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 2: Munich, The 40 Year-Old Virgin, and Grizzly Man

munichbig

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 second batch.

munich posterMunich (Directed by Steven Spielberg)

“There is no peace at the end of this”

Easily Spielberg’s best since ‘Schindler’s List’, and comfortably among his best period. I’m not a huge fan of the famous sex scene towards the end, but otherwise a sober and rather daring take on an incredibly delicate topic. You wouldn’t expect Spielberg to be as neutral as he is here, but he proves to be a deeply humanist filmmaker.

He is also a master of his craft, and it shows in the way he constructs the tensest scenes. I know comparing movies is not always the best policy, but this is the kind of nuanced perspective that I would’ve loved to see from something like ‘American Sniper’. Tortured heroes are tortured for a reason, and compromising means you have to lose something in the process. And not just anything, but something that really hurts.

I don’t like to get too political, but I’m firmly against the idea of “nations”. This feels like a movie for me.

40yearoldvirgin posterThe 40 Year-Old Virgin (Directed by Judd Apatow)

The least indulgent, and thus best, of Apatow’s filmography. Probably the most immediately influential comedy of the new millennium. It started the trend of overrelying on improv that not even Apatow seems to be able to control anymore, but works rather wonderfully here. When Jane Lynch tells Steve Carell about the Guatemalan man who took her virginity and proceeds to sing in Spanish, that’s the kind of improv that I welcome in my movies.

Ten years after the fact, there is a lot of bro-ish and LGBT-phobic humor that hasn’t aged well. The laughs of the first half of the movie seem particularly lazy, but once the Catherine Keener enters the picture and the movie becomes more of a romantic comedy, we get moments of true emotion that elevate the film.

The most valuable player of this movie is its star. Almost everything Carell does here is fantastic. It’s one of the funniest, and also the most touching performances of his career. Proof os this is the closing dance sequence, where Carell commits to letting the ridiculous nature of the moment and not his actions drive the comedy, while Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd fail to produce any laughs with their mugging.

grizzlymanGrizzly Man (Directed by Wener Herzog)

This is it. This is where our current notion of who is (and how we parody) Werner Herzog comes from.

First of all, Herzog is a masterful documentarian. Outright embracing the notion that no film can ever be objective, he comes out with a very strong point of view, but doesn’t let his thinking overwhelm the film.

It’s because this movie is a dialogue between Treadwell’s footage (acquired over many summers living with the bears), and Herzog’s manipulation of the recordings. And so, we have a fascinating story about a fascinatingly disturbed character, who ends up being the perfect protagonist for a Herzog movie.

Fitzcarraldo defied nature by pulling a ship up a mountain, and Treadwell does the same, by daring to live among the bears. But Treadwell’s obsession is driven by a certain kind of madness, and the sense of being an outcast in what he perceives as the “human world”. At the end, Treadwell can’t fight nature. In real life, no one can.

There really isn’t that much for me to say. It’s all there in the film. I can just point out the genius of putting together such different minds to tell this story about the ultimate dramatic irony.

2015 Movie Preview

Carol2015Preview

I’m not done looking back at the movies of 2014 just yet, but today, I can’t help but wanting to sneak a peek into the movies that are coming down the road. What cinematic adventures will 2015 hold for us? Well, let’s se…

The 5 Movies I’m Most Excited About:

Carol – For his first theatrical feature since I’m Not There, director Todd Haynes adapts Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt, a lesbian love story set in the 1950s. The amazing cast includes Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson, Kyle Chandler, and Carrie Brownstein. The only way I could be more excited for the next movie by the director of Safe and Far From Heaven would be if Julianne Moore were starring in it (here’s hoping she makes a cameo appearance!) 

Hail, Caesar! – I’m skeptical on whether or not the Coen Brothers’ next movie will actually be released in 2015. IMDb has February 5, 2016 as its release date, which makes me think it will probably premiere at Cannes or Venice, and will get an Oscar-qualifying run at the end of the year. It really doesn’t matter when it’s released, there is no way I’m not seeing a Coen Brothers movie. This one is supposed to be a comedy about a “fixer” in 1950s Hollywood. The cast includes Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Ralph Fiennes, and Josh Brolin, so…

TomorrowlandSo far, director Brad Bird has directed three animated classics (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Ratatouille), and his live action debut resulted in one of the best action movies of the decade (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol). His new movie is a science fiction adventure inspired by the futuristic section of Disneyland. Seems like Hollywood might be giving me a present, because the movie opens May 22, a day after my birthday.

That’s What I’m Talking About – There is little known about this movie besides the fact that it is a spiritual sequel to Dazed and ConfusedIt doesn’t matter, after Before Midnight and BoyhoodI will follow Richard Linklater wherever he’s going.

Queen of the Desert – After years of hearing about Werner Herzog’s next project, this is supposed to be playing at the Berlin Film Festival! It’s a movie about the life of Gertrude Bell starring Nicole Kidman. It also features Robert Pattinson as T.E. Lawrence, but the thing I’m really excited about is Herzog returning to narrative features.

Last Year’s Movies That Will Be Released in 2015 (and I’m Most Excited About):

The Look of Silence – Director Joshua Oppenheimer’s follow-up to the magnificent The Act of Killing has been described as sort of a response to that movie, taking a look at the Indonesian genocide from the side of the victims instead of the culprits. It will open in America sometime in July.

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter – I’ve been waiting for this movie since it premiered almost a year ago at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. It stars Rinko Kikuchi as Kumiko, a woman who VHS tape of the Coen Brothers’ Fargo and decides to go to Minnesota looking for the movie’s buried treasure. If that doesn’t sound awesome to you, then I don’t think you’re reading the right blog. The wait is over on March 15.

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence – Winner of the Golden Lion at the 2014 Venice Film Festival, all that I’m basing this decision is Swedish director Roy Andersson’s particularly off-beat sense of humor. That should be more than enough. No American release date has been announced yet, though.

Clouds of Sils Maria – The one thing that keeps me from being too excited about Sils Maria is that Chloë Moretz is in it… On the other hand, it’s the new movie by French auteur Olivier Assayas, and it stars Juliette Binoche as an aging actress, so I’m still very excited. It opens on limited release April 10.

Maps to the Stars – I kind of hated David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolisbut according to the Golden Globes this is supposed to be a comedy -or a satire at the least. There’s no way I won’t see it really, since it stars two of my favorite actresses (Julianne Moore and Mia Wasikowska).

Movies I’m Cautiously Optimistic About (But Will Definitely See)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens – I have grown too cynical to be too excited about the first Star Wars movie in ten years (even if George Lucas is not involved). Still, I must admit the trailer did bring up some awesome childhood memories. I mean, what am I going to do? Not see it?

Avengers: Age of Ultron – Kind of opposite to the Star Wars situation, if I were basing my enthusiasm in the last Avengers movie (and writer-director Joss Whedon’s talent), I should be really excited. The truth is that that last trailer, and the recent streak of underwhelming Marvel movies have me very cautious about what I’m going to see.

Trainwreck – Every single one of Judd Apatow’s movies has been worse than the last, culminating with the atrocious This is 40. Why am I excited about his latest project, then? Well, because it was written by and stars comedian Amy Schumer, who might bring a smarter and fresher take to Apatow’s wandering and self-indulgent style.

Inside Out – After a couple of disappointments, the trailer for Pixar’s newest movie doesn’t look all that promising, but considering the man in charge is Pete Docter (Monster’s Inc, Up), I’m willing to give it a try.

The Hateful Eight – I wasn’t a fan of Django Unchainedso having Tarantino go back and make another western isn’t very exciting to me. Then again, Tarantino is a smart and fun director, so I’m hoping he comes up with something great, and weirdly enough, the fact that Christoph Waltz isn’t in the movie gets a big sigh of relief from me.

Movie I’m Not Excited About

Knight of Cups – Terrence Malick directs a movie that is supposed to put you in the mind of Christian Bale? No thank you…

Top 5: My Favorite German Movies

Germany Champion

In honor of Germany winning the FIFA World Cup for the fourth time (and the first time in more than twenty years), I decided to do a quick list of my favorite German films. Now, the thing about the great German filmmakers of the silent and early sound period, is that many of them had to leave their country during World War II in order to keep making great movies. That is why many of the great directors of the classic Hollywood period (Billy Wilder, Ernst Lubitsch, Erich von Stroheim) were either German or Austrian. Similarly, many of the best directors of the German New Wave made some of their best films in America (like Wim Wenders’s Paris, Texas and Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man). This makes it a little difficult to narrow down what exactly I should count as “German” movies, so I’ve decided to limit this list to movies made by German filmmakers in which the primary language spoken in German. Without further ado, here are my five favorite German movies in chronological order…

The Last Laugh GerThe Last Laugh (Der Letzte Man – F.W. Murnau, 1924) I think this movie is mostly known nowadays for providing the inspiration for the design of Batman’s nemesis, The Joker, which is a pity, because The Last Laugh is one of the greatest movies of the German Expressionism movement of the 1920s. Murnau, of course, was one of the most brilliant directors to ever live, and despite the fact that he tragically died in a car accident at the age of 42, his output includes some of cinema’s early masterpieces. The Last Laugh stars Emil Jannings as a hotel doorman whose life is destroyed when he loses his job. The movie is notable for only featuring a single title card, showing Murnau’s proficiency at telling a fantastic story only through images. The movie not only shows Murnau’s magnificent talent as a filmmaker, but his value as a deeply humanist storyteller.

M Ger(Fritz Lang – 1931) Fritz Lang was another of the great directors of the German Expressionism. His movies include the silent classic Metropolis, but my favorite of his is his first sound movie, M, which stars great character actor Peter Lorre in his breakout role. He plays a child murderer, and most of the film is dedicated to the police’s search to capture him. M is an incredibly dark movie, where men walk through the shadows in the middle of a decadent and seedy city. The movie was made shortly before the Nazis took power, and one can see how the director was deeply concerned and disgusted with the direction his country, which was already experiment incredible political chaos during the 20s and early 30s, was headed.

Aguirre-Wrath-Of-God-9457_6Aguirre, the Wrath of God (Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes – Werner Herzog, 1972) Werner Herzog is, in my opinion, one of the best living filmmakers, and Aguirre might very well be his masterpiece. The movie stars Klaus Kinski, in his first of five memorable collaborations with Herzog, as Spanish conquistador Lope de Aguirre, an obsessively cold-blooded man who ventures into the Peruvian rainforest in a doomed quest to find the lost city of El Dorado. None other than Roger Ebert named this one of the ten best movies ever made, so let the most eloquent man talk about the movie: (from his 1977 review) “Aguirre, Wrath of God is an obsessive film, about obsession. Because it is more or less based on fact, it’s all the more disturbing: Here is what greed and madness can bring human beings to. Herzog’s other films sometimes speak unclearly; this one speaks in blunt, unforgiving despair.”

Ali Fear Eats the Soul GerAli: Fear Eats the Soul (Angst essen Seele auf – Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1974) Fassbinder is the second director on this list who died at a tragically young age (he was only 37). Besides giving his movies some of the best titles of cinema history (you can’t get any better than The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant), he was one of the most talented and soulful German directors. The film tells the story of the sad romance between a sixty-year-old German woman and a Moroccon immigrant, as well as the horrific reaction that their relationship sparks in the people around them. It’s an incredibly powerful look at immigration and xenophobia; a lovely movie that feels as urgent now as it probably did back then.

Alice in the CIties GerAlice in the Cities (Alice in den Städten – Wim Wenders, 1974) Of the movies in this list, this is the one that holds the most special place in my heart. There should be a word to describe the specific movie genre of lost men wandering around with little children. In this case we’re dealing with a German photographer who’s going back to Germany after finishing working in the U.S., who suddenly sees himself taking care of the daughter of a woman, and going all around Germany to try to find the house of her grandmother. Don’t be fooled by the premise, it is an incredibly sweet movie, and one that moves relatively slowly, but also shows some of the most unmannered and simple filmmaking I have ever seen. It’s the rare movie that touched me because of the earnestness of its simplicity.