The 20 Best Films of 2005

by PopMatters Staff

5 Jan 2006


The movies of 2005 posed a lot of compelling questions: What is love? How does one become a superhero? Is violence something inherent inside you? Can murder be morally justified? Will digital replace film? These intriguing queries, along with others revolving around patriotism, interpersonal commitment, and cultural/racial divides made this an exceptional year at the cinema. Some of the more shocking outcomes revolve around the continued dominance of science fiction and fantasy, with horror finally finding its own indisputable artistic merits. History played a major role in many of the year’s best, as did the usual smaller, personal stories of people and their problems. Efficiently balancing the big picture problems of the world — and in one instance, the cosmos — with crispy conceived character, seamless computer technology, and narrative nuance, it was an amazing 12 months at the movies — one that might actually change the way films are made from now on.

(dir: Wong Kar-Wai)

If Wong’s previous films have played out with the aching melancholy of a rainy day, then 2046 is the stormy night after. Visions of unrequited love and unfulfilled yearning swirl in the dreamy imagination of Tony Leung’s Mr. Chow, writing serials in the same complex where he met Maggie Cheung’s Mrs. Chan in In The Mood For Love. That the latter was a 1960’s period piece and this is set in the futuristic world of an already advanced Hong Kong is as effortlessly handled as Leung’s apparent aglessness. Into this unlikely backdrop, Wong pours all of his existentialist, isolationist blues and the result is at once fleetingly wondrous and painfully resonant.
Simon Wood Amazon

War of the Worlds
(dir: Steven Spielberg)

No doubt about it, Steven Spielberg’s version of HG Wells’ science fiction classic is an intense tour de force. In spite of its title, inspirations, and target audience, War of the Worlds is one of the most mature entries in Spielberg’s oeuvre. Here, the prominent director acknowledges once again how social wounds produced by the horrors of recent historical events tend to remain as part of the human subconscious. Indeed, Spielberg’s War of the Worlds is probably one of the most powerful metaphors of 9/11 and the Nazi holocaust ever. As such, this movie really knows how to exploit our current fears of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. Adding to the sense of dejection and despair, and going against current trends and conventions, the nominal hero (played by Tom Cruise) is unreliable, morally ambiguous and ultimately unable to stop the alien menace.
Marco Lanzagorta PopMatters review Amazon

Land of the Dead
(dir: George A. Romero)

Was any movie moment cooler this year than when George Romero’s Dead zombies stopped in their gooey tracks to watch the skies explode with fireworks? Never one for subtlety, Romero continued his zombie series with a Patriot Act-bashing story that effectively explored issues of absolute power. The action was thrilling, the plot percolates along perfectly, and the dialogue was some of George’s best. As a zombie movie it has all the right ingredients — vicious slayings, big scares and lots of blood. But it worked, too, as a redemptive tale of citizens taking back the night.
Nikki Tranter PopMatters review Amazon

The Squid and the Whale
(dir: Noah Baumbach)

So many slice-of-life movies trip over awkward timelines, forced endings, or an absence of narrative drive. The Squid and the Whale is simply about a family dealing with divorce, yet writer-director Noah Baumbach assembles his vignettes with such precision and lacerating wit that this essentially plotless movie feels more complete than dozens of more traditional stories. Jeff Daniels retreats from likeability as the pompous, wounded father, and Jesse Eisenberg is close on his heels as a worshipful son; somehow, there’s still plenty of empathy to go around. Baumbach is one of film’s best writers — of characters, of recognizable yet idiosyncratic situations, and especially of dialogue — and here directs his own material with immediacy. Sadness and hilarity provide the film’s alternating stings.
Jesse Hassenger PopMatters review Amazon

(dir: Chan-wook Park)

Oldboy‘s awe-inspiring premise is reason enough to look at the film: a man is released after 15 years locked in a hotel room and has five days to find out why. The fact that it then finds time to explore vengeance, parenthood and passion, friendship, family, and betrayal makes it even more gruesomely satisfying. It’s so confronting and so superbly pieced together that it’s a near injustice to think of it as a mere film. This is an interactive experience. Let yourself be captivated and you’ll yell and scream and duck and dive right up until the creepy finale. It’s an absolute thrill.
Nikki Tranter PopMatters review Amazon

The Upside of Anger
(dir: Mike Binder)

Terry Wolfmeyer (Joan Allen) hits the bottle and becomes a right raving bitch when her husband runs off with his mistress. With a life to get back to, four daughters to mentor, and a neighbor (played by Kevin Costner) after something beyond friendship, Terry’s decent into bitterness is challenged at every turn. Still, she does her best to let the world know it’s done her wrong. Though development of Terry’s kids (played by Alicia Witt, Keri Russell, Evan Rachel Wood, and Erika Christensen) often falls by the wayside (Binder’s own part in the film comes via gross little subplot that also risks sinking the entire film), The Upside of Anger is emotionally gripping with a love-it-or-hate-it final twist that only highlights how fragile self-perception and understanding can be, especially in times of trauma.
Nikki Tranter PopMatters review Amazon

The Devil’s Rejects
(dir: Rob Zombie)

This movie is violent, bloody, cruel, distressing, offensive, and funny: the way a good horror film should be. Rob Zombie’s outstanding sequel to his terrifying House of 1000 Corpses (2003) is a genre hybrid that aptly combines the characteristic elements from the horror, police and road movies. When the police siege an alleged house of horrors trying to impose their brand of social order, the maniacs are forced to flee, expanding their reign of terror across several towns. The result is a cautionary tale that allegorically talks about some of the complexities resulting from the recent military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. And of course, the infamous “road kill” scene may well be the single most powerful moment seen on a movie screen during 2005.
Marco Lanzagorta PopMatters review Amazon

Kung Fu Hustle
(dir: Stephen Chow)

Stephen Chow is a god of the modern cinema, and I worship at his temple. Combining riotous humour with surreal splendor and amazing action scenes, Kung Fu Hustle blends styles like a spastic tornado in a fashion museum. Part-Keaton, part-Looney Tunes, part-Tarantino, and all genius, Chow brings back a bunch of retired kung fu actors to play a bunch of retired kung fu masters fated to stand against the most powerful triad in town, and then stirs in his own hapless character to mixed effect. Frankly, Chow The Director’s use of Chow The Actor is less than exemplary and actually detracts from the overall quality and integrity of Kung Fu Hustle. But this movie is still so thoroughly entertaining that it really doesn’t matter at all.
Roger Holland PopMatters review Amazon

(dir: Paul Haggis)

Aside from Brokeback Mountain, Crash was the other ambitious and courageous effort of the filmmaking season. With an impressive directing debut by Million Dollar Baby screenwriter Paul Haggis, Crash is a film that looks at the racial collisions of several Los Angelenos during a 36-hour period. The film is an amalgam of riveting, exceptional performances from Matt Dillon, Sandra Bullock, and Don Cheadle, to Terrence Howard, Thandie Newton, and Michael Pena. Though not without its flaws, Crash is a spectacular effort. Haggis’s brilliance lies in how he reproduces familiar plot lines such as the use of prejudice in everyday life combined with the tacit acceptance of this fact. Then he flips it all, repackaging the story for contemporary audiences. There is nothing necessarily new about the experiences these characters face but Haggis makes sure we notice each and every one of them.
Courtney Young PopMatters review Amazon

Me and You and Everyone We Know
(dir: Miranda July)

In which the very wonderful Miranda July makes a successful transition from performance art to cinema, while exploiting the capital of her earlier work and winning a large shed full of shiny awards along the way. Me and You and Everyone We Know is warm, charming and filled with the utterly unexpected. It sees big things in small people, and poetry in the mundane. And it has a message: “You think you deserve that pain. But you don’t.”
Roger Holland PopMatters review Amazon

//Mixed media

NYFF 2017: 'Mudbound'

// Notes from the Road

"Dee Rees’ churning and melodramatic epic follows two families in 1940s Mississippi, one black and one white, and the wars they fight abroad and at home.

READ the article