As they compile their best-of lists for 2005, it’s like critics are trying to keep themselves employed by convincing everyone we really should have gone to the movies more often this year. So many top 10 lists I read this month included a variation on “this year was much better than everyone thinks.”
Nah, it really wasn’t.
For the majority of 2005, there was absolutely nothing worth leaving the house for, especially with ticket prices going through the roof (nearly $10 apiece here in the D.C. suburbs). I just can’t afford to spend every weekend at the movies, so when I go, it better be worth it.
Thus, for the majority of this year, I just stayed home. The spring and summer were filled with total crap; by comparison the end-of-the-year Oscar push proved worthwhile, but now there are so many movies out at the same time, I can’t afford to go to all those, either (when will the studios learn?).
So, here’s to making the best of a bad situation. There were a few gems this year, but all in all, this list pales in comparison to 2004 (for reference, click on the February 2005 link on the right side of this page). And this is by no means an objective list; these are simply the movies that made me glad to be in a theater in 2005. It’s sad I couldn’t even come up with 10.
1. “Walk the Line”—It’s not overstating things to say this film changed my life by turning a mild interest in Johnny Cash into a full-blown obsession (in the good sense of the word). Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon are absolutely stunning as the Man in Black and the love of his life, June Carter. By putting Cash’s classic material up on the big screen and blasting it in surround sound, his brilliance was finally brought home to me and my eyes were finally opened to an artist I’d been missing all these years. What more can you ask for from a movie?
2. “Serenity”—I can’t remember when a creator was better to his fanbase than Joss Whedon and his “Firefly” devotees. This is a farewell kiss to the faithful, and it’s a joy from start to finish. Taken in context with the TV series, this is one of the best space action epics of all time, and certainly the best of 2005 (sorry, George, you suck now). Nevertheless, “Serenity” was a box-office bomb and thus sealed the fate of Captain Reynolds, River, and the rest. But they’ll never be forgotten.
3. “Cinderella Man”—I really don’t understand why this fantastic biopic of Depression-era hero James Braddock wasn’t better received. It can’t all be because Russell Crowe threw a phone at somebody, can it? Come on, people! Combining the best elements of “Million Dollar Baby” and “Seabiscuit,” this is one of the greatest boxing movies of all time. Love him or hate him (most hate, I know, but I don’t), Crowe is the best big-ticket actor in the business, and ditto for Renee Zellweger. Meanwhile, Paul Giamatti, playing Braddock’s manager/trainer, gives his third straight Oscar-worthy performance (that probably will go unrecognized by the Academy for the third straight year).
4. “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe”/”King Kong”—I liked the latter much more than I expected and the former wasn’t quite what I was hoping for, thus these two fantasy epics met in the middle ground. Director Andrew Adamson (“Shrek”) got just about everything right in “Narnia” (how special is Georgie Henley as Lucy—what a find). But he got Aslan very, very wrong, and that’s a big, big problem. Peter Jackson, on the other hand, made no missteps with his own CG beast, and the magnificently realized ape shows this filmmaker is now officially the best in the business. I didn’t write full reviews for either of these films, but I gave “Narnia” an A-, “Kong” an A.
6. “Mr. & Mrs. Smith”—Yeah, I can’t believe it’s even on the list, much less this high. But this has got to be one of my most pleasant surprises of all time. Despite all the Brangelina hype, the two megastars are spectacular in this near-perfect popcorn flick. Laugh-out-loud funny, clever, and full of eye-popping action, the only thing that tarnishes this excellent summer blockbuster is its ridiculously over-the-top finale. I’ve even watched it again at home, and this violently dysfunctional couple was just as fun the second time around.
7. “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”—The best of the four movies so far in this billion-dollar franchise was so good, it finally made me want to read the books for myself. Thrilling, funny, touching and epic in scope, director Mike Newell came through big-time.
8. “Batman Begins”—Also the best installment of its respective franchise, “Begins” is great for the first two acts and unravels in the third. As Bruce Wayne, Christian Bale leads the strongest cast of the five Caped Crusader flicks, and indie legend Christopher Nolan effectively brought the series back from the dead. And then he lost his head with that ridiculous terrorism subplot and an outlandish conclusion. Ah well, at least there’s promise for a sequel.
9. “Elizabethtown”—I don’t know how or why Cameron Crowe fell out of favor with the mainstream media, but his charming ode to the classic American road trip was excessively reviled by critics. Orlando Bloom wouldn’t have been my choice for the lead role, but Kirsten Dunst and a killer soundtrack cover a multitude of sins.
On my to-rent list for 2006:
“A History of Violence”
“The Constant Gardener”
“March of the Penguins”
“The Squid and the Whale”