Wednesday, January 04, 2006

BEST AND WORST OF 2005


It’s that time of year again. My long-awaited, de-caffeinated (trying to quit in 2006), and highly over-opinionated (unfortunately can’t quit that) Best and Worst Movies of 2005 List!
 
THE BEST
 
10.) Oldboy
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to see a guy beat down fifty other guys in a cramped hallway with a hammer? Have you ever wondered what it would be like to eat a live octopus? Have you never seen a Chan-wook Park movie? Well, this may be the place to start…for all three.
 
9.) Syriana / Munich
Two flawed yet commendable political thrillers by two guys named Steve. One’s a little too entertaining as a thriller to fully get across its more intellectual concerns (Munich). And the other’s a little too intellectual and self-involved to keep you fully concerned (Syriana). As usual, Spielberg shoots an otherwise fantastic movie in the foot with a pandering and puerile ending (the sex scene, the Twin Towers shot). And Gaghan may have cut himself short in Syriana’s run time -- it’s one of those rare movies that would have fared better longer.
 
8.) Good Night and Good Luck
A somber, jazzy riff on the power and perils of free speech using McCarthy’s commie witch hunt to draw subtle parallels to life in Bush’s America. Clooney smartly downplays his normally flamboyant direction in favor of an old school Playhouse 90 TV style. David Straithairn is a pitch-perfect Murrow, not to mention a fine Ray Wise.
 
7.) Batman Begins
If all superhero movies were this dense, this philosophically curious, and this drenched in mood, then I might not hate them so much. Kudos to Christopher Nolan for taking a very dead franchise and turning it on its rubber-latex ears. This is hands-down the most successful big Hollywood franchise movie of the year, regardless of box-office receipts.
 
6.) Me and You and Everyone We Know
An oddball love letter to unlikely (and sometimes unhealthy) love relationships, Internet-related or otherwise (Sample Dialogue: “You poop into my butt hole and I poop into your butt hole...back and forth...forever."). I look forward to all things Miranda July. And the little kid in this, Brandon Ratcliff, deserves a supporting actor nod, if not a very stern babysitter.
 
5.) A History of Violence
Director David Cronenberg invades Norman Rockwell’s America with a vengeance, taking what could have been a very straight-forward thriller and turning it simultaneously into the most entertaining and disturbing movie of the year. The crowd I saw this with (Universal Citywalk) were the perfect unsuspecting guinea pigs for Cronenberg’s mad genre experiment -- they didn’t know whether to laugh, scream, or be ashamed for watching. I guess these folks had never heard about the “New Flesh.”
 
4.) Grizzly Man
Director Werner Herzog adds another loon to his “mad-genius” canon, but this time real-life loon Timothy Treadwell, a self-proclaimed “friend of the grizzly” who, as fate would have it, got a little too cuddly with nature. As usual, Herzog delivers the goods with a fascinating study of man versus nature and man vs. his own reconstructed identity. And you gotta love the Herzog narration: “I disagree with Timothy. I find nature to be a very cruel and violent place with no reason or meaning.” Or something optimistic like that.
 
3.) Murderball
Speaking of optimistic, this documentary about wheelchair-bound quad rugby players may be the most uplifting thing I saw all year. What these guys have to go through on a daily basis and then subject themselves to on the rugby courts just makes you feel ashamed for complaining about anything…EVER. And the people portrayed in this doc are simply great “characters,” even though real people. Coach Joe Soares alone could warrant a whole movie, played by himself or Robert Duvall.
 
2.) The Squid and The Whale
I am neither a child of divorce or of Park Slope, Brooklyn but still feel I can still say with assuredness that director Noah Baumbach nailed both aspects dead-on. This portrait of a family crumbling under the weight of an overly-intellectualized divorce is both heartbreaking and hilarious. Both kids are fantastic. Laura Linney’s fantastic. And Jeff Daniel’s portrayal of a self-involved yet good-intentioned pater familias who inflicts more damage than good is without a doubt the best male performance of the year.
 
1.) Junebug
This movie hit me where I lived. Literally. Its depiction of the middle class South (North Carolina to be exact) is the most honest, perceptive, and nuanced one I’ve ever seen. When a prodigal son returns home to North Carolina with his New York art-world bride, the prerequisite culture clash ensues but in ways you would never quite expect. Southern shame, repression, and overzealous optimism mix in a heady stew that brings the household to a slow boil. Family members act in predictable, yet totally unforeseeable, ways. Former music-video director Phil Morrison makes a bold mark on the movie world with this keenly aware yet off-kilter movie. And Amy Adams (who you’re sure to hear very much more about) is the perfect, gooey Southern belle center around which this mini-masterpiece builds itself.
 
HONORABLE MENTION
 
Brokeback Mountain
Groundbreaking? Revolutionary? Genre-Redefining? I don’t know about any of that. But it’s honest and heartfelt with simple yet precise Ang Lee direction. And that’s about all a straight cowpoke can ask for.
 
Capote
The story behind this one felt a little too familiar to be truly great (“writer exploits real life subjects for material”). But there’s no denying Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s searingly unapologetic performance as Capote. He strikes the best balance of charming and reptilian since Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lechter.
 
The Constant Gardener
Every moment of Rachel Weisz’s performance in this is intensely riveting. The only problem is, we’re mostly saddled with Ralph Fiennes for the duration. Not that he’s bad, he’s just…well...“Raif.” Either way, director Fernando Meirelles proves that City of God was no one-shot fluke.
 
Last Days
An eerily somnambulant funeral dirge by reigning king of the five-minute tracking shot, Gus Van Sant. Much like Gerry and Elephant, this is another one where not much happens, but what does happen happens artfully. Would this even be watchable if it were just a regular dude eating macaroni and cheese and nodding out to a Boyz II Men video rather than a Kurt Cobain stand-in? I artfully refuse to answer that question.
 
Layer Cake
A crackerjack rise-and-fall crime caper starring the fantastic soon-to-be-Bond Daniel Craig. Plus, exciting direction by one-time Guy Ritchie producer Matthew Vaughn. Too bad Vaughn didn’t DIRECT Ritchie’s movies too. Maybe they wouldn’t suck as hard as they do.
 
THE WORST
 
10.) The Longest Yard
I never saw the original but still find myself offended by this exceedingly crappy gridiron remake. The longest yard to overcome is actually getting through this movie. And I even saw it on DVD in the comfort of my own home.
 
9.) Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Speaking of long, this may be longest build-up (what, 25 years?) to a disappointment ever made. Six movies and all this talk of “turning to the dark side” and the dude becomes “evil” all within one disappointing five minute scene. Even Hamlet was conflicted for more than one or two soliloquies. Sorry, but I just didn’t get the generational “release” I was supposed to upon seeing the black helmet donned. I know this a fantasy series, and I know Lucas got a lot of critical kudos for throwing in thinly veiled anti-Bush rhetoric, but seriously…these movies bear little if any resemblance to the way people actually are. I officially reject the three prequels and prefer to remember the three original Stars Wars for what they were -- fantastic figments of a childlike imagination. Both mine and Lucas’s.
 
8.) Must Love Dogs
I needed something to see with the parents when they came into town. I would have been better off taking them to an actual dog park instead.
 
7.) Be Cool
A misguided DVD rental on my part. The reviews were awful and I didn’t even like the first movie. I am entirely to blame for subjecting myself to this one.
 
6.) Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
Possibly the most obnoxious movie known to man. It’s like being locked into a room for two hours with an overly-caffeinated and over-paid screenwriter who’s gorged himself on pulp detective novels and only retained their most annoying traits. Seriously, they should have called this one Nudge Nudge, Wink Wink because it felt like that’s all writer/director Shane Black was doing. My ribs still hurt not from laughing, but being constantly poked: “Look at this! This is clever!” The only reason this isn’t higher on the worst list is the Val Kilmer performance which was a soothing measure of restraint in a sea of misguided hyperbole.
 
5.) Crash
Since my time in L.A., I’ve been in two automobile accidents with people of different races and neither time were the words “Nigger,” “Jew,” “Chink,” “Honky,” “Spic,” “Towel Head,” or “Wop” ever exchanged. We just exchanged insurance information…that’s it. Though writer/director Paul Haggis would probably have you believe this is true-to-life portrait of racial tensions in modern day L.A., to me it came off as a TV writer’s desperate bid for an Oscar by robbing elements of Altman, P.T. Anderson, and the now-hackneyed plot device of fate (and more importantly, automobile accidents) bringing people together. Yes, there are some good performances in this (Terrence Howard, Matt Dillon), but unfortunately they are at the mercy of the guy at the wheel (Haggis), who continually crashes his narrative into contrived scenes, convenient coincidences, and instantaneous racial-pot-stirring like a hellbent teenager on a very lame joyride.
 
4.) Elizabethtown
Other than the carefully orchestrated road-trip mix-tape sequence which comes at the end, this movie is a grueling two hour mish-mash of random scenes stuck together with nothing more than a completely blank Orlando Bloom holding them together -- not a very strong glue in the first place. But even with better casting, I think Elizabethtown was doomed from the get-go. The problem is Cameron Crowe made a whole movie when he should have just made a mix tape.
 
3.) Dominion: A Prequel to the Exorcist
As much as I want to give director Paul Schrader props after getting fired by Morgan’s Creek, then replaced by Renny Harlin, only to have Morgan Creek backtrack and decide to release Schrader’s version after Harlin’s version did so awfully, I simply can’t. The movie’s just not that good. The story behind this movie is much better than the movie itself. Skip the movie, listen to the DVD commentary.
 
2.) The Ballad of Jack and Rose
It might seem wrong to pick on a small little movie which no one really saw, but it’s just something I gotta do. This movie typifies everything that is wrong with “indie” movies these days. It comes off as self-consciously “indie” and “progressive” and “other than thou” yet was directed by Arthur Miller’s daughter and headlined by her husband Daniel Day Lewis and is chock-full of other indie stalwarts (Catherine Keener etc.). I guess even in the indie world nepotism goes a long way. But more importantly, it’s just bad…really, really bad…which makes the waste of talent all the more egregious.
 
1.) Bewitched
Here’s the story: Me and the girlfriend needed something to watch on the Fourth of July while we were up at Big Bear Lake. There is only one theater up at Big Bear Lake, with only three choices…all of which we had already seen. This is how the atrocity that is Bewitched happened to me. I know someone thought it would be a great idea to add a little inter-textual zing to this remake by making it a movie about the MAKING OF A NEW TV VERSION OF “BEWITCHED.” But in the end, this hollow ploy just made it all the more apparent how desperately out of ideas mainstream Hollywood is. The snake is most surely eating its own tail and, with Bewitched, it reached the ass-end.
 
DISHONORABLE MENTION
 
Broken Flowers
There are some great moments in this movie, namely the “Lolita” scene and the end where Bill Murray thinks he sees “Little Murray.” But other than that, I’m a little disappointed in Jarmusch. He’s taking the Wes Anderson approach here, thinking that by simply casting the wonderful Bill Murray (and more importantly Bill Murray’s sad-comic face) and adding a great soundtrack that his work is done. Sorry, Jarmusch, Bill Murray is not a get-out-jail-free card. You also must write a script.
 
Constantine
Another DVD rental. Something to do with resurrected angels and smoking. But I couldn’t tell you for the life of me what.
 
Cursed
Forget the terrible script. A werewolf movie lives and dies by its werewolf, which in this case looked ten years behind times CGI-wise. Looks like Dimension knew they had a stinker on their hands on threw it to the wolves prematurely. Which in retrospect, may have actually been one of their few smart business moves.
 
The Devil’s Rejects
Rob Zombie’s riffs on Grindhouse exploitation movies are already getting old, even after two movies. Too many freeze frames, optical zooms, and retro-redneck chart toppers. We get the picture, buddy. You love the ‘70s, you love exploitation movies, you love Lynyrd Skynyrd. Now how about a romantic comedy?
 
XXX: State of the Union
I wish I could say I wandered into this one thinking it was a porno by the title on the marquee. But truth be told, I knew what I was getting into…and got it in spades. Mindless crap at a breakneck pace. Shame on me for ever buying a ticket.

THE SUPERLATIVES

BEST REMAKE
Match Point – though technically not a remake, it’s basically a British-based retread of the Martin Landau story in Crimes and Misdemeanors with a longer run time and younger, hotter actors
 
FORGIVABLE (IF UNNECESSARY) REMAKES
The Bad News Bears – Billy Bob’s new and sleazier take on Coach Buttermaker makes this one a worthwhile rental
 
Charlie and the Chocolate FactoryBurton’s cinematography, set design and multiple Deep Roys make this an even more savory morsel than the original
 
WORST REMAKE
Every other spring and summer release in 2005

BEST MONKEY-LOVE FEST
King Kong
 
BEST HORROR MOVIE
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room – And the scariest thing about it is they’ll probably still get off easy
 
BEST SEX SCENES
March of the Penguins – Put your belly on the ice and that egg between your legs and let’s get busy 50-degrees-below style!
 
A History of Violence – Only Cronenberg could make “married people sex” seem this kinky. Of course, when your wife’s Maria Bello…
 
BEST SAM PECKINPAH MOVIE NOT DIRECTED BY SAM PECKINPAH
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada – For Tommy Lee Jones’ directorial debut, he must have watched Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia more times than myself
 
BEST MOVIE BUILT UPON A ONE JOKE PREMISE
The Aristocrats – A movie that gave me new respect for Gilbert Gottfried and Bob Saget and added respect for rape-humor-prankster Sarah Silverman
 
WORST MOVIE BUILT UPON A ONE JOKE PREMISE
Wedding Crashers – Hey! They crash weddings, then more weddings, then more weddings, then fall in love and get married and…guess what…crash their own wedding and then a funeral then…
 
THE FEEL-GOOD PIMP MOVIE OF THE YEAR
Hustle and Flow
 
THE FEEL-BAD HOLIDAY MOVIE OF THE YEAR (IN A GOOD WAY)
The Ice Harvest
 
BEST ARGUMENT FOR WHY EVERY MOVIE SHOULD FEATURE MICKEY ROURKE, EVEN IF UNRECOGNIZABLE
The middle segment of Sin City
 
BEST USE OF NON-STOP CGI
Kung Fu Hustle. Stephen Chow puts the effects to good use, basically making this a live action cartoon mish-mash of Tex Avery, Buster Keaton, and the Shaw Brothers
 
WORST USE OF NON-STOP CGI
Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith. Another headache-inducing digital overload by repeat offender Lucas. Three strikes and you’re out, pal. Now, how about putting out the three original films on DVD…minus your lame CGI add-ins.
 
BEST USE OF “PROP SEMEN” SINCE THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY
The Squid and the Whale. If it holds up as hair gel, then why not use it to lacquer library books too?
 
MOST ANTICIPATED MOVIE OF 2006
NOTHING. I just re-joined Netflix. So I anticipate being a major contributor to the continuing decline in box office receipts in the year to come. I say, get on board the Soderbergh love-train. Let’s make 2006 the year that simultaneous theatrical and DVD release becomes the standard!!!

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