Powered by Blogger

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Top Ten Movie List for 2005

I've read a lot of Top 10 lists, now that the year is winding down, and I can't say I agree with much that I see on them. While there are some films I missed this year (and some, as usual, that aren't available to me yet), I got to quite a few of the ones I thought were worth seeing. Some say it wasn't a very strong year for film, but I found plenty to entertain and engage me. If I had to characterize the year, I'd say it was marked by some great performances in less-than-great films (more on that later). My favorite genre is drama, and I thought that category was sadly lacking this year (with a couple of standouts). In general, I tended to favor the movies with a political message, as I found them the most interesting and thought-provoking, and thankfully, this year, many films fit that description. There were also a fair number of charming, off-beat smaller films that were worth seeing. And let's not forget documentaries -- it was just an amazing year for them, so much variety and so many spirited films.

Crash. My favorite movie of the year: the most involving, with many intriguing performances and dramatic moments.

Proof. A close second and yet another oddly under-the-radar movie, despite being Jake Gyllenhaal's "other" movie this year. I hadn't seen the play, so I was guessing until the end of this delicate study of trust and love.

Murderball. A rollicking documentary about quadriplegic rugby. Triumph of the human spirit and then some.

Brokeback Mountain. Not a perfect film, but a brave, beautiful and haunting one, with some of the finest performances of the year.

The Interpreter. Strangely under-rated, with wrenching performances by Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn, and many fine secondary characters. The subplot involves interesting and mysterious political developments in the UN and an African country, but the main story is a moving exploration of grief.

Syrianna. Deliberately difficult to understand, but still more engaging than almost anything else this year.

Munich. Not a perfect film, and rather grim, but with amazing performances (especially Eric Bana, who carries the film) and plenty to think and talk about afterward.

Good Night, and Good Luck. Beautifully made with wonderful performances, this timely study of our obligation to confront overbearing government resonated loudly this year.

In Her Shoes. Not a perfect movie, but perfectly cast. I enjoyed this movie a lot and am unclear why it didn't get its due.

The Upside of Anger. As I mentioned in a previous post, I loved this movie, with the absolutely luminous Joan Allen and a great supporting cast. Another puzzlingly under-rated movie.

Honorable mentions (make sure you see these if you missed them):

The Woodsman. Almost made the Top 10, Kevin Bacon gives a tour de force performance that is utterly heart-breaking in this portrait of a pedophile trying to resume life after a stint in prison. Kyra Sedgewick demonstrates that she's a lot more than a pretty face as well.

Pride and Prejudice. Another not-quite-perfect movie, but the principles gave Jane Austen's fine dialogue much passion and meaning. A very worthy effort.

Rent. Lively music and great performances in this faithful adaptation of the hit Broadway show.

March of the Penguins. Gorgeous and engrossing documentary about penguins in Antarctica.

Junebug. Really fun but odd story about an East Coast art dealer who meets her husband's Southern family while trying to acquire the art of a reclusive local who lives nearby. There's award buzz for the hilarious Amy Adams, who plays the verbose sister-in-law.

You and Me and Everyone We Know. Strange but fun love story about a woman who becomes obsessed with a shoe salesman.

The Squid and the Whale. Terrific performances in this fascinating study of a divorce; the impact is diminished by the abrupt ending.

Millions. A really charming movie about two young brothers who respond very differently to the loss of their mother and the discovery of a bag of money.

Happy Endings. Not as fun as Don Roos' 1998 film, The Opposite of Sex, but still full of great characters and witty dialogue.

Transamerica. Funnier than I expected and fun to watch, with a star turn by Felicity Huffman.

Cinderella Man. Not really my cup of tea, but a very well-made film and it certainly deserved more attention than the viewing public gave it.

Great performances in less-than-great films:
Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash in Walk the Line
Ralph Fiennes in The Constant Gardener
Viggo Mortensen in A History of Violence
Jonathan Rhys-Meyers in Match Point
Terrance Howard in Hustle and Flow
Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote
Claire Danes in Shopgirl

Biggest disappointments:
The Family Stone. A really great cast and a fine premise, but too contrived and way too many wasted opportunities.
Be Cool. A lifeless follow-up to the standout 1995 film, Get Shorty.
Melinda and Melinda. Not Woody Allen's finest; an interesting premise but ultimately seemed a waste of a great cast.
Broken Flowers. I wanted to like this movie, but it was a complete bore -- literally everything that happens in the entire movie was shown in the 3 minute theater trailer.
Kingdom of Heaven. A great cast and a fine story, but too long and strangely uninvolving.
Gunner Palace. I heard great stuff about this Iraq war documentary, but I found it aimless and less powerful than I expected.
The Aristocrats. Much nastier than I expected, with little actual humor; only worthwhile as an inside look at the world of comedians.

Movies I missed (I'll get back to you on these):
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
Where the Truth Lies.
The New World.
Paradise Now.
Nine Lives.



Monday, December 19, 2005

Movie thoughts -- Brokeback Mountain

I finally saw this film, after literally months of anticipation (I first heard about it back in April). I have to say, it wasn't quite what I expected. It was sad, but not in a sweeping, epic way. More like a senseless, wasted life kind of way. It was very good and kudos all around -- great performances, gorgeous cinematography. But very, very sad. It wasn't a leave-the-theater-sobbing sad, at least not for me. It was more leaving shaking my head -- to watch someone live their whole life knowing that the price of true love is death, and finding that inevitably, inexorably, they were right. Life just shouldn't be like that.

If I have a complaint, it is only that I wished the movie had spent a little more time with the characters while they were falling in love (and happy) and a little less when they were apart (and unhappy). Another note: all the buzz and nominations are for Heath Ledger's performance (due to low expectations?), and while he's very good, Jake Gyllenhaal is really amazing as well, and deserves just as much recognition.

My husband saw the movie with me and he certainly didn't get out of it what I did. I almost wish I'd gone with a girlfriend, so I wouldn't actually know how completely he missed the point, how unaware he was of the hopelessness and loneliness of the main character. Which only goes to prove that you can take (drag) a guy (and I use that word purposely) to a tragic gay love story, but that doesn't mean he will be genuinely moved by it. Oh well. It will stick with me for quite awhile. Very brave to bring to the screen and quite haunting.

ADDENDUM (December 23, 2005)

After seeing the movie, I promptly went out and bought the movie tie-in book, with the screenplay and original story included. I enjoyed the story very much, but after reading it, I conclude that the movie desexed the story unforgivably. While the story is short and the movie actually expands on it (especially with regards to Jack's wife and Ennis' girlfriend and oldest daughter), the movie also subtley reduces the sexual content, especially by eliminating a couple of key lines of dialogue. It's still a wonderful film, but I feel irritated by this realization. I hope whomever was being pandered to was happy with the end result.

SECOND ADDENDUM (February 1, 2006)

As the movie has moved into wider release, I realize how wrong I was in my previous comments -- I now totally understand why the movie focused on Ennis's lonliness as opposed to the passion between the men. This movie would never be striking the chord that it's striking and would never be enjoying the widespread acceptance that it's enjoying, without these subtle adjustments. Though I would still like to see the movie with the story's passion intact (a Director's Cut???), I'm just so, so glad that the film, as it was made, is reaching such a broad audience.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Domestic spying

It is really repulsive to watch the Bush administration attempt to defend the indefensible practice of using the NSA to monitor American citizens. Apparently the foreign intelligence court that was created by FISA in 1978 (in response to over-zealous domestic spying during the cold war) is basically a rubber stamp, but Bush couldn't even accept this minimal level of oversight. This is just the latest evidence of Cheney's mission to re-establish the balance between executive power and Congressional power, which he believes shifted too far toward Congress after Watergate. But limiting executive power is virtually the entire purpose of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. As always, I feel that Bush and his minions just do not believe that the law applies to them. It's scary and infuriating. Unfortunately most Americans are too involved in the consumeristic frenzy called Christmas to even notice.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

"Have a tranny Christmas"

Yes, I'm quoting -- this is from the writer/director of Transamerica, Duncan Tucker. My film fiend friend Adrienne copped some free passes to a preview show of this movie last night and she didn't tell me that the director was going to be there. What a treat. As he pointed out, movies like his require word of mouth to succeed, so I'm adding my mouth -- see it!! Funnier than I expected and very heartfelt. The performances are stellar, especially Felicity Huffman, who has already received the National Board of Review acting award and was nominated for a Golden Globe. If you've only seen her in Desperate Housewives, you owe it to yourself to watch Huffman's talents really shine -- this is a tour de force. And this is NOT Boys Don't Cry (the relentlessly grim Hillary Swank movie from a few years ago) -- there's some poignant moments, but overall it's a hopeful story. Final comment -- one of the audience members praised Tucker for not "Hollywoodizing" the story and said she never rolled her eyes once during the whole movie. So there you have it -- it passes the eye roll test. What higher recommendation could it get???


Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Movie thoughts -- Golden Globe Nominations

I'm very happy about the nominations. One article I read noted that all the nominated drama pictures are independents, made for "less than $30 million." How cool is that??? And there are lots of great performers getting their due. In fact, I don't know how the Academy will cram 10 deserving actors into their 5 slots (the Golden Globes separate comedies and dramas). I'm just thrilled to see smaller movies and less famous performers getting in the spotlight, both because they deserve it (for taking chances and being committed to producing a quality product) and especially because it raises the profiles of these movies and makes them more successful. Hurrah all around.


Monday, December 12, 2005

A lack of compassion

It's disturbing to me to hear the reactions to recent events, specifically the death of Stanley (Tookie) Williams and the shooting of Rigoberto Alpizar by air marshalls in Miami. I have read several letters to editors of newspapers stating, in essence, that both these gentlemen got what they deserved. I agree that the air marshalls were doing their job and that they made a judgement call that is certainly justifyable (if not especially admirable). And the Owens and Lin/Yang families are perhaps glad to see Mr. Williams go (though the evidence in one case was circumstantial and the other case was based on a confession that was subsequently recanted and claimed to have been obtained under duress). What is troubling to me is the lack of compassion displayed by these letter-writers. I find Mr. Alpizar's and Mr. Williams' deaths very sad. The former because he was not only an innocent man, but one who was ill. And the latter because he had made a contribution to society. He was trying to do something good during the last two decades, even if it was not sufficient or he did not go about it the "right" way (whatever that is). It makes me wonder what exactly is the purpose of the death penalty -- is it only vengence? Only to make the victims' families happy? Do we as a society really believe that a person can't change? Don't we believe that a person can do bad things, but later become someone different, someone better? Isn't that what clemency is for? And even if we think the person must pay the "ultimate price" for their crimes, must we crow and gloat and even sneer? Aren't we sad? I know I'm sad. I'm sad that he did bad things, and I'm sad that the way he lived his life for the last 25 years aren't enough to atone for the bad things that he did. But especially I'm sad that not everyone sees the waste and tragedy of all of it.


Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Movie thoughts -- Speak

I finally watched this Showtime movie (thank you TiVo) after hearing quite a bit about it a couple of months ago, and all I can say is "believe the hype." Actually that's not all I can say, but it's the first thing I'm saying. I'm also going to say: Wow! Great film! Watch it! It seemed a bit challenging -- a year in the life of a high school freshman who was raped over the summer at a party and spends the year trying to cope. But it's not a grim as it sounds, and Kristen Stewart, who appears in virtually every scene in the movie, gives a truly amazing performance. The casting overall is simply perfect: DB Sweeney and Elizabeth Perkins as the clueless, self-involved parents, Steve Zahn as the sympathetic art teacher, and the teen actors are pitch perfect. Few movies capture teen experiences with anything like reality. This one scores on all counts.


Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Movie thoughts -- War of the Worlds

I saw this movie on DVD last night and I have to say, it was a major disappointment. It's technologically and visually impressive, but they forgot to develop a plot. The original Orson Welles' radio broadcast was 50 minutes. To stretch the already paper-thin plot into a two hour movie (and keep it involving!) requires more than repeated scenes of a harried-looking Tom Cruise narrowly escaping the vicious aliens. And it was rather unremittingly grim. Which may be appropriate, considering the subject matter (the attempted extermination of the human race), but it doesn't make for very entertaining viewing. And when Tom kills a man who he thinks is threatening their safety, I just couldn't see the point. Too too much. Only masochists should subject themselves to this.


Monday, December 05, 2005

Movie thoughts -- Just shut up already

My friend Suzanne (gradgirl) and I agree that the end-of-the-year movie promotional blitz is detracting from our anticipation of the actual films. We're already planning to see virtually every film that will be released in December, so we really don't need to be convinced anymore. We're trying to figure out how to shield ourselves from the endless previews and commercials so we can relax and enjoy the movies in peace.


Sunday, December 04, 2005

Paying for positive news in Iraq

I am really repulsed by the news that the U.S. is paying Iraqi news outlets to print positive news stories penned by the U.S. military. My gut reaction is that it's impossible to build a democracy without a free press, and it's impossible to establish a free press if you're helping to manipulate it. This seems a given, though I'm finding that there is no line that the Bush administration is unwilling to cross; all can be justified and rationalized. I admit Senator John McCain did give me some pause this morning on Meet the Press, when he pointed out two things: 1) this battle is for "hearts and minds" and there is already plenty of negative news being distributed in the country and 2) this is just the way things are done there, so it's less offensive than it seems. Neither are especially compelling arguments, but they are worth considering in this, yet another embarrassment coming from U.S. actions abroad.

ADDENDUM (12/6/05)

THREE HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS??? When I first heard about this story I had no idea we were talking about this amount of money. If this is a battle for hearts and minds, why not use these funds to build some schools, or fix some power plants, or get some clean water running??? What the heck are you buying with this and who's getting paid??? A completely obscene and blatant boondoggle. Embarrassing is just not an adequate word.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Movie thoughts - Christmas in the Clouds

The feel good movie of the year, as my friend, Sue, said. Definitely a Must See. We're hoping it experiences the "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" phenomenon, that is, box office built almost entirely by positive word-of-mouth. We're both doing our part!

Apparently this is the first romantic comedy ever set in "Indian Country," and it's the first movie that Robert Redford has allowed to to be shot on his Sundance property since his own film, Jeremiah Johnson.

The scenery and locale are totally gorgeous, from the camera swooping down through the clouds during the opening credits to the vistas that appear behind the characters as they fall in love.

It has all the hallmarks of a classic romantic comedy, including mistaken identities and quirky secondary characters. All put into excellent service of a charming love story, or two.

Better yet, though almost all the characters are Indian, the only alcoholic is a middle-aged white man, and there are no scenes of poverty or destitution. Instead, these are just average working people, trying to make a success of their tribal-owned resort.

It wasn't until I went to imdb.com to check on the soundtrack (not available) that I realized that this movie was made back in 2001. Can you imagine, with as much juice as Robert Redford has, it took four years to get this movie into theaters?? And here's an even bigger shame -- the two very attractive leads have done nothing since then: