Monday, January 02, 2006

JM's Best of 2005

Some people read my blog for the baby stuff, some are interested in what I think of movies since, after all, that’s what I do for a living and all. Because of the former, however, the latter has very much been shortchanged this year. It’s a good thing that I wasn’t teaching Critical Approach to the Cinema this year – although I am about to head into a period where I will teach it for a full calendar year, which might be difficult to keep up with things.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t see some good movies this year. While I missed a ton – there are too many that I wanted to see that I can’t even count – here are five in particular that I found exquisite in many ways and which I hope to watch at least one more time or two.

5. Be with Me, directed by Eric Khoo. JJ maligned me because I fell in love with this one, but I fell in love with this Singaporean treat. Khoo weaves tales of three thwarted lovers – a broken older cook whose wife has recently died, a sad-sack security guard obsessed with an attractive businesswoman and a teenager whose lesbian crush turns out to only be a phase – with a fourth most unexpected persona: the real life of Theresa Chan, a stubborn, determined blind and deaf woman who learns to speak (out loud) English after her maladies have long since taken hold. With a camera held virtually still emphasizing some gorgeous frame compositions throughout the film, Khoo presents an interesting examination of simple complications of love. The film was recently disqualified for competition in the Oscar foreign film race for having “too much English” (despite the fact that English is an official Singaporean language), I’m sure from subtitling Chan’s silent narrative – which is a crying shame, since many of the other submissions seem rather weak.

4. Batman Begins, directed by Christopher Nolan – How odd, some may think, that jeff picks a huge mega-blockbuster! True, this isn’t really appearing on any other “Best of” lists that I know of, which surprises me a little given how much critics seemed to love it when it came out. (Then again, this was Katie Holmes immediately before Tom Jumped the Couch.) Katie is a non-entity, however; it’s Nolan who deserves great credit for telling a rollicking good story the old fashioned way, but with some great visuals and still a lot of fun pyrotechnic pizzazz. Christian Bale make a wonderfully brooding Batman and I really enjoyed the supporting villains (new It Boy Ciaran Hinds Cillian Murphy as the Scarecrow and Tom Wilkenson as the corrupt mafia boss) as much as head über-villain Liam Neeson. For a popcorn flick (though granted I see so few), I really enjoyed not having my intelligence insulted.

3. Brokeback Mountain, directed by Ang Lee. Speaking of old fashioned: I saw this at Telluride as the last movie of a very long day and thought it was generally a pretty good flick back then. As it has gained buzz, the movie has stuck in my mind and I admit that I’m pulling for it now that it is poised for certain Oscar nomination hullabaloo. Lee spins a lovely romantic yarn – yes, I’m a sap – and turns what has been maligned as “the gay western” into a sophisticated melodrama that just happens to have two men at the center of it. Heath Ledger really does turn in a bravura performance, both smoldering and simmering, and so does the cinematography of Rodrigo Prieto, whose wide open outdoor vistas reflect the distance between these two men. Kudos also that Gustavo Santaolalla’s score seems to be getting some attention as well.

2. La niña santa (The Holy Girl), directed by Lucretia Martel. When I walked out of this movie, I overheard a number of people say that they hated it; I, on the other hand, was shell-shocked and had to stay seated for a while. Along with her first film, La ciénaga, Argentine new young thing Martel seems to specialize in elaborately interwoven stories that are so disturbingly cringe-worthy that they border on horror films. Here, our teenaged titular character believes that she can save a married man who gets off on goosing girls on public. The film is extremely claustrophobic with its amazing use of almost exclusive close-ups with narrow lenses disturb us greatly as viewers not used to be so much in someone’s personal space. Martel also shocks us by winding up a plot so tightly – and then ending it before it has a chance to explode on screen for us. (No wonder Almodóvar produced this.) I felt wonderfully dirty after this film – and, given that it’s a screening that students will write about in class this semester, I will have perverse fun in sharing it with others.

And my favorite film for 2005…

1. A History of Violence, directed by David Cronenberg. This is another movie that people “didn’t seem to get,” perhaps expecting more glamorous shoot-em-up violence. Here, Cronenberg takes his signature corporeal gore and applies it instead to hyper-real violence when a small town hero’s past comes back to crash all around him. Subtle and mannered, the film featured incredible performances from the whole cast, bar none – with standouts by Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello and Jesse Eisenberg, with a glorious cameo by William Hurt. It’s one of the most disturbing treatises on screen- and actual violence that I’ve ever seen, far more so than all the horror flicks I watched for my genre class last year. That “A” in the title is pretty significant as well: this isn’t the be-all and end-all of violent imagery but damn if it won’t make you think real hard. I’m finishing up my class this coming semester with this one, perhaps because I fear it’s been lost in the year-end kudos mix and I want to make sure this one doesn’t get away from my students all that easily.

So what did you love? Or hated? And why? And/or what are you looking forward to in this new year?


J.J. said...

Hopefully I'll post about favorites soon. Interesting picks, yourself.

bagels, boobs, and beer said...

Cillian Murphy is the new It Boy. Ciaran Hinds is an older gentleman who was recently seen in Munic and HBO's Rome. Get your weird Irish names right! :-D