' Cinema Romantico: The 1st Annual Prigge's (Top 5 Movies of 2005)

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The 1st Annual Prigge's (Top 5 Movies of 2005)

The year 2005 was a bit rough for movies but that was to be expected after the previous year. It wasn't until July that I finally saw a great movie and fall produced a few very good ones but, all in all, it did not match up to greatness of the top-shelf films from 2004. But one mountain peak and a few rolling hills are better than a flat plain, I always say. In any event, let's cut to the chase. These are (insert drum roll) the Prigge Movies of the Year.........

1. Grizzly Man - What does it say about the state of cinema that the most poetic, genuinely moving and haunting film of the year was a documentary? I'm not sure, actually, but Werner Herzog's meditation on Timothy Treadwell, who spent numerous summers in Alaska with his bear "friends" (convinced they would never harm him though in the end they, of course, do just that), was the year's finest whether fiction or fact. It's a character study in the truest sense of the term. It shows sympathy for its subject but maintains a level of even-handedness. Can there be anything more tragic than a man who dies at the hand of the very thing he loves the most? The moment on film hours before Treadwell's inevitable death in which he can't quite bring himself to leave the frame will stay with you for the rest of your life.

2. Walk the Line - A film rarely contains one epic performance, let alone two - but Joaquin Phoenix and - most especially - Reese Witherspoon rip the screen to absolute shreds with two acting turns several levels above scintillating. It rises above the standard biopic cliches - even though all the cliches are here - through these performances and a feeling you're part of the rapport shared by Johnny Cash and June Carter. The only time this year I left the theater wearing a big grin with a desire to do joyous cartwheels in the parking lot.

3. Batman Begins - I in no way fancy myself a comic book expert (I don't even fancy myself a comic book novice) but I like to fantasize that I know a thing or two about movies and I can say this - Batman Begins is a fantastic film. It creates a rich gallery of characters that few movies - comic book or otherwise - can rival. It's also a blueprint for how to make an action film. Things don't just appear out of thin air - every piece is crafted to fit into its place. The action scenes actually contain complexity. Each time we see Batman go off to battle we see him learning and growing. At one point he is even defeated. We see the Batmobile show up but when it appears a second time the script puts Commissioner Gordon at the wheel so we get a fresh perspective rather than a retread of what we saw earlier. Even the subway line (The Wayne El?) is more than just a setpiece. It's mentioned early and then brought back as a key part of the action. The final lines between Hero & Villain actually come from somewhere and resonate. And then..............oh, forget it. Just go rent it, would you?

4. The Weather Man - An underappreciated gem. It seems to me this was a classic case of an advertising campaign gone wrong. It was clearly billed as a raucous black comedy - with the preview showing Nicolas Cage stalking the streets with a bow & arrow and being pelted by Big Gulps. Instead we received a more serious character study that dug deeper. I mean, God forbid a movie should be something other than "exactly what I expected". Kudos also to screenwriter Steven Conrad who wrote the best script (original or adapted) of the year but didn't even garner an Oscar nomination.

5. The Squid and the Whale - An intimate, sometimes humorous/sometimes dark look at the disintegration of a family. Jeff Daniels is the father, once upon a time a great author but now completely unappreciated (or so he thinks). Laura Linney is the mother, understandably distant from a man who refuses to acknowledge whose books are whose. And neither seems truly aware of the effect all this has on their two children. It's funny without being stupid, it's touching without being heavy-handed and obvious and has the perfect ending - a callback to an earlier moment that will make you smile and tear your heart in two.

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