Stephen King on his picks for the best movies of 2005
As this magazine has pointed out until it was blue in its editorial face, 2005 wasn’t a good year at the box office. EW has advanced lots of reasons for declining grosses, from the annoyance of in-theater advertising to the popularity of home entertainment centers. I’ve suggested that the improving quality of series TV (Lost, Desperate Housewives, et al) might have something to do with it. Here’s another possibility: Many of this year’s best movies were really depressing. Below is my admittedly eccentric list of the year’s best; a B in parentheses stands for Bummer.
As always when reading one of my lists, remember that I’m a consumer — just one more shlub in the popcorn line. Living in Maine as I do, this means I tend to see fewer ”arty” films. But I had to spend almost a month in New York this year, and that gave me a chance to see several of the (B) films on this list…and no, I haven’t gotten around to such Christmas goodies as King Kong, so don’t bug me about ‘em.
10. The Jacket Adrien Brody stars as a haunted Gulf War vet falsely accused of killing a cop. He lands in the New England asylum from hell and goes on a mind-bending head trip that may be time travel. One of 2005’s best performances.
9. The Devil’s Rejects In the midst of last summer’s stream of carefully packaged TV dinners came this sicko Rob Zombie greeting card about a posse of outlaws led by a killer clown named Captain Spaulding. No redeeming social merit, perfect ’70s C-picture cheesy glow; this must be what Quentin Tarantino meant when he did those silly Kill Bill pictures. (B)
8. Cinderella Man Russell Crowe batters his way to dignity and Renée Zellweger shines in Ron Howard’s beautiful bookend to Clint’s Million Dollar Baby. This movie had everything but an audience.
7. The Constant Gardener Complex novels of the John le Carré sort rarely make for good movies, but Ralph Fiennes, as the mild-mannered bureaucrat determined to get to the bottom of his beloved wife’s death, makes this one work. (B)
6. War of the Worlds Standout performances (Cruise, Fanning) and inspired direction (Spielberg). The special effects go without saying — although maybe they shouldn’t. What makes this the year’s great popcorn film is Josh Friedman and David Koepp’s screenplay, which never leaves the viewpoint of the common folk; nary a general or president to be seen. WoW is human science fiction, and that’s a rarity.
5. Crash A brilliantly dramatized examination of race and class in present-day Los Angeles, and a triumph for Paul Haggis. The rare ”smart little film” with a starry ensemble cast (Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Sandra Bullock, Terrence Howard, etc.) that actually works…largely because it keeps its sense of humor — and hope. That was highly unusual this year.
4. Good Night, and Good Luck Sure, it looks more like an episode from the original Twilight Zone than a movie, but the performances by David Strathairn, Frank Langella, and George Clooney are big-screen all the way. Of course, the theme — free press versus political pressure — has never been more relevant.
3. Downfall Experiencing this German movie about Hitler’s last days is a little like watching rats drown in a drainpipe, but the willful blindness of politicians, even when driven into their final corner, makes it a cautionary tale worth telling. Some were disturbed that Bruno Ganz’s remarkable turn as Hitler humanized the mad dictator, but that’s exactly what makes this story so terrifying. (B)
2. Capote I predict that Philip Seymour Hoffman will win an Oscar for his portrayal of Truman Capote, here shown researching his ”nonfiction novel” In Cold Blood. He deserves it. Capote is also Part 1 of What’s Wrong With the Movies This Year: a great film about a brilliant, repulsive, manipulative, coldhearted bastard whose progress we watch as scientists might watch microbes mounted on laboratory slides. Murderers Perry Smith and Dick Hickock are ultimately more sympathetic. If this celluloid reptile finally uncoils in the multiplexes of the great American heartland, will anyone go see it? I wonder. I loved it, but did not love myself for loving it. (B)
1. The Squid and the Whale What’s Wrong With the Movies This Year, Part 2. About another writer, this one an ego-driven monster who demonizes and nearly breaks his children’s hearts and minds. It will never play the nabes in the heartland. It is — perhaps unfortunately — even better than Capote. Jeff Daniels plays the monster. He’s great. Laura Linney plays the monster’s wife. She is too. He can’t even bear to let his sons beat him at Ping-Pong; after the couple separate, she initiates an affair with the younger son’s tennis coach. Yum. I could barely stand to watch this, but I have seen creative folks like these in action and every note rang true. There’s an almost perfunctory glimmer of hope at the end, but this is dark stuff indeed. (B)
The Christmas movies may brighten things up, but in the meantime I keep thinking of a quote from the poet William Butler Yeats: ”The best [think Capote] lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”