14
Nov
2009
Feature: Jordan's Movie Quest
Jordan's Movie Quest: The Year 2005
Jordan
As we draw closer to the end of the decade, I too draw nearer to the completion of my "Top Ten of the Decade" list. In furtherance of that goal, here are my favorites from 2005, with a short discussion of each:

10. Cachè-Director Michael Haneke (Funny Games) keeps the tension on a constant boil in his story of a married couple (Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche) who are terrorized by a series of videotapes taken of the front of their house. While the idea is a bit derivative of David Lynch's Lost Highway, Haneke turns his thriller into a thoughtful examination of the lasting effects of discrimination, an allegory for the French-Algerian conflict, and a look inside a slowly crumbling marriage and the vulnerability that drives its partners. Technically brilliant, quietly meditative, and edge-of-your-seat tense, Cachè will leave you uneasy, especially once its final moments process.

9. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-Much controversy was made of Tim Burton remaking the beloved Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, but Burton stuck close to the original novel by Roald Dahl, and provided something wholly different. Darker, more visually stunning, and downright weirder, this take features Freddie Highmore as Charlie, a poverty stricken boy who lucks into a golden ticket, and with it a guided tour of the world's greatest chocolate factory. Along the way he meets Willy Wonka (a tour de force by Johnny Depp, who has no trouble plundering the depth of eccentricity), an army of Oompa Loompa's (played by Deep Roy, but voiced by Danny Elfman, whose lyrics were lifted directly from the book), and some of the world's vainest, dumbest, and most spoiled children. Burton creates a fully inhabited world as only he can, and the manic set pieces, off-kilter performances, and fable-like nature of the story all fit perfectly into it.

8. Batman Begins-It had been several years since the Batman franchise was effectively driven into the ground by Joel "Give Him Nipples" Schumacher, Christopher Nolan emerged with his vision of the bat. Telling the story of Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) and his transformation into The Dark Knight, the movie follows the vigilante from the mountains of Tibet back to the slums of Gotham City. After being trained by Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) and the League of Shadows, Bruce abandons them for their ruthlessness, and returns to fight the corruption rotting his city, specifically Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson, who has fun filling in the broadly menacing role). With the help of his childhood sweetheart Rachel (Katie Holmes), his loyal butler Alfred (Michael Caine), Waynetech scientist Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), and the one cop in town beyond corruption (Gary Oldman), Bruce begins to realize the good he can do as Batman. Featuring a stellar performance by Cillian Murphy as the Scarecrow, the film is dark, brooding, moody, and thoughtful like no other Batman movie before, and shows that the superhero movie can be for thinkers as well.

7. Sin City-In the noir-ish night's of Basin City, everyone is looking for something. Be it redemption, money, or a pedophile whose been died yellow, each character has deep seated wants that drive their bleak, brooding, often violent trajectories through the blood stained and rain soaked night. Directed by Robert Rodriguez, the film oozes stylistic intent. Shot in color, then sapped into black and white, only to be re-infused with blasts of color when something is significant, the film feels like a moving comic strip, and is drenched in the pitch black humor and bleak nihilism of Frank Miller's original work. The movie follows three stories through the night"”Marv (an excellent Mickey Rourke) wants to know who killed the only woman to ever show him affection, Dwight (Clive Owen) who tries to protect one girlfriend (Brittany Murphy) and ends up in the arms of another (Rosario Dawson), and Hartigan (Bruce Willis) who tries his best to keep a little girl, and later, the stripper she becomes (Jessica Alba) out of the clutches of a murdering rapist (Nick Stahl). Dark, brutally violent, heartbreaking, and occasionally very funny, Sin City is a stylized masterpiece of neo-noir.

6. Shop Girl-Mirabelle (Claire Danes) is bored with her empty life selling gloves at a high end department store. That is, until her well ordered life is disrupted by the appearance of two very different suitors"”Ray (Steve Martin) is suave, sweet, rich, and older. Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman) is immature, awkward, and broke. It's no surprise, then, when Mirabelle embarks on an affair with Ray. He hopes to keep her at arms distance as a temporary fling, but she is convinced she has met the man of her dreams. As the two dance around their varying expectations, a true connection is formed. Meanwhile, Jeremy embarks on a quest of self-discovery as a roadie, with his mind always on how to win Mirabelle when he returns. When depression strikes, Mirabelle comes to depend even more heavily on Ray, but his apprehension leaves her wondering whether she is better off getting her heart broken earlier or later. Adapted from Steve Martin's novella, the film is often funny and sweetly sad in its exploration of what motivates romantic entanglements, the dangers of differing expectations, and the wisdom that comes from having your heart broken.

5. Broken Flowers-Don Johnston (Bill Murray, laconic and morose as ever) is a lifelong bachelor and a lover of women. When his newest girlfriend (Julie Delpy) leaves him and he gets an anonymous note from an ex telling him that he has a son, his best friend Winston (Jeffrey Wright) convinces him to visit each of the women who could have fathered his son. As Don sees each of his former lovers (played by Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange and Tilda Swinton) he is reminded of what drew him to each of them, and gets a glimpse at the chasm that now divides him from those he was once so close to. Jim Jarmusch builds the film slowly into a thoughtful meditation on mortality, love, the passage of time, and the frailty of human connections.

4. Serenity-After the heartbreaking cancellation of Joss Whedon's masterpiece-to-be Firefly, the rabid fans were left wanting more. And, after pushing for a long time, they got it. Time has passed since we last saw Captain Malcolm Reynolds (the always charming Nathan Fillion), but the main conflicts in his life are still much the same. Since taking aboard a fugitive doctor (Sean Maher) and his sister (Summer Glau), a mentally damaged psychic turned into a weapon by the corrupt government, nothing but trouble has followed the already unlucky crew of the spaceship Serenity. Yet things get exponentially worse when they begin being taunted out of hiding by The Operative (a chilly Chiwetel Ejiofor), a government agent willing to kill thousands to get his hands on his quarry. The crew scrambles desperately for their own lives and for a better understanding of the motivations of those among them and those forces arrayed against them. Equal parts sci-fi action epic, and ethically dense morality play, Serenity combines Whedon's penchant for witty one-liners and an existential scope that spans galaxies into a hilarious, heartbreaking rollercoaster ride that examines the nature of social contracts, the mentality of Confederate sympathizers after the Civil War, and the bonds that tie us together into unlikely families as forces much larger attempt to tear us apart.

3. Brokeback Mountain-Known to most simply as "the gay cowboy movie," Brokeback Mountain is often overlooked for its moving look at a doomed love. Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger, in an Oscar nominated performance of startling subtlety and depth) is your standard stoic cowboy. Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal, who got a supporting actor nomination) is a rodeo rider looking to have a good time. When the two take jobs as herders on the slopes of the titular mountain for a summer, they find a connection that both confuses and enthuses them. They depart to lad separate lives"”Ennis to marry his longtime sweetheart Alma (Michelel Williams) and Jack to fall in love with a rich rodeo girl (Anne Hathaway) but the two reunite whenever possible for "fishing trips" when they can just be their true selves. As Alma discovers her husband's secret, Ennis is driven further and further into a repressive seclusion, and Jack is tormented by his love for a man who cannot let himself return it. Watching Ennis in all his inarticulate torment as he grapples with shame, self-hatred, and unstoppable desire, the film shows us a portrait of the tragic possibilities of repression.

2. Good Night and Good Luck-The story of Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) and his battle against Joseph McCarthy, Good Night and Good Luck throws us into a world torn apart by fear and suspicion, where most people are willing to abandon their principles to ensure their careers. At its center are Murrow and his producer Fred Friendly (George Clooney) who refuse to cease their exploration of the truth and their stand behind their principles, even in the face of a political machine that is willing to tear them apart. With stellar supporting turns from Robert Downey Jr., Patricia Clarkson, Jeff Daniels, and Ray Wise, the film examines one man's bravery and thestrength of character it takes to stand by your beliefs no matter what it costs you.

1. The 40 Year Old Virgin-For decades the "sex comedy" has turned out turgid examinations of the male psyche and its apparent obsession with just one thing. The 40 Year Old Virgin (the directorial debut of Judd Apatow) could easily have stayed the course with standard raunchy jokes and disgusting occurrences (and the film has plenty of both), yet it also added heart. Any (Steve Carrell) has been so unlucky in love that he has given up entirely. All of that changes when his coworkers (Paul Rudd, Seth Rogen, and Romany Malco) set out to get him some, and when he meets Trish (Catherine Keener, her full versatility on display), a grandmother who sells other things on e-bay professionally and who may just be the woman of his dreams. Carrell imbues Andy with serious amounts of pathos as he struggles with his insecurities, his past heartbreak, and (it is a sex comedy after all) his unwillingness to masturbate, and it is this heart that brings the movie its emotional depth. Raunchy, hilarious, adorable, and heartwarming, The 40 Year Old Virgin displays the fully realized potential of an attempt to combine the romantic comedy and the sex comedy, and to look at the depths that exist beneath two genres that are all too often confined strictly to the surface.
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