I saw roughly 100 movies this year, and barely touched the tip of the iceberg. Roger Ebert claims he sees around 350 movies each year, and even he isn't catching them all. The rest of us file in below him, seeing as many as we can. This year, I'm pretty satisfied with what I caught. There were one or two I missed which had I seen them might have made this list. The Squid and the Whale for instance is getting a lot of buzz as is Hustle & Flow, but I'm happy with the way 2005 shook out.
So what makes my list different from anyone else's? Nothing, except it was made by me. And unlike some compulsive end-of-year listers, you won't see me trying to fill some sort of quota for specific types of movies on my list. I'm not looking for one blockbuster, one indie, one Asian film, or anything in particular. Just the ten I liked most. Why ten? It's a nice round number. Simple, no bullshit.
If you can spare three hours or so to sit through them, do it. These are the movies I think were the year's ten best.
1. Walk the Line
Directed By: James Mangold Written By: James Mangold, Gill Dennis Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Ginnifer Goodwin, Robert Patrick, Dallas Roberts, Dan John Miller, Larry Bagby, Shelby Lynne, Tyler Hilton, Waylon Payne, Shooter Jennings
This was an easy pick at number one. Something about Walk the Line really rings true with me. I'm not putting it at number one because of the performances, though those were great. So often when people talk about Walk the Line that's all they mention, whether or not they like Joaquin Pheonix's and Reese Witherspoon's portrayals of Cash and Carter. They're both genius, but that's not what makes this the best of the year for me. Unlike last year's Ray, where the movie was all about Jamie Foxx's mimicry and nothing else, it's the story that drives Walk the Line, a love story between two people. It's just a bonus that any of this actually happened, this is a fantastic romance with or without that little fact. And there's the character that James Mangold and Gill Dennis's script builds Johnny Cash into. He's as deeply flawed and damaged as he is larger than life. Walk the Line is a movie filled with so many wonderful, unforgettable moments. That scene with Cash and Carter in bed on the morning after, where he teases her and June declares him a “mean man” stands out for me. It's a simple little sequence, but there's such an emotional bite to it. Maybe that's what I like most about Walk the Line, it's a biopic with an edge. No, I'm not talking about the drug abuse or Johnny Cash's wild driving of tractors. It's a story that's razor sharp, the tale of a man in love to the point of desperation. Every man needs a good woman, and nobody needed one more than Johnny Cash. We're lucky he found her.
Best Moment: June says yes.
CB Quote: “When Cash dismisses his accomplishments as accident or happenstance, it's not because he's humble, but because he's worried about what his music and his style says about him.” [CB Review]
Directed By: Paul Haggis Written By: Paul Haggis, Robert Moresco Starring: Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Jennifer Esposito, William Fichtner, Brendan Fraser, Terrence Dashon Howard, Ludacris, Thandie Newton, Ryan Phillippe, Tony Danza
I'm not the kind of guy who likes to throw around the “important film” moniker, but you're going to see me use it on two movies in my list this year. This is the first. Crash is an important film. This is a movie filled with characters from all walks of life, and each of them has something to say that every one of us needs to hear. When Paul Haggis' characters talk, they speak openly, saying the things that are probably on all our minds but that we're too afraid to say ourselves. The movie uses foggy grays to rip apart the artificial racial and cultural barriers that divide us and show the world for what it is: full of people. After multiple viewings the movie still hits me with the same amount of relevant weight. Its message is timeless and its impact is undeniable. Watch it and be prepared to walk away with an overwhelming need to give a few random hugs.
Best Moment: The magic cloak.
CB Quote: "Maybe it’s not going to cure all the world’s ills, but it may help you understand a little better where the other guy is coming from." [CB Review]
3. The 40 Year-Old Virgin
Directed By: Judd Apatow Written By: Judd Apatow, Steve Carell Starring: Steve Carell, Catherine Keener, Paul Rudd, Romany Malco, Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, Leslie Mann, Jane Lynch, Gerry Bednob, Shelley Malil
Ten-minutes in to The 40 Year-Old Virigin I realized I was smiling. I didn't stop when the movie was over; I walked out the door still grinning like an idiot. It's been a good year for comedies, but none have been better than this. The reason The 40-Year Old Virgin works so well, is that it's a lot more than a collection of hearty belly laughs. Underneath the porn jokes and bouts of “you know how I know you're gay” there's a really sweet, simple story here about a group of well developed, endearing, characters. It's a guy movie full of guy things, but it's got that softer, romantic side too. What's great about the film is that it never makes fun of Andy or demeans him. Most other comedies would have taken that route, in someone else's hands a character like Andy wouldn't have fared so well. The 40 Year-Old Virgin doesn't need to go there, it gets laughs from other places, the unexpected ones. It hits you with the jokes you don't necessarily see coming. It's not just year's funniest movie, it's one of the most heartfelt too.
Best Moment: Andy tries mixing porn and Lionel Richie.
CB Quote: "The camaraderie between the guys at the store is what carries the movie, with the best humor coming not from staged coincidences but rather the natural evolution of their relationship and the effect they have on Andy’s personality." [CB Review]
4. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Directed By: George Lucas Written By: George Lucas Starring: Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Jimmy Smits, Frank Oz, Anthony Daniels, Christopher Lee, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Silas Carson, Jay Laga'aia, Bruce Spence, Wayne Pygram, Kenny Baker
This is as close as you can get to a perfect Star Wars movie… assuming you can ignore Vader's humiliating “Nooooo” at the end. I think we can forgive that two-second lapse into Phantom Menace territory. What a welcome surprise from George Lucas, a Star Wars movie that doesn't pull any punches and doesn't pander to little kids. This is a great film, and I'm shocked that it didn't end up higher on my list. It's a dead heat between my top four, the difference in greatness between them is minimal. Thank you George Lucas. Thank you for redeeming yourself. Thank you for giving a bit back to us old school Star Wars fans. It's the little moments that make this one: The Chancellor's conversation with Anakin at the opera; Obi Wan's goodbye to Anakin as they part ways for the last time as friends. The inevitability of it all, the gradual slip into darkness. It's perfect. He nailed it. Put Star Wars to rest.
Best Moment: Palpatine and Anakin's night at the opera.
CB Quote: "The real beauty is that you could easily toss out the previous two awkward attempts, watch only this in sequence with the original films, and come out completely satisfied." [CB Review]
Directed By: Steven Spielberg Written By: Tony Kushner Starring: Eric Bana, Daniel Craig, Geoffrey Rush, Mathieu Kassovitz, Hanns Zischler, Ciaran Hinds
Spielberg is taking a lot of flack for Munich. I submit this as proof that the movie is good. This is a brave, powerful, important film. What Munich says about terrorism is this: I don't know what to do. There are no answers here, only an even-handed look at the biggest issue facing the world today from a human, individual standpoint. The final shot of the film is a message to the world, leaving the task of finding solutions in our hands. Where do we go from here it asks? Munich is lean, mean, and absolutely unflinching. This is without a doubt Spielberg's best work since Saving Private Ryan, and in some ways maybe it's even better than that. It's a splash of cold water from Hollywood's greatest director, a guy who's been settling for mediocre as of late. Forget aliens and robot kids Steven. More of this.
Best Moment: Avner visits the closet.
CB Quote: "You don’t just understand the people written in to the script, knowing them also brings you into a wider world of understanding about the terrorist problem as a whole, both then and now." [CB Review]
Directed By: Joss Whedon Written By: Joss Whedon Starring: Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, Morena Baccarin, Adam Baldwin, Jewel Staite, Sean Maher, Summer Glau, Ron Glass, Chiwetel Ejiofor, David Krumholtz
This one hurts… but only because no one saw it. In a perfect world, Serenity would be one of the year's biggest blockbusters. It's a great movie, the kind that I think big, general audiences would have loved watching if someone in Joss Whedon's camp or over at Universal had figured out a way to get anyone in seats to see it. It'll wash out as one of the more noteworthy flops of the year and that's it. What a shame. This is space sci-fi fantasy in its finest form. This is the kind of filmmaking that got people so excited about Star Wars to begin with, the science fiction spirit that so often seems to be missing from modern attempts at the genre. Its fans are obsessive and a little bit frightening, and I think they do it a disservice by their behavior. But that's got nothing to do with the film itself, which is without a doubt one of the best space fantasies of the past decade or so. Whedon gave us a truly fantastic escapist trip… and no one showed up. Stow all the talk about box office decline due to bad movies, here's a great film that ended up as a big, stinky, flop.
Best Moment: Mal aims to misbehave.
CB Quote: "A rip-roaring and sometimes moving space adventure that picks up almost where the crew of the Millennium Falcon left off, except this time without any of those pesky, holier-than-thou Jedi around." [CB Review]
7. Sin City
Directed By: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez Written By: Robert Rodriguez Starring: Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Elijah Wood, Bruce Willis, Benicio Del Toro, Michael Clarke Duncan, Carla Gugino, Josh Hartnett, Michael Madsen, Jaime King, Brittany Murphy, Clive Owen, Mickey Rourke, Nick Stahl, Marley Shelton, Arie Verveen
A visceral, visual feast. Who knew Robert Rodriguez was capable of this sort of filmmaking? I'd almost given up on him and dismissed him as a guy better at making movies fast and cheap than good. Sure, he has his fans but lately his best efforts have been Spy Kids and not much more than that. Paired up with the original author of the comics on which the movie is based, Frank Miller, Rodriguez creates is one of the year's most unique movie experiences in Sin City. It also one of the many movies released this year that makes a great case for going to the cinema over staying home and watching on DVD. You just can't get the full effect anywhere but in a movie theater, I don't care how tricked up your home system is. Notable though is the fact that the stories told in the film aren't overwhelmed by its stylized visuals, nor are the actors' performances muted by special effects. Mickey Rourke under all that makeup as Marv is unforgettable.
Best Moment: Josh Hartnett's hit.
CB Quote: "If you can take what’s being thrown at you, Sin City is an incendiary movie experience. You’ve never seen anything like it." [CB Review]
8. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
Directed By: Shane Black Written By: Shane Black Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer, Michelle Monaghan, Corbin Bernsen, Dash Mihok, Larry Miller
Here's a candidate for cult movie status if I've ever seen one. Shane Black's movie is so full of self-commentating dialogue that it's practically self-aware. The patter is blistering, especially when it's coming from the mouths of Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer. There's nothing instantly likable about it, it might even be a little confusing, but the movie really grows on you; its unique, weird, and borderline experimental style is striking. It had a small run in theaters and received glowing reviews, yet audiences tended to ignore it. But Shane Black's script is brilliant, while Kilmer and Robert Downey are even more so.
Best Moment: Harry Lockhart pees on a corpse.
CB Quote: "Black tries to honor Raymond Chandler by dividing the film into titled chapters, cracking wise with the dialogue, and using the Narrator in that self-conscious, self-aware way. " [CB Review]
9. King Kong
Directed By: Peter Jackson Written By: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson Starring: Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Andy Serkis, Jamie Bell, Kyle Chandler, Lobo Chan, Thomas Kretschmann, Evan Park, Colin Hanks, John Sumner
Peter Jackson cashed in his LOTR chips for this indulgent remake of the 1933 classic King Kong. Like its title character, the movie's a wonder to behold. It's a wild celebration of blockbuster filmmaking, a rollercoaster ride of high adventure and big ambition. You get the sense that Jackson wasn't really making this movie for anyone but himself. He threw all the stuff in that he wanted to see, and luckily a lot of that is the stuff we want to see as well. King Kong is a blast of excitement, but more than that it's a pretty good tragedy too. Sure, we know the monkey gets it in the end, but Jackson makes him a more sympathetic character than he's been in any of his other incarnations. We care about Kong, and so his movie is filled with a constant note of sadness as he swings towards his inevitable, impending doom. Along the way, we the audience get to have fun watching things like the slow slug devouring of Andy Serkis's head.
Best Moment: Kong takes Anne ice skating.
CB Quote: "...has the unexpected effect of making it possible to absolutely love Kong, even while he's biting the head off one of the movie's human hero characters." [CB Review]
10. The Weather Man
Directed By: Gore Verbinski Written By: Steve Conrad Starring: Nicolas Cage, Michael Caine, Hope Davis, Gemmenne de la Pena, Nicholas Hoult, Michael Rispoli, Gil Bellows
There's plenty of close competition for this last spot on my list, but I've decided to go with Gore Verbinski's The Weather Man because it's good and almost no one seems to realize it. This is the sort of movies Nic Cage should be doing, not superhero flicks where he rides a motorcycle and fights crime by setting his head on fire. It's a weird film, one that sometimes seems stuck trying to decide if it's a tragedy or a comedy. In the end it's a little bit of both. It's unrelenting in its dejection but at the same time it'll stick with you later and maybe even make you laugh. Like Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, this is another one that could well end up as an overlooked cult classic, a refreshingly unique movie that's nothing like you'd expect. It's sardonic, offbeat humor and authentic feeling style makes it one the most unfairly missed movies of 2005 and one of the real high points of Nicolas Cage's career.
Best Moment: Dave practices archery at his father's living wake.
CB Quote: "...a wintry mix of soft, flaky chuckles and blistering depression." [CB Review]
Great Stuff that didn't make the cut:
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Madagascar, Stay, Elizabethtown, Cinderella Man, The Island, Batman Begins, Wedding Crashers, Broken Flowers, The Family Stone, Bride and Prejudice
Just in case you were wondering:
Miss Congeniality 2 was the worst film of 2005. Even William Shatner couldn't save it. Domino came in with a close second stinkiness. Even Keira Knightley topless couldn't save it.
me with the way you see it.