Sunday, January 01, 2006

Best of 2005: Film

The time has come for my top ten list for 2005. A few days ago, I would have said this was a very weak year for film, however, in the last two days, I've seen two absolutely phenomenal movies that pretty much redeem the year. It's annoying that the release structure means that all almost all the quality films are released at the end of the year, meaning that I'm not able to get to all of them, while for most of the year you're struggling to find a decent film. However, at least they're out there and being in New York right now, I'm able to see the stuff I want.

Another note on this list, back when I was young, I was would always read the critics' top ten lists and be annoyed that they never had any movies I'd actually heard of or seen. Well, time has past and now I've got a list where only two of the films actually made it to theaters outside NY or L.A. and three of the films weren't even released theatrically here this year.

And one final note before we begin. I had 2046 and Oldboy on last year's list, they've been turning up on a lot of critics' list this year, and they would have been two and three respectively on this year's list. However, I'm not going to put films on the list two years in a row, they were films I saw last year, so they're on that list.

Anyway, onto the list...

10. Last Days - Van Sant followed the brilliant Elephant with a film in the same style, but a bit more challenging. Elephant used the archetypal high school types as a shortcut to easily make us understand what was going. Last Days is tougher because it is largely reliant on pre-existing knowledge of Kurt Cobain for its meaning. If you didn't know anything about Kurt, it would be a truly baffling film, but knowing about the man's life, it's a great antidote to the traditional biopic, exploring the person himself rather than the events that occurred to him. I love how the film builds incredible drama out of very small moments, even just eating macaroni and cheese helps to build the character, and while I could see how one could consider it a pointless, boring exercise, give it a chance and you'll learn a lot more about this guy than you could in a film saturated with plot. There may have been films I enjoyed more than this, but it's got the spot on the list because it's something that uses the medium in a very unique way.

My Review

9. Mirrormask - Like Last Days, this is a film with some issues, the second act drags and some of the CG is exhausting, but there are moments in the film that are so exciting and unique that it earns its place here. This film takes the 80s fantasy template, but adds in a really strong emotional undercurrent, with a lot of real world relevance. Watching the Dark Helen in the real world is wonderful on a solely visual level, but is also full of thematic complexities and the process of growing up. It's a film where the good parts are so good that they overwhelm the weaknesses.

My Review

8. Mysterious Skin - This film touches on some very dark and gritty subject matter, and is shot so that the dark stuff is certainly disturbing, but within the darkness there are moments of incredible beauty, both in terms of narrative and just visually. I'm thinking the opening and ending in particular, the image of the falling cereal sending sugar all around is one of the most striking openings I've ever seen. It's one of the rare American films that deals with serious subject matter in a contemporary setting. Normally, you only see big issues in historical films, this actually reminds me a lot of the tone of the films of Kim Ki-Duk...

My Review

7. Samaritan Girl - This is the first of two Kim Ki-Duk films on the list, and the second to deal with the issue of teenage prostitution. While it's not really a huge issue here, it's apparently a very big concern in Korea. This film, like most of Kim's work, is beautifully shot, with some great music choices. The reason this film is higher than Mysterious Skin is because the emotions are a bit more relatable. Also, despite being a relatively small scale film, it takes you on a huge journey, with a bunch of really strong plot twists. It's a film that would seem designed to shock with its subject matter, but instead turns out to shock because of how much you care about the characters.

My Review

6. Domino - This is certainly one of the more controversial selections on here, a Hollywood action film amongst a bunch of indie stuff, however, watching this movie, it's clear that it's anything but conventional. Tony Scott basically destroys the action genre, reducing it to isolated images of violence edited together at hyper-speed. It's a film where the filmmaking is the real highlight, you don't really care about the characters, it's the images, music and how they're put together that makes this fun to watch. The film somehow manages to take the energy that a great trailer has, but extend it to feature length, always building on what came before, leading up to a massive finale that pushes the violence and crazy filmmaking to its limit. Give this one a look, it's the craziest film to come out of the Hollywood machine in years.

My Review

5. Clean - Maggie Cheung is arguably the world's greatest actress, and with this role she moves away from her traditional regal roles into a gritter, more realistic film. Watching the film is watching her journey and it's riveting. I really wanted her to succeed in getting her life together, and as things did progress, the results were never sappy, but still very emotional. It's a really well made film, with some strong use of music, particularly Maggie's own singing. Like a lot of the films on here, it's a simple story that uses character rather than narrative as the driving force, and as a result, is a very strong emotional experience.

My Review

4. Sympathy for Lady Vengeance - I had a lot of trouble placing this and the number 3 film. I've seen them both so recently that it's tough to get perspective. However, at 4, this is still a high ranking, and the film is a worthy successor to Oldboy. What put it so high is the joy I had watching it, each shot in the film was beautifully composed, there are very few people who can shoot a film like Park. By the end of the film, I was emotionally drained, but still exhilirated that such a powerful film exists.

My Review

3. The New World - As I mentioned before, in the past two days, I've seen two of the top films on this list. I'm going to do a full writeup of The New World later, but to sum it up, this movie takes you to another world. It not only recreates the physical space of early America, it puts you in the mental space too. The film is unbelievably beautiful, and the use of voiceover combined with great music creates a really unique space. Particularly in the early part of the film, where Smith is in the Indian camp, the images contain so much power. My primary gauge in making this list is my emotional reaction to the film, and watching this, particularly O'Orianka Kilcher's lead performance, was to be completely caught up in the feeling of the film. She gives one of the best lead performances I've seen in years, the joy in her face is just infectious. It's Malick's best.

2. 3-Iron - This was Kim Ki-Duk's year. 3-Iron is a modern day fairy tale about the power of love to transform the lives of two broken people. However, Kim's stark style keeps it from being sappy, and even though the occasional bursts of violence are disquieting, it's ultimately the feeling of peace and serenity that sticks with you. There's one moment that makes the movie for me, and it's pictured below. Everything you need to know about the movie is in that one image, that one moment. The whole movie has a feeling about it, and it's something I love to feel.

My Review

1. Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith - Reaching the end, another potentially controversial choice. The thing about this film is that it has a lot of problems, I wouldn't want to insult phones by saying that Natalie Portman was phoning it in, but the film's faults are eclipsed by one of the most ambitious stories in film history. I've never seen an entire universe falling apart, and the entire film has an apocalyptic feeling. Rather than go on and on about what worked, I'm just going to say that for the entire prequel trilogy, the thing I wanted to see was Jedi getting killed, and Darth Vader, and I don't think I was alone in this. And yet, the montage of the jedi getting killed was tragic, and when the Vader mask was finally put on, it was a devestating moment. This wasn't about finally getting to see the guy we'd all been waiting for, it was the death of someone who'd been so thoroughly broken and used by everyone around him. I liked the fact that Lucas didn't make it black and white, the Jedi were corrupt and clueless, the destruction was needed to pave the way for a new order in the next trilogy. This was my most anticipated film of all time, one that I'd been looking forward to for over fifteen years, and at the end of it, I was completely satisfied. Living up to that expectation alone makes it the best film of 2005.

My Review

So, following this, I'm going to post my star ranking of all the films I've seen this year, and my Academy Award nominations, and that will close out the year in film. I cracked on the stuff coming out this year quite a bit, it certainly wasn't at the level of last year, where there were five or six all time masterpieces, but things came back at the end, and we're left with enough really good movies to make things memorable.

1. Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (George Lucas)
2. 3-Iron (Kim Ki-Duk)
3. The New World (Terence Malick)
4. Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (Chanwook Park)
5. Clean (Olivier Assayas)
6. Domino (Tony Scott)
7. Samaritan Girl (Kim Ki-Duk)
8. Mysterious Skin (Gregg Araki)
9. Mirrormask (Dave McKean)
10. Last Days (Gus Van Sant)

1 comment:

Keith G said...

Episode III is in no way the best film of 2005, but if it's your favourite, that's cool :-)

I say that only because I've revisted Episodes 1 through 4 over the past week (hopefully getting to 5 and 6 soon) and III is easily the best film of the prequel trilogy, suffering from the least amount of cringe-worthy scenes.

In fact, even though some of the Padme/Anakin stuff is horrendous (see the hair-brushing scene which Lucas admits shooting later to add in!??!?!!!), they do have some quite affecting scenes in the movie.

And while I still don't like "NOOOOOOOooooo", the rest of that scene works well, even "Where's Padme?"

The first half of the film needs tightening up, but overall it works quite well - and the prequel trilogy certainly wasn't a waste of time at all.