Good night and good luck
CN&R reviewer’s crème de la crème of films in 2005
At first glance, I thought I hadn’t seen enough good movies in 2005 to fill out a Top Ten list at year’s end. But that was before I set to work on my Twelve (or so) Steps to the top, and other regions, of the contemporary movie pile.
Good Night and Good Luck George Clooney’s movie about Edward R. Murrow was a particularly welcome surprise—an artful and articulate period piece that speaks incisively to the present. Clooney and company use Murrow’s signature sign-off phrase as a kind of Brechtian refrain, a remark from the world of the story that is also directed to us in the audience in 2005. The Clooney-Straitharn versions of Murrow and that phrase can make a contemporary movie theater into a genuinely haunted house—and that’s enough for me to tab Good Night and Good Luck as the movie of the year.
March of the Penguins It was another excellent year for documentaries. The perhaps slightly overrated March of the Penguins was the one that got the most attention, but there were many others of special note: The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, Born Into Brothels, Gunner Palace, Grizzly Man, Realms of the Unreal, No Direction Home, The Aristocrats. And the latter four on that list were among the very best films of the year.
Parlez-vous? Foreign language films were even more of a rarity in local theaters in 2005. The few that did get shown here were among the better films of the year: Downfall (Germany), Bad Education (Spain), The Sea Inside (Spain), The Beautiful Country (Vietnam/U.S.A.). The first three came early in the year, and the last may be the most overlooked gem of the year.
Not on the Lips Foreign films, however, were plentiful again on DVD. The best of the year’s French features on video would make a decent Ten-Best list all by themselves: Notre Musique, The Color of Lies, Not on the Lips, 5X2, Red Lights, Intimate Strangers, Look At Me, Tomorrow We Move, The Story of Marie and Julien, Kings and Queen. The Holy Girl (Argentina) and Wong Kar-Wai’s 2046 (Hong Kong) also rank among the very best of the year.
Like Desperadoes Waiting for a Train (Best of the West) The western genre continues to persist in sometimes surprising ways: We won’t see Brokeback Mountain and The Three Burials of Meliquades Estrada locally until 2006, but we did encounter some bracing examples of “the western-by-other-means"—An Unfinished Life, Four Brothers, Jarhead, the Texas part of The Beautiful Country, the landscape sequences in North Country and Last Days, and Deadwood on cable and DVD.
Cinderella Man I’m no particular fan of either Ron Howard or Russell Crowe, but I am puzzled that their briskly entertaining biopic about Depression-era boxer James Braddock fared so poorly at the box office. Maybe it was just bad luck in the marketing draw (and the aftermath of Clint Eastwood’s own boxing picture), but it might make you a little more cynical about contemporary movie audiences as well.
The Woodsman And where was the audience for a film as astute and daring as The Woodsman? Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgewick give two of the year’s best performances in this impressive debut film by Nicole Kassell. But an honest approach to a risky topic (a convicted child molester trying to restart his life after a term in prison) perhaps guaranteed that Kassell’s debut would remain below John Q. Public’s radar.
The Aristocrats Is it all in the timing? A documentary about the permutations of an impossibly dirty joke is a daunting prospect in its own right. But this brilliantly edited film takes a canny approach to humor and taboo alike. The result is a culture of entertainment telling the terrible, hilarious truth about itself, and maybe us.
Fred & Ginger Around mid-year, I settled in with a couple of 1930s musicals from the new Fred Astaire-Gingers Rogers box set and got unexpectedly bowled over. Maybe I was just overcome with nostalgia, but for a minute or two I imagined it was the shock of a kind of joy and energy that was once almost a matter of course in American movies but now seems utterly out of reach.
The Big Red One There were lots of “restored” films on DVD for cinephiles to dote upon again this year. Personal favorites among the individual releases include Seven Men From Now, perhaps the best of the Budd Boetticher-Randolph Scott westerns; The Big Red One, the uncut version of Sam Fuller’s World War II epic; and A Double Tour, an early Claude Chabrol thriller that is piquantly flamboyant and impudent. And the ongoing series of Fox Film Noir releases, (Nightmare Alley, Where the Sidewalk Ends, Kiss of Death, Dark Corner, etc.) makes a compelling case for classic Hollywood filmmaking.
Box Sets Even a duller movie year than this one would be at least partly redeemed by the best of the recent box sets: Unseen Cinema: Early American Avant Garde Film 1894-1941 (seven discs, 155 films, 19 hours) and The Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection (seven discs, 25 shorts and features, multiple extras), a dazzling set of the best work from one of the greats of silent comedy. And The Val Lewton Collection would have been a noteworthy event even if it hadn’t included two of my year’s retrospective revelations—The Ghost Ship and The Seventh Victim, both from RKO in 1943.
Stray Cats in strange places The musical portions of Beyond of the Sea, Walk the Line, Gunner Palace, Schultze Gets the Blues, and the “deleted scene” on the DVD for Last Days.
Best (perhaps apocryphal) Film Festival quote “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, and if that’s not a square deal, you can kiss my ass"—attributed to James Arness in a graveside “blooper” on the set of the Gunsmoke TV series (attribution by fellow actor Morgan Whitfield during the Saturday morning “Celebrity Panel” at the 2005 Lone Pine Film Festival).
Ice Harvests David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence seemed interesting and important without ever being really impressive or perceptive. But it lingers in memory more trenchantly than several other unusual films about which I had parallel complaints: The Constant Gardener, The Brothers Grimm, Hotel Rwanda, Imaginary Heroes, Everything Is Illuminated, Bee Season, Layer Cake, Crash, Ice Harvest.
Imaginary Heroes Left-handed triumphs from unlikely quarters: offbeat indies (You and Me and Everyone We Know, Thumbsucker); not-so-guilty pleasures (Wedding Crashers, The 40-year-Old Virgin); G-rated feel-good flicks (Millions).
Like a Rolling Stone Martin Scorsese’s Bob Dylan documentary, No Direction Home, came to us more or less simultaneously on video and PBS television and it deserves a place near the top of the list for Chico’s year in movies. But it’s also another reminder that a significant portion of year’s best films are coming to us on screens that are not in movie theaters.
Be that as it may, this rambling retrospective has come to a point where two top-10 lists seem viable for the movie-year that is ending—the first celebrates films that got large public showings in Chico and environs, and the second acknowledges films that reached us only on DVD.
THEATER: 1. Good Night, and Good Luck, 2. No Direction Home, 3. In the Realms of the Unreal, 4. The Aristocrats, 5. Grizzly Man, 6. Bad Education, 7. Broken Flowers, 8. The Beautiful Country, 9. You and Me and Everyone We Know, 10. A History of Violence.
DVD: 1. The Story of Marie and Julien, 2. 2046, 3. Kings and Queen, 4. Notre Musique, 5. Not On the Lips, 6. The Color of Lies, 7. The Holy Girl, 8. Look At Me, 9. 5X2, 10. Unseen Cinema box set.