My Favorite Films of 2005

01. Pretty Persuasion (Marcos Siega)
Almost certainly not the "best" movie of the year, but just as certainly the one that affected me the greatest. Bolstered by Evan Rachel Wood's tour-de-force, Pretty Persuasion examines the destructive force of high school's - and, by association, America's - petty and hypocritical sexual standards. Skander Halim's penetrating script fires broad and occasionally misses, but no other 2005 film that I saw could match this one for pure audacity or passion; Halim's emotions positively bleed off the screen. In a year full of well-meaning but timid liberal films, Pretty Persuasion was the kick to the stomach that the industry needed - or it would have been, had anyone actually seen it.

02. Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee)
Middlebrow it may be, but that doesn't make it any less powerful. Brokeback Mountain has more in common with works like The Age of Innocence and In the Mood for Love than with most "queer" cinema, a fact for which some critics have attacked the film. But fuck those guys; I'm more than happy to see this as what it is - a profoundly affecting look at impossible love. Heath Ledger, all clenched teeth and mumbled speech, gives the performance of the year, portraying with crushing honesty a man divided against himself.

03. A History of Violence (David Cronenberg)
If Cronenberg's status as one of our finest directors was ever in doubt, A History of Violence made sure that it won't be any longer. Even those that didn't quite buy into the film's message expressed awe at Cronenberg's deft juggling of genres and archetypes, and at his construction of an Americana as imperceptibly "off" as anything David Lynch has ever done. That I find A History of Violence's examination of America's simultaneous distaste for and infatuation with violence so pointed only adds to my appreciation of Cronenberg's genius. I hope to never forget the moment during my first viewing of the film when the audience, cheering and hooting during the diner shoot-out, were shocked into silence by the insert of the dying guy's face. Now that's audience manipulation.

04. The Squid and the Whale (Noah Baumbach)
Baumbach's film is so detailed, so honest and perceptive, that it is almost impossible to describe; it would be like making a critical judgment on life itself. The Squid and the Whale is a great movie because of this, but it can also be an uncomfortable one; this is clearly Baumbach's childhood playing out on the screen, and he spares no detail and no character, least of all himself. The naturalistic ensemble, easily the best of the year, features Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney in near career-best performances and Kevin Kline's son Owen in a stunning debut.

05. The New World (Terrence Malick)
Let me go ahead and get it out of the way: Terrence Malick is a poet. Yeah, I'm sick of hearing it too, but the reason everyone says it is because it's so true. Over the course of nearly 35 years and four films, Malick has created a style like no other director's: gorgeous, transcendental, unbearably moving even when nothing much is happening. In The New World, Malick uses sharp editing and voice-over to create a collective consciousness, uniting the English and the Native Americans and exploring, once again, the loss of Eden. Over a month after seeing it a second time, The New World continues to haunt me like no other film this year. For that reason, I fully suspect it to be the best movie of 2005 - I just need another viewing, that's all.

06. Caché (Michael Haneke)
Haneke pulled off the best formal trick of the year, turning the most basic shot in all of cinema - the establishing shot - into a harbinger of dread. Brilliantly shooting on digital video, Haneke makes it nearly impossible to tell whether what we are seeing is real or footage from the ominous videotapes sent to Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche's couple. Haneke exploits this uncertainty - as well as claustrophobic camera angles - to collapse the world in one his bourgeois subjects as well as the audience, culminating in the single most shocking moment in 2005 film. More than the best thriller of the year, however, Caché is a stirring political allegory, using France's 1960s Algerian massacres as a starting point for an examination of the return of the repressed.

07. Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog)
Timothy Treadwell was a nut, no question about it. He fashioned himself the protector of bears that needed no protection and paid dearly for it. His story is one of destructive solipsism, but it is also undeniably tragic, and Herzog finds in it a poignant study of how we search for meaning in a cruel, unsympathetic world. It was excluded from Oscar contention due only to an idiotic and arbitrary Academy guideline, leaving the award open for those damn penguins. But don't be fooled - this, without question, is the best documentary of the year.

08. Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
The experimental mirror of Brokeback Mountain, Tropical Malady begins as an observational film about two Thai youths in love before changing, quite suddenly, into a hypnotic Thai folk tale. I'm still not quite sure whether the second half is a retelling or abstract continuation of the first, but I don't think it really matters. Either way, the film's argument that no amount of filmic observation could ever capture the passion of true love is beautifully, unforgettably clear. (Note: The fact that I was only able to see the film on video probably hurt its showing here; it was clearly meant to be seen on the big screen.)

09. 2046 (Wong Kar-wai)
Where Wong's In the Mood for Love dealt with romantic longing, 2046, its sequel , is interested in the heartbreak that comes from that longing being unfulfilled. The title comes from the hotel room of In the Mood and represents here both the setting of Leung's science fiction stories and the mental state of the heartbroken - remain there too long, and you become cold, incapable of love. In 2046, Tony Leung's character has responded to the events of In the Mood by becoming a remorseless playboy, using and exploiting women left and right. As the movie progresses, it becomes clear that his actions come not out of cruelty but from his hopeless search for someone to replace Maggie Cheung's In the Mood character. "No one's ever come back from 2046," Leung says, "except me." But 2046 seems to suggest otherwise - he's still trapped there, devastated and heartbroken, and unlikely to ever return.

10. Match Point (Woody Allen)
Commentary forthcoming, maybe.

The next ten
Kings and Queen; Good Night, and Good Luck; Not on the Lips; Dallas 362; 3-iron; Sin City; Me and You and Everyone We Know; Kiss Kiss Bang Bang; King Kong; War of the Worlds

© 2005 Matt Noller, not that anyone would ever want to steal this