The Squid and the Whale
Noah Baumbach’s touching, depressing, and darkly comic portrait of the breakdown of an intellectual Park Slope family doesn’t require growing up amid divorce to appreciate its nuances. The Squid and the Whale features an amazing performance by Jeff Daniels as an overbearing failing novelist father and Baumbach exposes the wounds caused by even the smallest familial moments.
Memories of Murder and Save the Green Planet!
Two Korean films make my list: Joonho Bong’s moody, evocative police procedural, Memories of Murder, and Jun-hwan Jeong’s hilarious multi-genre send-up, Save the Green Planet! Both are indicative of Korea’s burgeoning film talents, and much better than anything that that loon Kim Ki-Duk has given us.
Looking back, Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s Sin City isn’t quite as good as I had thought; it’s more than a little redundant, especially in the third reel. That said, I can’t think of a time I had more fun at the movies all year. Technogeek Rodriguez’s take on Miller’s brilliant chiaroscuro artwork and hyper-stylized dialogue is the most entertaining mash of 2005.
In the tiny Argentinean road movie, Intimate Stories, Carlos Sorin’s genuine, salt-of-the-earth characters drive us down the dusty roads of Patagonia. The director’s depth of feeling for his creation is such that it’s amazing he hadn’t stood behind the camera in thirteen years.
The disabled athletes of Murderball don’t have time for your pity — they’re too busy beating the fuck out of each other in their Mad Max-style custom wheelchairs on the rugby court. Dana Shapiro and Henry Rubin’s engaging, touching, and fullbodied portrait of the sport, its players, and life after “getting hurt” is one of the surprise films of the year.
Bruno Ganz’ hand-wringing portrayal of Hitler is reason enough to see Downfall, the compelling, and controversial, film chronicling the Fuhrer’s final days in his bunker. Some say the movie humanizes the monster too much; I say it’s an important document about a horrific figure and the illusions of grandeur held by the Nazis.
Chronicles of Narnia
With Chronicles of Narnia, director Andrew Adamson for the most part eschews Peter Jackson’s grandiosity of storytelling and Mel Gibson’s wild-eyed fanaticism in promoting Christian values. The movie is magic and looks as if it had jumped onscreen directly from a child’s daydream; thanks to Adamson’s gentle touch, it also feels intimate and real.
Jet Li is the most overlooked actor in the most overlooked movie this year. In Louis Leterrier’s Unleashed, Li plays Danny, the horribly abused slave-hitman for a vicious gangster played by the indomitable Bob Hoskins. The movie’s surprising emotional depth finds a conduit in Li’s face and overcomes the movie’s stock characters and genre conventions. In this mostly silent performance, Li gives us a showing worthy of Lillian Gish.
The pint-size documentary Sunset Story is about the friendship of two old women living in a “non-profit retirement home for free-thinking elders.”The women, Lucille and Irja, joke about sex (lesbian and otherwise), hang “Free Mumia” signs from their balconies, and participate in union rallies and feminist demonstrations. As quaint as that sounds, Irja and Lucille are two of the deepest and most unique characters 2005 saw.