Friday, January 13, 2006

Best of '05 - The Films

This one is gonna be heated i figure - same rules as last time - don't bother telling me i'm crazy - i'm already aware of that fact.

This was an extremely hard list for me to put together - Much moreso than the games list. 2005 was a dynamite year for me movie wise - my list of favorites is probably much more diverse, genre-wise, than it has been in previous years. So without further adieu:

- Top 10 Movies –

1. A History of Violence

Viggo Mortensen stars as small town family man Tom Stall, who’s life is turned upside down when two would be thieves are thwarted and wind up dead in his diner. Tom becomes a local hero, drawing the attention of some unsavory characters. Things escalate, and we learn that Tom may or may not have a long hidden past connected to crime. What follows is a dramatic unfolding of secrets and past lives that threatens to destroy the very existence of the man named Tom Stall. David Cronenberg does a fantastic job with the story (based on a graphic novel), taking us along on a glorious ride that is acted with assurance by Mortensen, Ed Harris, Maria Bello, and William Hurt (in a brief but brilliant appearance). The film doesn’t shy away from Cronenberg’s typically in your face approach to sex and violence (there’s some gruesome stuff here…) but it also isn’t quite the brain bending trip we’re used to, in fact I’d call it both his best and most accessible film! It was a hard choice to make, and I don’t want to say too much – so I’ll just say, A History of Violence, in the end, was the best flick I’ve seen all year – if only by a hair – and I’d consider it must see material for any fan of David Cronenberg, or serious drama.

2. Batman Begins

Batman Begins accomplishes what four Bat-films previous could not. It captures the essence of the best Batman stories (those of the late 70’s and the 80’s) and at long last, brings them to vivid life on screen. Gone is the cartoon pastiche of Schumacher’s turgid efforts – the gothic posturing of Burton’s Villain-centric yuk-fests. In their place stands the Dark Knight detective, the one and only Batman, as he should always have been. Inspired by Frank Miller’s classic Batman: Year One story, screenwriter David Goyer, and director Christopher Nolan have given fans a Batman they can be proud of. Every element that makes Batman the highly intriguing character he has been in comic form is here intact – his partnership with Detective Jim Gordon, the true nature of Bruce Wayne’s duality (none of this psychological sleeping-upside-down bullshit!). The film also looks like no other – Nolan’s Batman haunts a real world – much like Bryan
singer’s treatment of the X-Men, there are no monolithic gothic structures, no art deco retro-future buildings and black and white TV sets – this Batman is gritty, he is real. The cast is also phenomenal, Christian Bale plays Bruce Wayne/Batman as he should, calm and collected, not brewing with social angst or a psycho streak – He is self assured, confident, and as Batman – downright terrifying. Michael Caine plays Alfred as he should, warm and nurturing, yet tough, and Liam Neeson plays positively savage as the fanatical Henri Ducard. Supporting roles are also universally well played (yes, even Katie Holmes) and Gary Oldman nails the young Jim Gordon. The action is a little too “fast cut” at times, but it all works extremely well – and Batman Begins is nothing less than the most successful adaptation of Super Hero to silver screen that I’ve ever had the joy of witnessing.

3. Kingdom Of Heaven

Ridley Scott’s return to historical epics is one I’d been looking forward to since the moment the curtain came down on Gladiator – and I was not disappointed. Orlando Bloom stars as Balian of Ibelin, a simple blacksmith who leaves his home in France with his newfound father to join the Crusades in Medieval Jerusalem. I know it’s trendy to bash on poor pretty boy Orlando these days (and his performance in Troy didn’t help that any) but he really holds his own here – in fact I found myself enjoying his performance. Liam Neeson is his usually excellent self for his part, and Edward Norton plays the Leprosy stricken King Baldwin wonderfully considering he’s behind an ornate mask throughout the duration of his performance. Of particular note are Brendan Gleeson as the fanatical Templar Reynald, and Ghassan Massoud in a remarkable turn as Muslim leader Saladin. Ridley’s photography is typically gorgeous, though somewhat less oversaturated (not good nor bad, merely an observation) than I’m used to, and the combat scenes employ many of the same techniques Rid popularized with Gladiator. The film is not for people looking for Troy or King Arthur style action – Kingdom of Heaven is much more meditative, it is a window into Muslim and Christian philosophies during the time between the 2nd and 3rd Crusades and despite what some may tell you, it is an intelligent film which doesn’t resort to the typically Hollywood heroes and villains approach. The opening act and the first bit of the second act do feel a little scattered, perhaps a little too heavily trimmed, but when the film does find it’s feet, it flies. The score is also amazing stuff. Overall a remarkable picture – though I’ve heard word of a Director’s cut being released sometime in ’06 – which could potentially be even better.

4. Jarhead

Sam Mendes follows up the fantastic Road To Perdition with this piece on the original Gulf War. Based on a book by retired Marine Anthony Swofford, which is in turn based on his experiences as a Marine Scout sniper in the Persian Gulf during Operation: Desert Shield and Operation: Desert Storm. Jake Gyllenhall portrays Swofford as an aloof wanderer turned soldier. His initial aprehension vanishes, he becomes hooked on the Marine mentality, he can't wait for his moment to shine, a moment which may never come. Jarhead is not a war-film proper. There is very little action, except on the periphery. What it is, however, is perhaps the single most accurate representation of Desert Storm from the eyes of the soldier on the ground ever commited to film. The imagery is beautifully striking, the cast is all around wonderful, and there are some moments of sheer brilliance. An amazing film which finally gives us a real honest look at what was the Gulf war, without the political commentary which generally accompanies such a film. Mendes desveres much credit for not infusing his own beliefs on the current war in Iraq (a very very different conflict from the one of 15 years past) into this film, and it is the better for it.

5. The Great Raid

The Great Raid tells the true story of the 6th Ranger Battalion, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Henry Mucci (Benjamin Bratt). Tasked with traveling thirty miles behind enemy lines, they must liberate over 500 American prisoners-of-war from the notorious Cabanatuan Japanese POW camp. Meanwhile Major Gibson, a prisoner at the camp, is slowly succumbing to malaria, and yearns to see the woman he loves, an American nurse tied to the underground movement (played by Connie Nielsen). The film unfurls it’s plot at a deliberate pace, and tells it’s story exceptionally well, without relying on the modern day clich├ęs we’ve seen lately in War pictures (thanks no doubt to the success of films like Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down). The action is well directed without becoming chaotic. The film tells a fantastic story of triumph in the face of overwhelming adversity, and yeah, it’s another war film which extols the excellence of the American fighting man, but it does so with reverence and an even hand. It’s one of the better war films that’s come along since these films entered their second renaissance after the release of Saving Private Ryan, and while it is no “The thin Red Line”, it’s the best “Pacific Campaign” film to come along since.

6. Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe

Disney’s blockbuster adaptation of author C.S Lewis’ beloved story tells the tale of the four Pevensie children - Peter, Lucy, Susan, and Edmund – who find a gateway to the mythical world of Narnia hidden in and old wardrobe in a British manor. The film, like the book upon which it is based – is one part Lord of the Rings, one part Harry Potter, and wears it’s Biblical influences upon it’s sleeve. Andrew Adamson (Shrek, Shrek II) shows a steady, capable hand behind the camera, and the cast is universally excellent (Tilda Swinton owns the screen as the evil White Witch). I’d read the book most recently this past summer, in one sitting, and the whole thing was very fresh in my mind. I was simply blown away at how effective the adaptation really was. The talking animals and mythical creatures of the book are presented in a realistic and believable fashion, the cinematography is gorgeous (if a little TOO reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings) and the action is well executed. This is a film I’ll probably enjoy revisiting a few times a year.

7. Sin City

Robert Rodriguez re-creates Frank Miller’s fan favorite neo-noir comic book series with meticulous detail. Sin City is uniquely crafted, violent, and wonderfully cast adult comic book pulp at it’s very finest. Instead of super heroes and doomsday devices, Frank Miller’s comic book city is filled with thugs, hookers, corrupt politicians, pulpy dialogue that would sound absurd in any other film, and did I mention the violence? The film takes three of Miller’s stories (and one short story) and captures them perfectly in motion picture form. The cast is also an amazing collection of talent – of particular note are Bruce Willis (who turns in one of his career bests as the aging cop, Hartigan), Clive Owen (as the ice cold Dwight), and Mickey Rourke (who walks away with the picture as the hard as nails thug, Marv). The film’s high contrast black and white look was achieved using green-screen photography and digital matte backgrounds – the overall effect gives an otherworldly appearance that works exceptionally well.

8. The Constant Gardener

Wonderfully executed socio-political thriller directed by Fernando Mierelles (City of God). Ralph Fiennes and Rachael Wiesz star as a British diplomat and his political activist wife. When someone turns up dead in Northern Kenya, Justin Quayle (Fiennes) embarks on a personal journey which will unravel a vast conspiracy, and potentially destroy him. It sounds pedestrian enough – but there’s nothing pedestrian about this one. The direction is assured, the look of the film is stark and engaging, and Wiesz and Fiennes give Oscar caliber performances – it’s a mature thriller well worth the effort. And it’s certainly not the incomprehensible maze that Syriana was.

9. Good Night, And Good Luck

George Clooney’s sophomore directorial effort shines with a passionate zeal un-seen in modern Hollywood. Based on the true story of CBS journalist Edward R Murrow, and his battle with Senator Joseph McCarthy during the Congressional Communist witch-hunts of the 1950’s. Excellent performances from David Strathairn (in the Murrow role), Robert Downey Jr, and Clooney himself cement the film as a great period drama – and a beautifully executed snapshot of the world of paranoia and fear that was Cold War America.

10. War of the Worlds

I love Spielberg – even moreso when he’s in “crowd pleaser” mode. I make no apologies. War of the Worlds for me was one of Spielberg’s best in a while. The whole Alien Invasion/Destruction of mankind scenario has bee done to death since the early 90’s, and yet War Of The Worlds takes what could very well be the first story of this kind and makes it seem more fresh than any of the many modern films that predates it. Tom Cruise is in top form, Dakota Fanning again shows us that her therapist is gonna pull down a six figure salary someday, and Tim Robbins plays a great supporting role. I also admire the intimate nature of Spielberg’s storytelling – instead of going the “Independence Day/Armageddon” route, he keeps the scope personal – he focuses on Cruise’s character and his plight. The film hearkens back to Spielberg’s early days for me, despite complaints many have had with regards to the ending – I felt completely satisfied when the credits rolled.

Honorable Mentions:

Cinderella Man
King Kong
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith
The Island
Walk the Line
Lords of Dogtown

Note: One film noticeably absent from the list is Steven Spielberg’s Munich – which I have not yet had the pleasure of seeing. Based on what I’ve seen of the film’s subject matter, and on my past love of all thing’s Spielberg (that didn’t have “always” or “Color” in the title), I’m willing to bet it could very well take a lofty position on the list – if this is the case I will revise the list and inform you fine people.

"where there's smoke... there's someone rockin' out just a little too hard to "Follow Your Heart"! Triumph RULE!"


Mitch said...

Dude, you're crazy. ;)

Did you hear that Sir Rid's cut of Kingdom of Heaven has been playing at one theater in L.A. for the past coupla weeka? Lucky bastards.

Looking forward to the music picks...

SteveTP said...

those pricks! :)

Curious as to how much has changed... i've heard whispers of a 3 hour 25 minute cut...

Mitch said...

From what I've read, the DC is forty minutes longer and helps flesh out a hell of a lot of stuff.

I'm hearing we'll get the DVD in the next six months or so.

SteveTP said...


Can't wait for that one...

I can't recall - what did you think of it yourself? I'm assuming you watched it after.

Mitch said...

I thought it was quite good. It was obvious it had been trimmed. Given what was probably cut out, I think the DC has the potential to be great, possibly even one of Sir Rid's best. And Eva Green is smokin' hot!

If you hope over to Ain't It Cool, look on the left column, and you'll find an overview of the new footage.

SteveTP said...

just took a glance at it... wow! Can't wait to see that version of the film - hopefully sooner rather than later... like March or thereabouts!

And The New World sounds like something i'm really going to enjoy as well...