(dir: Bennett Miller)
Truman Capote (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) wanted to write the nonfiction book of the decade about a Kansas bloodbath and its perpetrators. Little did he know how cannibalizing the life story of hapless drifter Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.) would become its own kind of manslaughter. First time feature director Bennett Miller has crafted a deceptively bare bones parable about an artist’s responsibility to his art versus the cost to his soul, set against a lonely Midwest wilderness and stocked with stand-out performances from Hoffman, Collins Jr., Chris Cooper, Bob Balaban and Catherine Keener. As austere and merciless as an icewater baptism, and just as difficult to recover from upon completion.
Violet Glaze PopMatters review Amazon
(dir: Stephen Gaghan)
Critics complain that individual story lines are underdeveloped, but Syriana isn’t meant to be a character study. The politics of Stephen Gaghan’s sprawling oil industry may be maddeningly intricate but, like viewing a Diego Rivera mural, from afar the portrait of self-destructive greed is clear. This film is not an expose, or a conspiracy theory, and we don’t need to give the characters any sympathy. The central story elements (the power struggle between a leader who wants to build up his oil-rich country and one who wants to get rich by playing the corporate puppet) should be familiar to anyone with knowledge of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and Latin America for the past 40 years. If the film doesn’t add any new information to this abomination, the dark humming portent at its closing that this will not end until we’ve swallowed ourselves whole is still powerfully conveyed.
Michael Buening PopMatters review Amazon
(dir: Fernando Meirelles)
This year’s best movie for grown-ups, The Constant Gardner is a throwback, in the nicest possible way, to the cinema of the ‘70s. An ultimately heartbreaking romance wrapped up inside a well-constructed and credible political drama, Fernando Meirelles’s movie is hardly a thrill-a-minute rollercoaster ride of explosions, shoot-outs and smug one-liners. But it is graced with exceptional performances from both Ralph Fiennes and the lovely Rachel Weisz, and it tells much of the truth about the African continent if only from an inevitably external perspective.
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(dir: Peter Jackson)
Proving that he truly is the heir apparent to the ‘70s vanguard of blockbuster cinema (read: Lucas and Spielberg) that crazed Kiwi Peter Jackson delivered his homage to the movie that made him want to be a filmmaker in the first place, and the results were epic indeed. Sure, it’s too long and offers a few miscast actors along the way (sorry Mr. Brody), but as he proved with his brilliant Lord of the Rings films, Jackson understands the dynamics of big screen action. And once we get to that sinister Skull Island, he shows his penchant for expertly choreographed staggering set pieces again and again and again. From the terrifying T-Rex battle and bug pit to a sublime moment of ice “skating” in Central Park, this is not just a director’s love letter to his artistic inspiration this is his own legacy to the art form itself. What a mighty and magnificent bequest it is.
Bill Gibron PopMatters review
(dir: David Cronenberg)
Director David Cronenberg, adapting a graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke, gleefully takes American cinema’s fixation with evil invading innocence (Shadow of a Doubt, Out of the Past, Blue Velvet) to craft an enormously entertaining thriller that ridicules our love of screen brutality as we, the audience, feign virtuousness. Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) is an ideal father and a highly efficient killing machine code named “Joey,” whose unmasking threatens to tear apart, but ultimately brings his family together. If this starred Arnold Schwarzenegger, the movie would be a high concept action romp called True Lies. Cronenberg’s exploiting of this dichotomy, the horror of the tautly and realistically detailed action meshed with the winking humor of its genre conventions, forms the unsettling basis of his masterful drama.
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(dir: George Clooney)
For all of its politics and heavy-handed allegory, Good Night, and Good Luck is before everything else a taut, beautiful piece of filmmaking. Director George Clooney hit a home run with his first outing, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, but it was too reliant on a Soderbergh-esque narrative and cinematographic qualities. Here, though, Clooney steps out on his own as a director and steps up with a thrilling political noir as indicative of the period it’s paying homage to as it is to the present political climate. The monochrome photography of Robert Elswit is simply amazing, with blacks as thick as ink and whites as clean as freshly washed linen. And the acting of everyone involved, from Robert Downey Jr., Patricia Clarkson, Jeff Daniels, and Frank Langella to David Strathairn (who literally becomes legendary newsman Edward R. Murrow) is exceptional and flawless.
Dante Ciampaglia PopMatters review Amazon
(dir: Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller)
Welcome to the future of filmmaking. Not just from a technical standpoint and no film from 2005 could hold a fully rendered foot-candle to City‘s shockingly inventive computerized production design but for a full blown bucking of the entire Tinsel Town system. When he couldn’t get the puffed-up powers to be to credit creator Frank Miller as “director” of this film, Robert Rodriguez up and quit the Guild, thumbing his nose at those who would deny that ‘visualization’ is part of the cinematic process. Some of the dialogue is hopelessly corny and the interwoven plots often play like cheap dime novel noir, but Rodriguez and Miller have proven, implicitly, that something visually stunning can be made out of expertly crafted ideas, all tweaked with a little cutting edge technology. All flaws aside, in the years to come, Sin City will be the milestone that begat the true post-millennial movement in digital filmmaking.
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(dir: Steven Spielberg)
Steven Spielberg’s second film of 2005 is not only the better of the two, but also his best work in years, if not his best work ever. Munich, which focuses on Israel’s retaliation against Arab and Palestinian terrorists in the wake of the kidnapping and execution of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, finds Spielberg as a director less interested in happy endings and infallible good overcoming utter evil as much he is with plumbing the depths of moral ambiguity. Spielberg’s “serious” works have always been marked by a certain naïveté, coloring them as simplistic and almost utopian. Not so here. Spielberg reveals a side of himself as a storyteller that he hasn’t shown before: that of a filmmaker able to ask hard questions while putting the burden on his audience to work out the equally tough solutions.
Dante Ciampaglia PopMatters review
(dir: Christopher Nolan)
It’s been a rough 10 years or so for Bat-fans. They paid their $8.50 to watch in horror what Joel Schumacher hath wrought in Batman & Robin, and hung their heads in despair (for free) as the franchise lay dormant, enduring the implicit taunts of intelligent X-Men and Spider-man movies. But in swoops Christopher Nolan, and the day is saved. His Batman Begins is not only faithful to its source, but terrific stand-alone entertainment. It’s the kind of superhero movie that gets your non-nerd friends interested in comic books, however briefly; who wouldn’t be tempted to pick one up after watching this smart, serious (but not humorless) and impeccably cast extravaganza? Christian Bale is especially perfect as Bruce Wayne first and Batman second, rebuilding the Dark Knight from haunted youngster on up.
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(dir: Ang Lee)
The story of how the movie Brokeback Mountain came to be is a story characterized by “floating” and uncertainty. It is based upon a short story written by Annie Proulx, garnered the title of “the best non-produced screenplay in Hollywood” and literally “floated” for seven years through the executive suites of all the major studios, with no one knowing exactly what to do with or make of the subject matter. Gaining the moniker “the gay cowboy movie” (which is a huge disservice to the narrative), Brokeback Mountain became a film that was toxic to many. Irrespective of how one may feel about the premise, many things are certain: the cast is exceptional, particularly Heath Ledger in an Oscar worthy performance, Ang Lee’s precise, intricate and sensitive direction is a sheer marvel, and the film’s epic scope deals in a love story that straddles the decades, a tale of surviving in a time and place where the feelings these two men have for one other are a truly fatal taboo.
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