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Racism's ugly head.
The best film of 2005 IS the best because it examines race not just from different cultures but from many different classes of society as well. The powerful, the rich, the poor, the middle class and the emotionally disturbed all clash in a film that continues to try and teach us that we are all the same at the same time as we are all different. As I put the pieces of this ensemble together, comparing it to films like the safe and dated 'Guess Who's Coming to Dinner', to the eternally relevant and timeless classic 'Do the Right Thing' serve to show 'Crash' as truly unique and invigorating because its tragic and near tragic moments leave it open for debating how we rationalize our fears based on our treatment of each other which often gets out of control as quickly as a fire and we are unable to control it.
A History of Violence (2005)
Unlike ANY crime film. And that's a good thing.
David Cronenberg works best when his psychological and macabre sense of blood curdling chills is done while involving the real world. Films like 'Scanners', 'The Fly', and 'eXistenZ' will always have a special place with me but when Cronenberg's "mad scientist" vision invades his camera lens in a more realistic sense such as in 'The Dead Zone' or 'Dead Ringers', we are left imagining what the possibilities of human nature are from a more constructive point of view. This film, about a man's mysterious past with gangsters and how it comes back to haunt him and his family is made all the more compelling by performances from Ed Harris, Maria Bello and the long forgotten William Hurt in a comeback role that has him in one of the most unique supporting performances of the year. Viggo Mortensen proves he can act quite well away from the land of 'Lord of the Rings' and turns in great work here. This may be David Cronenberg's best film ever.
Terror's impact and the endless cycle of violence.
Steven Spielberg is far from done as a film maker. As a 30+ year veteran of the big screen, Spielberg is continuing to evolve and re-invent himself with each decade. From the popcorn entertainment of 'Jaws' and 'Close Encounters' in the 70s to the moving human feelings obtained from 'E.T.' and 'The Color Purple' in the 80s to the world shaking 'Schindler's List' and 'Saving Private Ryan' in the 90s to the present, Spielberg is in total control because his true talent is in his choices. 'Munich' takes no side in the dispute between two sides in the most volatile conflict of the last 50 years on planet Earth. By taking no side, Spielberg has managed to take both sides and show them as equally flawed and equally human. The subject matter is the star performer of this film and the actors are merely taking their cues from it and while this film has been heavily criticized for its politics, no matter how this film was presented, it would have been criticized. How then do you make a film this sensitive in subject matter so attractive? Only Spielberg knows and he has managed to convey his vision convincingly. Extraordinary.
Walk the Line (2005)
Johnny Cash comes to authentic life.
Musical biographies of the past 30 years have been absorbing. 'The Buddy Holly Story', 'The Rose', 'The Doors' and 'Ray' have all been successful and following in a similar path is this film with a simple story telling technique, stellar performances from Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon as Johnny Cash and June Carter. 'Walk the Line' is not afraid to show the flaws in the greatest country/crossover performer who ever lived because Phoenix is allowed to balance the performer and the man equally in a way that seems memorable on both ends and the chemistry between the two leads in magical in the traditions of old fashioned story telling.
Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005)
McCarthyism is alive and well in the Bush era.
In the early part of the 21st century, we see that the news and information industry continues to attach itself to whatever sells despite the fact that it caters to the lowest common denominator. In the days of pioneering news man Edward R. Murrow, we see a man determined to stop senator Joseph McCarthy, an opportunistic politician who would destroy the very freedoms U.S. society enjoys in order to preserve them. Similar things are happening today so this film is all the more prophetic. George Clooney co-authors and directs a film of limited length but at 93 minutes, it runs just long enough to hold your attention and challenge modern day authority. Something few have been willing to do. No other actor could have played Murrow as well as David Strathairn does here.
Felicity Huffman shines.
This film is a closely knitted piece of cinema that gives a whole new meaning to the road movie. Actress Felicity Huffman plays a man in the process of a sex change who finds out that she/he, has a teenage son living in New York City who has become a gigolo and drug user. Rescued from this life, the young man is given a free ride out of his troubled period to find out he has another life waiting that he may have trouble eventually embracing. Huffman's performance is the real element that gives the film substance. She drives the film while struggling with her character's sexuality and the film is even handed, well written and finishes with complexity and those who only embrace the traditional concept of family, may be moved to a whole new level of tolerance after seeing this film.
The real world of corruption, business. And did I mention.....corruption and business.
This film has been described by many as "a thriller for people who read the Financial Times". While that may be true, this film fits into a description that labels it "a sign of the times". Corporate greed is at an all time high. How it destroys people's lives and the backlash that follows is a classic example that says for every action, there is an equal re-action. It also demonstrates how those involved in international crimes don't even care about their own foreign operatives and that their lives are disposable in the long run. George Clooney stands out as a CIA operative who realizes he may have been on the wrong side of the fight his whole life. A well written piece by Stephen Gaghan that is extremely difficult to follow in detail. It's not for those with short term memory problems or short attention spans.
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
The gay issue is simply incidental.
Let's be clear about something. Late night talk show hosts can poke fun all they want at gay issues but this film is simply a well made and leisurely paced film about love and its consequences. The gay issue, as far as I'm concerned, is simply incidental. I didn't care if it was a story about gay love, straight love, animal love, alien love, materialistic love or any other kind of love. And if you doubt this, ask yourself one simple question. Would Heath Ledger's wife in the film have left him if she discovered he was in love with another woman instead of with another man? Probably. Adultery is adultery. Director Ang Lee took hold of this material and deliberately took his time to tell a story about two lonely and extremely ordinary people and articulated the sensitivity of the perceived issues on screen and treated them with brief visual images of the controversy and made solid acting and acceptable sentimentality rule the screen.
Cinderella Man (2005)
Genteel and cheerful boxing movie.
As boxing movies go, this one certainly can't compare to 2004's 'Million Dollar Baby' or the original 'Rocky'. However, Russell Crowe is convincing in the role of Jim Braddock, a man struggling to reach the top of his profession and while the underdog story has been done to death, audiences still love it because they always see themselves in their heroes' role. I liked the subject matter and the idea of the film a lot more than its execution, which admittedly, is flawed. Depression era people struggling to make something out of their lives. Crowe's children in the film represent my father's family and his siblings growing up. Something I've learned about in my life, and I'm glad there are those with big hearts like director Ron Howard, still brave enough to make these films in an era when no one seems to care about the impoverished anymore.
King Kong (2005)
1933 dated. 2005 timeless.
Although Peter Jackson directed this almost note for note like the way he directed the LOTRs trilogy, it still is a fluidly filmed piece of entertaining cinema milked for all its worth and if something isn't broke, why fix it. Likewise, the performances are solid, particularly the ones by Jack Black and Naomi Watts. The scene involving Watts dancing for Kong, trying to entertain him, was probably the neatest trick in the film as it showed Kong's compassionate side. Also, Jackson decided to make Kong as sympathetic, if not more so than the original 1933 version, and technology has allowed Kong to have almost human like qualities in his expressions and emotions. A good film that will probably go down as a worthy re-make to a landmark film. Now, if Hollywood could ever turn out a great movie based on an old t.v. show, they might come full circle.