This is the seventh year I’ve done a Top 10 list, and I’ve never had such difficulty choosing a No. 1. There were many good films this year, but nothing that stands out as the clear-cut winner. So while I’m happy with my No. 1 choice, the films in the second and third positions, and maybe even the fourth, could just as easily have been at the top.
The 10 films on this list are all excellent, running the gamut from political thrillers to social commentaries, from genre satires to sex comedies. The ones that have “points” or “messages” express them in ways that are not heavy-handed; you’re always able to enjoy the movie first, consider the meaning second.
A common theme among most of the films is that they can be described as belonging to particular genres, yet they redefine them, too. “Brokeback Mountain” is a Western, but it’s unlike most other Westerns. “A History of Violence” is a revenge thriller that actually examines the ramifications of violence, which most films of that type do not. “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” is a buddy action flick that skewers the conventions of that genre. Even “Murderball” blurs genre lines by being as good a sports movie as it is a documentary.
In other words, these are 10 movies that think outside the box. From Spielberg making a film that’s different from everything he’s ever done, to the sex comedy that actually makes a strong case for chastity (!), here are 10 films that made 2005 a little brighter.
The Best Movies of 2005:
1. “A History of Violence” The closing line from my review: “This is a movie where things don’t happen the way they do in the movies.” A small-town man kills two murderers who seek to do harm in his diner, dispatching them with remarkable precision and efficiency. We think nothing of it, because that’s what happens all the time in movies: Ordinary people spontaneously become action heroes when the situation calls for it; men who have never held guns have perfect aim; people who have never thrown a punch are excellent fighters. But “A History of Violence” won’t leave it at that. It wants to know why violence happens, and more to the point, what its ramifications are. You don’t bump off two villains in one exhilarating moment and call it a day. Even righteous violence has consequences, and once the door is open, it is hard to close it. David Cronenberg directs stylishly, coolly, calmly, very methodically showing the dissolution of this Everyman’s peaceful existence. Real-life violence is not easily resolved or cleaned up. The film has secrets, surprises, twists and turns — all the requisites of a jolly good time at the movies — but leaves you with something to ponder, too.
2. “Brokeback Mountain” Most thoughtful reviews of this film have commented on what it is not as much as what it is — so that while much of America still hasn’t seen this poignant, heartfelt love story, at least there’s not much confusion about what it is. (Calling it a “gay cowboy movie” is like calling “The Godfather” an “Italian-American movie”: technically accurate, but useless in describing its actual content.) The story of two ranch hands who fall in love, and their subsequent relationship of loneliness, doubt and tragedy, makes no political statements. It is very much the tale of these two specific men, and their specific sad story — but it also conveys universal themes and emotions. Most viewers will not have found themselves in the exact same situation as the characters, but nearly everyone has experienced a doomed love affair, has felt uncomfortable in his own skin, or has wondered whether he belongs on the path he has chosen for himself.
3. “Munich” What’s this? Moral ambiguity? Heroes who are unsure of their deeds’ rightness — and audiences who are just as torn? Moderately graphic sexuality (between a married couple, but still)? This is the grown-up Steven Spielberg, using all his skills as a master storyteller and consummate filmmaker to tell the compelling saga of Israel’s response to the 1972 terrorist attacks on the Munich Olympics. After more than 30 years in the business, Spielberg is still at the top of his craft. He remembers that even when telling serious stories, a director need not be plain or stodgy: “Munich” is as much a crackerjack suspense thriller as it is a thought-provoking political rumination.
4. “Sin City” If I compiled this list based solely on films’ visual appeal, “Sin City” would be No. 1 this year, and probably for the last five years too. Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s adaptation of Miller’s graphic novels is a faithful re-creation of the books’ stark visual style and color scheme. It’s also a pulpy, dark-toned story of shadowy underworld figures and vengeful hookers, a veritable masterpiece of gritty, audacious entertainment.
5. “Kung Fu Hustle” Stephen Chow’s deliriously energetic martial arts comedy features a gang of nattily dressed villains who sometimes break into dance; a chain-smoking, roller-haired landlady who was once a kung fu master; and a flagrant disregard for the laws of physics, gravity and movie-making. It’s a relentlessly fast-paced and enjoyable flick.
6. “Good Night, and Good Luck” George Clooney’s account of Edward R. Murrow standing up to Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s unfair communist-hunting practices is a stirring bit of history. David Strathairn’s performance as Murrow is one of the year’s best.
7. “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” Shane Black, the man who helped define the loud-and-fast buddy-cop action-comedy in the ’80s and ’90s (he wrote “Lethal Weapon”), reworks, parodies and improves the genre with this very funny, very self-referential modern film noir. All the things wrong with, say, “Bad Boys II” (to cite just one terrible film that Black’s earlier work inspired) are right with this one.
8. “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” Nothing more purely delightful and whimsical was released in 2005 than this sly, inventive family comedy. Pre-fab mediocrities like “Madagascar” pale in comparison.
9. “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” This is a sex comedy, yes. But stop comparing it to “Porky’s” and “American Pie.” Not only is this film (about a late bloomer whose friends try to help him score) funnier than those, it’s also smarter and more culturally insightful. For all its crude humor and sexual innuendo, the film ultimately points out the positive qualities in chastity. What sex comedy ever did that?
10. “Murderball” When it came to documentaries this year, everyone wanted to see those penguins instead of these quadriplegic rugby players. Here’s what they were missing out on: buoyant humor, sports-related thrills, and an energetic, uplifting story. You hear “quadriplegic documentary” and you think it’ll depress you or make you feel guilty, but no. I swear, “Murderball” is FUN.
The Worst Movies of 2005:
1. “The Devil’s Rejects” I hated this movie a lot, but only because it hated me first. A more unpleasant, irredeemable time at the movies was not to be had in all of 2005…
2. “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” … although this trainwreck gave it a run for its money. The fact that it was so beloved by so many African-American audiences is proof of how under-served that demographic is.
3. “The Pacifier” Do you like movies where a duck bites Vin Diesel in the crotch? Then you’re the reason Hollywood keeps making crappy movies like this one. I hope you’re proud of yourself.
4. “Supercross” Imagine porn, but with all the sex scenes replaced with motorcycle-racing scenes.
5. “Dirty Love” Remember Jenny McCarthy? See this movie and you’ll long for the days when you didn’t!
6. “Down and Derby” Why include, on this list, a film that almost nobody saw? Because I had to see it, that’s why. I want you to share in my pain.
7. “The Perfect Man” Heather Locklear is having trouble finding a man? OK, you lost me already, you stupid, stupid movie.
8. “King’s Ransom” This is the kind of mean-spirited comedy where you wish every single character would be killed in some gruesome fashion — and then when they aren’t, that’s just part of the film’s disappointment.
9. “Venom” After getting bit by magic snakes, a tow-truck driver comes back to life and kills people! Based on a true story.
10. “Alone in the Dark” And alone in the dark is what you were if you saw it. (Also: bored in the dark; wanting a refund in the dark.)
Longest movie: “King Kong” (187 min.)
Shortest movie: “Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic” (72 min.)
Most enjoyable bad movie: “Cry_Wolf”
Least enjoyable good movie: “Mysterious Skin”
Best performance in a bad movie: Bonnie Hunt, “Cheaper by the Dozen 2”
Worst performance in a good movie: Jessica Alba, “Sin City”
Good movies (well, reasonably good) that did poorly with critics (besides myself) and at the box office: “The Thing About My Folks,” “Hostage,” “Bewitched,” “Lords of Dogtown,” “Prime,” “An Unfinished Life,” “The Chumscrubber”
Movies that include zombies (defined as dead humans whose corpses become reanimated), regardless of whether the movie calls them “zombies” or not: “Land of the Dead,” “Undead,” “Dead and Breakfast,” “Venom,” “Corpse Bride,” “Doom,” “The Fog”
Movies whose titles I get mixed up: “The Chumscrubber” and “Thumbsucker” (both played at Sundance, feature Lou Pucci, and deal with teen angst, making it even harder to tell them apart); “Prime,” “Proof” and “Pure”; “Sky Blue” and “Sky High”; “Red Eye” and “Flightplan”
Movies that demonstrate the hazard of referring to other movies: “Rent,” set in 1989, referencing “Thelma & Louise,” which didn’t come out until 1991; “Rumor Has It…,” set in January 1997, referencing “Titanic,” which wasn’t released until December 1997.
Remakes: “Assault on Precinct 13,” “The Amityville Horror,” “Fun with Dick and Jane,” “The Fog,” “Bad News Bears,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “Oliver Twist,” “Pride and Prejudice,” “House of Wax,” “War of the Worlds,” “The Producers,” “King Kong,” “Yours, Mine & Ours”
Sequels: “Be Cool,” “Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo,” “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” “Herbie: Fully Loaded,” “Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous,” “The Ring Two,” “Saw II,” “Son of the Mask,” “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith,” “States of Grace,” “Transporter 2,” “The Work and the Glory: American Zion,” “XXX: State of the Union, “ “Cheaper by the Dozen 2”