2005: Best of the Year
Check out our staff and LOVEFiLM members top 10's...
This will be remembered as the year penguins took off: the plucky little plodders passed under the radar in hype-hungry Sundance, but after a post-production makeover involving a new soundtrack, and a radically rethought voice over narration (courtesy of Morgan Freeman), The March of the Penguins went on to become a sleeper hit all over the world, and the most profitable movie of the year.
Incredible images of the male birds huddling against the icy storms after weeks without food made this the most inspirational family film of the year – but spare a thought for the poor filmmakers who endured the same deep freeze conditions in one of world’s least hospitable spots.
Coincidentally, naturalist moviemakers also figured as on-screen heroes. Both Jack Black in King Kong and Bill Murray in The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou combined intrepid showmanship with decidedly unscientific methodologies to thrill the public with newly discovered wonders of a CGI world. If the wow factor was written all over the relentless, highly variable Kong redux, the quieter piscine epiphanies in Life Aquatic were largely overlooked in cinema release, but attracted cultish repeat viewers on DVD.
The master of middle-age funk, Bill Murray found melancholy grace notes and belly laughs searching for the leopard shark, then swapped sambafied Bowie for Ethiopian jazz as he reconnected with old girlfriends in Broken Flowers. Poignant and poetic meditations on paternity, the two films were like mirror images, albeit in very different shades of whimsy and rue.
It seems a long time ago now, but there was more male angst in Sideways, a sly comedy with two deftly nuanced and perfectly balanced performances from Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church. Feted by the critics, the movie was overshadowed at the Oscars by Martin Scorsese’s glitzy Howard Hughes biopic The Aviator and Clint Eastwood’s beautifully tailored but decidedly old-fashioned boxing blues Million Dollar Baby. Also overlooked at Awards season after its politicised reception in the US, the excellent Kinsey with Liam Neeson and Laura Linney.
If Alfred Kinsey’s bisexual experimentation outraged the religious right, what a difference a year makes: liberal movies will likely dominate the next Academy Awards. Ang Lee’s gay love story Brokeback Mountain is the current frontrunner for Best Picture, and Heath Ledger’s biggest competition for Best Actor is Philip Seymour Hoffman’s portrait of homosexual novelist Truman Capote. The Constant Gardener; Good Night and Good Luck; North Country; Lord of War; TransAmerica; Syriana… the Democrats are back in the ascendancy in Hollywood’s culture wars. Ridley Scott’s crusade epic Kingdom of Heaven made fundamentalist Christians the enemy, while George A Romero’s Land of the Dead satirised establishment elitism by turning zombies into working class heroes.
Mike Leigh’s abortionist heart-tugger Vera Drake was the most acclaimed British film of the year. Joan Allen carried off politics and passion in rhyming couplets in Sally Potter’s Yes. Keira Knightley showed unexpected range with the one-two combination of Domino and Pride and Prejudice (best costume pic of the year). And Neil Marshall put a cast of six women through hell in the intense caving horror, The Descent. But the best Brit movie of the year was certainly Aardman Animations’ triumphant Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, one of three outstanding horror-tinged animated features this year (the others were Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle and Tim Burton’s The Corpse Bride). Madagascar, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Chronicles of Narnia and the latest Harry Potter filled out a pretty good year for children’s films.
Blockbuster-wise, it’s a little hard to see past that 8-ton gorilla in the corner, but lest we forget, we also saw the last of the Star Wars cycle and the first of what promises to be a reinvigorated Batman series; both, in their way, satisfying movies with an eye on the bigger picture. Spielberg remade War of the Worlds with Tom Cruise, but its paranoid vision of sleeper alien terrorists erupting in our midst seemed more like an excuse for spectacular fireworks than coherent storytelling and petered into gross sentimentality. For me, the best blockbuster of 2005 didn’t find the audience it deserved – at least in the West. Steven Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle broke records in the East with its brilliant mix of loony toon CGI, slapstick comedy and non-stop chop socky action.
In the art-house sector, the long awaited 2046 proved a highlight, working heartfelt variations on In the Mood for Love and director Wong Kar-wai’s previous films. The Chinese film The World hit on the most resonant image of globalization: it’s set in a global theme park on the outskirts of Beijing. Downfall recreated Hitler’s last days with chilling authenticity. Ingmar Bergman bowed out with the characteristically astringent Saraband. Jacques Audiard proved the French can appropriate American movies in his inspired remake of Fingers, The Beat My Heart Skipped. But for me, the European film of the year was the German-Turkish stunner Head-On, a scalding, punk love story by Fatih Akin. Mysterious Skin, Last Days and Me and You and Everyone We Know were the pick of the US indies, along with the outstanding documentaries Darwin’s Nightmare, Rize, and Dig!.
All in all, not a bad year, and there’s plenty to look forward to in the very near future too. My own top ten among the films released in British cinemas in 2005 goes like this:
1. Kung Fu Hustle
2. Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
3. The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou
5. Howl’s Moving Castle
7. Me and You and Everyone We Know
8. A History of Violence
9. Batman Begins
10. Land of the Dead
Documentary of the Year