What started off as a piss-poor year in film actually redeemed itself quite a bit towards its tail end. But considering the fact that I began doing press coverage for the site this year, I STILL didn’t get a chance to catch nearly as many films as I should’ve. Devin caught over 150? Good Lord! I know my count is waaay below that. And having said that, my list is certainly not a definitive "best of". I picked films that I liked, films that entertained me in some way, and films that made me think or had something to say. I guess it’s more of a "favorites" list than anything else, and that’s cool right? There are films that I’m kicking myself for having not seen, though. Namely, Three Burials (Could someone please tell me where in L.A. this thing is screening?) Brokeback Mountain, Good Night and Good Luck, The Squid and the Whale. Oh, and Stealth.
And on a more personal and meandering note, it’s been quite a year for me here at CHUD. I jumped aboard as a DVD reviewer and have slowly moved on to doing everything from news reporting to press junketing to tween wrangling for our own Mr. Davis. Yes, my wang has been dunk in most evey facet of the site (figuratively speaking of course, you sickos) and I for one couldn’t have been more grateful for the opportunity. Nick, Dev, Dave, Russ, Eileen, and the rest of the crew have been the absolute best sons of bitches to me, and naturally, you folks as well! Never in my life did I think I’d be getting hate mail, love mail, sexual requests, and copious amounts of spam the likes of which I’ve never known prior to all of this CHUDness.
So thank you all for a great ’05 and here’s to an even better ’06!
Oh me, oh my. Batman Begins has got to be one of the clearest examples of a love-hate relationship with a film for me. I think it deserves to be on this list solely because of how it maturely and realistically handled the mechanics of our hero’s journey in becoming a superhero and how it dared to really try and say something smart about the dividing line between justice and vengeance, morality, and all that juicy stuff which makes for good drama. Then again, it sorta doesn’t deserve to be on this list because of how ludicrously dumb the picture becomes half-way through (before recouping its dignity with a pretty great finale – and I don’t mean the little fanboy-loving reveal but rather the Batman/Gordon friendship dynamic and its implications for future films). But you know what? After many repeat viewings on DVD, it all holds together pretty damn well, stupidity and all. It’s a entertaining film, a crowd-pleasing film, and one that I’ve found myself strangely drawn back to time and time again. More than any other film this year, in fact.
Current Rating: 7.0 out of 10
Contributing Factors: When Christopher Nolan does what he does best and delves into the real dramatic and psychological mechanics of Bruce Wayne and what makes him tick, that’s when this film fires on all cylinders.
Performance to Savor: Christian Bale, finally showing the mainstream what happens when you get a real actor and not just a movie star into a popular yet meaty role.
P.R. CHUD.com Pull-Quote: "Batman Begins smart, plunges into dumb, yet emerges a damn good time at the movies!"
14.) Wedding Crashers (CHUD Review) (Pre-Order the DVD)
Owen Wilson’s star has been shining pretty bright for awhile, but now is the time of VAUGHN. And it’s been a long-time coming too. Not since Swingers (or perhaps Made) has Vaughn been so good. Of course, it’s all thanks to a pretty snappy script, his cool trademark banter, and some great chemistry with the aforementioned Wilson. Plus, there’s Rachel McAdams being all fine. Most guys I’ve talked to fell in love with her here. I did too. And I will fight you all for her! Oh, and Christopher Walken shows up and utters some lines with his usual inconsistant cadence. See, this film has everything – including a unfortunately weak third act. But nevertheless, Wedding Crashers saw a nice return to harder, non-pussified comedy anchored by great performances and wonderful chemistry. Horray for eye-fucking!
Current Rating: 7.2 out of 10
Contributing Factors: Isla Fisher’s tits.
Performance to Savor: Vince Vaughn goes back to being the hip, crazy bastard we first fell in love with back in Swingers. A real cocksman.
P.R. CHUD.com Pull-Quote: "Wedding Crashers crashed my lungs I laughed so hard!"
13.) Hostage (CHUD Review) (Buy the DVD)
So how in the heck did a cheap thriller like Hostage sneak its way onto my Top 15? Some would say it’s because I have no taste. They may be right. But really, I’d say it’s because director Florent Siri was able to craft a rather intense film that does its best (for the most part) to avoid succumbing to the expected Hollywood standards (i.e. clichés) of a genre that’s become so freakin’ boring over the years. It dons its European influences on its sleeve and delivers something a bit outside of convention for American audiences (especially those expecting something familiar to Bruce Willis’ previous ouput). It’s a taut film that keeps you enthralled all the way through (just nevermind Siri’s decision for Ben Foster’s ridiculous gothness late in the film).
Current Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Contributing Factors: A good script, plausible and tightly wound, that doesn’t overindulge and tries its best to breathe new life into the ailing thriller genre.
Performance to Savor: Bruce Willis as a worn and weathered law enforcer does a great job of balancing the commanding protagonist with that of the tormented, guilt-ridden hero.
P.R. CHUD.com Pull-Quote: "Hostage is sleek, smooth, and brutal… just like Bruce Willis’ head!"
12.) Lords of Dogtown (CHUD Review) (Buy the DVD)
Few films were cooler and more fun this year than Catherine Hardwicke’s Lords of Dogtown. Focusing on the cultural influence of skateboarding in the 1970s and the boys responsible for elevating it from mere fad to bonafide phenomenon, LOD takes a somewhat documentary style approach (which is ironic considering there already was a documentary entitled Dogtown and Z-Boys, which was directed by Stacy Peralta, screenwriter for LOD and one of the main "Z-Boys" featured in the film!) to the proceedings, lending the film a gritty and very real quality that works extremely well within the world Hardwicke has chosen to showcase. It’s a fun, enlightening, and even moving picture that’ll almost surely make you groove.
Current Rating: 8.0 out of 10
Contributing Factors: Hardwicke’s dynamic directorial style coupled with one of the best soundtracks of the year (’70s Rock featuring the likes of Foghat, The Allman Brothers, Iggy Pop, David Bowie, and possibly the best use of Rod Stewart’s Maggie May that I can think of).
Performance to Savor: Heath Ledger absolutely disappears (and subsequently emerges as Val Kilmer’s twin) to deliver one of his most fun performances to date.
P.R. CHUD.com Pull-Quote: "Lords of Dogtown had me doing ollies on my imaginary skateboard as I came out of the theater!"
11.) The Weather Man (CHUD Review) (Pre-Order the DVD)
Here’s a film that sort of took me by surprise. I knew nothing of it except that it was directed by Gore "Pirates of the Carribean" Verbinski and that it starred Nicolas Cage in yet another movie where he seemed to be playing a neurotic character with social and/or familial problems. And while my take on Cage’s character was mostly correct, I was taken by Verbinski’s cold but accurate look at the world some of us are living in. A world where people’s priorites and most dilligent efforts are all in the wrong places, and a world where so many people are constantly looking for the easy out. That’s pretty relevant subject matter here in 2005 (eh, 2006) what with media, materialism, and the idea of what constitutes success here in America is today.
Current Rating: 8.1 out of 10
Contributing Factors: Verbinski nails black comedy with moments that are depressingly cynical and yet totally laugh-out-loud. A good exercise in more serious dramatics for a man knee-deep in swashbuckling extravaganzas.
Performance to Savor: Somewhat jarring American accent aside, Michael Caine has the difficult task of being that cold and distant parent, and yet, being completely warm and likeable at the very same time. It’s an odd thing to write but it’s clear when seen onscreen. It may be that avuncular presence that Caine so naturally posseses. Here, it lends a interesting and very real complexity to his character. Savor it!
P.R. CHUD.com Pull-Quote: "Huzzah for cameltoe!"
10.) The 40 Year-Old Virgin (CHUD Review) (Buy the DVD)
Raunchy, hilarious, and sweet? It’s a combination that Judd Apatow gets just right with his feature film directorial debut. It’s also another example of good comedy borne out of character and not just for the sake of the joke. While the latter is not necessarily a bad thing, when the comedy comes out of real people, their characters, and situations that are true to those characters, it resonates more. That’s what elevates The 40 Year-Old Virgin over the rest of the comedy crop this year. It also helps that the jokes themselves are well-written and that their deliveries by the respective cast members (a pretty great group) are dead-on. Plus, it’s about sex. Sex is good.
Current Rating: 8.2 out of 10
Contributing Factors: Wonderful moments of improv delivered by a perfect cast in Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, and Romany Malco.
Performance to Savor: Steve Carell, nailing that straight-faced comedic upsurdity he did so well back on The Daily Show and showing that he could even handle "real" acting in some of the film’s more touching moments.
P.R. CHUD.com Pull-Quote: "The handbook for getting your old ass laid!"
9.) Wolf Creek (CHUD Review)
Brutal, brutal, brutal! Apparently, it’s been a banner year for horror. Unfortunately, I missed out on stuff like The Devil’s Rejects and The Descent, but genre fare like Wolf Creek and Land of the Dead (two slots down) have certainly affirmed the above claim. With WC, you get a film with no pretensions other than to horrify the living the fuck out of you. And it does so quite well. Suspense, tension, hysteria (not to mention gruesome death) are all in great supply here. Wonderful execution of a familiar formula helps elevate this Aussie import to one of the biggest gut-punches this year. Did I mention this sucker’s brutal?
Current Rating: 8.3 out of 10
Contributing Factors: Gorgeously shot film, naturalistc performances from our three primaries, and a baddie with roots from the exploitative and far more gruesome horror films of year’s past.
Performance to Savor: John Jarratt walks a pretty fine line between being genuinely affable and disgustingly sadistic, sometimes in the very same scene. He’s a fun character. One you may even root for (in a Freddy Krueger sort of way).
P.R. CHUD.com Pull-Quote: "Come for the view, stay for the death!"
8.) The Aristocrats (CHUD Review) (Pre-Order the DVD)
Possibly the most obscene film of the year is actually one of the most fascinating too. Exploring the nature of comedy and how it’s all about delivery, timing, personality, and simply making a joke your own, The Aristocrats is not only an educational documentary, but one that will have you in stitches at the audacity and utter vulgarness of the titular joke. It’s a fun film with great moments from most every big-time comedian today. Everyone will walk away with a favorite version of The Aristocrat and that’s partly what’s so cool about the film; it celebrates the uniqueness of comedy from person to person and how that in fact elevates what these people do to a level of artform. Who knew hearing about defecating children could be so hilarious?
Current Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Contributing Factors: A healthy grouping of comedic legends and up-and-comers (and a mime) who bring their own personality and pizzaz to the nastiness.
Performance to Savor: Gilbert Gottfried, as annoying as I find the man to normally be, delivers one of the best variations of the The Aristocrat. I would’ve been on the floor laughing my ass off had it not been a fire hazard to do so.
P.R. CHUD.com Pull-Quote: "The Aristocrats may in fact be funnier than watching parents sodomize their own children while teetering on a tight rope!"
7.) Land of the Dead (CHUD Tag Team Review) (Buy the DVD)
George Romero’s Land of the Dead came crashing upon us this year in what for me was the top of the heap in American horror. And all from a guy who hasn’t spewed zombie for 20 years! With relevant things to say about our world in the guise of gruesome "zed" word action, Romero reminds the fans, the imitators, and the next generation of undead craftsmen just who exactly got this shit started and who is continuing to deliver. LOD breaks away from being just any other horror film with cool kills and gags (though it does feature both), but one with fully realized ideas, strong themes, and developed characters who aren’t just sitting around waiting their turn to have their brains munched on. Land of the Dead is a great film. A fun one too. One that’s action-packed, yet still engaging and smart.
Current Rating: 8.7 out of 10
Contributing Factors: A very solid cast, good special effects, and all done on a relatively small budget, making everything Romero acomplished all the more impressive.
Performance to Savor: Eugene Clark as head zombie Big Daddy does a fair share of moaning and howling, but is also able to convey so much without even a single line of dialogue. Savor the undead!
P.R. CHUD.com Pull-Quote: "Land of the Dead will have you clamoring for flesh morsels of your own!"
6.) Kung Fu Hustle (Buy the DVD)
Stephen Chow returns with more physics-defying action in what’s probably the second most flat-out entertainingly fun film of the entire year (the first is three slots down). What I loved so much aboout this film, aside from the obviously stunning martial arts/special effects combos seen throughout, were the references to the many popular American films of both recent time and yesteryear. The film is never cynical but just an example of a filmmaker using the imagination to really stretch what one can do on the filmic canvas. The result is something entirely unique, both fun and exhilirating, and a reminder of how special film can be.
Current Rating: 8.9 out of 10
Contributing Factors: Ludicrously imaginative use of special effects, a very funny script, and an endearing supporting cast helped make this baby one of my favorites of the year.
Performance to Savor: Stephen Chow, taking the mantle of ass-kicking kung fu master extraordinare.
P.R. CHUD.com Pull-Quote: "Punching people into the stratosphere has never been so much fun!"
5.) War of the Worlds (CHUD Review) (Buy the DVD)
Steven Spielberg decides to screw Indy IV while its script gets "tweaked" by bearded pal George Lucas and instead decides to tackle two BIG films (big in their own way) within a time frame that would make even Jesus Christ a bit sweaty. War of the Worlds arrives in the midst of summer and wows the fuck out of us with the sheer spectacle of a terrifyingly realistic alien invasion, but instead of following it the way a film like ID4 did, Spielberg shows us his steel-plated nutsack and veers the film into another direction so as to focus on actual people, the effect such an event has on these people’s families, and how they actually come to handle the catastrophic happenings. The most disturbing bits in the film are when humanity is at odds with one another. When it was every man for himself, I couldn’t help but think that this must’ve been somewhat similar to what happend in Louisiana earlier this year in the wake of Katrina. People battling people for survival. THAT’s terrifying. And it’s Spielberg’s conscious choice to depict such a dynamic that helps elevate this film to one of the best of the year.
Current Rating: 9.0 out of 10
Contributing Factors: Amazing use of CGI, Spielberg’s incredibly dynamic camera, and Janusz Kaminski’s beautifully stark photography all added up to create some of the most gruelling and terrifying bits of sci-fi cinema in recent memory.
Performance to Savor: Say what they may about the man’s rather psychotic personal life (and it really is cuckoo), but the truth is that Tom Cruise can straight-up act. He handles the assholish father role well but really shines when showing his frustruation and hysteria, and most importantly, the side of a man who has lost all touch with who his children are.
P.R. CHUD.com Pull-Quote: "War of the Worlds is so terrifying you’ll never use your camera’s tripod again!"
4.) King Kong (CHUD Review)
Shameless self-promotion time: Check out my review of the big hairy bastard over at Creature Corner right here if you wanna read something other than Devin’s fine work (or if you just plain hate him – and I think a few of you might).
What more can be said about Peter Jackson and his wonderfully audacious imagination? The man is obviously so in love with his artform and never is that more clear than when watching Kong battle dinosaurs with such bravado, or better yet, when watching the ape enjoy the ice and snow for the first time ever with the only other being he cares for. And though such a love is predictably going to boil over into self-indulgence, which King Kong does, it also brings a truthfulness and a sincerity to the proceedings that you can’t help but admire. But what really amazes me is that Jackson, with what’s essentially such a simplistic story about a monster falling for a pretty blonde, is able to hit at moments of true humanity and real emotion with such blinding accuracy. Through the relationship between a human and an animal, Jackson conveys the ideas of friendship, love, loyalty, and determination better than other filmmakers could hope. Bloated shmoated! No film captured magic the way Kong did this year. For that alone, it deserves the praise (and hopefully some fucking box office legs!).
Current Rating: 9.1 out of 10
Contributing Factors: Stunning cinematography, a beautiful soundtrack, and the best mixture of miniature work and CGI ever put to celluloid.
Performance to Savor: Kong/Andy Serkis/Weta Digital/Whoever the hell you wanna attribute… Why? I could’ve said either Naomi Watts or Adrien Brody because they’re both honestly fantastic, especially Watts when considering she’s not acting opposite another actor in the traditional sense. But the work done on Kong is absolutely groundbreaking, moreso than even Gollum was in The Lord of the Rings because Kong is an actual ape. An animal with mannerisms we can immediately recognize. And when you realize that those mannerisms, movements, and expressions were handled by Andy Serkis and a team of jimdandy wizards on workstations, it becomes all the more amazing. The point is that Kong, being a CG creation, is a revelation, and not just in technical artistry but in something far beyond that. The Academy as well as other award circles need to begin recognizing this type of work as something seperate from plain ol’ special effects. WETA and Jackson have been laying the groundwork here for something truly special in the years to come in terms of what can be done with film. To me, the possibilities are truly delicious. Savor THAT.
P.R. CHUD.com Pull-Quote: "Bring a hanky, ’cause this ape’s gonna make you cry like a big fat pussy!"
3.) Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (CHUD Review)
Alright, the most fun you’ll have in a theater (or on DVD I guess since this thing died a horrible horrible death at the cineplex… assholes) is right here. Shane Black returns with a script that’s both hilarious and clever and proves that he’s also a pretty damn good director to boot (and considering it’s his directorial debut, that makes it all the more impressive). On top of that, you’ve got Robert Downey Jr. back with such a gusto it’s scary and Val Kilmer in a role that’s so fucking hilarious it should be sealed away in a time capsule so that people in the year 3538 can see how goddamn funny Val Kilmer was (nevermind that by then, the film will be on some form of super duper home video/brain implant format). And Michelle Monaghan: Quite hot. You people better buy this thing once it hits DVD. I mean it!
Current Rating: 9.3 out of 10
Contributing Factors: Michelle Monaghan’s tits.
Performance to Savor: Val Kilmer’s Gay Perry will go down as a cult-classic film character, mark my words. Oh yeah? Die.
P.R. CHUD.com Pull-Quote: "If Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang were a vagina, I’d be kissing it and banging it every single day and twice on Sunday!"
2.) Munich (CHUD Review)
Twice in the same year, Spielberg nails it. But with Munich, it’s a goddamn rude awakening. How so? The Beard crafted an unflinching film that’s mature and thoughtful, but most importantly, doesn’t lead its audience by the hand to any sort of moral conclusions. This is artful Spielberg, not blockbuster Spielberg. And for the first time in a long time, he’s put together a film that’s not only skillfully made but one that poses questions and frames situations for audiences to seriously contemplate (like the chilling final shot as one of the more obvious examples).
Funny, that’s what makes my numero uno film… numero uno…
Current Rating: 9.5 out of 10
Contributing Factors: A look and style that almost mimics that of European cinema from the 1960s and ’70s, a sometimes unconventional but totally effective score by John Williams, and a fantastic ensemble of supporting actors.
Performance to Savor: Eric Bana delivers one of his best and most powerful performances as a man torn my doubt, paranoia, and guilt. The moment where he first hears his child’s voice over the phone? So fucking real. If I could shower him with man-love, I would.
P.R. CHUD.com Pull-Quote: "Munich is uber cool, uber tense, and like a gunshot to the chops, terrorist style!"
The most misunderstood film of the year also happens to be my number 1 pick for best (and favorite) of the year. The screening I attended had people laughing and snickering at the most inappropriate moments. I think this is fascinating. What exactly about what’s onscreen prompted them to respond the way they did? There’s the sex. There’s the violence. There’s the displays of emotion and human connection/disconnection. I think it says something really profound about Cronenberg’s film and his intentions to shock and/or demand some sort of emotional response from his audiences as well as to simply pose questions about the very nature of violence, whether it’s inherently evil or if it’s something that could ever be justified. The film is heavily cerebral and philisophical and completely subversive. It’s a film with no answers, only questions. Cronenberg’s crafted, with such a slick slate of hand, a tight and totally intelligent film with wonderful performances all across the board. Violence really is something of a masterpiece.
Current Rating: 9.6 out of 10
Contributing Factors: When violence explodes onto the screen, it’s unnerving. Both because of the intentional gruesomeness and the lingering effects it has on the characters and the audience, illustrating the point of whether or not violence is ever truly justified even if borne out of good.
Performance to Savor: While Ed Harris got to chew the bit as the coolest character in the film, Viggo Mortensen has the more thankless job of selling the idea of duel identities in a very subtle and subversive manner (much like the film itself).
P.R. CHUD.com Pull-Quote: "A History of Violence is smart, bloody, and features a 69!"
Honorable Mentions: Jarhead. Walk the Line. Sin City. Four Brothers. xXx: State of the Union (?!).