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2005 in Film 

Notes on the pleasures of kiddie moviegoing and weeping into your stir-fry

Thursday, Jan 5 2006
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For the first time in ages, only one splashy holiday movie, and that with reservations, makes my 10 list. Unless you count children’s movies, no less than three of which show up (with a little sleight of hand) on my list, there’s been precious little studio output to write home about this year. But it’s been a banner year for foreign film in general (six, if you count a Canadian) and Asian film in particular (three), for nonfiction film (see Honorable Mentions) and, above all, for acting (see Great Performances). Arbitrary, arguable and unranked, here are my Top 10, er, 13 movies of the year:1. A History of Violence. If you’re going to take potshots at the United States’ love affair with killing and mayhem (take that, Lars von Trier!), A History of Violence is as intricately elaborated as it gets, a beautifully ugly movie that suggests violence is so thoroughly, so carnally burned into the American body and soul, it’s fundamental to our collective nature. 2. Cheat alert! Chicken Little aside, there hasn’t been a year in recent memory when it’s been as much fun to take a child to the movies: Howl’s Moving Castle, another gorgeously handmade treasure from the house of Miyazaki, in which a shy young girl grows old and gnarly in order to learn the meaning of courage; Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, so very Yorkshire, yet so very everywhere, its gentle wit shows to perfection that you can engage kids without shrieking at them; Carroll Ballard’s heart-stoppingly beautiful Duma, about a cheetah teaching a boy that nature must be left to itself. I’ll grant you Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was an extremely well-made movie, but my judgment was colored by the 7-year-old sobbing with terror in my lap from start to finish, and by the fact that I’ve never made it through more than 10 enervatingly eventful pages of a J.K. Rowling tome. And while we’re with the kids, Finnish director Pirjo Honkasalo’s The 3 Rooms of Melancholia, which I saw at Sundance last year and which you must not miss if and when it screens here in 2006, is a lyrically horrifying meditation on the vulnerability of children of war — in this case, Chechnya. 3. Crash. 2005’s most misunderstood American movie, at least by critics who deemed it racist and crude. Though I can’t agree with director Paul Haggis that it’s not about race (of course it is, it’s about Los Angeles), this furious rant is also the funniest, most serious and most bizarrely hopeful evocation I’ve seen of how prejudice functions as the expression of Angeleno anger at being choked to death by traffic, and by the loneliness of the crowd in a city where the closest thing to direct public communication is road rage. 4. Kings & Queen. French writer-director Arnaud Desplechin never shuts up, but the logorrheic ramblings of his baffled characters are delivered with such urbane panache and periodic profundity, you can’t help but warm to this hefty, 150-minute disquisition on the underground anxieties that bubble up in a seemingly orderly bourgeois life. 5. The Beat That My Heart Skipped. Sticking with les très French films, The Beat That My Heart Skipped, Jacques Audiard’s brilliant remake of James Toback’s Fingers, reminds us, as so few movies do these days, that in the right hands, film editing is as powerful an emotional language as dialogue. That, and a masterful turn by Romain Duris as a young hood torn between thuggery and art. 6. Brokeback Mountain. A lot of gay males hate it, but though Brokeback Mountain doesn’t represent Ang Lee’s best filmmaking by a long chalk, it’s not hard to understand why it swept the critics’ awards and may yet carry off Best Picture come February. Heath Ledger’s introverted performance makes you see that this is not so much a movie about gay oppression as it is a wonderfully broody elegy for possibilities forgone and the failure of romantic courage. Now let’s see how it plays in Wyoming. 7,8,9. I’m grouping together Wong Kar-Wai’s 2046, Jia Zhang Ke’s The World and Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Tropical Malady not just because they represent the vibrancy of Asian film, but because each in its different but equally lyrical way meditates soulfully on the loss of love, memory and community — and because they all made me weep uncontrollably into my stir-fry. 10. Junebug. Along with David Gordon Green’s George Washington, Phil Morrison’s languid, intimately observed movie about a family falling apart and (maybe) coming together is the least condescending movie about Southern character I’ve ever seen. Morrison gets the very best out of a gifted cast, notably Amy Adams, Celia Weston and Scott Wilson. HONORABLE MENTION Features: Head-On; Capote; Good Night, and Good Luck; Ushpizin; Best of Youth; Walk on Water; Last Days; My Summer of Love; Look at Me; Tony Takitani; Nina’s Tragedies; Saraband; Dolls; Down to the Bone; Kontroll; Me and You and Everyone We Know; Bee Season; Walk the Line; Schultze Gets the Blues; Nobody Knows; Almost Peaceful; Assisted Living; Caché; The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; The Constant Gardener; Corpse Bride; Syriana; The Talent Given Us; Everything Is Illuminated; The Upside of Anger.Nonfiction: Another Road Home; Ballets Russes; Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room; Romantico; Tell Them Who You Are; No Direction Home: Bob Dylan. And — I guess — Grizzly Man, whose subject is hardly worth the adroit filmmaking that went into memorializing him. DISHONORABLE DISCHARGE Sin City: Skillful. Stupid. Hateful. GREAT PERFORMANCES Jeff Daniels in The Squid and the Whale; Daniel Auteuil in Caché; Naomi Watts in Ellie Parker and King Kong; Joan Allen and Kevin Costner in The Upside of Anger; Charlize Theron and Richard Jenkins in North Country; Natalie Press in My Summer of Love; Matt Dillon and Terrence Howard in Crash; Vera Farmiga in Down to the Bone; Emmanuelle Devos in Kings & Queen; Philip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener in Capote; David Strathairn and Frank Langella in Good Night, and Good Luck; Michael Lonsdale in Munich; Felicity Huffman in Transamerica; Cillian Murphy in Breakfast on Pluto; Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams in Brokeback Mountain; Joseph Gordon Levitt in Mysterious Skin; Tom Wilkinson in Separate Lies; Richard Gere in Bee Season; Georgie Henley in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; Lior Ashkenazi in Walk on Water; Sibel Kekilli in Head-On; Maria Bello in A History of Violence; Lisa Kudrow in Happy Endings; and, of course, Gromit — dear, kind, strong, silent Gromit, unassuming hero of a world far better than the one we live in. Gromit for President! MOVIE MOMENTS TO CHERISH Naomi Watts, juggling first for her life, then for the love of a great ape in King Kong.Super-goy James Bond (Daniel Craig), coming on all Yiddish in Munich: “It’s a shanda for the goyim!”Two desolate penguin parents keening over the loss of their baby in March of the Penguins. Anthropomorphic? Maybe, but grief is grief even if you waddle on two flippers.
Reach the writer at etaylor@laweekly.com

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