The Best Films of 2005
by Chuck Rothman
Well everyone else does it, and I'm writing
about films, so what the hell.
I don't see movies in theaters that often.
It's just too expensive to go to first-run houses, so my moviegoing for any
given year involves three things:
- Tapes/DVDs of films that came out in the early part of
- Trips to Proctor's
Theater. Proctor's is an old-time movie palace in Schenectady -- walls
covered in gold leaf and an actual theater organ (the place was built in
1926, before sound). They're remodeled and kept it up over the years
(finishing up on an expansion right now), and it's primarily used for live
theater. But they do have a film series of second-run films at $3.00 a
ticket. At that price, I don't mind waiting a few months.
- The Drive-In during the summer. Yes, they are still
in existence, about forty minutes away. Two of them: Malta and Jericho,
plus a couple of others much further away. Two movies for less than the
price of one at the multiplex, plus much better food.
So there are certainly some good films I've
missed. Still, of those I've seen, I can say these are the best:
One of the best films I've seen in years.
Crash is about race in America and it doesn't flinch from showing the
complexities of the issue. It's an intertwining story of about a dozen people
and how racial attitudes shape their lives. Don Cheadle is, as usual, brilliant
as a cop with a brother who lives on the wrong side of the law. And Matt Dillon
is fantastic as a man whose apparent racism is really something else entirely.
I loved Dillon years ago in his role of the teenage bully in My Bodyguard,
and this was also spectacular. The scene where Thandie Newton is forced to
trust him with her life, after he molested her the night before, is just plain
brilliant. The Oscars will probably forget, but I won't.
Wallace and Gromit
in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
I've been a fan of Wallace and Gromit since
I caught a few minutes of The Wrong Trousers at the Oscars. In fact, a
couple of years ago, when I saw the name Aardman Animation and Nick Park shown
at the beginning of a film trailer, I knew the movie -- Chicken Run, and
I had no idea of the title at that point -- was one I wanted to see.
Chicken Run was great, but I was disappointed that W&G were on the back
But the wait was worth it. Gromit is one of
the best actors in Hollywood, his face so expressive that he could do anything.
And the film was, as usual, filled with delights and imagination.
A nice reimagining of the legend. It was
nice that the darkness didn't hurt the story, and there were plenty of nice
touches in this reworking of the legend. It's nice to know the franchise is
back on track after Joel Schumacher's butchery.
The Wild Parrots of
The best documentary of the year. I know
March of the Penguins will win the Oscar, but that was just a very good
nature film. Wild Parrots was something more. In Penguins, all
the penguins were the same. In Parrots, all the parrots had
personality. You could relate to them as individuals. When a penguin died in
the cold, it was sad to see the animal die. When there was death in Parrots,
it was the death of a friend. And, Parrots had a wonderful unexpected
twist at the end that put it way ahead. As for what it's about, it shows a
flock of parrots in San Francisco -- pets that escaped, maybe -- and the man who
worked to feed and protect them. The parrots are individuals, with their
own personalities, and are an utter delight.
Good Night and Good Luck
I long ago thought that Edward R. Murrow's
first attack on Joe McCarthy was the best single news-based TV show ever
broadcast. No, I wasn't around when it happened (or, rather, I was 1½, so that
doesn't count), but I had seen it in college. That actually was quite unusual
in the days before video: it was a film made of the broadcast, and of
Clooney did a great job of recreating the
time and the show. David Strathairn, an actor I've always liked, was uncanny in
his capturing Murrow's mannerism and voice. And I think the show made an
important point: we must not give up our freedoms to fear.
Me and You and Everyone We Know
The most obscure film on the list. We
picked it up over Christmas break. Lisa saw it in the video store and noticed
the awards on the cover ("wheat," she calls them). She always liked picking up
films that won awards. And this was worth it.
I'll admit it took a bit to find its charm.
It's also an interconnected story about people living their lives and trying to
make contact with others. Miranda July --who also directed -- plays a
performance artists who his smitten with a shoe salesman. The film is poetic,
obscene, and deliciously creepy. There's the salesman's six-year-old son who
hangs out in porn chatrooms, unaware of what is really going on. The two
teenaged girls who ask his older brother to judge which is better at oral sex
(the sex, BTW, is entirely non-graphic, and really deals with the difficulty
that young people have dealing with it). The repressed art gallery director.
The preteen girl who's buying household items for when she gets married. It's
not easy to describe what goes on, but it stays with you a long time. Very
beautiful and poetic.
March of the Penguins
Probably the best straight nature
documentary ever. Missing the human element from Parrots, but still a
great tale of a fight against the elements and the wonder of evolution in
Kung Fu Hustle
I'm not a fan of Kung Fu films, or any films
involving fighting: I find it boring. In any fight scene, you know who will
win: usually the hero. So why drag it out?
This is the exception. It wasn't just that
the scenes were well choreographed; it's that you don't really know who the hero
is. Admittedly, I knew nothing about Stephen Chow, but though most of the
movie, he is working very hard to be one of the bad guys. So after the first
fight scene, I figured we'd be seeing the story of the three incognito kung fu
masters. Boy, was I wrong. The movie changed focus brilliantly and the fights
were imaginative. I especially liked the two musicians.
The film's sense of humor made it more than
just a bunch of fights, and it's filled with constant delighted surprises.