Monday, January 02, 2006

That was the year that was: 2005 in review

My list of (drumroll...) the Top Ten Films of 2005, done for the L Magazine's year-in-review issue, is here, if you're interested and haven't seen the magazine. To continue with the discussion of the year in film- and to jump-start this blog with some relatively readymade content- this post will consider more of the year's notable movies; I'll do a couple more batches of these over the next couple days, and probably add more year-in-review posts as the clot of 2005 releases I missed works its way up my Netflix queue. Anyway, let the fun begin...

The World (Jia Zhangke) had the best opening shot of the year ("Does anybody have a Band-Aid?"), and the first hour or so is terrific, but the strain of working with such an enormous, oeuvre-defining metaphor as World Park- "see the world without leaving Beijing"- weighs down Jia, who was never a particularly subtle filmmaker to begin with. Although it's interesting that while the settings for his four films have gotten progressively more urban, his primary, provincial concern- stasis leading to stagnation, on the personal and national level- has remained largely the same. The characters in Xiao Wu were dreaming of Beijing; by The World, they've arrived there, but Jia isn't any more optimistic about the possibilities open to them. Anyway, it's a fascinating movie, and the most visually distinctive thing Jia's done so far- I really wish it played as well as it sounds.

Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee) was actually on my Top Ten at one point, partly because the ending fools you into thinking it's a better movie than it actually is (as most movies with depressing endings do, really). What mostly got it stuck in my head for a couple of days after, though, was the way Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway, et al, were neglected by Lee almost as much as by their husbands: the movie plays out as a feature-length version of the jolting speed-through of Newland Archer's life towards the end of Scorsese's The Age of Innocence, which dispenses with almost all of the elements of his official biography in a quick montage and a few lines of narration. Brokeback does kind of the same thing, pushing Ennis and Jack's "real lives" as husbands, fathers, children, friends, neighbors, etc., to the side in order to define them by the part of their selves most hidden. (And, to a much greater degree than The Age of Innocence, believes in the primacy of its version of events.) I'm not sure that my being most emotionally invested in the stuff that's not part of the movie speaks particularly well for it, but, then again, I'm still thinking about it.

I actually kind of liked Jarhead (Sam Mendes). It's a mess, and Mendes aestheticizes it into oblivion, but I saw it right after I saw Paths of Glory, and so I was pretty receptive to the idea that the true horror of war is what it forces people to become in order to survive (I'm quoting my own review of Paths of Glory there), an idea that the last five minutes of Kubrick's otherwise pretty insufferable macho anti-war screed seems to embody, and which I think Jarhead would have, if it had had any idea what it was actually about.

David Cronenberg made the cover of the Village Voice for winning their annual critics poll with History of Violence, which is a pretty respectable choice, I guess. I'm just still kind of cold on that movie, and maybe for the wrong reasons, namely, that it's too well constructed. Every single element of the movie has a very thought-out, very evident relation to its thesis, and while it's impossible not to admire Cronenberg's execution (and, as has been noted, Josh Olson's model screenplay), is it too much to ask for a little bit of asymmetry to chew over?
(But, as an aside, was anybody else really disproportionately pleased to see William Hurt show up looking and sounding exactly like Albert Brooks? I guess we're going to have to, um, reevaluate Broadcast News now...)

All right, that's more than enough for now. The dead horse of 2005 will be flogged yet more in the coming days.

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