Monday, January 30, 2006

The World's Last 2005 Top Ten Movies List


Ok, enough is enough. I am the slowest movie critic/blogger on earth coming up with this list. First I had to see Munich. Then I had to find photos for all the films. Because my pal Jason Jackowski (see link to the right) posted photos with his top ten list on his nascent blog. Knowing that some of my "regulars" (okay, "some" is a vague term--"one" would be a big enough percentage of my readership to merit consideration) don't know how to read, and like pretty pitchers, I decided that I had to post photos, too. So I will try. It might look dumb.

I am not going to waste time slamming Last Days, which I think represents Gus Van Sant's recent opportunistic "artiste" phase at its most venal and unnecessary, or even mentioning The Producers, even though my ears are still ringing, because most people, even those that somehow like them, seem to have forgotten about them, and rightly so. I mean, maybe the silly Golden Globes had Nathan Lane thinking he was going to get an Oscar nomination, but damn, that was one painful filmgoing experience.

I will mention, though, that this was a pretty awesome year for film. So there are a bunch of worthy movies that did not make my top ten list, but I do mention a lot of them in the honorable mentions section just below the list proper. This site is full of such innovative ideas, and now, with photos.

I considered making the list alphabetical, and for all intents and purposes, it really is alphabetical, except that it is not in the traditional order of the alphabet. What I mean is, any of the top three could have been #1 on a different day, and beyond the top three, the rankings are fairly arbitrary. The only bigtime prestige release that I failed to catch this year was The New World. Naturally I don't want to reveal too much about my biases, but from what I've heard, I would be surprised if it made this list...

1) Save the Green Planet!
Yes, this South Korean whatsit is the weirdest, best film of the year. Its nonstop inventiveness and refreshing disregard for the traditional boundaries of genre are only a small part of its appeal. It is wacky, hilarious, disturbing, and horrifying by turns, and, as with my number 2 film, the story is rooted compellingly and truthfully in a resonant and painful recent history.

2) Memories of Murder
Ah, another dark, disturbing South Korean film that subverts genre cliches and finds inspiration in an oppressive recent history. It also directly addresses the failure of torture and ideology in ascertaining truth, so I would hope that us Americans in 2005/6 might find some meaning in it in relation to our own little world. Beyond that, it works like gangbusters as a straight up genre piece. It's the best thriller I've seen in years.


3) The Squid and the Whale
I've always admired Noah Baumbach's smart sense of humor and his skill with actors. Kicking & Screaming and Mr. Jealousy are both well worth watching. But this is the first time that those talents have come together with a strong, deeply personal story and a developing visual aesthetic to produce a cohesive, funny, and heartbreaking work documenting a family's breakdown with bracing emotional honesty. Forget the damn Oscars; this uniformly outstanding cast (even William Baldwin) deserve the highest praise.

4) The World
I'm not really a "cinema of quality" guy, but there are always exceptions, and I guess Jia Zhang-ke is one of them. He appeals to me, among other reasons, because he seems to expand his palette a bit with each film, and this is certainly his most lively and accessible film to date, encompassing comedy, drama, and spectacle, all with a all with a sharp and salient worldview. Unlike, say, Gus Van Sant, Jia always seems to have a precise grasp of the specific milieu he's portraying, along with a keen eye on where its denizens fit in the grand scheme of things.

5) Kung Fu Hustle
Whatever Ang Lee thinks, Stephen Chow is an artist, in much the same sense that Chaplin, Keaton, Jerry Lewis, and, for a brief moment in time, Jackie Chan were. This was the most flat-out fun I had in a movie theater this year, and it brings a lovingly constructed world to vivid life, with larger-than-life underdog heroes and slick villains, inventive and energetic visuals, and a good-natured sense of humor and morality.

6) Funny Ha Ha
As one might gather from my comments extolling the virtues of Noah Baumbach's early work, I am a sucker for talky, urbane romantic comedies in the vein of Nicole Holofcener's Walking and Talking, and this is one of those. Andrew Bujalski throws us into this low-key, awkwardly funny world of smart, quick-witted, but confused and conflicted twentysomethings who don't always have the best intentions, and don't always know how to say what they want heard, which is not always what they mean. The film features outstanding performances and offers insight without any forced or phony epiphanies.

7) A History of Violence
Like The Squid and the Whale, I guess Cronenberg's superbly enthralling thriller is too prickly to get past the middlebrow taste enforcers of the Academy. HOV is a superb, tightly constructed genre piece with a rich, fascinating subtext not easily parsed in a single viewing. It's easy enough to be mesmerized by the blood-drenched sardonically funny tale and the skill with which Cronenberg presents it, plumbing the depths of the dark heart of a seemingly simple, ordinary life. Kind of reminds me of Cache in many ways, though that excellent film has been sadly relegated to my honorable mentions by an embarrassing instance of fanboyishness. My own, natch.

8) Darwin's Nightmare
Even if they didn't honor Grizzly Man, I guess I have to give whatever coffee klatsch decides on the Academy's documentary nominations some credits for recognizing this brutally fascinating depiction of the desperate bottom end of the world economy, and the devastating environmental havoc that the worship of profit can wreak. It's not a pleasant moviegoing experience, but it offers a critical look at how the rest of the world pays for the comfort we in the West take for granted.

9) Turtles Can Fly
An intensely timely, clear-eyed, and tragic look at the effects of war on the defenseless, former Kiarostami assistant Bahman Ghobadi's third film is also funny, angry, emotionally honest, and profoundly humane. Soran Ebrahim and his young castmates bring Ghobadi's warzone tale to vivid life.



10) Serenity
What? Yeah, Serenity. So? Please pardon my defensiveness. I know there are a lot of people out there who think Joss Whedon is some kind of god. I swear I am not one of them. I mean, Buffy and Firefly are great, of course, but I've only seen about ten episodes of Angel, so you could hardly think that I'm of that ilk. I've had the chance to see this again since it came out on DVD, and I am decreasingly embarrassed with how much I like it. It's Whedon, so of course, girls kick ass. But there's so much more. There's witty banter, strong characters, a great villian (Chiwetel Ejiofor), the slyly subversive anti-authoritarian theme, and it looks great. If I'd never heard of Firefly, I have to believe that I would still find this a great sci-fi action flick. But I do feel kind of like I know these people, so it's a bit more than that.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Cache. Time of the Wolf made my top ten last year. This was a stronger year, and another film that I will have to see a couple more times before I decide if it's one for the ages or just exceptionally clever and pointed.

Head-On. Fatih Akin's twisted romance between two supremely screwed up Turks in Germany generates real emotional impact from the specificity of its cultural milieu.

Kamikaze Girls. Jason suffered from some kind of Japanese pop culture overload while watching this, but I found its cultural specificity (again) extremely refreshing, and it was probably the most pure fun I had after Kung Fu Hustle.

The Power of Nightmares. Why shouldn't our side have good propaganda?

Grizzly Man. Another great year for documentaries.

Munich.

War of the Worlds.

Mysterious Skin. I started with Gregg Araki back in 1992, with
The Living End, and this is the first film of his that I've really liked. It's harsh and disturbing, and it often threatens to slip into camp, but, thanks in part to an excellent cast, it never crosses that line, and it develops a genuine poignancy.

The Ice Harvest. Insanely underrated straight-up genre flick.

The Constant Gardener. Or, as Lisa calls it, "The Constipated Gardener." I go back and forth on this one, but today I like it, and I continue to have high hopes for Meirelles' career.

Junebug. Sharp, funny, and much more emotionally complex than I was expecting.

Pulse. Got inside my skull like no J-horror before it (or, technically, after it--Thanks, Miramax!). I like Kristen Bell, but I don't have high hopes for the remake matching the original's subtle creepiness.

Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic. Her five minutes in The Aristocrats was that movie's highlight, too. Her feature is a little uneven, but still a lot of thought-provoking, guffaw-inducing comedy.

Land of the Dead. Easily the best theatrical horror film/political allegory of the year, and might have made my top ten if I hadn't liked Joe Dante's Homecoming (from Showtime's Masters of Horror) even better.

2046 and Tropical Malady. These are both good films from directors whom I admire a lot, and maybe one day I will be far removed enough from my (perhaps unreasonable) expectations to appreciate them more.

In Her Shoes. Hands down the chick flick of the year, and one I didn't expect to like at all.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. While Oldboy and Lady Vengeance certainly have their moments, I pretty much feel like Park Chan-wook said everything he needed to say on the subject right out of the gate.

Also, I wanted to mention Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, The Holy Girl, My Summer of Love, Look at Me, Me and You and Everyone We Know, The Time We Killed, Breakfast on Pluto, Kings and Queen...

See, I told you it was a good year.

3 comments:

Jason M Jackowski said...

Josh,

A quality list that was well worth its wait!!

I've got to respond to at least one bit here...
RE: Kamikaze Girls. I admired the movie and its hyperkinetic energy. But, its specificity made it slightly inexcessible. As for this year's J-Pop cultural critiques, I'd gladly take the much broader SURVIVE STYLE 5+.

Your still from FUNNY HA HA is much better than mine. Kudos!
Also "mad props" to the Nicole Holofcener nod here -- she's a terrific writer/director that gets very personal performances from her actors, much like Andrew Bujalski. And, hey, they've both got films coming out in 2006! Whenever that MUTUAL APPRECIATION movie drops, you should check it out!

And based on your list, I will actually now see both MYSTERIOUS SKIN and SERENITY.

- Jason

Josh said...

Thanks for the comments, Jason.
I don't really think my pic from FHH is better than yours. I probly woulda used the same one, if not for that weird "Kate Dollenmayer has a mustache" effect that I mentioned.

So, why is it that the cultural specificity of Memories of Murder apparently doesn't bother you, while in Kamikaze Girls, it does? For me, as they say, "God is in the details," and the more I feel like I'm entering the world of these characters, whether it's as comfortably familiar as, say, Joel Barish's "spotless mind" or as foreign as Momoko's obsession with Rococo and "Baby, the stars shine bright."

Guess Survive Style 5+ probly ain't getting a U.S. theatrical release, huh? Too bad.

Jason M Jackowski said...

Josh --

I'm completely with you in the "God is in the details" way of thinking. The more a film emerses you within its own world the more it resonates -- no matter how specific or otherworldly it is. In KAMIKAZE GIRLS, I just feel that I maybe needed more familiarity with contemporary Japanese culture to really fully invest in certain aspects of the film. I really should say, maybe it's me and not the film.

Momoko's obsession with Rococo is probably my favorite thing in the film, actually. That she detaches herself from her own contemporary culture and obsesses on an obscure time and place speaks volumes about her character and her view of Japanese culture. It reminded me a lot of GHOST WORLD in that respect.

But, would a foreign audience find resonance in Enid's plight?

-Jason