Anders Bergstrom's blog on Words, Films, and Music

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

A sure fire way to get me to post on my blog is to spoil my Top Ten Films of 2005 on your own blog after talking to me, in an act of pure spite. What else are little brothers for? That said, I relent. There's still a few movies I haven't seen yet this year that I really wanted to (Capote, The Squid and The Whale). In fact, last year I saw over fifty 2004 releases in theatres. This year was a little slower, I saw 40 (not counting repeat viewings of films of which there were three that I saw at least three times in the theatre). Without further ado, here it is.

The Year in Review - MOVIES

For me it was a exciting year of movie going. Some of my favourite stories from childhood came to the big screen for the first time (The Chronicles of Narnia), and other favourites came to a finale (Star Wars); Some of my favourite directors (Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, Cameron Crowe) released films in 2005; Some films were surprisingly good, others were unfortunately disappointments. That said, it's always hard to boil down the films I see into a top ten. The fact is that armed with a limited budget of both money and time, and listening to writers and friends I trust, I see few films each year that I absolutely hate. But at the same time, this list represents the films that entertained/moved/provoked/thrilled me the most. To that end, I begin.

10) Broken Flowers (Dir. Jim Jarmusch)

After my conversation with Aren, in which I remained non-commital on the final spot for my Top Ten list (never a good sign), I reviewed my film journals and notes, in case there was a film that made a strong impression that I was overlooking. I found one in this surprisingly accessible film from an eccentric auteur. Jim Jarmusch (Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, Dead Man) directs Bill Murray (good as ever, year after year) in this touching story of an aging womanizer in search of a son he's never met. Some felt that Murray was merely playing the same disaffected cynic that he played in films like Rushmore or Lost in Translation, but he's so good at it and he's still not gotten the recognition he deserves as one of the premiere actors of his generation (unfortunately, comedians rarely get their due). Broken Flowers avoids the contrivances of some of Jarmusch's recent fare (Coffee & Cigarettes) and manages to stay with me months after seeing it.

9) War of the Worlds (Dir. Steven Spielberg)

Many dismissed Spielberg's frightening reflection on extra terrestrial intelligence (a theme he's clearly qualified to talk about given his past films) as nothing more than an empty and tasteless excercise, exploiting the disaster imagery of post-9/11 America, and starring an actor whose personal life was quickly spiraling into a media circus. Say what one will about Tom Cruise, he does fine work when he's with Spielberg. The decision to keep the screenplay firmly anchored in the point-of-view of the civilian protagonist (nary a general or president to found in this alien flick) gives the film an urgency and confusion that few other films of this genre achieve. Furthermore, when considered in light of Spielberg's other more overtly political film that he released this year, the film takes on a more thoughtful poignancy about the nature of world shaking events and the use of terror as a force of war. And anyone who had issues with the seemingly abrupt ending to the film out to take it up with H. G. Wells, as on that issue Spielberg and screenwriter David Koepp stay relatively faithful to the original source material.

8) Good Night. and, Good Luck (Dir. George Clooney)

There were a great many films that had political themes this year (and a number of them appear in my favourites), but of those that overtly dealt with politics in a straightforward way none impressed me as much as Good Night, and Good Luck. George Clooney, taking a back seat supporting role in the film, shows that he's not merely another "actor-director," but a legitimitly good director in his own right. The film, which chronicles the televised confrontation between CBS journalist Edward Murrow (played most excellently by the underrated David Strathairn) and Senetor Joseph McCarthy in a 50s America not entirely foreign to us today. Clooney's film isn't pedantic however, and is artful and complex in it's portrayal of the news media's relationship to politics. The use of "glorious black & white," as well as fine supporting acting from all involved makes this one of the best films I saw all year.


7) A History of Violence (Dir. David Cronenberg)

This film, directed by Canadian Cronenberg and starring Viggo Mortensen, is one of two films on my list that have their origin in comic books. Suprised? Yep, the film is based on a graphic novel by British writer John Wagner (Judge Dredd). Either way, Cronenberg's film hit me hard and stuck with me the whole year. Like several of the films on my list, A History of Violence explores the theme of, guess what?, violence, and how it affects us and whether we can ever truly walk away from our past. Viggo Mortensen gives an amazing peformance as Tom Stall, an average citizen, who when he kills a man to protect his community, draws the attention of those asking, "How come he's so good at killing people?" Supporting performances from Maria Bello, Ed Harris and William Hurt (playing against type) add to the power of the film. It is a film that is well worth seeing, for the art and craft involved, and for the conversations to be had afterward.

6) Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Dir. Mike Newell)

I'm a big fan of the Harry Potter books. I was also a big fan, despite the complaints of many fans I know, of Alfonso Cuarón's adaptation of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in 2004. I felt that
Cuarón's film was more artful than the first two Potter films and not merely a slavish adaptation of a popular book. I was somewhat apprehensive about this film, what with Goblet being one of my favourites in the series and also being somewhat more difficult to adapt (it's more than 3 times the length of any of the first three books). But the film surprised me becoming one of my favourites of the year.Of course Goblet has the advantage of it's plot, the Tri-Wizard Tournament, being constructed in such a way that momentum is maintained throughout the story, never slowing down or getting bogged down in exposition.Newell stays more faithful to the source material than Cuarón, but still brings an artist's vision to the film. Furthermore, Newell manages to make the character moments in the film really shine. The Yule Ball scene is one of my favourites in the entire film and contains some amazingly real emotional moments. Harry Potter is literary adaptation done right, capturing the energy and feel of the author in a year when other fantasy adaptations left me cold.

5) Wallace & Gromit - The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (Dir. Nick Park & Steve Box)

This film is probably the funniest and most charming film I saw all year. I've been a huge fan of the Wallace & Gromit films since I saw The Wrong Trousers years ago (and subsequently made it one of my all time favourites). I loved Nick Park's Chicken Run as well and was ecstatic when I heard Wallace & Gromit would be getting their own feature film. The film, with its myriad homages to classic horror and creature features, concerns a beast, a Were-Rabbit, that is preying on the good English village's vegetable gardens, and threating the Big Vegetable competition. Fortunately Wallace & Gromit's Anti-Pesto, humane pest removal is on the job. As much as I love the computer generated imagery of Pixar, there's something about the stop motion puppetry at work here that gives the film a special touch. Not as polished as other offerings (Tim Burton's Corpse Bride), but it contains all the more charm in it's hand crafted tale of rabbits, vegetables and of course...cheese!

4) Batman Begins (Dir. Christopher Nolan)

Truth be told, I don't think any of the live-action Batman films, not even Tim Burton's heralded 1989 film let alone the Schumacher travesties, really "got" the character of Batman. Burton was more interested in the freak show and what I would call "camp-gothic" than in exploring the idea of a man driven by the death of his parents to become a vigillante. So when I heard that Christopher Nolan (Memento) would be directing the film, and that he had cast Christian Bale (a move I called for ages ago) as Bruce Wayne/Batman I was excited. Would Nolan finally make a Batman film worthy of the character? By crafting a story that keeps its focus firmly on the character of Bruce Wayne, and filling the the supporting cast with a wealth of acting talent (Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, and Gary Oldman) Batman Begins handily lets us forget that any other Batman films exist, wiping the slate clean and claiming the mantle of "Best Superhero Film Ever" (yes, joining and perhaps even surpassing Spider-man 2). This film was everything I could have hoped it would be and reminded me why the Dark Knight is one of my favourite fictional characters ever.

3) King Kong (Dir. Peter Jackson)

King Kong cements Peter Jackson's position among the greatest and most audacious directors of our time. His ability to tackle projects that seem too big (The Lord of the Rings for instance) and make exciting, larger-than-life, and moving films puts me in awe of his imagination and skill. Kong is a remarkable feat. Jackson takes everything he loved about the original 1933 classic that inspired him to become a filmmaker and cranks it up to the extreme. Fleshed out is the backgrounds of both the crew members of the Venture and the film crew of the hubristic Carl Denham. But more imporantly the relationship between our misunderstood hero and the woman he falls for is stripped of its creepy sexual subtext and made to really resonate and work. Naomi Watt's deserves praise and my nod for the best actress of the year as she helps bring Kong to life through her interaction. Furthermore, Andy Serkis and the Weta FX team deserve special praise for bringing a 25 foot gorilla to life and making him emote. This film really worked for me, not only as a piece of bravura filmmaking, but in the wake of my beloved pet dog Belle's death, reminding me of the powerful bond that can form between a human and an animal.


But wait you say..."King Kong is only your number 3 film of the year? You loved it and raved about it for months leading up to it. How can this be?" Let it be known that I absolutely loved Kong and Batman, and that should explain how much I adore the top two films on my list.

2) Munich (Dir. Steven Spielberg)

In a year when political films were all the rage, and the news is filled with various talking heads from all political views bombarding us political rhetoric, how can it be that the master of "mere" entertainment gives us one of the greatest American films I've seen in ages and ages? How is it that Steven Spielberg is able to make a film that not only asks more honest and hard hitting questions about the state of the world, violence, life, love, patriotism, duty, honour and the cost of vengeance than any of the more "serious" directors out there? Not only that but Spielberg's film is brilliantly composed, endlessly thrilling and emotionally intense, never relying on "preaching" in getting us to tackle these hard questions. Perhaps it is in working with acclaimed playwright Tony Kushner (Angels in America), or in once again getting himself a cast that does wonders (Eric Bana, Daniel Craig, Geoffrey Rush). At any rate this nearly perfect, melding of craft and conscience blew me away. If I was to compare it to other films in history, I would have to describe it as containing the punch and politics of a film like The Manchurian Candidate (1962) but interpreted through the aesthetic of early 70s Copolla (The Godfather, The Conversation) with it's gritty violence and striking characters. Munich is a film for the ages and cements Spielberg's position as my favourite director of all time.

MY FAVOURITE FILM OF 2005!

1) Star Wars Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (Dir. George Lucas)

Was there really any question of what my favourite film of the year would be? Revenge of the Sith brings a close to the story that I've followed with zeal my entire life. And it does so with a bang! Even those I know who were dissapointed with the first two prequels had to admit that Sith was different. I cannot honestly judge the film without acknowledging that this film meant more to me than any other. I brought with me to the film all the emotional baggage of a young man watching a film that he had been waiting for, for quite nearly, all his life! Seeing the fall of Anakin Skywalker finally put up on the screen, watching him hunt down and destroy the Jedi Knight's (and commiting actions that even I never dreamed he would!), seeing the home of the Wookies Kashyyyk finally portrayed, watching Obi-Wan forced to engage his life long friend and brother figure in mortal combat on a lava planet and then finally secreting away Anakin's infant twins after the tragic death of their mother, when those credits reading "Written and Directed By GEORGE LUCAS" finally popped up, it was a moving and bittersweet moment. This is the last Star Wars film. The fact that I type those words makes me think about how great it was growing up with these films, and getting to experience the conclusion to the greatest film saga of all time. For all those reasons, and hundreds more, melodrama, operatic storyline and all, Revenge of the Sith is the most significant, most memorable, and my personal favourite film of the entire year, if not the decade!

Those last four films on my list were easy to rank. I uncategorically loved them. Making lists though is always difficult. I always have something to say about more films, love them or hate them, and I can't limit myself to just the Top Ten list.

Runner's Up: Syriana for its fascinating look at the complexities of the global oil business; The Constant Gardener for making a fascinating thriller that forced us to contemplate our relationship with drug companies and our complicity in African suffering; Robert Rodreguez and Frank Miller's Sin City for suggesting an entirely new aesthetic and amazing technical accomplishments that made it possible to literally bring the pages of a comic book to life; Wedding Crashers and The 40-Year-Old Virgin for making me laugh until it hurt, but never losing their hear; Crash for being about more than just "race"; and Corpse Bride for just looking fantastic.

Dissapointments: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe showed me the negative fallout of Peter Jackson's success, as stories I've beloved for ages are interpreted by people who clearly don't understand them and are merely cashing in on the fantasy craze; Elizabethtown and Cameron Crowe for letting his passion for making great mix tapes interfer with ability to tell a touching and believable story; The Brother's Grimm and more specifically, The Weinsteins for clearly butchering the work of a genius like Terry Gilliam and fine actors like Heath Ledger and Matt Damon; The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy for not being as charming and memorable as the book it was based on. Months later I can barely remember moments that should have been classic.

Surprises: Brokeback Mountain for transcending the political arguments surrounding it and giving an artful portrayal of broken human relationships and people struggling to connect; The Island was better than it should have been, given the name Michael Bay was attached. Perhaps it had more to do with the names Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson, Djimon Hounsou and Sean Bean; The Weather Man for being surprisingly memorable, full of great performances from Michael Caine, Hope Davis and Nicholas Cage, and reminding us that "Easy doesn't enter into grown up life."

4 comments:

Luke said...

Hey man
nothing will breath life into the blogging circle like a top ten films list. I'll have to get on that, but i was waiting till the end of jan, in hopes to see "goodnight and good luck".

good list.

GoldNboy said...

Good show, but I still win, HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

Adam said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Adam said...

I noticed Nicholas Cage's Lord Of War wasn't mentioned. Not that I've seen it, but I've heard good things. Have you seen it?