Top Ten Movies of 2005

Inspired by the lists put together by Girish, Sujewa, and Darren and unimpressed by the lists put together by the Washington Post’s film reviewers (Hustle & Flow?!?), I’ve put together a hastily assembled Top Ten list. Like Darren, I chose to select films I saw in the 2005 calendar year, in part because many prominent films aren’t widely released to theaters until well after their original release date. And, more to the point, several of the films on my list have not received major distribution.

Here’s my modest contribution to the now ubiquitous Ten Best discussion in semi-chronological order, with links to my reviews of the films if available:

  • Gunner Palace: Michael Tucker’s grunts-eye doc can be frustrating for someone looking for a clear political critique of the Iraq War, but Tucker’s documentary, which used interviews and freestyle raps by the soldiers he documented tapped into some crucial questions about the representability of the Iraq War (a theme that will come up a lot in this list).
  • Sunset Story: When I was drafting this list, I passed over this amazing documentary about the friendship between two women living in a retirement home for political progressives, but as I began thinking about how Sunset Story deals so frankly with aging and death, I realized how much the film meant to me.
  • Enron: The Smartest Guys in the RoomI’d forgotten my initial enthusiasm for this film and its contribution (as a topic of conversation at the very least) to the ongoing investigation of Enron. The film had a tendency to vilify Enron rather than seeing it as a symptom of larger flaws in global capitalism, but the film captured Enron’s glitz and shiny surfaces rather well, as the cinetrix pointed out at the time.
  • Me and You and Everyone We Know: Like Crash, Miranda July’s debut feature emphasized the degree to which we are all connected. Unlike Crash, Me and You avoided cliches in proposing its delicate and complicated concept of community. It’s also one of the few films to feature children who are fully fledged human beings and not foils for washed up comedians or harbingers of some kind of lurking horror.
  • The Edukators: This might be a personal obsession, as I haven’t seen it on other people’s lists, but I found the film’s suspenseful and engaging treatment of the conflict between the wealthy businessman an dthe young political radicals to be utterly compelling.
  • Funny Ha Ha: I was too tired to write a full review when I caught Funny Ha Ha at the AFI, but like Girish, I was impressed by Andrew Bujalski’s “neo-realist slacker comdey.”
  • Occupation: Dreamland: Mines terriroty similar to Gunner Palace, but Occupation features soldiers who are in Fallujah and watching as the insurgency unfolds before their very eyes.
  • Chain: A compelling and philosophical meditation on the commodification of public space, Jem Cohen’s Chain enthralled me completely, inheriting and extending the legacy of Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil. If I had to choose a favorite film of 2005, this would be it.
  • The War Within: A compelling indie film about a Pakistani man who is deemed suspicious and wrongfully imprisoned. His imprisonment radicalizes him, leading him to participate in a planned suicide bombing of Grand Central Station. The film uses the conventions of the thriller and the indie film in a compelling, thoughtful way.
  • Syriana: This is easily the “biggest” film I saw in 2005, and it’s one that makes some powerful connections regrding the relationship between big oil and the war on terror. The final sequence of the film, in particular, is a scathing critique that effectively comments on all of the disparate threads of the vast, if loosely organized, conspiracy that animates the film’s plot.

Some of the films I wish I’d seen include Barbara Kopple’s Bearing Witness, Eugene Jarecki’s Why We Fight, Cache and Tristam Shandy, both of which were in Darren’s Top Ten, Capote, and After Innocence.

Some of the films that almost made the cut: A History of Violence, The Jacket (I’m too close to the film to think about it in terms of a top ten list), 2046, Good Night and Good Luck, and The Squid and the Whale.

Some other important and entertaining movies that more people should see: The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till,, Guerilla News Network’s BatleGround, Hayder Mousa Daffar’s The Dreams of Sparrows, the underrated The Education of Shelby Knox, which I saw on PBS, Chris Hansen’s The Proper Care and Feeding of an American Messiah, Robert Greenwald’s Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, Caveh Zahedi’s I am a Sex Addict, and Hany Ab-Assad’s Paradise Now.

Comments? Observations? Omissions? Feel free to mention your top ten lists in the comments.

21 Comments »

  1. Chris Said,

    December 31, 2005 @ 5:52 pm

    Chuck — thanks for including ‘…American Messiah’ on your “films you should see” list. I feel like I’m in pretty good company among the films and filmmakers you list. Here’s hoping for some festival appearances this year!

    Happy New Year.

  2. Chuck Said,

    December 31, 2005 @ 10:07 pm

    Yes, good luck landing the film at festivals, Chris. Hope your film can get some attention out of my blog.

    I’ve already found at least two omissions from my list: Wong Kar Wei’s 2046 and Turtles Can Fly, which I *thought* I had reviewed at some point. Really strange. The World also belongs in or near my top ten.

    Another film I wish I had seen: Keane.

    Many of these films were suggested by Michael Atkinson’s Top Ten list.

  3. Matt Said,

    December 31, 2005 @ 11:18 pm

    I can’t wait to see Chain. I wonder if it’s available somehow.

    Nice list there, Chuck!

  4. girish Said,

    January 1, 2006 @ 12:46 am

    A nice list, Chuck.
    It also makes clear how negligent I’ve been (unintentionally so) in the doc department: I’ve seen very few on your list, and would like to catch up with the rest.
    I wish Chain would get distributed.
    On other people’s lists, the most baffling inclusion has been Crash. That film didn’t work for me at all.

  5. Chuck Said,

    January 1, 2006 @ 1:52 am

    I was a little self-conscious about the degree to which I might be overplaying documentaries, which is why I added the other films (The World, 2046, and Turtles Can Fly), but in a sense, “Turtles,” with its neo-realist aesthetic (crumbled villages, amateur actors, etc) almost has a documentary feel to it anyway.

    I’d love to see Chain get distribution, but it’s unlikely acording to what I’ve heard, which is too bad.

    I don’t get the appeal of Crash, either. It’s one of the most cliched films I’ve seen in a long time, far less interesting and profound than it pretends to be.

  6. Sujewa E. Said,

    January 1, 2006 @ 12:42 pm

    Yup, Crash hype is pretty much BS I think. That’s a movie for people who do not have any friends who do not look like them AND who believe what they hear on the histerical & we-luv-negative-stories local news as the only things happening between people of different “races”. That or LA is a totally F*d up town w/ little harmony :) Crash does get points for opening up discussions on the topic of race relations in America using the movie medium in ’05. I think I’ll write an anti-Crash type movie. Or Crash could use a Scary Movie type spoofing.

    On to your list Chuck, very good stuff. A lot of them I have not seen yet, but will look for them in ’06. Chain is very cool, and I am sure it will be available at some point on DVD probably from dischord.com (I say this because they carry a couple of other titles by Cohen, am pretty sure of that).

    Check out my new Bloggin’ ABout 52 DIY Films In ’06 initiative when u get a chance Chuck, and spread the word, tell DIY filmmakers to e-mail me about their new projects:
    http://filmmakingforthepoor.blogspot.com/2005/12/my-2006-blog-project-write-about-52.html

    Thanks!

    Sujewa
    *******

  7. Chuck Said,

    January 1, 2006 @ 12:56 pm

    Thanks for the reminder about your DIY initiative. I’ll certainly mention it in a couple of forums (including this one). Thanks for the tip on the availability of some of Jem Cohen’s films on dischord. Will check it out when I get a chance.

    I’m looking forward to reading your review/promotion of Chris’s film.

    A “Scary Movie” version of “Crash?” That could be a lot of fun.

  8. The Sujewa Said,

    January 1, 2006 @ 12:57 pm

    The official word (thus far) from dischord.com re: Jem Cohen’s Chain DVD:

    “Chain, the new film by Jem Cohen, recently screened in Washington, DC to a full house at the Hirshorn. The next screening will be at the Redcat Theater in Los Angeles on March 14th. Some more West Coast screenings are planned for around the same time. The film will also be available soon on retail DVD. We will have more information on this release in the near future.”
    http://www.dischord.com/news/index.shtml
    under 12.9.05 heading

  9. Chuck Said,

    January 1, 2006 @ 1:07 pm

    Thanks for the pointer to Dischord’s info on the film. The Video Data Bank is also a good source for information on and access to some of Cohen’s films.

  10. CM Said,

    January 1, 2006 @ 1:41 pm

    I just discovered that the Syriana website has a pdf of the screenplay. It has some interesting bits, though I only had time to read about the first five pages.

  11. Chuck Said,

    January 1, 2006 @ 6:02 pm

    It’s certainly a smart screenplay. After talking to others about it, I’ve become even more impressed by teh film’s final, devastating sequence.

  12. CM Said,

    January 1, 2006 @ 6:37 pm

    Crash made the 10 worst movies list here:
    http://movies.msn.com/movies/hitlist/12-28-05_2?GT1=7448

    I think I will see Syriana again to see how much I pick up on a second viewing.

  13. Chuck Said,

    January 1, 2006 @ 6:44 pm

    Interesting. Crash seems to be one of those films that really polarized people. While I didn’t like it, I’d tend to give some credit to the film for intentions alone. That being said, I found Crash simultaneously pretentious and obvious.

    Funny, I had almost forgotten about some of the other worst films, including the Honeymooners movie.

  14. Anne Said,

    January 1, 2006 @ 11:21 pm

    I quite liked the Edukators and think the young German actor Daniel Bruhl (Goodbye Lenin, Joyeux Noel) will eventually break out—but the movie seemed derivative of Jules and Jim (and not as good), which may be why it hasn’t made more best ten lists.

  15. Chuck Said,

    January 2, 2006 @ 9:23 am

    The relationship to Jules and Jim is definitely there. I was probably a little more generous about that connection, seeing The Edukators as an “update” or re-reading of the earlier film.

    Daniel Bruhl was definitely a strength of the film.

  16. Chuck Said,

    January 2, 2006 @ 10:16 am

    Another film I forgot to mention on my “Wish I’d Seen” list: Ingmar Bergamn’s Saraband, which opened in DC while I was out of town and disappeared from theaters before I had time to see it.

  17. Chuck Said,

    January 2, 2006 @ 10:22 am

    Jia Zhangke’s The World should probably also be somewhere close to my top ten.

  18. Laura Said,

    January 3, 2006 @ 7:41 am

    I’d forgotten all about Chain till this post, which is ironic, since I went to see it mostly because of your description of it, Chuck. I agree it is excellent and deserves to be widely seen. Would you call it a documentary, though?

    I’m looking forward to Tristram Shandy. Cache and L’Intrus were the best new movies I saw this year. Saraband too. Oh: and Broken Flowers, perhaps, though it only opened here a week ago so maybe my impressions of it are too fresh to count for much.

    I also liked many things about King Kong.

  19. Chuck Said,

    January 3, 2006 @ 10:08 am

    I wouldn’t call Chain a documentary (and I’m wondering where I described it that way–it’s possible that I did, but can’t find it), although it does seem to grow out of a documentary impulse to record and make sense of public space.

    I probably should have put Broken Flowers among my “horoable mentions” at least. Not sure why I didn’t, but I think the film faded from memory a bit. And I honestly haven’t had time to see King Kong b/c of MLA and other distractions.

  20. Laura Said,

    January 3, 2006 @ 7:01 pm

    I don’t remember you describing it as a documentary. The programmers of the Melbourne film festival did that. I wondered if they’d seen it all the way through.

  21. Chuck Said,

    January 3, 2006 @ 7:12 pm

    Okay–I wouldn’t have been surprised if i had called it a documentary, but it makes some sense that festival programmers might describe it as one.

    Glad to hear that the film made it to Melbourne, especially given the lack of distribution.

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