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The Best Films of the Year #2 (different editorial writer)
The Best Films of the Year #2 (different editorial writer)
December 25, 2005 NYTimes
The Best Films of the Year
Under a Big Sky, Amorous Cowhands and Hungry Bears
By STEPHEN HOLDEN
ANXIETY that shades into dread and dread that curdles into paranoia; the past hammering on the door of the present like a vengeful ghost: As ominous portents leaked into the movies in 2005, it sometimes felt as though the hurricanes that decimated the Gulf Coast and Florida had torn away the roof separating the movies from reality and let in an acid rain.
A loaded parable for the age of identity theft, "A History of Violence," punctured the American dream of self-reinvention by suggesting that a vicious past inevitably catches up with the peaceable present. In "Caché" a culture's colonialist history rises up to haunt it like a guilty nightmare from which there is no waking.
"Munich" focuses on the endless chain of revenge in the Middle East. "Syriana" and "The Constant Gardener" imagine corrupt, worldwide networks of corporate and governmental collusion. "Good Night, and Good Luck" and "Crash" examine political and racial paranoia in American life. Even personal stories like "Brokeback Mountain" and "Junebug," are laced with secrecy, fear, xenophobia.
Below are this critic's Top 10 movies for 2005, and 10 runners-up (listed alphabetically by title).
'BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN' Ang Lee's faithful adaptation of Annie Proulx's story of two ranch hands (Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal) who fall in love while tending sheep one summer in the high plains of Wyoming is a cinematic landmark that lays bare the homoerotic subtext in countless westerns and buddy movies. Beautifully written (by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana), visually majestic, discreet and heartbreaking, it evokes the same lonesome chill lodged in the soul of Big Sky country that infused the classic "The Last Picture Show." Mr. Ledger's portrayal of the taciturn, tormented Ennis Del Mar, who marries and sires two daughters while carrying on a secret homosexual affair, delivers the kind of devastating performance James Dean might have given had he lived long enough.
'CACHÉ' In Michael Haneke's icy, almost unbearably suspenseful drama, the privileged comfort zone of a Parisian television host (Daniel Auteuil) and his wife (Juliette Binoche), a book editor, is shattered when the couple, who have a 12-year-old son, begin receiving anonymous surveillance tapes of their home, followed by scrawled drawings of a child spewing blood. The husband's desperate quest to track down their tormenter leads to the revelation of a shameful family secret connected to the French-Algerian war decades earlier. Mr. Haneke, an Austrian filmmaker who works in France, is a pitiless cultural surgeon who likes to operate without anesthetic as he uncovers the darkest fears of a complacent bourgeois society.
'NINE LIVES' Rodrigo García's suite of vignettes that revolve around nine different female characters has the richness and subtlety of Chekhov. Though some of the stories are interconnected and others not, collectively they add up to a sweeping contemplation of modern life and its complexity. Love, marriage, parenthood, illness, death and memory are evoked in tales that all unfold in real time and lack conventional narrative closure. The acting by a cast that includes Robin Wright Penn, Sissy Spacek, Holly Hunter, Glenn Close and Kathy Baker, is extraordinary. "Nine Lives," which slipped in and out of theaters with little notice, is a sad, quiet masterpiece waiting to be discovered on DVD.
'A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE' The Canadian director David Cronenberg has a creepy understanding of where horror intersects with desire, and violence with catharsis and a Canadian's view of the United States as a place where violence is an infection genetically sown into its culture and passed down from generation to generation. Here he builds that idea into a scary cinematic thrill ride that tests viewers' complicity. Viggo Mortensen is the owner of a diner who lives with his family in a picture-perfect Indiana town whose placidity is disturbed when menacing big-city thugs, convinced he is a Philadelphia mobster who betrayed them years earlier, slide into town in a big black car. Was he in another life the vicious killer they claim to recognize? Or is it a case of mistaken identity?
'GRIZZLY MAN' Werner Herzog's documentary portrait of Timothy Treadwell, who spent 13 years living with grizzly bears in the Alaskan wilderness, where he became their self-appointed protector, takes a hard look at the disconnect between human life and the natural world. Treadwell, a failed actor, grew increasingly messianic while living in the wild, where he gave the beasts pet names and imagined himself their friend until he and his girlfriend were attacked and eaten by a grizzly. Much of the film consists of Treadwell's self-aggrandizing home movies of himself and the beasts. The documentary is a useful antidote to "March of the Penguins," the sentimental anthropomorphic documentary that became the year's biggest surprise hit.
'DOWNFALL' Oliver Hirschbiegel's epic film about Hitler's final days in the Berlin bunker where he committed suicide is one of the most powerful war movies ever made. Based on Joachim Fest's book, "Inside Hitler's Bunker," and on the memoirs of Hitler's secretary, Traudl Junge, the movie feels authentic, from its gruesome battles (filmed on the streets of St. Petersburg, Russia) to its portrait of the deluded, raving dictator. Bruno Ganz's astonishing portrait of Hitler is by turns grandiose, paranoid and abject, a monster, but a recognizably human one. His performance is matched in power by Corinna Harfouch's Magda Goebbels, who poisons her own children so they won't face the shame of growing up in a world without Nazism.
'LOOK AT ME' The French director Agnès Jaoui's film captures the narcissistic, careerist, sycophantic world of the Parisian intelligentsia, although it could just as easily be the literary salons of New York. Jean-Pierre Bacri is a famous writer, on his second marriage, who is too self-centered to care about his lonely, overweight, 20-year-old daughter, Lolita (Marilou Berry), who desperately seeks his approval. Alternately poignant and acidic, the comedy of contemporary urban manners is perfectly observed.
'JUNEBUG' A sophisticated Chicago art dealer (Embeth Davidtz) newly married to a Southern golden boy (Alessandro Nivola) who has fled the family coop, returns with him to visit his churchgoing family in rural North Carolina and meets a polite but suspicious reception. In a home where family values reign, festering sibling rivalry, maternal possessiveness and a stifling clannishness make the confrontation between cosmopolitan and provincial America wary. Amy Adams, as the dealer's young, childlike sister-in-law, gives an incandescent portrayal of the only family member with a truly open heart.
'SARABAND' In Ingmar Bergman's sequel to his 1973 masterpiece, "Scenes From a Marriage," the embattled couple, Marianne (Liv Ullmann) and Johan (Erland Josephson) meet 30 years later when she impulsively visits his summer home in the middle of a forest. There she witnesses a brutal power struggle between Johan and his failure of a son, Henrik, to control Henrik's daughter, a beautiful, talented cellist. Ms. Ullmann and Mr. Josephson are as magnificent as ever. The bone-deep Nordic chill of Mr. Bergman's Freudian vision hasn't softened one whit.
'THE SQUID AND THE WHALE' Divorce, Brooklyn style in the mid-1980's, is the subject of Noah Baumbach's acutely observed, semi-autobiographical exploration of the exploding marriage between an egotistical writer and teacher (Jeff Daniels) and his wife (Laura Linney), an aspiring writer whose career is blossoming. As witnessed by their bright, troubled 16-year-old son, the older of two boys, the emotionally gory family dynamics are so squirm-inducing they make the domestic strife in Woody Allen seem almost benign by comparison.
"The Beat That My Heart Skipped"
"The Constant Gardener"
"Good Night, and Good Luck"
"The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada"