Monday, January 02, 2006

Best Movies of the Year

Just back from various points North including NoHo and SoHo and the first blog of the year is something to suggest that I have something on my mind besides the misfeasances of Prince Bunnypants -- find here my list of 2005's best movies, which is to say, the best ones I have seen, and I have a list of many that I haven't gotten to yet.

A History Of Violence -- Cronenburg in top form. Viggo and Maria Bello do a fine job, as does Ed Harris (of course). William Hurt is amazing -- I was reminded of another weirdly great performance of his, in I Love You to Death. Great script by Josh Olson, a drinking buddy of mine back in my LA days.

Good Night and Good Luck -- Very, very smartly done. Chilling, hard to take your eyes off. It makes one wonder if America is still big enough to repudiate a mistake. Could have used some more babeage....

As could have Syriana, which otherwise was quite excellent. I absolutely don't get the standard criticism of this film, 'too convoluted/obscure.' These critics need to lay off the Xanax or something. Yes there were four of five subplots, each of which took maybe a scene or two to foreshadow its intersection with the others. Not rocket science, entertainment for grownups.

Pride and Prejudice -- I loved the book and indeed all of JA's stuff, even Northanger Abbey, but I have no problem with this slightly Hollywoodized version. Keira Knightly finally gets a part where she has to act, rather than simply radiate, and she does terrifically. A crap scene at the very end of the film is bathetic as an even Spielberg ever did, but it's mercifully short and extraneous. Maybe the director's cut will drop it.

Bad News Bears -- a remake that's actually better than the original, because Billy Bob Thornton is actually funnier than Walter Matthau. Marcia Gay Harden doesn't have nearly enough to do in this story but she sure looks good doing it. Greg Kinnear is fine too. He and Harden were probably necessary to keep Billy Bob from eclipsing the other adults into invisibility.

The Ice Harvest -- With John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton how bad could it be? I'd hoped it would be another Bad Santa, but instead it's an oddly deadpan noir. Tonally it's got lot more in common with A Simple Plan or The Grifters than Billy Bob's last Christmas offering. Still, very fun. The few moving parts clicked neatly, like the action of a Colt Python.

The Wedding Crashers -- Brainless, gratuitous, scurrilous. Very fucking funny. Christopher Walken is his Annie Hall character grown up and given power by the Republicans. Naturally his daughter is a king-hell nympho.

Lord of War -- The best thing Nicholas Cage has done since.... (When was Cage last good?) since 8MM maybe. The dystopian evocation of Liberia is alone worth the price of admission.

King Kong -- It's big big big! It's long long long. Take some Clear Eyes. Jack Black is fab, Naomi Watts is beautiful but otherwise hardly called upon to do much. (If screen talent were horsepower she'd have sliced through gorilla, dinosaurs, Skull Islanders etc in the first five minutes.) Adrian Brody pretty much mails it in, but that's okay too. Kong is wonderfully envisioned (as are all the other CGI creatures) he even gets to underplay quite a bit. The most effective moments are when he's moving quietly, or reacting subtly. The Skull Islanders are really, really creepy -- they make Kurtz's "Exterminate all the brutes," sound like cultural relativism.

Jesus Is Magic -- Sarah Silverman is dirty and bad, dirty and bad.

Junebug -- Sexy, funny, Southern, subtly sophisticated. It adapts Sartre's phrase, "L'Enfer, c'est la famille."

Best Picture I've Seen This Year: Last year's Millions. In my all-time Top 20. The guy who made Trainspotting does a comedy about little boys who've just lost their mother, but just found a bagfull of bank loot. It's very nearly perfect, beautifully hallucinatory and often staggeringly funny. It glows from the inside with genuine Christian grace. Why hasn't it been championed by the "Family Values" people? Not enough bloodshed or hatred of sinners I guess.


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