Published at: Jan. 1, 2006, 6:27 a.m. CST by staff
Happy New Year Everyone, Harry here and I suppose it’s time for me to formally give up on 2005 and tabulate up what my picks for the best of the year were. Now there’s a difference between the bests of the year – and my faves. On this list you won’t see WALLACE & GROMIT and CORPSE BRIDE or BATMAN BEGINS or KING KONG or HOSTEL or FEAST or WALK THE LINE or STAR WARS EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE SITH or UNLEASHED or THE DEVIL’S REJECTS or LAND OF THE DEAD or WAR OF THE WORLDS or SIN CITY or THE DESCENT or MILLIONS or KISS KISS BANG BANG or TOM YUM GOONG – though TOM YUM GOONG is the single most kickass asskicking film I’ve seen in 2005 or 2006. Hell – if put to the sword and asked to name my favorite comfort flick of 2005, I’m likely to say something really insane like SKY HIGH – which I fucking love. No. The following 10 films are frankly the films that kicked my ass in every conceivable fashion. Intellectually, emotionally, artistically – just at every conceivable level – these are the films that had my number as the guy that sees a zillion movies a year. And frankly – I’ve had a great year. That films like SYRIANA, GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, THE CONSTANT GARDENER, MURDERBALL, CAPOTE, EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED, THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADES ESTRADA, ELIZABETHTOWN or CRASH haven’t cracked my top ten – much less those “favorites” of the year. I mean I’ve listed 28 films so far that I fucking dig the living shit out of – and I haven’t even mentioned films that got that U.S. distribution at last like OLDBOY, SYMPATHY FOR MR VENGEANCE or ONG BAK – which have appeared on my bests lists – going back… oh about 2 and 3 years ago.
My list is a bit different from the average critic, mainly because I pro-actively seek out films I hear about world wide. I don’t passively sit and just judge the films that the U.S. distributors put me in front of – there’s a bigger world of film out there – and if you seek out festival films and the films that play in other countries – and if you’re lucky enough to attend BUTT-NUMB-A-THON – well – there’s films that get seen that haven’t hit another venue in the country. And as a result they end up in my consideration. Think of those titles and early heads ups. They will be seen domestically eventually. And much faster than films like OLDBOY and SYMPATHY FOR MR VENGEANCE – which took 2 and 3 years to get in front of U.S. audiences. Let’s kick this off…
10. TELL THEM WHO YOU ARE
At number 10 is my favorite documentary of 2005. TELL THEM WHO YOU ARE. At one level this is “This is my Dad” film. The Dad in question is Haskell Wexler, one of the most fantastic Directors of Photography in the history of cinema, a wild pinko liberal (Yippee for the Pinko Liberal Dad Set!), but more than any of that this film became something that was more important than a career study of a man that has stretched and battled with the format of cinema. It became an amazingly intense look at aging, regrets, understandings and the soul of a very complicated man and his son. You see the Director – a Mark Wexler (Haskell’s son) has never lived up to his father’s estimation. He’s a republican, so naturally Haskell thinks he’s insane (I totally agree) – He makes documentaries about things like AIR FORCE ONE and takes innoculous photos with multiple Presidents. He tends to want to shoot things to make them pretty and composed instead of gritty and real. The sequence where Haskell is trying to talk to Mark’s camera – while Mark is inanely preoccupied with trying to get Haskell out on the balcony cuz there’s a pretty sunset… and in the argument you get a portrait of the difference between the two filmmakers – and in the construction of the documentary – that argument and that it was captured on film is more important than what Haskell was attempting to say or Mark’s pretty sunset. Ultimately – You see that what at the time had to be a very annoying experience to both – we as the audience are witnessed to Haskell condemning him for trying to make him pose for the camera which was totally artificial and orchestrated for the documentary -- he then goes on to say that the doc is about him and what and where he has to say something is more important than that fucking sunset – but in creating this argument what happens is – neither father nor son – both of whom were trying to manipulate the film, could beat the reality of butting heads in this scene which was REAL! And emotional.
The documentary interviews a who’s who of the wonderful artists that worked with Haskell – and it’s a real treat to see folks like Peter Bart, Michael Douglas, Jane Fonda, George Lucas, Conrad Hall (both of em), Dennis Hopper, Ron Howard, Norman Jewison, Elia Kazan, Irvin Kershner, Albert Maysles, Paul Newman, Julia Roberts, Sidney Poitier and so many others. Ultimately – the film is a portrait about how little fathers and sons often fail to realize how inadvertantely they hurt one another. The little jabs, the denigration, the lack of acknowledgement. And in this case – that door swings both ways. The son rejected a lot of the father, which in turn led to the father rejecting much about the son. That this Doc bridges and exposes that makes for an incredibly moving film that while educating you on the career and importance of one of the great cinematic artists – also reveals so much upon the human condition. Great film!
Easily the most classically filmed Spielberg movie in ages. That he made this as quickly as he did gave me hope that we’re going to get a great deal of wonderful work from Steven for sometime to come. To get a full look at my thoughts on this film, Click Here! It’s a movie that literally has it all.
8. THE HIDDEN BLADE (KAKUSHI-KEN: ONI NO TSUME)
The latest film from Yoji Yamada – the brilliant filmmaker behind TWILIGHT SAMURAI! Like THE NEW WORLD and MATCH POINT – this is a love story at its heart. And love with a Samurai – is oddly sweet and beautiful. I’ve only ever seen Yoji’s TWILIGHT SAMURAI – and the love story in that had my heart aching. Ultimately there is a two-fold story in place. First is the story of the samurai’s love for his maid, second is the shitty situation of this particular samurai’s buddy, who like Obi-Wan’s padawan – turned rogue – then he’s ordered to hunt him down and kill him. The love story illustrates and makes us care for the lead samurai intensely – while the danger and friendship of the task he has at hand… well you’re incredibly involved by the end of this film, which I will not spoil. I loved it though. That the creator of TWILIGHT SAMURAI has turned in yet another fantastic film, well it has me ecstatic. The performances, cinematography, music and story all just make for a brilliant movie.
7. MATCH POINT
While not at all the typical Woody Allen movie for most audiences, ultimately – it isn’t nearly as radical in it’s departure as most would assume. Ultimately – Woody has made a career out of the romantic triangle. It’s how the inherent problems of a love triangle are solved that is different. Jonathan Rhys-Meyers is in the Woody Allen part of the film. But perhaps for the very first time ever, the Woody substitute isn’t affecting Woody throughout the film. There are lines that easily belong coming out of Woody’s mouth and mind, but Meyers does a brilliant job of just not going for the easy delivery. Instead, he flattens the irony of the line and delivers it with hidden wit instead of obvious wit. It really is quite fascinating to see an actor so confident in his own delivery to just leave Woody behind. Then there’s Scarlett Johansson and Emily Mortimer – they’re just wonderful. Had there been 40 minutes of Scarlett nudity – the film easily would’ve been number one this year, but that was a costume design error that hopefully will be corrected in Woody’s next outing with the jaw-droppingly gorgeous Scarlett.
It’s strange – I’ve seen so many articles about this film, that it was only while watching the film that I realized – I’d never seen a trailer, nor had I read any of those articles. If you haven’t seen a trailer – keep it that way – JUST SEE THE MOVIE. Go in expecting a Woody Allen film. This is one of the greatest presents of the year. There’s a point where the genre of the film just suddenly takes a right turn and at that juncture – you’ll either get furious at Woody – or be twisted emotionally into knots. Me? Woody was making me out to be an overstuffed Pretzel by the end of this thing. Brilliant film. Wonderful surprise! Way to go Woody!
6. THE NEW WORLD
To read my full thoughts on this one, CLICK HERE! Malick’s abstract narrative about the life and loves of Pocahontas is an amazingly affecting and telling film about the time in which the world got a lot bigger. As I’ve said in my review – this is one of the most beautiful films – period. I would LOVE to see a 70mm screening of the film, and I dream of the PARAMOUNT here in Austin getting a special engagement of the film in that manner. It’s just stunning. But more than that – this is cinema’s power to take one to a completely different time and place. This film’s ability to just make the theater and age we live in – to just make all of that disappear for the 2 and a half hours or so… that’s just magic. Pure and simple. Magic. Malick puts a lot of soul in his films – this is brilliant work.
5. HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE
Miyazaki’s latest is pure genius. He effortlessly creates fantasy in a way unlike anything I’ve ever seen. There’s never painful exposition to explain the universe we find ourselves in, it’s simply there. This world of magic and technology and warfare and despair and love and pain and joy. It’s incredibly. I love how a little girl named Sophie can just be walking down the street, she can meet a young man, then suddenly they’re being pursued by strange tar monsters and walking on air above the city and the ordinary life in a hatshop – and the next morning she’s an old woman cured… and then there’s that scarecrow hopping about – and the magic and the invention… It’s an endless string of creative possibilities unleashed. Miyazaki, I feel starts over anew with each film. These are not variations, they’re wholly new worlds and dreams. This isn’t like any fantasy that I know, but I love it. This is just stunning work. They also did a pretty damn good job on the English version – though I still prefer the Japanese. This is my second favorite non-live-action film of the year.
STRINGS is my favorite non-live-action film of the year. Absolutely brilliant. Completely unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. A Danish Marionette film that is simply so much more than you could possibly guess without having seen it. First off – the English version is just awe-inspiring. The voice work by James McAvoy, Catherine McCormack, Julian Glover and Derek Jacobi – among others – is just superb.
Ultimately the film is a tale of Shakespearean proportions about ill-advised vengeance based on the information at hand. It’s about sinister manipulation of facts, political intrigue and the dark secrets of dead fathers and so much more. These strings do not reach up to human hands, but instead they soar up into the sky, beyond the clouds. Where do they come from? Where do they lead? How do they know to appear for a new carved baby?
This is a world where the life of a marionette has led to no roofs, Where an arch is an impasse of impenetrable proportions. Where having your strings cut means death. They have their own metaphysics and beliefs. It’s the most magical puppet film since the heights of DARK CRYSTAL. Brilliant work!
3. LADY VENGEANCE (aka SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE)
Known everywhere else in the world as SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE, Tartan Films will be releasing this in March of 2006, but it’s played a few festivals, countries and Butt-Numb-A-Thon 7 – so it goes in my 2005 list.
This film doesn’t come out and slap you like OLDBOY did, instead this is a story that is structured very very differently. In fact – the first 40 or so minutes you might even begin to doubt Chan-Wook Park. But friends, it’s all brilliant set-up and absolutely everything pays off in spades. This film builds and builds and builds with infinite patience. It unfolds like a brilliant tale should. And when you begin to get your payoff – dear god. It’s fucking amazing. The vengeance this lady unfolds is unlike anything anyone could possibly imagine. First – we learn what it is that has been done to her. Then we learn pieces of the revenge, who the victim of her vengeance is to be… or the victims. Just think raincoats and scissors.
Lee Geum-Ja. Don’t fuck with her, ever. Wow.
2. V FOR VENDETTA
It’s okay to hate me for having this on my 2005 Best of List. But you have to understand, I went through an awful lot to make sure I saw this in 2005 – and I did it all on the blind fucking faith that it was going to do justice to Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s original work. There’s a part of my that believes the movie was the most lucid fantastic dream I’ve had all year. And it is for that reason alone that it is not Number 1. The movie I have in my head felt like a brilliant dangerous dream of a film. It made you want put on a mask and blow up shit. I was applauding dialogue like it was action scenes, coveting gestures like they were FX show pieces.
The story about the girl that dares to be different is a brilliant short story buried in this film. And Natalie Portman does the best work of her career. She’s absolutely raw emotionally. Just fantastic. And then there’s Hugo Weaving. You never see his face – hell, if all you knew him from was his Agent Smith – you’re about to meet an entirely different Hugo Weaving. His V voice is brilliant. The lines he has and the delivery of those lines… they’re exquisite. It’s as perfect as Karloff reading Seuss or Olivier doing Shakespeare or Samuel L Jackson doing Tarantino dialogue. It’s bliss.
The music, Biddle’s brilliant camera work, the design, the editing and the story telling, it’s just a dream. I absolutely love this film. I crave it. Everyone I know that saw it is dying to see it again. We sit around and look at one another and start talking about it. It comes March 17th – and for those that have seen it… trust me – it seems an eternity away.
1. HUSTLE & FLOW
Why is HUSTLE & FLOW my number one film of 2005? Because it shouldn’t be. Under no circumstance should a film about a low rent pimp with rapper dreams should appeal to a Hawaiian shirt wearing film geek. But ya know what – that’s the power of great cinema. I saw this film back in March and it continues to slap me around and says “WATCH ME!”
This is a film about dreams, about beginning again, about how it is never too late to turn your life around. How you absolutely must stop doing what you hate to do and change your life for the better – not next week, not next month, but start right now. I love this film. I love the story of the film, how it got made, how it found me, how against all odds I loved it.
I love how it takes the expectations of the Blaxploitation Genre and turns it on its ear. This is a tale about the worst sort of people in the world. A pimp – an exploiter of women. His “whores” and the people he convinces to join him on his dream. And no matter what – you’ll dream that dream, you’ll feel that desperation, that hurt, that expectation. This is a film with a very small budget but the best acting in cinema this year. In my opinion – this film deserves to not only be nominated for Best Actor with Terrence Howard – but I also feel that Paula Jai Parker should be nominated for Best Supporting Actress and that Craig Brewer should be nominated for writing and directing and that the film should be nominated for Best Film – and in my opinion it should win all of those – plus best song for either “WHOOP THAT TRICK” or “IT’S HARD OUT HERE FOR A PIMP” or “HUSTLE AND FLOW”!
Craig Brewer is the debut talent of the year and he came out against all odds and frankly made the best film of the year.
Well – that’s my Top Ten. I’ll be doing a top twenty preview – just as soon as I finish this doozy of a DVD PICKS AND PEEKS for January – what a great month of releases – so for now – I hope wherever you all are at – you’ve had a safe and happy new year. Let’s prey we get movies of this quality throughout 2006!