While there were many fine movies in theaters this year, there was a paucity of greatness. Looking back over previous 10-best lists, I see strong convictions about the best films that I don't feel this year. Last year, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Before Sunset were my favorites, and they still linger in my memory as absolutely perfect achievements: intelligent, original and romantic. This year, however, there are no obvious standouts, so I'm organizing the films alphabetically.
First, a couple of caveats. I missed a few movies that were said to be quite good, such as Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Batman Begins and Layer Cake. I also regret missing The Constant Gardener--despite mixed reviews--since political intrigue has emerged as a new cinematic fashion a la Syriana and Munich. As always, I'm confining this list to the calendar year, so this season's critical darling Brokeback Mountain will not be considered until next year. By the same token, this list contains movies that are technically last year's movies but only arrived in the Triangle this year.
The Best of Youth.
Only a few people in the Triangle saw this stirring blend of history, politics and domestic melodrama in its week-long engagement at the Galaxy, and in truth, this six-hour Italian epic is perhaps the least defensible film on the list. Although there are many things to criticize in The Best of Youth--most especially the tidy complacency of the final hour--there was no comparable movie-going experience in 2005.
Once again, Werner Herzog meets a soulmate of sorts in this mesmerizing found-footage doc. Considering how much failed actor Timothy Treadwell was performing for his own camera up in Alaska, Herzog is as much midwife as director and editor.
Fatih Akin's earlier In July was a slickly produced picaresque romance and little more. With Head-On, Akin brings troubled Turkish-Germans into his formidable universe with erotic, violent and melancholy results.
King Kong.Despite its excesses and a silly subplot or two, this is the best popcorn movie of this year, last year and, perhaps, next year.
Steven Spielberg's political drama sheds light on a different age of terrorism-- and our own. Fascinating in its historical particulars, Munich also contains expertly executed sequences that rival the best of 1970s espionage films.
Todd Solondz makes another lacerating excursion into the ethics of contemporary living--here the clashing moral systems of people who happen to live in the same country. Judging from the performance of this film, however, Solondz may need to find a way to meet his audiences halfway.
Hany Abu-Assad's film dares to take the point of view of a pair of Palestinian suicide bombers, and does it with the theatrical flourish of Wages of Fear.
Jun Ichikawa's bonsai movie is a delicately constructed evocation of loneliness, a minimalist expression of maximum emotions.
Alternately frustrating and bewitching, Wong Kar-Wai's latest effort dispenses almost entirely with narrative form even though, or because, it's about a writer. Instead, we get a rapturous swirl of mood, nostalgia, aestheticized squalor and gorgeous clothes.
The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill.
With a tip of the hat to the doughty penguins, this beautifully photographed tale was the year's best bird documentary. Humans and birds alike adapt to a strange environment in this humble, unflinching and surprising movie.
Notre Musique, Postmen in the Mountains, Ice Harvest, Nobody Knows, The Corpse Bride, Pride and Prejudice, Yes, Look at Me, Million Dollar Baby, Rize, March of the Penguins, Junebug, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Loggerheads, Born into Brothels, The Squid and the Whale, Capote, Good Night, and Good Luck, Vera Drake, Since Otar Left, Hustle and Flow
Naomi Watts and Andy Serkis in King Kong, Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote, Amy Adams in Junebug, Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney in The Squid and the Whale, David Strathairn in Good Night, and Good Luck, Terrence Howard in Crash and Hustle and Flow, Tony Leung and Ziyi Zhang in 2046, Timothy Treadwell in Grizzly Man, Imelda Staunton and supporting cast in Vera Drake, Keira Knightley and Donald Sutherland in Pride and Prejudice, Sibel Kekilli in Head-On, all the kids in Palindromes and Nobody Knows.