For indieWIRE's final story of 2005, we are offering a round-up of the ten best lists from the indieWIRE team of staff and our more frequent contributors. The group was invited to survey films released theatrically in 2005, but each person devised their own criteria. The complete lists follow.
indieWIRE readers are invited to post their own Top Ten List for 2005 in the comments section below (and don't forget to include your name!). The insider top ten lists were published yesterday on indieWIRE.com.]
Eugene Hernandez, indieWIRE Editor-in-Chief
Last year I chose the "The Aviator" as the best movie of the year, and the year before that it was HBO's "Angels in America," while in previous years "Far From Heaven," "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," "Dancer in the Dark," and "All About My Mother" topped my list.
This year my top choice is Ang Lee's "Brokeback Mountain". I've already written plenty about the movie on my personal blog, so I'll simply reiterate what I wrote after watching it twice during one weekend back in Telluride, "Brokeback Mountain" is a subversive American love story that challenges the myth of the iconic American cowboy and forces viewers to reckon with a relationship that grows wildly where no one, including the two lead characters, would have expected it. I still feel that it has the potential to challenge staid American notions of love. Or at least create a greater discussion about them.
Nine more films (listed alphabetically):
"Look at Me"
"No Direction Home, Bob Dylan"
"The New World"
"Pride and Prejudice"
"The Power of Nightmares"
A dozen special mentions: "Breakfast on Pluto", "Broken Flowers", "Howl's Moving Castle", "La Sierra", "Last Days", "Mysterious Skin", "Palindromes", "The Three Burials of Meliquades Estrada", "Three of Hearts: A Postmodern Love Story", "Rize", "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit", "The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill"
Brian Brooks, indieWIRE Associate Editor
"Brokeback Mountain" (Ang Lee): OK, it's getting heaps of praise and riding another top ten list is rather predictable, but the movie is damn good. I rarely cry much at movies, and I didn't this time either, but I did shed a tear. How long until we see those Brokeback Mountain travel sites catering to the nature loving gay traveler start springing up?
"Capote" (Bennett Miller): A compelling story that changed literature and salted an American wound, Miller's story about Truman Capote's pursuit of a story of murder in Middle America is terrific and Philip Seymour Hoffman is amazing. Miller deserves his own Black and White ball at the Plaza.
"Good Night, and Good Luck" (George Clooney): This is one of those films that should be required viewing. How sad that a true story set in the 1950s about a psycho government run amok scaring the population into a frenzy of intolerance and oppression can be so timely (simply replace one Senator from Wisconsin with a President from Texas/Connecticut). Shame on us!
"Hustle & Flow" (Craig Brewer): I'm not the biggest hip hop person, but I found myself bopping in my chair when I first saw this film. Great characters, stylish, funny... This is "Pimp My Ride" cubed.
"2046" (Wong Kar-wai): Nothing is quite as stylish as a film from Mr. Wong. The film is decidedly unconventional, but a friend of mine swears that a little herbal inducement gives it a whole new ride.
"Mysterious Skin" (Gregg Araki): This one might not be a movie you take your mother to see, but it's a terrific story. In another time and place, actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt would get a nomination.
"Joyeux Noel" (Christian Carion): When one first sits down to watch this film about how adversaries stuck in the trenches of WWI decide to put the war on hold in order to celebrate Christmas, it would be easy to think that it's a bit ridiculous - except that it's true. OK, there might be some artistic licensing going on, but some sap based on true events is great. The Germans, French and the British (OK, Scottish) all celebrating a common holiday together sharing a common faith? The Eurocrats in Brussels must be orgasmic.
"Murderball" (Henry-Alex Rubin, Dana Adam Shapiro): A terrific doc that should've done better. My advice to audiences afraid that it'll be a downer (which it's definitely not!) Get some backbone and see this very inspiring film. It kicks ass!
"My Summer of Love" (Pawel Pawlikowski): Alright, there's another gay film in this top ten, but too bad. This British production (by Polish-born director Pawlikowski) is a terrific story of two women living in a village in the UK. There's a love story of course, but there's also one of the best modern-day depictions of British classicism that this yank has seen.
"Me and You and Everyone We Know" (Miranda July): A story-driven film with some real characters - in fact they're all pretty odd. Good for them! And the kid does steal the show.
Honorable Mentions: "Palindromes", "Last Days", "The Boys of Baraka", "The Dying Gaul", "Grizzly Man", "Pride and Prejudice", "Breakfast on Pluto", "Walk the Line", "Tsotsi", "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada", "The Aristocrats", "The Beat that My Heart Skipped"
Films for one reason or another I still need to see (and I will) but I suspect may have influenced my top 10: "Transamerica", "The Squid and the Whale", "A History of Violence", "Mad Hot Ballroom", "Paradise Now", "Munich", "Match Point", "The New World"
James Israel, indieWIRE Administrative and Marketing
In no particular order:
1) "Breakfast on Pluto"
2) "The Beat That My Heart Skipped"
3) "Batman Begins"
4) "Kung Fu Hustle"
5) "The Squid and the Whale"
6) "Me and You and Everyone We Know"
8) "King Kong"
9) "Be Here To Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt"
10) "Brokeback Mountain"
Movies I haven't seen as I was too busy this year making a new short film: "History of Violence", "Capote", "Syriana", "Munich", "Grizzly Man", "Match Point", "The New World", "Cache"
indieWIRE Regular Contributors - 2005
Best Ten Films (not ranked; I agree with Woody that competition is for sports, not art.)
"Brokeback Mountain." To add to the mountains of verbiage: in Ennis del Mar, Ang/Proulx/McMurtry/Ledger have captured the quintessential American innocent. See it again for Ang's brilliant dance of the Stetsons as part of the visual narrative. And, from blogworld: I agree with Nathan Lee's pithy reponse to Dave Kehr that this is a gay love story, not an all-American romance.
"My Summer of Love." From marvelous Pawel Pawelikowski, a homoerotic fever dream (is there a theme to 2005?) colored in the gem tones of Gustave Klimt. Bonus: Paddy Considine looking for God in all the wrong places.
"Cache." The video surveillance of a privileged family by a disaffected Algerian doubles as the vision of Haneke, master of menace - and becomes a gigantic Eye ordering YOU to ante up. And omigod, that creepy last shot.
"Breakfast on Pluto." Flawed - and what isn't? - but inspired in its use of a retooled Candide figure, and pumped with infectious verve.
"Walk on Water." Like far too few Amerindies, this Israeli film movingly works the intersection of the personal and the political. And Lior Ashkenazi gets down with the Germans.
"The Squid and the Whale." Elevates self-scrutiny into a parable about how the son must kill the father in order to move on. Jesse Eisenberg's hunched shoulders and Jeff Daniels' hunted eyes make the heart ache.
"Capote." Philip Seymour, of course. And screenwriter Dan Futterman and Bennett Miller go mean and lean to expose the ugly underdelly of artistic license.
"Mail Order Wife" from Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland, who also act in it. Unfortunately, if you blinked, you missed this hilarious, dark, inventive mockumentary that sends up the genre, Christopher Guest-style.
"The Edukators," "Kontroll," and "Head On." Thank God for the Euros, who embrace world/social issues without self-congratulation (see "Good Night and Good Luck.")
"Match Point." A wicked, witty fable about the whims of chance that draws on multiple sources - but to paraphrase Jim Jarmusch, What's wrong with stealing? The film also proves F. Scott Fitzgerald wrong: American lives - at least, directors - have third and fourth chances. Or does the diction of those Brit thesps make the dialogue sound zippier than maybe it is?
"Downfall." This flaming Gotterdamerung, operatic in scope, even makes room for Hitler's dog Blondie.
"Games of Love and Chance." An upbeat take on those headline-grabbing French 'burbs. Won the Cesar in France, and sank like a stone in the U.S. Is there a message here?
"Cote d'Azur." A poly-perverse romp about the porous borders of sexual identity.
"Three of Hearts." An earnest American version of related themes.
"The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada." More perversity: Tommy Lee bows as a director by schlepping through the mesquite with a corpse.
"Pride and Prejudice." Who knew she could act?
"Gilles' Wife." Vermeer in motion.
"The Beat that my Heart Skipped." Romain Duris, playing Bach yet.
"Tsotsi." Heavy sledding from Athol Fugard, but Presley Chweneyagae has the face of an angel.
Best Films released in 2005 (no particular order)
"The Beat My Heart Skipped"
"Enron: the Smartest Guys in the Room"
"It's All Gone Pete Tong"
Honorable Mention: "McLibel", "5x2", "The Holy Girl", "Three
Burials Of Melquides Estrada", "The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill",
"March of The Penguins"
Not seen: "Happily Ever After", "The Constant Gardener", "Mad Hot Ballroom"
(Note: all unranked)
"A History of Violence" - David Cronenberg proved himself to be an excellent director-for hire in this astute deconstruction of society south of his native Canada. Working from a screenplay by Josh Olson, adapted from a graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke, Cronenberg plunged with gusto into the depiction of violence, both overt and latent, in all the characters. I don't remember the blurring of thanatos and eros ever being more faithfully rendered. I don't know why more has not been made of Viggo Mortensen's outstanding performance, shifting as he does seamlessly between two personas.
"Brokeback Mountain" - With the help of Rodrigo Prieto's cinematography, Ang Lee has scored again, this time with a tale of forbidden love set in an Anthony Mann-ish western setting. Annie Proulx was, rightfully, blown away by Heath Ledger's creation of her Ennis del Mar. Lee's addition of a tender sex scene that was in neither the short story nor the screenplay was a clever decision, making the men's 20-year obsessive love affair more credible. Those who have opined that the film follows a heterosexual model either ignore the time and place (1963 rural Wyoming) or the degree to which repression of same-sex attraction has been the norm in this country until recent years. Ennis has no inclination to build a nest together: For whatever reasons, he wants an ongoing relationship grounded in occasional trysts in the woods.
"3-Iron" - Kim ki-duk has moved away from superviolent low-life films like Bad Guy toward a blend of spirituality and more subtle violence. Not as precious as Spring, Summer...., 3-Iron, his best film, is a brilliant study of two lost souls entrapped in a higher-class milieu. That the two leads, Jae Hee and Lee Seung-yeon, perform without speaking is a clever device that heightens the unexpected acts of physical abuse from spouses and cops alike.
"Darwin's Nightmare" - Paris-based Austrian documentarian Hubert Sauper knew before he made the film that the Russian and Ukrainian pilots who carry filets of the grotesquely huge Nile perch from the ecologically ruined Lake Victoria in Tanzania to the bourgeousie of western Europe were arriving for the pickup with a cargo of munitions to fuel bloodshed in Africa. Yet he structured this riveting doc so that we learn this at the end, once a pilot fesses up on camera. In the interim we get horrifying glimpses of the impoverished locals who live and mostly die around the lake. We also get to know some of the locals, presented without judgment. The mostly Indian entrepeneurs, however, do not escape Sauper's wrath, nor do the bureaucrats of the European Union who have chosen to turn a blind eye to the abhorrent circumstances on the shores of the lake.
"Paradise Now" - Holland-based Palestinian director Hany Abu-assad eschewed the stereotyping endemic in any work about, or discussion of, the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli struggle. He helps us understand the motivation behind his suicide bombers and their conflicted attitude toward the act itself. One feels empathy for the Palestinians without hating the people who populate Israel, no matter what the actions of their government. Kais Nashef delivers a fine performance as the bomber gains possession of the screen at the end of the movie.
"The World" - Jia Zhang-ke has established a repertory cast and crew, including cinematographer Yu Lik-wai and actress Zhao Tao. In this, his most ambitious and polished film, he has succeeded in using a kitschy Chinese amusement park as a metaphorical backdrop for his dispossessed characters. Jia has clearly emerged from the Chinese cinema underground with this masterpiece.
"Good Night, and Good Luck" - George Clooney and d.p. Robert Elswit created a dynamic black-and-white world with the feel of '50s live, pre-video television. David Strathairn captured the essence of Edward R. Murrow without completely resorting to mimicry. Minor problem: the last, polemical scene, but Hollywood has taught us over the years to ignore endings anyway
"Crash" - I am proud that Hollywood could come up with such a mature, progressive film about racial and ethnic conflict in its own backyard. Paul Haggis used the Altmanesque interweaving of characters and plot lines to strong effect. He got a fine performance from Matt Dillon to boot.
"Kings and Queen" - French director Arnaud Desplechin keeps redefining accessible narrative cinema, and this is his best movie yet. More or less telling the Emmanuelle Devos story before that of Mathieu Amalric, Desplechin makes sure that you stay alert and glued to the screen.
"Tony Takitani" - Veteran director Jun Ichikawa adapted the film from a story by famed Japanese writer Haruki Murakami. He and d.p. Taishi Hirokawa deploy a series of pans to propel the narrative by segmenting the film into extended tableaux. Issei Ogata, one of Japan's great actors (you will see his tour-de-force in Sokurov's The Sun if it is ever released here), is excellent as the strange title character, who attempts to replace his late clothes-obsessed wife with a woman he perceives as her double. Tongue-in-cheek, it can be seen as a spoof of Vertigo. Unfortunately, it did not get the exposure it deserved.
Top ten of 2005:
1. "Brokeback Mountain"
2. "The Squid and the Whale"
3. "The Power of Nightmares"
5. "Good Night, and Good Luck"
7. "The Beat That My Heart Skipped"
8. "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada"
9. "Me and You and Everyone We Know"
10. "The Constant Gardner"
Honorable Mention: "King Kong," "Broken Flowers," "A History of Violence," "The Cave of The Yellow Dog" (Unfortunately it never received U.S. distribution, but it did play at festivals.)
And here's some I enjoyed that come out in early '06:
"Why We Fight" - Awarded the Grand Jury Prize at this year's Sundance, Eugene Jarecki's in-depth doc on our government's obsession over military supremacy is a must see. (Limited release begins mid-January)
"Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story" - Michael Winterbottom teams again with Steven Coogan in a hilarious "adaptation" of Laurence Sterne's essentially unfilmable novel, "The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman." (Limited release late January)
"Night Watch" - Breaking all box-office records in Russia during its theatrical run in 2004, this vampire thriller with "Matrix" special-effects follows the forces of light, also known as Night Watch, as they do battle against the forces of dark in present-day Moscow. (Opens mid-February)
"The Squid and the Whale" - A brilliant chronicle of an academic uncoupling. Moral: Dysfunctional blood relatives can engender chronic masturbation.
"Mysterious Skin" - "Bareback" Mountain. The gay film of the year that deserves all the praise its closeted peer is garnering.
"Capote" - A sublimely caustic glance at journalists, egos, and fame. Truman once said, "I was kind of a Hersey Bar whore--there wasn't much I wouldn't do for a nickel's worth of chocolate." He wasn't lying.
"Paradise Now" - A perfect celluloid treat about suicide bombers you wouldn't mind living next door to.
"Cache" - A Gallic Gordian knot of a flick that will have academics deconstructing for decades to come.
"A Cock and Bull Story" - A gilt-edged, hilarious tale about man and filmmaking. Quite possibly the best of its kind since "Day for Night."
"Match Point" - A deliciously misanthropic look at life's survival maneuvers. As Billy Jean King once so wisely attested, tennis is "a perfect combination of violent action taking place in an atmosphere of total tranquility."
"Private" - A blistering take on an Israeli occupation of a Palestinian home that refuses to tackle the problem in blacks and whites.
"Napola/Before the Fall" - "Dead Poets' Society" goes Nazi. Moving, thrilling, with an unending air of disquietude. Warning: numerous rather severe bedwetting punishments depicted.
"Walk on Water" - "Matzo Ball" Mountain. A "love" story between a heterosexual Israeli secret agent and a Nazi's gay grandson. The perfect comic road movie for those who don't mind mixing their gifilte fish with their sauerbraten.
Top ten of 2005:
1. "My Summer of Love"
2. "A History of Violence"
3. "Kings and Queen"
5. "Brokeback Mountain"
6. "The Holy Girl"
8. "The World"
9. "The Squid and the Whale"
10. "Good Morning, Night"
Best Documentaries: "Grizzly Man," "The Century of the Self," "The Power of Nightmares"
Most Overrated: "Crash"
As I have written before, I believe the process of creating a top ten list is a fickle pursuit. And ranking films is even more slippery. But in our hierarchical "America's Next Top Model" world, everyone loves a winner. And just as all winners are political choices, so is mine: I've seen Pawel Pawlikowski's underappreciated "My Summer of Love" three times, first at Toronto 2004, and twice nearer to its 2005 release. Call me a lesbian fetishist, but there's not another film this year that I would happily see multiple times - and if placing it atop my list might get someone to pick it up on DVD, so be it. The nostalgic, sun-dappled bittersweet love story conceals far weightier examinations of the twin scourges of our time: capitalism and religion. If this was the year of political narrative filmmaking ("Syriana," "Munich," etc), "My Summer of Love" provides the most subtle attacks on our dominant ideologies.
It's probably not just a coincidence that my second favorite "A History of Violence" is another underhanded critique of America -- and its mythic notions of vengeance. It'd make a solid double bill with "Munich," a surprisingly hard-hitting film from mushy-meister Steven Spielberg. (But just like the stupid, overrated, agency-packaged "Crash," "Munich" doesn't have the guts to kill off an innocent girl, instead using her as a manipulative prop.)
For sheer uniqueness, unpredictability and unbridled emotion, "Kings and Queen" is the movie to beat. A journey from surreal nightmare to family melodrama to romantic comedy, Arnaud Desplechin's latest enigma is a wonder to behold.
The rest of my list, admittedly, was thrown together. The rankings are almost random. "Keane" - harrowing, heartbreaking -- blew me away; "Brokeback" was beautiful, agonizing, and Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams' performances are stunning, but the film did not bring me to tears. (Why did not a single film this year make me cry?) "The Holy Girl" is gorgeously photographed and thick with guilt; "Cache" is stark, disturbing, and revelatory, but took me a while to put it all together; "The World" is an ambitious meditation of globalization and its discontents, simultaneously funny and tragic; "The Squid and the Whale" hit close to home; and Marco Bellochio's "Good Morning, Night" (along with his previous film "My Mother's Smile," also released in 2005) introduced me for the first time to a world-class auteur. From terrorism to religion in those two films, Bellochio returned me to the themes that try my soul.
Last, but not least, a list of honorable mentions that for some reason didn't make my top ten: "Me and You and Everyone We Know," "Capote," "Nobody Knows," "Innocence," "The Dying Gaul," and "Look at Me".
1. "Chain" (Jem Cohen)
2. "Me and You and Everyone We Know" (Miranda July)
3. "Oldboy" (Chan-wook Park)
4. "Mysterious Skin" (Gregg Araki)
5. "Batman Begins" (Christopher Nolan)
6. "Crash" (Paul Haggis)
7. "Kung Fu Hustle" (Stephen Chow)
8. "Broken Flowers" (Jim Jarmusch)
9. "A History of Violence" (David Cronenberg)
10. "Jarhead" (Sam Mendes)
Special Mention: "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada", "Corpse Bride", "Ballets Russes", "King Kong", "Good Night and Good Luck", "The Constant Gardener"
Didn't Yet See: "Brokeback Mountain", "The Squid and The Whale", "Capote", "Match Point"