Just as the 2006 list featured plenty of comedies, this one has a surprisingly high amount of another genre: documentaries. Four of them appear on this list of ten, which, while not dominating, is certainly disproportionate if one looks at the amount of fictional and nonfictional movies I’ve seen from that year. Does this mean that 2005 was a weak year for “normal” movies? No, not really. The documentaries that made this list are all excellent and would have had a good shot of making the top 10 no matter what year they’d been released in. It just so happens that they all got clumped together in 2005. The ten films here are all 5/5 in my book, which is more than I can say for most other years.
I’m perfectly fine with this. Documentary films are often overshadowed by their fictional brethren, and I know some people who don’t even consider them movies at all. Which is ridiculous. Of course they are movies. They have the same power to move us, thrill us, shock us and make us laugh and think as any other genre of film. They deserve as much attention as anything, so I’m happy that four of them have found their way onto this list of mine.
As usual, this is 2005 as listed on IMDB.
10 – MARCH OF THE PENGUINS (LA MARCHE DE L’EMPEREUR, Luc Jacquet)
“There are few places harder to get to in this world. But there aren’t any where it’s harder to live.”
What always strikes me about this documentary is how much work it must have taken to shoot it. Showing the remarkable mating cycle of the emperor penguins of Antarctica, a lot of time was spent to capture every phase of the long process in a truly inhospitable climate. The result of the crew’s labor is a wonderful documentary that’s both informative and charming. The English-language version also plays the trump card of having Morgan Freeman as its narrator (though the Swedish one with veteran comedian Gösta Ekman behind the microphone is nothing to sneeze at either).
9 – THE WEATHER MAN (Gore Verbinski)
“Nothing that has meaning is easy. ‘Easy’ doesn’t enter into grown-up life.”
Here’s an oft undervalued film that Gore Verbinski put out inbetween the two first Pirates of the Caribbean films. Nicolas Cage plays a Chicago weatherman who’s unhappy with his life. His flaws are twofold: he takes no pleasure in his work, and he tries too hard to patch things up with his family. He can’t get over his ex-wife (Hope Davis), his kids struggle with weight issues and drugs, and his father (masterfully played by Michael Caine) is quietly disappointed by his son. It’s a comedy of the glum kind, where the laughs have to fight hard to break through the clouds but feel well-earned when they do. One of Cage’s best and most overlooked performances of the decade.
8 – SIN CITY (Robert Rodriguez)
“This is blood for blood and by the gallon. These are the old days, the bad days, the all-or-nothing days. They’re back!”
There may be better movies based on graphic novels out there, but in terms of visually bringing the source material to life in a live action film, Sin City may be the king of the hill. Every shot looks as though it could have been taken straight from a comic book, shown in black and white with the occasional splashes of color. Add a thick noir atmosphere and one hell of a star-studded cast (including what many call Mickey Rourke‘s true comeback role) and you have one hell of an entertaining ride. Style over substance, perhaps, but with style like this, that’s perfectly acceptable.
7 – MURDERBALL (Henry Alex Rubin & Dana Adam Shapiro)
“I’ve done more in the chair than a whole hell of a lot of people who aren’t in chairs.”
“Inspirational” is on the verge of becoming an empty word due to overuse, but for Murderball, it rings true. Hearing the stories these wheelchair rugby players have to deal are indeed inspiring, but that’s not all this documentary has going for it. It also features some brilliantly shot sequences from the matches that really bring forth the physicality of the sport. There’s also a compelling narrative about Joe Soares, who after many years as a star player for the US team failed to make the try-outs and defected to Canada to become their coach. And then Canada beats the unbeatable Americans, who now want revenge. Hollywood couldn’t have done it better.
6 – HUSTLE & FLOW (Craig Brewer)
“You in charge. Say it.”
A film like this could easily have fallen sway to clichés and stereotyping. Thankfully, it doesn’t. The story of Memphis pimp and drugdealer Djay (Terrence Howard in probably his best role to date) who has aspirations of hip-hop stardom works because it transcends what we expect of the material. The characters are meticulously crafted and expertly brought to life, and while we may not agree with Djay’s methods all the time, his dreams and transformation feel believable and admirable. He’s too smart and gifted for the life he leads, so he sets out to change it. Music becomes his outlet.
5 – GRIZZLY MAN (Werner Herzog)
“I think he lost sight of what was really going on.”
Towards the end of Grizzly Man, Werner Herzog notes: “I believe the common character of the universe is not harmony, but hostility, chaos and murder”. This viewpoint is evident in a number of his other films, so it’s no surprise that he would be drawn to the subject matter here. This is a documentary on Timothy Treadwell, a man who spent 13 summers living among the grizzly bears of Alaska until he and his girlfriend were attacked and eaten by them. A lot of it is composed of Treadwell’s own footage from his trips, both providing an amazing look at the bears and painting a vivid picture of a unique human being. The other parts, with Herzog interviewing people who knew Treadwell, tells us as much about the subject as it does about the director and human nature as a whole.
4 – A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (David Cronenberg)
“Ask him how come he’s so good at killing people.”
The first time I saw this film I was a bit underwhelmed. I liked it, but felt it somewhat brief and slight. A rewatch changed my mind, transforming “brief” and “slight” into “concentrated”. This is tight storytelling with not a second wasted, featuring scenes with immense power and some teriffic performances, none stronger than Viggo Mortensen‘s. Brutal and violent for sure, but hugely fascinating.
3 – UNKNOWN WHITE MALE (Rupert Murray)
“How much is our personality, our identity, determined by the experiences we have, and how much is already there – pure ‘us’?”
I’ve mentioned this one a couple of times before on this blog. An immensely thought-provoking documentary on Doug Bruce who has lost all his memories, full of what-ifs and neat anecdotes. I’ve seen no documentary that I’ve liked better than this one.
2 – THE 40 YEAR-OLD VIRGIN (Judd Apatow)
“I respect women! I love women! I respect them so much that I completely stay away from them!”
Along with 2004’s Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, which he produced, this is the film that brought Judd Apatow big mainstream success. And what a great film it is. First of all it’s gut-bustingly hilarious, with a smooth mix of crudeness and humanity. But what really makes it stand out is the tactful and sympathetic attitude it has towards its main character Andy (Steve Carell), showing him as not an awkward loser but in a positive light. As his outspoken co-workers (Seth Rogen, Romany Malco and Paul Rudd) do their best to help him lose his virginity, it becomes apparent that they’re the ones with the real issues. Carell deserves a big chunk of credit too for finding just the right level to play Andy at. As far as laugh-out-loud comedies go, this one ranks among the best of the decade.
1 – THE SQUID AND THE WHALE (Noah Baumbach)
“Why is your mother dating all these jocks? Very uninteresting men.”
But if one is looking for comedy of the blacker variety, this movie is tough to beat. A brutal portrayal of the bitter psychological war that a divorce can mutate into, with the intellectual snob dad (Jeff Daniels in a superb performance) and his follower of a teenage son (Jesse Eisenberg) on one side and quick-to-move-on mom (Laura Linney) and troubled 12 year-old Frank (Owen Kline) on the other. Not always an easy watch, but it’s probably Noah Baumbach‘s funniest and most thoughtful film to date.