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Laurence Station's Best Films of 2005

Top 10:

1. Munich (Steven Spielberg, USA)
Spielberg, the Master Craftsman, is at the top of his game in this period piece about the fallout from the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre of Jewish athletes by Palestinian terrorists. If only the film didn't so obviously attempt to link today's war on terror to the events it depicts, Munich would have been an unqualified masterpiece. As a consolation prize, it's still the year's finest, most compelling work.
 
2. Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog, Canada / USA)
Herzog skillfully manages to paint a larger context than ill-fated grizzly groupie Tom Treadwell's gorgeous footage provides in this absorbing documentary. And despite the director's obvious affection and empathy for the main subject, the viewpoint remains balanced between Treadwell's childlike sense of nobility and the more disturbing failings of his character.
3. Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, USA)
Shame and fear ultimately can't overcome love and desire. Lee manages to convey the dread and wonder, reticence and exhilaration of a twenty-year relationship in carefully measured, powerfully subtle ways. Brokeback is not the pigeonholed "gay cowboy romance" too many pundits inappropriately mislabel it. This is a much broader canvas, universal in its message of the price people pay for failing to embrace happiness.
 
4. Pride & Prejudice (Joe Wright, USA / UK)
Streamlined and wonderfully down-to-earth, this latest adaptation of Jane Austen's beloved novel benefits enormously from pitch-perfect casting, especially Keira Knightley's puckish Elizabeth and Matthew MacFadyen's outwardly snobbish and romantic idealist Mr. Darcy. The details, though, from muddy hems to constrictive parlour manners, help ground the material in a late 18th-century reality that adds veracity to its universal themes of love, longing and, of course, its titular concerns.
5. The Squid and the Whale (Noah Baumbach, USA)
Brutal, often brilliant stuff. Noah Baumbach reconstructs teenage memories of his parents' bitter split in the mid-80s and the results are, at times, excruciatingly painful to watch. Leads Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney are in top form as conflicted, stubborn and selfish parents fighting for favor and sympathy from their two sons.
 
6. Kung Fu Hustle (Stephen Chow, China / Hong Kong)
Hustle is a dizzying live-action cartoon, equal parts loving tribute and clever send-up of Hong Kong action movies. Stephen Chow gets incredible mileage from an engaging cast of supporting characters, especially Yuen Qiu's perpetually smoking and lethal Landlady.
7. Match Point (Woody Allen, USA)
Allen gets his groove back thanks to a new locale (London) and a fresh batch of actors to play out his philosophical musings on fate, obsession and guilt. Match Point overcomes turgid pacing (especially during the middle third) and obvious plot turns, settling for an unsettling, ambiguous, and morally bleak resolution. Allen deserves credit for refusing to take the neat and tidy way out of what could have easily become a murder-by-numbers set piece.
 
8. Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (Nick Park, Steve Box, UK)
Working on multiple levels, from cheeky humor to delightfully intricate set designs, Nick Park and co-creator Steve Box fashion a true classic of stop-motion artistry. The true joy of Were-Rabbit, however, is its affectionate prodding of distinctly British quirks, from gardening to old-fashioned notions of gallantry.
9. Good Night, and Good Luck. (George Clooney, USA)
Yes, Murrow gets a tidy, revisionist heroic makeover, but this film has less to do with historical accuracy and the toppling of McCarthyism than with challenging present-day media outlets to stand up and be heard in regards to national and foreign policy. Good Night should be mandatory viewing for muffled White House reporters.
 
10. Capote (Bennett Miller)
A film that bends over backwards to expose the duplicitous, self-serving nature of Truman Capote. But it's the intriguing dynamic between charming, cold-blooded killer Perry Smith and the titular lead that merits this film a strong recommendation. If only there had been more jailhouse conversation and less New Yorker-elite cocktail parties.

 

 
Notable near misses (Alphabetically Listed):
 
  • Broken Flowers (Jim Jarmusch, USA) Haunted by ghosts of past relationships and an empty future, Bill Murray's aging Don Juan, seeking to find out which mystery woman sent him a letter claiming he has a son, doesn't convey an appreciable change in outlook by film's end. Despite the lack of character progression, Broken Flowers succeeds with the small moments (buying flowers; dinner with an old flame and her daughter), and that helps tip the scales in its favor.
  • The 40-Year-Old Virgin (Judd Apatow, USA) Steve Carell and Catherine Keener imbue the obvious (albeit hilarious) jokiness of the plot with unexpected depth and grace, helping Virgin surmount its trite boys-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl structure.
  • Syriana (Stephen Gaghan, USA) The plot is labyrinthine, the basic message bluntly direct: National interests are too often put aside in favor of bottom line profits. A decade on Syriana will be lumped in with other politically minded films of this period much in the way paranoid '70s thrillers were.

Much thanks to Filmsite.org for having scans of many of these posters online: http://www.filmsite.org/posters.html

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