2005: The Top 10

December 30, 2005
A thought by James Berardinelli

Every year, I get asked why I don't post this list earlier. After all, some critics make theirs available in mid-December. To me, it's unseemly to reveal my favorites of the year before the year is over. So here's the list, with a few comments for each film. As is my custom, this is in reverse order, with the best saved for last.

Honorable Mentions: Capote, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Good Night, and Good Luck, Innocent Voices, Mad Hot Ballroom, Proof, Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith

#10: 40 Year Old Virgin, The - Comedies get a bum rap when it comes to Top 10's. They are mostly ignored due to a lack of "sophistication." But no movie in the past three or four years has made me laugh as hard or as frequently as Steve Carell's The 40 Year Old Virgin. And, not only is this movie bawdy and hilarious, but it's sweet, as well. One word of advice, however, when it comes to the DVD: stick with the theatrical version. The 17 additional minutes added to the extended edition amounts to filler - it's not funny and it hurts the pacing. Most of the time, editors know what they're doing.

#9: Sin City - This is the first movie to look and feel like a comic book. The story is engaging, but the thing that really makes Sin City unique is the way in which Robert Rodriguez chooses to present the visuals. The film isn't for everyone - you have to like this kind of violent, over-the-top storytelling - but if it's your thing, you'll love every minute of it.

#8: Pride & Prejudice - One could argue that the BBC-TV production of a decade ago is the definitive version of the Jane Austen novel, but this is as good as it gets when it comes to movie adaptations. Nothing previously provided for theatrical viewing comes close. In fact, it's possible to argue that this is the best big screen version of any Austen book. While I could quibble about Matthew MacFadyen's portrayal of Darcy as too laid back, it's tough to imagine anyone better than Kiera Knightley as Elizabeth Bennett. A must-see for Austen lovers, and maybe even a few who aren't.

#7: Grizzly Man - Forget the penguins - this is the most compelling documentary I have seen in several years. Timothy Treadwell's story is mesmerizing, and it's made all the more intriguing by the knowledge that he was killed by the bears about which he spends much of the movie rhapsodizing. Treadwell's footage is the best stuff this documentary has to offer, and the decision not to present the audio of his death provides a point that can be debated in post-screening discussions. The aura of fate hovers over this motion picture; one can almost feel the Hand of God at work.

#6: Match Point - Woody Allen's "comeback," and his best film since Crimes and Misdemeanors (with which it shares thematic elements). What starts out as a seemingly straightforward character drama develops into a taut thriller. The protagonists are excellently developed and well portrayed, and Allen has made a clear decision to step away from many of his "trademarks" (although some, like his preference for older recordings, remain). It's a riveting motion picture that uses its slow pace and increasingly dangerous stakes to draw the viewer in and not let him/her go.

#5: Downfall - An early year release, this German import may be the most chilling representation of Hitler's last days ever committed to the screen. Bruno Ganz's performance as the insane dictator is incredible (one could argue that his work was more deserving of the Best Actor Oscar than that of Jamie Foxx, who won the award). Based on the diaries of Hitler's personal secretary, through whose eyes the majority of the film unfolds, this is as historically accurate a portrayal of this period as there is likely to be. It's a disturbing motion picture, not easily forgotten.

#4: 3-Iron - A small, hauting romance from Korean director Kim Ki-duk, this was my first-half favorite. After a straightforward first half, the film enters the realm of the mystical in its second half before concluding in an oblique but satisfying manner. It took two viewings before I felt I had a good grasp on what was happening. This is a tough movie to decode, and not for everyone, but it's a treasure for those who appreciate this kind of motion picture.

#3: King Kong - Had the first hour of King Kong been better paced, this movie would have been closer to (or in) the #1 position. That being said, I love this for what it is: an epic updating of one of movie-dom's greatest monster movies. Spectacles don't get bigger than this one, and it's easy to forgive the film's length once the action gets started. For Kong fans, this delivers everything (and perhaps a little more) one could reasonably expect. It's doubtful anyone again will try another remake.

#2: Syriana - If I was less of a cynic, maybe I wouldn't like this film as much, but its bleak view of politics and business has the ring of truth. Syriana can boast the most convoluted plot of any 2005 film, and it demands that the viewer pay careful attention. A bathroom break can be fatal, and even the attentive viewer won't be able to connect the dots until the end credits have rolled (or perhaps not until after a second viewing). Don't expect a happy ending. One of the film's messages is that there's no such thing. The world runs on corruption, not goodwill.

#1: Munich - This is Steven Spielberg's most important film since Schindler's List, and its contemporary relevance makes it more powerful. In fact, one could make an argument that it is technically superior to Spielberg's 1993 epic (although I still regard Schindler's List as the director's crown jewel). With a tremendous lead performance by Eric Bana and equally outstanding supporting work, the acting is at the level necessary to do justice to a story that asks difficult moral and ethical questions. This is also a tense thriller, with set pieces capable of causing white knuckles. Munich is 2005's lone four-star movie, and it will find its way to my all-time Top 100 list when I update it in January 2006.