Friday, February 03, 2006

Annual "Best Films of the Year" 2005

In a few moments, my favorite films of 2005... But first, I feel the need for a snobby rant. Read on, or skip to the good stuff a few paragraphs below.

I confess, I often despair over the films John Q. Public chooses to praise.

Sure, film by its very nature is escapist entertainment, but why must it be only that? Why can't it be charged with something richer, deeper, more truthful? Why can't film speak to the human condition or the state of the world as does literature, painting, or a fine piece of music?

Film is the most powerful medium for communication in our world today. It is our culture’s most accessible means of proclaiming our corporate likes and dislikes, hopes and fears, dreams and nightmares. However, film is more than a way to propagate information or blindly entertain the masses — it is also an art form, capturing the human experience in a way no other art form can. Crafted well, its capability to teach us about ourselves and the world in which we live is unrivaled. Film has the power to move us in ways we cannot even comprehend. It is the communal consensus of what it means to be human. Cinema is the new form of global literacy, and those who are fluent in this language are empowered to communicate with the world. It has the ability to transcend our experiences and understanding, and teach us lessons that fly below the radar of our emotional resistance to lodge squarely in the one place that affects us most--our heart.

So, when will people decide that Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo isn't worth their time and money and opt instead for the enlightenment that comes from seeing Junebug? Jump online and peruse a host of blogs about people's favorite films and you'll find a shocking lack of sophistication. Even voters at Internet Movie Database list Harry Potter and Serenity as two of the year's seminal works. Rotten Tomatoes fares little better.

Perhaps the worst offender of all is the recent People's Choice Awards. Why? Because, I am sorry to say it, the people are stupid. Don't believe me? Here were the nominees for Best Film of the Year: Star Wars, Batman Begins and Hitch. Excuse me, but who in their right mind thinks that any of those (I thought Batman was riveting and Hitch quite funny) are the finest, most well-crafted, most lasting and noteworthy films of the year?! The people, that's who. Us. You and I. (Kind of puts a new twist on the whole mob mentality argument. Add that dismal point to the idea of participation in a constitutional democracy and you have...well, you have a whole other blog!) I don't care if the vast majority of people say one thing. As one of my favorite shows, Battlestar Galactica, said recently, "That doesn't make them right. It just makes a whole lot of people wrong."

Movie makers may claim that public accolades are their most coveted prize but I don't buy it for a moment. Sure, public support lines a filmmaker's pockets, but when George Lucus accepts an award for Star Wars at the PCA and tells the audience, "You are the most important people for any filmmaker. The reason I make films is for you. The audience rules!" I think he is either lying or a lunatic. Or both.

The problem seems to be, people don't want to have to think when they watch films. They want to be able to disengage their brains and release themselves to a sort of mass corporate brainwashing. They think they are entertained but they are merely distracted. There is a vast difference.

Why settle for trash when you can have transformation?

Not everyone seems to be fooled, however. Hollywood was beleaguered in 2005 by dismal returns and tepid attendance. It was, in short, one of the worst fiscal years in remembrance. Could it be because some of the people have woken up and begun questioning the nutritional quality of what is being fed them?

That said, I do find it odd that in such a flaccid year for Hollywood, 2005 was a great year for movies and produced some of the best films I have seen in a very long time. For the most part, this was not a year in which bright, happy, sunshiny films took the pedestal. It was a year of dark, often dismal, daring, prophetic and politically-charged films. The best films of 2005 sought more to educate than entertain, comment on our world than on simple diversion. And while the numbers may have slid (because the average movie-goer is still more interested in seeing The Fantastic Four or The Island than in The Constant Gardener) our lives are the richer for these films.

I'm often asked how I chose my list. True, what is a "best" list if not a "favorite" list? For my money, I know a film is good if it refuses to let me go; if it haunts me; if it sinks its talons into me and I find myself dwelling on it far more than is natural. Munich did that. So did Match Point. The nights I saw them, I hardly slept a minute.

The following list is hardly comprehensive. Unless you are a professional critic there is really no way to see every critically acclaimed film that comes out in a year. Still, what follows is the best of what I saw in 2005.

I'd be curious about your favorite additions. But if you thought Mr. and Mrs. Smith was this year's Citizen Kane, be ready for a fight!

And now, finally...


(click on any of the film titles for the trailers)


Crash was the first true cinematic masterpiece of the year. It is a film that speaks with a staggering prophetic voice. It is a film of devastating lyricism and haunting power. It is a film of hushed impact and explosive subtlety. It is a film of breathtaking intelligence--hyper-articulate and throbbing with sumptuous compassion. It is, easily, one of the strongest American films in years. When it was over, I sat in my chair, shell-shocked in stunned silence, trying to sort out my tangled emotions. Written and directed by Paul Haggis, the Academy-Award winning screenwriter of last year's Best Picture winner, Million Dollar Baby, Crash is a story of lives running parallel, losing control, colliding, and careening away from one another again. The film is an intimate tapestry of interweaving lives defined, one way or another, by racism and by our common humanity.

Good Night and Good Luck

There are certain pieces of art that transcend the medium on which they were created to take their place in the diminutive pantheon of ethical signposts, those creative signals that point humankind in the way it should, or should not, go. I did not think America would produce a more timely and necessary film this year than the phenomenally crucial, Crash. But it has. George Clooney’s sophomore film, Good Night, and Good Luck is a brilliant tour de force, both of filmmaking and philosophy. It is a daring and to some, a dangerous film. It is a snapshot of a previous era’s fight for America’s soul writ large on the canvas of contemporary necessity. We are guests as immortal newscaster Edward R. Morrow galvanizes a nation against the tyrannical excesses of government under the leadership of Senator Joseph McCarthy, and know that, while the film works brilliantly as a historical account, it also resonates as an unblinking cautionary tale to the unbridled governmental excesses of contemporary America.

The New World

Terrance Malick is a director on the endangered species list. His celluloid visions—long, introspective, deliberate, visually indulgent—are rarely seen anymore (least of all from him—The New World is only his 4th film in 32 years!). Their scarcity only makes them that much more precious. The New World is a masterpiece. It tells the familiar story of Pocahontas (played by 14-year-old newcomer Q'orianka Kilcher) and her people’s first encounters with the Europeans who will colonize America. It imagines their first meetings and how strange they must have seemed to each other. As the great ships sail upriver, American history sails with them. This is Pocahontas’ story, though we are also allowed inside the heads of the two men who love her—one as an idea and the other as a person. There are two new worlds in this film—the one the English discover and the one Pocahontas discovers as she is grafted into English society and travels to London. Much is gained in the exchange. Much, much more is lost.

The New World is a thing of wild beauty, untamed and feral yet luxurious, sumptuous and lavish all at the same time. As with all Malick films, nature is the lead actor and the one most lovingly and longingly shot. It is the most artfully sculpted film in American cinema this year. It is an elemental tone poem composed not of words but light, wind, water, sound and fire. Malick creates a vast sensory universe so dreamily paced there's always time to breathe, react and admire. You will leave the theater enraged that the idyllic stillness must be broken by the sounds of car engines, cell phones, and radios; such is the film’s all encompassing gravity. This is not a historical reproduction—we, like the characters, are seeing and living history for the first time. And it is mesmerizing.


In 1994, Steven Speilberg came out with two of the biggest movies of the year--one fun and forgettable and the other, devastating and eternal. I am, of course, talking about Jurassic Park and Shindler's List. In 2005, he did the same thing, giving the world the abominable and silly War of the Worlds (more on that below) and later, the powerful and monumental Munich. Much has been made of Munich's authenticity. Irrelevant. Whether or not the film is entirely true may never be disclosed so long as its events are shrouded in so many secrets. As the credits begin to roll, it doesn't matter anyway. This expertly crafted, Hitchcockian-paced drama about a super-secret Israeli commando team hunting down those Palestinians behind the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre is a cautionary tale all the same. Where is the line between justice and vengeance? Upon how many hands can the blood of innocents rest? When does one cease being a man and become a monster? How are we so different from one another when our grief, our passions and our brutality are so very alike?

Match Point

It's Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment"—without the punishment. Or, if you're Woody Allen, you suggest that a guilty conscience is a far harsher sentence than bars and razor wire could ever be. This brilliant and compelling film about lust, love and greed examines life teetering on a knife's edge. On one side is goodness and the other side is luck. If you're a rotten, sycophantic social climber in modern day London, you'll want to fall on the side of luck. You'll need all of it you can get. And while it just may save your life, your soul is another story. Revisiting some of the themes from his stellar Crimes and Misdemeanors, Allen carves out a wicked, unpredictable, engrossing, deftly-acted, sexy, revolting film. This taut tour de force is easily the best thing he's done in decades.

Paradise Now

Could a more important, relevant and complimentary film to Munich have come out in 2005? This Palestinian film follows two best friends who are recruited to become suicide bombers. You see their uncertainty. You see their doubt. You see their conviction. You see their reasons. The juxtaposition between the urban wasteland in which they live and the decadence on the Israeli side is staggering to behold. Don't get the filmmakers wrong--this film does not suggest that violence is the answer. Far from it. But it certainly--and justifiably--shows that the Palestinians have just cause for their anger. This is a film that haunts with the queasy power of nightmares.

Pride and Prejudice

I have to admit, I wanted nothing to do with this movie. In my opinion, the BBC/A&E production with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle was so inspired that another remake bordered on sacrilege. I was wrong. It's not better, just different. This film is luxurious! Sublimely directed and shot, Pride and Prejudice captures all of the magic, feistiness, fun and conundrums of the beloved Austin text in a way that is abridged of content but not spirit. A joy to watch from beginning to end.

A History of Violence

David Cronenburg's examination of the secrets we hide to protect ourselves and those we love is a tightly wound masterpiece of storytelling. Mistaken identity and submerged truth vie for dominance in this story of hyper-violence wrought on idyllic small town America. A History of Violence is an unblinking look at our favorite national pornography—gawking excitedly at carnage. But be careful what you look at--you may not like what you see.


One of the best films I saw at the Telluride Film Festival. Capote is a rich and lush examination of a man so desperate for applause and adulation that he would tease and manipulate others the way naughty children delight in pulling the legs off Daddy Long Leg spiders. This is a fascinating film and one of the best directed of the year. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is nothing short of brilliant as Truman Copote.

Brokeback Mountain

The other best film at Telluride. Brokeback Mountain is a lot of things. Some of it good and some of it bad. But at the end of the film, this is a story of two people (not simply men) who genuinely cherished each other and the derailed lives they left behind them in the reckless pursuit of that love. You may call their love sin, but you cannot call it false. Ang Lee has directed one the most visually sumptuous film to play on movie screens in years.

The Constant Gardener

Selflessness and greed become entangled in this conspiracy thriller about a diplomat's wife who is murdered because she uncovers the truth about a drug conglomerate's nefarious practices in the African hindland. Politically as well as emotionally charged, The Constant Gardener is a mesmerizing walk through beauty, grief, despair and hope from Fernando Meirelles, the director of the shocking City of God.

Walk the Line

This year's “inspiring-and-overcoming-the-odds-to-make-it-big” musical is, in fact, light years better than last year's addition to this category, Ray. While Jamie Foxx alone was luminescent in his role as Ray Charles, Walk the Line shimmers on every level. Skillfully directed, genuinely moving, and impeccably acted (and sung) by its leads, Joaquin Phoenix and Reece Witherspoon, Walk the Line is easily one of the best of its kind.


You didn't understand all of it? It went by too fast to take it all in? There was too much information to mentally digest? Yeah, well, that was kind of the point. Life's a lot like that too. This unabashedly critical look at America's gluttony for mid-east oil and the lengths we will go to take and keep it was spellbinding if not always comprehensible. George Clooney strikes again in a daring and searing film that insists this country has far more blood on its hands then the news shows each night. Brilliant.


Oh, what a joy of a movie! Truthful yet subtle, realistic without being heavy-handed, Junebug, the story of a southern man bringing his New England bride back home to meet the family is, by turns, delightful, quirky, frustrating, painful, and authentic all rolled into one. But above all else, this movie is a bombshell because it fully introduced the world to the gushing radiance that is Amy Adams. Bravo.

Kingdom of Heaven

Yes, Kingdom of Heaven shows the brutal clashing of great armies. Yes, bloodied blades hack mercilessly at any limbs within their arc, showering the screen with crimson. Yes, massive fireballs rain down on besieged cities. And yes, the desert undulates with men and horses like a colony of ravenous ants across a leaf blade. And yet, there is so much more to it. That the film has monolithic battles, larger-than-life characters, and breathtaking special effects is hardly the point. Kingdom of Heaven pulses with a greater message. It is concerned less with action and more with human motivations. It is more interested in honor, justice, and personal righteousness, especially in the face of overwhelming odds. Kingdom of Heaven is profoundly relevant for our troubled times. In this era of intense religious and political fervor, Director Ridley Scott aims to understand both the Christian and the Muslim side of history and show that co-existence is possible if the voices championing jingoism, intolerance, xenophobia and religious war rhetoric are ignored.

Everything is Illuminated

Yet another favorite from the Telluride Film Festival in which tragedy and farce mingle to tell a story of remarkable beauty and hope. Based on Jonathan Foer's novel, Everything is Illuminated marks the directorial debut of actor Liev Schreiber and what a touching, bittersweet entry it is. What appears to be a story of a young man returning to his Ukrainian roots to find the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazi death machine turns out to be ruse, hiding a larger and much closer story of sacrifice, guilt and the ultimate closure.


What an act of bravery it was to make Downfall. Had this film been produced within the Hollywood juggernaut, that sentiment would be moot. Ambitious, but hardly brave. That Downfall was made by Germans makes it brave. Downfall dwells on the final days of the Third Reich, a time of utter hopelessness supercharged with mad desperation and fantastical optimism. The Russians have swallowed Berlin and now march their way to the city’s center where Adolf Hitler and his generals cower in an underground bunker. As Berlin disintegrates around him, Hitler presides over obsolete maps, rearranging imaginary armies in a delusional belief that victory can yet be snatched from the jaws of defeat. Ultimately, even he will realize the futility of his situation and splatter his brains across the wall of his personal study.

Though Downfall received lavish critical praise, many have blasted it for humanizing Hitler. By making him just a man, they say, you lessen his unimaginable crimes. By showing Eva Braun and her unshakable love for history’s greatest tyrant, you validate the idea that he had aspects that were, in fact, lovable. However, while humanizing the architect of Nazi Germany’s gore-soaked grab for world domination was indeed the aim of the film, excusing his culpability was not. If Hitler is denied a common humanity, he becomes something other, something alien. If he remains in the realm of the monstrous, we cannot truly identify with him, we cannot realize that we too are capable of such evils, that the evils he fueled could happen again. He is even more of a monster precisely because he is human.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

C.S. Lewis' timeless allegorical adventure follows the exploits of the four siblings who leave their WWII-era English countryside home for the world of Narnia after entering a magical wardrobe. Once a charming, peaceful land inhabited by all sorts of magical beasts, Narnia is now a world under icy siege by the White Witch. Uniting with the noble and mystical lion Aslan, the children discover that it is their destiny to destroy the White Witch and return Narnia to its idyllic self. Delightfully entertaining and wondrously substantive, this is the sort of film that elevates children's entertainment from banality to greatness.

Broken Flowers

Yet another introspective, introverted performance by the new master of subtle comic nuance, Bill Murray. In Jim Jarmusch's Broken Flowers, Murray plays a bored and depressed millionaire with little to live for until he learns he may have fathered a child twenty years earlier. The resulting road trip to visit all the possible mothers is both hilarious and tragic and while Murray will discover much about himself, the film ultimately ends in delicious ambiguity.

Cinderella Man

This country sure does love its boxing movies. You rarely meet someone who watches the real thing, but turn it into a movie and it's halfway to an Oscar. Sure, Cinderella Man is a bit formulaic. What sports movies aren't, these days, with the exception of last year's phenomenal Million Dollar Baby (see what I mean about Oscar loving boxing!)? But this one's based on a true story, and like the inspiring Rudy, is ultimately more about an underdog with heart than a prince with skill. Russell Crowe gives a strong performance as a loving husband, father and comeback boxer who inspires Depression-Era America by fighting through poverty and injury to win the heavyweight boxing championship.


Batman Begins, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Me and You and Everyone We Know, March of the Penguins, Sin City, and the "unknown film" because, let's face it, there are a slew I've yet to see...

2005 DUDS:

By duds I don't mean those films that intentionally aim for the lowest common denominator and hit the bullseye every time, but those films that tried so hard to become something they simply did not have the stamina or metal to become.

I love science fiction, but this was a terrible year for it. In fact, my least favorite films of the year were all huge Sci Fi epics that, in my mind, played dismally.

King Kong

Twice as long as it needs to be, hedonistically animated and decadently self-indulgent, King Kong is beastly to be sure, but there is little beauty here. The impulse to create magic and wonder for its own sake is a perfectly viable and I would argue, necessary element of cinemagic. However, when special effects are presented narcissistically as they are here, when they serve no other purpose than to showcase the bravado of the artist, when they exist solely so that someone can thump their chest as the great ape, and cry, “Look what I can do” they cease being magic and become the very worst kind of cheap parlor tricks. This is Jackson at his most self-gratifying. And he simply doesn’t know when to stop.

War of the Worlds

I miss Steven Spielberg. I’m not saying a director is not allowed to change, or mature, or grow more cynical with age. But what I am saying is that I miss the youthful vibrancy, childlike zeal, and optimistic idealism that not only defined all of his early films, but several decades of entertainment as well. I miss the Spielberg before he thought he was Stanley Kubrick. I miss the Spielberg that rejoiced in the unknown and took great pleasure in the world’s many mysteries. War of the Worlds lacks the zest and joyous energy we expect from a Steven Spielberg picture. It lacks idealistic integrity. And it lacks courage. What happened to the sense of wonder celebrated in Close Encounters of the Third Kind? What happened to the imagination of E.T.? War of the Worlds just may represent the bleakest view of humanity that has ever come out in one of Spielberg's films--much more so than in Munich. He has traded wonder for terror, awe for gore, innocence for cynicism, optimism for fatalism, day-dreams for nightmares, Peter Pan for the Brothers Grimm. The cinema is poorer for it. And so are you and I.

Star Wars: Episode III

Thank God it's over. I'm sure we'll be arguing about whether or not George Lucas should have made these prequels for as long as the vastly superior originals are discussed. But, in my mind these lackluster, bereft of magic, un-muscular, pedantic, over-the-top, childish and just plain silly films are finally where they deserve to be—forgotten.


Anonymous Scott Walton said...

My girlfriend and I were at the theater shortly before the holidays, looking for some movies to watch. While she browsed the list of films, I wandered the lobby captivated not by the movies but by the people admiring them. Oh, there's nothing wrong with the films or even the people interested in purchasing tickets to watch them. However, I couldn't help but feel that I was watching everything that is sick, twisted and warped about Western society. The posters went on forever, perfect little copies of each film parading down in one homogenous blob.

One woman looked at the poster for WAR OF THE WORLDS, glanced at it disgustedly and mentaly tossed it aside. Another snatched three or four tickets commenting aloud, "I'm not sure if I want to watch one or all of them."

And suddenly, unexplainably, I was awash in memories of visiting Africa — of naked, emaciated children racing about my legs, of feeble men and women clad in the same tattered rags they had obviously worn since as long as they could remember; thinking of families who will never experience cinema which many pretentious sycophantic snobs refer to as the most powerful medium for communication in our world today.

I felt sadness.

I felt disgust.

I felt pissed off.

Throughout the entire movie season, with each trailer viewed, with each movie to which I sat, I was never able to shake those thoughts, those emotions.

Outwardly I celebrated, but inside I was coiled in anger and revulsion.

We live in a wretched society, I thought. I am wretched.

And you, sir, or a self agrandizing hyprocrit and snob who lives in a world where all that matters is the sound of your own voice and how important you are in that world.

How many children in Africa starved while you spent hour after hour after hour in a movie theater watching your "art"? How many third world families lost their lives while you sat behind your word processor in the mountains of a free world lecturing the rest of us? You, sir, are no different then the 'snobs' you so hastily chastize and judge for shopping for dresses.

The funny (and rather pathetic thing) is that you know you are a snob. Do you know that you are a hypocrit as well? Do you know just how well that dress truly fits you?

10:00 AM  
Blogger Brandon Fibbs said...

Now see, Scott, you started off so funny there. Had me laughing and admiring your subversive wit. And then you had to go and make yourself a jackass in the end. What a shame. You had such potential.

10:41 AM  
Anonymous Martyr McMartyrson said...

Didn't you know, Brandon? If you are going to call attention to the plight of the poor, you are apparently not allowed to have passions or even hobbies.

10:46 AM  
Anonymous From the grave, Gene Siskel said...

I think you overreact a bit about the state of movies today, and the movie going public. I’m around a lot of ‘em, (when I haunt their bedrooms) and I find that there is a generation coming up that is far more sophisticated in their tastes than you’d expect. You have to realize the kind of fandom that drives people to vote for Batman and Harry Potter on websites like IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes. Capote doesn’t create those kinds of fans. It’s a skewed poll from the beginning.

For better or worse, we’re kind of living in a golden age of media consumption (or, at least, the Living are), and the upheavals still have a ways to go. For movies alone, with Netflix, DVR’s, and a host of internet sites that nurture this kind of film fetish (with message boards and discussions such as this) film, as a medium, has never felt more alive and more accessible to everyone.

With that said, some simple fact checking, Mr. Fib:

1) Schindler’s List and Jurassic Park came out in 1993. I remember it well. I was still alive.
2) Critical accolades aside (which are many) Good Night and Good Luck has been widely acknowledged as an inaccurate portrayal of said events. It gives the general idea, kinda like The Aviator, and does it brilliantly, but it probably does not “work brilliantly as a historical account,” at least in the opinions of historians, who have high standards for these things.
3) I am dying to see The New World. Since I am already dead, I am extra-dying.
4) In the fabulous Paradise Now, I wouldn’t have so much have called the Israeli side of things as “decadent,” as I would "comparatively wealthy, Western, and properly landscaped." I think you invite unnecessary criticism with such a loaded word. There may be decadence, but the film doesn’t really get into that. I do think the juxtaposition was brilliantly done, and it put you in the heads of these sad, manipulated protagonists.
5) Munich, Munich, Munich.
6) The fiancé in Junebug was from Old England, the original, and they lived in Chicago. But still, Amy Adams! I may be married, but I’m not dead! Wait...
7) There is such a thing as too minimalistic, and that thing looks like Bill Murray in a track suit.
8) I disagree with you about King Kong, thinking it was a fabulously over the top work of wonderment, though I can understand your criticisms. I am comletely at odds with you on War of the Worlds, and feel you are completely missing the point.

Other than that, good list! Takes me back to when I was buried underneath great movies, and not simply buried!

From the Great Beyond,

P.S. Kubrick just now got here, the other day. We don't know what he's been doing all this time but he is seriously creeping people out already. Bogart keeps smoking his cigars around him just to piss him off I think.

11:38 AM  
Anonymous Still Gene said...

Oh, and Murderball. You must see Murderball. I know you haven't, because it's not on this list, even though I have haunted you repeatedly to see it.

But while we're at it. Grizzly Man? Enron?

I hear tell you didn't like Squid & The Whale, but that also belongs. Jeff Daniels not nominated would be a travesty if not for the utter irrelevance of the Oscars.

There are others, but I feel brain dead right now. Ha! Many Dead jokes!

12:46 PM  
Blogger Brandon Fibbs said...

Alas, yes, Gene, my docu viewing this year was sorely lacking--not always my fault, I'm afraid.

Roger says hi.

12:54 PM  
Blogger c_neil said...

I certainly don't think Star Wars is deserves a best of anything, but I think your disdain for the film shows how you have missed the point.

I'm around junior high kids everyday and they love the Star Wars films. They are always drawing pictures of light saber fights and making comparisons about characters in the Star Wars universe. It isn't just boys, even some of the girls get involved.

I am convinced that George Lucas did want to make a bunch of crappy films for only kids to enjoy. I think he remembers watching Commando Cody and Flash Gordon and wants to create the same sense of wonder and excitement in the kids of today. In fact, I watched enough of these old serials to recognize that he often named Star Wars characters after people in these movies.

Now, maybe George Lucas looked at himself in the mirror one day and said that his lofty goal of creating camp serials for the twenty first century was the best that he cold do. However, I don't think so. I think Lucas knew his limitations and if he had really wanted great movies to be made in the new Star Wars franchise he would have hired other directors and chosen other actors. But George Lucas didn't do that. I suspect he had a bunch of kids at home and millions of dollars to spend to entertain them, so that is exactly what he did.

9:02 AM  
Blogger Brandon Fibbs said...

I humbly disagree c_neil. I don't think I've missed the point.

I fully agree with you that the Star Wars films, since their inception, were meant to be of the Saturday adventure serial vein. So was Lucas' Indiana Jones trilogy! There's nothing whatsoever wrong with that. I confess to some light saber my adulthood no less!

But the originals, especially the first two, accomplished the fun campiness while still including a certain amount of gravity, depth, intelligence, mythology and even a bit of self-parody. These were lacking in the latter films, replaced by false seriousness and better looking smoke and mirrors.

I believe that much of what hurt the latter films was Lucas' iron-fisted meddling. George is a big-picture guy but fails miserably at intimate storytelling minutia. Plus, I think he is too close to his own creation. Part of what made the originals so good is that he gave the big-picture marching orders and stepped back and let others direct and write the films while he produced. The result was far better films than if he had done it all himself as was the case with I-III.

I don't think he wanted so much to make movies only the kids would enjoy so much as movies that the kid in all of us, especially we adults, would enjoy.

You give him more credit than I do. While you see it as a "he did it all cuz he knew what he wanted and achieved it" I think he simply micromanaged the magic right out of the series.

12:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I confess to some light saber my adulthood no less!

Oh how brilliant it would have been had you hyperlinked that line to that picture of us dueling with mops, on a ledge - like idiots - two floors up on your old terrace in Sicily. I think Steph took it. I have it somewhere but with no means to scan it.

3:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brandon, I LOVE the comments you elicit from people! Wow, can people get their panties in a bunch... You rock!

3:42 PM  
Blogger Brandon Fibbs said...

Oh yes, "Mr. Anonymous," that would indeed have been funny. I do have that picture at home, though, like you, have no means to scan it. Someday perhaps...

3:52 PM  
Anonymous WEP said...

A great read. Thanks.

BTW, we have an ongoing debate here about whether there's a difference between calling something your favorite or the best.

Mark argues that best suggests important and influential. You may not like the beatles, but their influence is undeniable.

But to me, film is about communication. It's personal. It worked for you or it didn't. whether a film was influential is more of an objective attribute. You can trace stylistic techniques or themes or plot devices.

Friday the 13th was an influential film (given that it stole from Hitchcock), but in my opinion it sucked.

5:34 PM  
Anonymous Jeff Anderson said...


You present a fine list and well-written, insightful commentary. Of course, you've also made the mistake of posting it on a site where others can respond! Here goes!

When lamenting the quality of the films the public applauds, you write, "The problem seems to be, people don't want to have to think when they watch films. They want to be able to disengage their brains." I would quibble with you on this, for your wording implies that most people have their brains engaged before they enter the theater and go there to turn them off. I respectfully disagree; I think most people's on-off switches are more or less permanently locked in place. On the other hand, I wouldn't say a film needs to be a critic's or art-house delight (edgy, cynical, devoid of movie stars and--often--production values, and frequently reveling in the gutter) to be great. Great films can be much more mainstream than that, and much more grandiose. I'm thinking of films (just to name a few) like "Back to the Future," the Best Picture Oscar-nominee "Raiders of the Lost Ark," the Best Picture Oscar-winning "Titanic" and "The Sound of Music," and the (prestigious) Hamster Award-winning "Jurassic Park" (to which "War of the Worlds" ("B") is not remotely the equal!). All of these films are certainly unique and creative, and true "big screen" (which I mean as a compliment); but they're also very popular, even mainstream. Here's to big-time Hollywood at its best!

Speaking of big-time Hollywood, I am very curious about one thing: When we walked out of "King Kong," I criticized it and gave it a "B-" (which I've subsequently promoted to a "B" because I think it is quite good for a film that took the risky path of not hiring an editor and subsequently not leaving one inch of its footage on the cutting room floor), while you were comparatively kind and gave it a "B+." Now, out of nowhere, it is singled out in infamy on your "duds" list. What gives?

But, in all, I think you present an impressive list. I haven't seen all of your top 20 by any means, although I have seen most and saw many (5, by my count) by your side, but I think the list is quite solid (not that anyone asked me). I even like the entry of "Match Point," which, after recovering from my initial nausea, I gave a "B+." I would observe, however, that you mistakenly listed the "B-" "Kingdom of Heaven"--a film that reduced a topic as disturbingly rich and complex as the Crusades to "there is good and bad on both sides and neither side really believes in much"--among your top-20 films instead of among those catering to an unthinking public. But that's nothing that some simple cutting and pasting can't fix.

One last question: Are the top-5 entries in order?

Good work, Brandon! And thanks for reading my unsolicited review!


6:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good rant, man!

6:37 PM  
Blogger Brandon Fibbs said...

Wow, Jeff. So much to answer! Here's my stab at it...

You've made the mistake of posting it on a site where others can respond!

Mistake? Not at all. I love the comments. Even those that disagree with me. Hell, I think I love those more than the praise! Just weird that way, I guess.

[Y]our wording implies that most people have their brains engaged before they enter the theater and go there to turn them off. I respectfully disagree; I think most people's on-off switches are more or less permanently locked in place.

Yes, you are probably right. How depressing a thought that there are so many people who go into whatever setting--a film, a church service, a symphony, a college lecture--with their minds and hearts already in an off position.

On the other hand, I wouldn't say a film needs to be a critic's or art-house delight to be great.
Great films can be much more mainstream than that, and much more grandiose.

You bet! And a couple of mine this year were, though, I admit, more were indy than in past lists. Far be it from me to poo-poo large productions. Who'd want to see some small indy outfit buy the rights to "Lord of the Rings"?! There are some things which demand the scope and financing only big Hollywood can provide, to be certain. But then again, you said it perfectly when you said, "Here's to big-time Hollywood at its BEST!"

Speaking of big-time Hollywood, I am very curious about one thing: King Kong. What gives?

I don't recall saying I liked it, exactly. While certain elements impressed me, overall I was terribly disapointed. If I did say I initially liked it, it must have eaten at me a whole lot over the next few hours because I immediately went home and blogged this until nearly three in the morning!

One last question: Are the top-5 entries in order?

Yes, they are indeed. The entire 20 is in roughly my correct descending order.

Good work, Brandon! And thanks for reading my unsolicited review!

Unsolicited? Nonsense. That's what the comments are there for!

6:59 PM  
Anonymous Jeff Anderson said...

I was just teasing you about posting where you can receive responses. C'mon, Brandon, you're like me: the most unwelcome "response" you could get would be silence.

Good points on big Hollywood....I agree.

I don't know...I still remember that "B+" on "Kong," but I'll let it go. (I actually think the "B+" is more accurate than calling it a dud, unless you mean in relation to what it could have been with a "less is more" philosophy, specifically with an hour of island and post-island New York footage trimmed out.)

I notice you still haven't cut and pasted "Kingdom of Heaven" into its appropriate spot.

Now that I know your films are in order, I have to say that, minus the foreign-language entry (which I haven't seen) and "The New World" (which I, like you, haven't seen in focus--but which I, like you, feel confident in evaluating despite that), I'd say you have an very strong top-5 ("Crash," "Good Night and Good Luck," "Munich," "Match Point," "Pride and Prejudice")! Again, good work!


7:35 PM  
Anonymous An Amateur said...

Don't worry, no more about King Kong here. But I am going to weigh in a little more on Star Wars' Episode III.

I thought Lucas did a surprisingly good job in making Anakin's turn to the dark side plausible. I wondered how he was going to do that and enjoyed the film (movie) more because he did make the right and wrong almost ambiguous. It was a question of loyalty. Unfortunately for Anakin, but fortunately for the finer episodes, he did choose wrongly.

Ironic that we seem to be living a similar situation in these United States... but I won't go there.


1:48 PM  
Blogger Brandon Fibbs said...

The "film (movie)" thing you did made me smile. I do it all the time. Lots of us involved in "the industry" do. We generally use "film" to denote a motion picture of high quality and reserve "movie" for the lesser fare.

As for the other bit, perhaps someday I'll do a blog titled: "Jenna and Barbara, I am your father. Join the dark side and we'll rule the universe as father and daugthers!"


3:40 PM  
Anonymous The "Kenobister" said...

Don't worry. I would wield my lightsabre on the Bush twins. I might even use a little Force.

3:45 PM  
Blogger c_neil said...

Sorry to detract from the intelligent political conversation that's a-brewin' but I wanted to get another word in on the previous comments I made.

I think that once some directors establish themselves as commercially viable, they stop caring about their actors and focus on emulating other films that they like and creating digital artwork. I bet it is a lot of work to have "gravity, depth, intelligence, [and] mythology." However, I bet it is incredibly fun to create digital realities and entertain kids. The directors get lazy and don't care.

Do you want proof? Peter Jackson has signed on as the executive producer of the Halo movie. If you don't know, Halo is a video game about a guy named Master Chief who runs around and shoots things.

Maybe this trend is the very reason why Steven Spielberg seems so nihilistic in his recent films.

7:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry. I'm skipping most of the previous comments (except the one about Murderball...excellent film). Dont' give a shit about Star Wars and such. Just wanted to say that you better be right, you stud of a film critic. I put all these selections on my Netflix queue (except the ones I've seen).

If they are a waste of my time, you're dead to me.

10:46 PM  
Anonymous Nate said...

Oh man, History of Violence has been so overrated.

6:55 PM  
Blogger Brandon Fibbs said...

You may have noticed that I swapped two of the films in my top five. I saw "The New World" again this weekend and really felt that it needed to be higher up than it was. So, it now sits before
"Munich" instead of after it.

12:41 PM  
Anonymous Paul said...

I saw Crash last night and have to post. I haven't "cried" in probably 20 years. Last night I wept 3 loud, uncontrollable sobs. Now, I've shed a tear here and there when I had to face my dad's mortality, thankfully his surgery was successful though, and when I watched The Notebook. But when that former gang banger's little girl took that blast from that overwrought Persian man... I lost it.

I did not like this movie. Too much hate and stupid misunderstandings going on between otherwise beautiful people. I hate to think that it was good because it was true, but I'm afraid that is the case.

Some people reap what they sew, some get what they deserve, sometimes bad things happen to good people. That's life and that was Crash.


11:25 AM  
Blogger Brandon Fibbs said...

I don't normally have physical reactions to films, but with this one, I responded to the very scene of which you speak, almost as if I was watching a horror movie and was dealt a scare out of nowhere.

When that gun went off, my hands flew to my face, my mouth gaped, I fell forward in my chair and immediately soaked my shirt with my sobs. It wasn't a conscious decision. It was deeper. It was instinct. It was primal fear, primal horror.

Don't concentrate on the ugly. Sure, it's there in Crash and in life. But realizing there is ugliness in the world...and in you and me...and then taking a step, even a small step to remedy it, like some of the characters in this film did, is why I found Crash exceptional and easily my favorite film of the year.

4:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You absolutely need to make GRIZZLY MAN your top priority rental. I'm not a huge documentary fan..but ...WOW.

Oh, and BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN is probably the best movie I've seen all year.

1:53 PM  

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