It is once again that happiest time of the movie year: the time when we look back at the very best films of the past twelve months. Some people wonder what the point of a ten best list is. After all, isnít ranking great movies kind of pointless? Perhaps, but the real reason for doing it is because list making provides all kinds of happy memories. It is a chance to celebrate excellence, to recall cheerful moviegoing experiences, and to remind readers of outstanding films they may have missed. (Or, in some cases, of films that never played in their towns.)
This yearís list is a little different in that I have broken one of my own cardinal rules of this exercise: I have allowed a tie. I abhor ties in ten best lists, and I swore that I would never permit one. Well, never say never. My reason for having a tie is based solely on my inability to pick one film over another. In this case, my picks for the #9 slot are both included here for the exact same reason; including one and discarding the other seemed dishonest in light of the immense sense of satisfaction both titles provided. If it seems like I am cheating here, I probably am. I hope you will forgive me this slight bending of the rules.
The year 2005 was, despite what anyone says, a very good year for films. I had no trouble picking ten to celebrate here. In fact, several more terrific films failed to make the list but came close. Picking one movie as the yearís best was difficult, though. In some years, there is one film that clearly stands head and shoulders above the rest for me. I always remember 1993, when Schindlerís List was far and away my #1 pick. Lots of great movies that year, but none came close to Spielbergís Holocaust masterpiece. Then there are years like 2004, where I have to invent a way to rank the titles. Last year, many movies touched me quite personally; I used that as my formula, eventually picking Garden State as my top choice.
In 2005, I had about seven films that, at one time or another, I considered choosing as the yearís best. In various ways, they were all about equal in my mind. Unless I wanted to really cheat and have a seven-way tie for first place, I needed to determine how I would go about selecting one of them for the top honor. I always look for quality, entertainment value, personal connection, and inventive filmmaking. This year, I also decided to make my choice specific to the year itself. (More on that closer to the end.)
Before unveiling this yearís list, I want to give some props to the films that were runners-up. While they may not have made the top ten (er, eleven) these pictures represent high-quality entertainment:
While Iím at it, hereís a list of other worthy films from 2005, all of which deserve to be seen: Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, The Constant Gardener, Downfall, Elizabethtown, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire, Hustle & Flow, In Her Shoes, Jarhead, Lord of War, Pride & Prejudice, Robots, The Upside of Anger, Walk the Line, Wedding Crashers, and Zathura. Some of these you may already have seen; others were sadly overlooked, but you can catch up with them on DVD.
And now, here are my picks for the Ten (actually, eleven) Best Films of 2005:
10. Match Point - Iíve been a Woody Allen fan since I was a kid and saw Take the Money and Run on TV. Over the years, heís made his share of great films (Annie Hall, Crimes & Misdemeanors, and Everyone Says I Love You are my favorites), as well as a few clunkers. This psychological drama ranks among his very best. Jonathan Rhys-Meyers stars as a struggling tennis pro who marries into money, but lusts for his brother-in-lawís fiancťe (the superb Scarlett Johannson). He canít have both and ultimately has to decide whether to give up his material possessions or the woman whose passion ignites him. Allen has made a totally satisfying film about the role luck plays in our lives. Itís great to see him back in top form.
9. (tie) Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith/Batman Begins - Since I was a child, Iíve had two big-time pop culture obsessions: Star Wars and Batman. This year, both were represented with first-rate movies that delighted my inner fanboy. George Lucas tied up his space saga with a final installment that was pure ecstasy for those of us who have absorbed every detail of the series. Meanwhile, Christopher Nolan (Memento) revitalized the Batman film franchise with a smart entry that took the concept of a caped crusader seriously. Both pictures are examples of what happens when highly-anticipated fan favorites get it exactly right. I couldnít pick one over the other, so Iíve allowed them to share the same space on this list.
8. Good Night, and Good Luck - There is no one in Hollywood right now whom I admire more than George Clooney. Instead of coasting on his leading man looks and innate charm, Clooney has used his influence to make challenging, ambitious films. His other 2005 entry, Syriana (which he co-produced and co-starred in), didnít quite work for me, although I greatly admired the effort. On the other hand, Good Night, and Good Luck was a home run. Working as co-writer, director, and co-star, Clooney beautifully examined the behind-the-scenes broadcasting drama that occurred when veteran newsman Edward R. Murrow (a brilliant David Strathairn) took on Sen. Joe McCarthy. The film had an immediate, you-are-there feel that drove home the idea that broadcasting, in the right hands, can be a powerful agent for change.
7. North Country - Like Good Night, and Good Luck, this drama was produced by Participant Films, a new company devoted to addressing important social issues in film without sacrificing entertaining value. Charlize Theron starred in this true story of the first ever class action sexual harassment lawsuit, playing a female mine worker who dares to stand up to the male chauvinist pigs who control every aspect of the system. The story is undeniably powerful, but the human story is just as effective, as Theronís father (Richard Jenkins) learns to confront his own prejudices after seeing his daughterís struggle.
6. Crash - Although we live in the 21st century, racism and prejudice are still with us to an alarming degree. Writer/director Paul Haggis and an ensemble cast showed how we all have our prejudices and how, like automobiles, they occasionally collide with devastating results. Crash dares to strip away the black-and-white arguments, depicting decent people who have flaws and unsympathetic people who have redeeming qualities. In a movie filled with great performances, Matt Dillon stands out as a racist cop who nevertheless does the right thing when the chips are down.
5. Sin City - Granted, this is not a film for every taste, but I thought it was one of the most inventive, bold, and groundbreaking pieces of cinema Iíve seen in years. Rather than merely adapting Frank Millerís graphic novel for the screen, director Robert Rodriguez made the film look exactly like the work on which it was based. Weíre talking shot-for-shot here. Creative special effects captured the stark black-and-white-with-the-occasional-strategic-splash-of-color look of Millerís drawings. Itís gritty, itís intense, and itís violent as hell, but Sin City is also unlike anything Iíve ever seen.
4. Brokeback Mountain - As I write this, the local newspaper of a nearby small town is abuzz with reader outrage over the so-called ďgay cowboy movie.Ē The fact that Brokeback Mountain isnít even playing within 200 miles of this particular town exemplifies the sad prejudice that still exists in this world. It also does the movie a real injustice. This is a love story Ė not unlike, say, ďRomeo and JulietĒ Ė about two people who care deeply for each other but cannot be together due to the influence of outside forces. The beauty of this story is that itís not about gay cowboys; instead, Brokeback Mountain is about love, friendship, loss, regret, and longing. Those who condemn it would do well to see it; I bet many of them would be moved to tears by the beauty contained in this tale of unconditional love.
3. March of the Penguins - Who knew that emperor penguins march seventy miles Ė single file, no less Ė to a common mating ground where they spend months starving and fighting extreme weather conditions simply for the joy of procreation? Did you know that? I sure didnít. Filmmaker Luc Jacquet did know it, and he took a camera crew into sub-arctic conditions to film it. Reading about the penguinsí annual journey in a book would be one thing, but to actually see it is a breathtaking experience. Rarely have so many astonishing images been packed into a mere 80 minutes. Even better, we come away from March of the Penguins with a renewed awe and respect for the miracle of animals.
2. Broken Flowers - Jim Jarmusch is one of the forefathers of the modern independent cinema, and this year he made a film that literally gave me those chills I get when I know Iíve seen something great. Bill Murray turns in other magnificent performance as an aging Don Juan who may have unknowingly produced a child with one of his many ex-girlfriends. Whatís amazing about Broken Flowers is that, like most of Jarmuschís films, itís all about whatís under the surface. Rather than spelling everything out, the movie invites you to look more closely. What you end up with is a poignant-but-funny tale of a guy whoís been so busy chasing short-term thrills that life may have passed him by.
And my choice for the best film of 2005 is:
1. King Kong - Itís not an important film like North Country, and itís not a deep film like Brokeback Mountain. So why is Kong my pick for best of the year? Well, all year long weíve been hearing about the box office slump. Some have argued that such a slump is merely a media concoction. I would tend to agree, although itís true that 2005 produced its fair share of mediocre movies that failed to live up to whatever dubious promise they may have had (The Dukes of Hazzard, Son of the Mask, Man of the House, xXx: State of the Union, House of Wax, The Island, etc.). King Kong, on the other hand, had lots of ambition to be a great big extravaganza of entertainment. It had action; it had adventure; it had romance and comedy and thrills. It even had heart. Peter Jacksonís epic take on a classic tale did all of these things perfectly, capturing the magic of moviegoing in its most basic form. For three hours, everything else disappeared and I was engulfed in a great story, masterfully told. King Kong stands as a beacon for all other mainstream Hollywood movies; if the studios cranked out more films with this level of quality, there wouldnít be any talk of a box office slump.
So there you go Ė ten (actually, eleven) terrific movies, plus a few more that didnít get on the list but are still very much worth seeing. I canít help but feel all warm inside as I look back over this list. Films like these are why I love to go to the movies.
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