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:

  1. Tapes/DVDs of films that came out in the early part of the year.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:

1.  Crash

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.

2.  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 burner.

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.

3.  Batman Begins

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.

4.  The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

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.

5.  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 1, 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 McCarthy's reply.

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.

6.  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.

7.  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 action.

8.  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.

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