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Tuesday, May 21

Gapers Block

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If you can't stand writers who can't narrow the field to the 10 best for a given year, I suggest you stay far away from what follows. The 50 best feature films I saw in 2005; the 20 best documentaries; a few of the finest reissues; and a slew of awful shit that stole my precious time and made me angry to have aged even 90 minutes while watching them. If you hate long lists, stop reading at Number 10, bitches. If you like great films, read all the way to the end. I throw myself at the mercy of your feedback.

Best Features of 2005

  1. Munich—This marks the first time a film by Steven Spielberg has ever topped one of my lists. When compiling my Best of… films, I asked myself: what films did I hold onto the longest either because 1) I enjoyed thinking of them or 2) because the films simply wouldn't let go of me. Munich haunts me. I've only seen it once, but I know I'll go again and again because it works on about 100 different levels. Argue all you want about whether Spielberg is a friend to Israel or not after this work. His mission in life has always been to make compelling movies. He hasn't always succeeded, but this may be the most complete effort of his career: a film that doesn't have easy answers about the vicious cycle of global retaliation. I don't recommend that you see Munich—I dare you to.
  2. A History of Violence—Very similar to Munich in so many ways, David Cronenberg's most mature work examines a man battling to be good against his own blood-thirsty skills.
  3. Sin City—True, this was the most visually stunning and ambitious film of 2005, but this handful of Frank Miller morality plays also has great acting and chilling stories to tell.
  4. Syriana—Big drug companies, corporate greed, political practices and oil corporations were all under attack in 2005, but no film showed the totality of these issues better than Syriana, a work that adds to the argument that the Oscars needs an award for ensemble acting (further evidence in 2005 includes Match Point and Crash).
  5. Match Point—Not simply great because it's Woody Allen's finest work in many years, but because it's one of the least conventional, most intriguing and mysterious works of the year. This decidedly joke-free, thrilling love-story-turned-crime-drama is a reason to be excited about every Allen movie from this point forward. Longtime fans pray Match Point isn't just a fluke, but even if it is, every great writer-director should have such a fluke! It opens in most cities January 6.
  6. Brokeback Mountain—Greatest love story of 2005, gay or otherwise, in a year filled with many great films about and with gay characters. First off, the film isn't about being gay. It's about being separated for long stretches from the one person in the world who truly understands and loves you. It's about living a lifetime's worth of lies. And it's about two of finest performances of the year. Brokeback isn't just a masterpiece; it's a landmark.
  7. King Kong—You have to give props to films that were about pure entertainment (as opposed to the heavy subject matters in films 1 through 6), not that King Kong doesn't have its well-handled deep emotions. Not only the best special effects film of 2005, but also a film that doesn't mishandle or use CGI to overkill. A magnificent Naomi Watts provides a tremendous amount of heart to the work, and let us not forget the tears we shed the first time our eyes saw the Empire State Building in the distance.
  8. Hustle & Flow—I, along with many of my fellow white-bread types, was astonished to discover that despite everything I was taught in elementary school, pimpin' is not easy. Along with his devastating role in Crash (and the new Mary J. Blige video), Terrence Howard entered the master class of actors in 2005. But it is his role as a small-time Memphis pimp dreaming of being a hip-hop star that shook the earth. I'd be remiss if I didn't also recognize Anthony Anderson as Howard's music producer. Between this role and his recent television work on "The Shield," Anderson has hopefully left his dumb-ass comedy movies behind and graduated to something more in tune with his abilities.
  9. Batman Begins—The rebirth of the DC Comics film empire…we hope.
  10. Capote—For as much as has been written about the lack of quality female roles in 2005, it's been somewhat overlooked that this will be one of the toughest years to select Best Actor winners at the various 2006 award shows. Philip Seymour Hoffman might be my favorite and the most convincing playing a tortured Truman Capote in the years of his writing In Cold Blood.
  11. And now, here is the rest of the best, best of the rest, with limited comments.

  12. Me and You and Everyone We Know—Coming out of left field, quirky stories of human behavior written and co-starring the engaging Miranda July. You must see to understand and believe this film, one of the true discoveries of 2005.
  13. The 40-Year-Old Virgin—Funniest movie of the year.
  14. The Squid and the Whale—Comedic bitterness at its finest.
  15. Good Night and Good Luck—An insanely terrific cast, beautiful black-and-white photography, and Sen. Joe McCarthy as himself. George Clooney had a lot to be proud of in 2005.
  16. Crash—I've noticed a critical backlash to this film in some circles, and while I can understand that some critics may not have been as moved by Crash as others, I can't quite figure out the intense dislike I've sensed. Fortunately, the public kept this brave little movie alive for much of the first half of 2005. All I know is when I walked out of Crash (knowing absolutely nothing about it going in early 2005), my heart was racing.
  17. The New World—Terrence Mallick's dream-like telling of the relationship between Capt. John Smith and Pocahontas, played by mesmerizing newcomer Q'Orianka Kilcher. There are many with shorter attention spans who will find this film tedious beyond belief (I was sitting on that fence for about the first hour), but once you start to see where the film is going and how expansive its vision is, I believe most of you will find it a fulfilling experience. It opens in most cities on January 20.
  18. Broken Flowers—I never dreamed Bill Murray would top his work in Lost in Translation so soon, but I argue he's done so with this collaboration with Jim Jarmusch. A touching, humorous look at a modern Don Juan past his prime but still ready for one last search for happiness.
  19. The Descent—Every December, I make a pilgrimage to Austin, Texas, for a little event called Butt-Numb-a-Thon, a 24-hour film festival programmed entirely by Harry Knowles, founder and head geek of Ain't It Cool News, my other online home. And every year, Harry manages to show us a wonderful mix of new and old films that all ferocious film nerds can truly appreciate. From the director of the truly awesome Dog Soldiers, a BNAT discovery that I hope will find an audience in 2006. A group of adventurous women go cave climbing in a thought-to-be-unexplored location and soon find out that they aren't the only ones down there. Claustrophobia has never seemed so constraining, and did I mention the creatures?
  20. Sympathy for Lady Vengeance—Another BNAT premiere, the latest from South Korea's Chan-wook Park (Oldboy) and the final part in his Vengeance trilogy. The man has not lost a thing over the years, and this film proves it. A cinematic punch in the gut.
  21. Brick—This wonderful film from newcomer Rian Johnson is scheduled for a March 2006 release, but it made the festival circuit in '05. One of the finest works from a first-time writer-director I've seen in ages. Johnson puts old-school film noir/pulp fiction dialogue in the mouths of high schoolers in this rich and hard-hitting crime film.
  22. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang—Probably the smartest screenplay of 2005, and one of the funniest.
  23. The Libertine—Don't you dare believe what Entertainment Weekly says. Johnny Depp is as good here as he ever is, and when he opens the film looking directly at the camera and says "I do not want you to like me," you try as you might not to. But his portrayal of the sleaziest of the sleazy aristocrats is far from playful. He's a mean, nasty, foul, disease-ridden bastard. I'll have more to say on this movie when it opens in January.
  24. The Hidden Blade—From the Japanese director of the equally brilliant The Twilight Samurai comes this tale of a low-ranking samurai ordered to kill a friend. This multi-faceted work shows us compassion, love, and the encroaching power of modern Western warfare that ultimately wiped out the samurai. As realistic a samurai story as I've ever seen.
  25. Walk the Line—Anchored by two great lead performances, this Johnny Cash biopic reminded us about the dark power of one of America's most beloved and flawed singers.
  26. Cinderella Man—This sadly overlooked biography presented us with yet another outstanding Russell Crowe performance, this time as a washed-up boxer who gets one last chance to be a champion.
  27. Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic—She's hot, she's raunchy, she has great hair. What's not to love about Silverman's combination of stand-up concert film and sketch comedy?
  28. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire—Best Potter Ever.
  29. Hostel—Again, technically a 2006 release (January 6 to be precise), but many saw it in '05. Writer-director Eli Roth has constructed the perfect terror film. It's not exactly a horror film, but as an act of terror against the poor unfortunates (in his film about an unthinkable building in Eastern Europe where the rich can pay to kill kidnapped tourists), Hostel delivers on exactly what its creepy posters and trailers promise: uncompromized brutality. A major step up from Roth's last film, Cabin Fever.
  30. Nine Lives—Nine short stories about women, some of which are loosely related to each other. Another major ensemble accomplishment.
  31. The Ice Harvest—A sharp, bloody work from Harold Ramis, his best film in ages.
  32. Cache—Michael Haneke loves to fuck with his audience and his characters, and never more so than with this film (which will open in most cities in the first quarter of 2006). A seemingly average upper-class French family (headed by Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche) receives a strange series of video tapes of their home, under surveillance by an unknown watcher. Although showing nothing particularly shocking, the very idea of being watched opens up several cans of worms in the family that lead to anxiety, false accusations and a series of shocking outcomes. This one will keep you guessing and wondering long after the film is over.
  33. North Country—When this sex discrimination film effectively tanked at the box office, all the critical praise it initially garnered seemed to go right out the window, which is something of a tragedy since Charlize Theron turns in a performance as good, if not better, than she did in Monster.
  34. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada—Starring and directed by Tommy Lee Jones, turning in his most enduring role since the "Lonesome Dove" miniseries. Jones plays a man who vows to take the body of his dead friend across the border from Texas into Mexico, and drags the man's killer along for the torturous ride. You have never seen a film like this before.
  35. Palindromes—Todd Solondz's latest bit of blissful weirdness.
  36. The Beat That My Heart Skipped—The slick, faithful French remake of James Toback's Fingers.
  37. 5x2—Five stories, told in reverse order, concerning the love affair and ultimate breakup of a French couple. We've seen this technique used before, but perhaps never so effectively.
  38. The Constant Gardener
  39. Lord of War
  40. The Devil's Rejects—Rob Zombie finds his inner filmmaker artist and makes this exceptional torture classic. A far cry from his bloated House of 1,000 Corpses.
  41. War of the Worlds
  42. Mysterious Skin
  43. Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
  44. Howl's Moving Castle
  45. Manderlay—Set to open in most cities in the first quarter of 2006, Lars von Trier's sequel to Dogville is even more of a condemnation of American history, this time tackling the nation's history of slavery. His ideas are often way the hell out there, sometimes not even based in reality, but that doesn't make his films any less watchable and thought-provoking.
  46. A Hole in My Heart—I find it impossible not to recommend a film that features labia-reduction surgery. Good luck finding this Swedish delight.
  47. Junebug—While not nearly as ground-breaking and amazing as come critics have led you to believe, there is an honesty here that is undeniable. And then, of course, there's Amy Adams' breakthrough performance.
  48. Corpse Bride
  49. Millions—Danny Boyle's delightful follow-up to 28 Days Later, about a pair of young brothers who find a whole lot of money.
  50. Last Days—Underrated, underappreciated Gus van Sant film about the final hours of a fading rock star.
  51. Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith—I swear I did not deliberately put this film at the bottom of my list, but considering that neither Episode I or II made any of my Best of… lists in the last six years, Sith was a massive improvement and the saving grace of the newer trilogy.

Best Documentaries of 2005

1. Murderball
2. Grizzly Man
3. The Aristocrats
4. Reel Paradise
5. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
6. Shake Hands with the Devil
7. New York Doll
8. Unknown White Male
9. Double Dare
10. Rock School

11. The Last Mogul
12. Inside Deep Throat
13. Tell Them Who You Are
14. The White Diamond
15. March of the Penguins
16. McLibel
17. We Jam Econo
18. Mad Hot Ballroom
19. Aliens of the Deep
20. Lipstick & Dynamite

Best Reissues of 2005

1. Major Dundee
2. The Passenger
3. Elevator to the Gallows

Worst Films of 2005 (in no particular order, other than alphabetical)

Aeon Flux; Alone in the Dark; Are We There Yet?; Be Cool; Bewitched; Boogeyman; The Cave; Cheaper By the Dozen 2; Cry Wolf; Cursed; D.E.B.S.; Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo; Dirty Love; dot the i; Elektra; Fantastic 4; The Fog; Fun with Dick and Jane; Guess Who; Herbie: Fully Loaded; Hide and Seek; The Honeymooners; House of D; Jiminy Glick in LaLaWood; Just Friends; King's Ransom; The Legend of Zorro; The Man; Man of the House; Mindhunters; Miss Congeniality 2; Must Love Dogs; The Pacifier; Rebound; The Ringer; Son of the Mask; A Sound of Thunder; Stealth; Venom; The Wedding Date; White Noise; XXX: State of the Union; Yours, Mine and Ours.

My two biggest disappointments of 2005 were Casanova and Memoirs of a Geisha. They were probably the two most beautiful films I sat through in '05, and they both bored me to tears. I'd be happy to give Memoirs the Oscar for costumes today; it deserves it. But only if it meant I'd never have to watch it again. I'm still utterly perplexed by how today's three most beautiful Asian actresses could so completely drain me of inspiration and interest in this film. As for Casanova, Heath Ledger's mumblings are laughable and the film's "poignant" message about equality of the sexes is dated and clumsy.

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About the Author(s)

A Windy City resident for nearly 20 years, Steve writes about everything but movies at his day job for a trade journal publishing company. Using the alias Capone, he has been the Chicago Editor for Ain't It Cool News since 1998, and has been writing film reviews since he was a wee lad of 14, growing up in Maryland. Direct your questions or comments to .

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