Best of 2005 | Screen | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Best of 2005



Can you believe it? You're all a year older, and another year at the movies has grown old with you.



The older you get, the more selective you become about the movies you see. Been there, done that -- you know the drill. Hollywood, foreign, indie, digital video: Movies come from more places now than does the hair on your body. And yet, so few actually feel as fresh and young as I do.


Here, then, before I get so young that I'm practically an infant again, are the Top 10 movies of 2005 from among the ones I've chosen to see this year, beginning with a four-star triumvirate, and then in alphabetical order.


1-A. Me and You and Everyone We Know. Miranda July is a visual artist, and her debut feature film as a writer/director/star has hints of that rarefied world. But it's also a deeply thoughtful drama, rife with metaphor and experience, about people furtively coming together, hesitant to touch each other but desperately in need. A beautiful, intelligent film -- the year's best.


1-B. Junebug. Written by Angus MacLachlan, a playwright, and directed by Phil Morrison, it's set in a quaint North Carolina town, where a 30-ish native son and his slightly older British gallery-owner bride return to visit his family and conduct some art business. Filled with ineffable moments, it twists and turns you through characters who (as Fitzgerald observed about storytelling) begin as clichés and evolve into difficult, complex, unresolved people.


1-C. Grizzly Man. Timothy Treadway was a recovering addict and failed actor with an untreated mental illness. He became a self-styled naturalist with an interest in Alaskan grizzly bears, one of which finally killed and ate him. Werner Herzog's film about Treadway is also a film about the filmmaker, whose work has always explored insanity, and who seems at last to understand himself out loud.


The Aristocrats. If you thought life was one damned thing after another, well guess what: It's the same damned thing over and over. Listening to dozens of comedians tell the world's dirtiest joke -- each in his or her own way -- is both a laugh riot and a delectable character study. Comedy is nihilism, and nothing proves it better than the brutal joke at the heart of this fascinating documentary.


Brokeback Mountain. In 1963, two cowboys meet in Wyoming and begin a private love affair that lasts for 20 years and for eternity. Ang Lee's film of Annie Proulx's short story (which opens in Pittsburgh shortly) is at once gay and universal, finely acted and terribly, terribly sad.


Kontroll. Hungarian director Nimród Antal has made the kind of debut film that movie lovers savor: smart, visual, strange, powerful and highly promising. Set in Budapest's ghostly metro, it's both a psychological horror story and a kaleidoscopic metaphor for a schizophrenic nation.


The Squid and the Whale. Noah Baumbach's family drama asks the question: What about the children? The father (Jeff Daniels, very good but still miscast) is a selfish, domineering, parsimonious Ph.D. novelist on the decline. His late-blooming wife (Laura Linney) is a timid Ph.D. novelist on the rise. They raise their children in an atmosphere of New York intellectual openness, talking to them as if they're adults and colleagues, which they're not. The result is a moving and challenging film.


Thumbsucker. At once a parable and a slice of life, the story of Justin Cobb comes to us from an unreliable 17-year-old narrator whom we totally believe by the time it's over. Mike Mills' film is tender, thoughtful and funny -- a testament of hope that anyone can grow from geek to sleek.


Up and Down. The redoubtable Czech cinema tops itself with Jan Hrebejk's exquisite vivisection of the complexities of a free Czech Republic. A bittersweet set of interlocking stories leads to a lovely surprise ending and then a series of stunning epilogues. Rife with metaphor, irony, paradox and dark humor, it poses a cultural and political conundrum with little hope of finding an answer any time soon. The Czech title, Horem pádem, means "helter skelter," changed for U.S. release, for obvious reasons.


Vodka Lemon. It sounds like every movie from every country from which we only see one movie in a lifetime: bittersweet, tragi-comic, quirky, and with a touch of magic realism (on horseback). Hiner Saleem's mournful story of life in a dilapidated and forgotten post-Soviet Armenian village is so time-and-place specific that you become absorbed by its inconceivably bleak and arduous vision of far-away daily life.


Finally, a few more movies you liked this year -- the Middle 10, you could say (I'll spare you the Bottom 10): The Assassination of Richard Nixon, The Jacket, Dorian Blues, Nina's Tragedies, Palindromes, Turtles Can Fly, Look at Me, Mysterious Skin, Dear Wendy and Paradise Now.


That's it for '05. And now it's time for our annual nap.