The Best Movies of 2005

top ten 2005
This is the official end of the 2005 Project, which followed last year’s Summer of ’92 in my obsessive quest to determine what is the best movie of my lifetime. The “closing ceremony”, so to speak, is a list of my top ten favorite movies of that year.

I’ve always remembered 2005 as one of the best years of my life. It mostly has to do with a number of personal reasons, but I was 13 at the time, which makes it right around the time I was discovering “grown-up” movies and television. However, fond memories and contemporary realities are different, and my taste has changed quite dramatically since then. Back then, my favorite movies of the year were A History of Violence, Match Pointand The Squid and the WhaleOnly one of those three movies remains in my top ten. Wanna find out what movies are on the list and why? You just have to keep reading…

Top ten best movies of 2005

Disclaimer: There are a couple of movies I wanted to watch before writing this article, but couldn’t find a decent copy of. I’ve made peace with catching up with most of them at some point in the future, but the one I’m really bummed I couldn’t get a hold on is Romanian director Cristi Puiu’s Cannes-winning The Death of Mr. LazarescuIt is, by all accounts, an essential film, and I couldn’t write a “best of 2005” list without mentioning it.

Grizzly101. Grizzly Man
(Dir. Werner Herzog / 103 min. / USA)
One of the most unique and excellent cinematic experiments. The Discovery Channel had loads of footage to make a movie about the life and tragic death of Timothy Treadwell. But instead of just making the movie, they handed the footage to Werner Herzog, a man whose personality can only be described as the absolutely opposite of Treadwell’s. The result is a magnetic dialogue in which Treadwell’s love for nature blooms from the afterlife, and Herzog tries to re-assemble the life of a mind he can barely grasp.

Film Title: Munich.2. Munich
(Dir. Steven Spielberg / 164 min. / USA)
A strong contender for Spielberg’s greatest movie, Munich is now more relevant than ever. Clearly a response to 9/11 and the war on terror, Spielberg boldly says what no one was willing to say at the time, and what most people are still unwilling to admit: violence will only bring more violence. And he did it by examining one of the most difficult subjects in all of contemporary politics. Years from now, this will be one of the key movies to understanding the politics of our world. We will hopefully look at it as a sign of change, and not an early omen of our failures.

pride083. Pride & Prejudice
(Dir. Joe Wright / 129 min. / UK)
The most delightful experience on this list. Jane Austen is obviously a genius. Literary adaptation are often dully swallowed by their own prestige. The beauty of Wright’s movie is in how excited he seems to be not only to be telling this story, but to be telling it as a movie. Lighting, costumes, sets, camera movements, editing, score, sounds, choreography… no cinematic elements goes unexplored in turning this into a movie that shares the lively enthusiasm of Austen’s prose and its main protagonist.

squid074. The Squid and the Whale
(Dir. Noah Baumbach / 81 min. / USA)
Of all the movies in this list, this one hit me in the most personal way. The life of the characters in Baumbach’s autobiographical movie has enough small similarities with my own personal history as to make me identify and consider some of the most upsetting elements about the aftermath of this disturbed family’s divorce. But it’s not that it only speaks to me, the level of detail Baumbach puts into the movie makes it ring true. There is enough here to find multiple ways into the mind of these characters. It’s not a “nice” movie, but it’s a deeply genuine one.

proposition pearce5. The Proposition
(Dir. John Hillcoat / 104 min. / Australia)
A perfectly made Australian western, The Proposition follows in the tradition of the genre by using its conventional set-up to explore deeper and darker elements of the soul. It not only makes reference to the most violent passages of Australia’s history, but it uses the wild frontier to examine the nature of justice, and how the cold and analytical nature of reason is easily defeated by the boiling hot passion of our humane feelings. These feelings make us human, but are they our greatest strength, or our biggest flaw?

newworld066. The New World
(Dir. Terrence Malick / 135 min* / USA)
I have a limited experience with Malick, but this is the only one of his movies that has truly spoken to me. The visuals, aided by genius cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, are amazing, and the structure of the pre-existing history of Jamestown and Pocahontas give Malick solid ground to build on. It might seem a little too new age-y at the start, but as it goes on, The New World reveals that by being fascinated with the world of the natives, John Smith is as complicit as anyone in Pocahontas’s tragic end. There is no way of approaching the virgin land without changing it forever.

threeburials057. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
(Dir. Tommy Lee Jones / 121 min. / USA)
There are imperfect elements to this screenplay, but the fact that both of Jones’s movies as a director have gotten as little recognition as they have is just criminal. In this beautiful allegorical tale, the friendship of a rugged all-american rancher and an undocumented Mexican immigrant is put to the test in the form of a typical Western quest across the Texan border. It’s quite a magical movie, full of poetic metaphors and heartbreaking parables about the human relationships between the two countries. On a more superficial level, Jones speaking Spanish is a delight.

warworlds088. War of the Worlds
(Dir. Steven Spielberg / 116 min. / USA)
Dismissed as corny and poisoned by Cruise’s bad publicity upon release, just a decade has been enough for me to recognize the gigantic intentions of this movie. Sure, the more corny aspects are still there (it is, after all, Spielberg), but then again, this *is* Spielberg. And this might very well be the quintessential disaster movie of our time. A movie that, through imagery and directorial strength, harkens back to the most primal fears of humanity in a world that has met the holocaust, 9/11, and global warming.

chappelle099. Dave Chappelle’s Block Party
(Dir. Michel Gondry /  103 min. / USA)
I considered this a fun movie when I first saw it. Nine years later, it shines as a defiant political document. Its most radical characteristic? It’s optimism. Chappelle is a great performer, but he is also a very intelligent man. On the face of the Bush administration back then, and on the face of gentrification and police violence now, Chappelle’s love-letter to the “hood” becomes an idealistic and powerful cry towards tolerance, community, and understanding. The funniest, most entertaining deeply radical film you’ll ever see.

Qi Shu10. Three Times
(Dir. Hou Hsiao-Hsien / 120 min. / Taiwan)
Determining the 10th spot was quite hard for me. I seriously considered Brokeback Mountain, Cacheand Kiss Kiss Bang Bang for this spot, but at the end, even if I wasn’t *completely* in love with Hou’s multi-temporal love stories, there are very few movies that can compare to the very best moments in Three Times. I wasn’t a big fan of the obtuse modernity of its third act, but the second act is as audacious a filmmaking exercise as you’re going to find, and the first act is one of the most gloriously romantic segments I have ever seen in any movie. And even with my reservations towards some of the segments, the juxtaposition of these three love stories is quite powerful.

Honorable Mentions: Brokeback Mountain, Cacheand Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

And in case you’re curious, here are my favorite performances of 2005:

Lead Actor: Steve Carell (The 40 Year-Old Virgin), Robert Downey Jr (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), Tommy Lee Jones (The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada), Heath Ledger (Brokeback Mountain), Ray Winstone (The Proposition)

Lead Actress: Joan Allen (The Upside of Anger), Q’Orianke Kilcher (The New World), Keira Knightley (Pride & Prejudice), Qi Shu (Three Times), Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line)

Supporting Actor: Jeff Daniels (The Squid and the Whale), Val Kilmer (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), Barry Pepper (The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada), Mickey Rourke (Sin City), Donald Sutherland (Pride & Prejudice)

Supporting Actress: Amy Adams (Junebug), Taraji P. Henson (Hustle & Flow), Catherine Keeener (The 40 Year-Old Virgin), Laura Linney (The Squid and the Whale), Jena Malone (Pride & Prejudice)

2005 Project Batch 8 aka Tarantino Edition: Domino, Hustle & Flow, and The Devil’s Rejects

dominobanner
The 2005 Project continues. This time, I decided to do something a little different, as my research on the popular critical opinions of ten years ago landed on Quentin Tarantino’s list of his favorite movies of 2005. QT’s favorite movie was Sin City, which I’ve already written about (shocking that his favorite movie was the one in which he was a guest-director, isn’t it?), but here is a look at his other three favorites. I can’t find the original source of this information, so a little part of me thinks these may not be his real favorites, especially since, once put together, they look like a very obvious list of “movies Tarantino would like”. Anyway, here are my thoughts…

dominoposterDomino (Directed by Tony Scott)
It took a lot of people -myself included- way too long to realize that, out of the two Scott brothers, Tony was the more interesting auteur. While Ridley has made a career out of coasting on the goodwill of ‘Alien’ and ‘Blade Runner’, Tony was at the forefront of pushing a certain filmmaking style to its limits. And ‘Domino’ seems to be the culmination of said push.

If you thought Michael Bay movies couldn’t be more chaotic and mindless, it’s because you haven’t seen this movie. Based on the true story (“sort of”) of bounty hunter Domino Harvey (who Tony Scott was friends with), ‘Domino’ is a piss-yellow pastiche of schizophrenic editing, unnecessarily complicated plot, and hyperactive cinematography. Judging from this film, Scott doesn’t believe there is a scene that wouldn’t benefit from more shots, more cutting, more sound effects, more everything. If it sounds like too much, it’s because it is. Watching ‘Domino’ is exhausting.

I kind of admire Scott going all-in on such an aggressive aesthetic, but there is practically no way of defending ‘Domino’ as a good movie. Personally, I can’t handle its suffocating style, and the content of the movie doesn’t help. Supposedly, Scott hired screenwriter Richard Kelly (of Donnie Darko fame) to pen the movie after reading his script for ‘Southland Tales’. Those who have seen ‘Southland Tales’ will know it to be one of the most incoherent movies ever made. ‘Domino’ has very little to envy ‘Southland Tales’ as far as incoherence is concerned.

The story of a badass female bounty-hunter sounds like the premise for a movie with at least attempts at some feminist undertones, but ‘Domino’ seems too interested in giving male audience members a boner (be it through “tits”, or be it through violence), that I can’t really find an alternative reading. But believe me when I say that ‘Domino’ is such a bonkers movie that I tried to like it. At the end of the day, though, I couldn’t.

hustleandflowposterHustle & Flow (Directed by Craig Brewer)
I’m conflicted about ‘Hustle & Flow’. On the one hand, director Craig Brewer does a pretty fantastic job of immersing us in the world of these characters and the poorer parts of town during an unbearably warm Memphis summer. Brewer is a longtime Memphis resident, so that might have something to do with this. He crafts a movie that is almost always entertaining, and very committed to its main character and its themes of redemption on the face of impossibility.

The most memorable part of the movie, for me, is Taraji P. Henson’s performance. She has become a huge star playing a smart music executive in Fox’s ‘Empire’, but in her breakthrough role, she plays a shy pregnant prostitute who gets a small glimpse of a more fulfilling life. The expression on Henson’s face is priceless, as if the character were feeling these feelings for the first time in her life.

It’s a moving performance, that is nonetheless undercut by the blatant misogyny of the piece. The story of Henson’s characters (and the other prostitutes, if I’m being honest) is much more interesting to me than DJay’s. Terrence Howard was nominated for this role, but it’s hard for me to sympathize with a character and a movie that seem to think (at least on one level) that this man can’t achieve his dream because all these women are keeping him down.

The refrain of the song that is supposed to be DJay’s masterpiece basically says that “It’s hard out here for a pimp” because his money situation will result in a “whole lot of bitches jumping ship”. There are a couple of moments when we see the true ugliness of the relationship between this pimp and his women, but for the most part, he is sacrificing himself for his makeshift family. It’s a well made and well acted movie that nonetheless rubs the wrong way.

devilsrejectsposterThe Devil’s Rejects (Directed by Rob Zombie)
Rob Zombie’s ‘The Devil’s Rejects’ is a movie that is simply not made for me. Despite having a very dark and very stupid sense of humor that I really appreciate (the scene with the film critic is fabulously absurd), the movie doesn’t really apply that funny bone to its thrills and its carnage.

Sure, this is a movie about despicable people being despicable to one another (and I have to commend a movie so boldly twisted that it asks us, without any irony or redemptive arch, to sympathize with a group of serial killers), but the problem here is that Zombie pays too close a tribute to the exploitation movies of his youth. The obvious comparison when talking about homages to the 70s is Tarantino, who is a guy that, for all his flaws, knows how to create interesting characters and good stories within the stylistic frames of the B-movies he likes. Zombie skews so close to his inspirations, that his movie is similarly limited.

Limited in what way? Well, horror movies are not known for having good characters, and this one is no exception. Why lose time developing personalities when the characters are going to be killed off? It makes sense, in a practical way, and thus ‘The Devil’s Rejects’ ends up being a particularly gross movie with much appreciated touches of dark comedy. Which isn’t too bad, but it’s a pity, when you consider how much more interesting it would be if Zombie’s sense of humor and his thirst for extreme violence were better integrated. There are moments in this movie that made me laugh, and moments that made me quiver, but there were no moments that made me do both.

2005 Project Batch 7: The Constant Gardener, The Descent, and The Squid and the Whale

theconstantgardenerbanner

The 2005 Project continues with two disappointments, and a movie that revealed itself to be much more meaningful to my life than I remembered.

ConstantGardenerPosterThe Constant Gardener (Directed by Fernando Meirelles)

Fernando Meirelles’s style of filmmaking has gotten very tired in very little time. I mean, it has been ten years, but we still have shaky, faux-documentary style thrillers, but in comparison to more precise directors like Michael Mann and Paul Greengrass, Meirelles seems like an amatuer. The reason? There is a lot of cutting, a lot of shaking, a lot of coverage, a lot of angles, but the saturation of images doesn’t seem to be saying much at all.

This is not to say that there aren’t good things about ‘The Constant Gardener’. It’s cinematography is messy and incongruent, but the editing (by Claire Simpson), creates some interesting rhythms. Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz are at the top of their game in the lead roles of a couple trapped in the middle of a pharmaceutical conspiracy. As a matter of fact, the nature of the relationship (why does Weisz’s fierce activist marry Fiennes’s cowardly diplomat) is a bigger and more interesting mystery than the one suggested by the plot. We all know pharmaceutical companies are bad, we don’t need the fact to be revealed in a three-act structure.

In a way, ‘The Constant Gardener’ embarks in a doomed mission. It is the type of movie that has an agreeable, humane, message, but fails in execution. This is the problem of being (or at least looking like) an “important” movie. You can’t be imperfect, you can’t be silly. If you are, then you’re less “important”, and you fail. ‘The Constant Gardener’ doesn’t exactly fail. But it is unsubtle in a way that doesn’t help yet another movie about African suffering that has a straight white male as its protagonist.

descentposterThe Descent (Directed by Neil Marshall)

By and large, horror movies are not my thing. At least not in the traditional definition of the genre. I appreciate movies that succeed at being particularly haunting, but if we’re talking straight-up horror, well, I tend to only like those if they are particularly fun (like Drag Me to Hell), or extremely well-made (like last year’s The Babadook). Neil Marshall’s ‘The Descent’, while not without merit, is neither of those things.

‘The Descent’ was widely praised upon its release, so why don’t I like it? I think it’s because I’m a big character guy, and horror characters, for some reason, tend to be bland and forgettable (maybe so we won’t miss them when they die?). The women of ‘The Descent’ are a decent try at making interesting, psychologically complex characters, but they don’t do it for me. The first part of the movie, before the “adventure” begins, is insipid both in style and in substance. Once we get into the cave, the stage is set for jump-scares and gory violence. There are some decent sequences here, but at the end of the day, I just don’t care.

On a more positive note, what does ‘The Descent’ get right? The feeling of claustrophobia. The scariest parts of the movie are not when the Gollum-like creatures attack, but when the cave starts to crumble on top of our protagonists. Call me crazy, but if your idea of fun is to go into a deadly narrow cave, then I think you probably deserve to die in there.

squidandthewhaleposterThe Squid and the Whale (Directed by Noah Baumbach)

I saw this for the first time in early 2006, I kind of loved it, but I couldn’t really figure out why. I was still a very impressionable movie watcher, and a couple of elements jumped out and stayed with me ever since. Watching it again for the first time, removed (at least a little bit) from my teenage years, turns out to be revealing. I see a lot of myself, and my life, in this movie. The things that happen here are a little nastier than my own experience (or at least that’s what I like to believe), but there is enormous, honest truth in ‘The Squid and the Whale’.

Setting the more personal stuff aside, the more I watch from Noah Baumbach, the more I’m impressed and interested in him as a director. He made this one after co-writing The Life Aquatic, and it was produced by Wes Anderson. You can see some of the influence in the dialogue, but unlike Anderson’s calculated surfaces, ‘The Squid and the Whale’ has a guttural sense of immediacy (maybe influenced by Cassavetes?). The movie it reminded me the most of, is last year’s Listen Up Philip by Alex Ross Perry, another fascinating director.

I’m afraid I can’t write much more about ‘The Squid and the Whale’ (maybe I’ll try in the future). But I think it is a hilarious movie, often infuriating, touching. Some of the things that happen here, and some of the characters’ points of view make me feel particularly uncomfortable, but only because I can see myself in them. This might be too personal a reason to like a movie, but if what we search in movies is “truth”, then this is a successful movie.

2005 Project Batch 6: Match Point, Sin City, and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

MatchPointCover
I’m having so much fun watching all the movies in this 2005 Project, I hope you’re having fun reading these write-ups.

MatchPointposterMatch Point (Directed by Woody Allen)

The first time I saw this, I was thirteen years old. It was my first Woody Allen. I knew at the time (as I do now) that it was a weird place to start, but I loved it nonetheless. The second time I saw it, it was in my Theater 101 class. We were talking about modern interpretations of what constitutes “tragedy”. There was a lot of talk about luck, punishment, and Dostoyevsky.

This is my third time watching the movie, and the time I’ve enjoyed it the least. I still think it’s a pretty good movie, I just don’t love it like I used to. I won’t lie and say that this is not influenced by the fact that I’ve since watching ‘Crimes and Misdemeanors’, which this movie resembles a lot. The themes are similar, but to be honest, I prefer ‘Crimes’s exploration of guilt more than I do ‘Match Point’s exploration of luck (it just isn’t as interesting a topic).

What ‘Match Point’ does wrong is that it over-explains its themes, especially in the hallucinatory sequence towards the end. What ‘Match Point’ does well, is present us with a Woody who can still flex certain unexpected muscles. It might seem like faint praise to like ‘Match Point’ because it’s so different to Woody’s other movies, but it kind of is the reason why I like it.

Also, Matthew Goode is so cool. We need more Matthew Goode in our movies.

SinCItyposterSin City (Directed by Robert Rodriguez “and” Frank Miller)

How come ‘Sin City’ was greeted with a fairly positive reception back in 2005, and its sequel, ‘Sin City: A Dame to Kill For’ was outright despised when it came out last year? After rewatching ‘Sin City’ (which I thought was ok on its original release), I can only conclude that critics and audiences were responding mostly to its visual style (which was a novelty at the time), and were turning on the blinds towards its ridiculously backwards ideologies.

Yes, on the one hand our internet culture has (thankfully) evolved in a way where a movie as misogynistic as this one can no longer be released without a thousand think-pieces criticizing it. On the other, more people should’ve complained back when it premiered.

Frank Miller is a terrible writer, and ‘Sin City’ shows why translating a comic book verbatim to the screen is a bad idea. You know what they say, “everything works on paper”, but Miller’s prose cannot survive a journey to the movies. I am just not patient enough to deal with two hours of righteous, old, white, tough, invincible, brooding, anti-heroic men. This is male fantasy bullshit both its in sexual politics and its violence (I can’t believe how many people are stabbed, sliced, or shot in the dick).

That being said, there are some bright spots. I particularly enjoy Brittany Murphy, who seems aware of how ridiculous the words she’s saying are. And particularly great is Mickey Rourke, who takes the whole thing seriously and gives into a fascinatingly problematic and fucked up character.

MelquiadesEstradaThe Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (Directed by Tommy Lee Jones)

‘The Homesman’, the second feature directed by actor Tommy Lee Jones is one of the best movies I saw last year. Despite it being absolutely amazing, not many have even heard about it. The same can be said for ‘The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada’, which was Jones’s first feature, and despite winning two awards at Cannes (actor for Jones, screenplay for Guillermo Arriaga), didn’t get much attention when it was released stateside.

Both movies are very similar in structure. They’re both revisionist westerns, and they both center on two opposing characters going together on a mission that has an ending more melancholic than satisfying. But the things they have to say about the Western -which is the genre best suited to represent America and its history- are quite different.

At the center of ‘Melquiades Estrada’ is the relationship between the United States and Mexico. Jones’s character, Pete, is American, and his buddy Melquiades (Julio Cedillo) is Mexican. Melquiades gets killed, and its up to Pete to fulfill the promise of taking his body south of the border to his family.

The big symbolic element here is Melquiades himself, or actually, Melquiades’s corpse, which Pete treats with a love and devotion that has only been seen… well, in any two male characters who bond in a Western. -With Brokeback Mountain, and now this movie- was 2005 a banner year for pointing out the homoeroticism in the mythical American West? In any case, there has to be some sort of symbolism in an American carrying and caring for the corpse of an undocumented Mexican worker.

You shouldn’t doubt the symbolism is there, because like I said before, the movie was written by Guillermo Arriaga, the unsubtle man responsible for writing ’21 Grams’ and ‘Babel’. Luckily, this is his best screenplay. lt’s not flawless (we spend more time than necessary with certain supporting characters), but it’s slick and ripe for interpretation.

Jones is a great actor (and he gives one of his best performances here), but he is an equally great director. He should make more movies, and more people should see and analyze ‘The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada’.

2005 Project Batch 5 a.k.a. The Romance Edition: Brokeback Mountain, Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, and Pride & Prejudice

brokebackmountainWas I in a romantic mood? I don’t know, but the 2005 Project churns along with three movies about love, and the many ways in which it can be complicated.

brokebackposterBrokeback Mountain (Directed by Ang Lee)

Although I’ve always found ‘Brokeback Mountain’ to be a really good movie, there’s always been something that keeps me from outright loving it.

I don’t know what it is, because I do believe this is the perfect update of a classic, old-fashioned forbidden romance for the 21st century. It is not really trying to make a political statement by using the cowboy image and applying it to homosexual rights and relationships, but rather making a political statement by virtue of the inner life of its own characters.

This movie’s power lives within its characters, and so does its conflict. The movie’s biggest success is that it is not a story about star-crossed lovers being kept down by society, but the story of two men (and Heath Ledger’s character especially) who are the worst enemy of their own relationship. Ennis Del Mar just wants to be a “regular” guy, with a wife and family. He is a product of the society he grew up in, and can’t help himself in his tragedy. “Love is a force of nature” was the movie’s tagline, and it’s surprisingly loyal to the film’s themes.

And yes, it is incredibly well made. Heath Ledger’s performance in particular is beyond moving, and Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography nostalgic in its distant elegance. What, then, keeps me from loving the movie? I think there’s something about the pace of the film (compromised of mostly short scenes and sequences) that is the issue here. Because other than that, I can’t really find anything else that I don’t like.

corpsebrideposterTim Burton’s Corpse Bride (Directed by Tim Burton, Mike Johnson)

The title, as it appears in the opening credits, makes it seem like Burton is the protagonist of his own movie. Considering how much ‘Corpse Bride’ follows his patented visual style, I guess he kind of is.

Like most Burton films, though, ‘Corpse Bride’ starts out with a pretty cool premise, and doesn’t really know where to go with it except to the most conventional places imaginable. It’s curious, isn’t it, that one of the most idiosyncratic directors when it comes to visual design tends to so often go for traditionally and predictably structured screenplays.

Being familiar with Burton’s style means not being surprised by ‘Corpse Bride’, which houses a bunch of clever gags and a couple of lovely scenes (mostly when characters play the piano), but also falls in the trap of being as much like the animated movies that have come before it as it can. Not necessarily in its morbid fascinations, but in its structure. The music by Danny Elfman is forgettable, as are most of the supporting characters. In short, ‘Corpse Bride’ is a neat idea that the filmmakers didn’t know how to stretch into a feature.

It’s worth noting that this is one of the first features animated by Laika, one of the best animation studios working today. The animation is a little rigid compared to her later iterations, but not less beautiful (it might have more to do with the design of the characters than the quality of the work). Visually speaking, even if a little familiar thanks to the Burton connection, ‘Corpse Bride’ looks very good. Luckily for Laika, they later found better scripts to work on.

prideandprejudiceposterPride & Prejudice (Directed by Joe Wright)

We all have our favorite directors. We follow them anywhere, no matter how bizarre their next project sounds, and we often (but not always) forgive and forget their mistakes. Some of my favorites, like Wes Anderson and the Coen Brothers, are loves that many cinephiles will share. A much more singular love of mine, I’ve found out, is my admiration for the work of Joe Wright. I don’t seize to be amazed by the exciting twists and turns Wright’s career has taken, especially when most filmmakers couldn’t have gone anywhere but down after bursting into the scene with a first feature as perfect as his.

Wright’s ‘Pride & Prejudice’ is a triumph. It is the rare literary adaptation that is actually excited to be cinema, as it looks at the world around it with the same curiosity as its protagonist. And Wright’s cinematic “tricks” are not here because of edgy impatience, but merely in order to best serve the material, communicating through images and not only with words (something that most novels forget when they make their way to the screen). I simply can’t resist the tableaus Wright (and cinematographer Ronan Osin) create with the moving camera, and how pages of the novel are translated into a single image.

Lizzie Bennett (played wonderfully by Keira Knightley) is one of the greatest female heroines, and ‘Pride & Prejudice’ one of the finest novels by one of the finest writers ever. You would have to be a huge idiot to screw this movie up, so I’m incredibly thankful that someone as inspired and passionate as Wright got to make it. Some of the most impressionistic images in this movie could be described as outright delicious. I don’t care that not many people are as into Wright as I am, I am more than happy to have him all to myself.

2005 Project Batch 4: Good Night and Good Luck, Wallace and Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit, and Caché

cachebannerThe 2005 Project continues…

goodnightandgoodluckposterGood Night and Good Luck (Directed by George Clooney)

Consider the fact that this was made right in the middle of the Bush presidency, and that, at its core, it was clearly intended to be a straight-on critique of the President’s policies, his decisions regarding the war in Iraq, and especially the disappointing coverage of the news on the part of the American press by looking at the great journalists of the past.

Also consider the fact that, years later, when Aaron Sorkin tried to do essentially the same thing in “The Newsroom”, he came up with one of the most tone-deaf and out-of-touch television series of the past decade.

With those things in mind, I can’t help but be incredibly impressed by how elegant a movie ‘Good Night and Good Luck’ is. The secret of its success: referring to the original material, by showing actual footage of Senator McCarthy, and turning the movie into something as close to a documentary as possible. The fact that the black-and-white photography, the production design, and the costumes all so perfectly evoke the time certainly help. And I’m a sucker for depictions of interesting work environments, so I got a kick out of watching these people be great at what they do.

This elegance makes this clearly Clooney’s best movie (that I’ve seen), and hinted at a bright career that has so far, sadly, not lived up to the expectations. Think of the puzzling messiness and lack of structure of ‘The Monuments Men’, or the immature and simplistic script of ‘The Ides of March’. I can hardly believe it’s the same man that was confident enough to rest a movie’s success on David Strathairn’s face.

wallaceandgromitposterWallace and Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (Directed by Nick Park, Steve Box)

On the one hand, it’s easy to see that Wallace and Gromit are better suited to a shorter format. On the other, this is a mighty fine movie.

Most raves of the movies at the time it came out pointed out how refreshing it was, amongst a sea of computer animated Shrek knock-off, to see proof of human involvement in the animation (a frequent example was how you can see traces of the animators’ fingertips in the clay figurines).

The sad part is that those feelings remain true to this day. We still have Laika, but with Ghibli calling it quits (at least for now) and Aardman seemingly inactive, I’m wondering if anything but CG will ever come back to the mainstream.

As for ‘The Curse of the Were-Rabbit’, it might overstay its welcome a little bit, but it still features the clever wit of the Wallace and Gromit shorts, and it gets points for Helena Bonham Carter’s wonderful Lady Tottington, and introducing us to Ralph Fiennes’ comedic talents.

As one of the most popular reviews on Letterboxd points out, it’s kind of amazing that Dreamworks gave Nick Park a bunch of money so he could make what is essentially a movie about “marrow-growing contests in Lancashire”. Nick Park is a cool dude. I wish he worked more often.

CacheposterCaché (Hidden) (Directed by Michael Haneke)

First things first. That ending. I know. It’s frustrating. I don’t know what it means. Is it perhaps the ultimate example of Haneke’s contempt for the audience? Probably. However, Haneke is also a very talented dude. Watching ‘Caché’ as a mystery might be a pointless exercise. Watching it as metaphor might not.

I’ve found that beyond his fetishism, Haneke is quite a master when it comes to symbolism. What does ‘Caché’ have to say about the War on Terror, which was at full swing back when it premiered at Cannes? And what does it have to say about France’s (and Europe’s) history with other nations, particularly Islamic ones? In other words, why is the cock decapitated?

Perhaps more interestingly, how does ‘Caché’ read after the tragic events of earlier this year and the whole ‘Je suis Charlie’ campaign? Who or what is hidden here? Is it the camera that shoots these people’s lives? Or is it our main character’s (and thus France’s) history? How do we assign blame? How do we sleep at night? And why does Haneke insist on making movies about cruel children?

What does it all mean? Haneke may or may not have the answers, but his movies sure as hell inspire good conversation.

2005 Project Batch 3: The New World, Batman Begins, and Broken Flowers

TheNewWorldCover

Like I said in the previous post, I’ve been watching movies from 2005 and writing about some of them on my Letterboxd page. I’ve also been copying those thoughts and posting them in the blog. Just to clarify, these are not full-fledged reviews, but rather some quick thoughts (I’ll be watching so many movies that I couldn’t possibly write full-length reviews for all them).

Here’s the third batch.

TheNewWorldPosterThe New World (Directed by Terrence Malick)

I am not a Malick fanatic. I have only seen three of his movies, and of those, I would say ‘The New World’ is far and away the best one. Partly, because it has the clearest idea of them all: it is, essentially, the love story between John Smith and Pocahontas.

The Romance of it all gives the movie a strong base to stand on, and from there, it can become as profound and touching as Malick wants it to be. It could be read as another new age-y idea of man wanting to renounce civilization after being captivated by the power of living in harmony with nature, except it is not. It is something far more tragic. It engages head-on with the futility of the “civilized” man trying to return to nature. The second half of the movie, the one that focuses on Pocahontas, makes clear what the toll of this enterprise is.

It is also particularly interesting to watch ‘The New World’ just after watching ‘Grizzly Man’. They make for very interesting companion films. Aren’t both, after all, talking about man’s relationship to nature? While Herzog argues that searching for nature will kill man, Malick argues that man will kill nature by searching for it.

I don’t know. Am I onto something here? In any case, both are pretty amazing movies.

batmanbeginsposterBatman Begins (Directed by Christopher Nolan)

By now we know that you shouldn’t ask too many questions when watching a Christopher Nolan movie. You’re not supposed to ask “why”, but just give in to the thrill-ride of watching a filmmaker who is always driving forward. If you do this, I’m pretty sure you’ll have a good time with ‘Batman Begins’, especially in its first half, where the forward momentum is held together by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard’s propulsive score.

Once things settle down, the film starts to lose gas. It is never fully dead, but its latter half suffer from a unnecessarily complicated, and thus messy, plot. Many people point out to the confusing villain as one of the film’s biggest flaws, and I agree. This is a case where the exciting nature of the filmmaking does a lot for what is an otherwise not fully cooked screenplay. I like the movie’s core idea, of positioning Batman as a legendary figure in modern society, but I am not thrilled by the story around it.

brokenflowersposterBroken Flowers (Directed by Jim Jarmusch)

I first watched this when it first came out in DVD. I was thirteen, and I remember thinking that this was a movie in which “nothing happened”. And I didn’t even mean it in a pejorative way. My brain wasn’t ready to engage with a movie as apparently uneventful as this one. Ten years later, I have engaged with lots of movies that has far less going on in them than ‘Broken Flowers’.

Reading reviews of the time, the movie seems to have been mostly dismissed as another entry in the Bill Murray Midlife Crisis canon (this came out right after Lost In Translation and The Life Aquatic). I don’t think this is the best of those films, but it’s certainly the saddest, and it makes it worth look at the three as a very touching and genuine trilogy about emptiness.

The most effective element in ‘Broken Flowers’ is how committed it is to the emptiness at the center of the main character’s life. There is no Scarlett Johansson, or Owen Wilson, or Jaguar Shark here. Don Johnston’s life is completely mundane and absolutely meaningless. Thus, despite being often amusing, the movie ends up being a very painful tragedy. If nothing else, I absolutely love the movie’s ending.