Yeah, I know. Such a momentous event deserves some kind of run-up. If I had any web design skills, you would be hearing a drum roll now. Before I get into my top ten for 2005, which I will post soon, I wanted to discuss some of the films that were well regarded by other critics, but failed for me. And maybe another couple or so observations on 2005.
You already know how I felt about Sin City, or if you don't, you can scroll down and read about it. A lot of critics liked it, and aside from it looking cool and perhaps having a patina of being transgressive (in the most sophomoric and reactionary way), I will never understand why. I can't understand its appeal to thinking people who take cinema seriously as an art form. I also contend that if you just think this movie is "a blast," there is something wrong with you. Kung Fu Hustle is "a blast," because it is wildly entertaining, but also has such a good heart and a strong sense of morality. Kamikaze Girls is a blast. Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story is a blast. Even King Kong could conceivably be thought of as "a blast," if you could somehow get past its discomfiting racial subtext. Beyond the impressive look of the film, there was certainly nothing in Sin City that gave me the sense of vertiginous giddiness that I got from Kong's battle with those dinosaurs.
So you can imagine how disappointed I was when my critics group, the Online Film Critics Society, gave the film two of its year-end awards. Best Supporting Actor for Mickey Rourke and, even worse, Best Cinematography for Mr. Half-Assed Jack-of-All-Trades-Master-of-None Robert Rodriguez. The director of Shark-Boy and Lava-Girl. Remember a few years ago when Conan O'Brien made that joke about how Catherine Keener won the OFCS award for Best Supporting Actress, beating out Lieutenant Uhura? This is the type of thing that reinforces the public perception of our group as a bunch of geeks. I mean, I wouldn't mind if it was film geeks, but Sin City voters are, I suspect, more the type of geeks who hang out at the comic book store, and have never spoken to a girl. I know, I was one of them once. I just wish they would outgrow it, now that they are in a fancy OFCS awards-giving body. Womens heads mounted like trophies on a wall is not cool or even really demented and sick, it is just moronic.
I didn't really mean to write about Sin City, but it does piss me off, and I get carried away. Anyway, another film by a filmmaker who apparently hates women and has been lauded for it by the critical community this year is Match Point. Again, I don't get it. These "characters" he writes do not resemble any actual human beings we have ever met, and the "London" they live in bears little resemblance to any real place on this earth. (I should note that I am relying on the word of people who actually live in London, here, as I have not been there since I was a kid.) The acting is stiff and the dialogue stilted as the film plods along inexorably toward its unmistakably late Woodman unjustifiable "bitch killa" moment. We get it. You hate women. They are either simpering, oblivious dunderheads (though bless Emily Mortimer for trying to give this creation life) or coldhearted bitches who, at the drop of a hat, will turn into shrieking harridans who must be murdered. In the past ten years, I have seen one sympathetic female character in a Woody Allen film. She was a mute. Aside from being hateful (both sexist and classist), Match Point is not a well made film. It does not work as a thriller, because motivations are not clear, character behavior is not consistent, and the filmmaker spells out his banal themes with embarrassing bluntness. It's hard for me to fathom that there are people who appreciate Allen's "mastery of craft" here, while simultaneously belittling Steven Spielberg's seemingly effortless talent for audience manipulation.
Speaking of Spielberg, I don't know if either Munich or War of the Worlds makes my top ten list, but for the first time since the 1970s (when I was just a kid and didn't know better), I am actually eager to see what he does next. Of course, Abe Lincoln doesn't sound particularly promising, but then neither did the 1950s sci-fi remake starring Tom Cruise, and that turned out to be so terrifying, and so relentlessly grim, right up until Spielberg ruined everything with that Spielberg ending (dishearteningly similar to the "yeah, the world is fucked, but my family made it out ok, so cue the triumphant music" ending of The Day After Tomorrow and countless other schlocky disaster films). This film deserved better. It's no surprise that Munich is a skillfully made, effective thriller. But it's also smart and morally complex in its depiction of the horrific events of the 1972 Olympics and the purported Israeli response to that attack. Spielberg is even willing to let things end on an ambivalent note, for once. I would hope that people who are intrigued by this film would seek out Kevin MacDonald's excellent documentary, One Day in September, which also works as a thriller, but places the terrorist attack in context, and goes into fascinating, dreadful detail about exactly what went wrong when the Germans tried to rescue the Israeli athletes.
Two other films I saw this year, both at the New York Film Festival, addressed Palestinian terrorism and Israel's response to it. Paradise Now is also an effective thriller. Like Munich, it engages in its own internal debate, but the sense of rage underlying all the handwringing is palpable. It's worth seeing, because it offers a thoughtful examination of one of the salient issues of our age, from a perspective we rarely encounter in our mass media. That said, I find Avi Mograbi's documentary, Avenge But One of My Two Eyes more effective, because it condemns the right wing Israeli perspective with its own mythology and its own words and actions. I can't fault Hany Abu-Assad for making a confrontational and angry film because clearly, to me, his rage is justified. But Munich, while less immediate, will reach more people, and it makes more of an effort to be persuasive, and it cannily connects the events it depicts to the world in which we live today.
I was going to continue on and write something about how much I dislike Last Days, another of my "Overrated Films of 2005" list, but I went a-rambling, it got very late, and now that will have to wait for another day.