2005 wasn't a big year for blockbusters, despite (or maybe because of) George Lucas finally putting the Star Wars saga to bed, and Peter Jackson sneaking in at the end with his big monkey. If quirky indie-crossovers are more yer bag, however, then it was a corker. Of course, like every year, there was also no shortage of bland garbage littering the country's multiplexes, so let those champions of good taste, the diskant team, guide you through their favourite releases of the year in typically contradictory fashion...
Your panel of commentators consists of Fraser Campbell (FC), Tom Coogan (TC), Stuart Fowkes (SF), Jon Goodwin (JG), Chris Haikney (CH), Alex McChesney (AM), Simon Minter (SM), Thorsten Sideb0ard (TS), Marceline Smith (MS), David Stockwell (DS) and Chris Summerlin (CS).
1. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
AM: You could argue that Wes Anderson makes movies as formulaic as any blockbuster. Take a handful of oddball misfits who are rubbish with the opposite sex, grant them obsessive personalities that fuel their odd hobbies, and let them bicker for two hours until they realise that they love each other after all. But the attention to detail, and the sense that he feels something like real affection for the oddballs he's created, make this completely forgivable. It's never quite made clear what era the film is set in. Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) and his crew seem to be stuck somewhere in the late sixties, winning awards for nature films that look like they're shot on 16mm film and bearing no small resemblance to those of Jacques Cousteau, while his arch-rival Alistair Hennessey (Jeff Goldblum) cruises around in a yacht heavy with 21st century gadgetry. The colourful stop-motion (or, at least, CGI made to look like stop-motion) sea creatures not only reinforce this, but add a sense of unreality, as though the whole movie was one of Zissou's "it this THIS big"-style yarns. I grinned from ear-to-ear for its entire length.
MS: After the first fifteen minutes (when the audience of fanboys managed to stop laughing at EVERY SINGLE THING before checking whether it was even supposed to be funny) I totally got into this. Yes, it's a rehash of his previous films - Owen Wilson and Bill Murray in particular hardly seeming to bother with more than the one character any more - and it dips into audience-pleasing tomfoolery a bit too often, but it's still inventive, quirky and funny enough to coast by. The stop motion marine life, in itself, is practically worth the money, along with the dinky uniforms, musical interludes and pointedly fake boat sets. Not as funny as it wants to be, or as good as it could have been but I'll take cheap fun over a lot of things.
FC: For me nothing will ever touch the genius of Rushmore. But this is more enjoyably whimsical meandering from the Anderson stable.
JG: My film of the year. An actual all-star cast, a soundtrack to end soundtracks (if you haven't seen it there are a lot of Portuguese David Bowie covers plus The Stooges soundtracking a pirate fight), Bill Murray and a perfect revenge / love triangle plot. Oh, and also, animated crabs! Kind of hard to explain to anyone who hasn"t seen it so just go and see it if you haven't!
SM: Boo, this was a disappointment after the giddy heights of Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums. It seems that when Wes Anderson's weirdo characters are placed outside the context of relative normality and into a fantastic situation, they lose some of their charm and idiosyncracy. Having said that, this is an inventively beautiful-looking film.
DS: "Rushmore" was great. "The Royal Tenenbaums" was not. Should I see this then?
2. Sin City
MS: Almost the very definition of style over content, this was sometimes incredible to watch until the boredom set in from the drawn-out story and endless narration. Was this film really six hours long? It was certainly the nearest I got to falling asleep in the cinema this year. This was also the most guy film I have seen in a while disguising its hard man, violent, naked chick plotlines under a sheen of clever indie-cool Art. Having said all that, I did enjoy this a lot in parts. Elijah Wood being eaten by wolves was particularly good.
FC: The Sin City comic was a typically violent and expert homage to pulp novels by Batman and Daredevil legend Frank Miller. I really liked it. The movie is fantastically made by Robert Rodreguez, with a terrifically written screenplay and superb performances. But at the end of the day it is a 2 hour plus violence fest, lacking the humour and innovation of Pulp Fiction, but assuming similarly lofty pretentions towards being an art film. I like it, but you have to be in the mood.
TS: Definitely one of the best comic->movie transitions there has been, with the exception of Sp
AM: A movie so gloriously over the top that you have to give it credit for sheer bare-faced cheek alone. There's no subtlety to be had here, just gratuitous, over-the-top violence. Fun, if you like that sort of thing, and beautifully presented. Bonus points are certainly due for giving Rutger Hauer work.
DS: Look: I understand how it works. I've read the original comics. I know how and why this film was made; the intentions, decisions and execution. But it just didn't work. Sorry. Look: I can enjoy films that are style over substance. I often enjoy horrible, amoral films that upset sensibilities and make you feel sick. But in my opinion, this is nothing but a lousily heavy-handed, sloppily directed/edited failure. The self-consciously "cult" atmosphere of the film was nauseating. The computer-generated backdrops didn't work. The actors seemed to be trying to assert their chops on a blank stage (and I never want to see Bruce Willis try and persuade me that he has acting chops ever again). The amusingly overblown lines in the comics were delivered like sermons from the mount. The over-the-top violence felt entirely unnecessary and wasn't even attractively deranged. The timing of gags, lines and actions was just off throughout. Or rather, there wasn't any timing at all. The only person to emerge from this film with any credit is Mickey Rourke, making the best of a badly botched job. Rest assured that I will not be rushing out to see the sequel.
SF: Great film, charmingly funny, wonderfully paced, and heartwarming without being sugary. Plus you get to learn about wine.
AM: Smug and middle-class. Just like me, I suppose, which explains why enjoyed it so much. Not destined to be remembered as a classic, but in a few years you'll be channel-hopping late at night, thinking about going to bed, but will run into this film. You'll say to yourself that you'll only watch five minutes, and you'll stay to the end and be late for work the next day.
DS: I saw this film in Oslo, with the audience laughing at the gags in Norwegian subtitles seconds before lines were delivered. Plus the cinema got hysterical when confronted with the incredibly depressing sight of Paul Giamatti illicitly chugging wine in a fast-food joint at the film's climax. Kind of off-putting: I guess it's something to do with their famously dark sense of humour. However, it was still a great film - the first I've really felt totally convinced of by Alexander Payne, and of course Giamatti was predictably brilliant.
JG: Excellent film. It's a long time since I saw it. Fun for all the family, except for the 'cock up the arse' bit.
SM: This is the drinking film, isn't it? I remember it being good - if slightly forced - fun. My only slight issue is that the main characters don't seem loveable enough, so it just seemed to be an interesting set of events rather than an emotionally-charged journey.
TC: Up there with 'Swingers' in the 'why am I single? oh, that's why' stakes.
4. Batman Begins
DS: As much as I enjoyed Tim Burton's take on the first couple of Batman films, this is what I had been waiting for ever since the renaissance of comic book adaptations began in earnest. No camp theatrics; no hammy cameos or Jack Nicholson to steal the show; no songs or dances; no jokes or puns. Yes, the premise of a mentally-unstable vigilante who dresses up as a bat is a little silly, but Chris Nolan and his co-conspirators have done a great and admirable thing by playing the film straight. It's dark, scary and even has some real depth. Christian Bale is excellent (as he was in the Machinist - why didn't anyone vote for that film?), and the supporting cast is uniformly great. Even Katie Holmes doesn't seem too
badly out of place, which is something of an achievement in itself. It's everything I could have hoped for - up there on the screen. And about fucking time too.
JG: Boring. I was drunk when I saw this, and even that didn"t get me excited. The origins of Batman were pretty well hinted at in the less "Dark" but oh-so-actually-much-darker Tim Burton version. We already knew that Bruce Wayne spent his millions on building a super-arsenal to avenge the death of his parents, while projecting a sophisticated socialite veneer and being irresistible to the foxy ladies of his day. I found the seven years in Tibet segment tedious and unnecessary too. I don't know much about the comics so apologies if that bit is vital to the legend.
TC: Perfect cross between an arthouse pic and a blockbuster.
FC: The best Batman film for so many reasons. Bale makes a terrific Dark Knight - bringing his "blank" quality to a character whose daily life is in fact an empty sham. Only when he becomes the Bat does he truly come alive. Ok, it had a big, silly, expensive and CGI filled finale, but it is a successful attempt at bringing one of the richest and most complex characters in American literary history to life.
SM: I saw this recently but have no recollection of it. And that can't be a good thing...?
SF: Was I alone in thinking this was absolute dross?
AM: Comic-book fans who long for "serious" adaptations of their favourite titles should be careful what they wish for. Ok, so nobody wants a return to the silly campery, moulded-nipples and roles for Jim Carey that the Joel Schumacher years brought us, but "Batman Begins" overcompensates hugely, and winds up utterly po-faced and heartless as a result.
FC: Very funny look at the often mental lives of bands. Not quite a Spinal Tap for jessies, but not far away.
AM: Hard drugs, monster egos, and catchy tunes. What more could you ask for? I'm not a massive fan of either the bands presented, but was entertained anyway.
JG: Was it someone on diskant that posted about the difference between ordinary people making extraordinary music and "extraordinary" (ie "wacky") people making ordinary music? Well, The Brian Jonestown Massacre and the Dandy Warhols reminded me of that. So self-consciously "hip" and "crazy" were these dullards that I really didn't care what woes befell them. If the music had been better I might have cared about who fell out with who and who wrote a song about who and who's on drugs and who isn't, but they're both crap bands so I didn't. I much preferred the Minutemen film.
DS: "He broke my sitar, man!"
If 2004 was the year of Some Kind of Monster, 2005 was the year of DiG!. I'm not sure I could tell you which one was funnier, or more painful. Essential viewing, in many ways entirely because the musical subject matter is pretty woeful. And also the reprehensible conceit, the self-conscious self-delusion of these people demands your attention. In all seriousness, I think they should force religious zealots to watch this film: it's something about observing the lives and attitudes of people that you can only feel utter alienation from, yet simultaneously you are forced to understand that they came from the same place that you did. The way they choose to conduct themselves and the lifestyle choices they have made in a free country are on the screen in front of you: how does that make you feel? This film made me think more about my own attitudes towards life, people and music than anything else in
recent memory. And a lot of it was funny as hell.
SM: This is one of the greatest films I've seen in a long, long time. It provokes a different response to the guffawing derision I had to 'Some kind of monster'; it's a fascinating, heart-rending and terrifying glimpse in to how seriously some people take their music. And as well they might, as it seems their lives depend on it. The weird thing is, I come out wishing that Brian Jonestown Massacre had become the famous band rather than Dandy Warhols, as they sounded great. I'd be afraid if they had, though.
TS: I thought this was an ace insightful look at two similar but different bands' experience of the music industry. The perennial question regarding artistic integrity vs. making a buck from music.
MS: I managed to miss this twice at the cinema but borrowed it off Alex. Mostly it made me very nostalgic as a lot of it mirrored my times with Trail of Dead right down to the same places and the same stupid situations. And they were the best times. These kind of films should put you off being in a band but, damn, it's fun. Even if always goes wrong in the end. Courtney from The Dandy Warhols really is a dick though, isn't he? Did he have any ideas of his own? And no, no-one will remember your band in 5 years. I already get mixed up between your crappy band and them that did that You and Me song.
6. Howl's Moving Castle
DS: Hayao Miyazaki can do no wrong in my book. This is the best film since Spirited Away, which was the best film since Princess Mononoke, and so on. It's pure genius -- until the last twenty minutes, which seem somehow mangled through a hasty editing process in order to reach a conclusion to a story that had until then being ticking over in a beautifully meandering manner.
MS: Despite being based on a (British?) book, the story seems to have been altered enough to include all the classic Miyazaki motifs (young girl, dreamy guy who can change form, warships, 'blob men') and make it in some ways an amalgam of Ghibli faves Spirited Away, Laputa and The Castle of Cagliostro. Which is great of course. A typically wonderfully weird storyline complete with the usual fantastic characters from Calcifer the grumpy fire demon to Howl himself, a sulky teenboy/fighting bird hero with the titular walking castle complete with a door that opens in four different locations. However, I have never seen a film that tidied up the ends so quickly and seemingly at random. I am waiting impatiently for the DVD, partly to see if the dubbed version has a different take on the ending. And shame on you all for not making this diskant film of the year.
AM: As beautiful and imaginative as might be expected from Miyazaki, but really - what the fuck?
FC: A very harrowing but fascinating insight into the last days of the 3rd Reich. You'll laugh, you'll cry. Well, you'll cry anyway.
AM: Achieves the impossible by humanising Hitler and his cronies, allowing the audience to empathise with them while never apologising for their actions. Incredibly brave film-making.
MS: I watched this one afternoon with a cinema full of pensioners and when the lights went up we all just sat there, expressionless and silent. It's a strange film, in that there really are no good guys and most of the, ahem, bad guys are not one dimensional caricatures of EVIL NAZI MADNESS. Enjoyed seems the wrong word but this was a very good film. I'd write more but I know it would degenerate into slagging Schindler's List so best not. Oh, also, when I bought my ticket for this the cinema guy said to me, "it's a SUBTITLED film, you know that?". No-one has ever warned me about subtitles before. Sometimes I wish I'd just said OH NO, REALLY? and ran out.
TC: The polar opposite of 'Stand by me'
DS: Fucking hell! Why didn't I get around to seeing this?
8. Napoleon Dynamite
SF: I was led to believe by several friends that this was the greatest and funniest film of the last five years or so. As such, I watched it with that in mind and came away disappointed. But the more I think back on it, the more I'm convinced it's actually well-presented, sharp and funny.
FC: Not quite a film of this year, but a great film nonetheless. If you look at the bare bones of the story, it seems pretty dull. But put the flesh on the bones and the characters drive this very funny, nicely drawn comedy in hugely satisfying fashion. Coming from Ayrshire, I totally got the small town agricultural thing. It's sort of like an American Pie for Real people in as much as the plot is typical run-of-the-mill teen comedy. It's the well observed charactarisations, particulaly the expert portyal of dense geekiness (not all nerds are brainy) that make it real, more affecting and less fanciful than the norm.
TC: Has its moments, but much of of my own enjoyment of the film stemmed from the fact that various characters looked/acted like people I know.
AM: I didn't get why this became such a cult hit. Mildly amusing is the best I can say about it.
CH: Soulless, self-consciously quirky crap of the most cynical kind.
DS: IT'S AN MTV FILM, PEOPLE. I thought it was quite funny as well, but am upset to see it in this list. And if I see another film geek in a "Vote for Pedro" t-shirt, I'm liable to start getting unseemly in public.
9. Broken Flowers
AM: This year's "lonely Bill Murray" movie, then? He does it so well you wish that he'd make more of them. Comparisons with "Lost in Translation" are inevitable, but Jarmusch's film is a far less optimistic, denser affair, which, while not as aesthetically lush as Sofia Coppola's movie, has a lot more going on under the surface, and might yet prove to bear more repeat viewings. The ending, in particular, leaves plenty of room for interpretation, throwing a curveball for an audience who might have expected that of a fluffy rom-com based on the first half.
CH: I liked it but it doesn't seem to be anything more than Lost in Translation as made by a middle-aged man rather than a mid-20s female.
DS: Ever since Bill Murray did a brilliant job in "Rushmore" (seven years ago!), it seems everyone has felt obliged to point out how wonderful a drolly comedic actor he is, and then to allow him to sleepwalk through carbon cut-out roles with similar levels of acclaim following him ever since. I have great regard for the man, and Jim Jarmusch may have once directed a Neil Young tour film, but they can both bite my ass on this one.
JG: This was alright. The scene where he has dinner with one of his ex-lovers and her husband is genuinely, fist-in-mouth cringeworthy. But all-in-all its just too drifty for me I think.
10. I Heart Huckabees
SF: I know I enjoyed this, but I can't really remember anything about it except Naomi Watts & Jude Law playing the cynical humour card well together. Was she in it? Note to se
lf - attempt to remember decent films seen in 2006.
AM: Perhaps less smart than it thinks it is, but still worth it for a great turn by Dustin Hoffman, and to hear Tippi Hedren say the word "Fuck".
TC: Totally ok. But Naomi Watts is a little too authentically irritating.
DS: I fell asleep in the cinema watching this film. What greater recommendation do you need for a self-satisfied piece of desperately irreverent sub-pop-psychological quickfire frothy claptrap made by an overhyped young director? Pseudo-intellectualism has never seemed like such a mighty damnation.
JG: Excellent film. Covers all the "issues" 9/11, the environment, corporate co-option of progressive causes, "what-does-it-all-mean" mid-20s crisis, while also being grin-from-ear-to-ear funny and amazing. Also featuring Dustin Hoffman looking like he"s not quite sure what he"s got himself into, Jason Schwartzman being hilarious and, for all you haters out there, Jude Law crying.
SM: Again, I have seen this but I cannot remember it. Maybe I should seek help.
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by Alex McChesney