Saturday, February 04, 2006

Best Movies of 2005

I wasn't planning on doing this again this year, but the Academy Awards nominations came out, and they made a few mistakes. Of course, thinking persons of conscience can disagree, and we do not seek quarrels but common ground with our brothers and sisters who would celebrate those works that have brought joy and illumination into their lives, but "Crash" my ass.

1. "Head-On"-- Fatih Akin wrote, directed, and stars in this sexually charged, inexplicably exhilirating movie about two lives that smash into each other at the bottom of the pile.

2. "Mysterious Skin"--Gregg Araki's early movies wanted more than anything to shock the bejesus out of the audience, but given how unlikely it is that you're going to shock anyone who left the house to see an NC-17-rated movie called "The Doom Generation", they just seemed kind of forlorn. Araki did grow more technically accomplished with every movie, though, and here, all that daring and proficiency are joined to a complicated, mature point of view to produce his first real movie--and his first truly shocking one. Joseph Gordon-Leavitt, previously known as the kid from "Third Rock from the Sun", gives a beautiful, adult performance as an alluringly tainted hustler who remembers an incidence of child sexual abuse as his first romance.

3. "Rize"--David La Chappelle's documentary about Clown Dancers and Krumpers, people turning their anger and longing for transcendence in the face of urban cruelty and despair into performance art for the streets and kids' birthday parties. You'll laugh, you'll cry. For real/

4. "Grizzly Man"--Werner Herzog's best movie in at least twenty years, with a star as unlikely as Klaus Kinski or Bruno S.: Timothy Treadwell, self-glorifying failed celebrity as holy fool.

5. "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada"--If Tommy Lee Jones has looked suspiciously as if he had something else on his mind in some of his recent performances, it turns out that this is it: a modern Western, directed by and starring Jones, blessed and cursed with a unusual degree of adult resignation in the face of men's capacity for destructive stupidity, joined to a touching resolve to make the best of things anyway. The cinematographer, Chris Menges, is the best thing that's ever happened to the places where this movie was shot.

6. "Good Morning, Night"--The erratic Italian giant Marco Bellocchio spins a terrible, darkly comic fable out of the ne plus ultra of self-destructive "revolutionary" terrorism from the '70s, the Red Brigades' kidnapping and "execution" of Aldo Moro. Maya Sanso is unforgettable as the most confused and conscience-stricken of Moro's captors.

7. "The Best of Youth"--More recent Italian history, six hours and three decades' worth. Though the chalk dust in the actors' hair and the pillows under their shirts that are supposed to convince us that they've aged a lifetime by the end may raise a chuckle, this is epic-length narrative storytelling at its best, an engrossing and moving attempt to sum up and clarify recent history through the lives of a few people who, by the end, have earned the viewers' love.

8. "Serenity"--The pop geek event of the year, Joss Whedon's triumphant apotheosis of the genre mash-up of his cancelled TV series "Firefly" is sheer fun in a way undreamt of in George Lucas's imagination.

9. "2046"--Wong Kar-Wei's most dizzying celebration of his own romanticism and of the aura he constructs around Tony Leung and a few lucky pet actresses. You could try fighting it, but for your sake, I hope you lose.

10. "Ryan"--Chris Landreth's amazing fourteen-minute animated short about the gifted animator and drug-damaged lost soul Ryan Larkin is stunning and heartbreaking, and, with all due respect to such superior examples of the genre as "Capote" and "Walk the Line", the biopic of the year.

11. "Junebug"--The director Phil Morrison and the writer Angus MacLachlan's comedy-drama about family ties of love-hate and the Red / Blue state divide is rough-hewn and original, with a Star of Tomorrow performance by the ebullient Amy Adams.

12. "Munich"--Steven Spielberg's strongest work in a long time, with an broader emotional palette than the very exciting but more monotonously dread-drenched "War of the Worlds." At a basic level, a superior large-scale thriller, it's a controversial statement only in the eyes of those who are scandalized by any public admission that it's an obvious truism that violence begets violence. It's a sad thing that right now, there seem to be a lot of those folks running around loose.

13. "El Crimen Perfecto"--With its Almodovar-tinged bright pop colors, fun-house gore and slapstick violence, Preston Sturges pace and a performance by Guillermo Toledo that marks him as the amoral lizard of a farce creator's dreams, Alec de la Iglesia's black comedy arrives too late in film history to be the midnight cult movie it deserves to be, but it leaves most classics of the midnight genre in the shade anyway.

14. & 15. "Oldboy" and "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance"--The first two installments of Chan-wook Park's "vengeance trillogy." We've yet to see whether the third installment, "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance", will be up to snuff, but he can already boast that he's come closer to delivering on the trilogy concept that George Lucas or the Wachowski brothers could.

They also served: "Batman Begins", "The Beat That My Heart Skipped", "40 Shades of Blue", "George A. Romero's Land of the Dead", "Corpse Bride", "William Eggleston in the Real World", "Ballets Russes", "The 40-Year-Old Virgin", "Brokeback Mountain", and the last third of "King Kong."

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Here's my Top 10 Albums for 2005:

1. Animal Collective – Feels
2. Deerhoof – The Runners Four
3. Konono No. 1 – Congotronics
4. Sufjan Stevens – Illinois
5. Andrew Bird – The Mysterious Production of Eggs
6. Broken Social Scene – s/t
7. Six Organs of Admittance – School of the Flower
8. Spoon – Gimme Fiction
9. The New Pornographers – Twin Cinema
10. The Decemberists – Picaresque

Also-rans: Devendra Banhart – Cripple Crow, Antony & The Johnsons – I Am a Bird Now, The Fiery Furnaces – EP, The Mountain Goats – The Sunset Tree, The Go-Betweens – Oceans Apart, The Hold Steady – Separation Sunday, Calexico/Iron & Wine – In the Reins, Eric Matthews – Six Kinds of Passion Looking For An Exit, Danger Doom – The Mouse and the Mask, Lyrics Born – Same !@#$ Different Day, Architecture In Helsinki – In Case We Die, Okkervil River – Black Sheep Boy, Clem Snide – The End of Love, Vashti Bunyan – Lookaftering