2005 was not the first year I loved movies. It was, however, the first one where theatres showing something beyond the mainstream were within my grasp. This makes it no surprise to me that it was the first time my annual top ten wasn’t filled to the brim with Oscar bait, which makes for a personally interesting look back.
As I do every year on the cusp of Oscar season, I like to take a gander back a decade see what movies hit me hardest and made my own list. It’s to approach those stressed over top tens with fresh eyes, no longer swept up in the awards chatter and having to figure how a film you saw two days ago compared to one eight months ago. Plus, there’s the bonus of being able to catch up on stuff you either missed for years, or just happened to get the slow roll-out treatment.
That latter is apparent on my 2005 list, originally posted on good old Livejournal. Brokeback Mountain, probably the most talked about film of that year, didn’t open at my semi-local (75 minute drive) art-house until mid-January of 2006. The same goes for Match Point, another 2005 film that would have surely cracked my collection if I had seen it weeks earlier. So, how did that rundown look? Well, let’s take a peek.
7. The Constant Gardener
6. Broken Flowers
4. Pride and Prejudice
3. The Squid and the Whale
2. A History of Violence
1. Howl’s Moving Castle
On first glance, this bunch definitely befits my headset of the time. I was just becoming a Jim Jarmusch fan, and his Broken Flowers is a lovely Bill Murray picture, with melancholy wit for days and a collection of outstanding actresses (Julie Delpy, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand). Hayao Miyazaki is my personal favorite filmmaker, so no shock occurs that one of his films would top any year.
What’s compelling to me are the directors who were in the infancy of their careers. Pride and Prejudice was Joe Wright’s first feature, a terrific adaptation of the Jane Austen novel that lives in its time period and trapping in a manner many period pieces struggle to surrounded by the costumes. While Wright’s films haven’t all been great, his name bares a certain ambition or quality that makes his every release notable. Capote came from Bennett Miller, who followed up that somber pseudo-biopic with the highly praised Moneyball and equally admired, if not as successful, Foxcatcher. The Constant Gardener found Fernando Meirelles his last shred of acclaim. Coming off City of God, Meirelles looked to be a voice of note, yet has disappeared from screens after a string of poorly received pictures (Blindness, 360).
Then there is Noah Baumbach, who made his first film in eight years with The Squid and the Whale. His debut Kicking and Screaming in 1995 was quickly cooled off by a pair of releases that were tepidly received. Nearly a decade later, Baumbach came back and basically began the career he has now, following up the award-winning Squid with Margot at the Wedding, Greenberg, Frances Ha and more.
Of course, part of the fun of a project like this is seeing what grew with the years, which movies faded and how many greats did I miss at the time. Jarhead and The Constant Gardener are still fine films in my estimation, if less fantastic than I felt at the time. Each film has a sheen of stuffiness, asking to be taken seriously via mood rather than context, making for uneven affairs That each movie’s script wobbles and wanders doesn’t help matters either. I’m actually most surprised by an omission, though; King Kong. I recalled loving the film, even with reservations, and was a Peter Jackson fanboy. Hell, I bought the DVD of King Kong’s production diaries, which were released simultaneously with the movie. Many a dollar would’ve been bet that it cracked my ten somewhere, but alas, it stands nowhere to be found. It shouldn’t be in there either, as a recent revisit proved. Though the scenes with the titular ape are wow-inducing, emotionally and visually, that is only half of the movie. Sans Watts or Kong, Jackson’s remake labors along with stilted comedic bits and a performance by Jack Black that never finds its tonal footing.
So what now? A decade of catching up, fine-tuning and the like leads to the following, fresh Top 10 of 2005. There are things I just happened to miss by weeks and others I hadn’t even heard of at the time. Let’s begin at number ten.
Before it became an internet meme, Downfall was a terrific depiction of the last days of the Third Reich. Oliver Hirschbiegel’s film narrows in on Hitler’s final flailings to keep his power; pathetic and as human as the man could be. Far from a glowing portrait of the figure, Downfall depicts Hitler plainly. He is desperate to survive, angry and terrified of his reign coming to a close and yet still more than a frothing at the mouth monster. Confined largely to the bunker Hitler and his closest, well, allies resided, Hirschbiegel’s vision is a tense one that makes history vivid, where World War II is often depicted as if ensconed in amber.
- Howl’s Moving Castle
Here lies a movie that is lost by many due to the talent of its creator. Howl’s Moving Castle followed up Hayao Miyazaki’s true American breakthroughs and biggest hits Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away. It is easily in the lower tier of his filmography. It is also a treasure to watch, with the kind of glowing warmth and imagination that only Miyazaki was able to exude so effortlessly. This tale of a young woman cursed with an appearance glides along with insane twists, an array of goofy, lovable characters and frame after frame of breathtaking images. Howl’s is a wild, yet elegantly told dream brought into the waking world.
For a movie that prominently features incest, imprisonment and brutal, self-inflicted violence, Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy sure managed to find a following stateside. This adaptation of the Nobuaki Minegishi manga follows a drunken man who is seemingly captured at random, only to find himself free and out for revenge after fifteen years of confinement. What follows is bloody and brutal, with Choi Min-sik’s Oh Dae-Su searching for answers, struggling with madness and most famously taking on a hallway full of baddies with a hammer. A rightful cult classic.
- Kings and Queen
The complex emotions of day-to-day life and the harrowing troubles it inevitably brings to all are at the center of writer-director Arnaud Desplechin’s fantastic Kings and Queen. These feelings are superbly on display of the two leads; Emmanuelle Devos and Mathieu Amalric. As two former lovers, each is traversing the worlds their past decisions have built for them. Devos finds herself juggling the difficulties of raising a child and losing a father, as Amalric sees himself in the clutches of a mental hospital he may or not be fit for. As is common for Desplechin, the melodrama and comedy dance together, each informing the other’s best moments. Kings and Queen isn’t interested in the dourness of one’s existence, even if the melancholy of it is always under investigation.
- The New World
At some point talking about loving Terrence Malick became choosing a side. Few filmmakers have received the kind of praise Malick has and yet been as off-handedly dismissed. The New World seemed to be the beginning of this. Malick’s comfortably pacing and frequent cuts to characters traversing the wilderness began to be seen by some as a crutch. Though his films may not click with all, outright mocking of Malick is a fool’s errand. The New World is one of his many great pieces; elegant, beautiful and disturbing. This depiction of the almost mythical interactions that emerged between the settlers of 1607 Jamestown and the native people of that land plays out with muck, confusion and wonder. It may not be fact. It is print-worthy legend.
- Memories of Murder
Before The Host or Snowpiercer brought his name to those outside of Southeast Asia, Bong Joon-ho made this eerie, intelligent crime-drama based on the true-story of South Korea’s first documented serial killer. David Fincher’s Zodiac is an easy, accurate comparison, with both movies featuring start-stop investigations that struggle when facts, theories and mistakes lead to no easy answers. Joon-ho handles the material with grace, bluntly displaying the horrors of the matter without tipping into exploitation. He also stages arguably the scariest moment of the century amidst one woman’s unfortunate nighttime walk home.
- Brokeback Mountain
What new can be said about Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain? The acting is sensational, with Heath Ledger’s performance only gaining extra poignancy due to his untimely death. The ending is still a gut-wrenching, if subtle, wallop. The script never steps a foot wrong. Gustavo Santaolalla’s score is utter perfection. That Brokeback Mountain lost out to that-which-will-not-be-named at the Oscars is a shame. That gay romances are still something on the fringes of Hollywood is a more significant, troubling one.
- The Squid and the Whale
Acidic and confidently unpleasant, Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale is a tightly drawn depiction of one family falling to pieces as its members try to grow individually. It isn’t that this foursome don’t care about the others or are purely selfish, they simply haven’t figured out how to balance their own happiness with that of others, some more so than others. Laura Linney and Jeff Daniels as the parents, the latter of which relentlessly pokes and prods to prove his own intellect, are a joy to watch combat. Jesse Eisenberg is amazing, the clear child of his folks, with all of their faults and positives laid bare in his behavior. Little Owen Kline, son of Kevin, hasn’t been seen since. Too bad for his work as the younger, just entering puberty son is stark and uniquely riveting. Baumbach has made other great movies. For my money, his bite has never been as on-point and unwavering as it is here.
Terrifying and troubling, Cache almost feels like Michael Haneke showing off. It’s as if he thought, “I know how to really fuck with people.” Baring an opening that tricks you with what you think you’re watching, Haneke pulls the rug out so harshly that one never feels at ease again. With outstanding work by Juliette Binoche (of course) and Daniel Auteuil, Haneke unfurls this yarn of a married couple that begins finding strange videotapes on their doorstep, along with the eerie history behind their creation. Home invasion stories have been done before. Here, Haneke finds an alternate entrance, messing within the minds and lives of a home’s inhabitants without ever actually stepping foot within the premises.
- A History of Violence
If A History of Violence is a step away from the David Cronenberg’s body-horror obsession, it nevertheless shows the horrors one person can enact on another. Viggo Mortensen stars and amazes as Tom Stall, the kind-hearted husband/dad/diner-owner who finds himself confronting some seedier sides of humanity after he courageously and ferociously stops a pair of criminals while working. As the title suggests, there is a grander history to Tom’s deeds, as well as those around him. Cronenberg pulls back the veil of innocence and what people often really want to do when the world presents its harshest scenarios, with all of the unflinching guts to go alongside it. With additional powerful acting by Maria Bello, William Hurt and Ed Harris, Cronenberg’s movie remains a stunner; slick and cut entirely to the bone. You can debate whether or not it’s the director’s finest achievement. I’m not sure how to debate it isn’t.