The Year in Movies
Again, not hating on Penguins’ success. We here at Baltimore’s Most Freedom Fries Loving Alternative Weekly get giddy whenever any French product makes bank on American cash—especially since the consumers who trumpeted this glorified Discovery Channel special as a benchmark of family values are probably the same voters who clamored to block all French imports to this country. (We’ll take pointless contradictions for $400, Alex.) To date this $8 million feature has raked in some $77 million in the States alone. Family values, indeed.
No, eff M of the P because knee-jerk cultural correspondents fell for that shit. Movie critics and editorial commentators devoted—published under their real bylines—column inches to hairsplitting the sexual life of penguins, bird monogamy, and whether or not emperor penguins’ adaptive resistance is a thorn in Darwinian evolution’s side.
Say what? Is that an honest to goodness debate being waged here? At first the content of it was less shocking than the thrust and parry. We media types couldn’t engage in a merit-based political debate during last year’s election, but goddamit, those cute little birds just can’t speak up for themselves.
And then, yes, the content of these debates hit you in the face like a sloppy dog’s kiss, and you’re back to pinching yourself to make sure you’re not dreaming: We’re taking about penguins here, right? We’re breaking out the contentious spirit for a nature documentary—about penguins. Male penguins who trek across ice to fertilize eggs. Male penguins who trek across ice to fertilize eggs narrated by Morgan Freeman. Just how many U.S. soldiers died and who knows how many civilians were killed in Iraq this year? How many low-income African-Americans were displaced in Katrina’s wake? Was that a Pennsylvania school district going to court over teaching intelligent design in public schools? Didn’t two Supreme Court justices leave the bench? Isn’t 2006 a potentially important midterm election year? And how many people have been murdered in Baltimore this year? Awww, fuggit: Let’s rattle the discourse sabers and settle this culture war over the most inoffensive movie ever made.
As for you, cinema-going public, it’s time for you to put up or shut up. March of the Penguins stays in theaters for six months because you keep it there. You want to see better movies in theaters—start going to and paying for better movies in theaters. (You can start with any of the movies in this year’s Top 10 list, as voted upon by CP critics Gary Dowell, Violet Glaze, Ian Grey, Cole Haddon, Eric Allen Hatch, Geoffrey Himes, Bret McCabe, Jason Torres, and Wendy Ward.) We get the movies we deserve. And, apparently, we deserve a whimsical dramatization about the mating life of birds. So be it—but when Warner Bros. or Lions Gate comes out with Ralph Fiennes’ narrating Shuffle of the Kiwi, don’t say we didn’t warn you. Only you can prevent a future of crap movies. Only you. (Bret McCabe)
1 Capote (Bennett Miller, USA)
The most impressive thing about Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance is not the way he captures Truman Capote’s flamboyant mannerisms. No, the portrayal’s astonishing part is when Hoffman shuts the charm off and reveals the selfish calculations and insecure fear that lie behind Capote’s charisma. And what lifts this movie far above the usual biopic is the way director Bennett Miller and screenwriter Dan Futterman allow you to be as charmed by Capote as the Kansas cops and prisoners are, only to realize with a sickening contraction that such seducers—whether they be journalists, politicians, salespeople, or artists—seldom have your best interests at heart. (Geoffrey Himes)
2 Me and You and Everyone We Know (Miranda July, USA)
Writer, director, and star—although calling her a star just feels wrong—Miranda July fashioned herself an indie love story peppered with oddball characters. July’s performance artist Christine narrates other folks’ photos and drives the elderly around; Jon Hawkes’ earnest and lost shoe clerk Richard wants to be a good dad while his two sons grow up closer to just about anyone other than their father. It sounds simple, but it’s complicated, and a strangely domestic little girl, two teenage girls looking for trouble, and a scaredy-cat horndog neighbor the landscape. None of the characters is an ounce unbelievable and the scenarios they find themselves could have been ripped from the headlines, but somehow Me and You is as fresh as this season’s culottes. (Wendy Ward)
3 Sin City (Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez, USA)
An all-star ensemble—Bruce Willis, Benicio Del Toro, Jessica Alba, Mickey Rourke, and Rosario Dawson—breathes life into some seriously twisted characters (a psychotic love-torn brute, a gang of ruthless good-time girls, and a rebel do-gooder cop) who all eventually end up going head to head with a crooked senator, his child-torturer son, his cardinal uncle, and his cannibal brother in Robert Rodriguez’s version of legendary comic-book scribe Frank Miller’s gritty graphic-novel saga. Arguably the best comic-book adaptation ever, Sin City is nearly a page-for-page reproduction of several of Miller’s graphic novels braided together to create one of the most violent, engrossing, and disturbing good times to hit theaters since Pulp Fiction. Visually dazzling, Sin City is two hours of nonstop bullets, breasts, car crashes, and decapitations—y’know, a real love story. (Jason Torres)
4 Batman Begins (Christopher Nolan, USA)
Christopher Nolan rescues a franchise. Of course, he didn’t do it by himself. He had help from an incredible cast, including Christian Bale, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, and blue-eyed sadist Cillian Murphy, whose pretty-boy Scarecrow nearly walked away with the entire movie. The plausible and relentless villain’s nefarious plan involved not giant lasers but economic deprivation, the believably decayed Gotham was more Bowery and less Dr. Caligari, and the script emphasized personal growth and realistic interaction over gadgetry. Finally, someone remembered the core of Batman’s appeal—that underneath the gear he’s as limited and flawed as the rest of us. Thanks, Nolan, for chiseling away 40 years of Bang! Pow! camp with one dark stroke. (Violet Glaze)
5 Good Night, and Good Luck (George Clooney, USA)
Will someone please give George Clooney an Oscar? Five years ago, we would’ve been talking about a Best Actor statue—and maybe even chuckled—but thanks to Good Night, and Good Luck, which Clooney co-wrote and directed, it’s become much more difficult not to praise the guy as the serious auteur he is. Clooney’s newsroom thriller dramatizes CBS-TV newsman Edward R. Murrow’s 1954 on-air fisticuffs with Sen. Joseph McCarthy. The writer/director went so far as to cast McCarthy as himself, using archival footage to bring to life 2005’s most insidious villain. While Nazi-lite conservatives might not want to hear it, McCarthy’s attack on “un-Americans” isn’t so different from the protester-bashing politicians carry out today. (Cole Haddon)
6 Hustle and Flow (Craig Brewer, USA)
Terrance Howard owned 2005. The gifted character actor brought a sensitive muscularity to the heavy-handed Crash, made Get Rich or Die Tryin’ worth the admission price, and further elevated the already mackin’ ensembles of Four Brothers and HBO’s Lackawanna Blues. But not even those stellar moments compare to his mammoth portrayal of born loser DJay, the small-change Memphis pimp and weed dealer looking to catch any break he can in Hustle and Flow. Director Craig Brewers found a way to capture the quicksand humidity of the Dirty South, trapping DJay and his small posse trying to make anything of themselves. And despite all DJay’s bitch slapping, peacock prancing, smooth conning, and shit talking, Howard finds the desperate man inside the touchy shell, turning Hustle and Flow into a classic American anti-success story. (BM)
7 Kung Fu Hustle (Stephen Chow, Hong Kong)
It sounds both pretentious and daft, but writer/director/star Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle is the sort of movie that rejustifies the existence of movies. How? How about a crazed crone in hair rollers racing Chow’s hapless everyloser until his legs become a Road Runner blur? Or a gang in tuxes tapping out Fred and Ginger-style dance numbers before attacking a town of impoverished kung fu-ists, or evil harpists turning musical notes into daggers? And despite references to The Shining, The Matrix, and a whole mess of things, Chow is no autopilot culture regurgitator; he just plain delights in every spazz idea that pops into his daffy brain. Sheer speed-of-invention-wise, Chow makes early Sam Raimi look downright geriatric, while his combination of goofball kinetics and cockeyed sweetness is singular and endearing. (Ian Grey)
8 The 40-Year-Old Virgin (Judd Apatow, USA)
Easily the year’s best comedy, The 40-Year-Old-Virgin turned out to be the rare sex romp that managed to be bawdy and side-splitting yet sweet, good-natured, subtle, and intelligent. It didn’t hurt that characters were given uncommon depth, that Steve Carrell deftly mined comedy gold and established himself as a comic lead par excellence, or that Freaks and Geeks mastermind Judd Apatow proved to be a skilled director with his first feature. In other hands it would have been a one-joke premise milked too long for laughs, à la Wedding Crashers. Instead Virgin stands as a treatise on modern romance and a reminder that, while love does sometimes hurt, it’s nowhere near as painful as getting your chest waxed. (Gary Dowell)
9Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog, USA)
Timothy Treadwell, the subject of Grizzly Man, initially comes across as a likably eccentric hero, battling local park rangers on behalf of the misunderstood grizzly bears. Before long, though, Treadwell reveals himself as self-absorbed, self-deluded, and self-serving. The fact that Grizzly Man is a documentary edited from Treadwell’s own video footage makes it no less of a compelling narrative, thanks to director Werner Herzog, who emerges as the movie’s second major character in a voice-over narration that takes issue with Treadwell again and again. And when Herzog personifies reason and balance, you know the other character is very strange, indeed. (GH)
10 Head-On (Fatih Akin, Germany)
Director Fatih Akin’s Head-On is an extreme and extremely uncute treatise on life on the edge of reason. A gruff, sullen loner named Cahit and a sexually liberated firebrand named Sibel, both Turks relocated to Hamburg, meet in the hospital after his car crash and her highly graphic suicide attempt. Both are completely jaded in matters of the heart, but they nonetheless decide to marry—she to escape her ultrareligious family, he because he could care less what happens to him next. But when Sibel embarks upon the hedonistic lifestyle she has always wanted, real feelings of love and jealousy begin to stir in Cahit, beginning a painful odyssey of sexual obsession. Head-On is a real treat for believers in film-as-art, a tour de force of performances, narrative pacing, and the use of popular music in movies. (Eric Allen Hatch)
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