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Dustin Putman

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December 31, 2005
The Year in Review:
2005's Best and Worst
By Dustin Putman, themovieboy.com

    Hollywood hasn't learned. That's the predominant thought running through my head as 2005's year in film goes bye-bye and 2006's cinematic offerings rear their heads. Whether these heads are ugly or not has yet to be seen, but if the past twelve months were any indication, Hollywood is in desperate need of a creative recharge. Weekend box office receipts plummeted fairly consistently from their year-ago levels, and taking a look at the list of releases, it doesn't take a molecular physicist to figure out why.

    With seemingly ever other movie being an unnecessary remake ("The Longest Yard," "Yours, Mine & Ours," "The Fog," "The Amityville Horror"), an unneeded adaptation of an old television series ("Bewitched," "The Honeymooners," "The Dukes of Hazzard"), a pointless sequel ("xXx: State of the Union," "Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous," "The Transporter 2," "Son of the Mask," "Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo"), sequels of remakes ("Cheaper by the Dozen 2," "The Ring Two"), and even a remake of a stage musical that was a remake of a film ("The Producers"), originality was in short supply. If a film did have a big opening, it was because of the initial name value. Time after time, however, they would dramatically drop off the radar and be forgotten about a week later, because few were good enough to get people excited and achieve any sort of long-term durability.

    As usual, some great motion pictures slipped through in 2005, though, in this writer's opinion, they weren't always the widespread popular choices that captured the attention of other critics. Compared to 2004, my number of four and three-and-a-half-star picks was dead-even—17. Unfortunately, the amount of truly bad films—those that rated one star or lower—continued their dismaying downward spiral. In 2001, there were 9. In 2002, there were 13. In 2003, there were 14. Last year there were 16. And this year, there were 21. Since the amount of reviewed movies has not differed of any consequence in the last five years, those statistics can only mean one thing: Hollywood is churning out turkeys at a higher rate with each annual change of the calendar.

    The format of my "Year-in-Review" essay is the same as usual. First, I pinpoint the best performances of the year, both in the leading and supporting categories (think of them as themovieboy.com's Acadamy Awards, minus the little gold man and with more than five nominees). Next are my picks for the most overrated and underrated releases of the year. And finally, there will be a complete rundown of the ten best and worst motion pictures of 2005. Until next year, let's cross our fingers that the major film studios get a clue soon that creative thought and intelligence still hold some credence in this world. Otherwise, "Punky Brewster: The Movie" and a remake of "Ishtar" may not be far behind.

    The Best Performances of 2005
    (my pick for the absolute best is indicated in red)

    Best Actor
      Pierce Brosnan in The Matador
      Nicolas Cage in Lord of War
      Nicolas Cage in The Weather Man
      Steve Carell in The 40-Year-Old Virgin
      Tom Cruise in War of the Worlds
      Alex Etel in Millions
      Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain
      Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote
      Josh Hutcherson in Little Manhattan
      Ashton Kutcher in A Lot Like Love
      Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain
      Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Mysterious Skin
      Jet Li in Unleashed
      Jonathan Rhys-Meyers in Match Point
      Cillian Murphy in Red Eye
      Bill Murray in Broken Flowers
      Joaquin Phoenix in Walk the Line
      Michael Pitt in Last Days
      David Strathairn in Good Night, and Good Luck
      Billy Bob Thornton in Bad News Bears

    Best Actress
      Joan Allen in The Upside of Anger
      Toni Collette in In Her Shoes
      Jennifer Connelly in Dark Water
      Courteney Cox in November
      Claire Danes in Shopgirl
      Cecile De France in High Tension
      Cameron Diaz in In Her Shoes
      Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown
      Dakota Fanning in Hide and Seek
      Georgie Henley in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
      Felicity Huffman in Transamerica
      Lisa Kudrow in Happy Endings
      Laura Linney in The Exorcism of Emily Rose
      Rachel McAdams in Red Eye
      Gwyneth Paltrow in Proof
      Sarah Jessica Parker in The Family Stone
      Amanda Peet in A Lot Like Love
      Charlize Theron in North Country
      Naomi Watts in King Kong
      Reese Witherspoon in Walk the Line

    Best Supporting Actor
      Michael Angarano in Lords of Dogtown
      Tom Arnold in Happy Endings
      Michael Caine in The Weather Man
      George Clooney in Syriana
      Kevin Costner in The Upside of Anger
      Matt Damon in Syriana
      Jeff Daniels in The Squid and the Whale
      Matt Dillon in Crash
      Sid Haig in The Devil's Rejects
      Wilson Jermain Heredia in Rent
      Bob Hoskins in Unleashed
      John Jarratt in Wolf Creek
      Richard Jenkins in North Country
      Owen Kline in The Squid and the Whale
      Jared Leto in Lord of War
      Steve Martin in Shopgirl
      Dave Matthews in Because of Winn-Dixie
      Benjamin McKenzie in Junebug
      Bill Moseley in The Devil's Rejects
      Clive Owen in Sin City
      Anthony Rapp in Rent
      Jason Schwartzman in Shopgirl

    Best Supporting Actress
      Amy Adams in Junebug
      Priscilla Barnes in The Devil's Rejects
      Linda Cardellini in Brokeback Mountain
      Jennifer Carpenter in The Exorcism of Emily Rose
      Kerry Condon in Unleashed
      Hope Davis in The Matador
      Hope Davis in Proof
      Rosario Dawson in Rent
      Dakota Fanning in War of the Worlds
      Anna Faris in Just Friends
      America Ferrera in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants
      Anne Hathaway in Brokeback Mountain
      Scarlett Johansson in Match Point
      Miranda July in Me and You and Everyone We Know
      Diane Keaton in The Family Stone
      Catherine Keener in The 40-Year-Old Virgin
      Laura Linney in The Squid and the Whale
      Shirley MacLaine in In Her Shoes
      Frances McDormand in North Country
      Mo'Nique in Domino
      Thandie Newton in Crash
      Charlie Ray in Little Manhattan
      Tilda Swinton in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
      Amber Tamblyn in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants
      Tracie Thoms in Rent
      Michelle Williams in Brokeback Mountain
      Sheri Moon Zombie in The Devil's Rejects

    Most Overrated Film of 2005:
    "A History of Violence," directed by David Cronenberg, has received so many overwhelming critical accolades that I'm tempted to investigate the possibility that the raving reviewers were all paid out by the studio in secret. This, of course, isn't the case, but it's worth wondering. A lumbering, confused mess, as well as Cronenberg's worst effort in decades, the film is as trite, if not more so, than that subgenre of "...from Hell" thrillers, such as 2001's "The Glass House" (legal guardians from Hell) and 1992's "The Hand that Rocks the Cradle" (nanny from Hell). "A History of Violence" reminds of 2003's "Mystic River" in that it holds a classy A-list sheen and faux attempts at bringing importance to what, in essence, is actually empty-headed and off-puttingly manipulative. Add in a laughable sex scene one step away from being Cinemax After Dark porn and some surprisingly mediocre performances from usually fine actors (i.e., Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello), and what is left is but a shallow carcass with nothing to offer but abrupt flashes of graphic violence.

    Overrated Runners-Up (in alphabetical order): Cinderella Man; Corpse Bride; Good Night, and Good Luck; King Kong; March of the Penguins; Me and You and Everyone We Know; Memoirs of a Geisha; Munich; Sin City; Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit; Wedding Crashers

    Most Underrated Film of 2005:
    "Little Manhattan," directed by Mark Levin, is soon to be mentioned again below, but let it be noted for the record that how this picture was handled during its theatrical release was an abomination. What kind of a dumbed-down, materialistically obsessed society do we live in when 20th Century Fox can unleash something as idiotic and audience-insulting as "Cheaper by the Dozen 2" in thousands upon thousands of screens, but virtually bury the magical, smart, funny and genuinely touching "Little Manhattan" without marketing or any kind of satisfactory release? Without support behind it, "Little Manhattan" had absolutely no chance of getting noticed and making a name for itself in theaters. A huge shame, indeed, as "Little Manhattan" is by far the best family feature of the entire year.

    Underrated Runners-Up (in alphabetical order): Dark Water; Domino; The Exorcism of Emily Rose; Hoodwinked; House of Wax; A Lot Like Love; November; Rent

    The 10 Worst Films of 2005

    Dishonorable Mentions (in alphabetical order): The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3-D; Aeon Flux; The Amityville Horror; Are We There Yet?; Boogeyman; The Brothers Grimm; Cheaper by the Dozen 2; Corpse Bride; The Dukes of Hazzard; Elektra; Fantastic Four; The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy; The Honeymooners; Mindhunters; Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous; The Pacifier; The Producers; Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit; Wedding Crashers; Yours, Mine & Ours

    #10The Fog - A god-awful remake of John Carpenter's atmospheric 1980 chiller, "The Fog" scrapes at the bottom of the barrel, beating the crummy "The Amityville Horror" for its place as the worst horror update of the year. Less scary than the Haunted Mansion ride at Disney World and without a clue how to create an even rudimentary level of suspense or tell a story that doesn't talk down to viewers in the most offensive ways. A pile of manure made by a disrespectful hack of a director—Rupert Wainwright—that craps on the memory of its source material, "The Fog" is a textbook example of how not to make a horror film.

    #9The Man - Dead-in-the-water from frame one, "The Man" stars Samuel L. Jackson and Eugene Levy in one of the most egregious entries in the never-ending buddy comedy genre in recent memory. Making 2004's similar Queen Latifah-Jimmy Fallon pairing, "Taxi," look almost good in comparison, the film is both bankrupt of fresh ideas and so desperately unfunny that the sound of pins dropping would be more ear-shattering than any laughs met by the would-be jokes.

    #8White Noise - An utterly abysmal wannabe-horror film about EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon), "White Noise" was 2005's first release and garnered an instant place on my worst list. Blessed with an ingeniously creepy marketing campaign that guaranteed financial success, the film proper is anything but ingenious or creepy. In actuality, "White Noise" is overblown, scareless, repetitive, amateurish, dim-witted to the point of annoyance, and odious in its condescension.

    #7Alone in the Dark - By all intents and purposes, "Alone in the Dark," directed by modern-day Ed Wood impersonator Uwe Boll, is the most haphazard picture of the year. Still, there is something to be said about the inspired levels of subterranean filmmaking this disaster reaches. Opening with the longest opening text crawl in cinematic history, "Alone in the Dark" achieves unintentional hilarity even before the first frame. This is jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring, "I-can't-believe-someone-made-this-crap" badness we're dealing with. Guffawing laughter is the only possible response to be met with the end credits.

    #6Rebound - The worst family feature of the year, "Rebound" is beyond recall—a crummy, plodding, laughless trifle that stands as proof that a script akin to a series of blank pages can still be greenlit in Hollywood. A formulaic sports comedy so inept on every level that it hits the bottom-of-the-barrel by the halfway point and then proceeds to scrape and claw a hole into said barrel's bottom, "Rebound" stinks like a rancid pair of sweaty old gym sneakers.

    #5Kingdom of Heaven - So laughably streamlined as to not offend anyone that religion barely plays a role at all in the story of a religious battle, "Kingdom of Heaven" is excruciating to sit through and close to as lifeless as "serious" big-budget fare comes. In the annals of grand historical tales, "Kingdom of Heaven," directed by Ridley Scott (2000's Oscar-winning "Gladiator") of all people, has a spot saved for itself in the fiery pits of cinematic Hell. At least Oliver Stone's cataclysmic "Alexander" had the campy benefit of Angelina Jolie playing with reptiles.

    #4A Sound of Thunder - Filmed in 2002 and held from release for several years, "A Sound of Thunder" is a DOA dud of monstrous storytelling and nonexistent characterizations, a humiliating claptrap for all involved that looks as if it was made using the cheesiest of special effects available in 1971. It goes without saying, but author Ray Bradbury would be rolling in his grave if he was dead. Fortunately, he is still with us, but unfortunately, he must face head-on the mockery that is this heinous sci-fi adaptation.

    #3The Cave - A rickety, ramshackle junk heap of a monster movie, "The Cave" wouldn't even pass muster with die-hard viewers of the Sci-Fi Channel. Bloodless, scareless, eventless and nearly violence-free, the film is a PG-13 kiddie movie posing as a horrific creature feature, and a shoddy, cheap-looking one at that. Easily one of the biggest monumental wastes of time to be had in the theater all year, "The Cave" represents moviegoing pain at its most mindnumbing and depressing. Although proper moviegoing etiquette should usually be abided, this is one case in which lobbing tubs of popcorn and soda at the screen in a riot of audience defiance is a fully warranted option. A turd held up to the flickering bulb of the projector would be a marked improvement.

    #2xXx: State of the Union - In the case of the incomprehensible "XXX: State of the Union," in which the chubby, stout Ice Cube replaces the muscled, too-cool Vin Diesel as the title spy, one could throw their brain to the floor, stomp on it, have it run over by a high school marching band followed by a stampede of giant wild boars, and it still wouldn't make the experience any less insufferable. An irredeemable, lazy, misogynistic pile of garbage vaguely disguised as a diverting big-budget action film, "XXX: State of the Union" may be the ideal antidote for anyone who wishes to drop their IQ by fifty points in a matter of hours.

    #1The Longest Yard - A detestable, rotten-to-the-core work spreading hate and venom even as it thinly poses as a carefree sports comedy, it has been a long time, maybe since 2004's "The Whole Ten Yards," that a motion picture has come along to derive such strong feelings of animosity in me. "The Longest Yard" is a spiteful excursion into irredeemable mean-spiritedness that wallows shamelessly in the moldiest of comic punchlines—cobwebs can almost actually be glimpsed around the fringes of the shots—and the most derogatory and offensive of stereotypes. A woefully unfunny remake that also happens to be sexist, homophobic, and overloaded with brain-crushing bigotry of all people and lifestyles, "The Longest Yard" has an evil and putrid secret agenda that couldn't have less to do with the sport of football if it tried.

    The 10 Best Films of 2005

    Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order): The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; Crash; Dark Water; The Devil's Rejects; Domino; The Family Stone; Fever Pitch; Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire; Hoodwinked; House of Wax; In Her Shoes; Lords of Dogtown; A Lot Like Love; The Matador; Match Point; Millions; Mysterious Skin; North Country; Red Eye; The Squid and the Whale; Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith; The Weather Man; Wolf Creek; Zathura

    #10Last Days - A fictional account of late rock musician Kurt Cobain's final days, nights and hours leading up to his own suicide, "Last Days" is a mesmerizing triumph of both pitch-perfect minimalism and devastating existentialism, painting a bleak, uncompromising portrait of desolation personified. Michael Pitt is nothing short of extraordinary as Blake, a Cobain-like superstar who recoils inward as he loses himself in drugs and a tragic sense of aimlessness. Pitt's top-flight work is complimented by Gus Van Sant's staggering ability through his meticulous mise en scène and creepily distinguished use of sound and music to depict what it is like to feel the kind of loneliness and despair that seems impossible to overcome.

    #9War of the Worlds - Overlooking a last five minutes that ring false, Steven Spielberg's "War of the Worlds" is a marvelous entertainment of imagination, edge-of-your-seat suspense, breathtakingly realistic visual effects, and surprising thoughtfulness. The present-day global climate of war and terrorism runs as an undeniable apropos undercurrent throughout this latest sprawling adaptation of H.G. Lewis' novel about a merciless Earthbound alien invasion. Told wholly from the point-of-view of a broken family, the picture takes on a jarring, horrifying immediacy that makes the ultimate fight for their lives feel palpably real. In this way, it makes for an ideal and appropriate companion piece with M. Night Shyamalan's 2002 masterpiece, "Signs."

    #8Junebug - In its telling of the culture clash between a tight-knit North Carolina family and the more worldly cosmopolitan newlywed wife one of the grown sons brings home, "Junebug" is deliberately paced but never boring, low-key but splendidly entertaining, light on plot but heavy on insight found within the mundane aspects of life. Talented debuting filmmaker Phil Morrison, under the guidance of a pitch-perfect screenplay by Angus MacLachlan, has crafted a film small in size and budget, but rich and sweeping in thematic relevance and internal complexity, with characters and interactions so clearly realized and nuanced—at home, at work, at community potlucks—that they only go to show how downright cookie-cutter the majority of mainstream studio fare is. Alternately hilarious and poignant, with a standout performance from Amy Adams as the family's chipper pregnant daughter-in-law.

    #7Grizzly Man - The story of Timothy Treadwell, a fervent, unequivocal animal lover who spent thirteen straight summers living amongst the bears in the remote Alaskan peninsula until his and his girlfriend's violent deaths at the hands of one of them in October of 2003, director Werner Herzog's "Grizzly Man" is a first-rate, exceedingly moving drama so involving and emotionally arresting that it scarcely feels like a documentary. As honest and fitting a eulogy as Treadwell could have ever hoped for—in essence, he sacrificed his life in order to do what he loved—"Grizzly Man" is a profound, fair-minded, astonishing cinematic work, and maybe the most gratifying and complete documentary release since 2002's "Bowling for Columbine."

    #6Rent - Based on the 1996 Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning Broadway musical by the late Jonathan Larson, "Rent" is opened up and the scope expanded for this mesmerizing film version directed by Chris Columbus, who brings an almost epic event feel to his grandly effective portrayal of addiction, poverty, love, illness and AIDS among eight twentysomething friends living in Manhattan's East Village, circa 1989-1990. As a big-screen rock opera, and more generally, as a motion picture, "Rent" is an emotional, exhilarating, beautiful experience, showing that song is every bit as powerful—more, in many cases—as the spoken word.

    #5High Tension - "High Tension" (or "Haute Tension," as it was called in its native France) is exactly as its title proclaims, a near-breathless, nonstop study in unquenchable terror that knows just what the horror genre is all about, and puts those elements to use in a masterful cavalcade of suspense and dread. Stunningly directed by Alexandre Aja, the movie's sheer brilliance is in how well it works on two completely different levels, both as a slasher film, stripped to its purest and most unnerving core, and as a psychologically haunting study of the darkest recesses of the mind and the grimmest corners of human relationships. "High Tension" may be the most frightening, unshakable feature film since 1999's "The Blair Witch Project."

    #4November - A close runner-up for most underrated and overlooked film of the year, "November" is a compact 73-minute masterpiece. An awesomely constructed puzzle of a movie that, when finished interlocking all of its carefully woven pieces, creates a deeper and more three-dimensionally substantive whole than originally expected, the picture stars Courteney Cox in an Oscar-caliber dramatic turn as a shattered woman trying to piece together the murder of her boyfriend in the aftermath of a convenience store robbery. Director Greg Harrison and screenwriter Benjamin Brand have developed a beautifully intricate maze of scenes, all faultlessly conceived and placed, as they collectively paint a heartrending portrait of the difficult grieving process and the unpredictable frailty of each singular life. "November" is the real deal, subtle and scary and touching and creatively alive, reaffirming one's faith that originality still exists in film.

    #3The Exorcism of Emily Rose - One part enthralling courtroom drama, one part scary-as-hell possession tale, and one part thought-provoking rumination on the relationship between one's belief and one's faith, "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" is almost too good to be true. Superlatively written and directed by Scott Derrickson, here is a motion picture—and one distributed by a major studio, no less—that is chock-full of actual ideas to go along with its almost unbearably spine-tingling cathartic pleasures. It is the perfect marriage between intellect and fear, complimenting each other without ever becoming intrusive, and also classy proof that not all of today's horror films have to be about nubile hotties getting slaughtered or watered-down, teen-aimed wastes of space. Multilayered, unexploitive, engrossing, petrifying, and visually stunning from start to finish, "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" compliments, and sometimes surpasses in effect, 1973's classic "The Exorcist."

    #2Brokeback Mountain - Profound. Transcendent. Heartbreaking. Directed with unsentimental emotion and an unbending weight of sadness by Ang Lee, "Brokeback Mountain" is a love story of incendiary depth and poeticism between two ranch hands who carry on a twenty-plus year love affair, but are destined to keep their relationship a secret amidst a stifling social climate. Bittersweet and achingly sublime without being maudlin or melodramatic—and with an eye-opening performance from Heath Ledger that ranks as the best of the year—"Brokeback Mountain" is devastating in its depiction of how life doesn't, and sometimes can't, always turn out the way you would like it to.

    #1Little Manhattan - The most gloriously enchanting film of the entire year, "Little Manhattan" is a giant sweetheart of a movie—a lightning-in-a-bottle rarity that will entertain adults as much as it will children (around eight and up) all the while never once talking down to any age group. A love letter to New York and the joys and pains of growing up, this isn't merely a cutesy, lightweight romp, however, but a heartfelt, realistic, deeply touching motion picture that gets just right the feeling of being eleven years old and discovering your first pangs of romantic affection. 13-year-old Josh Hutcherson is a revelation as Gabe, a child on the verge of adolescence and forced to work out the new sudden emotions he feels for a pretty longtime classmate. Director Mark Levin and screenwriter Jennifer Flackett key into the trials and tribulations of being a tween with such affectionately detailed accuracy that the picture almost makes you want to stand up and cheer (this is not, I hasten to add, hyperbole). Not just a kid's movie by any stretch of the imagination and transcending all age demographics, it is a beautiful, layered, uplifting, dizzyingly romantic film, putting to great shame the dumbed-down plotting of any number of adult love stories. "Little Manhattan" is the best motion picture of 2005.

    ©2005 Dustin Putman