10. Match Point

Written and directed by Woody Allen, Match Point stars Jonathan Rhys-Meyers as a cold and soulless type of guy who manages to climb London society by using people entirely for his own advantage. He weasels his way into a socially elite and absurdly wealthy family through a friendship with the son (Matthew Goode) and a romantic affair with the daughter (Emily Mortimer). Match Point is about the choices he must make when he pursues a sexual relationship with Scarlett Johansson—can he give up his extravagant lifestyle for a woman who may make him ultimately happier?

Honorable Mentions:
The Ballad of Jack and Rose, The Baxter, Proof, The Squid and the Whale, Good Night and Good Luck, Thumbsucker

To Watch For in 2006:

Written and directed by newcomer Rian Johnson and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Lukas Haas. When his ex-girlfriend goes missing, Brendan (Gordon-Levitt) plunges himself into the upper social stratosphere of his high school to find out what happened to her. The result is a film noir with a perfect blend of comedy and drama. I had the pleasure of first seeing this incredible film at Sundance, where it blew everything else out of the water. I felt confident I would see nothing else all year to compare to it, and I was right. I saw it again at the Chicago International Film Fest, which only further fueled my admiration of it. But technically it can’t be on my list this year because it wasn’t released into theatres yet. However, Brick is my favorite film I saw this year, and I feel fairly confident it will be my favorite film of next year as well. See this movie when it is released in theatres in late March—you’ll thank me afterward.

The Worst of 2005:

This list isn’t as long as maybe it should be, but I often don’t see films that I know I’m going to dislike, so my list usually ends up consisting of films that I hoped would be good but end up disappointing me terribly.

1. Caché

I know you’re thinking “But this film won Best Director at Cannes! No way can it be on your worst of 2005 list!” But believe me, its position is well deserved. After viewing it, I immediately wanted to demand the return of my $9.25—an amount definitely not well spent. This movie never goes anywhere, and never pays off. As an audience member you are subjected to incredibly long, atrociously ugly shots that are supposed to disturb you as much as they do the characters under surveillance, but they just… don’t. In fact, the film only succeeded at disturbing me in one scene, and only then with shock value. There were scenes where I was literally staring all over the screen, trying to see what it was that I was supposed to be looking at, if there was a character I was supposed to recognize that I couldn’t quite place in the wide shot. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to spend my time watching a movie in which I can’t even tell what I’m supposed to be looking at. THUMBS DOWN.

2. Cheaper by the Dozen 2

Do I really need to discuss why this movie is on my worst list?

3. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

I was so looking forward to this movie, but I was brutally disappointed. What a waste of tremendous talent—there are so many brilliant people in this movie, and it was all for nothing. I don’t think I laughed once. ‘Tis sad, really.

4. Happy Endings

I am SO tired of these indie movies that think they’re being so clever when really they’re delivering the same redundant plot manipulations we’ve been seeing for years. Happy Endings is no different, and despite the inclusion of one of my favorite actresses (Maggie Gyllenhaal) this film is definitely not worth a second thought.

5. Ellie Parker

Naomi Watts is awesome. This movie is not. It’s ugly and monotonous and the opposite of entertaining, and even the star power of an actress like Naomi Watts can’t earn it one star in my eyes. It is a feature based on a short film that was received well at Sundance, though I can’t imagine how anyone could convince themselves that an entire feature of the same subject could be a good idea.

Erin Paulson is a film critic and photographer living in Chicago.

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