Sunday, April 02, 2006

The Top Films of 2005

After catching up on some DVD releases, I'm ready to rate my favorite films from last year.

1. Palindromes. Loved or despised among critics, this satire on abortion wins my heart for the year. A thirteen-year old girl is forced to have an abortion by her mother, then runs away to join a family whose patriarch kills abortion doctors. It's open season on the pro-life and pro-choice crowds equally, suggesting both sides wind up at square one, mired in hypocrisy and contradictions. Reviewed here.

2. Batman Begins. Christopher Nolan's revisionist approach to Batman, not to mention the whole superhero genre, is what we've been waiting for. Here are all the gritty origins: Bruce Wayne's ninjitsu training in the Himalayas, his phobia of bats, his guilt over the murder of his parents, all of which set him on the course to "save" Gotham City as a a vigilante. As good as this film is -- and it's very good -- it's only setting the stage for a much greater sequel, The Dark Knight.

3. Crash. A parable of racism, in which everyone is both guilty of and victimized by it. Like Palindromes it doesn't anchor us in a comfortable morality, is all the more progressive for it, and gets better with subsequent viewings. Granted the world is too small: characters run into each other too repeatedly for coincidence sake. But the film functions as a parable in this way, and for whatever reason it doesn't smack of lazy scriptwriting.

4. Mouth to Mouth. A Canadian indie about a rebellious teen, Sherry, who joins a gang while living on the streets of Europe. Based on the director's actual experience with gangs, it portrays a manipulative leader seducing but ultimately alienating Sherry, yet who incredibly succeeds in brainwashing her mother when she comes to rescue her. Ellen Page forecasts her future success in this much overlooked gem.

5. New World. There is a stunning aesthetic here, in the way of all Malick's films, though in a historical treatment of Pocahontas that somewhat distracts: nature is the main character here. But it does an excellent job rescuing Pocahontas from sissified Disney versions; and most commendably, this isn't a slam against the White Man, nor a condescending, racist reverence for fantasy "noble savages" (who must nonetheless be saved by a whitey who grows to loathe himself -- per Dances with Wolves, The Last Samurai, Avatar, ad nauseum).

6. A History of Violence. David Cronenberg's take on "survival of the fittest" in a mob context, suggesting that peace can be purchased only, ultimately, with violence. Viggo Mortenson's character is a bit too superhero, but the characters are otherwise convincing, and it's probably Cronenberg's best film to date -- certainly his most thoughtful.

7. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. As much as I despise C.S. Lewis' Narnian books I have to give Andrew Adamson credit. Forget the Christian allegory, and never mind the fact that the Pevensie kids are snotty brats (aside from Lucy); this is a well done fantasy, much better than the Harry Potter films and indeed most children's fantasy. Reviewed here.

8. Mysterious Skin. A drama about two teenage boys who were molested as kids and now cope with their trauma in different ways, one by repression of memory, the other by prostituting himself to old men. You might feel the need to wash your brain out with soap after you watch this, but it does examine filthy issues for the right reasons. Watching the "five dollar bill" scene (where the baseball coach tells two little boys whoever can fist him up the ass the farthest gets the bill, and they proceed to do exactly that) was like getting punched in the gut.

9. The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Told through flashbacks in a courtroom setting, where a priest is on trial for treating a college girl's dementia as demonic possession and letting her die. From an objective view, she seems to have had epilepsy which the exorcism might have cured (psychosomatically) if drugs hadn't blocked the process. The film doesn't push the supernatural on us, though there's enough ambiguity preserved to let the viewer decide.

10. King Kong. While I have mixed feelings about the middle part (Skull Island), the first and third acts of Peter Jackson's remake are the ingredients of classic tragedy. The final act has my palms sweating every time I see it (I have serious vertigo issues). Only the director of Lord of the Rings could offer so much action and soul at the same time, though again, he's starting to get out of hand with the former -- some of the Skull Island sequences are way too over the top.

(See also: The Top Films of 2006, The Top Films of 2007, The Top Films of 2008, The Top Films of 2009, The Top Films of 2010, The Top Films of 2012.)

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