Baity Reveals the Best and Worst Movies of 2005
It wasn’t the best of years, it wasn’t the worst of years, but it was still closer to the latter: 2005 lurches to a close this week, claiming in its wake about 400 new comic book movies (some of them good), yet another Harry Potter (getting worse), a few bad slasher flicks and even a conservative smattering of original cinema. Some great stuff came out, but on the whole, if I’m meant to be honest, very little of it was quite as good as the series finale of ‘“Six Feet Under.’”
But since we’re about to embark on the cold, cold month of January (in which studios typically jettison the crap that wasn’t good enough for holiday release), let’s kickstart our flux capacitor and warp back into the thick of 2005, searching for the warmer climes in which we’ve taken refuge these past twelve months.
(A quick programming note before I proceed: the list of films I wanted to see but didn’t get to for one reason or another is pretty long by itself, starting somewhere around Broken Flowers and ending with The Squid and the Whale. This is at best a woefully incomplete retrospective, but nevertheless, I think, worth a look. On with the show, then)
The year’s best (or, proof even a bad movie year is never a completely bad movie year):
1. Sin City: Robert Rodriguez said of his brawny, obsessively faithful reading of Frank Miller’s Sin City that he didn’t want to make the comic into a film; instead, he tried to make his film into the comic. The result of his experiment is astounding, an ultra-violent masterwork of tainted love and cold-eyed revenge. Castration, child endangerment, hookers with hearts of gold and fists full of steel ‘— it’s all here, folks. Recognize.
2. King Kong: Peter Jackson’s epic remake of the seminal 1933 landmark is in the process of underperforming at the box office. Even if it doesn’t make Lord of the Rings, or even Narnia money, it’s an astounding piece of filmmaking, and the only real ‘something for everyone’ flick of the year.
3. The Weather Man: Every once and a while, a large group of people will independently devise some boneheaded reason to arbitrarily trash one movie in particular. In the case of Gore Verbinski’s The Weather Man, many normally rational critics decided they hated this film because it was ‘— to quote everybody at once ‘— a ‘“downer.’” I’m not exactly sure what that means, nor why everyone all of a sudden decided they wanted sunshine and lollipops right before they walked into their screening. But Cage’s performance in this dark comedy, about a petty, dejected TV meteorologist, is one of his best. Michael Caine lends a hand in his 5,000th great performance of 2005.
4. Walk the Line: The story of Johnny Cash and June Carter’s nascent love affair is played to perfection by Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon in this Oscar-ready film musical. Viewers will be sold the first time Phoenix croons ‘“I ain’t seen the sunshine since I don’t know when,’” but it’s Witherspoon’s sassy, shit-kicking June Carter that takes the film to great heights.
5. Jarhead: Some critics called Sam Mendes’ take on Anthony Swofford’s Gulf War memoir ham-fisted and boring. Yes, there’s some obvious symbolism (The grunts sneer at a passing helicopter blasting The Doors), but it can’t sully an otherwise captivating portrait of modern warfare. Jake Gyllenhaal delivers a fine performance as a Marine sniper with empty crosshairs, and Peter Sarsgaard is characteristically brilliant.
The Aristocrats: Bob Saget and Sarah Silverman steal the show from the 98 other comics featured in this documentary about the dirtiest joke of all time
Mad Hot Ballroom: Touching true story of inner-city children who escape their tumultuous lives through ballroom dancing.
Hustle & Flow: Terrence Howard plays a pimp with real soul in this get-rich-or-die-tryin’ story that plays with infinitely more sincerity than your average tale of hip-hop stardom.
Layer Cake: The new James Bond (Daniel Craig) shows his stuff in Matthew Vaughn’s cockney powerhouse about a nameless, high-class drug trader in a deal gone horribly wrong.
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. I know, the first two sucked. I know, parts of this one sucked too. I loved it anyway, and besides, after this year you won’t have Star Wars to kick around anymore, so I invite you to be the first on your block to shut your cake-hole about it, fanboy.
2005’s crappiest pieces of crap in the crap bowl:
1. The Cave: Of all the lessons I’ve learned from the movies this year, I rank ‘“subterranean predators are no match for xXxtreme spelunkers’” right up there with the most important. Unfortunately, the vehicle for this lesson was abysmal by pretty much every standard.
2. The Skeleton Key: One of the two awful horror movies set in the Louisiana Bayou this year, this film was watchable up to a point, but the gimmicky ‘“gotcha!’” ending is about as spicy as powdered jambalaya.
3. Stealth: Casting Jessica Biel as the best fighter pilot in the military damn near qualifies Stealth as science fiction.
And finally, a few miscellaneous superlatives:
1. Proof that even a good Michael Bay movie can be one of the worst movies of the year: The Island. Incomprehensible action scenes, a plot ripped off from The Clonus Horror, entire sequences of film that act as commercials for Xbox and Chevrolet ‘— yes, The Island was its own sucky, self-sustaining ecosystem. What’s worse is that this is Bay’s best film in years, maybe ever, and it’s still a paean to hack filmmaking.
2. The movie about which I got the most mail: The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Upon further reflection: 1) the film still sucked, 2) it’s not a ‘true story’ if you don’t believe in demonic possession, and 3) no, I don’t believe in demonic possession. So stop e-mailing me about it.
3. Movie that was probably just a teensy bit overpraised: Crash. Good film, no doubt about it. But I can’t believe so many people were so surprised by the fact that racism still exists. I guess that makes the film even more important, but it’s gotten a little out of hand. Case in point: Oprah spent a substantial amount of time talking about her ‘Crash moment,’ in which she was rudely locked out of a store in France ‘— France, of all places! This film should’ve been shown as the first half of a double feature with Dave Chappelle’s ‘“I Know Black People’” skit batting clean-up, so maybe audiences wouldn’t be left with such a feeling of hopelessness about the state of race relations in America.
4. The ‘has everyone lost their damn minds?!’ award for least impressive film that everyone can’t stop yakking about: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. It seems that I’m standing alone in my thinking that the Harry Potter films are being made about ten to fifteen years too early. I also wonder if I’m the only one who found this film frustrating and unfocused ‘— did we really need a 45-minute break from the plot to watch an annoying Winter Ball sequence that had nothing to do with anything? The books are still great, but the films are starting to play too much like Degrassi Junior High with wands and dragons.
And with those, regrettably, our time is at an end. Finding myself unable to sum up the year in a few pithy sentences, I’ll simply say thanks for reading, Happy New Year, and I look forward to sitting through Final Destination 3 so you don’t have to.
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