Mike’s Top Ten of 2005

Every time I think about 2005, it feels like the “dark” year of this decade. Don’t know why (though I have guesses), but that’s what it’s always felt like.

It’s a solid year. There are a bunch of movies in this top ten that I love. Though admittedly the lower tiers are not as strong as some of the other years.

This is one of those years that feels most like a good indicator of people’s tastes. If I wanted to gauge the kind of stuff someone likes, this feels like a year to look at. Because there’s only a small handful of consensus movies this year, and a lot of the generally “liked” stuff feels like it could vary wildly from person to person. Which leaves open spots for people to put the films that matter to them. I know that I’ve got at least one movie on this list that would appear on very few top tens for this year and very much indicates who I am as a movie person.

Mike’s Top Ten of 2005

Batman Begins

Good Night, and Good Luck

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

A History of Violence

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Lord of War

The New World

Sin City

Walk the Line

The World’s Fastest Indian

11-20: Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Little Manhattan, Match Point, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Munich, The Proposition, Syriana, Waiting…, The Weather Man

Tier two: The Aristocrats, The Ballad of Jack and Rose, The Baxter, The Big White, Broken Flowers, Caché, The Constant Gardener, Crash, Cinderella Man, Four Brothers, Hustle & Flow, The Ice Harvest, Jarhead, Junebug, King Kong, The Matador, North Country, Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

Tier three: The Brothers Grimm, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Coach Carter, The Descent, Get Rich or Die Tryin’, Grizzly Man, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Kingdom of Heaven, The Longest Yard, Manderlay, Memoirs of a Geisha, Millions, Mrs. Henderson Presents, No Direction Home, Oliver Twist, Proof, The Ringer, Tsotsi, An Unfinished Life, War of the Worlds

Tier four: Assault on Precinct 13, Bad News Bears, Be Cool, Bewitched, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Corpse Bride, Elizabethtown, The Great Raid, Hitch, The Island, Joyeux Noel, The Producers, Red Eye, Transamerica, Transporter 2, The Upside of Anger, Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Water, Wedding Crashers, Zathura

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1. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

“My $2000 ceramic Vektor my mother got me as a special gift. You threw in the lake next to the car. What happens when they drag the lake? You think they’ll find my pistol. Jesus. Look up ‘idiot’ in the dictionary. You know what you’ll find?”
“A picture of me?”
“No! The definition of the word idiot, which you fucking are!”

My god, I love this movie so much. Shane Black is one of my personal writing deities. He disappeared for a few years, after several of his scripts turned into flops and (I believe) an addiction. But then he came back with this film, which he directed on top of writing. And man, is it perfect.

It’s, in typical Shane Black fashion, a self-referential genre film that knowingly plays on the conventions of the genre to create a unique theatrical experience. Robert Downey Jr. plays a thief-turned-actor who runs into his childhood crush and somehow gets involved in a paperback mystery involving murder and all sorts of weird shit. Val Kilmer absolutely steals the film as Gay Perry, the private detective hired to help Downey get into character for the role he’s about to play, who joins him along for the ride, chastising him every second of the way.

This is about the purest a Shane Black movie can get. He’d repeat this formula a bit with The Nice Guys, but that film felt a bit more polished. This one feels like the kind of movie you find in the video store that you keep renting to show all your friends because no one’s ever seen it. That’s what I love about this and why it keeps enduring for me. Truly, I think this is one of the best movies of the decade and I think it’s still awfully underrated and underseen, somehow.

2. Good Night, and Good Luck

“We have currently a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information. Our mass media reflect this. But unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse, and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it, and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late.”

This is the most important film of 2005. I know people will say Brokeback Mountain was the most important. But it’s not. It’s this. This is the most blistering political statement released during the Bush presidency, and stands as one of the most important pieces of holding truth to power since “The Crucible.” Which is not to compare the two as art but rather to say that it’s few and far between that something is this loud and this focused as a statement.

I also use that as an example because The Crucible was a story about the Salem Witch Trials and meant as a metaphor for The House Un-American Activities and their hunt for Communists and this film is about the House Un-American Activities and the news station (and newsman) who stood up and spoke out at a time when no one else would do so. Which is exactly what was going on in the country, when everyone pretty much knew the war the country was embarking on was fraudulent but everyone was afraid to speak up for fear of retribution from the government. David Strathairn stars as Edward R. Murrow and gives the performance of his career. The film’s got Jeff Daniels, Frank Langella, Robert Downey Jr., Patricia Clarkson and George Clooney, who, aside from co-starring also co-wrote and directed the film.

To me, this is the finest piece of American cinema to come out of 2005. In my mind, it should have won every award. That was always my big thing about this year. The ‘Crash beating Brokeback Mountain’ thing was awful for me, because I felt this should have beaten them both, and no one ever talks about anything other than those two.

3. Walk the Line

“Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.”

James Mangold is one of the most underrated filmmakers out there. He makes eminently rewatchable movies. It’s one thing to make good movies, but it’s another to make movies you want to watch over and over. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this movie. Even now, whenever I go back home to my parents’ house, I’ll see it on the TV occasionally if it’s on.

It’s a biopic of Johnny Cash, with Joaquin Phoenix as Cash, and Reese Witherspoon as June Carter. It’s just wonderful. It really is. Phoenix does a really good job with the character. Even though it’s impossible to truly look like Johnny Cash, he sounds enough like him and the singing is pretty much on point. Witherspoon doesn’t need to be an exact replica of Carter, so she just uses her natural charm to power through the role, and her work earned her an Oscar.

This movie, as I said, is just rewatchable. You can put it on and watch it any time. Which, to me, is the biggest compliment you can pay any movie.

4. Sin City

“Ask yourself if that corpse of a slut is worth dying for.”
“Worth dying for. Worth killing for. Worth going to hell for.”

This was such a big film for me at the time. And a big film for cinema, too. Without this, we don’t get something like 300. This, in its own way, helped pioneer special effects and how you could make comic book movies. (In a way, Zack Snyder owes part of his career to this film.)

I’d say this is probably the first movie based on a graphic novel where the scenes look exactly like they do on the page. Which gives it that element of fun that it needs, even though it’s a very dark and noirish kind of film.

It’s built around three stories. The first being centered around Bruce Willis, a retiring cop trying to protect a young girl from the predatory son of the city’s most powerful corrupt senator, the second involving Mickey Rourke as a brutish ex-con trying to avenge the death of a prostitute who showed him the only kindness he’s ever known, and the third involves Clive Owen as a man dealing with his girlfriend’s abusive ex-boyfriend.

The cast is amazing. There are so many cool people in this film. Plus it helped bring back Mickey Rourke, which would pay dividends in a few years once The Wrestler would come out. It’s the perfect piece of entertainment, giving you that immediate pleasure that you get from reading a comic. The visuals are top notch, and it’s got that perfect episodic quality that makes each feel like the perfect limited run in a bigger series.

5. Batman Begins

“Why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”

Christopher Nolan completely changed the comic book movie with this. He’d further cement that notion with this film’s sequel, but even so, this film is the one that really changed the game.

He took Batman and made it gritty and realistic. Which, now, is the most basic concept. But when you think about what comic book movies were in 2005… Batman had been Adam West, Tim Burton (which was dark, but still fantastical) and Joel Schumacher. Here, Nolan focused on the character elements and built the story from the ground up, having it make sense that this person could exist and making a comic book film (and eventual trilogy) for the ages.

I think the strength of this film is that it focuses on the Wayne character and his flaws and motivations rather than just having it be a showcase of acting for the villain. Plus it tells a fun origin story that somehow makes ninjas and hallucinogen poisoning of an entire city’s water supply believable. Plus there’s that great first scene of him as Batman at the docks, which is one of the great action sequences of the decade.

6. The World’s Fastest Indian

“Aren’t you scared you’ll kill yourself if you crash?”
“No… You live more in five minutes on a bike like this going flat out than some people live in a lifetime.”

One of the great hidden gems of this decade. I saw this movie immediately upon its release and was shocked to find out a few years later that absolutely no one had ever heard of it.

It’s a sports biopic of sorts, about a real New Zealander who spent years building an old motorcycle in an attempt to break the land speed record in the late 1960s. It’s a feel-good kinda movie, with Anthony Hopkins playing the man, and coming across as the most jovial person you’ve ever met. The kind of person you just want to root for, which makes the film all the more satisfying.

It’s just one of those movies that makes you feel good, and it’s one that I guarantee most people would enjoy.

7. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

“No spell can reawaken the dead, Harry. I trust you know that. Dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.”

Weirdly, this is sort of an orphan Harry Potter film. Chris Columbus did the first two, then Cuaron changed the entire tone of the franchise, and after this one, David Yates took over and directed the final four films. And it’s not that this feels at all out of line with the rest of the franchise. It’s just that this is a bit of a transitional film for them, where they figure out how much they’re gonna take from what Cuaron did and what the new norm is gonna be going forward. They also had their hands full, as “Goblet of Fire” is 600-something pages long. Though I guess all the later books are much longer, but this one in particular was the longest at the time, and there was a lot that they had to get onto the screen.

I’ve always appreciated this movie, even though there are others in the franchise I look more for different reasons. This one has some really nice character moments and set pieces and some of my favorite moments in the entire franchise.

This is also the film where the chemistry between Radcliffe and Watson begins to become really apparent, to the point where they actually had to tamper down on it in the later films once it was clear the books were not gonna go in that direction.

8. Lord of War

“There are over 550 million firearms in worldwide circulation. That’s one firearm for every twelve people on the planet. The only question is: How do we arm the other eleven?”

This movie felt overlooked even as it came out. I was really into Nic Cage growing up (as everyone should be), so I saw this movie as soon as it came out, and thought it was amazing. And that was before I was really cognizant of who directed it.

That person would be Andrew Niccol, the man who wrote and directed Gattaca and wrote The Truman Show. Weirdly I saw this long before I saw both of those films. So my frame of reference for Andrew Niccol was this movie.

It’s the story of a gun runner, played by Cage, and it’s told sort of in the style of Goodfellas. Cage delivers voiceover throughout the film and takes us through the ins and outs of his profession, all while contemplating whether or not what he does is morally right or wrong.

I fell in love with this movie from the opening seconds, which I’ll always remember. It starts tracking in on a floor filled with bullets, up to Cage, who turns to the camera and spouts some fact about guns, and how it’s one for every twelve people on the planet. And then he goes, “The only question is, how do we arm the other eleven?” And then we get a credit sequence that shows a bullet starting out in a factory being made, then ending up in a box of ammunition, being sent to the army of the country that made it, then being sold to an African warlord and finally ending up in the barrel of a gun as one of the warlord’s soldiers kills a child. From that moment on, I was in with everything this movie wanted to do.

I think this is a fantastic movie that never properly got its due. And I feel like there are still a lot of people who haven’t even seen this and don’t really know what it is, either. Which is a shame. Because it is one of the best movies of this year.

9. The New World

“There’s something I know when I’m with you that I forget when I’m away.”

Terrence Malick’s second film after his twenty-year disappearance from filmmaking. The first was The Thin Red Line, which was considered a masterpiece and nominated for tons of awards. This was his second, and has a bit of a mixed reception, though I think people generally consider it a great piece of work.

It’s the story of Pocahontas and the English expedition to Virginia, split into three parts. The first is about the expedition itself and center’s around Colin Farrell’s John Smith. The second is Smith’s romance with Pocahontas, and the third is Pocahontas’s romance/marriage to John Rolfe, played by Christian Bale.

I remember seeing this for the first time and just immediately falling for it. I loved the filmmaking Malick used. This is the first time he got into that style we’ve seen from him since then. The Thin Red Line sort of has it, but he’s tied to a narrative there, for the most part. This is the first time he lets the camera roam free, and creates more of a mood and tone rather than telling a specific story. And I loved every minute of it.

Q’orianka Kilcher is great as Pocahontas, and Farrell and Bale are both very good. Chivo shoots the hell out of it, as he would almost all of the later Malick films. It’s one of those movies… I feel like with Malick, everyone loves Badlands and Days of Heaven (and whichever one you like better of the two tends to be whichever one you saw first, but generally everyone likes them both), and then with the later ones, everyone respects Tree of Life, but past that, everyone goes all sorts of ways on the others. They have one they love that not everyone does, and then they’re so-so on at least one other that some people are very high on. That’s just the reality of his later stuff. For me, this is the one that I love. For me, this ranks up there with Badlands and Days of Heaven as some of his finest work.

10. A History of Violence

“Who’s Joey?”
“You are.”
“My name’s Tom, sir.”
“Of course it is.”

David Cronenberg makes a straightforward thriller, and the results are what might be his consensus best movie. I know people have their favorite, but pretty much everyone is united around liking this one.

It’s a simple story about a man living in a small town with his family who, one day, kills a pair of men attempting to rob the restaurant where he works. Suddenly his life is turned upside down, with media attention, and the appearance of a mysterious man who seems to know who he is. Only… that’s not the person he says he is. So is he who he says he is, or is he this other guy?

It’s awesome. Viggo Mortensen is terrific as the main character, Ed Harris is great as the mysterious man, Maria Bello is great as Mortensen’s wife, and William Hurt gives an incredible performance showing up in the last fifteen minutes of the film. He was nominated for an Oscar for his performance, he’s so good in this.

What’s great about this movie is that it doesn’t waste any time getting into unnecessary stuff. It’s got its story, and it sticks to it. It gets in and it gets out, and it’s just great.

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Brokeback Mountain — It’s the film that best represents cinema in 2005. It’s a lightning rod. People either loved it or hated it purely because of what it was about and what it represented. It easily was responsible for one of the five most contentious Best Picture categories of all time. And what’s important about that is… not everyone was really taking into account the actual film itself in that equation. I’m gonna focus purely on that, since to me, that’s what it’s about. It’s a movie directed by Ang Lee (which earned him his first Oscar) about two cowboys hired as sheep herders. And over the years, despite both being married to women, they start a relationship. And the film is about the forbidden love between them that they’re not able to fully act on in public. And it’s a beautiful film. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal are tremendous here, as is Michelle Williams as Ledger’s wife. It’s a really affecting drama that just happened to come out during a time when the subject matter was a big deal. That movie comes out now and nobody cares. It’s just a good movie.

Capote — It’s a biopic of Truman Capote during the writing of “In Cold Blood” starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, who gives perhaps the most stunning performance of his incredible career. It’s insane how good he is in this movie. The film is also quite, quite good. It’s Bennett Miller’s first film, and to this point, he’s got a perfect record with his films. This is just a classy piece of work that is a tremendous achievement all around.

Little Manhattan — Okay, so this is one of those movies that’s very specific to me and my tastes. I love movies with precocious children, and I love romance movies with children as the leads. I just do. So this is entirely up my alley. It’s a movie about 11 year-olds falling in love in New York City. And it’s lovely. I’m not gonna pretend like this is for everyone, but man, do I love this movie.

Match Point — Is probably Woody Allen’s best and most acclaimed movie of the 2000s. I think most people who read this site know that I have a complicated relationship with his work. That is… I hate most of his movies. Or rather, I either don’t like most of his movies or my reaction is, “Sure, whatever.” There’s only about a dozen or so I really like in any meaningful way. And this is one of those dozen. I do quite like this movie. It’s a thriller about a married man who falls for a woman who is about to become his sister-in-law. It’s Scarlett Johansson in full femme fatale mode and Allen doing a sort of Hitchcockian thing (well, as close as he can). It’s a really strong piece of work. Allen can be good when he deals with subject matter like this. The other one that comes to mind is the serious half of Crimes and Misdemeanors. It’s that kind of movie.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith — Apparently this is based on a TV show in the 90s that no one remembers. I had no idea. I always assumed it was sort of related to the Hitchcock movie, but it just shares the title. There’s really no similarity whatsoever. The premise is that a married couple realizes they both work for competing spy agencies and are told to kill one another. It’s so much goddamn fun. Doug Liman directs and Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie star. I love this movie. This is a movie that barely misses my top ten this year, just because it’s so watchable..

Munich — Steven Spielberg has developed a habit of rolling off of one movie and going immediately into another. He directed this big, epic, special effects-laden War of the Worlds movie, and then around May of that year, we heard he was directing this movie. And I remember that he managed to shoot the whole thing and edit it so it could come out in time for awards season. And you thought, “There’s no way he’s gonna pull that off,” and then they’re editing up until the last minute, get it in under the wire, and then it comes out and not only is it nominated for all sorts of awards, it’s actually great. It’s based on the events that followed the Munich Olympics, where a Palestinian terrorist group took 11 Israeli Olympians hostage and executed them. It’s a story about five Mossad agents who are hired to go kill the men responsible for the deaths. It’s so goddamn good. Eric Bana stars, along with Daniel Craig, Ciaran Hinds, Matthiew Kassovitz, Geoffrey Rush and Mathieu Amalric. It’s one of Spielberg’s best movies. Which, I know, only narrows the list down to about 20, but still. It’s incredible.

The Proposition — An Australian western written by Nick Cave and directed by John Hillcoat. Oh, and it stars Guy Pearce, Danny Huston, Ray Winstone and Emily Watson. It’s awesome. It’s so awesome. Simple premise: lawman captures a notorious outlaw and his younger brother and says the outlaw has nine days to murder his older brother (who has disappeared into the outback) or else he’s gonna murder the younger one. It’s basically western Apocalypse Now. Western tropes galore, and it’s Guy Pearce traveling into the bush to murder one brother to save another one. It’s so good. I cannot recommend this movie highly enough.

Syriana — Stephen Gaghan’s directorial debut after having written Traffic. It’s an ensemble movie about all the different people affected by the oil industry, from CIA officers to executives to Arab royalty to potential terrorists. The cast is insane, too many people to name. George Clooney won an Oscar for his performance here, and the rest of the cast is very, very good. It’s an incredible movie. One of the absolute best of this year. If there’s such a thing as essential movies for a given year in film, this would be on the 2005 list.

Waiting… — Is Clerks but in a restaurant. And it’s more of an ensemble teen movie than Clerks is. But yeah, this is one of those comedies I grew up with that I’ve just always liked even though I’m aware it’s not the greatest movie ever. It’s basically just how shitty it is to work at a restaurant and all the different crazy people you deal with on a daily basis there, including and especially coworkers. It’s one of those movies that I think only really appeals to people my age. It’s not something I’m gonna try to make anyone else love.

The Weather Man — Our second Nicolas Cage movie of the year and our second criminally underrated Nicolas Cage movie of the year. Lord of War is just great and anyone who watches it will see that. But this one is a little tougher just because it’s got a weird tone. He plays (insert title here) who is in the middle of a mid life crisis. People hate him and constantly throw fast food at him in the street. Meanwhile he’s separated from his wife and also feels like he’s living in the shadow of his much more successful father (Michael Caine), who is also dying. So it’s him dealing with a lot of shit at once. It’s mostly a drama, but there’s some comedy in there too. I love it. I think it’s absolutely wonderful and that Cage delivers a hell of a performance that only he could properly pull off. Also directed by Gore Verbinski in the middle of his directing the three Pirates movies.

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Tier two:

  • The Aristocrats
  • The Ballad of Jack and Rose
  • The Baxter
  • The Big White
  • Broken Flowers
  • Caché
  • The Constant Gardener
  • Crash
  • Cinderella Man
  • Four Brothers
  • Hustle & Flow
  • The Ice Harvest
  • Jarhead
  • Junebug
  • King Kong
  • The Matador
  • North Country
  • Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic
  • Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
  • The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
  • +1

Broken Flowers is Jim Jarmusch and Bill Murray. He plays a Don Juan (his character’s name is literally Don Johnston) who goes from woman to woman, but then has his life turned upside down when he gets an anonymous letter from one of his old girlfriends saying he has a son who may look him up. This, of course, sends him on a journey of self-reflection as he goes to see the women he figures are the most likely candidates of having written the letter. It’s a wonderful movie. Murray is tremendous here and it’s just a really solid hidden gem of a movie. I cannot recommend this highly enough. Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic is one of the best comedy specials I’ve ever seen. Sarah Silverman is hilarious to begin with, but this set in particular is wonderful. And it’s got some great taped bits interspersed in between that are also fantastic. I’m very picky when it comes to standup specials. I can always be amused by one, but the ones I really, truly like are a short list. And this is on that list for me. It’s so funny. Caché is Michael Haneke making a movie about paranoia. A couple finds a videotape on their porch that shows their apartment being filmed from across the street. And, not knowing what it means or who is doing it, their life begins to spiral out of control. It’s an incredible movie. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada is a Tommy Lee Jones-directed western about a guy whose friend dies and is determined to fulfill his promise to him by burying him in his hometown back in Mexico. It’s a really solid movie that admittedly is a tough sell for most, since it’s an adult drama, a western, and features a lot of dialogue in Spanish, which, for most people, is not the kind of movie they typically want. But it is a very solid piece of work.

Crash is pretty infamous at this point. A lot’s been said about the film and the fact that it won Best Picture this year. I feel like people would be fine with it had it not won, but it is what it is. It’s an ensemble film about race and racial relations in America. If you take away all of what people feel about it, it’s a fine drama. It’s never gonna be thought of as a masterpiece, but it’s a fine film with good performances. I think the best way for people to see this movie is to try to see it in as much of a vacuum as they can to try to appreciate the film as it is rather than what it seems to represent. Junebug is the movie that broke Amy Adams. She became an indie darling from this movie. I think Catch Me If You Can got her noticed, but this was the one that really set her on the path to where she is now. It’s about a guy from the city who goes to meet his southern in-laws and feels very out of place. Know up from it’s a very indie movie. But Adams is the highlight, playing the guy’s sister-in-law. This is one of those performances where you go, “Holy shit.” The fact that she got nominated for this performance tells you everything you need to know about it. This is the kind of movie that only gets nominated when you have a performance to be celebrated. The movie is fine, but Amy Adams is great in it. That performance is always going to be the selling point of this movie.

The Ballad of Jack and Rose is the one Daniel Day-Lewis performance that most people don’t know about. Pretty much everything he acted in since My Left Foot was almost an event film. Typically, either he was nominated for his performance (because they’re all incredible) or they’re this big, well-remembered movies from great filmmakers. But this one nobody knows about. He made it between Gangs of New York and There Will Be Blood. It’s written and directed by his wife, Rebecca Miller. He plays a former hippie radical who lives on an island that was originally built in the 60s as a commune. But now he’s really the only one left. His wife left him, and he’s raising his daughter in this place, despite warring with a developer who wants to build houses on the land nearby and a heart condition that’s going to kill him sooner rather than later. It’s mostly a father-daughter story, and it works. It’s very different from the kind of performances we’re used to out of Daniel Day-Lewis, but I really like it as a change of pace. And Rebecca Miller tends to make really solid character pieces that I really enjoy. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith is the last film in the prequel trilogy. The one that finally bridges the gap between the Anakin/Vader story and the original trilogy. By this point, I think people were ready to be done with them, even though they admit that this was probably the best of the three, just because you get Anakin going evil and murdering kids and just dark shit happening. For all the negative things you can say about the prequels, they are, at the very least, watchable and pretty entertaining movies.

Cinderella Man is a Ron Howard-directed, Russell Crowe-starring biopic of Jim Braddock, American boxer during the Depression. It’s… a lot of things at once. It’s a sports movie, it’s Oscar bait, it’s meant to be like those Depression stories that uplift you in a time of bleakness. It’s all of that. Braddock had a famous heavyweight fight with German champ Max Baer, and the film leads up to that bout. Crowe is good, Renee Zellweger is good as his wife, and Paul Giamatti plays his trainer, in the big showy supporting role of the film. It’s just a solid piece of work, as almost all Ron Howards films are. Four Brothers is a remake of The Sons of Katie Elder. But rather than being a western, it takes place in Detroit. The premise is — the adopted mother of (insert title here) is murdered, and they set out for revenge. Simple enough. Mark Wahlberg, Tyrese, Andre 3000 and Garrett Hedlund star as the brothers, and the movie’s also got Terrence Howard, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Josh Charles, Sofia Vergara and Taraji P. Henson. And it’s directed by John Singleton. It’s just a really solid, fun movie.

The Baxter is Michael Showalter’s first film (he’s the guy who directed The Big Sick, in case you can’t place the name). It’s done in the style of a Howard Hawks movie, and it’s about a guy who seems to be doomed to be the “friend” character, who is constantly losing the girl to the leading man of the picture. Showalter stars along with Michelle Williams, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Rudd, Justin Theroux, Michael Ian Black, Peter Dinklage, Ken Marino, David Wain — and yes, in case you’re wondering, it’s all the same crew from The State/Wet Hot American Summer. It’s really great. One of the hidden gems of this year. North Country is a movie I’m always gonna think of as Oscar bait. I remember it so well from the time, and when you see the cast and hear what it’s about, that’s just the vibe you get. But also know… it’s a very solid movie. I’m just admitting my bias up front. Directed by Niki Caro, coming off Whale Rider, and starring Charlize Theron, coming off Monster, it’s about the first major sexual harassment case in the U.S., about a female miner who was constantly harassed by her almost entirely male coworkers. It also stars Jeremy Renner, Woody Harrelson, Frances McDormand (nominated for her performance along with Charlize), Richard Jenkins, Sissy Spacek, Michelle Monaghan, Sean Bean, Corey Stoll. Great cast, good material, completely classy piece of work through and through.

The Matador is such a great movie. It’s a dark comedy directed by Richard Shepherd (who just makes really solid darkly funny movies, it seems. He’s also done The Hunting Party, Dom Hemingway and The Perfection) about a hitman having a midlife crisis. Pierce Brosnan is fantastic as the hitman and it also stars Greg Kinnear as a regular dude who becomes Brosnan’s friend. I love this movie. It’s so good. Jarhead is Sam Mendes’ movie about the Gulf War. Coming off American Beauty and Road to Perdition, it’s hard to have more expectations on a movie than this one had. It’s based on a book about a guy’s experiences being a marine. It’s also set during the Gulf War, when there really wasn’t a whole lot of fighting going on, so really it’s just about how shitty it is to be in the Marines. They’re all in the desert, bored and stir crazy, and the main character keeps wondering if his girlfriend is cheating on him the entire time. It’s basically a bunch of pent up dudes wondering, “When am I gonna get to kill someone?” It’s a solid movie. Admittedly, it doesn’t reach the heights Mendes’ first two films reach, but it’s still a very solid movie that adds to his impressive filmography. The Ice Harvest is a dark comedy Christmas movie starring John Cusack as a mob lawyer who steals some money from his clients and needs to get out of town. But of course, complications ensue as he tries to get out, and everyone in town seems to be suspicious about what’s going on. It’s awesome. Cusack is great, and Billy Bob Thornton and Oliver Platt are both terrific in this too. Harold Ramis directs, and it’s one of those nice little gems that’s been almost forgotten about.

The Constant Gardener is a John le Carré adaptation directed by City of God’s Fernando Meirelles and starring Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz. As if you needed any more reasons to watch it. It’s awesome. It’s about a guy who looks into his wife’s murder in Africa and discovers a big conspiracy. That’s really all you need. It’s wonderful. Great performances all around, and just one of the best films of this year. Hustle & Flow is one of the indie darlings of this year that managed an Oscar nomination for Terrence Howard as well as bringing us Academy Award winners Three 6 Mafia. It’s a film about a southern pimp who wants to be a rapper. That’s… that’s the film. And it’s so awesome. The Big White is a dark comedy with Robin Williams as a travel agent who is desperate for money. So, when he comes upon a frozen corpse, he decides to pass it off as his missing brother in order to collect the life insurance. Only, an insurance investigator seems to be onto him, and there are two hitmen who show up, wanting the body back. And comedy ensues. I’ve always enjoyed this movie, mostly because I love Robin Williams. It’s not the greatest movie ever, but a good dark comedy about people getting murdered and doing horrible things is right up my alley.

The Aristocrats is a documentary about the filthiest joke ever told, which is hilarious, considering the similarity to The Aristocats. It’s a sort of in-joke among comedians. The kind of thing they tell to make each other laugh. The premise is, a family walks into a talent agent’s office and says they’ve got the perfect act. And the agent asks what it’s about, and they then go into the description, which is meant to be a sort of improvisatory bit of the filthiest shit you could possibly think of. All the most fucked up things that a family could do on a stage in front of an audience. And then the agent goes, “What do you call an act like that?” “(Insert title here.)” The point of the documentary isn’t about the joke, it’s a celebration of comedians being funny. It’s like how you hear that people are asked to make an omelet to see how well they can cook. It’s sort of like a handshake welcoming you to the club of comedians. What I love about it is that it’s just loaded with famous people telling jokes for 90 minutes. What more could you ask for? King Kong is Peter Jackson’s remake. This is what he chose to followup Lord of the Rings with. And honestly… it was successful. Made a lot of money, won some technical awards, Andy Serkis got acclaim for his mo cap performance. Though the movie is insanely long and indulgent. That’s what keeps me from liking it more. It’s just so goddamn long. Did we need the giant CGI animal fights? Though I will say, the best thing that came out of this movie is its theme song.

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Tier three:

  • The Brothers Grimm
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
  • Coach Carter
  • The Descent
  • Get Rich or Die Tryin’
  • Grizzly Man
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  • Kingdom of Heaven
  • The Longest Yard
  • Manderlay
  • Memoirs of a Geisha
  • Millions
  • Mrs. Henderson Presents
  • No Direction Home
  • Oliver Twist
  • Proof
  • The Ringer
  • Tsotsi
  • An Unfinished Life
  • War of the Worlds

Kingdom of Heaven is a Ridley Scott epic about the Crusades. Oh boy, just what we all wanted! He likes these historical epics. Nothing, of course, will compare with Gladiator, but they’re all varying degrees of decent. This one in particular, I must caveat with — watch the Director’s Cut, do not watch the theatrical cut. They made him cut it down to help the box office, and it just mangles the film. If you want the proper version of this movie, the Director’s Cut is the one. It’s a very solid piece of work. The Brothers Grimm is Terry Gilliam doing fairy tales. Matt Damon and Heath Ledger star as the titular brothers who are con artists, traveling around and pretending to kill fictional beasts that they make up in their stories for money. Of course, they then meet a real set of monsters and have to man up and take care of it for real. It’s a fun movie. Very Terry Gilliam. It doesn’t always work, but the cast and the director make it out to be something watchable. Gilliam is one of those guys who is incapable of making a bad movie. So even if this is one of his more average ones, it still makes for something more entertaining than the usual lot. Oliver Twist is Roman Polanski’s adaptation of the novel. There’s really not much more to say about it. Ben Kingsley plays Fagin, which is really the standout acting role of the story, and it’s just a solid, classy piece of work.

The Longest Yard is an Adam Sandler remake of the 1974 Burt Reynolds movie. The original is fantastic, and honestly… this one’s not so bad. I mean, when they focus on the sports aspect, it’s good. The comedy bits in between are much more hit and miss. Still, though, Adam Sandler movies tend to be more focused when he’s got the sports movie framework around it. Proof is a drama about mathematicians! Hooray! It’s based on a popular play, and stars Gwyneth Paltrow as the daughter of a very famous but volatile mathematician (Anthony Hopkins) who recently died. And it’s about her dealing with the fact that she may have inherited his mental instability while also dealing with all that’s left in the aftermath of his death. Jake Gyllenhaal and Hope Davis also star, and it’s a pretty solid movie. I imagine the play has more impact, but the movie is well worth seeing. An Unfinished Life is a Lasse Hallstrom-directed, Jennifer Lopez, Robert Redford and Morgan Freeman-starring film about a single mother who is down on her luck and takes her daughter to live with her estranged father-in-law on his farm. And it’s a film about people forgiving each other and getting over their shit. But also, it’s Redford and Freeman, which gives its own enjoyment.

Mrs. Henderson Presents is such an awesome movie. Mostly because it stars Judi Dench. Stephen Frears directs and it’s about a widow who buys a run down London theater. After initial success, the theater begins to lose money, so Dench decides to put nude women on the stage, because, to quote The Aviator, “Who doesn’t like tits?” And the film is about her and all the people in the theater, and about how World War II affects them all. It’s just a lovely movie. There’s a history of these war-years British movies that just make you feel good. This has the benefit of having Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins in it. The Ringer is one of those movies with a premise so fucked up that you assume it could only be a truly terrible movie. Johnny Knoxville plays a guy who pretends to be mentally challenged in order to compete in the Special Olympics. That’s right. That’s the premise. And you know what? You’re absolutely right. It’s really fucked up. BUT… the movie’s not just about that. It’s about a guy who does it because he’s got no other options, but slowly comes to realize what a piece of shit he is and change his ways. I’m not gonna defend this movie in any way, but I assumed this was gonna be hot garbage and actually ended up kinda caring about what happened by the end of it. And I had absolutely no reason to want to do so. So yeah. Memoirs of a Geisha is a big, sweeping romance movie about a girl who comes from nothing who turns into Japan’s most celebrated Geisha. Rob Marshall directs coming off Chicago, and it’s just a lush period film with amazing sets and costumes and all that stuff you’d expect out of a classy studio Oscar picture. Big problem in that they cast Ziyi Zhang, a Chinese actress, as a Japanese character, but other than that, the movie’s really solid.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It’s like this is the year of the remake. Famous directors taking on adaptations of classic source material. This is Tim Burton doing Willy Wonka, with Johnny Depp as Wonka. Apparently he wanted to do it after Sleepy Hollow with Christopher Walken as Wonka. Which would have been amazing. Instead, we get this, which is fine. It’s colorful, likable, but doesn’t carry nearly the amount of weight that the original film does. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is based on the Douglas Adams book, which apparently is a bigger deal than I keep thinking it is. I never grew up with it, so I had no idea. I knew people were excited for this movie, but I never even managed to see it until fairly recently. It’s a space adventure comedy, about a guy who is taken off of earth seconds before it’s going to be blown up, and then starts hopping around the galaxy on a space adventure, meeting all sorts of people and creatures. It’s fun. The cast is full of familiar faces and it’s got a jaunty tone. Not gonna say it’s amazing, but it’s good entertainment. Get Rich or Die Tryin’ is 50 Cent’s cinematic adaptation of his backstory. After 8 Mile hit, it opened up the doors for something like this to get made. It definitely always felt like a lesser cousin to 8 Mile, even though it is very watchable in its own right. Also directed by Jim Sheridan, a weird choice for him, coming off In America. Though that might just be him realizing he said everything he wanted to say with In America and taking work-for-hire jobs. But still, Jim Sheridan directing this movie is just a weird, weird choice.

Manderlay is a Lars Von Trier movie that, admittedly, is a tough sell for most people. A lot of the time, his movies are about difficult subject matter, but he generally makes them work. This one could feel like he’s doing it just for the sake of being inflammatory. It’s a direct followup to Dogville, only with Bryce Dallas Howard taking over for Nicole Kidman and Willem Dafoe taking over for James Caan. The pair travel through the south and end up at a plantation. There, they discover that slavery is still in effect, 70 years after the war. And naturally, they decide to play white savior and “free” these people. And… well, it’s a Lars Von Trier movie. I’ll just leave it at that. He films it like Dogville in that it’s shot on a soundstage with very few sets and things like that. I don’t love it as much as I love Dogville, mostly because, like I said, I wonder why he made it, and if he did it just to see how far he could push the envelope without really having anything to say while doing so. Tsotsi is the Foreign Language Film winner of this year, about a young South African gang leader. It’s a really strong film. Grizzly Man is Werner Herzog’s documentary about the dude who willingly lives with bears. That’s pretty much all you need to know. If you’ve ever wanted to witness Werner Herzog watching video of bears mauling a guy to death and narrating it, this is the one for you.

The Descent is one of the great horror movies of the 2000s. Based on an amazing premise. A bunch of people go cave diving, only once they get down there, they become trapped and slowly figure out they’re not alone. It’s so good. It’s one of those movies that’ll really pull you in and make your heart pound out of your chest. I’m not a fan of horror movies, but this one really works. No Direction Home is Martin Scorsese’s Bob Dylan documentary. Well, his first Bob Dylan documentary. It covers Dylan’s early days, from 1961-1966. The folk era and him going electric. It’s four hours long, and it’s wonderful. Coach Carter is Samuel L. Jackson as a high school basketball coach. That’s… that’s it, really. Once you have the framework of the sports movie and the figure being the basketball coach, you know 90% of what you’re getting in that movie. Add to the fact that it’s Samuel L. Jackson, and that’s basically the other 10%. He’s a coach who comes onto a disappointing squad and changes their attitude by being incredibly strict. You know the drill, you know how that all goes… it’s really uplifting and it’s a good movie. These movies are always watchable, and generally it’s the pieces involved that take them from “just watchable” to “good” to “great.” This one is just good, but even good is really entertaining, as far as films go.

War of the Worlds is Spielberg adapting the 1953 movie/book into his kinda movie. This was the first one of his where I thought, “Why are you doing that?” It seemed like a weird choice at the time even though it’s a perfectly solid movie. Tom Cruise, big epic action. It’s solid. Just feels like one of the lesser Spielberg efforts that also took away from some other cool stuff he could have made instead. Millions is a Danny Boyle-directed fantasy movie that takes place on the eve of the switch from British pounds to Euros. A train carrying money meant to be incinerated is robbed, and during the getaway, one of the bags happens upon a young boy. So now it’s a young boy getting a bunch of money (just before it’s about to be worthless) and figuring out what he’s gonna do with it. It’s fun. It’s a very likable movie that really feels like a Danny Boyle film. It’ll never be remembered as well as his bigger efforts, but the beauty of this movie is that it’s the kind of movie on a director’s filmography that people will discover along the way, that they knew nothing about, and then they’ll watch it and go, “That was absolutely lovely. I really liked that movie!” and then they’ll be able to talk about it and feel like they discovered something magical. This is the kind of movie we all watch movies for.

– – – – – – – – – –

Tier four:

  • Assault on Precinct 13
  • Bad News Bears
  • Be Cool
  • Bewitched
  • The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
  • Corpse Bride
  • Elizabethtown
  • The Great Raid
  • Hitch
  • The Island
  • Joyeux Noel
  • The Producers
  • Red Eye
  • Transamerica
  • Transporter 2
  • The Upside of Anger
  • Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
  • Water
  • Wedding Crashers
  • Zathura

Transporter 2 is the sequel. More action, more ridiculous, just as fun. This is the one that features Jason Statham flipping a car under a crane in order to unhook a bomb strapped to the bottom of it. So yeah. That’s what you’re getting. The plot doesn’t matter. Child kidnapping… whatever. It’s Jason Statham doing action. That’s all you need.  Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is the feature film version of the Wallace and Gromit shorts, which had been coming out since the late 80s and were hugely successful. The film is quite charming. Aardman has a particular charm with their films. This was, I believe, their second feature after Chicken Run, and this was the one of theirs that managed to win the Best Animated Feature Oscar (which is a feat, for Disney or Pixar to not win). The Great Raid is a war movie. A bunch of POWs are being held in the Philippines at the end of WWII and there’s a big rescue mission. That’s it. That’s the movie. It’s solid. Never gonna be remembered as anything more than perfectly watchable. The Chronicles of Narnia is an adaptation of one of the most famous books ever written. It’s family friendly fantasy. It’s a solid movie. Not my favorite genre or book series, so the movie’s just okay to me. But it’s definitely better than those sequels.

Assault on Precinct 13 is a remake of the 1976 John Carpenter movie (with an amazing theme). They turned it into a 2000s action movie, but even so, the core idea still carries it through It’s about cops and criminals stuck in a prison on New Year’s Eve as corrupt officers show up outside to try to keep anyone from informing on their indiscretions. It’s got a good cast – Ethan Hawke, Laurence Fishburne, John Leguizamo, Gabriel Byrne, Maria Bello, and Ja Rule. It’s fun. The Producers is the film version of the musical that was based on the original film. Got it? The original film is a masterpiece and one of the greatest comedies ever made. Then they turned it into a stage version, because we all know Mel Brooks likes his musical numbers. That was a huge hit. So they turned it into a film. This one has Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick. It’s fine. Nowhere near the original film, but it’s its own thing. Zathura is Jon Favreau making a Jumanji sequel. Not the best movie ever, but it’s decent family movie fun. Hitch is a Will Smith rom com, which is rare for him. He plays a dating consultant who teaches men how to woo women. And of course, he meets the one woman his charms don’t work on, and… well, you know how that goes. This… I remember people really liking this when it came out. I was never one of those people. But it’s amusing. It’s got its moments. Smith can always make a mediocre movie interesting.

Elizabethtown is Cameron Crowe. It’s his first original film since Almost Famous. It stars Orlando Bloom as a hotshot executive who fucks up massively at work, breaks up with his girlfriend and then finds out his father died all in the span of like, a day. So now he’s gotta go back to his hometown for the funeral, and along the way he meets Kirsten Dunst, your manic pixie dream girl. It’s part rom com, part drama. It’s a tough movie, tonally, and doesn’t really fit into any box. Crowe had always straddled that line between tones (even Jerry Maguire is a couple of things at once), and this is the first one that isn’t wholly successful at it, even though there are definitely some good aspects to it that make it worth watching. Corpse Bride is Tim Burton doing animation again. Also his first pairing of Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter (well, technically Charlie and the Chocolate Factory came out first, but consider the production timelines for animation vs. live action). It’s about a man, on the eve of his wedding, who practices his wedding vows around the grave of a dead woman who, upon hearing them, thinks it means they’re married. It’s the most Tim Burton plot ever. It’s your classic rom com set up, except one of the women is dead.

The Island is Michael Bay. It’s a THX 1138 kinda movie, with Ewan McGregor as a dude who lives in a futuristic facility as a nameless drone along with many others. Once in a while, someone wins their version of the lottery and is sent to (insert title here), which is supposed to be a paradise that everyone wants to go. But of course he’s gonna start questioning his existence and realize there’s more going on than it seems, and all of that good stuff. This, to me, is a turning point in his career. Because he had started with Bad Boys and The Rock and Armageddon and I think he thought he was moving up in the world, and then Pearl Harbor was just such a disaster that it caused him immediately go back to the “safe” well and do Bad Boys 2. And so this, to me, is the telling film. It’s a sci fi thriller that I think he was trying to make like all those dystopian 70s sci fi movies but instead plays like one directed by MTV. And I think this is where he realized he’d rather just take the safe route with his movies and make a bunch of money rather than try to do something classier and risk being looked at as a failure. The Upside of Anger is a nice little dramedy with Joan Allen and Kevin Costner. She plays a woman whose husband disappears, leaving her to raise her four daughters on her own. Costner plays her neighbor, an ex-baseball star, who becomes a new love interest. It’s really solid. You expect it to be a rom com, but it’s more of an adult drama, which is what I like about it.

Bad News Bears is Richard Linklater’s remake of the original, with Billy Bob Thornton instead of Walter Matthau. And honestly, in a post-Bad Santa world, if you’re gonna make a movie about an adult yelling and cursing at kids, Billy Bob Thornton is perfect casting. The movie’s obviously not the original, but it’s Linklater. He makes worthwhile movies. Red Eye is a great little contained thriller directed by Wes Craven. Rachel McAdams plays a woman traveling on the (insert title here) flight who meets charming stranger Cillian Murphy. They flirt and talk, and then eventually she realizes he’s actually a dangerous killer and has to figure out how to get out alive. It’s a solid little movie, though it does suffer from the fact that Cillian Murphy’s character is named Jackson Rippner, which… I think we broke the nose because of how on it that is. Be Cool is the sequel to Get Shorty. It’s nowhere near as good as Get Shorty. But it’s got things that make it interesting. Mainly The Rock and everything Vince Vaughn is doing. Water is a film nominated for Best Foreign Language Film this year (and admittedly a late entry for me on this list, because I refused to acquiesce and put on known popular films that I just don’t like, such as 40-Year-Old Virgin and Squid and the Whale). It’s about a girl in India in the 30s who was sold as a bride at 8 years old. But then her husband dies, leaving her a widow. So, in keeping with tradition, she is basically sent to a widows convent, where she is expected to essentially spend the rest of her life in mourning, even though her life hasn’t even begun yet! It’s a really wonderful film, one I’m glad I happened to catch by chance when it showed at my school’s film series when I was a freshman.

Joyeux Noel is a French war drama about an infamous incident during World War I, which is — on Christmas Eve 1914, both sides agreed to stop fighting for the night to celebrate Christmas together. The groups meet out in No Man’s Land and put the war aside for a night. It’s an incredible story, and the movie’s solid. Wedding Crashers is one of those 2000s comedies that was huge. Also one that I missed out on at the time. I saw it, I just didn’t see the appeal that everyone else did. It’s Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson as two guys who sneak into weddings to pick up women. Only one of them finds himself falling in love with a woman he meets at one of them. It’s fine. Perfectly likable and fun. But like I said, I’m never gonna like this as much as other people do. So if you’re looking for a rave of this, look elsewhere. Bewitched is an adaptation of the TV show. And I had never watched it because I assumed it was terrible. But you know what? Actually kinda fun. Guessing that’s owing to the fact that Nora Ephron made it. But it’s definitely one of those movies where I assumed it was garbage and actually had a lot of fun while watching it. Transamerica is a movie that is best known for an incredible Felicity Huffman lead performance that was nominated for an Oscar. She plays a trans woman who finds out she has a son. So now, on the eve of her reassignment surgery, she’s gotta travel across the country to get her son out of jail and bring him back with her. It’s very indie, but the Huffman performance is terrific, and that’s really what makes it worth seeing.

– – – – – – – – – –


One response

  1. I’m glad Crash didn’t make it on this list. How I hate that movie.

    January 25, 2020 at 4:11 pm

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