Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Best Movies of 2005

I know it's March, but I didn't have the opportunity to see all the major, well-reviewed films until now, so I wanted to hold off until I got most of them. Here is my list of the top 20 best films of 2005. Note that I haven't yet seen Syriana, Transamerica and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but other than that, I would imagine I've seen most every other film you would nominate. I try not to be too much of a genre snob, so it's made up of films of many different types and not naturally dismissive of blockbusters or "art films." I recommend all of these, and would be interested in your thoughts on the list, and what you think were the best of the year. Here they are, in list of date released in the United States:

Downfall. This was a great foreign picture that chronicled the last days of Hitler's life. It had an almost documentary like quality to it, and it really made you feel like you were there. The film doesn't attempt to either condemn (no need to) or praise (why would you) Hitler, and takes an almost agnostic view of the man. The result is a really captivating film.

Sin City. One of my personal favorites, this is stylish, violent and fun filmmaking. This is a better "Tarantino" film that Kill Bill I or II. Bruce Willis gives one of his better performances in ages, and the movie is great fun. The cinematography is fantastic.

Crash. I'm very glad this won the Best Picture Oscar, because I thought it was the best film of the year. It tackles a lot of complex problems, and doesn't provide any easy answers. It's both emotionally resonant (the scene with the store owner and the locksmith's daughter) and thought provoking (Ludacris' journey through the film). Great characters and a great screenplay.

Star Wars Episode III. This finally delivered on the promise of George Lucas' decision to shoot a second Star Wars trilogy. It's really a shame Lucas didn't take some of the events of this and spread them into the first two films, because they would have been much better movies. A lot of people were so down on the first two that they didn't give this one a try, but that's their loss.

Cinderella Man. This felt a lot like Seabiscuit. It's another very well acted film with an old time feel about a sport that doesn't have a lot of interest these days. Crowe delivers his typical strong performance, and unfortunately it's just a film that didn't have enough of a potential audience to make waves.

Batman Begins. Like Star Wars Episode III, this marked a return to form of a series that had lost its way. I don't think Batman and Robin and Batman Forever were as awful as some suggest, but they certainly weren't good movies, and they really took a lot of the luster off the Batman franchise. This film takes it back to the basics, and the darker style is a welcome change.

Land of the Dead. This was probably the last movie to make the list. It's a fun, creepy return of George Romero's zombies, even if it doesn't really bring anything new to the table. It has an eerie end-of-the-world setting that takes you in. While I preferred the Dawn of the Dead remake's fast zombies, the zombies here definitely present enough menace.

March of the Penguins. This was a personal favorite of mine. There have been a ton of great documentaries the past few years, and this may be the best of the bunch. It's really interesting, at times touching, and a glimpse into a real world that most of us didn't know exist, or certainly didn't spend much time thinking about.

War of the Worlds. This is perhaps the most flawed film on the list, because of the weak ending required by the source material and a generally anti-climactic direction. That said, this had some of the most viscerally resonant visuals of the entire year. The destruction of the world feels more terrifying than previous films of this ilk, perhaps because of 9/11. Rarely am I genuinely horrified by what is going on in a fictional story, but this is one of those times.

Wedding Crashers. The funniest film of the year is a raucous blast with tons of laughs from beginning to end. It is perhaps a bit too long, but not by much, and I think this is truly Vince Vaughn's return to Swingers form.

Constant Gardener. This would have made by Best Picture nominee list. It has great performances from the principal actors, and a compelling story that keeps you engrossed. Add in some beautiful cinematography, particularly towards the end, and you have a fine film. I wish it got more attention. Perhaps people were turned off by its somewhat preachy message.

Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit. I love these animators. The shorts with Wallace and Gromit were very funny, and Chicken Run was another big success. Wallace and Gromit returned with this feature length, and it's a definite success. It's a totally different sense of humor than Wedding Crashers, but also very funny.

The Squid and the Whale. For some reason, the story of a marriage falling apart makes for good dramatic films, and this is another good one with Laura Linney and Jeff Daniels. The characters get you into the film from the beginning, and it is at times funny and sad. The children taking sides is perhaps too obvious, but that's my only major complaint.

In Her Shoes. Yes, it's a "chick flick." But it's a very good "chick flick." The relationship between the sisters is well established, and you care about them even when they are doing awful or stupid things. It's not a film with great ambition, but it does what it seeks to very well.

Good Night and Good Luck. This isn't a film that lends itself to multiple viewings, but it is an engrossing, tightly crafted short film with great acting and interesting themes. David Strathairn's performance as Edwin R. Murrow was to me deserving of the Best Actor Oscar over Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Walk the Line. This was to me the most pleasant surprise of the year. I didn't go in with great expectations, but I left really loving this film. The great leading performances are what makes the film, and the story is best as a character and relationship study.

Brokeback Mountain. As I've said here, this wasn't the best picture of the year for me, but it was certainly very good. I thought both the male leads gave great performances, and the backgrounds were really beautiful. It's not the best love story you're ever going to see, but it did work.

King Kong. This was the most bizarre film of the year, with a boring first third, wacko comedy second third, and touching final third. This was the most ambitious film of the year by far, and just delivering on some of its promise merits praise given how high it aimed. I wouldn't recommend an even longer extended edition, however.

Munich. This is actually a pretty simple film. It unquestionably has a lot to think about behind it, but the narrative is pretty straight forward and simple. It's a somber meditation on violence that doesn't have the political agenda that a lot of people on both sides would like to have.

Match Point. This was a weird one for me. I saw it and didn't really like it all that much. I was totally interested in the story, but I didn't feel like it connected with me when it was over. However, this film more than any other this year lingered with me. The images in the film have stuck with me and I find myself thinking about them periodically. I also vividly remember most of the settings of the film, which isn't true of other films I have seen recently. Woody Allen does deserve the credit he got for this.


Blogger Dave Ling & Franchise said...

Todd, the Tony Kornheiser influence in me wants to call you "gutless" for failing to come out with a shorter list then 20. But, "if that's the list, that's it" its a pretty good list..

The only films that I saw that I'd infiltrate onto that list is "Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room" which was tremendous and "The 40 Year Old Virgin" which was funny as hell and I'd pick that before Wedding Crashers.

11:03 AM  
Blogger Todd Martin said...

If I shortened it to 20, the natural inclination to make it seem more legit is to cut the more "fun"/less serious films. And then you get the same old list that mirrors the Oscars and Golden Globes. 20 allows me to keep very well made prestige films while giving credit to less ambitious films as well. I really liked Enron Smartest Guys as well. Very interesting doc worthy of a lot of praise. I didn't like 40 Year Old Virgin as much as some. It was funny, but I didn't find it as laugh out loud hilarious as Wedding Crashers.

4:15 PM  
Blogger Herman said...

Really enjoyed your list. One documentary I saw that I think should crack your list (unless you haven't seen it, then I suggest you rent it) was ''Murderball''
It follows the U.S. Paralympic quad rugby team to the 2004 Summer Olympics in Greece.

5:36 PM  
Blogger Todd Martin said...

Murderball was another very good documentary. What kept it from being one of my favorites of the year was that most of the characters were unlikeable to me, and thus I didn't care much about whether they did well or not. It was interesting, but not affecting.

1:53 PM  

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