Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Year In Review: Movies

I’d already decided not to bother with a ten-best list before I read The Reeler’s devastating two-part takedown of them or learned that end-of-the-year introspection was hazardous to your health.

Why? Because these lists are fundamentally dishonest. Every year I sift through a good two dozen titles and delude myself that I’m ranking them using well-thought-out criteria. The truth is that each year yields a handful of films – in my case, it’s always around five – that stand head and shoulders above the rest. They change position on the list depending on how I feel about the world and my place in it, but their status is secure. Because when they ended, I felt different. More engaged with the world. More alive.

So, in today’s order and with no commentary, the five movies I cannot picture 2005 without:

1. 2046
2. Oldboy
3. Munich
4. The Squid and the Whale
5. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Now that the preliminaries are out of the way ... on with the awards!

There was plenty of competition for the coveted Double Dip Award, given to the filmmaker who had the most productive year. No one packed a better one-two punch than Steven Spielberg. WAR OF THE WORLDS demonstrated how quickly the language of terror becomes a common tongue, while MUNICH showed how we’re still struggling with the language of peace. With OLDBOY and SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE, Park Chanwook fused Grand Guignol theatrics with an Old Testament sense of justice. But each of them has an entry in my fabled five, so they don’t need any more help.

Consequently, this year’s Double Dip goes to the tandem of writer/producer Luc Besson and director Louis Leterrier for UNLEASHED (aka DANNY THE DOG) and THE TRANSPORTER 2. I’m glad somebody still knows how to make B-movies with energy.

The Manny Farber Termite Award, sponsored by Orkin™ Pest Control. To George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead. Because political commentary always goes better with zombies. (Joe Dante’s ‘Homecoming’ disqualified because it debuted on TV.)

The ‘Quarter To Three’ Award. Given to the movie that I’ll watch to the end whenever I stumble onto it on cable, even though I own the DVD. Winner: The Ice Harvest. KISS KISS BANG BANG ruled ineligible due to fabled five status. One is a perfectly constructed noir, the other noir perfectly deconstructed. Both deserved better fates.

The Future Is Now Award. Memories of Murder is a tragicomic police procedural and a South Korean political allegory. It made its North American debut on television via On Demand before receiving a limited theatrical release. I’ve got my share of problems with the collapse of release windows. But when first-rate foreign films can’t get distribution, this is a viable option.

The Platinum Popcorn Award. Given to the most perfectly constructed piece of entertainment. Winner: Wes Craven’s Red Eye. Expert fun from start to finish. Bonus points for coming in at a sleek 85 minutes and avoiding the bloat of so many other big studio flicks.

The ‘Is He Serious?’ Award. Given to the movie I loved that nobody else seems to care about. Starring Nicolas Cage as an international arms dealer, Lord of War takes the up-from-nothing structure of gangster epics and hip-hop only to turn it on its head. The result is a brash and savage parable that sank without a trace.

Unsung Character Actor of the Year. For returning to drama after years as a clown. For coming in late but hot in THE ICE HARVEST, making the word ‘nitwit’ sound profane. For showing us how high the stakes are early on in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. This year’s recipient is Mr. Randy Quaid.

Here’s my hope for 2006: that when a film sounds interesting to people, they won’t wait for the DVD but will go out to the theater to see it. Going to the movies is still the most fun you can have in the dark with strangers. Unless, of course, you live in Canada.