Monday, January 30, 2006

Film Year In Review--2005

Overall, 2005 wasn’t that bad. (Compare to last year.) Probably because the midrange Hollywood offering were less painful than usual. Maybe because there were fewer sequels. Maybe because I missed most of the worst stuff*.

On the downside, the best stuff seemed weaker than usual. I don’t think there’s a single film on my top ten list that I don’t have some significant reservation about. That’s never happened before.

Before I start, a few ground rules. No shorts or made-for-TV movies or mini-series. While this is for films released in 2005, I include films released earlier overseas, or knocking around for a while at festivals, if they were only available theatrically to me in 2005.

My Top Ten list is near the bottom. You could skip down now, but don’t you prefer the suspense?

SPECIAL AWARDS AND PRIVATE THOUGHTS (MADE PUBLIC)

WORST PLOT TWIST: Bewitched—essentially a compendium of bad plot twists—is about a remake of the Bewitched sitcom where, unknowingly, they hire a real witch to play Samantha. (See?) Shirley MacLaine is Iris, the actress hired to play Endora. Now there is no reason to suspect Iris is a witch—there are even jokes premised on her not being a witch. But for some reason known only to director-writer Nora Ephron, halfway through the film, it turns out Iris is a witch, too. This is where I went from being bored to bothered and bewildered. (It actually gets worse, but you’ll have to rent the film to find out how.)

BEST TREND: The return of the R-rated comedy.

WORST TREND: The continuing disappearance of the theatrical audience. Movies are still best when experienced with others.

BIGGEST FAKE TREND: Political films are back.

IF YOU THOUGHT HEATH LEDGER MUMBLED IN BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN:
He’s almost incomprehensible as the surfer dude in Lords Of Dogtown. Of course, that does match the plot.

AS THE PLOT CHURNS: Kill The Bastards Already—In Capote, I got as tired as the title character waiting for the killers to die. Marry The Bitch Already—As much as I enjoyed the acting and the music, I found the endless years of footsie between John and June exasperating in Walk The Line. (By the way, I know both films are based on real life. That should be an excuse for a boring plot?)

SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW AWARD FOR "IT’S A GREAT TECHNIQUE, NOW WHEN ARE YOU GONNA MAKE A GOOD FILM WITH IT?": Sin City.

WORST TITLE: By far and away, Cinderella Man. As if the film didn't have enough trouble (see below, THE AUDIENCE GOT IT RIGHT), the title suggested this was less about boxing and more about Brokeback Mountain. Bonus points for the worst tagline: "When America was on its knees, he brought us to our feet." Still sounds fishy.

WHAT I LEARNED FROM SYRIANA: Big oil calls the shots in our foreign policy (I thought it was the pharmaceuticals). The U.S. Government can kill anyone in the world it wants to, at any time. Poverty causes terrorism (which explains all the terror in South America and Africa). If we’d just leave the Middle East alone, it would become an oasis of democracy. Best of all, Milton Friedman supports corruption.

PLOT HOLE YOU CAN FLY A 747 THROUGH: (SPOILER) The plot of Flightplan requires some of a jet’s crew kidnap Jodie Foster’s daughter while Jodie sleeps. For some reason, they don’t explain how the hundreds of passengers still awake don’t notice it. Honorable mention: War Of The Worlds. Tom Cruise and his family race around like maniacs through the film, though I could never quite figure why they thought where they were going was any safer than where they were.

WORST SEQUEL OR REMAKE: Ring Two. It’s easy to win this award. Simply throw out everything that was interesting about the original and replace it with nonsense. Honorable Mention: George Romero’s Land Of The Dead. It’s become a case of beating a dead zombie. Dishonorable Mention: The Longest Yard. Nuff Said.

BEST SEQUEL OR REMAKE: Almost by default, Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire (sequel) and King Kong (remake).

MOST UNNECESSARY SEQUEL OR REMAKE: Tie: I didn’t mind Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, but the original Willy Wonka movie is still available and works just fine. Worse, the new Bad News Bears took a classic and turned it into nothing. Honorable mention: It made a fine radio series, book series and TV series, so I’m not sure if we needed a film of Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.

HARDEST TO BELIEVE IT ACTUALLY GOT MADE (AT ANY PRICE): Jiminy Glick in LaLaWood.

FORBIDDEN FRUIT: I can’t read Brokeback Mountain as a gay film. It’s about infatuation, and a dream deferred. The relationship between Ennis and Jack has NO problem except they can’t get together enough. One assumes if they could finally escape from their harridan wives and live as they choose, after about three months of fishing and hunting and groping, some of the excitement would wear off.

Still, the film was well shot and acted. Ang Lee is back in his element, making films about (relatively) contemporary people without superpowers. My favorite relationship was actually between Ennis and his daughter.

THE WOODY QUESTION ANSWERED: For years I’ve wondered would I think Woody Allen’s "serious" films are so bad if I didn’t know he made them. Match Point answers the question in the affirmative. Woody, forced out of his element, makes a movie that allows one to forget it’s his.

The London settings are very nice, but what you’ve essentially got is a generic film. Very basic characters play out a story that feels more like an outline. There’s a nice twist at the end, but it’s not worth waiting two hours for. As for a message, alas, Woody still thinks showing real life doesn’t work out like the movies is deep.

DETROIT (MY HOMETOWN) IS AN ANGRY AND VIOLENT PLACE: The Upside Of Anger, Assault On Precinct 13 (which also shows us there’s a major forest somewhere downtown), Four Brothers. Of course, we already knew all this from 8 Mile.

IT’S THE MESSAGE, NOT THE MEDIUM: Pixar makes it look easy, but Madgascar, Robots and other movies reminds you that story is more important than quality of computer animation.

BEST OPENING SHOT: Cache starts with a dull establishing shot of an average street in Paris. It’s held throughout the credits, and then longer. Too long. Eventually, we realize we’re watching an anonymous videotape that has been delivered to the family that lives in the house in the shot. Suddenly, the most prosaic things seem ominous.

WORST CLOSING SHOT: Munich ends with a shot of the World Trade Center. It takes a lot of fancy explaining to interpret this as anything but dumb and forced.

THE AUDIENCE GOT IT RIGHT: Cinderella Man got great reviews, but really, while it was well done, it was a story we’ve seen before. A lot. The audience didn’t hate it, but they didn’t make it the major hit it was expected to be. King Kong was a hit, but not the super-blockbuster so many predicted. Once again, the audience recognized they’d seen this story before—in fact, if they had a good memory, they’d seen it done better and faster.

GOOD LUCK WITH ALL THAT: I was jazzed to see Good Night And Good Luck. I figured a taut, black and white Playhouse 90-type piece beating up on McCarthy would be fun. What’s more, Clooney has shown talent as a director. Instead, dullsville. Not only didn’t it move, it wasn’t relatable. For instance, when Robert Downey is talking about signing a loyalty oath, you don’t feel this is something rational (or otherwise rational) people could take seriously, like say, drug tests or sexual harassment classes today. Instead, it just seemed like an absurd artifact from a bygone era.

Nevertheless, showing a time that’s so different did afford a few valuable lessons. It used to be that a handful of self-important middle-aged white guys sitting in their offices got to decide what the news would be. It’s not quite so easy for them to set the agenda these days. Also, really going after a politician used to be a big deal, but now it’s done so commonly, almost reflexively, that, if anything, it’s being overdone.

CATEGORIES

WHY "ROMANTIC COMEDY" AND "ROOT CANAL" HAVE THE SAME INITIALS: The Wedding Date, Guess Who

TOOK A WHILE TO GET GOING, BUT ACTUALLY ENJOYABLE: In Her Shoes. The Family Stone

I DON’T CARE WHAT THE CRITICS SAY, I LIKED IT: The Producers, Mr. And Mrs. Smith (barely), Sahara

BEFORE YOU START SHOOTING, MAKE SURE THERE’S AN ENDING: Jarhead

BEFORE YOU START SHOOTING, MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A STORY: Lords Of Dogtown

TOO CLEVER BY HALF: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Syriana (a simplistic story told in a complex way)

SEEN IT BEFORE: All the sequels and remakes mentioned above, plus Cinderella Man, Coach Carter, Fun With Dick And Jane (actually better than the original), Assault On Precinct 13, The Honeymooners (ugh!), War Of The Worlds, Bewitched, Saw II. Special mention to Star Wars Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith, by far the best of the first trilogy.

BAD HISTORY: Kingdom of Heaven

BEAUTIFUL HISTORY: The New World

MORE FUN TO QUOTE THAN WATCH: Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic

NOT TOO SHABBY: Hitch, The Matador, Sky High, Batman Begins, Transamerica, Cache

NOT AS BAD AS I FEARED: The Island, Red Eye, Four Brothers, The Skeleton Key, Flightplan, Serenity, The Pacifier

PRETTY MUCH WHAT I EXPECTED: Bride And Prejudice, The Upside Of Anger, Hostage, The Aristocrats, Broken Flowers (Jarmusch often makes my top ten), In The Realm Of The Unreal, Capote, The Corpse Bride, Brokeback Mountain, Walk The Line

DISAPPOINTING: In Good Company, The Jacket, Sin City, Fever Pitch, Melinda And Melinda, Kung Fu Hustle (I love HK, but Stephen Chow has never done it for me), The Interpreter, Madagascar, Kicking And Screaming, Unleashed, Hustle & Flow, Just Like Heaven, Zathura, The Ice Harvest, Elektra, 2046 (ouch), Match Point, Munich, Good Night And Good Luck

BUBBLING UNDER THE TOP TEN

Might have made it on a different day:

JUNEBUG: A quiet, sweet film. Amy Adams is getting all the attention for her showy supporting role, and she deserves it, but I remember better Embeth Davidtz as a dealer in outsider art, who’s an outsider herself when she’s with her new family in North Carolina.

GRIZZLY MAN: I don’t think I even liked it when I walked out, but it’s stuck with me. This collection of new and archival footage, put together by Werner Herzog, is the story of a jerk who gets himself killed. But he’s a fascinating jerk.

LAYER CAKE: Another complex, character-filled British caper film. As long as they’re entertaining, I’ll keep watching. I hope Daniel Craig’s Bond films will be as good.

ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW: A pretty cool work from Miranda July. Check it out and decide for yourself.

THE NOMI SONG: Ever since I saw the bizarre but talented Klaus Nomi steal Urgh! A Music War (1981), I’ve wanted to know more about him. The only other thing I knew was he was the first celebrity I’d heard of to die from AIDS. Well, this documentary scratched a 20-year-old itch. It’s a slight but well-done bio of Nomi, plus a picture of a creative era in New York City. Who would have guessed Nomi was an expert pastry chef? Best of all, his fans thought that striking performance in Urgh! was a sell-out.

TOP TEN (IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER)

CRASH: Not especially deep or realistic, but fun in its own way. In all my life as an effete white liberal, I’ve never heard people talk like this, but the slick dialogue and a lively story move it along. The biggest mistake was Matt Dillon saving Thandie Newton—it broke the streak of accidental meetings and seemed forced and didactic.

DOWNFALL: I always knew Hitler ended up in a bunker, I just didn’t know it was so busy. In some ways depressing and ugly (how could it not be), but really makes you feel you’re there. Even as he realized he was going down, he was still proudest of the most hateful, racist things he did.

THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN: No story here, and a lot of down time. Really it’s just a collection of sketches. But when it hits, it’s funny, which I’ll take over a dull film that follows Syd Fields any day.

A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE: I’m not the biggest fan of Cronenberg, but I think he’s better here forced to keep things in the real world. It’s a pretty good concept, even if the story gets a bit silly as it goes along, especially in an almost farcical ending with William Hurt (which is off-point, if fun).

HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE: After Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, I expect classics from Miyazaki. Okay, Howl’s doesn’t reach those levels, but even decent Miyazaki is head and shoulders above everyone else.

THE MARCH OF THE PENGUINS: This was such a big hit, there was a backlash. Hey, it’s beautifully shot and tells a great story. What more do you want? (And apparently it’s better in English than French.)

THE SQUID AND THE WHALE: Noah Baumbach films have never done much for me, but this one definitely cuts deeper. Perhaps because it’s based on his family (and I have to wonder how they feel about it). All the performances are good, but an especially memorable turn from Jeff Daniels, as a man who wants to feel superior to the world but has the world constantly reminding him how things really are. If the film has a problem, it doesn’t so much end as stop. (Also, I don’t buy no one recognizes the Pink Floyd tune.) I give it Daniels’ character’s highest accolade: dense.

WALLACE & GROMIT AND THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT: The delightful Wallace & Gromit are back. There’s one obvious problem—they’re best in short doses. A feature stretches them almost to the breaking point, but there’s still enough fun to recommend them.

WEDDING CRASHERS: Funniest movie of the year, and comes with an actual plot. Good first act, great second act. Admittedly, the third act goes on a bit long, but it rallies.

THE WILD PARROTS OF TELEGRAPH HILL: A lot more cheaply made than the penguin film, but it’s still the story that counts. The film is able to make characters of separate birds, and has a lead human who’s pretty memorable himself.

* These are among the more notable films of 2005 I didn’t see. I’d guess at least a few of them would have made my top ten: Chronicles Of Narnia, Fantastic Four, Chicken Little, Monster-In-Law, Are We There Yet?, The Dukes Of Hazzard, Cheaper By The Dozen 2, The Exorcism Of Emily Rose, Guess Who, Herbie: Fully Loaded, The Amityville Horror, Yours Mine And Ours, Memoirs Of A Geisha, Hide And Seek, Diary Of A Mad Black Woman, Racing Stripes, Just Like Heaven, Boogeyman, The Legend Of Zorro, Must Love Dogs, Transporter 2, Rumor Has It, The Adventures Of Sharkboy And Lavagirl in 3D, The Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants, Beauty Shop, Derailed, Hostage, The Ringer, Dreamer, Because Of Winn-Dixie, Just Friends, House Of Wax, Get Rich Or Die Tryin', The Fog, Hoodwinker, Rent, Doom, XXX: State Of The Union, Elizabethtown, Aeon Flux, Dark Water, Ice Princess, Two For The Money, Prime, Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo, A Lot Like Love, Man Of The House, Valiant, Cursed, Into The Blue, North Country, Pooh's Heffalump Movie, Son Of The Mask, Rebound, The Perfect Man, Waiting..., The Gospel, The Greatest Game Ever Played, The Cave, Casanova, In The Mix, Domino, The Great Raid, Cry Wolf, An Unfinished Life, The Man, Mad Hot Ballroom, Ladies In Lavender, Kings and Queen, The World, Tropical Malady, The Holy Girl, Last Days, Cafe Lumiere, Nobody Knows, The Intruder, Head-On, Mysterious Skin, My Summer Of Love, Saraband, The Power Of Nightmares, Paradise Now, Pulse, Keane, Memories Of Murder, Darwin's Nightmare, Good Morning Night, The Beat That My Heart Skipped, The Best Of Youth, The Century Of The Self, Look At Me, Breakfast On Pluto, Innocence, Turtles Can Fly, Palindromes, Pride & Prejudice, Tony Takitani, The White Diamond, The Devil's Rejects, The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada, 3-Iron, The Time We Killed, Funny Ha Ha, My Mother's Smile, A Tout De Suite, Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance, Forty Shades Of Blue, Whisky, Wolf Creek, Mondovino, Yes, The Weeping Meadow, Gunner Palace, Chain, Land Of Plenty, Machuca, Shopgirl, Three Dancing Slaves, Oliver Twist, Dallas 362, Occupation Dreamland, The Oil Factor, Murderball, Dolls, Garcon Stupide, Heights, The Ballad Of Jack And Rose, The Far Side Of The Moon, Happy Here And Now, The Joy Of Life, Nine Lives, The President's Last Bang, Rize, The Dying Gaul, Proof, Travellers And Magicians, The Brothers Grimm, The Memory Of A Killer, Separate Lies, The Syrian Bride, Lord Of War, The Weather Man, Where The Truth Lies, The Baxter, Loggerheads, The Ninth Day, A Talking Picture, Tell Them Who You Are, Throw Down, The White Countess, Cronicas, Exorcist Prequel (either version), Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room, Perfect Crime, The Prize Winner Of Defiance Ohio, She's One Of Us, The World's Fastest Indian,New York Doll, The 3 Rooms Of Melancholia, Another Road Home, Boys Of Baraka, In Satmar Custody, Terror, Rize, Wall, The Untold Story Of Emmett Louis

17 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good Work, but I thought MATCH POINT was Woody's best in years.

1:20 AM, January 30, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. I'm surprised by the massive number of movies that you didn't see. Pretty selective "wrap up" of 05.

8:25 AM, January 30, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andre Bazin said that everybody has two jobs: their own & movie critic. So, it's tough to state publically that you liked this film or that one because someone else will eventually disagree. But that goes with the territory.

There were maybe 3 or 4 films in the list of ones you didn't see that I was curious about. The rest didn't interest me at all. [And you listed Mondovino twice. You didn't want to see it twice as much?]

Part of the problem in making a best of the year list is you have to see enough of the year's films to get a good range to choose from. And if you don't see enough films in general, you can feel you've missed something good or that you've lost your finger on the pulse of what's going on.

Still, what amazes me looking over the list of un-seen films (as well as ones you mention earlier like Charlie & the Chocolate Factory & Bad News Bears that you question why they were made at all) is just how many films get made each year that it seems to me are a complete waste of time to go see (and therefore possibly a complete waste to have been made?).

It's almost like a badge of pride not to see them. I'd be proud to say I wasn't fooled and didn't see this film or that one while I spent the time more constructively elsewhere. So I hope you don't feel bad that you didn't see most of the films in that final block. I didn't see them either and I'm actually glad of it.

Yes, glad, but also sorry too. If so many films didn't seem interesting enough to entice me to watch them, that means not many really good ones are coming out and that's sad really. Every year you want tons of good films to come out you have to see and that turn out to be pleasures. Given the overall look of 2005, I'd say no wonder people aren't going out to the movies as much.

9:07 AM, January 30, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looks like Wolf Creek made it on twice as well :(

I love the paradox of that title The Untold Story of Emmett Lewis because the moment the film starts, they're telling it, so it's no longer the Untold Story.......

9:15 AM, January 30, 2006  
Blogger LAGuy said...

Thanks for the notes. I have gotten rid of the repetition.

As to not having seen enough films--sorry, I tried my best, but since no one pays me to see them, I admit I have my limits.

9:35 AM, January 30, 2006  
Anonymous Todd said...

Steve:

Once again, an impressive read.

I have only two comments:

1. "WORST TREND: The continuing disappearance of the theatrical audience. Movies are still best when experienced with others."

I'm not so sure anymore. In fact, I now represent one extreme of your "WORST TREND". I basically never go to see movies anymore...

...and one of the biggest reasons (besides the quality of movies themselves) is that "experience with others" thing you mentioned. It too often, quite frankly, sucks.

Much has been written about the decline of basic manners, but I've "experienced" it all too often in a movie theater. It's a total crapshoot as to who will be sitting around you nowadays, such as the Constant Talker, the Seven Course Meal Sneaker/Eater, the Chair Kicker and, worst of all, the Allow Me To Enhance Your Movie-Going Experience By Shouting At The Screen Guy (it's almost always a guy).

Amongst others.

In fact, I saw only one movie in an actual theater this year, which brings me to comment #2:

2. "Special mention to Star Wars Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith, by far the best of the first trilogy."

Talk about damning with faint praise.

Yes, it was the best of the most recent trilogy. But was it a good movie?

Nope.

In fact, it contained what may be the Most Galactically Stupid Plot Point in movie history:

"Anakin, you're one of the most dangerous beings in the universe right now, and I've sworn a duty to kill you. It saddens me, for reasons I've enumerated earlier, i.e., you're like a brother to me, etc., etc., but come on, I've really got no choice here. Besides, you're half baked and helpless, so I can put an end to this quickly and... ah, what the heck, I'll just walk away and assume the lava will finish the job."

In a way, I guess I've walked away, too.

Todd

9:59 AM, January 30, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's something you DON'T learn from Syriana. A lot of people in the Middle East really really really don't like Jews.

10:23 AM, January 30, 2006  
Blogger LAGuy said...

Todd,

Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

The theatrical experience may have its problems (I still think cost is the worst, consider how cheap other ways of viewing films have become), but there is something special with the communal response a great movie brings out. Good films are still meant to be seen with others.

One of the best things about Revenge Of The Sith is Lucas had painted himself in to a corner. He had to attach the last two stories with the three he knew were coming up. I thought he did a masterful patch-up job, even if it means Annakin must live. (By the way, Obi Wan knows Annakin is fated to bring balance to the Force--maybe he realizes if he finishes him off, that even will never happen.)

On the other hand, I always thought Lucas made a mistake trying to tell the backstory explicitly. (Not that I wasn't pleased he was making more Star Wars films at first.) We loved the middle trilogy, who needed to see the earlier set-up?

The weird thing now is, I presume, generations of kids will see the later-made trilogy first. So all the great discoveries of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back will be muted, perhaps gone. The original first appearances and Obi Wan, Darth Vader, Yoda, etc., will not have the same impact--they will be the return of familiar figures. And as to the scene where Luke's father is revealed...

10:32 AM, January 30, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

fewer sequels

4:25 PM, January 30, 2006  
Blogger ColumbusGuy said...

Anonymous Syriana: You are the master.

5:46 PM, January 30, 2006  
Blogger LAGuy said...

Previous Anonymous. At first I thought you were agreeing with me. Then I figured you were correcting my grammar.

I changed it.

7:15 PM, January 30, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If I were you LA Guy, I'd either see more movies, blog about something else, or (the best idea) don't be so up front about all the stuff you missed. If you just took that section away, the post would seem a lot more authoritative.

8:58 AM, January 31, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Todd,

I'll tell you what. Take a hundred people, chop off their legs and leave them next to a raging sea of lava and see what happens. If a single person survives, I'll admit you have a point. You're treating Obi-Wan like an Adam-West-Batman villain. I'm just not seeing Obi Wan as being unreasonable for leaving.

Also, yeah there's a lot of bad movies being made, but take a look at how much money they're making. The short answer for why movies are so bad is that people want them bad.

9:01 AM, January 31, 2006  
Blogger LAGuy said...

To 8:58 anonymous, it's just part of our full dislosure policy. It also prevents people from wondering why I left something out.

12:09 PM, January 31, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, the Oscar nominations are out now. I don't see any of the five best films in your top ten.

9:11 PM, January 31, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oops. Crash.

9:12 PM, January 31, 2006  
Blogger LAGuy said...

I'm pretty embarrassed, too. It's usually a complete shutout.

10:00 PM, January 31, 2006  

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