December 31, 2005 The Year in Review: 2005's Best and Worst By Dustin Putman, themovieboy.com
Hollywood hasn't learned. That's the predominant thought running through my head as 2005's year in film goes bye-bye and 2006's cinematic offerings rear their heads. Whether these heads are ugly or not has yet to be seen, but if the past twelve months were any indication, Hollywood is in desperate need of a creative recharge. Weekend box office receipts plummeted fairly consistently from their year-ago levels, and taking a look at the list of releases, it doesn't take a molecular physicist to figure out why.
As usual, some great motion pictures slipped through in 2005, though, in this writer's opinion, they weren't always the widespread popular choices that captured the attention of other critics. Compared to 2004, my number of four and three-and-a-half-star picks was dead-even17. Unfortunately, the amount of truly bad filmsthose that rated one star or lowercontinued their dismaying downward spiral. In 2001, there were 9. In 2002, there were 13. In 2003, there were 14. Last year there were 16. And this year, there were 21. Since the amount of reviewed movies has not differed of any consequence in the last five years, those statistics can only mean one thing: Hollywood is churning out turkeys at a higher rate with each annual change of the calendar.
The format of my "Year-in-Review" essay is the same as usual. First, I pinpoint the best performances of the year, both in the leading and supporting categories (think of them as themovieboy.com's Acadamy Awards, minus the little gold man and with more than five nominees). Next are my picks for the most overrated and underrated releases of the year. And finally, there will be a complete rundown of the ten best and worst motion pictures of 2005. Until next year, let's cross our fingers that the major film studios get a clue soon that creative thought and intelligence still hold some credence in this world. Otherwise, "Punky Brewster: The Movie" and a remake of "Ishtar" may not be far behind.
The Best Performances of 2005 (my pick for the absolute best is indicated in red)
Most Overrated Film of 2005:
"A History of Violence," directed by David Cronenberg, has received so many overwhelming critical accolades that I'm tempted to investigate the possibility that the raving reviewers were all paid out by the studio in secret. This, of course, isn't the case, but it's worth wondering. A lumbering, confused mess, as well as Cronenberg's worst effort in decades, the film is as trite, if not more so, than that subgenre of "...from Hell" thrillers, such as 2001's "The Glass House" (legal guardians from Hell) and 1992's "The Hand that Rocks the Cradle" (nanny from Hell). "A History of Violence" reminds of 2003's "Mystic River" in that it holds a classy A-list sheen and faux attempts at bringing importance to what, in essence, is actually empty-headed and off-puttingly manipulative. Add in a laughable sex scene one step away from being Cinemax After Dark porn and some surprisingly mediocre performances from usually fine actors (i.e., Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello), and what is left is but a shallow carcass with nothing to offer but abrupt flashes of graphic violence.
Most Underrated Film of 2005:
"Little Manhattan," directed by Mark Levin, is soon to be mentioned again below, but let it be noted for the record that how this picture was handled during its theatrical release was an abomination. What kind of a dumbed-down, materialistically obsessed society do we live in when 20th Century Fox can unleash something as idiotic and audience-insulting as "Cheaper by the Dozen 2" in thousands upon thousands of screens, but virtually bury the magical, smart, funny and genuinely touching "Little Manhattan" without marketing or any kind of satisfactory release? Without support behind it, "Little Manhattan" had absolutely no chance of getting noticed and making a name for itself in theaters. A huge shame, indeed, as "Little Manhattan" is by far the best family feature of the entire year.
The Fog - A god-awful remake of John Carpenter's atmospheric 1980 chiller, "The Fog" scrapes at the bottom of the barrel, beating the crummy "The Amityville Horror" for its place as the worst horror update of the year. Less scary than the Haunted Mansion ride at Disney World and without a clue how to create an even rudimentary level of suspense or tell a story that doesn't talk down to viewers in the most offensive ways. A pile of manure made by a disrespectful hack of a directorRupert Wainwrightthat craps on the memory of its source material, "The Fog" is a textbook example of how not to make a horror film.
The Man - Dead-in-the-water from frame one, "The Man" stars Samuel L. Jackson and Eugene Levy in one of the most egregious entries in the never-ending buddy comedy genre in recent memory. Making 2004's similar Queen Latifah-Jimmy Fallon pairing, "Taxi," look almost good in comparison, the film is both bankrupt of fresh ideas and so desperately unfunny that the sound of pins dropping would be more ear-shattering than any laughs met by the would-be jokes.
White Noise - An utterly abysmal wannabe-horror film about EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon), "White Noise" was 2005's first release and garnered an instant place on my worst list. Blessed with an ingeniously creepy marketing campaign that guaranteed financial success, the film proper is anything but ingenious or creepy. In actuality, "White Noise" is overblown, scareless, repetitive, amateurish, dim-witted to the point of annoyance, and odious in its condescension.
Alone in the Dark - By all intents and purposes, "Alone in the Dark," directed by modern-day Ed Wood impersonator Uwe Boll, is the most haphazard picture of the year. Still, there is something to be said about the inspired levels of subterranean filmmaking this disaster reaches. Opening with the longest opening text crawl in cinematic history, "Alone in the Dark" achieves unintentional hilarity even before the first frame. This is jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring, "I-can't-believe-someone-made-this-crap" badness we're dealing with. Guffawing laughter is the only possible response to be met with the end credits.
Rebound - The worst family feature of the year, "Rebound" is beyond recalla crummy, plodding, laughless trifle that stands as proof that a script akin to a series of blank pages can still be greenlit in Hollywood. A formulaic sports comedy so inept on every level that it hits the bottom-of-the-barrel by the halfway point and then proceeds to scrape and claw a hole into said barrel's bottom, "Rebound" stinks like a rancid pair of sweaty old gym sneakers.
Kingdom of Heaven - So laughably streamlined as to not offend anyone that religion barely plays a role at all in the story of a religious battle, "Kingdom of Heaven" is excruciating to sit through and close to as lifeless as "serious" big-budget fare comes. In the annals of grand historical tales, "Kingdom of Heaven," directed by Ridley Scott (2000's Oscar-winning "Gladiator") of all people, has a spot saved for itself in the fiery pits of cinematic Hell. At least Oliver Stone's cataclysmic "Alexander" had the campy benefit of Angelina Jolie playing with reptiles.
A Sound of Thunder - Filmed in 2002 and held from release for several years, "A Sound of Thunder" is a DOA dud of monstrous storytelling and nonexistent characterizations, a humiliating claptrap for all involved that looks as if it was made using the cheesiest of special effects available in 1971. It goes without saying, but author Ray Bradbury would be rolling in his grave if he was dead. Fortunately, he is still with us, but unfortunately, he must face head-on the mockery that is this heinous sci-fi adaptation.
The Cave - A rickety, ramshackle junk heap of a monster movie, "The Cave" wouldn't even pass muster with die-hard viewers of the Sci-Fi Channel. Bloodless, scareless, eventless and nearly violence-free, the film is a PG-13 kiddie movie posing as a horrific creature feature, and a shoddy, cheap-looking one at that. Easily one of the biggest monumental wastes of time to be had in the theater all year, "The Cave" represents moviegoing pain at its most mindnumbing and depressing. Although proper moviegoing etiquette should usually be abided, this is one case in which lobbing tubs of popcorn and soda at the screen in a riot of audience defiance is a fully warranted option. A turd held up to the flickering bulb of the projector would be a marked improvement.
xXx: State of the Union - In the case of the incomprehensible "XXX: State of the Union," in which the chubby, stout Ice Cube replaces the muscled, too-cool Vin Diesel as the title spy, one could throw their brain to the floor, stomp on it, have it run over by a high school marching band followed by a stampede of giant wild boars, and it still wouldn't make the experience any less insufferable. An irredeemable, lazy, misogynistic pile of garbage vaguely disguised as a diverting big-budget action film, "XXX: State of the Union" may be the ideal antidote for anyone who wishes to drop their IQ by fifty points in a matter of hours.
The Longest Yard - A detestable, rotten-to-the-core work spreading hate and venom even as it thinly poses as a carefree sports comedy, it has been a long time, maybe since 2004's "The Whole Ten Yards," that a motion picture has come along to derive such strong feelings of animosity in me. "The Longest Yard" is a spiteful excursion into irredeemable mean-spiritedness that wallows shamelessly in the moldiest of comic punchlinescobwebs can almost actually be glimpsed around the fringes of the shotsand the most derogatory and offensive of stereotypes. A woefully unfunny remake that also happens to be sexist, homophobic, and overloaded with brain-crushing bigotry of all people and lifestyles, "The Longest Yard" has an evil and putrid secret agenda that couldn't have less to do with the sport of football if it tried.
Last Days - A fictional account of late rock musician Kurt Cobain's final days, nights and hours leading up to his own suicide, "Last Days" is a mesmerizing triumph of both pitch-perfect minimalism and devastating existentialism, painting a bleak, uncompromising portrait of desolation personified. Michael Pitt is nothing short of extraordinary as Blake, a Cobain-like superstar who recoils inward as he loses himself in drugs and a tragic sense of aimlessness. Pitt's top-flight work is complimented by Gus Van Sant's staggering ability through his meticulous mise en scène and creepily distinguished use of sound and music to depict what it is like to feel the kind of loneliness and despair that seems impossible to overcome.
War of the Worlds - Overlooking a last five minutes that ring false, Steven Spielberg's "War of the Worlds" is a marvelous entertainment of imagination, edge-of-your-seat suspense, breathtakingly realistic visual effects, and surprising thoughtfulness. The present-day global climate of war and terrorism runs as an undeniable apropos undercurrent throughout this latest sprawling adaptation of H.G. Lewis' novel about a merciless Earthbound alien invasion. Told wholly from the point-of-view of a broken family, the picture takes on a jarring, horrifying immediacy that makes the ultimate fight for their lives feel palpably real. In this way, it makes for an ideal and appropriate companion piece with M. Night Shyamalan's 2002 masterpiece, "Signs."
Junebug - In its telling of the culture clash between a tight-knit North Carolina family and the more worldly cosmopolitan newlywed wife one of the grown sons brings home, "Junebug" is deliberately paced but never boring, low-key but splendidly entertaining, light on plot but heavy on insight found within the mundane aspects of life. Talented debuting filmmaker Phil Morrison, under the guidance of a pitch-perfect screenplay by Angus MacLachlan, has crafted a film small in size and budget, but rich and sweeping in thematic relevance and internal complexity, with characters and interactions so clearly realized and nuancedat home, at work, at community potlucksthat they only go to show how downright cookie-cutter the majority of mainstream studio fare is. Alternately hilarious and poignant, with a standout performance from Amy Adams as the family's chipper pregnant daughter-in-law.
Grizzly Man - The story of Timothy Treadwell, a fervent, unequivocal animal lover who spent thirteen straight summers living amongst the bears in the remote Alaskan peninsula until his and his girlfriend's violent deaths at the hands of one of them in October of 2003, director Werner Herzog's "Grizzly Man" is a first-rate, exceedingly moving drama so involving and emotionally arresting that it scarcely feels like a documentary. As honest and fitting a eulogy as Treadwell could have ever hoped forin essence, he sacrificed his life in order to do what he loved"Grizzly Man" is a profound, fair-minded, astonishing cinematic work, and maybe the most gratifying and complete documentary release since 2002's "Bowling for Columbine."
Rent - Based on the 1996 Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning Broadway musical by the late Jonathan Larson, "Rent" is opened up and the scope expanded for this mesmerizing film version directed by Chris Columbus, who brings an almost epic event feel to his grandly effective portrayal of addiction, poverty, love, illness and AIDS among eight twentysomething friends living in Manhattan's East Village, circa 1989-1990. As a big-screen rock opera, and more generally, as a motion picture, "Rent" is an emotional, exhilarating, beautiful experience, showing that song is every bit as powerfulmore, in many casesas the spoken word.
High Tension - "High Tension" (or "Haute Tension," as it was called in its native France) is exactly as its title proclaims, a near-breathless, nonstop study in unquenchable terror that knows just what the horror genre is all about, and puts those elements to use in a masterful cavalcade of suspense and dread. Stunningly directed by Alexandre Aja, the movie's sheer brilliance is in how well it works on two completely different levels, both as a slasher film, stripped to its purest and most unnerving core, and as a psychologically haunting study of the darkest recesses of the mind and the grimmest corners of human relationships. "High Tension" may be the most frightening, unshakable feature film since 1999's "The Blair Witch Project."
November - A close runner-up for most underrated and overlooked film of the year, "November" is a compact 73-minute masterpiece. An awesomely constructed puzzle of a movie that, when finished interlocking all of its carefully woven pieces, creates a deeper and more three-dimensionally substantive whole than originally expected, the picture stars Courteney Cox in an Oscar-caliber dramatic turn as a shattered woman trying to piece together the murder of her boyfriend in the aftermath of a convenience store robbery. Director Greg Harrison and screenwriter Benjamin Brand have developed a beautifully intricate maze of scenes, all faultlessly conceived and placed, as they collectively paint a heartrending portrait of the difficult grieving process and the unpredictable frailty of each singular life. "November" is the real deal, subtle and scary and touching and creatively alive, reaffirming one's faith that originality still exists in film.
The Exorcism of Emily Rose - One part enthralling courtroom drama, one part scary-as-hell possession tale, and one part thought-provoking rumination on the relationship between one's belief and one's faith, "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" is almost too good to be true. Superlatively written and directed by Scott Derrickson, here is a motion pictureand one distributed by a major studio, no lessthat is chock-full of actual ideas to go along with its almost unbearably spine-tingling cathartic pleasures. It is the perfect marriage between intellect and fear, complimenting each other without ever becoming intrusive, and also classy proof that not all of today's horror films have to be about nubile hotties getting slaughtered or watered-down, teen-aimed wastes of space. Multilayered, unexploitive, engrossing, petrifying, and visually stunning from start to finish, "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" compliments, and sometimes surpasses in effect, 1973's classic "The Exorcist."
Brokeback Mountain - Profound. Transcendent. Heartbreaking. Directed with unsentimental emotion and an unbending weight of sadness by Ang Lee, "Brokeback Mountain" is a love story of incendiary depth and poeticism between two ranch hands who carry on a twenty-plus year love affair, but are destined to keep their relationship a secret amidst a stifling social climate. Bittersweet and achingly sublime without being maudlin or melodramaticand with an eye-opening performance from Heath Ledger that ranks as the best of the year"Brokeback Mountain" is devastating in its depiction of how life doesn't, and sometimes can't, always turn out the way you would like it to.
Little Manhattan - The most gloriously enchanting film of the entire year, "Little Manhattan" is a giant sweetheart of a moviea lightning-in-a-bottle rarity that will entertain adults as much as it will children (around eight and up) all the while never once talking down to any age group. A love letter to New York and the joys and pains of growing up, this isn't merely a cutesy, lightweight romp, however, but a heartfelt, realistic, deeply touching motion picture that gets just right the feeling of being eleven years old and discovering your first pangs of romantic affection. 13-year-old Josh Hutcherson is a revelation as Gabe, a child on the verge of adolescence and forced to work out the new sudden emotions he feels for a pretty longtime classmate. Director Mark Levin and screenwriter Jennifer Flackett key into the trials and tribulations of being a tween with such affectionately detailed accuracy that the picture almost makes you want to stand up and cheer (this is not, I hasten to add, hyperbole). Not just a kid's movie by any stretch of the imagination and transcending all age demographics, it is a beautiful, layered, uplifting, dizzyingly romantic film, putting to great shame the dumbed-down plotting of any number of adult love stories. "Little Manhattan" is the best motion picture of 2005.