Saturday, January 14, 2006

More Faves of 2005, Part, uh, Four?

Time to wrap up my faves of 2005, as if anyone cares any longer.

First off, four films that would have made my faves of 2005, if I'd actually seen 'em in 2005:

* The Squid and the Whale
* Brokeback Mountain
* Oldboy
* In the Realms of the Unreal

...but I didn't, I just caught up with them, so I'll save writeups of those until later in the week (along with Syriana and Hostel, which I also caught on the big screen this week).

OK, to the point, the rest of my fave theatrical movies from 2005:

* A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE: A harrowing and deeply effecting drama from David Cronenberg that fulfills its promised meditation on violence (it is a contagion here, as it was in Michael Reeves's still-potent The Conqueror Worm) and the American psyche with haunting gravity and devastating clarity. Adapted from the graphic novel by John Wagner and Vincent Locke (using only its premise and first act, choosing a different and much more introspective path for its narrative), this is a bookend of sorts to Jarhead and metaphorically the only film to date to begin to deal with the consequences of the trauma of the Iraq War on the home front. The wordless final setpiece is among the most quietly potent sequences of the decade; I cannot shake it.

* THE JACKET: The theatrical feature that most looked like an episode of Twilight Zone was George Clooney's excellent Good Night and Good Luck, but the most remarkable evocation of Rod Serling in many a year was The Jacket, which also offered the most potent meditation on the American zeitgeist that fueled Abu Ghraib. Though dismissed by most critics and folks I've talked to who saw it, I thought this was a beautifully executed weird tale, fusing Serling's wistful wish-fulfillment time-travel fantasies with his most sobering political indictments of human nature; an unsung jewel, chilling and moving.

* LORD OF WAR: Terrific, electric piece of work and among the best black comedies of the year, a driven narrative tracing the rise and rise of Nicholas Cage as arms dealer from the mean streets to the global marketplace. Exchanging only its subtext -- arms instead of oil -- this was the movie Syriana was purported to be.

* LORDS OF DOGTOWN: Among the best sleepers of the year was this sly and insightful biopic fictionalization of Dogtown and the Z-Boys (2001) produced and scripted by one of the Z-boys-who-made-good (Stacy Peralta) and directed by the woman who helmed Thirteen, Catherine Hardwicke. Standout cast, led by laid-back Elephant toehead John Robinson as Peralta and a top-notch turn from Emile Hirsch (The Mudge Boy, The Emperors Club, etc.) as Jay, but to my mind this was Heath Ledger's breakthrough flick. As Skip, the garage surfboard/skateboard manufacturer who recognizes and nurtures the Z-boys into transforming skateboarding as a sport only to see his potential fortune slip away as they each come into their own and the bigger mercantile sharks swim into the scene, Ledger strips his star persona to inhabit the role; as Skip and Jay veer into parallel paths, you can taste their sorrow. Great little film and a potent parable, not to be missed.

* MILLION DOLLAR BABY: Didn't see this until January of 2005, so it's on my year's fave list -- I've been a huge fan of Clint Eastwood as a filmmaker since his 1971 directing debut (with the 'jumper' rescue scene in Don Siegel's Dirty Harry and his official directorial maiden voyage with the fine suspenser Play Misty for Me), and the man just keeps making better and better movies while remaining one of the finest American storytellers working in the studio system. This one is among Eastwood's best, with his usual deft narrative touches (his character's ongoing non-debate with his church's pastor) and one of the year's most remarkable ensemble performances led by Morgan Freeman, Hilary Swank, and Clint.

* REDEYE: Jodie Foster might have boasted the higher profile airplane suspense flick (an evaporative remake of Alfred Hitchcock's venerable charmer The Lady Vanishes), but Wes Craven helmed the better movie in this effective thriller. Anchored by Cillian Murphy's galvanizing central performance as a beguiling boyish sociopath, this was made all the more engaging thanks to the target audience of teen girls I saw this with, who were reacting like a 42nd St. audience of yore (talking to the screen, shouting in terror, and at one point on their collective feet). It's on DVD and still quite engaging, but it was a real treat in the theater!

* WILD AND WOOLLY (1917): In a week when Marge and I caught a movie a night while vacationing in Maine, seeing all the new Hollywood summer movies, we both agreed we had our best night out at the movies on vaca when we made the pilgrimage to the Alamo Theater in Bucksport to catch this summer silent film festival showing of one of Douglas Fairbanks's rarest features. A whirlwind entertainment starring Fairbanks at his reckless daredevil best as a Eastern richboy in love with his fantasies of the wild west who is assigned to tend to his father's mining concerns in the real west circa 1917; wise to his fantasies, the locals dress up the town and play their roles to the hilt, but the inevitable clash of fantasy and reality -- even as Fairbanks saves the day -- lend this brisk comedy enough weight to work wonders. Grand fun, a timely snapshot of the 1917 west already in conflict with the pulp-and-movie fantasy west (anticipating some of the westerns of the '60s and '70s), and heads and tails above most 2005 movies!

* THE WILD PARROTS OF TELEGRAPH HILL: In a year of outstanding documentaries, this loving portrait of an amiable loner & amateur naturalist and his bond with a flock of tropical parrots that have settled in San Francisco was among the sweetest surprises. Just do yourself a favor and see it.

* Fave Remake of a 1970s Flick: I don't care what was written or said by most, for my dough the remake of Assault on Precinct 13 was the best of many unnecessary remakes, retaining enough fidelity to the John Carpenter original in atmosphere and suspense but inventive enough with its revamp, characterizations and setpieces that I savored the ride end-to-end. It also beat the living shit out of the luckluster The Fog, a by-the-numbers reboot which scuttled the best elements of the original Carpenter gem and failed to supplant those with anything of substance (or ectoplasm).

* Fave Sequence in an Unnecessary Remake:The final fifteen minutes of House of Wax, which transcended the fun I had with this film's enjoyably twisted revamp (not of Andre de Toth's House of Wax, but of a personal favorite 1970s gem Tourist Trap) to enter true nightmare turf as the 1950s-'60s traditional genre fiery finale was conflated to surreal extremes. No shit, I have had countless dreams/nightmares like this, with walls/stairs/floors and even human beings melting away underfoot and overhead; thus, for me, this uncanny climax plucked a primal and personal nerve that lifted the entire film to a level few theatrical films approach.

* Least Fave of 2005: Good God, Alone in the Dark was the suck! Who gives Uwe Bowel (oh, sorry, I meant, Boll) the money for these video-game travesties? From the interminable pre-credits narrative crawl to the numbingly braindead climax, I literally could not believe I was seeing this on a theatrical screen; it was worse than any Sci-Fi Channel opus I've ever seen, and there's been some real stinkers. In one way, this flick was sublime in its incessant stupidity and ground-zero devotion to the lowest common denominator; the lamest travesty with star power (I mean, Christian Slater, Tara Reid, Stephen Dorff -- what the fuck??) since Species II, and incredibly even more offensively insipid. Next from Boll: Bloodrayne, already playing in some venues. I may have to go, just to savor the yawning abyss.

I may have missed something, but fuck it. It's 2006, and a New Year is well underway.