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

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’.

Cannes 2014: Movies in Competition

Sils Maria

The official in competition line-up for the 2014 Palm D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival has been announced. I know little (if anything) about most of them, but you know how I love to make predictions about this kind of thing, so here are some comments and thoughts about the selected movies.The president of this year’s Grand Jury is great filmmaker Jane Campion, so that’s exciting too.

Clouds of Sils Maria (pictured above)
Directed by: Olivier Assayas
From what I can tell, this movie stars Juliette Binoche as an aging actress who is offered the part of the mother in a remake of the movie that made her famous when she was a young star. The movie also stars Kristen Stewart as Binoche’s assistant and Chloë Moretz as the new young actress playing Binoche’s old role. Now, those last two are not usually synonyms of great acting (especially Moretz, whom I can’t stand), but here’s hoping Binoche -one of the best actresses of her generation- and director Olivier Assayas can inspire them. After all, Assayas might very well be the best french filmmaker around, considering how his last three films Summer Hours, Carlos and Something in the Air (reviewed by me) are all fantastic.

Saint Laurent
Directed by: Bertrand Bonello
I have never seen a movie by Bonello, and biopics tend to be a rather boring genre. That being said, even if my hopes are not that big, I will see virtually anything that stars the beautiful Lea Seydoux, who is here playing Loulou de Falaise. Gaspard Ulliel also stars as the legendary fashion designer.

Winter Sleep
Directed by: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
I guess this will be the final push for me to finally watch Ceylan’s 2011 Once Upon a Time in Anatoliawhich I’ve heard nothing but great things about. So, the Turkish director returns to Cannes with Winter Sleep, which by most counts is largely perceived to be the front-runner for the Palm D’Or. I guess we’ll have to wait for that, but sight unseen, it seems like a very good bet.

Maps to the Stars (trailer)
Directed by: David Cronenberg
I loved A History of Violencereally liked Eastern Promisesliked A Dangerous Methodand didn’t care for Cosmopolis… does that mean that I will hate Maps to the Stars? I surely hope not, because I’m in the mood for loving a Cronenberg movie again, and despite the presence of the usually insipid Robert Pattinson, there’s also Olivia Williams, Mia Wasikowska, and Carrie Fisher playing herself. Anyway, all of that wouldn’t matter, because they had me the second I knew this was a Cronenberg film starring Julianne Moore.

Two Days, One Night (trailer)
Directed by: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
The Dardennes are as close to Cannes royalty as you’re going to get, and star Marion Cotillard is quickly becoming a Festival staple, having had films there for four years in a row now. This time she plays a woman who has 48 hours to convince her colleagues to give up their bonuses so she can keep her job. Even if the film is a masterpiece, I don’t know if the Jury will be willing to give the brothers a third Palm D’Or. Cotillard could finally win the Best Actress award, though.

Directed by: Xavier Dolan
This young Canadian filmmaker is so prolific it feels like a Film Festival can’t take place without him premiering a movie there. The details for this one have been kept very vague, but I’m interested, if only, because I really liked his last film, the transexual drama Laurence Anyways

The Captive (trailer)
Directed by: Atom Egoyan
Time to admit something that may or may not tarnish my reputation as a cinephile. I love The Sweet Hereafterand yet, I have never felt the need to watch any other Atom Egoyan movie. I know, I know. Anyways, this one has a similarly chilly setting as Ryan Reynolds look for his kidnapped daughter. Also, lots of Canadians in this year’s competition.

Goodbye to Language (trailer)
Directed by: Jean-Luc Godard
Sometimes I forget Godard is still alive and making movies. Maybe because his latest films have been very uninteresting to me. He has always been a filmmaker whose movies I’ve admired more than I’ve loved, although I must admit I haven’t seen that much of his filmography. This latest movie of his is in 3D, so that might be fun.

The Search
Directed by: Michel Hazanavicius
Stop all the presses, because I actually really liked The ArtistI know, sue me, but I thought it was one of the best, most entertaining and well crafted times at the movies in 2011. That being said, a remake of the Fred Zinnemann/Montgomery Clift 1948 film that exchanges post-war Berlin for Chechnya seems like the type of overtly sentimental drama that makes me think Hazanavicius might have become a little too full of himself after winning that Oscar. That the movie is almost two and a half hours long isn’t a good sign either, but hey, I’ll remain optimistic since Berenice Bejo is a good actress, and Annette Bening is also in this in a supporting role.

The Homesman (trailer)
Directed by: Tommy Lee Jones
So many mixed feelings here. I mean, Tommy Lee Jones is a cool dude, and I like westerns. I especially like his first movie, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, which was also a western (albeit a modern one). If I’m being honest, the only thing keeping me from being too enthusiastic about this movie is Hilary Swank, who… the better said about her the better.

Still the Water
Directed by: Naomi Kawase
I have never seen a Naomi Kawase movie, but here’s something interesting(ish) about me: if you tell me that something is Japanese, said thing becomes immediately cool in my mind. This applies to all things except, curiously, animated television series. Perhaps because I’ve actually seen enough of those to know better.

Mr. Turner
Directed by: Mike Leigh
Is Mike Leigh the best living film director? Catch me on the right day, and I’ll say “yes”. This passion project about the life of romantic painter J.M.W. Turner stars longtime collaborator Timothy Spall and might very well be my most anticipated movie of the year.

Jimmy’s Hall (trailer)
Directed by: Ken Loach
Theories on why I’ve always felt inexplicably exhausted just by the thought of watching a Ken Loach film are accepted in the comments, if you have any.

Foxcatcher (trailer)
Directed by: Bennett Miller
This is the story of John DuPont (Steve Carell) a schizophrenic man that killed Olympic Wrestler Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo). Channing Tatum also stars as Dave’s brother Mark. This movie was supposed to be released last year. Movies being pushed back aren’t usually a sign of confidence, but a premiere at Cannes speaks well for Foxcatcher. I am personally really excited for this movie, considering the awesome story, the awesome cast, the intriguing promise of Carell playing a very dramatic role, and director Bennett Miller’s track record (Capote, Moneyball).

Le Meraviglie
Directed by: Alice Rohrwacher
I don’t know anything about this movie besides the fact that it is Italian and stars Monica Bellucci.

Directed by: Abderrahmane Sissako
Sissako is the only African director in competition. African cinema is a gigantic blind spot for me, so I guess I should be working on that in the future.

Wild Tales
Directed by: Damian Szifron
Because this is an Argentinian film, it stars Ricardo Darín, who is apparently the only actor good enough to be the lead in an Argentinian movie.

Directed by: Andrey Zvyaginstev
IMDB says this about the movie’s plot: “A present day social drama spanning multiple characters about the human insecurity in a “new country” which gradually unwinds to a mythological scale concerning the human condition on earth entirely.” Now, call me a prejudiced person if you want, but that sounds like a movie a Russian director would make.

That’s the list, folks. Want me to do some predictions? Well, for the Palm D’Or I think your best bet is Winter Sleep. Leviathan and Sils Maria also sound like they could play a role. For actor, I’m thinking Timothy Spall (Mr. Turner) and for actress, Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night). As for what is going to be the big disappointment of the festival (and you know there will be at least one), right now I would say The Search… or maybe Maps to the Stars? This is all sight unseen, of course, and highly stupid, but there you go. You can go ahead and bet the farm.

*don’t go ahead and bet the farm*