Film: Big Screen's Best

CityBeat film writers present their 2005 Top 10 lists

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The Year In Review



Steve Ramos
1. CAPOTE

Philip Seymour Hoffman gives the male performance of the year as author Truman Capote, laying out charm, eccentricity and heartache in equal measure in director Bennett Miller's tragic true-life drama. More than a traditional biography story, Capote is about writing. It's about artistic inspiration that morphs into obsession and about becoming too close to the subject.

2. KUNG FU HUSTLE

Actor/director Stephen Chow pays homage to Roadrunner cartoons with this period extravaganza. Chow plays Sing, a clumsy lowlife caught in the action when a crime gang's hired killers face off against the residents of a rundown housing project outside Canton, China. Nonstop thrills, ridiculous jokes and over-the-top martial arts come together for a comedy worthy of silent masters Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin.

3. BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN

Two young cowboys (Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger) in the early 1960s spend the summer working alone grazing sheep on a Wyoming mountain.

Their time together leads to a friendship and a passionate love affair that is deep, real and timeless. Director Ang Lee pays homage to classic westerns with an epic romance about hidden love, the most intimate movie he has made.

4. WALLACE & GROMIT: THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT A plasticine cast, miniature sets and sweeping camera movements add up to 84 minutes of fun in the big-screen adventure of Wallace, an English inventor with a wide smile and obsession for cheese, and his trusty dog Gromit, who expresses more with his eyebrows than most people do speaking. Co-directors Nick Park and Steve Box's inspired film is as good as a family comedy gets.

5. NOBODY KNOWS

The most transcendental film from world cinema's most spiritual filmmaker, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Nobody Knows is about a mother (Japanese music star Keiko) who abandons her four young children in their cluttered Tokyo apartment. Everyday life images and small moments add up to poetry and human insight, culminating in a finale that's quiet but earth-shattering.

6. ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW

Multimedia performance artist, author and short-film director Miranda July exceeds expectations with her amazing debut feature film. July stars on both sides, playing Christine Jesperson, a lonely artist and elder-cab driver eager for romance, and she shows an ability to succeed in the commercial movie world outside the avant-garde community as both an actress and a filmmaker.

7. 2046

When it comes to moviemaking for art lovers and romance lovers, nobody surpasses Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-wai. Mystery, drama and emotion come together beautifully in 2046, a kind of sequel to Wong's last romance film, In the Mood for Love. It's an unabashed romance, a cry for love that's the year's most visually arresting movie.

8. JUNEBUG

Working from playwright Angus MacLachlan's script, director Phil Morrison upends the cliché premise that all liberals are good and tolerant and that all conservatives are rigid and bad. Junebug tells the story of a pretty Chicago gallery owner who clashes with her new husband's Southern, conservative Christian family. In a country defined by Red and Blue states, Junebug reminds us that tolerance goes both ways.

9. BROKEN FLOWERS

In filmmaker Jim Jarmusch's rich journey drama, Bill Murray is effortless as Don Johnston, a middle-age bachelor adrift in life until he sets out to visit past girlfriends in order to find the 19-year-old son he's never known. Broken Flowers is out-of-the-box filmmaking that's challenging in its simplicity and intentionally ambiguous with an end that's sad and open-ended. But one thing is crystal clear by the film's finish: Murray gives an incredible performance.

10. MURDERBALL

The standout twists that separate co-directors Dana Adam Shapiro and Henry Alex Rubin's exciting, real-life hero's tale from typical sports coverage are the amazing quadriplegic athletes of Paralympics Team U.S.A. Murderball proves that good human drama beats extravagant fantasy every time. These quad rugby players' spines might have been crushed but their spirit and strength remain at full force.

Biggest Disappointment

Filmmaker Atom Egoyan has the edge and the confidence to adapt Rupert Holmes' novel Where the Truth Lies into quality film noir, but everything turns out badly. A pretty reporter (Alison Lohman) seeks to uncover the truth behind a dead woman found in the hotel suite of a Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis-like act (Colin Firth and Kevin Bacon) 15 years earlier. There's no suspense or believable characters, just controversy over the film's ratings.

Favorite Movie Moment of 2005

This is the couch potato age of watching movies alone at home, but at its best film is a public experience. Case in point: Watching and laughing along with 1,000 people at the Sundance Film Festival premiere of Stephen Chow's martial arts comedy Kung Fu Hustle. Going to the movies should always be this much fun.

Rodger Pille
1. WALK THE LINE

The comparisons to Ray are valid — both films brilliantly portray American musical geniuses battling their lifelong demons. But Walk the Line goes one step further, presenting a touching, honest and tortured love story about two people destined to be together even when they can't be.

2. SYRIANA

Purposefully complex, like the oil crisis we find ourselves in. A true cousin to the brilliant Traffic, what Syriana lacks in accessibility it more than makes up for in relevance and grit. Poignant filmmaking at its best.

3. CAPOTE

It boasts the standout performance of the year from Philip Seymour Hoffman, who is overdue for accolades. Where other films rely on flashy showmanship, Capote is content to let the audience silently agonize with lingering close-ups and moments of quiet anguish.

4. GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK The most important film about journalism since All the President's Men. Director George Clooney chose for his sophomore effort one of the most deliberate message movies to come out of Hollywood in years, saying clearly that it is not only the right of the journalist to question government, it is his duty. Especially when it's unpopular.

5. SIN CITY

In the wake of last decade's watershed noir, Pulp Fiction, every stylized crime film seemed like a stale photocopy. Until Robert Rodriguez's Sin City. Fresh, inventive and endlessly watchable, it's pure adult eye candy.

6. MUNICH

I'm not sure how a $75 million thriller from the king of all blockbusters can be considered an art film, but Steven Spielberg's Munich should go down as exactly that for him. Because for once he doesn't play it safe, provoking thought instead of eschewing it. And that's exhilarating.

7. BATMAN BEGINS

Brutal, smart and full of shadows, just like the dark knight himself. This completely new interpretation of a comic-book movie is what real fans have been clamoring for. Major props to director Christopher Nolan.

8. MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA

As beautiful and well-made a film as there was in 2005. Those who haven't read the book will have a more difficult time connecting with the characters and story, but there is no mistaking a visual masterpiece.

9. THE 40-YEAR OLD VIRGIN

The screwball comedy is alive and well, thanks to Steve Carell. Virgin throws itself so completely in the once-dead genre and takes such joy out of being naughty that even stick-in-the-mud audience members will be coerced into laughter.

10. LAYER CAKE

Essentially a slick London gangster film, Layer Cake announces to the cinematic world the arrival of two major players: Daniel Craig, so cool as Mr. X and picked as the next Bond, and first-time director Matthew Vaughn. If their next projects are half as cool as this one, we're in for treats.

Biggest Disappointment

Because Aeon Flux is too obvious, the award goes to Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith. Shame on you, George Lucas, for making me think your final installment in the saga was going to be as good as the originals. No way. A step up from the other prequels doesn't mean it's good.

Favorite Movie Moment of 2005

Director James Mangold had lightning in a bottle when he cast Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon as Johnny and June Carter Cash, because there are moments of true cinematic passion in Walk the Line. Johnny was right: Love is a burning thing.

TT Clinkscales
1. THE CONSTANT GARDENER

The most moving love story of the year was also a crack political thriller at a time when crack political thrillers achieved critical mass in the multiplexes and art houses. And like a phoenix, Rachel Weisz emerges to scorch every frame of the film she touches.

2. THE NEW WORLD

Terrence Malick treats film like great art and works only when the deepest reservoirs of passion move him. If only others would take notice and judiciously apply their talents to this brilliant, dynamic canvas.

3. BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN

Ang Lee is a master of emotional restraint, but the revelation of Brokeback Mountain is Heath Ledger. One of film's boy toys unquestionably becomes a real man before our eyes.

4. THE ARISTOCRATS

The working comedian's dirty little secret gets deployed like a massive air strike and the devastation of our delicate sensibilities is welcome and winning. Hushed whispers of Aristocrats at parties where attendees try their own hand at this wicked, wicked joke would be a sign that the revolution had punched the PC movement and the Religious Right below the belt.

5. A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE

David Cronenberg creates a graphic meditation on violence and identity from a graphic novel. The cast, including Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris and William Hurt, breathes life and added history into these already vividly moving frames.

6. SYRIANA

There is a filmmaker out there willing to trust that the audience can handle being dropped into the middle of an ongoing situation without much set-up and muddle through the proceedings. Thank you, Stephen Gaghan. And thanks to a fortuitously timed completion and release that makes this political thriller even more disturbingly relevant.

7. CRASH

This carefully plotted racial house of cards falls apart a little too brilliantly, but the point of it is its shaky foundation of disconnected collisions. The it-could-never-happen build-up makes you sad that the sorry state of race relations means we might never achieve such heartbreakingly real moments together as shown here.

8. GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK

Three well-earned cheers for homeboy George Clooney and his triple-threat strike as writer, director and co-star of this evocative document of a time when the media dared to challenge the powerful before their corruption became absolute.

9. CAPOTE

Writer Dan Futterman, director Bennett Miller and actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman re-create the exact moment an uncommon man and an uncommon story changed the course of reportage by taking citizens so far inside the perspective was irrevocably shattered. Welcome to the dawn of reality programming.

10. MILLIONS and MAD HOT BALLROOM Children's movies have become so heavy with adult pop cultural references to entertain parents and guardians that children themselves — as subjects and audience members — have almost ceased to exist as anything other than the targets of marketing campaigns. Thankfully these two films, a feature and a documentary, remembered that kids are insightful and mature, and that their stories can be far more engaging than most adult fixations. Save the hard sell for Cartoon Network.

Biggest Disappointment

Hey, Kevin Costner and James Cameron, for years now you guys have been a couple of easy, egotistical targets for popgun pundits everywhere. Then, out of nowhere, each of you reforms — Costner as a relaxed drunkard tripping into middle age without a sign of crisis in The Upside of Anger and Rumor Has It, while Cameron dares us to check out his big brain and bigger, adventurous sense of intellectual curiosity in Aliens of the Deep. Now we have to go hunting for another set of pompous bulls-eye bearers. Thanks a lot. No, really, thank you. Career reformation never looked so good.

Favorite Movie Moment of 2005

The mangled mug of Mickey Rourke returns to the screen thanks to Robert Rodriguez (Sin City) and Tony Scott (Domino). Studio wizard Rodriguez alone plays in his garage like film's version of Prince, while Scott keeps production time Timbaland-style, but it almost doesn't matter when you have a singular talent and voice like Rourke on hand. This big-screen soul survivor smolders when the mix gets dark and gritty, but don't call it a comeback.

Steven Rosen
1. BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN

Ang Lee's melancholy, romantic and enormously moving story about secret love between two macho cowboys (Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal) did more than just expand the western genre to include gays. It also rejected all the phony stylized mythos that has petrified recent westerns (see Tommy Lee Jones' The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada) in favor of being about real people living in a real America. Credit also goes to the source material, E. Annie Proulx's short story and the screenplay by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana.

2. CAPOTE

Many social historians say Truman Capote's 1965 "non-fiction novel" In Cold Blood established pop culture's tilt toward romanticizing and sympathizing with the outsider violent criminal at the expense of the victims. That makes a film about the author and the circumstances behind his literary masterpiece relevant and important, and Philip Seymour Hoffman's perfect performance as the eccentric author was a towering, mesmerizing acting achievement.

3. GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK

George Clooney's second directorial effort was a showcase for a keen mind making smart choices — selecting a fabulous David Straitharn as principled CBS journalist Edward R. Murrow and surrounding him with a great cast; filming in black-and-white to match use of archival footage of Murrow's nemesis, the evil Sen. Joe McCarthy; and co-writing a screenplay that squarely places the action in the pressurized, real world of early-1950s television and politics. And there are touches of saving-grace humor.

4. THE SQUID AND THE WHALE

Noah Baumbach's autobiographical account of being raised by flawed, quarrelsome, caring, hyper-articulate, literary and divorcing Brooklyn parents was painfully funny. Laura Linney was typically superb and the bearded Jeff Daniels gave maybe his best performance to date. A short film with a too-abrupt ending, it left me wanting a sequel.

5. MY SUMMER OF LOVE

In this cautionary yet romantic British production about two girls who have an affair, director/co-writer Pawel Pawlikowski combined a sense of dreamy, impressionistic reverie with the blunt scenes of working-class life that showed the influence of Mike Leigh or Ken Loach. The result was haunting.

6. ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW Strange, funny, arty, a little bit borderline creepy yet also very understanding about the lonely hearts of children, the elderly and shy people of all ages, director/writer/star Miranda July's first feature marked her as a gifted, quirky auteur to watch.

7. FORTY SHADES OF BLUE

The "blue" in the title gives away what Ira Sachs' small film is — a Jazz-like, minor-key mood piece about a volatile legendary Memphis record producer (Rip Torn doing a phenomenal job of channeling Sun Records' Sam Phillips), his young Russian girlfriend (Dina Korzun, equally good), and his adult son (Darren E. Burrows).

8. THE WILD PARROTS OF TELEGRAPH HILL, MARCH OF THE PENGUINS and GRIZZY MAN

In an outstanding year for nature documentaries, the first two lovingly portrayed our kinship with animals — birds, in both cases — while the last, from Werner Herzog, warned about taking anthropomorphism too far.

9. CACHE

An end-of-year release getting a slow rollout from Sony Classics, this sociopolitical French thriller from Austrian director Michael Haneke played with the way we watch and are watched a la Rear Window, as well as with our expectations of what a suspense film should be. It stars Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche as an upper-middle-class couple being video-stalked.

10. WALLACE & GROMIT: CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT

Britain's Nick Park eschewed computer animation for old-fashioned stop-motion animation of clay figures. Also old-fashioned was his reliance on good, funny storytelling unencumbered by both the cutesy pop-cultural wisecracks of Disney and Pixar films and the dreary mystical mumbo-jumbo of Hayao Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle. It was the year's best animated film.

Biggest Disappointment

Steven Spielberg using H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds to turn our fears, violence and painful memories of 9/11 into a violently "realistic" sci-fi movie that made no narrative sense on its own terms. Wells' book was a cautionary tale about the future; the film empty-headedly exploited our nightmares of the recent past. It was inhumane and ugly.

Favorite Movie Moment of 2005

In Lodge Kerrigan's Keane, a tough, heartbreaking little movie about a young man battling schizophrenia while trying to feel and express love, Damian Lewis had a frightening yet ecstatic scene in a bar trying to sing along to the Four Tops' "I Can't Help Myself" on the jukebox. As he screams for it to be louder, we see how much we all sometimes need the solace of music to protect us from danger.

Jason Gargano
1. A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE

David Cronenberg delivers his most potent head-trip to date, a look at the nature of violence, identity and family amid small-town America. Maria Bello is a revelation. And Viggo Mortensen actually seems human. I think.

2. MYSTERIOUS SKIN

Gregg Araki finally matches his fanciful aesthetic interests with a worthwhile narrative, Scott Heim's laceratingly vivid novel. Mysterious Skin tackles its disturbing subject matter with uncommon grace, anchored by Joseph Gordon-Levitt's thoroughly convincing performance as a black-souled kid of abuse.

3. BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN

A gay cowboy movie with wide distribution and little backlash? Props to Ang Lee, who turns the great American stereotype — the western — on its head via a stellar cast and an unyielding backdrop. The devastation of repression rarely hits this deeply.

4. THE SQUID AND THE WHALE

Destined to be a touchstone for kids of '80s divorce everywhere, Noah Baumbach's immaculately detailed ode to family dysfunction brims with humor and pathos.

5. CAPOTE

Philip Seymour Hoffman digs so deep we can't see the seams. In fact, he seems more real than the man himself. It's also highly perceptive about the nature of writing: the self-loathing, the brief bursts of insight, the loneliness, the doubt.

6. 2046

Forget its shifting narrative logistics, Wong Kar-Wai's core interest remains intact: romantic longing delivered via sumptuous, intoxicating imagery.

7. PRIDE & PREJUDICE

The classic remains the same, yet I was never less than deeply engaged. One problem: Keira Knightley an aesthetically inferior consolation prize?

8. OLDBOY and KUNG FU HUSTLE

Gleefully over-the-top in deceptively similar ways, these imports left my mouth agape for entirely different reasons.

9. GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK

It's about truth, a concept that's slipping from our grasp by the day.

10. GRIZZLY MAN and BOB DYLAN: NO DIRECTION HOME

Timothy Treadwell (aka Grizzly Man) and Bob Dylan have more in common than one might think, most obviously their preoccupation with identity transformation. The difference? One had the attention of the world, the other an audience of one.

Biggest Disappointment:

Despite being severely tempered by the abomination that was the previous two films and the blasphemous tinkering with the originals, I had hope for Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith. Well, despite an affecting finale that actually seemed rendered by a human being, it blew. The dismantling of my childhood is complete.

Best movie moment of 2005:

I'm a sucker: Pride & Prejudice's Keira Knightley and Matthew MacFadyen standing in the rain, saying everything while saying so little.

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