The number of movies I watched in 2005: 143. I’d like to spotlight the movies (not strictly limited to 2005 releases) which scored my highest rating of A+ this year. Here are fourteen films that killed me big time and sent me to cinema heaven.
CONTEMPORARY (2000 to recent)
Mario Van Peebles recounts the journey of his father’s ground-breaking 1971 film, from the germination of its story ideas to the first audience screening. At the center is his obstinate father, leaping hurdles after hurdles of finance and movie production. To see this movie is like witnessing a miracle.
You don’t ever forget a movie by Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier. In “Dogville,” he has fashioned a story about a 1903s Colorado town, which receives a visit from a lady (Nicole Kidman) on the run. The townspeople decide to accept and protect her, although she must make amends. The movie is long, divided into ten sections (nine chapters and a prologue), but it’s brutal, unapologetic, and powerful. At the center, Nicole Kidman gives one of her bravest performances. And the movie’s ending is surely mind-blowing. Love it or hate it, it’s hard to forget.
Friday Night Lights (2004)
As sports team movie goes, this one is the tops. It follows the formula but somehow becomes extraordinary. It gathers so much momentum towards the Big Game’s last second that I couldn’t fathom how cringing the anticipation and realistic the suspense were. By the time the movie ends, the feeling is haunting and unforgettable. I truly admired the movie for its honesty and I came away very grounded and humbled.
Million Dollar Baby (2004)
This “Baby” is about “old” people. Boxer Maggie (Hilary Swank) is too old to fight. Scrap (Morgan Freeman) is a has-been boxer and Frankie (Clint Eastwood) is an old trainer, who’s afraid to take risks. But somehow, through respect and love perhaps, these three characters influence each other and rise out of age. Director Eastwood, working on Paul Haggis’ remarkable screenplay, makes the movie straightforward and pulls no punches until its devastating third act. With a prime showcase of acting from Swank, Freeman, and Eastwood, this Oscar Winner is a knockout. It’s one for the ages.
Two young brothers come into possession of a mysterious loot. One wants to give the money to the poor. The other wants to spend and invest. With a wondrous screenplay by Frank Cottrell Boyce and directed with vigor and spunk by Danny Boyle, “Millions” is rich in imagination, in wonder, in ideas, in whimsy, and in heart. But its ultimate treasure is a genuine performance from Alex Etel, who effortlessly carries the film with charisma and beguiling innocence.
Motorcycle Diaries, The (2004)
It’s a road trip epic, where two friends embark on a journey across the continental South America during 1952. The first hour entertains and the second half enlightens. “The Motorcycle Diaries” is a poor substitute for traveling, but nevertheless a moving vehicle that easily transcends above a majority of fiction films and gives us a realistic and awe-inspiring view of humanity.
An impressive debut by Shane Carruth. It’s a sci-fi indie about 2 engineers who invent a time machine. They go back for few hours but they confront a lot of complications. The screenplay makes sense in the way it doesn’t. While it is a thinking movie, it also has the intention to baffle. We’re meant to be a few steps behind because the subject is dangerously beyond comprehension.
“The Decalogue” consists of ten short films. Each contemporary story takes its theme from the Ten Commandments. Krzysztof Kieslowski is a storyteller of the highest order. There’s always some sort of a dilemma. It always finds itself in an uncompromising grey zone that would jump start a debate. It always makes you think. But I wouldn’t necessarily call the series intellectual. It’s more accurate to say it’s an examination of what makes us humans a fascinating species. We’re making the best out of a world staggering more complex than we think.
“Kids” tells the story of a horny kid, who is on a quest to deflower as many virgins as possible. What he doesn’t know is that he’s infected with HIV. One of the most controversial films of the 1990s, “Kids” manages to both shock and still remain convincing. There are many shots in the movie where you wonder how director Larry Clark pulled it off. And for that matter, where did he find a cast of young and inexperienced actors that are credible? It’s an astonishing achievement.
Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)
“Manhattan Murder Mystery” is one of Woody Allen’s best films. It starts innocently slow, and then it accelerates haphazardly. As a mystery film, it has a deviously brilliant plot that fascinates at every turn. And the screenplay is so darn clever that it discards ideas that an average thriller would consider a treasure. As a comedy, it steps in the right direction with the fumbling guidance of Woody Allen. This is the funniest mystery to investigate.
Modern Times (1936)
“Modern Times,” in pseudo-silent film fashion, chronicles a man’s journey in a series of jobs during the Great Depression. As the accident-magnet lead, Chaplin inserts himself in cleverly choreographed scenes that reap awe and delight. The movie is hardly limited by its mime act. It’s well-sustained, proving that substantial dialogue isn’t essential; a character’s behavior, gait, and expression are more telling than spoken words. The movie might be old, but I found it refreshing. It’s more of a stride into a new world, rather than a step back in time.
Touch of Evil (1958)
An intriguing bomb explosion in the US-Mexico border ignites the plot in this 1958 film. It brings a Mexican detective (Charlton Heston) and an American sheriff (Orson Welles) to work on the same side of the law, but the movie separates them on opposite sides of morality. Though black and white, “Touch of Evil” is ultimately a “grey” picture where it’s shady as to who’s really good or bad. Orson Welles proves again that he’s a major figure in the history of cinema. As an actor, he makes the immoral sheriff role as one of the most complex characters I’ve seen. As a director, he fills the screen with such interesting details that sometimes you’re distracted from the story.
Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
“Casablanca” is Humphrey Bogart’s best movie, but his best performance can be found here. He plays Fred C. Dobbs, as one of the three American men who set out to find gold in the Sierra Madre. The movie is part adventure and part character drama. The dynamics between the three men is set-up very well. The plot is sly in the way it introduces obstacles to shake the power of balance among them. There’s always danger ahead and the biggest peril is the possible fallout due to clashing personalities. Watch out for Bogart, who starts out as a starving nice man and turns into a deranged skeptic nourished by greed. It’s a compelling transformation.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
Based on Roald Dahl’s book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” the movie is about the poor and good-hearted Charlie Bucket who’s lucky enough to tour Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. It seems like a heavenly place, but it has no room for little devils. As the chocolatier Wonka, Gene Wilder is strangely sublime in the role. The screenplay is delightfully jokey and fun. The factory is wonderfully hazardous with moral contraptions and its memorable workers (Oompa Loompas) sing and dance to teach us a series of lessons. The movie is a confounding confection like a Wonka bar. We’re meant to enjoy it, not puzzled over its perfection.