learned a lot about the movies this year. I saw over 150 of them in
theaters, so I would hope I came out of that with something more than
hemorrhoids. One of the things I learned about was the way movies
aren’t stationary things. You don’t just see them and have an opinion
and that’s that. A movie that, at first, seems great will fall apart a
few hours or days after seeing it. A movie that you thought didn’t work
will haunt you for the rest of the year. It can be tough being a
critic, because you’re being asked to immortalize a specific view of a
movie, when your opinion may well change next week.
There are movies that, when I saw them, I assumed they would make the top 15. I am shocked that Good Night, and Good Luck
is not on this list, but that’s how it shook out. It came close, but in
the end the movie didn’t have the resonance to be one of my favorites
for the year. Meanwhile The Devil’s Rejects spent most of the year growing on me, and it squeaked into the top fifteen.
tell you this much, though – it was much easier making my top fifteen
than it was making my ten worst list. There were plenty of excruciating
pictures this year, and only a handful of ones that were even remotely
great. Here’s hoping 2006 is a little more like 2004, one of the wonder
My entries below are short and sweet. This year I wrote
most of the reviews here on CHUD – you can get a longer look at my
thoughts on these movies by clicking on the review link. And stay tuned
for the rest of the CHUD crew bringing you their thoughts over the rest
of the week!
can turn on the Discovery Channel any night of the week and see a
documentary about some poor bastard getting ate up by some beastie or
other; hell, you can probably find the story of Timothy Treadwell, the
well-meaning but ultimately appetizing grizzly bear activist. But none
of those docs would carry the imprint of cinematic lunatic Werner
Herzog, who has turned the tragedy not just into a compelling story but
also a fascinating meditation on the nature of nature.
Current Rating: 8.0 out of 10
Factors: Grizzly Man
is the kind of movie that divides audiences in the right way – you’ll
walk out of this one arguing whether or not Treadwell was nuts. You’ll
all agree on Herzog, though.
Herzog listening to the recording of Treadwell being eaten alive in the
presence of Treadwell’s ex-girlfriend. It’s bizarre, hilarious and yet
Pull-Quote: “You’ll want to eat this movie up!”
may recall that my review of this film wasn’t all that favorable. I
thought it was OK at the time. What’s funny, though, is how The Devil’s Rejects
stuck with me after I saw it. I kept coming back to scenes and
characters from the film – and listening to the soundtrack again and
again. 2005 was a good year for real horror films – I loved Wolf Creek and High Tension as well- and The Devil’s Rejects
is the standard bearer. It’s gritty and nasty, mean and creepy. This is
what I want in my horror films, not wisecracking killers or tongue in
cheek deconstructions or endless PG-13 faux-scares featuring the latest
tween sensation from The WB.
Current Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Factors: Torture, mayhem, nastiness, degradation and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Savor: Bill Moseley’s Otis P Driftwood is the 21st century incarnation of Charles Manson.
Pull-Quote: “It’ll make you feel bad about being alive!”
great directors aren’t hemmed in by genre, so it should be no surprise
that Danny Boyle goes beyond zombies, drug addicts and murderous
roommates to make a wonderful, touching and resolutely not-cheesy
Christmas film (which was released about nine months before Christmas).
Sure, the title is misleading – it was just thousands! – every other
aspect of this story about a young boy’s relationship to the saints is
wonderful and moving. Yeah, I cried. Maybe twice.
Current Rating: 8.7 out of 10
Factors: Imagine Trainspotting for kids – that’s what this film often is, filled with pizzazz, wit and visual whimsy.
a tie – James Nesbitt, as always, gives a nuanced and brilliant
performance, but newcomer kid Alex Etel is the exact opposite of the
sort of mannered, treacly kiddie actors we usually get in the States.
Pull-Quote: “Saints alive! There are Millions of reasons to love this film!”
fave Liev “Microsoft Word hates my name” Schreiber makes his
directorial debut with the rare movie that’s much better than the book
it’s based on. Jonathan Safron Foer’s Lit-student-cutesy novel gets
pared down to the modern day story of a young Jewish American looking
for his ancestry in Eastern Europe. It’s the kind of movie that people
call quirky just because it operates slightly outside of your normal
movie expectations. Unless you’re expecting a great movie – it operates
right inside there.
Current Rating: 8.9 out of 10
makes a most un-actorly movie; it’s filled with gorgeous sights and
minimal dialogue. On top of that, it’s the kind of movie where the
great acting is done with subtlety.
Hutz, lead singer of the fantastic band Gogol Bordello, makes a
stunning debut as the malapropistic tour guide, Alex, the guy who all
the ladies want to get carnal with because of his premium dance moves.
Pull-Quote: “A best adapted screenplay nomination is illuminated here.”
kind of a cheat, but it’s my list. And on my list these two films are
two halves of one thing – a complicated and mature allegory for our
modern War on Terror. It all begins with WOTW,
a film that sees Spielberg remembering that sometimes the House of
Horrors is a better ride than the rollercoaster. The first hour of the
movie is as scary a thing as you’ll see all year, filled with real and
intense misery and doom, a summer movie evocation of 9/11 that manages
to completely transcend its blockbuster nature. Munich,
meanwhile, sees Steve all grows up. It isn’t the subject matter that
makes the whole thing mature, it’s the way that Spielberg has left
behind his usual heavy-handed stylings. He’s finally made a movie that
trusts the audience.
Current Rating: 9.0 out of 10
Factors: Astonishing FX makes War of the Worlds a seamless horror experience, while thoughtful and deep concepts in Munich prove to be a more special effect than all the pixels in King Kong.
Bana. America, please finally meet your next big star. He’s the kind of
manly actor who fits perfectly on the line between boy (Leo) and beast
Pull-Quote: “The year’s weirdest double feature!”
not a movie about the final hours of Kurt Cobain. Except when it is.
Gus Van Sant’s latest film is a chewy bit of masterpiece, a movie that
eschews traditional standards of narrative and
structure for a gauzy and often meandering series of events. It’s the
kind of movie that can be about something different every time you
watch it, and every viewer will bring something else to the film, and
will take something different home with them. Last Days isn’t for everyone, but for the people with the patience and the interest, it’s an amazing trip.
Current Rating: 9.0 out of 10
Factors: Even if the rest of the movie stunk (which it doesn’t), Last Days
would be on this list just for the slow pullback from a room where
doomed rocker Blake is making his last recording. It’s cinema at its
most pure, and it’s a joy.
Savor: Michael Pitt mumbles and stumbles his way through something more uncanny than an imitation of Kurt Cobain.
Pull-Quote: “Don’t blow out your brains in the greenhouse until you’ve seen this film!”
not including this film just because of my Judd Apatow/Seth Rogen
fetish. I’m including it because it’s the best comedy to play in
theaters in more than a decade, and like all the really great comedies,
it gets better and better every time you see it. Apatow has retained
all the things that made his short-lived TV shows so great – real
characters, sidesplitting jokes and a true sensitivity and caring for
the people on screen. It’s a movie that works on repeated viewing not
just because it’s funny, but because it’s an honest to God, real movie.
by the way, as a side note – it’s interesting to me that two of the
films on my top fifteen would not have been serious contenders when
they first came out, much as the worst film of the year for me wasn’t
that bad after the original screening. Movies are living things, and
they grow and change over time, and with dialogue. It’s sort of
fascinating to see how feelings can change – something I don’t think
many critics are happy to admit.
Current Rating: 9.1 out of 10
The Unrated version on DVD only further proves how great this character
is, especially once you’ve heard about the Alligator Fuckhouse.
Savor: Paul Rudd continues to be the most unexpectedly great comedic character actor working today.
Pull-Quote: “You’ll lose it with this new classic comedy!”
Two documentaries on the list? Eat it. Murderball
is the kind of movie that is not only entertaining, is not only
fascinating and is not only filled with unforgettable characters, it’ll
change the way you look at the world. And if that sounds too much like
eating your vegetables, let me assure you that the film, about an
extreme sport known as wheelchair rugby, is filled with footage of
cripples beating the shit out of each other. The film is also an
excellent opportunity to argue about the meaning of “quadriplegic” with
non-doctors who think they know more about it than the guys in the
Current Rating: 9.1 out of 10
Factors: Ever wonder if paralyzed guys can have sex? Wonder no more.
Savor: Zupan, the ass-kickingest quad you’ll ever meet.
Pull-Quote: "Run – or roll very fast – to see this film!"
7. Lady Vengeance
Park Chanwook is on the kind of roll we haven’t seen in film since… well, since Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings,
but that doesn’t sound as impressive as reaching back into the 60s or
something. Lady Vengeance is the third film in Park’s thematically
connected vengeance trilogy, and it might be the best yet. It’s as
different from Old Boy and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance as
it can be, but this story of a woman released from prison looking for
payback is just as wrenching, exciting and ground breaking.
A quick note for those of you playing at home – Lady Vengeance hasn’t
been released in the US yet, but it did play some film festivals,
including Toronto and New York, which is how I saw it. This year did see the release of one of my top fifteen from last year, though, Old Boy, as well as Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (in the US, that is), so this is partially the Park Chanwook Honorary Spot.
Current Rating: 9.2 out of 10
Factors: Park Chanwook is the best director working today, in any language and on any continent.
Lee as Geum-ja Lee, the titular Lady Vengeance. With her red eye shadow
and ornate gun, she’s a striking figure standing for the meaning of
Pull-Quote: "Make this film your lady of the year!"
not the tale, it’s the telling. Newcomer Craig Brewster tells a run of
the mill tale about a pimp longing to express himself in a way that
makes everything seem completely new. The fact that he’s populated his
world – a little seen bit of the grungy Memphis rap scene – with
characters as three dimensional as a Rodin sculpture (or a guy in a
Rodan suit) only makes it work more. Hustle & Flow
is a sweaty, groovy film that exhilarates you with its daring and its
setting. It’s not often movies pulse so with the beat of its character
and its environment.
Current Rating: 9.2 out of 10
Factors: Hustle & Flow
isn’t just a great movie about rap, it’s a movie with some great rap
tracks. The songs DeeJay cut could very well be real world hits, and
they made my regular iPod rotation.
Savor: Terrence Howard, the single best actor of the year.
Pull-Quote: "Smack this bitch up!"
5. Brokeback Mountain (CHUD Review)
I had cried this would have been number one. Ang Lee’s made the most
gorgeous movie of the year, a film that demands to be seen on a big
screen, where the languorous landscapes and majestic mountain ranges
can unfold in all their glory. And the story set before them is just as
widescreen – a sure-to-be considered iconic story of a taboo love. It’s
the kind of movie that creates waves, not just in the culture but in
the psyche of every viewer. It’s a movie that can be easily politicized
– and God knows, I’ve done my part – but Brokeback is cuts across all demographics and beliefs to deliver a story of aching truth.
Current Rating: 9.3 out of 10
movie’s not just gay cowboys – the women devastated by the love that
dare not speak it’s name are just as important. Anne Hathaway and
Michelle Williams are the secret weapons here.
Savor: Heath Ledger, the second best actor of the year.
4. A History of Violence (CHUD Review)
everybody else, welcome back to Cronenbergland. You’ve been away but he
hasn’t, and he is reminding you of what a great filmmaker can do with
this, a movie masquerading as a pulp fiction. What does violence do to
us – not just physically, but emotionally, and spiritually? And what
does it do to the people around us? How does it deform our lives? Is
there good violence? And are there other major films in the last few
decades that feature the two stars performing 69? A History of Violence
has more great moments, per capita, than any other film this year, and
it’s also the sneakiest about making it’s point. This is one of those
films where if you didn’t get it, the problem may be you.
Current Rating: 9.3 out of 10
has seemingly toned down his usual obsessions and gore, but the scenes
of violence he does feature are all the more shocking for their rarity.
Savor: Ed Harris, mugging his way wonderfully through every scene.
Pull-Quote: "Viggo will kick your ass if you don’t like this!"
3. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (CHUD Review)
I was never a fan of Shane Black. The films he wrote – Lethal Weapon, The Long Kiss Goodnight, The Last Boyscout
– always felt facile to me. It was like this guy had a great ability
and he was squandering it on absolute nonsense. So I wasn’t expecting
much when I went to see Kiss Kiss,
and I was amazed to find a movie that took Black’s great ability and
showered it on a really well made film. Kiss Kiss is funnier, wittier,
more propulsive, and more fun than any other film this year. And it’s
just as goddamned smart as any of the rest of them, too, which is the
Current Rating: 9.3 out of 10
Factors: Michelle Monaghan, hotter than my asshole after a Taco Bell binge.
Savor: Robert Downey Jr almost makes Kiss Kiss a one man show with his sheer force of hilarity. The damn drugs made us miss a decade of this greatness.
Pull-Quote: "You’ll want to Kiss Kiss Shane Black and Bang Bang Michelle Monaghan!"
2. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (CHUD Review)
There aren’t many Westerns made these days, but when you get one as good as Three Burials, you don’t need many more. Three Burials
isn’t just a great Western, it’s a great American film. It’s one of THE
great American films, a movie that is about the aspects of this country
– loyalty, respect and insanity – that seem to have disappeared under
the strip malls and Wal-Marts. Tommy Lee Jones has been building up the
pain and sorrow that paints every frame of this film – it’s Method
directing, where he uses the idea of starring in Man of the House to inform the elegiac nature of this wonderful movie.
Current Rating: 9.6 out of 10
Factors: It’s beautiful. It’s thoughtful. It’s unpredictable.
Savor: Tommy Lee Jones, coming back to reclaim his status as a real actor.
Pull-Quote: "See three screenings of Three Burials!"
1. The Squid and the Whale (CHUD Review)
story about divorce set in Brooklyn, New York in the 1980s? Yeah, it’s
like a movie engineered for me. But even beyond the personal
identification issues, Squid and the Whale
is a magnificent movie. The writing is consistently astonishing with
its reality – Shane Black writes great dialogue, but Noah Baumbach
writes people as they really talk – and the performances are cutting
and fearless, showing every nasty nook and cranny of these characters
in a family that is falling apart. Imagine a Wes Anderson movie set in
the real world and you will have an idea of what The Squid and the Whale is all about.
is a movie that I loved so much I couldn’t write a review of it –
anything I wrote would be so gushing as to be unreadable. It’s a movie
that I think is going to have a life long beyond 2005, a life that’s
going to see it being discovered by people who are going to be
profoundly influenced by its genius.
Current Rating: 9.8 out of 10
Factors: What’s most amazing about The Squid and the Whale is the way that it presents characters doing gross or awful things – and you still love them completely at the end.
Savor: Jeff Daniel’s turn as the father is truly elegant, the filet of the movie.
Pull-Quote: "Hey you – out there seeing movies. This is the best one of the year."
Honorable mentions: Good Night, and Good Luck. North Country. The Producers. Broken Flowers. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Match Point.