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Laramie Movie Scope:
The Best and Worst Films of 2005

My picks for the top and bottom films of 2005

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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March 10, 2006 -- It is time to look back on the year 2005. Actually, I'm a couple of months late doing this. It was a good year for movies. I skipped most of the bad ones, so my “worst of” list is hardly definitive, but I've seen most of the best films of the year. Usually, there are six to eight A films and this year was no exception. I had seven A films (four stars out of four), and 16 B+ films on my list (I don't use an A- rating since I don't think there is a bit of difference between an A- and a B+).

As usual, many of the top films are released in December. I saw a number of these films on screeners (thanks to the studios, publicists and the Online Film Critics Society). The rest, I saw in Laramie, Cheyenne or Denver. I just finished getting caught up on my backlog of year-end movie reviews yesterday. Some years I publish blog-type reviews prior to the final reviews, but I didn't do that this year. Don't feel left out if you haven't seen all these films. Lots of people haven't seen them all yet. Some of them are already available on home video. There are some acclaimed films that I haven't yet seen, such as “Oldboy,” “Mirrormask,” “Caché,” “Darwin's Nightmare,” “Saraband,” “Manderlay,” “Last Days” and “Turtles can Fly.” and other films that were poorly distributed around the U.S.

I did see “Brokeback Mountain,” “A History of Violence,” “Munich” and “Grizzley Man,” but they didn't make my top 10 or honorable mention list, although you will find them on many other critics' top 10 lists. These are certainly good films, but not great ones. I think “Brokeback Mountain,” while it certainly appealed the the politically correct leanings of many critics, had some problems that held it back for me. It was a slow-moving, one-note, predictable film, whose characters were a bit dull. For a love story, it is also not romantic at all. My problem with “A History of Violence” was that it was not believable. It required a massive suspension of disbelief that I was not willing to give it. “Munich” and “Grizzley Man” were both paced pretty slow. “Grizzley” seemed not to know quite what to make of its main character. Is he a hero, a fool, or both?

Below the list of top films are a list of honorable mentions, followed by lists of my picks for top director, top actor, top foreign film, etc. Those lists are followed by a list of the worst films I saw this year. One thing that makes my list different than most is I've got more comedies in my list, and more films starring black actors. Most actors, directors and critics agree that it is a lot tougher to make a good comedy than it is to make a good drama, but then they go ahead and omit the comedies from their top 10 lists anyway. I practice what I preach.

One additional word about my pick for the best film of the year, “Crash.” There has been a good deal of discussion in the critical community about this film being named Best Picture of the year by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. All sorts of conspiracy theories have been suggested, anti-gay backlash, conservative voters, lots of screeners distributed for “Crash” and not enough for “Brokeback Mountain,” a “home field” advantage for “Crash,” which is set in Los Angeles.

All this is nonsense. The simple fact is “Crash” was the better film. It's structure, with its large number of characters and multiple, interlocking story lines is more daring and difficult to perfect. “Brokeback Mountain” is a conventionally-constructed film that shows no structural flair or innovation. “Crash” is more politically incorrect, dealing as frankly as it does with the racial and ethnic divides in this country that many people would like to ignore, and it was released early in the year; two things that worked against it. “Brokeback Mountain” was politically correct and it was released late in the year. Those two things usually work in favor of Best Picture nominees. Hollywood has not gone suddenly conservative. This is the same academy that swooned before the politically-correct “American Beauty.”

“Crash” won despite these handicaps, mainly because it is a superior film. Which one will be remembered more in the years to come? Probably “Brokeback Mountain” because it is the first film to attack the traditional cowboy image of straight bisexuality. As such, much of its power comes from the thousands of cowboy films that preceded it. It is an imortant film historically, but not as historically important as “Downfall,” the first German film to tackle Hitler head on in more than 60 years.

Page navigation: Honorable mention Best of by category Worst movies

Best 10 films of 2005

1. Crash[4 stars]

This multi-tiered story of racial stereotyping is a brilliantly crafted film that comes across as a mythic morality tale. Several films this year successfully used the method of multiple story lines running parallel to each other, including “Me and You and Everyone We Know” and “Syriana,” but none perfected this technique like “Crash.” This film features Oscar-worthy performances by Sandra Bullock, Matt Dillon, Terrence Howard and Don Cheadle.

2. Me and You and Everyone We Know[4 stars]

Easily the most imaginative screenplay of the year from a virtual unknown, Miranda July, who also stars in this heartwarming, funny film. This film proves that you can make a great film on a low budget, if you use your imagination.

3. Good Night and Good Luck[4 stars]

This great film, directed and co-written by George Clooney, is an ode to dedicated newsmen everywhere, but particularly, the legendary Edward R. Murrow, who had the guts to stand up to the bullying of Senator Joseph McCarthy in 1954. The film makes a statement about the state of journalism today without overdoing it. A great, well-acted film about a pivotal time in history.

4. Capote[4 stars]
While this movie did contain the best performance by any actor in a leading role, this is also an excellent all-around movie which touches upon some seldom-discussed issues in journalism. Phillip Seymore Hoffman has won about every acting award there is for his multi-faceted portrayal of Truman Capote. Catherine Keener matches him as Capote's research assistant and fellow author, Nelle Harper Lee. Smartly written, well-photographed and deftly directed, this film ranks high in the best films of 2005.

5. Pride and Prejudice[4 stars]

There have been 10 different productions of this classic Jane Austen story over the years, and why not, she's a great storyteller. This particular version of “Pride and Prejudice” is the best screen adaption ever for a theatrical release. The only one better was five hour miniseries made for TV. A great script, a talented cast, crisp direction and stunningly beautiful sets and scenery make this one of the classiest, lushest films of the year. This film will stand the test of time.

6. The Constant Gardener[4 stars]
One of the best-written, best-acted and best-directed films of the year takes on the guise of a political thriller, but it is really more of a love story. It covers a lot of ground, zipping across thousands of miles of Europe and Africa. The film highlights the wretched plight of Africans, but it never loses its focus on its two main characters, thus preserving its humanity. It also features stunning cinematography.

7. Shopgirl[4 stars]
Here is a stunner. You won't find this film on many top 10 lists, but then, a lot of people did not see it. It is a Steve Martin film, and I have to confess, I'm a huge Steve Martin fan. This is a bittersweet story of romance set against the upper crust of Los Angeles. The story has some comic elements, but it is more of a drama. It features excellent acting and impeccable production design and sets, and one of Steve Martin's best scripts.

8. The Upside of Anger[3.5 stars]
This is one of the funniest films of the year, along with “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” but unlike the latter film, this one has sophisticated humor. Cleverly written and directed by Mike Binder (who also stars in the film) and wonderfully acted by Joan Allen and Kevin Kostner, this is a delightful romantic comedy.

9. Hustle & Flow[3.5 stars]
This is one of those stories about hard work and redemption that appeal to many people, but it isn't for all tastes. This film is loaded with heart. The backbone of the movie is the music, which ranges from the sublime to the rousing. Great performances by the entire cast, particularly Terrence Dashon Howard (who also had top-notch performances in Crash and Four Brothers in 2005) and Taraji P. Henson. The film won an Academy Award for best song.

10. Cinderella Man[3.5 stars]
This extraordinary sports comeback movie avoids the usual clichés because it is based on a true story. The film follows the amazing comeback of boxer Benjamin Braddock during the Great Depression after he hit rock bottom and had to beg for money to feed his family. Best of all, Braddock is a genuinely nice guy. Certainly not a film for cynics and pessimists, because it will make you feel good. It features great acting, wonderful art direction and well-staged fight scenes.

Honorable Mention
(Listed alphabetically)

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory[3.5 stars]
The Chronicles of Narnia:
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
[3.5 stars]
Downfall (Der Untergang)[3.5 stars]
In Her Shoes[3.5 stars]
It's All Gone Pete Tong[3.5 stars]
Kung Fu Hustle[3.5 stars]
Millions[3.5 stars]
Murderball[3.5 stars]
North Country[3.5 stars]
The Squid and the Whale[3.5 stars]
Walk the Line[3.5 stars]
War of the Worlds[3.5 stars]
William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice[3.5 stars]

More lists below

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Links to reviews of all the films are indexed below:

A through B   C through D   E through G   H through I
J through L   M through N   O through Q   R through S   T through Z

Best director

1. Paul Haggis (Crash)
2. Miranda July (Me and You and Everyone We Know)
3. George Clooney (Good Night, And Good Luck)
4. Bennett Miller (Capote)
5. Fernando Meirelles (The Constant Gardener)

Best actor

1. Philip Seymore Hoffman (Capote)
2. Terrence Dashon Howard (Hustle and Flow)
3. Heath Ledger (Brokeback Mountain)
4. Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line)
5. Russell Crowe (Cinderella Man)

Best actress

1. Joan Allen (The Upside of Anger)
2. Keira Knightley (Pride and Prejudice)
3. Naomi Watts (King Kong)
4. Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line)
5. Charlize Theron (North Country)

Best supporting actor

1. Terrence Dashon Howard (Crash)
2. Matt Dillon (Crash)
3. Kevin Costner (The Upside of Anger)
4. Paul Giamatti (Cinderella Man)
5. Jake Gyllenhaal (Brokeback Mountain)

Best supporting actress

1. Taraji P. Henson (Hustle and Flow)
2. Thandie Newton (Crash)
3. Sandra Bullock (Crash)
4. Catherine Keener (The Interpreter, Capote, The 40 Year-Old Virgin)
5. Amy Adams (Junebug)

Best adapted screenplay

1. Dan Futterman (Capote)
2. Jeffrey Caine (The Constant Gardener)
3. Deborah Moggach (Pride and Prejudice)
4. Steve Martin (Shopgirl)
5. Bernd Eichinger -- Downfall (Der Untergang)

Best original screenplay

1. Miranda July (Me and You and Everyone We Know)
2. Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco (Crash)
3. George Clooney and Grant Heslov (Good Night and Good Luck)
4. Mike Binder (The Upside of Anger)
5. Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow)

Best foreign language film

1. Downfall (Der Untergang)
2. Kung Fu Hustle
3. Ong Bak: Muai Thai Warrior
4. 2046
5. Schultze Gets The Blues

Best cinematography

1. Laurent Chalet and Jérôme Maison -- March of the Penguins
(La Marche de l'empereur)
2. Balazs Bolygo (It's All Gone Pete Tong)
3. Roger Deakins (Jarhead)
4. Kevin Ward (Dust to Glory)
5. Anthony Dod Mantle (Millions)

Best original score

1. Justin Caine Burnett (Man on Fire)
2. Michael Kamen (Open Range)
3. Howard Shore (The Aviator)
4. Jan A.P. Kaczmarek (Finding Neverland)
5. Michael Giacchino (The Incredibles)

Best breakthrough performance

1. Miranda July (Me and You and Everyone We Know)
2. Terrence Dashon Howard (Hustle & Flow, Four Brothers, Crash)
3. Tony Jaa (Ong Bak: Muai Thai Warrior)
4. Jack McElhone (Dear Frankie)
5. Owen Kline (The Squid and the Whale)

Best breakthrough filmmaker

1. Paul Haggis (Crash)
2. Miranda July (Me and You and Everyone We Know)
3. Joe Wright (Pride and Prejudice)
4. Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow)
5. Judd Apatow (The 40-Year-Old Virgin)

Best documentary feature

1. Murderball
2. March of the Penguins
3. The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill
4. Gunner Palace
5. Grizzly Man

Best animated feature

1. Howl's Moving Castle
2. Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
3. Tim Burton's Corpse Bride
4. Steamboy
5. Robots

Best film editing

1. Good Night and Good Luck
2. Murderball
3. Crash
4. It's All Gone Pete Tong
5. Kung Fu Hustle

Best musical score

1. Gustavo Santaolalla (Brokeback Mountain)
2. Howl's Moving Castle
3. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
4. Tim Burton's Corpse Bride
5. Memoirs of a Geisha

Funniest film of the year

The 40 Year-Old Virgin[3 stars]

The year's most overrated films

1. Brokeback Mountain
2. A History of Violence
3. Junebug
4. The Family Stone
5. Broken Flowers

The year's most underrated films

1. Shopgirl
2. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe
3. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
4. It's All Gone Pete Tong
5. War of the Worlds

The Worst Films of 2005

While I saw most of the best films of the year, I purposefully missed most of the worst films, including “The Dukes of Hazzard,” “Son of the Mask,” “House of Wax,” “Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo,” “Dirty Love,” “Doom,” “Cheaper by the Dozen 2” and “The Perfect Man,” “Alone in the Dark” “Saw II,” “A Sound of Thunder,” “Beauty Shop,” “Stay,” “The Man,” “Yours, Mine and Ours,” “Aeon Flux,” “Man of the House,” “Eros,” “House of D” and many others, so this is not in any way a list of the worst of the worst films, just the worst of the films I saw. After all, I don't get into the movies for free, and I don't like to waste my money, but I got fooled into spending too much on the following films anyway:

1. The Legend of Zorro[1.5 stars]
2. Chicken Little[2 stars]
3. The Family Stone[2 stars]
4. The Brothers Grimm[2 stars]
5. Fantastic Four[2 stars]
6. The Aristocrats[2 stars]
7. Happy Endings[2 stars]
8. Madagascar[2 stars]
9. The Interpreter[2 stars]
10. Broken Flowers[2 stars]

Links to reviews of all the films are indexed below:

A through B   C through D   E through G   H through I
J through L   M through N   O through Q   R through S   T through Z

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Copyright © 2006 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]