Tall Matt's Travels

Movie Review: 2005

Here we are again - finally.  My apologies for the delay in this little diatribe.  My desire to get this out in a timely manner has met with a fair number of obstacles.   Anyway, it's already starting to warm up, we've had our first tornado/hailstorm, the beloved Royals are contemplating another record-loss year, KU again got bounced in the first round of the tourney by some small school...  The seasons are like clockwork.  And as a part of that circadian circle, Welcome to Tall Matt's third annual movie list (I use that moniker more frequently now, as apparently amongst my friends there are a plethora of "Matt's" out there, and it's my primary differentiator).  Surprisingly to me, what began as a time-killer for myself a couple years ago has now entered trilogy territory. And, I've received a few more "can't wait till your next one comes out" comments than "go to hell, dummy" notes from my past efforts, so I'm back. 

For those of you new to the list - this is where yours truly tries to summarize the year in cinema by highlighting what I've deemed to be the best 25 movies produced and released in the calendar year past.  I won't go into the self-deprecating analysis of my movie watching habits - see last year's list for that - but I will say thanks for taking the time to read this.  You may of course want these 5 minutes of your life back at the end of it, but again, thanks all the same.

For those of you for whom this is not your first rodeo, I've added a couple of extras this year - First, you'll see each of the films comes with a wee bit o' commentary - now, unlike last year when I very lazily copied and pasted summaries from YAHOO! Movies, this time I've written my own little ramblings.  Likely most of you are saying to yourself "sweet, thanks for nothing".  Well, don't worry - I've also included a link each one so you can read what "real people" think about the film.   Also new this year, is my top 5 worst list - lovingly called "The 5 Abominations".  I was asked the other day if I had ever walked out of a movie.  I don't think I have, but these 5 had me checking my watch like a kid on the last day of school. It amazes me some of these things get the green light.

As a reminder from years past, this is my list - one skewed toward my own strange preferences.  I'm a closet sci-fi, comic book geek, but my film tastes are pretty wide-ranging.  If the story is engaging, the acting is well played and if I'm thinking about it for a while afterwards, there's a chance it will make the list.  Some of you (especially those sans a Y chromosome) may notice an obvious omission of romantic comedies and other films which would be technically classified as "chick flicks". Two main reasons for their absence:  1) They collectively aren't very good, and 2) Unless dragged to one by the fairer sex, I simply won't see them - in which case I do make it to a few and they are still missing from the list, see reason 1.  If you've seen a couple movies which don't appear on the list, there's a pretty good chance I've seen it (keeping the above chick flick disclaimer in mind) and thought it unworthy to be in the top 25. If you disagree, well...  write your own list.

Thanks to the lack of a large (and by large I mean absolutely soul-draining/all-free-time ritually executed) project at work this year (unlike last), I had a chance to see a few more movies this year.  Armed with a Blockbuster Movie Pass, and later a subscription to NetFlix, I saw over 65 movies released in 2005. (I'll allow time for the collective "Holy $#%*  - what a loser" comments to pass...) The majority of them were at the theater, but a fair bit of them, especially the smaller ones, were knocked down via the DVD player. 

And, what would the list be without a little delve into the business side?  It's a good time for the afore mentioned comic book Sci-Fi crowd.  Special effects have finally caught up to imaginations, and Hollywood is figuring out we geeks will go see cool movies in droves.  For all you haters out there (and by haters I mean those of you that made fun of me as a kid for reading comic books) I'll have you note that the 4 movies based on comic books in this list  (Batman Begins, Constantine, A History of Violence and Sin City) grossed around $817,277,056 worldwide.  That's a lot of allowance money.

Without further rambling, here are the top 25 movies of 2005 (in descending order this year for increased drama):

25) Domino
Frenetic, bloody, strange.  It's like a music video on speed.  A very different a role for Kiera Knightly (one of my personal favorites), whom is more traditionally cast in the prim and proper roles suited to her English background, but she works really well here.  It's based on a true story - she plays Domino Harvey - the daughter of a Hollywood family and a runway model, who gives it all up to become a bounty hunter.  Mickey Rourke (who had a really good 2006 - see "Sin City") plays a tougher-than-nails "father figure" who teaches Domino the ropes.  It's directed by Tony Scott (Ridley's little brother), who brought you Top Gun, True Romance and Man on Fire.  Definitely not for the feint of heart, but a pretty interesting ride.

24) Syriana
This one almost didn't make the list - I still think you need an Economics degree to follow it.  However, after I stopped trying to figure everything out, I was left with this really disturbing feeling about big business and big governments.  Something that stayed with me for a long time.  It was a really interesting Clancy-type story except not dumbed-down for the common folk like me.  Clooney won the best Supporting Actor Oscar for this, but I'm not sure why.  He wasn't bad, but I didn't think he was great either. 

23) Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
In a word - Weird.  A script by Shane Black, the guy who invented the "buddy cop" genre with his screenplay for "Lethal Weapon" and it's sequels.  If you liked "Get Shorty", you'll like this one - thought it's a bit rougher around the edges.  Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer are great together, and the pace is non-stop.  The narration of the happenings by Downey Jr.'s Lockhart is really witty, and keeps the film from taking its self too seriously.  Good stuff - worthy of a second viewing. 

22) Sin City
This one is on the list mainly because the look of the film is unlike anything I've seen.  Digital filmmaking can be something special - and this is the start.  This one really looks like a comic book - not like the complete crap we got with the Schumacher Batman films.  Frank Miller and Robert Rodriquez (Desperado) worked together to make this look like a panel - to screen transfer.  It has a great cast, including Bruce Willis, Clive Owen, Jessica Alba, Mickey Rourke, Benicio Del Toro, etc.  Not one for the kids, as it's pretty bloody and graphic (and at times downright disturbing), but it's worth it just for the visuals of the film overall.

21) Match Point
Let me be honest - I really, really don't like Woody Allen movies.  I think he's about the most over-rated director working today.  Perhaps it's because I'm not 55 and I don't worship all of his early films.  That being said, this one is as good as any marital affair-driven thriller I've seen.  It's a little slow (it's still Woody Allen) but sucks you in to the point where you really feel for the characters.  The cast is great - Jon Rhys Meyers is an up and comer, Brian Cox is his normal wonderful self, and, if I'm still being honest, Scarlett Johannsen is absolutely gorgeous and gives a great performance. 

20) Assault On Precinct 13
Pretty straight forward - a nice solid action film.  And, another "cool" role for Larry Fishburne, one of the ugliest, yet coolest people in Hollywood (rivaling Steve Buscemi for that title).  The story is a little rough, but you'll get into it quickly - it's well paced, and keeps you on the edge of your seat the entire time.  Ethan Hawke tries to keep a bunch of dirty cops from killing everyone inside to protect themselves.  This one's not overly poetic or moving - just a well-done actioner I enjoyed a lot.

19) The Jacket
A very good Sci-Fi, time travel story.  If you liked last year's "The Butterfly Effect" you'll like this.  Adrian Brody (King Kong & the Pianist) plays a war vet who, through some very strange psychological experiments is able to move into the future and see himself dying.  Keira Knightly (yes, her again), Kris Kristofferson and Brad Renfro are all good in this one.  It's an interesting twist on time travel and it's effect on the mind.  This one's a little weird, but fun to think about afterwards...

18) Capote
An interesting film mainly because I knew nothing about Truman Capote before this.  He was a really strange dude.  The pace is a little boring, but you just can't look away from it.  Philip Seymour Hoffman's performance was the best of the year and worthy of the Oscar, and the story is really good. 

17) The World's Fastest Indian
I knew nothing about this one except that Anthony Hopkins was in it.  It's the story of a 60+ year old New Zealander trying to prove he has the fastest motorcycle in the world.  Admittedly, it's kind of a sappy "what  you can do if you put your entire heart and soul into something" film, but it's a good one.  For those of you who haven't traveled much, it will also show you how strange it is to go to a different country for the first time.  We Americans are a strange and eccentric lot, you know. Hopkins is great, the story is a bit slow, but the ending is worth it.  Definitely worth a couple hours.

16) The War of the Worlds
Say what you want to about Cruise - yes, he's crazy, but Spielberg does a good job of reigning him in on this one.  Just a fun popcorn movie you can get into.  This is Spielberg at his roots - he can certainly do movies like this in his sleep now, but they are sure fun to watch.  And for those who didn't like it, the ending isn't disappointing if you read the book in 8th grade like everyone else.

15) Broken Flowers
Bill Murray at his best - He's so good in this - and makes you think about what your legacy might be in 20 - 30 years.  A life-time bachelor with a conquest list to rival any successful CEO or sports star gets a letter one day from an old girlfriend telling him his teenage son whom he didn't know anything about is looking for him, wanting to meet his father.  With no return address or any other indication of whom it might be from, Murray makes a list of the old flames from that time frame, and with the help of his neighbor - a great performance by Jeffrey Wright (who steals the show) - goes to find the mother of his child and his son. If you liked Lost in Translation, check this one out.

14) Good Night and Good Luck
Educational.  Admittedly, I didn't know much about this story going in.  I'd heard of Murrow and McCarthy, but didn't know any details.  Gives you a sense of why media is so important - in an era of jaded, biased news reporting, here's an example of why we need news, and why it became so vital our everyday lives. 

13) The Exorcism of Emily Rose
Disturbing, as it's said to be based on real-life events.  If you were expecting a remake of "the Exorcist" you'll be pleasantly surprised.  This gives you pieces of the classic horror movie, but explores it in a more real-life way.  After an exorcism ends up in the death of a young girl, the priest responsible is put on trial for murder.   Religion vs. Medicine.  What would stand up better in court - the testimony of a priest or a doctor?  Why?  I'm surprised this one didn't get more acclaim at the theaters.  Give it a shot if you're ready for a scare and to think a little.

12) Jarhead
From all accounts, a pretty accurate vision of what it was like in the first Gulf War.  Gyllenhaal and Sarsgaard (Flightplan) are both very good, and act like any selfish, scared 20 year-olds would.  It's definitely not what you think, and I appreciated it for that.  You won't get the frenetic battle scenes like in Black Hawk Down or Tears of the Sun.  It does a good job of making you think about how you would react to all the pressures (seen and unseen) those soldiers went through.  Not a feel-good movie by any means, but certainly very good.

11) Cinderella Man
A bit played, but I'm a sucker for a solid "feel-good about mankind" film.  Russell Crowe does a fine job - one of the few actors that is still a superstar, but can disappear into roles.  I'm not a Renee Zelwegger fan at all, but she does an admirable job, and I love Paul Giammatti.  Predictable, yes, but a good story told effectively.  Think Rocky, but only the first one - set in the 20's.

10) King Kong (2005)
Big - big - big.  Peter Jackson continues to be the new Spielberg with epic stuff.  Naomi Watts was pretty good in the lead, while Brody was a bit under-utilized.  Jack Black adequate, though it's hard for me not to think of him outside of his School of Rock/Tenacious D stuff.  The special effects are fantastic, especially the scenes on Skull Island. And the attention to detail in the 20's style NYC was really cool.  Another really fun blockbuster film you don't have to think a lot about - just enjoy.

9) Constantine
I really liked the concept - a guy who was born with the ability to see demons and angels with his own eyes and couldn't handle it, and by his teenage years tried to commit suicide.  He was brought back after spending a few seconds in hell and now knows it's all for real, but he's essentially screwed - and he's trying to buy/earn/sell/anything his way back into the good graces.  The look of the film is great - Keanu actually doesn't get in the way of this one, and Rachel Weisz is as usual very good.  The highlight of the film is the last 20 minutes - a confrontation between Constantine and the devil himself - a fantastic discourse and quality ending.

8) Serenity
Admittedly, I was skeptical going into this one - I hadn't seen the TV series this film was based on (Firefly).  I'm a Sci-Fi geek, and having not much to go on, I had really low expectations. However, I was very pleasantly surprised - funny, edgy, great effects, and a pretty good story.  It has what the old Star Wars films had, and the new Star Wars films lack - a personality.  Where Lucas has gone bigger and seemingly more sanitized - he's lost his swagger and cool-rebel attitude. Joss Whedon's universe is gritty, real and personal.  It sucked me in - I even borrowed the DVDs of the TV series afterwards. 

7) A History of Violence
Another of the comic-book films in my list, and this one is graphic.  It's sex and violence all at once.  Viggo Mortensen (Lord of the Rings) is great, Maria Bello is underrated and John Hurt is overrated, but the story is really good.  Ed Harris is really creepy as the bad-guy Fogarty who swings into town to force Tom back into his big-city crime roots.  A must see, but keep the kids away.

6) Walk the Line
Now I wasn't, am not, and don't plan to be a huge Johnny Cash fan.  However, his story is very good, and the performances in this film are top-notch.  Five words:  They sang their own songs.  They even released a CD of just the actors singing. Of course, Reece Witherspoon gave an Oscar-winning performance, but in my opinion, it's further proof Joaquin Phoenix is becoming the next Johnny Depp.  In the same vein as Ray, but I liked this even better.

5) The Constant Gardener
This is one of those that will stay with you for a while.  It's a very tough watch.  Rachel Weisz and Ralph Fiennes are fantastic, Weisz for her energy and charisma, Fiennes for his ability to disappear into the scenery.  You may think you've figured it out at the beginning, but keeps you focused all the way to the very end.  You'll be thinking about it (and it's implications if any bit of it's based on fact) for a long while. 

4) The Matador
A true diamond in the rough - Pierce Brosnan's best performance.  Those of you who liked him in "The Thomas Crown Affair" or as James Bond are in for a rude surprise.  He's the antithesis of those characters - a complete selfish a-hole who kills people for a living, but wants to have someone to talk to about his life and problems.  Great concept - could have been a very predictable, boring picture, but it moves really well, has engaging characters, witty dialogue and a fun ending. 

3) Batman Begins
I loved this movie not just because of the afore mentioned comic book affinity, but because a great cast, a good story, some really good acting, and a solid director can make a movie based on a comic book character very realistic and edgy.  One of my favorite movies of the last 10 years is Memento, so when I heard Chris Nolan was helming this one, I got pretty geeked out.  The cinematography was nominated for an Oscar, and a host of pundits have it in their top 10 lists.  Plus, it added critical legitimacy to the hero genre - adding fuel to the fire started by Singer's X-Men and Raimi's Spider-man.

2) Munich
Spielberg goes back to Schindler's List/Saving Private Ryan mode with this one.  I really didn't know what to expect - as the happenings portrayed here were before my time.  I'd only heard bits and pieces of what happened in 1972, and didn't really know much about the story going in.  Eric Bana was a perfect choice.  The supporting cast is made up of faces you'll recognize, but ones that won't get in the way of the story which is told really effectively.  It's not for the faint of heart. Makes you think about what you'd do for your country if asked by the right people after an event like that. I couldn't help but imagine myself in that position after 9/11 - what would you have done?

1) Crash
It's relatively rare that I agree with the Academy on their choice for best picture.  However, they got this one right.  It was one of those films stayed with you for days afterwards.  The cast led by Matt Dillon, Don Cheadle and Terrance Howard was stellar. The writing was very thoughtful and meaningful.  The first line of the movie hooked me:  " It's the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We're always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something."  It will make you think of bigotry and racism like you haven't before.  We live in a very different world from our parent's.  This feels like the first film that's talked about it like it is.  If you haven't seen it yet, you're really doing an injustice to yourself.  Can't recommend it enough. 

Honorable Mentions: 
- The New World
- Lord of War  
- Hustle and Flow
- 11:14
- High Tension
- The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

And a new feature this year - the 5 worst of the year.  Check out the Razzies sometime for some good stuff: http://www.razzies.com/history/05winners.asp

The 5 Abominations:
1) A Sound of Thunder
2) Alone in the Dark
3) The Dukes of Hazzard
4) House of Wax
5) The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

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