Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: The Best Films of the 00s: 2005

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Best Films of the 00s: 2005

by Tony Dayoub

Sorry for the delay. I've had a heck of a stomach virus. Today, I continue my series of posts assessing the best films of the decade, spotlighting my favorite films of 2005. Steven Spielberg deserves special recognition for giving us two of the best films of the decade in one year, a cautionary science fiction tale and a historical thriller, both of which address post-9/11 concerns. A reminder: I cannot judge movies I haven't seen, so if you feel a film you like was unjustly left out, it might be that I never saw it. At the end of the month, I'll post my ten best for 2009. I will then follow up with my 10 best films of the 2000s.

And now, in alphabetical order, the ten best films of 2005...

2046, director Wong Kar Wai - An entrancing companion to Wong's In the Mood for Love, it follows that film's lead, writer Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung Chiu Wai), through a string of affairs in the wake of his failure to consumate his love for the previous film's Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung). It's a wonderful excuse for Wong and Christopher Doyle to photograph some of the most fascinating Asian actresses out there: Li Gong, Faye Wong, and Ziyi Zhang. And it's likely the only time you'll see a fusion of science fiction, period drama, and romantic thriller in any film, much less a Hong Kong art film.

The 40-Year-Old Virgin, dir. Judd Apatow - Sweet, silly, filthy, and uncannily on target, Apatow's film directing debut is also one funny movie. Steve Carell (The Office) plays the anti-Michael Scott, a sexually naive, but not entirely ignorant, stereo store clerk. His charming performance as an amiable dork helps ameliorate Apatow's occasional inclination toward (over-) extended dialogue riffs that are just this side of offensive.

The Constant Gardener, dir. Fernando Meirelles - Ralph Fiennes' diplomat, Justin Quayle, may be the onstensible hero in this exposé on pharmaceutical misdeeds in Kenya, adapted from John le Carré's 2001 novel. But the true heart and soul of this film resides in Rachel Weisz's portrayal of Quayle's spirited activist wife, Tessa. Her murder is the film's inciting incident, but Weisz's engaging performance— captured in impressionistic flashbacks woven into the chronologically fractured narrative—hangs like a spectre over the rest of the corporate espionage thriller.

Grizzly Man, dir. Werner Herzog - The German director fashioned much of this haunting documentary from found footage of Timothy Treadwell, an idealistic environmentalist who died as he lived, among dangerous grizzly bears in Alaska. At the outset of the film, Treadwell doesn't seem any stranger than your average animal documentary host (it takes a certain kind of person to fill that position). But as the movie progresses his quirks—and anecdotal evidence from those who knew him—pile up to form an image of a man not unlike the misguided, obsessive protagonists of Herzog's fictional narratives.

A History of Violence, dir. David Cronenberg - One of the best arguments for using graphic novels as source material, Violence is easily Cronenberg's best and most accessible film in a decade full of such films from the usually cold and cerebral director. Cronenberg (The Fly) examines the effects of violence on a small-town family after Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) defends his coffee shop from a hold-up. The director implies that violence begets more violence, and explores the idea that perhaps it is hereditary; Stall's son (Ashton Holmes), often picked on by bullies, begins to display a knack for ending fights as well; and Stall's brother (William Hurt in an Oscar-nominated role as a Philly gangland boss) has a propensity for violence as well. What it boils down to is not whether violence is genetically ingrained, but if a person has the will to overcome those tendencies.

Munich, Dir. Steven Spielberg - Spielberg's second film of the year (see War of the Worlds below) finds him still working out some of his feelings post-9/11. His cultural background comes into play here, as the story explores the price paid by an Israeli Mossad agent (Eric Bana) when he becomes all too aware of the complicated feelings and repercussions that arise when he seeks retribution for the murder of 11 Israeli athletes in 1972's Munich Olympics by Palestinian terrorists. Look for Daniel Craig in a supporting role, first showing some of the leading man potential used to great effect in Casino Royale just one year later.

The New World, dir. Terrence Malick - Malick averages one film every decade. But if they all achieve the glorious transcendence which this film does, it's fine with me. Here, he fuses the fact and mythology behind the legend of Pocahontas (exquisitely portrayed by the young Q'orianka Kilcher) and John Smith (Colin Farrell), continuing his exploration of man's tendency towards violence and its effect on nature. The two lovers overcome cultural differences to create a harmonious oasis of peace in an unforgiving world. Malick overcomes the limitations of language both aural and visual to convey the beauty of paradise lost.

Sin City, dirs. Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez - Forget The Wrestler (well not really, it's quite good). Marv, the beat-up but never broken bruiser at the center of Sin City's best segment, is the role that heralded Mickey Rourke's comeback. Even under a thick layer of prosthetics, nifty effects, and a mannered performance dictated by the neo-noir stylings of Frank Miller's graphic novels, Rourke's gravel-inflected voice and brawler's physique help convey the sweet soul of this pitiable but heroic loser. His performance helps close the circle begun by the noir films that inspired Miller's comics in the first place.

Syriana, dir. Stephen Gaghan - Gaghan's film is as much a primer on the forces driving U.S. dealings in the Middle East as the film he won the Oscar for writing, Traffic, is a primer on the drug trade. The great ensemble cast includes Matt Damon, Jeffrey Wright, Chris Cooper, William Hurt, and Christopher Plummer. But the two standouts are Alexander Siddig (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) as the wise young Prince Nasir, and George Clooney in his best performance as CIA agent Bob Barnes, a stand-in for the former agent whose exploits provided the source material for the film, Robert Baer.

War of the Worlds, dir. Steven Spielberg - The first of Spielberg's 2005 diptych addressing the post-9/11 temperature (see Munich above) sees the director creating sympathy for a (usually) absent father (Tom Cruise) forced by circumstances to own up to his responsibilities. This is quite a turnaround for the older, wiser director whose usual focus on broken families rarely sides with the father while typically idealizing him (Dreyfus in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Ford in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). Here, Cruise is presented warts and all, usually bumbling into a heroic save.

For more of this ongoing series, click here.


Jake said...

I think this is the first time I've seen all the films on your list. And all of them would feature on an extended list of my own picks (I would also add Caché, No Direction Home and the director's cut of Kingdom of Heaven).

Tony Dayoub said...

I haven't seen CACHE or NO DIRECTION HOME, unfortunately. This year was one where we were busy with our first pregnancy so a lot of films slipped by.

My problem with KINGDOM OF HEAVEN is a fundamental one. While I do find it entertaining on a certain level, I have a problem with films that try to explore a culture in depth only to have the colonial white person be the only perspective on that particular culture.

Jake said...

I really don't think Kingdom of Heaven falls into that trap, at least not the much-longer and vastly improved director's cut. It's not about Muslim culture but the conflict between fundamentalists on both sides and a look at just how far back the conflict stretches. Note that both sides are supposed to be completely against each other and for the utter destruction of the enemy (as evidenced by supporting characters), yet the leaders maintain civil diplomacy with each other, a reflection with our alliances with countries who practice the same customs and anti-American sentiment as the people we're supposed to hate (our ties with Saudi Arabia are strongly hinted at through the bond between Baldwin IV and Saldin). It's more of an expanded Vietnam movie than a Dances with Wolves feature.

Tony Dayoub said...

Interesting. I may have to revisit this one since you've given me a whole new perspective from which to look at the film. Thanks, Jake.

Andrew K. said...

Nice ten, what would be in tops that's missing from yours, in order of favourites: Corpse Bride, Pride & Prejudice, Brokeback Mountain, and Match Point. History of Violence and Constant Gardener would make my top 5 of thay year though.

Tony Dayoub said...

Of the ones you mentioned, Andrew, I've only seen THE CORPSE BRIDE and BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. I'm a big Ang Lee fan, and liked this movie. But frankly, with the exception of Ledger and Williams' performances, I was pretty unimpressed by this romance. I felt it was being overly celebrated by the mainstream media for treating the gay themes with respect, ignoring a whole segment of cinema that has explored gay themes just as sensitively if not more so.

Did like Burton's film a lot, though. Thanks for your input.

MrJeffery said...

i'm seeing war of the worlds pop up on a lot of lists and i don't really get it. i thought it was a terrible film. the others here (syriana, grizzly man) are great though.

Tony Dayoub said...

Well, MrJeffery, I'm curious. Did you see it theatrically, or at home? I'm rather shocked at the people who don't like it. I've often wondered if it played differently for me because I saw it in the theater. It certainly seemed more frightening on a large screen and with a powerful sound system than it does at home. And it was a memorable theatrical experience which I've seemed to carry over to my home viewing.

In any event, it has resonated for me due to its 9/11 allegorical aspects. And the imagery of the first tripod rising up combined with that first blow of the ship's foghorn chilled me to the bone when I first saw it. It reminded me of the moment I saw the planes hit the twin towers.

Depending on one's age also, I suppose that the power of seeing the planes crash into the twin towers is more potent for some than for others. That is to say, and this is just my personal opinion, I believe that the younger generation has sort of grown up with 9/11 as part and parcel of their formative years. While I, who was born in 1972, nver thought I'd live to see the day when such an attack could happen on American soil. Call me naive, but I just took it for granted that we were far more secure than that.

The day it happened, I was at work, and everyone was watching a TV just after the first plane hit, dumbstruck. No one thought it was anything but a tragic mishap. We were in front of the television for quite some time, when our manager came back and said, "Alright, everyone. This is sad, but we do have to get back to work. It's not like another plane is gonna hit again." Sure enough, moments later, the second plane hit. We were just overwhelmed with fear at that moment, wondering what could be causing this? Misdirection at Air Traffic control? Terrorism was low on the list at that point.

WAR OF THE WORLDS captures that feeling of American naivete obliterated in moments by a potent attack.

Ratnakar Sadasyula said...

Somehow not too impressed with War of the Worlds, it was all noise to me. And yes i saw it in a theater, sound effects and all.

Munich to me was Spielberg's best this decade( have not seen AI), for me i would rate it as a greater achievement than Schindlers List, coz that had a clear cut distinction between the black and white, Munich on the other hand was dealing with a large grey area, showing the quirks and warts, on both sides.

Some other picks of mine

Batman Begins- The one that resurrected the Dark Knight after Scumacher & Co, made him a mockery.

Enron: Smartest Guys in the Room- In a decade that had some great documentaries, this was one of the top ones, superb depiction of the Enron scandal.

Jarhead:- Jim Jarmusch's look at the Gulf War.

Kiss,Kiss Bang, Bang:- One movie i felt that was quite underrated. Cheeky look at the Noir genre, and some wonderful acting by Robert Downey and Val Kilmer.

-- Ratnakar

Tony Dayoub said...

A correction, Ratnakar. JARHEAD was not by Jarmusch. It was directed by Sam Mendes (REVOLUTIONARY ROAD). Didn't care for it.

BATMAN BEGINS was an interesting reboot. Haven't seen the others, but I hope to catch up with KISS KISS, BANG BANG.

We may disagree on WAR OF THE WORLDS, but we do agree that MUNICH is Spielberg's best this decade.

Ratnakar Sadasyula said...

Oops sorry, my bad.

BTW can check my take on KKBB here.

Munich for me, would make it list of favorite movies this decade.

Mike lippert said...

Another good list Tony. The thing I like about your lists is that they encompass a vast array of films and not just "the usual suspects" so to speak. They make me remembers what good films have slipped by into the wayside of my brain. Of course I don't agree with all the picks. 2046 I feel, as I feel about most of Wong's movies, is style over substance and is not a self contained narrative unlike the previous films that one makes reference to, and War of the Worlds just doesn't do it for me.

I'm really glad to see The New World on there. The critical reaction to that film disgusted me at the time and made me feel weary about the way in which film criticism was going. When Malick started he was the poet of the cinema and now in 2005 he's a pretentious hack? I wrote an editorial about this very subject. The gist of it was that critics seem to scared of films that tell their stories through imagines and are afraid of taking the effort to read between the line and find the true meaning there. It is, these days anyone, after all, easier to write a film off as a wash than to actually deal with it. Critics unfortunately seem to like films that play right to them: to offer them something tangible that they can reach out and touch: films that plays so directly to them that they are deemed brilliant because the critic or viewer was able to "get" what they are about, leaving them to congratulate themselves on the brilliance of their perceptive abilities and move on. I like films that leave me with a challenge, that don't quite make sense at first, that follow me home and leave me to think about them for days. The New World is a beautiful and profound film and I'm glad you mention it now because I'd hate to think how many people skipped out on it originally because of bad criticism. Can't wait for the next list.

Tony Dayoub said...

So you like THE NEW WORLD, too, Mike? Then you'll be very gratified when you check out my list for the top ten of the decade.

Ratnakar Sadasyula said...

Now i have not seen The New World, but from what i checked out on Wiki, most of the top critics liked it, Ebert,Mick La Salle,Peter Travers, David Ansen, and it was nominated for quite a large number of awards, so i think it did get a positive response.

-- Ratnakar

Mike Lippert said...

The good critics seemed to like it but it is sitting at a pretty uninspiring 61% at Rotten Tomatoes.

Tony Dayoub said...

No offense to you Mike, but FUCK Rotten Tomatoes. They poll some of the worst film reviewers (can't even bring myself to calling them critics).

In their defense, though, I do like their TOP CRITIC tab, because it cuts out some of the assclowns like Rex Reed (if I'm not mistaken... at least I hope).

bill r. said...

I love that MUNICH poster, but is that a real poster for GRIZZLY MAN? If so, it seems a Like it's for a different movie altogether, that also happens to be about a bear eating someone who wears sunglasses.

I must say I differ with you on SYRIANA and THE CONSTANT GARDENER. I thought SYRIANA was just a well-photographed, propagandist mess, with that much-praised "corruption" speech standing out particularly egregiously. Apart from the ridiculousness of the writing, its place in the movie feels like it was once edited out of the film, but then Gaghan thought, "Shit, that's my Best Screenplay nomination out the window", so he shoe-horned it back in. There's no connective tissue surrounding it.

With THE CONSTANT GARDENER, I have some similar complaints, although mainly, as a fan of Le Carre's novel, I view the film as a huge missed opportunity.

bill r. said...

Oh, also, good call on SIN CITY. I don't expect to see that on too many 2000s lists, but I liked it a lot, too. And you're right, Rourke is wonderful in it.

By the way, have you given THE SPIRIT a look? I tried to watch it, but it defeated me. What an unbelievable wreck of a movie.

Tony Dayoub said...

The GRIZZLY MAN poster is an early one that didn't get much exposure, as are all of the other posters I try (whenever possible) to present here.

As for SYRIANA, it definitely has an agenda. But I think it works fairly well regardless of whether one agrees with it or not. I may be a leftie, but I really enjoy some right-leaning films as well (though they are fewer in number) as long as they're well-executed. The speech you mention didn't really stand out like a sore thumb to me.

Regarding THE CONSTANT GARDENER, I think I was more taken with the cinematography and structure of the film than anything else. Of all the movies listed, this is probably the one that just narrowly made it onto the top 10. And as I mentioned elsewhere, this year was a particularly tough one in terms of getting out to the movies because my wife was pregnant with our first child, we got hit by Katrina in Miami, just before we ended the year with a big move to Atlanta. Busy year.

bill r. said...

I may be a leftie, but I really enjoy some right-leaning films as well...

It's not so much that SYRIANA was leftist -- I liked IN THE LOOP, for the most part -- but more that I thought it was paranoid leftist Oscar-bait. Sorry, but that movie played, as a film, much like BABEL did for me (although if you liked BABEL than that comparison won't work so well for you, but you get the idea).

bill r. said...

Plus, MUNICH, when all is said and done, can be considered as coming from the Left, and I thought that was a great film.

Tony Dayoub said...

Didn't see BABEL, because of the very sentiment you describe. That movie just seems to reek of it.

See, I find MUNICH's story of justified vengeance to be too hawkish to be considered anything but right-wing. But one could argue that the ultimate point of the film seems to be that revenge offers no resolution, and in that sense, I can see where you're coming from.

bill r. said...

MUNICH is only hawkish up to a point. It's able to understand hawkishness, and even allows that sometimes hawkishness is for the best, but by the end, like you say, it comes out against violent retaliation. That stance is, as I remember, pretty subtly gotten across, but it's there.