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.