2005 Ten Best Movies

It used to be easier to determine the vintage of a movie; it came out, and had a date of release. Now, a movie peeks out at the Cannes or Toronto film festival one year, but doesn’t actually get a bona fide release until the following calendar year. So what year does it belong to — the year a few hundred people saw it in a specialized setting, or the year it actually hit theaters? It’s easy enough to do a ten-best list at the end of a given year if you go by the rules of the New York/L.A. opening run rather than isolated film fest one-offs. But try doing a list for 2005. The IMDb has many of that year’s best films as 2004 pictures. So I’m going with the NY/LA thing. But really, it’s a mess.


Mathieu Amalric: call him Ismael.

Arnaud Desplechin makes sprawling, unpredictable movies that somehow exert a hypnotic spell, and Kings and Queen has the movement of a roller-coaster ride, if a roller-coaster ride can be smart and tender and pitiless. The characters brilliantly played by Mathieu Amalric and Emmanuelle Devos operate in seemingly different movies, yet you never doubt Desplechin’s purpose in guiding us along these parallel lines, or his crazy mix of comedy and tragedy. Almost every movie’s ending can be guessed from the first five minutes; this one doesn’t give you a clue about what might happen next. Which is why it leads the ten best movies of 2005:

1. Kings and Queen (Arnaud Desplechin)

2. Nobody Knows (Hirokazu Kore-eda)

3. Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee)

4. Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog)

5. Cache (Michael Haneke)

6. Hustle & Flow (Craig Brewer)

7. The Beat That My Heart Skipped (Jacques Audiard)

8. A History of Violence (David Cronenberg) and Batman Begins (Christopher Nolan)

9. 2046 (Wong Kar-Wai)

10. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (Tommy Lee Jones)

I note how many of the year’s best movies have to do with music as a transformative force: Brewer’s seethingly alive film, Audiard’s remake of Fingers, Martin Scorsese’s Dylan documentary No Direction Home, and a lovely German film you’ve almost certainly never heard of, Michael Schorr’s Schultze Gets the Blues. Brokeback Mountain is at least as much a film in the American tradition of Westerns and lost paradises as it is a landmark in gay cinema, although it is certainly that. Grizzly Man is in those American traditions, too, and a perfect subject dropped into Herzog’s ready grasp.

2005 also gave us Noah Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale and Neil Jordan’s Breakfast on Pluto, which found their way onto my ten-best at the time but haven’t quite stuck around. Spielberg’s Munich, and George Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck., were exceptionally good takes on recent history, while George Romero’s Land of the Dead and George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith ably criticized current events through science fiction (seriously — the Lucas film is bracingly anti-Bush). Of course, some of these movies came out in 2004, so tread carefully, compulsive listmakers. Nobody knows.

Next week: 1955.


One Response

  1. Would you mind giving me a brief analysis of A History of Violence and Batman Begins? I’d love to hear what you think.

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