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The Very Best and Very Worst of 2005 (And Others in Between)

2005, a lackluster year though it may have been, still provided some great films. It also provided many sucky ones. Let's take a look back on the year of the box office slump and Tom Cruise craziness...

(Note: I have not seen various acclaimed films from this year, such as Munich, Brokeback Mountain, Good Night, and Good Luck, Junebug, or Capote, among others, because they either were not playing in my area or I didn't get the chance to seem them when they were. Thus, these are lists compiled based on only the 50-some films from the year that I have seen.)


TOP 10 FILMS



10. THE CONSTANT GARDENER

10. The Constant Gardener


Director Fernando Meirelles' latest film may not be as great as his 2002 masterpiece City of God (few films are), but The Constant Gardener is still one of the year's best films.The timely, relevant plot may get a tad too convoluted for its own good as the story draws to a close, but it makes strong and bold political statements that really resonate. It unveils the (possibly) fictional corruption of the UK government, but switch the English accents to American ones, and shift the plot from Africa to Iraq, and it's basically the same situation that we Americans are embroiled in as we speak.

Meirelles captures the humanity of the story with strong performances from Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz. Fiennes is especially impressive, and here gives his very best performance since Schindler's List debuted back in 1993. Coupled with his chilling performance as the evil Lord Voldemort in the otherwise average Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, he had a very good year indeed. Meirelles directs the film with the keen eye of a true artist, one who knows how film works and how best to employ it so that it hits the audience right where he wants it to. The look, feel, and emotion of The Constant Gardener make it a provocative, daring, and altogether unusual kind of political thriller: A moving one.

9. RENT

Original Review

9. Rent


Having never seen the famous play of the same name that originated on Broadway back in 1996, I was quite stunned by what Chris Columbus' film version of Rent had in store. I expected what the trailers seemed to be promising: A bland, artificial massacre of the beloved Broadway show. Fortunately, though, that is very far removed from what the movie actually delivered. Chris Columbus, though he may not be a particularly inspired director, once again proves why he is one of Hollywood's most adaptable ringleaders. Nothing in the film really seems to come from his eye as a director, more from the material and those performing it. He was there to reign in Robin Williams' delicious performance in Mrs. Doubtfire, he let the J.K. Rowling magic take over in the first two Harry Potter movies, and in Rent he lets the music and the emotion that the cast members pour into it light up the screen.

And what music it is! Vibrant, energetic, and full of life, the songs make the movie roar back into top gear whenever it seems like it might be about to wane. Very few of the songs fail to ignite onscreen, and those that do (like the awkward "Light My Candle") don't seem to last long at all. And if they do overstay their welcome, it's not too long before another number makes sparks fly. "La Vie Boheme" is one of the best musical numbers in recent memory, probably the best since the razzle-dazzle fest that Chicago offered. Though some of Rent's topicality has been lessened, its emotion remains and still rings true. It stabs traditional society in the eye and takes a stand against the government, but above all else, Rent is a film about love. If you haven't seen the Broadway show, like myself, it is a film that deserves to be seen on the big screen, splashed across the huge canvas like the wily work of art it is. I didn't cry in Rent, but I came close.

8. SYRIANA

8. Syriana


It seems to me that a lot of people didn't really get Syriana, though critics handed it pretty decent reviews for the most part. Many complained that the film was overly-complicated, jarring, and too disconnected to make it work as well as writer-director Stephen Gaghan, taking from the novel See No Evil by Robert Baer, may have intended. However, for those of us that did get it, it was an excellent, thought-provoking analysis of the great oil war that is still going on today with troops in Iraq. One of the critics who really got it was thumbmeister Roger Ebert. Without his brilliant review of the film, which is one of the best reviews I have read in a great long while, I don't know if I'd be able to relay to you why exactly Syriana worked for me as much as it did. As Ebert says, Syriana is not about fitting together all of the pieces into a cohesive whole, because none of the people in the movie know all of the pieces. It's a film from a ground-eye point-of-view, and what they don't know, we don't know either. It is simply an experience that one has to let wash over them, digesting as much as they can. It may be complicated, but it works.

Another good thing about Syriana is that the storylines constantly shift, never letting us get too familiar with one set of characters for too long. It could have been disastrous, but in Gaghan's hands, the alienation increases the danger and the puzzling interconnected plots at the film's center. Because of this, we don't get to see any one of the leads for too long, though Matt Damon plays another winning role as the most sure-to-be-liked guy in the movie. However, it is George Clooney's brief appearances that really strike a chord. Clooney gained 35 pounds for his role as CIA agent Bob Barnes, and he doesn't look the way you may have remembered. It's a brilliant performance, and one that deserves serious Oscar consideration.

7. STAR WARS: EPISODE III - REVENGE OF THE SITH

7. Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith


The first science fiction film on my list (though certainly not the last)!

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith was one of the year's most surprising movies, not only because it bested the other two Star Wars prequels (which, damn it, I liked), but because it was on a par with the original films. While it doesn't surpass any of the first, classic three entries into this now-whole space opera, Revenge of the Sith comes in fourth place for the series, fitting in snugly right behind Return of the Jedi. From the first scene, a dazzling fighter chase through an enormous outer space battlefield, you know that you're in for something grand. It captures more of the series' epic feel than The Phantom Menace or Attack of the Clones, and it's also much darker as well.

Anakin Skywalker's transformation into Darth Vader is disturbing and breathtaking. The climactic lightsaber duel between Anakin and former master Obi-Wan Kenobi is, as one of my friends says, the battle of the series. It's also heart-pounding, nostalgia-becknoning fun to watch Star Wars mastermind George Lucas fill in all of the other loose ends; seeing Chewbacca is great, as is seeing the rise of Emperor Palpatine. While, like the other two prequels, and, to be fair, some bits of the original trilogy, the acting can be pretty stiff at times, the emotion is there, and that's what matters. Obi-Wan's cry of, "You were the chosen one!" is heartbreaking. Revenge of the Sith is an emotional sci-fi spectacular with supposedly accidental political underpinnings that makes for some of the year's best pure entertainment. In other words, everything that War of the Worlds wanted to be, but wasn't.

6. SIN CITY

Original Review

6. Sin City


If you like your comic book movies dark, grim, and gritty, with near-poetical musings on murder and bloodlust, Sin City is right down your (dark, seedy) alley. Director Robert Rodriguez, adapting almost panel-for-panel from Frank Miller's original graphic novels (which, as an avid comic book fan, I am ashamed to have never read), finally manages to wed his brilliant visual sense with a film deserving of it. Sin City is one of the very first films to be shot digitally in its entirety, and its groundbreaking, breathtaking look inspires me to keep coming back for a visit to the troubled Basin City time and again.

It's a hard-boiled film noir in the classic style, but it never forgets its comic book foundation; hell, it gives it a big, sloppy, wet tongue kiss. Sin City is, far and away, the comic book movie that most resembles an actual comic book than any I've ever seen. It also features some fine acting, especially from Bruce Willis as soon-to-be-retired cop Hartigan. His story, entitled "The Yellow Bastard," is the best in the film, and is surprisingly touching. To add to the fun, Quentin Tarantino lends his eye as a special guest director, and does perhaps the best scene in the entire movie: A very twisted conversation between Benicio del Toro's Jack and Clive Owen's Dwight. A rough-edged and violent Shakespearean spin on comic book crime, this is a cult classic in the making.

5. BATMAN BEGINS

Original Review

5. Batman Begins


As a lifelong Batman fan, I've had to deal with a lot of cinematic crap. Tim Burton's first two Batman flicks had Michael Keaton playing Bruce Wayne as a neo-James Bond in a gothic vein. Then, of course, Joel Schumacher arrived with the silly and over-the-top Batman Forever, and wound up shooting the franchise in the head with one of the worst sequels of all time, the infamous Batman & Robin. Amazingly, it was even worse than the old Adam West Batman sitcom and the terrible 1966 film that it unfortunately spawned. However, eight years after Schumacher killed the series, Warner Bros. has started the franchise anew, tabula rasa, director Christopher Nolan taking the reigns and creating an entirely new kind of Batman film.

Just as dark and as adult as Bob Kane and Bill Finger originally envisioned Batman to be, Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne is a troubled young man who at heart is a violent protector of innocents, though on the surface has to maintain the appearance of the shallow billionaire playboy that he is expected to be. Is it Bruce Wayne that masquerades as Batman, or Batman that masquerades as Bruce Wayne? If you can't tell already, Batman Begins succeeds because it is the first Batflick to actually spend time developing its characters. The epic, even operatic plot being hatched by the film's villains (including a chilling Cillian Murphy as the Scarecrow) is second to the characters' psyches and internal demons. It's one of the most compelling, intriguing mainstream Hollywood films of the year. And, as far as comic book movies go, it is second only to 2004's great Spider-Man 2.

4. BROKEN FLOWERS

4. Broken Flowers


It is amazing that, after three decades of being a comedic icon, Bill Murray is just now beginning to show off his real acting chops. It started back in 1998 with Wes Anderson's great Rushmore, then continued with Anderson's even greater The Royal Tenenbaums. After that, he snagged his first Oscar nomination as Bob Harris in Sofia Coppola's beautiful mood piece Lost in Translation (which, along with Casablanca, Singin' in the Rain, Serenity, and Shaun of the Dead has become one of those films I watch to pick myself up when I'm feeling down), and then returned to Anderson's wild world with the grossly underrated The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Here, under the watch of director Jim Jarmusch (who featured the actor in his hilarious 2003 collection of coffee shop visits Coffee and Cigarettes), Murray gives yet another quiet, restrained, and moving performance as a man trying to find the mother of the twentysomething son he didn't even know he had whom he was just informed via unmarked letter is coming to find him.

It's a deceptively simple premise, and one that fellow Ohioan Jarmusch milks for all of its rich emotional worth. The mystery of who the mother is never gets old, though it is Murray's Don Johnston that remains the fascinating focus of the film. It's stunning how much Murray can convey by just sitting and doing nothing but staring into space; he almost seems to transcend the physical plane. There are some enjoyable supporting performances as well, including Six Feet Under's Frances Conroy as a displeased real estate agent, but it's Murray's show all the way, and thank God for that. He needs to win an Oscar.

3. MURDERBALL

Original Review

3. Murderball


The most energetic, fast-paced film of the year comes not from a blockbuster Hollywood action flick, but from this astonishing documentary about quadriplegic rugby players. As depressing and somber as Murderball's subject may sound, it is anything but. It annihilates all kinds of handicapped stereotypes and makes you wish you hadn't rushed in front of the guy in the wheelchair at the supermarket to hold the door open for him. These are not people to be looked down upon; in fact, they are people worth admiring. The rugby players showcased here don't succeed in spite of their handicaps, they succeed because of them. There are some very amusing sections where we learn that quadriplegics can do anything that we can do, and perhaps even better.

The furious quadriplegic-style rugby, "murderball," as it was originally called, takes the players' emotions and puts them in a blender as an epic psychological arena in which their actions speak even louder than their witty words to the camera. If you're the kind of person that never drags themselves out with the intent of renting a documentary, let Murderball change your mind. If it doesn't, then you're hopeless.

2. GRIZZLY MAN

Original Review

2. Grizzly Man


I'll say it right upfront: If there's one movie you're going to see this decade, make it Grizzly Man. There are a few from this decade that are better--including the next movie on this here top 10--but Grizzly Man is likely going to be the film that will fascinate the most diverse range of people. Which, I might add, is for a very good reason. It's the best documentary of the year, as well as one of the best ever made, and it also features one of the most compelling psychological profiles I've seen in a great long while. Environmentalist Timothy Treadwell was a very troubled man, but he seemed to find peace with the animals, especially bears, until a grizzly attacked and ate he and his girlfriend.

For nature aficionados, there are also many beautiful and magical moments that Treadwell managed to capture during the thirteen summers he stayed with the bears at an Alaskan wilderness park. Nature films are rarely this smart, intriguing, and funny, and perhaps this one is because it is just as much about Treadwell as it is the animals he lived with. To be quite honest, Grizzly Man blows the tedious March of the Penguins out of its chilly, arctic water. Seriously. It makes even the bravest penguins in March look like Chilly Willy.

1. SERENITY

Original Review

1. Serenity


For those of you who know me or who have been following my writing, this comes as no surprise. But I'm still going to make my case, and make it loudly: Serenity is the best film of the year and of the decade, and in the years to come, it is most likely the film I'm going to call my favorite.

Of course, I responded so strongly to the film because I have been a huge fan of writer-director Joss Whedon's for years, and watched the 2002 television series Firefly, which precedes this film, on a week-to-week basis before it was ripped off the airwaves a mere three months after it began. That's right, folks, I am a tried-and-true Browncoat and, in the aftermath of the film's disappointing box office haul, I want the non-fans reading to know that Serenity is just as accessible to newcomers as it is to the hardcore faithfuls. Joss Whedon takes the dying lungs of science fiction and breathes new life into them, taking the stale genre and transforming into something fresh and utterly cliché-defying. There are plenty of moments where Whedon begins to build to a typical kind of Hollywood situation, and just when you think you know where he's headed, he throws you a curve ball straight outta left field. It's this kind of witty, unpredictable nature that has caused Whedon to amass such fervent legions of fans.

But if you really want to know the key to Serenity's success, it is the characters and the dialogue. Whedon is one of those rare masters of the English language that manages to concoct his own special, unique verbiage. Serenity is a sci-fi western, and trust me, he knows that: The characters all talk in an incredibly entertaining, somewhat lyrical western/futuristic style, and it works to wonderful effect, enaging all of your brain's cylinders. The characters are also real, three-dimensional people, unlike so many of the "heroes" in science fiction today. The crew of the fair ship Serenity do not rush in barrels blazing, spout smug one-liners, or strike heroic poses. They are real people, criminals even, who are just so pissed off at what they see happening that they feel the strong urge to retaliate, and retaliate they do. My buddy Mike puts it perfectly: "Joss is better than 99.9% of directors out there when it comes to action scenes." They are larger-than-life and epic, especially in the case of the thrilling space armada sequence in the film's last third, yet played on an intimate scale so that we never lose sight of the people involved. The performances are also key to the characters' likability, and the cast of this film have enough chemistry for at least five different other movie ensembles. Stand-outs are Nathan Fillion as the callous yet brave Captain Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds, Summer Glau as the dangerously unstable psychic River, and Chiwetel Ejiofor as the sinister yet sympathetic Operative, the man trailing River.

Serenity is a tour de force on all fronts: It is emotional, it is exciting, it is hilarious, it is terrifying, and it's the biggest, damnedest Big Damn Movie you're likely to see for the next century. Despite the poor box office take, Serenity has a strong critical following and continues to find new fans every day (despite godawful DVD cover art). The chances of a sequel continually decrease, we are told. But this bunch'a ruffians already died once and came back bolder and darker, so I have a tendency to believe in miracles. Joss Whedon has done the impossible, and continues to do it on a daily basis, and that makes him mighty. Whatever you may say, I can already hear the Serenity's engines revving up for another adventure...

Shiny.

BOTTOM 5 FILMS



5. FANTASTIC FOUR

Original Review

5. Fantastic Four


As I mentioned above in my blurb on Sin City, I am an avid fan of comic books. I still try to make regular trips down to the local comics shop when I can. Thus, I am very familiar with the Fantastic Four...familiar enough to know that if they could pop off of their four-color pages, there would certainly be a clobberin' time in store for director Tim Story. Instead of making an epic, heartfelt story about team dynamics and the real meaning of family and what it means to have your entire molecular structure changed, Story opts for a nightmarishly bad sitcom about four jackasses who spend the whole time discussing terribly superficial scientific logistics and displaying embarrassing uses of their powers.

There are so many things that were done wrong with this one I could go on for hours (and I have among friends and family). For you, dear reader, I'll settle for just a few of my complaints: Dr. Doom did not know any of the Four before their accident, Dr. Doom did not go up into space with the Four on their life-altering voyage, Dr. Doom could not control metal, Dr. Doom was the iron-fisted ruler of Latveria rather than Donald Trump on steroids (and I'm pretty sure he didn't buy his costume off the bargain rack at Party City), Johnny Storm may have been a jackass but he wasn't an idiot, Reed Richards was not as blind to the world around him as this film makes him seem, Sue Storm never would have done that ridiculous invisible stripping gag that Jessica Alba does, Ben Grimm would never have stayed rocky given the choice to become normal again, and, oh yeah, I think maybe there should've been more than one fight scene. God, I hate Hollywood.

4. HOUSE OF WAX

4. House of Wax


There's just something about Chad Michael Murray and Paris Hilton starring in the same film that makes me want to rip out my liver and eat it so that I don't ever have to live long enough to ever again see such a horrendous casting decision. Unfortunately, that's not all that troubles this inept House of Wax remake. It's blessed with a truly terrible director in the form of Jaume Collet-Serra, who apparently thinks that out-of-focus cinematography and shaky camera movements make for a scaaaaaary atmosphere. Well, Jaume, good buddy, it certainly doesn't. Please resign yourself to directing car commercials for the sake of humanity until you can get your act together.

Well, at least we got to see Paris Hilton get impaled through the skull. ...Why is this on the worst list again?

3. CRY_WOLF

Original Review

3. Cry_Wolf


I'm surprised that there was a worse horror movie this year than House of Wax. I'm even more surprised that I actually paid money to see it. Seriously, sometimes I think that I am absolutely, completely insane. I really don't have much to say about this one except for that it is totally uninspired, moronic, unscary, and godawful in every single way imaginable.

Yep. I'm insane.

2. ALIEN APOCALYPSE

2. Alien Apocalypse


To be fair, I don't actually hate this movie as much as the previous three films on this list. But it is undoubtedly worse, through no real fault of its own. I mean, it's a Sci-Fi Channel movie. Don't these things come with bright orange stickers that say, "CAUTION: Proceed only if you are absolutely, completely insane"? As we've covered before, I am most certainly absolutely, completely insane. But if I'm crazy, you'd better make it crazy with Bruce Campbell, the great B-actor of Evil Dead fame. I seriously think that I would sit through almost anything with this guy.

God knows I wasted two hours of my life for him with this one.

1. THE PACIFIER

1. The Pacifier


Combine the absolute hatred I felt toward the other four movies on this list and you will still not feel the rage that I have directed toward this abominable piece of toilet bowel cinema. I am both embarrassed and ashamed that it was written by Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant, the two creators of the hilarious Comedy Central series Reno 911!. I'd rather sit through a root canal performed by a deranged psychopath with a rusty chainsaw on a harmless little old lady than to ever have to see Vin Diesel mug for the camera and babysit kids as a Navy SEAL again. A friggin' Navy SEAL, ladies and gentlemen.

Maybe now we know why there are so few volunteers.

TOP 5 PERFORMANCES



5. RUSSELL CROWE - Cinderella Man

5. Russell Crowe - Cinderella Man


As Chris Rock said at the 2005 Oscars, if you're going to make a period piece, you need to cast Russell Crowe. The wide-ranged actor has proven himself time and again in period roles, including as a violent detective in 1997's L.A. Confidential and as the captain of a British warship in 2003's Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. Russell Crowe's performance as real-life pugilist James J. Braddock in Cinderella Man is one of his best. He's at once so tough you'd never want to have to face him in the ring as well as so loving towards his family that you can't help but want him to bash the other guy's skull open so he can take home the dough. While Cinderella Man didn't fare very well at the box office, director Ron Howard should know that he made an excellent film, and an excellent casting decision in Crowe.

4. RALPH FIENNES - The Constant Gardener

4. Ralph Fiennes - The Constant Gardener


Ralph Fiennes gives a superb performance as widower Justin Quayle, perfectly capturing the emotional, humanistic side of the political corruption in The Constant Gardener. He is so wonderful at capturing the raw emotion of the moment, and is fascinating from beginning to end. There are several moments that stick out for me in particular: When Justin first hears of his wife's death, and remains still above his plants, letting the water just keep pouring; when Justin sees his wife's body; and when Justin finally realizes near the film's end what must happen, and just sits there, almost kind of happy, waiting for it come. Fiennes is at his best in the quiet moments, and for me, that's what any great performance entails.

3. SUMMER GLAU - Serenity

3. Summer Glau - Serenity


To anyone who didn't get a chance to see Firefly, Summer Glau's amazing performance as tortured psychic River Tam in Serenity will blow you away, considering her only prior film credit was as Ticket Girl in 2004's tween girl box office flop Sleepover. And, even for those die-hard Browncoats in the audience, seeing Glau filling up the big screen in as commanding a fashion as possible is still stunning. Glau is one of the most talented actresses in recent memory, and her performance as River is one of the most mesmerizing I've seen in a long time. She has some of the most expressive eyes I've ever seen (try not to be hypnotized by the sidebars at her official fan site), and the way she conveys emotion is balletic...which, of course, makes sense considering she is a ballerina (in fact, her very first acting job was as the prima ballerina in the third season Angel episode "Waiting in the Wings"). Her training allows her performance to achieve lyrical, almost poetic heights; every subtle move she makes means something, is about something. While the prominent showcasing of her feet could be mistaken as director Joss Whedon joining Quentin Tarantino in the Hollywood Foot Fetishist Club, they are really so predominant because to her, dancing and acting are in many ways similar. Think about this: It's not often that bar fights come out as beautiful works of art.

2. NATHAN FILLION - Serenity

2. Nathan Fillion - Serenity


As I said in my review of Serenity, in regard to Nathan Fillion, "if he is not Hollywood's newest risen star after this, then may the studio execs burn in the hot place." Well, apparently, I have to go throw a lot of Universal executives into the maw of Hades, and for damn good reason, but that doesn't mean that Fillion's performance is any less great. Many viewers new to the Firefly 'verse seem keen on comparing Fillion's Captain Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds to Harrison Ford's Han Solo from the Star Wars series. To me, the comparisons become completely null and void once Mal shoots an unarmed man asking for his help...and then suffers emotional distress because of it. That's a lot more depth than good ol' Han, love him though I may, will ever have. Fillion gives one of those great kinds of robust western hero performances that we haven't seen in decades, but kicks it up a notch by adding so much more to the character than the standard Gary Cooper, High Noon archetype. Mal is a brave person, but he's not always a nice person; in fact, he's a mean bastard most of the time. But he still does great things because he's able to react to the horrible things in the world that are happening to him and those he loves...and really, what more of a hero can you ask for?

1. BILL MURRAY - Broken Flowers

1. Bill Murray - Broken Flowers


Bill Murray once again gives the best performance of the year. In 2003, I thought he gave the best performance as Bob Harris in Lost in Translation; in 2004, I thought he gave the best performance as the title character in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou; and now, in 2005, I think he's given the best performance as the somber, conflicted former ladies' man Don Johnston in Jim Jarmusch's spectacular Broken Flowers. As I noted in my above blurb for said film, "It's stunning how much Murray can convey by just sitting and doing nothing but staring into space; he almost seems to transcend the physical plane." Broken Flowers is not a big, loud film...it's quite the opposite. It is a quiet, sometimes silent rumination on years past and decisions made. There are several scenes of Murray just sitting on his couch or in a chair or in his car, looking at the space around him, wondering why he's in it. Yet these scenes are never dull or boring. They are rich, and fascinating, and for that we must thank in equal measure both director Jarmusch and brilliant actor Murray. It's sad to hear that Murray is taking a temporary retirement from the film world (though he does deserve a break) when he's finally giving us what we've been waiting for.

TOP 3 OVERLOOKED FILMS



3. THE BAXTER

Original Review

3. The Baxter


Have you even heard of The Baxter? Probably not. It's an Independent Film Channel movie that was barely released anywhere and was slaughtered by critics, becoming one of the worst-reviewed films of the year. And to this, I say, "So what?" It comes as no surprise to me that mainstream audiences, and even most critics, aren't ready for Michael Showalter's offbeat humor, especially when it produces results similar to those of the comedy troupes he was a part of, The State and Stella. While The Baxter is most certainly a messy movie, and has some structural problems and awkward moments, it's a cute, entertaining spin on the romantic comedy that, for my money, makes up for the majority of the blunders that Showalter makes. You probably won't take as kindly to The Baxter as I did, but if you're in the mood for something...different, then this a fine selection to choose at your nearest video store.

2. JARHEAD

2. Jarhead


The Oscar buzz for Jarhead was strong: It was helmed by Sam Mendes, the Academy Award-winning director of 1999's milestone American Beauty; it starred Donnie Darko's acclaimed Jake Gyllenhaal; it featured two Academy Award-winning supporting men, Jamie Foxx (who had won his Oscar earlier in the year for his breakthrough performance in 2004's Ray) and Chris Cooper (who won his for 2002's stunning Adaptation.); and it was based on a critically-praised New York Times bestseller, Anthony Swofford's memoir of the same name. Then the harsh reviews arrived, and the air was let out of the film's expectations. While Jarhead is not great and does have its fair share of problems, it still comes as a surprise that a dissection of a Marine's mind and body under the stress of--and, yes, lack of--war that is so thought-provoking, compelling, and disturbing got chewed up and spit out by the same critics that managed to praise bloated popcorn flicks like War of the Worlds and King Kong. I guess there's not much room for thought anymore, is there?

1. LACKAWANNA BLUES

1. Lackawanna Blues


An HBO film starring S. Epatha Merkerson of TV's original Law & Order, Lackawanna Blues won several awards early in 2005, including two Emmys (one for Merkerson), but barely penetrated the social conscience. It's a shame, because the film, about a black family in the post-segregation era South, was better than many of the movies at the multiplex during the year. Merkerson is great as household ruler Rachel "Nanny" Crosby, and were the film eligible for Academy Award nominations, I would suggest her for Best Actress. The rest of the cast is just as fine, with such talented performers as Terrence Howard and Ernie Hudson, plus some that you wouldn't expect to be as great as they are: Macy Gray, Jimmy Smits, and Mos Def (though he was excellent in 2004's Something the Lord Made). Plus, hey, bonus points for including Julie Benz, the underrated actress who played vampire-then-dead-then-human-then-vampire-then-mother-then-dead Darla on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and, more notably Angel.

- Arlo J. Wiley
January 3, 2006

And there you have it! Agree? Disagree? Want to hit me upside the face with a sledgehammer because I slammed King Kong? E-mail me!

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