Perhaps the biggest buzz of 2005 in the world of film was the sad state of affairs at the box office. Revenues were down all year, and pretty much everyone had a theory as to why fewer folks went to the cineplex (people talking on cell phones during movies was one of my favorites). Few wanted to address the most obvious reason: that an overwhelming majority of films released this year sucked ass (and, in some cases, total ass).
Still, despite diminishing receipts, there were some great films. And since so many of you are dying to know, here's my list of:
THE BEST OF 2005
Hustle & Flow—Brilliant and brutal, gritty and glorious, Craig Brewer's tale of a small-time Memphis pimp (Terrance Howard) struggling to be a rapper was inspiring. Howard gave the single best performance by an actor in 2005.
Brokeback Mountain—Ang Lee's tragic tale of love denied turned out to be one of the best cinematic love stories of all time. The fact that it was about two men made it equally revolutionary.
Oldboy—Sure, Chanwook Park's tale of revenge and redemption didn't officially make it to the United States until two years after its release in South Korea, but it would rank as one of the best films of any year.
Mad Hot Ballroom—Films, documentary or otherwise, seldom come more "feel-good" than this glimpse at fifth-graders in New York City learning ballroom dance. Who needs penguins?
Murderball—A documentary about guys in wheelchairs playing rugby and pounding the hell out of each other made some audiences apprehensive. But this was the most life-affirming, inspirational film of the year.
Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang—When it comes to pure entertainment, devoid of any sort of politics or social commentary, it simply did not get better than Shane Black's action-packed comedy starring Robert Downey Jr. as a petty crook pretending to be an actor pretending to be a detective, all to impress the girl he pined for in high school.
Good Night, and Good Luck and Syriana (tie)—George Clooney put in some serious overtime, first as director, co-writer and co-star of Good Night, which recounted journalist Edward R. Murrow's battle against commie-hunting Sen. Joseph McCarthy, and then in Stephen Gaghan's Syriana, a complex tale of corruption in the oil industry.
Land of the Dead—It took 20 years, but George Romero finally returned to the genre he defined with his classic zombie trilogy. In doing so, the Night of the Living Dead director proved that you can still mix horror and social commentary, on a limited budget, and churn out a film equally thought-provoking and fear-inducing.
Munich—Steven Spielberg could be resting on his laurels, but instead he made this dark, complex tale of an Israeli agent hunting terrorists and, in the process, losing his soul.
Capote—Philip Seymour Hoffman's performance as Truman Capote was amazing, and this film is the perfect companion piece to the author's defining work, In Cold Blood.
Runners-up: El Crimen Perfecto, 3-Iron, The Aristocrats, Sin City, Kung Fu Hustle, Brothers, Mail Order Wife, Layer Cake, Serenity, The Constant Gardener, Me & You & Everyone We Know.
THE WORST OF 2005
One of the biggest stories of the film industry was the departure of Harvey and Bob Weinstein from Miramax, the "indie" film company they built. Before they left, Miramax held a "clearance sale" and dumped some of the lesser titles the company was holding on to. The result was a disproportionate amount of crap from Miramax (and sister company Dimension), including Underclassman starring Nick Cannon, the ultra-lame serial-killer garbage Mindhunters, Robert Rodriguez's descent into pure ineptitude, The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D, and An Unfinished Life and Derailed, both of which failed in every way imaginable to be any good. Other bad movies included Fever Pitch and Elizabethtown, two romantic comedies so awful they actually made bestiality and necrophilia seem more appealing than being in a relationship. High Tension proved that while we all like a stupid film, there are depths to which even the most schlock-loving filmgoers won't sink. And finally, the worst film of the year was, beyond comparison, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. With all the money in the world, and every technology at his disposal, George Lucas proved once again that talent is the one thing he does not have in any measure.