View from the couch - Best of 2005
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Date: 12 December, 2005
Steve Couch looks back on 2005 and comes up with his best films of the year.
As December rolls around onto the calendar, it can only mean one thing: time to look back on the year’s DVD releases and hand out awards in some arbitrarily chosen categories, as well as nominating my top five films of the year.
As with last years awards, we’re focusing purely on films released for the first time on DVD in 2005, and all the selections reflect nothing more than this reviewers personal opinion.
Who will follow in Shaun of the Dead’s footsteps and lift the coveted (ahem) View from the Couch Best film of the year award? Read on to find out.
You can buy any of these title from Amazon and help raise money for Christian Aid. Just click on the orange links.
Best superhero movie
Two very strong contenders for this, each approaching the category from opposite extremes. The gritty darkness of Batman Begins would have been a worthy winner, but is beaten into second place by pixelated pleasures of The Incredibles. Taut plotting, well rounded characters and a rapid-fire provisoin of spectacle and humour elevate the CGI superheroes to the top of the pile. The Incredibles is so much more than just a kids movie, and it is endlessly entertaining over repeat viewings.
Best smart comedy
Sideways rightly took plaudits as well as boosting wine sales, and offered a cut above the standard RomCom fare. The always excellent Paul Giamatti makes a crankily vulnerable and damaged romantic lead, and it’s good to see him getting some leading roles in major films at last. Look out for Giamatti next year in M. Night Shyamalan’s next film Lady In The Water, which is unlikely to reach DVD until early 2007.
Click here for the Damaris study guide to Sideways.
Best dumb comedy
Dodgeball: ‘If you can dodge balls, you can dodge wrenches!’ There’s nothing subtle about this, but it’s a glorious parade of caricature and slapstick which keeps the laughs coming at a quicker rate than just about any other film I saw this year. Vince Vaughan anchors the proceedings, Christine Taylor provides the love interest, while her real-life husband Ben Stiller hams it up with a host of oddballs. I’ve lost count of the number of people I know who dismissed this movie, grudgingly watched it and ended up loving it.
A strong field this year, including many adaptations which divided the existing fan-bases. Contenders included Revenge of the Sith and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but my final nod goes to War of the Worlds, which took liberties with the detail of Wells’ original material, but succeeded in retaining its spirit. Great visual effects, and Spielberg’s sure touch with storytelling delivered the goods.
Best adaptation from another medium
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Finally, Roald Dahl’s classic children’s novel gets the big screen version it deserves. Hugely faithful to the source material (far more so than the version with Gene Wilder in the 1970s), with plenty of Dahl’s characteristic dark humour. And Johnny Depp’s Willy Wonka somehow manages to be one part Mike Myers and one part a young Freddie Mercury. Brilliant. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy gets an honourable mention for being adapted from radio series, TV series, book, comic book, computer game, stage show and probably even a towel. But it’s just not as good as Charlie.
Click here for the Damaris study guide to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Best feelgood movie
The Terminal gets Spielberg’s second award from this column (you’d think he’d be grateful – he never writes, never calls…) Tom Hanks warms hearts as the innocent abroad who falls victim to the vagaries of international red-tape, and carves out a new life for himself without ever leaving the arrivals lounge of JFK airport.
Click here for the Damaris study guide to The Terminal.
Best unfeelgood movie
I’m going to pass over Vera Drake, Mike Leigh’s excellent tale of a post-war London housewife arrested for performing illegal abortions, purely on the grounds that it has already received plenty of attention (and rightly so). Instead, this one goes to the less publicised but every bit as good Mean Creek. A complex morality tale of teenage revenge gone wrong. Anchored by six fine performances from the young cast, and full of subtlety and nuance where it would have been easy to succumb to obvious playing and simplistic moralising.
Best sports movie
Million Dollar Baby also qualifies for Best unfeelgood movie, but its boxing backdrop allows me to include it here instead. But this is more than ‘just a boxing movie’. The sting in the film’s tale (which I won’t reveal, but if you haven’t seen this yet then you really aren’t trying very hard) raises it well above the normal standard for this category. In any other year the excellent Friday Night Lights would have been a shoe-in for this. Hey, that’s the dog-eat-dog world of professional sports movies for you.
Best revival of a struggling franchise
Tempting as it is to give this to Revenge of the Sith (finally, a good film in the new Star Wars trilogy), even that is beaten into second place by Batman Begins. Eight years after Joel Schumacher and George Clooney had turned the caped crusader into a risible caricature of his former glories, Brit director Christopher Nolan added a generous dollop of realism to the mix and enabled Christian Bale to become perhaps the definitive screen Batman. And yes, I used the word ‘realism’ to describe the story of a man who dresses as a bat to fight crime.
A bumper crop of contenders, with the likes of The Aviator (Howard Hughes), Ray (Ray Charles) and Kinsey (Liam Neeson) all deserving of your attention. But for me they are all left standing by the delightful and heartbreaking Finding Neverland. Johnny Depp stars as Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie, and delivers an understated and accomplished performance. Kate Winslett and young Freddie Highmore also shine, and the conclusion amounts to one of the most magical climaxes to a film this year, in every sense.
Best Woody Allen movie
It seems curmudgeonly not to give this award to Woody himself, who marked a return to form with Melinda and Melinda, but ‘tis the season to be curmudgeonly. The Best Woody Allen movie of the year was the philosophically tinged I ♥ Huckabees, and the fact that Mr. Allen had nothing to do with the film doesn’t change that fact.
Click here for the Damaris study guide to I ♥ Huckabees.
Best historical movie
In a year of ancient warrior kings (Alexander), and medieval crusades (Kingdom of Heaven), this award goes to a film that reminds us that our more recent history provides just as much compelling drama and gruesome cruelty. Hotel Rwanda turns the spotlight onto the nightmares of genocide and leaves the viewer asking uncomfortable questions about our own attitude to foreign affairs.
Click here for the Damaris study guide to Kingdom of Heaven.
Best unexpectedly good family adventure movie
National Treasure was a surprise to me, and a very welcome one. A low body count combines with an emphasis on heroes who problem-solve rather than fight their way out of a tight spot. Nicolas Cage (not usually one of my favourite actors) is quite good in this excellent Indiana Jones-lite fun for all ages.
Click here for the Damaris study guide to National Treasure.
Most unfairly panned movie
If Alfie hadn’t been a remake of a sixties classic, it would have got a much better response from the critics, and been seen by many more people. Jude Law’s recent career may have been a bit hit and miss, but this film really doesn’t deserve to be ranked with the turkeys.
Click here for the Damaris study guide to Alfie.
Best intelligent action movie
The quirks of DVD release dates mean that two films by Yimou Zhan are up for this, Hero and the more personal House of Flying Daggers. For me, the latter title edges it (just), but both are beaten by The Bourne Supremacy, which out-Bond’s Bond and brings a healthy dose of reality to the world of government-sanctioned dark ops. Let’s hope that 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum is just as good.
Honourable mention to Sydney Pollack’s The Interpreter, but this one goes to Michael Mann’s Collateral. Tension, personal responsibility, cold-blooded assassination and existential debate. All this and an amoral Tom Cruise with grey hair.
Best movie about isolated rural communities afraid of strange creatures living in the woods
The clear winner is M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village. As ever, Shyamalan divides opinion, but for me he’s a thoughtful and interesting film-maker who is always worth watching. And making up award categories for.
Click here for the Damaris study guide to The Village.
Best late contender for inclusion
Released on DVD this very month, Crash is an ensemble piece featuring a host of unrelated characters whose LA lives interweave with one another over the course of 24 hours. Raises questions of race and prejudice, and avoids simplistic answers while still offering some grounds for hope.
Click here for the Damaris study guide to Crash.
Steve Couch’s top five new movie DVDs of 2005
1. Finding Neverland. Heart-warming and heartbreaking at the same time. A delight from start to finish. Took the lead in my ‘best film’ thinking back in February and nothing else has even come close since then. Delightful.
2. The Incredibles. Once again, Pixar raises the bar for everybody else. Not just the best computer animated movie yet, but a contender for best superhero movie (at least, for those who don’t prefer a bit of darkness in with their primary colours). My surefish colleague Steve Tomkins has pointed out some parallels with the global political situation which I had missed and which won’t be to everyone’s taste. But even with that reservation, this is still fantastic fun.
3. Million Dollar Baby. Clint Eastwood continues his fine run of directorial form, following last year’s Mystic River with another bleak tale of the unfairness of life. Standout performances from Clint, Morgan Freeman and Hilary Swank as the eponymous wannabe female boxing champ, and a dramatic change of direction in the final reel make this unmissable.
4. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. An unprecedented* second appearance in the top five for both Johnny Depp and his Finding Neverland co-star Freddie Highmore. Tim Burton’s loving recreation of the original novel even uses Dahl’s lyrics for the Oompa Loompa songs. Fantastic visual recreation of Wonka’s factory and even the addition of a back-story for the chocolateer works well. Delicious.
5. Hotel Rwanda. Possibly Don Cheadle’s finest hour. Finally, he can be forgiven for that accent in Ocean’s Eleven. The horrific implications of inaction in the face of genocide are committed to celluloid, in a hard hitting and uncompromising movie that gives the impression of watching us even as we watch the images on the screen. Sobering and challenging, but superbly delivered.