Ape over the movies

The year in film 2005

When I think of the year 2005, I think of the number 5 with a 2 and a couple of 0s in front of it. When I think a little deeper, my thoughts go to how 2005 served up the stuff that I was all nerdy for when I was a kid.

I had my War of the Worlds books and tapes (Orson Welles scaring the crap out of America with his radio broadcast was sweet!). There were rubber gorillas hanging from the ceiling (which scared the crap out of Grandma) and Kong posters adorning the walls (which scared the crap out of me!). There were also Star Wars figures out of the box, missing their guns and cloaks and nestling with the dust bunnies and discarded sandwiches under my bed (a sad fate for objects that would’ve been worth thousands of dollars years later). And, of course, there were my Batman Colorforms. Say, whatever happened to Colorforms, anyway? Are today’s kids too cool to be putting vinyl hot dogs on cardboard Scooby Doos?

All of the above, excepting for the hot dog Scooby Doo thing, came to life this year at the cinemas. 2005 was a GeekFest! They screwed up Fantastic Four, but they got it right with a bunch of the major blockbusters. As for the toys the movies spawned, I’m staring at a ceramic effigy given to me for Christmas of Kong beating up a dinosaur.

There were some major surprises. Here’s a shocker: Apart from lending his voice to a lion in Madagascar, Ben Stiller actually wasn’t in any movies this year. Here’s another shocker: Apart from lending his boring voice to a boring lion in the very boring The Chronicles of Narnia, Liam Neeson was in three other films this past year. OK, so that’s not a shocker. I was just reaching for an excuse to slag on Narnia. It made me sleepy. It’s also inspired a lot of hate mail from angry Sunday-school kids disgusted with my negative review. I didn’t like the stupid talking-lion movie! Deal with it, kids! Now have some generic Oreo cookies and orange drink and shut up!

Overall, a pretty typical year: 10-15 great films, 25-30 very good ones, and a whole lot of poor-to-mediocre. As has become the pattern, the first five months of 2006 will more than likely blow, with the really good stuff saved for summer and fall. Here’s 2005’s top 10 list.

1. King Kong: Yeah, I know. Whenever director Peter Jackson releases something, I give him the best picture honor. I’m a boring, predictable bastard with a bad Naomi Watts mojo and a penchant for big apes. With the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and now this, there’s just no suspense in these year-end wrap-ups anymore. Jackson is making the best movies out there, and his retelling of the Kong story is majestic moviemaking.

By the way, as I type this, I’m taking breaks to play King Kong on Playstation 2. I’m on the level where I get to play Kong battling two T-Rexes. It’s a freakout!

2. Brokeback Mountain: Best love story in many years. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal break hearts as two 1963 cowboys who get a little lonely while watching a herd of sheep. They discover major feelings for each other, and their forbidden relationship carries on through the years. Honest, beautiful direction by Ang Lee, one of the year’s best soundtracks, and incredible work from the two leading men. When this movie was over, I was devastated.

3. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang: The most underrated, underappreciated film of the year. Robert Downey Jr. is a whirlwind as a small-time crook turned actor who winds up in a detective caper while making a movie. Val Kilmer gets the comeback of the year award as a private investigator hired to show Downey’s actor the ropes. Michelle Monaghan is the breakthrough performer of the year as “The Love Interest,” and director Shane Black managed to make the year’s funniest movie with his debut. That’s a lot of year’s bests for one movie.

4. Batman Begins: When Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin was released in 1997, Satan drank a beer and scratched his balls, purring with content that the seeds of the Apocalypse had been properly planted. Luckily, some executives at Warner Brothers smelled burning bacon—Satan’s balls smell something like burning bacon—knew the devil was in their midst, and brought the Batman franchise to a halt. Director Christopher Nolan (Memento) rebooted the whole damned thing, delivered the year’s best action picture and kept Satan at bay. The best Batman film yet, featuring the best Batman (Christian Bale), best Alfred (Michael Caine) and best Gary Oldman (Gary Oldman).

5. A History of Violence: David Cronenberg’s best since Dead Ringers. Viggo Mortensen plays Tom Stall, a diner owner who goes all Bruce Lee on some invading thugs and becomes a small-town hero. When a guy with a creepy face (Ed Harris) shows up claiming Tom is somebody else, the diner owner has some ‘splaining to do. Mortensen has never been this good, and Maria Bello is revelatory as the wife who may’ve married a complete stranger.

6. Capote: Those who read and loved In Cold Blood will revel in this, basically a “behind-the-scenes” look at the writing of Truman Capote’s legendary non-fiction novel, with Philip Seymour Hoffman amazing as the author. Capote destroyed himself during and after the writing of In Cold Blood, and this film does a great job of hypothesizing why.

7. Munich: Some critics are getting all huffy about Spielberg allegedly portraying terrorists as sympathetic characters in this one. The film didn’t affect me that way at all. Spielberg doesn’t shy away from depicting possible reasons why Black September (the terrorist organization that killed Jewish athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics) did the horrible things they did. I don’t know how depicting their motivation for lunacy is getting confused with showing sympathy. The depiction of Mossad agents carrying out a mission to assassinate all those associated with the Munich killings is suitably ugly, because killing is ugly. It’s a haunting movie that ponders the moral dilemmas of killing for a cause. An honest film on that subject is bound to be complicated in nature, and this one is.

8. The New World: You will hear some moan that this is long and boring. For those who allow themselves to bathe in the visual and auditory wonders of Terrence Malick’s film, it will come off as one of the year’s more unique movies. An intriguing take on the legend of Pocahontas and Captain Smith, 15-year-old Q’Orianka Kilcher is wonderful as the Native American woman who saved a bunch of Europeans’ asses with some corn.

9. War of the Worlds: Spielberg gets all nasty with this masterful retelling of the H.G. Wells classic where aliens come from wherever to mulch our bodies and use us as fertilizer. One of the meanest alien invasion films ever made and proof that Spielberg isn’t only a master of the sci-fi genre but the horror genre, as well. Tom Cruise may have lost his mind from time to time this year, but his performance as a deadbeat dad who must man-up is one of his best.

10. Junebug: In the end-of-the-year shuffle, it appears that critics and awards groups are forgetting Sundance fave Amy Adams as a hopelessly optimistic pregnant woman with a moron husband. A highly competent ensemble cast made this one of the best family dramas of the year.

As has become tradition with the year end wrap-up, we’re going to 20. Hey, I have to provide 3,000 words for this thing.

11. Walk the Line: Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon did their own singing for this one, a bittersweet look at the romance and rise to fame of the Man in Black. The story is a little bit cookie-cutter, but Phoenix and Witherspoon are so amazing that they transcend any of the movie’s flaws. Phoenix doing Johnny Cash hopped up on crank ruled!

12. Star Wars Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith: I don’t care what anyone says; Hayden Christensen was badass in this movie. When he was lying in the lava sending hate vibes to mentor Obi-Wan, I got chills. The concluding chapter to the trilogy of the second coming of Star Wars was a blast, finishing the story off admirably.

13. Oldboy: A man eats a live octopus in this movie … seriously. As he chews away, the octopus wraps his tentacles around him in a last effort to save his ass before going down the gullet. It is sick, and so is director Chan-woo Park, who will complete his “revenge trilogy” in 2006 with Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, which kind of blew, was Chapter 1).

14. Syriana: George Clooney screwed up his neck making this one, a political thriller about evil oil conglomerates and shifty, behind-the-scenes shenanigans. Clooney put on some weight and let the beard grow for his performance as Bob, a CIA agent who finds out his job might require his being tortured. Matt Damon is intense as an oil broker who loses a loved one. Amanda Peet is a big surprise as a grieving wife.

15. Sin City: Certainly one of the year’s best-looking films. Robert Rodriguez teamed with Frank Miller to adapt his graphic novels to the big screen, and they do it verbatim, visually and verbally. Bruce Willis and Mickey Rourke deliver some of their best work in years as the central characters in two of the film’s four stories.

16. Good Night and Good Luck: Clooney directs another fine film after his excellent debut, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. This time he takes aim at Sen. Joseph McCarthy. David Strathairn delivers fine work as broadcast maverick Edward R. Murrow.

17. Downfall: Man, being Hitler’s dog must’ve been a drag. This German film about Hitler’s last days ranting and raving in his bunker is probably the coldest, creepiest depiction of history’s biggest asshole yet. Bruno Ganz is phenomenal as Shithead Supreme.

18. Cinderella Man: Russell Crowe had a bad year with the law but a decent one on the screen. As boxer Jim Braddock, one of the great comeback stories in sports history, he makes for a convincing athlete and a swell actor.

19. Jarhead: This one was a little too weird for most tastes, but Sam Mendes made one of the more interesting war pictures of recent memory, mainly because his soldiers never get to really fight. Jake Gyllenhaal delivers one of his three great performances of 2005 (the others being Brokeback Mountain and Proof) with durable support from Jamie Foxx and Peter Sarsgaard.

20. Hustle and Flow: Terrence Howard astounds as a street pimp who wants to be a rapper, and Anthony Anderson proves that he’s more than just a comic actor. This is one of those rare films where the music being created by a fictional band is actually not bad. It kicked Eddie and the Cruisers ass! Oh man, I just dissed Eddie and the Cruisers. Not cool.

OK, enough of the good stuff. It’s time for the execrable best. I’ve included a couple of “cluster-bads” in order to fit a few more films in, thus allowing me more opportunities to spit venom.

1. Elizabethtown: I liked Vanilla Sky, but the rest of the world didn’t, so this marks the second big dud from Cameron Crowe. Orlando Bloom replaced Ashton Kutcher in this morose dramedy-type thing. Kutcher was kicked off the project because he allegedly couldn’t act. Let me tell you something … Ashton Kutcher kicks Orlando Bloom’s ass as an actor! Hell, Rob Schneider would’ve done a better job than Bloom.

2. Aeon Flux: Give a girl an Oscar, and she thinks it’s all cool to get her own action heroine franchise. Halle Berry did it last year with Catwoman, and now it’s Charlize Theron’s turn. Theron pulled a Clooney and also screwed up her neck while making a movie. While Clooney gave his pain for something worthy of it, Theron put herself through agony for diseased rat spittle.

3. Terrible Sequels (Son of the Mask, Be Cool and The Ring Two): Three sequels to great films that are so bad the memories of their predecessors have been tainted. Jamie Kennedy needs to go away forever after what he did in Mask, while Naomi Watts needs to come stay at my house for the squalor that was Ring Two (No real reason … I just want Naomi Watts in my house). As for Travolta, his Chili Palmer reprise was so phoned in you could hear the dial tone.

4. Horrible Horror (Cursed, Boogeyman and especially Alone in the Dark): Fellas like Rob Zombie (The Devil’s Rejects) and George Romero (Land of the Dead) served up some respectable horror films, but they had few contemporaries in the field of fright. Boogeyman and Cursed were incoherent messes, part of the PG-13 horror film trend. Alone in the Dark was rated R, but it’s easily one of the worst movies ever conceived. Did you know that Tara Reid was once in a Coen Brothers movie? Christian Slater did Heathers! Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

5. A Sound of Thunder: The “I Can’t Believe It Didn’t Go Straight to DVD” award goes to this flounder dung that screws up a perfectly good Ray Bradbury story. Even the incredibly charismatic master thespian Edward Burns couldn’t save this one (Sarcasm Meter: 8.75 out of 10).

6. The Dukes of Hazzard: Johnny Knoxville better watch out. If he keeps making bad movies, he’s going to require a return to getting his ass kicked and humiliated in public for a living. It will be sledgehammers to the groin for Johnny if the movies continue to suck. Come to think of it, this weak-assed TV adaptation was a sledgehammer to the collective groin of America. Would’ve been better if it was just 90 minutes of Jessica Simpson in Daisy Dukes pouring beers.

7. Stealth: A computerized fighter jet goes all screwy and starts taking out targets without permission. Yes, many people die, but the plane’s worst offense is downloading shit music like Gavin Rossdale and blasting it while flying around.

8. Melinda and Melinda: Will Ferrell defects to Woody Allen Land, where comedy has become a misbegotten thing and adopted daughters live in peril. Ferrell goes the Kenneth Branagh and Jason Biggs route by actually impersonating Woody for his characterization. Allen also made Match Point in 2005, probably his best movie since Deconstructing Harry, but it still wasn’t all that great.

9. Derailed: Jennifer Aniston is a bad girl, and she wants you to know it. Forget all that Friends crap. She’s capable of being a femme fatale, doing nasty things to you in bed involving naughty lubricants while plotting your demise. Err … wait a minute … no, she’s not.

10. Fantastic Four: Why can’t they make a good movie out of this comic book? It’s a great premise, and yet two attempts at a movie for the Fantastic Four have failed miserably. There’s going to be a sequel to this, with the same director and writer. Somebody out there doesn’t like you.

In conclusion, I would like to report something of major importance. This story marks the first time I was able to spell Gyllenhaal without looking it up. I did my actor spell check thing, and there it was, clear as day, with the right amount of L’s and A’s. A great divide has been conquered, and we can proceed into the New Year knowing that at least one man has gained consummate wisdom. 2006 is bringing us Superman, X-Men and Tenacious D, so the GeekFest continues.