The Best (and Worst) Films Released In The UK In 2005

Here is my end of year list of the best and worst films released in the UK this year.

As usual I’ve kept it limited to films only released in the UK this year as we are a UK based site (which means films opening in the New Year like Grizzly Man or The New World will probably feature in next year’s list) and they are listed in alphabetical order.

N.B. They aren’t in the ‘Top 10’ format as a) I don’t like squeezing quality films into a limited number of places and b) it’s critical opinion, not a maths exercise.

THE BEST
 
A History of Violence (David Cronenberg, 2005): A thoughtful drama mixed with a smart thriller, David Cronenberg’s exploration of violence in a small town was a welcome return to the mainstream for the Canadian director. Viggo Mortensen is terrific as the family man who may or may not have a criminal past and the creepy atmosphere is superbly sustained throughout.

A Very Long Engagement (Jean Pierre Jeunet, 2004): Although some tagged Jean Pierre Jeunet’s film as “Amelie goes to war”, this love story set amidst the horrors of World War One drama was much more than just a retread of his previous film with Audrey Tatou. Arguably his most visually ambitious film to date, it was also one of the most moving.

Downfall (Oliver Hirschbiegel, 2004): A riveting and disturbingly examination of the final days of the Third Reich, Downfall also gave us the most memorable screen portrayal of Hitler from Swiss actor Bruno Ganz. Although it drew (largely bogus) criticism in Germany for how it portrayed the Nazi leader, the documentary-style depiction of his last days made for gripping viewing.

Howl’s Moving Castle (Hayao Miyazaki, 2004): 2001’s Spirited Away is rightly regarded by many as an animated masterpiece but Miyazaki’s latest effort seemed to get a cooler reception from critics. Mixing childlike wonder with more adult melancholy, it tells the story of a young girl – transformed into an old woman after being cast under a spell – who has to track down the mysterious wizard Howl, who happens to live in a moving castle. Although not quite as good as his previous film it was still a magical and inventive work.

King Kong (Peter Jackson, 2005): Jackson’s follow up to The Lord of the Ring’s trilogy was an awesome spectacle that took visual effects to another level. Contrary to what some say, the first hour isn’t too slow (it’s actually pretty good) and the last two hours contain some of the most exhilarating action I’ve ever seen on a cinema screen. Andy Serkis and Naomi Watts helped give the film a surprisingly emotional core whilst the climax on top of the Empire State building was stunning. (P.S. If you want to complain about the three hour running time, stop reading this now and hang your head in shame).

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Shane Black, 2005): One of the surprises of the year for me was this delightful comedy thriller from writer-director Shane Black – a homage and simultaneous deconstruction of the kind of film he used to write (Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout). It starred Robert Downey Jr as a petty thief, mistaken for an actor who ends up in Hollywood in the middle of a murder mystery with a private eye played by Val Kilmer. Funny and smart in equal measure, for various reasons it didn’t set the box office alight (plus I always get an odd look when I recommend it) but this is probably the most overlooked film of the year and well worth tracking down on DVD.

Sideways (Alexander Payne, 2004): Outstanding comedy/drama set amidst the vineyards of California from director Alexander Payne. Filled with bittersweet insights into human relationships and some hilarious moments, it featured two of the year’s best performances from Paul Giamatti and Thomas Hayden Church (both shamefully overlooked at the Oscars).

The Constant Gardener (Fernando Meirelles, 2005): Fernando Mereilles choice to follow up 2002’s stunning City of God with a John Le Carre adaptation seemed to be an odd one. But it turned out to be inspired, as this tale of corruption in Africa rightly garnered rave reviews. Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz were superb as the diplomat and his activist wife who get caught up in the intrigue and the fractured narrative enhanced the wrenching emotional content of the film.

The Sea Inside (Alejandro Amenábar, 2004): The deserving winner of the Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars, featured a towering central performance from Javier Bardem as Ramon Sampedro – the Spanish paraplegic who fought a 30 year campaign to end his life with dignity. Although less showy than Amenabar’s previous efforts like Abres Los Ojos or The Others it was probably his most assured work to date.

Vera Drake (Mike Leigh, 2004): Mike Leigh made arguably his best film with this haunting drama about a backstreet abortionist in 1950s London. In a film full of impeccable acting Imelda Staunton was outstanding in the title role.

Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbitt (Steve Box & Nick Park, 2005): Ever since seeing Wallace and Gromit in A Grand Day Out on Channel 4 many moons ago I’ve been a fan of Nick Park’s wonderful animated creations. Expanding the characters into a mainstream feature film could have been problematic but Steve Box and Park created one of the year’s funniest and inventive films. Crammed full of quality gags (my favourite: “Beware the moon!”) and two excellent voiceovers from Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter.


HONOURABLE MENTIONS

 
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
(Tim Burton, 2005): A surreal and worthy adaptation of the much loved children’s book, this was something Tim Burton was born to direct. Johnny Depp made a fine Willy Wonka the scene with the squirrels was great (if you’ve seen it, you’ll know what I mean). 
 
Crash
(Paul Haggis, 2005): Perhaps this film has been a tad over praised by critics who were seemingly unaware that LA had some racial divisions, but for a large chunk of its running time Crash is worthy of the praise dished out to it. Good performances and a memorable score from Mark Isham also helped, but I’m still trying to banish the ill-considered use of a Stereophonics song from my memory.

Kinsey (Bill Condon, 2004): An intelligent drama with Liam Neeson as the famous (or infamous depending on your perspective) sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, Bill Condon’s film contained solid acting all-round and contained some memorable moments of light relief.

Kung Fu Hustle (Steven Chow, 2005): An energetic alternative to the likes of Hero or Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, this action/comedy srt during  1930s China from actor/director Steven Chow was (literally) a riot and despite the slapstick contained some of the most imaginative set pieces seen at the cinema this year (Hollywood, please note).

Sin City (Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller, 2005): Although it contained some truly gruesome (albeit stylised) violence, this adaptation of Frank Miller’s comic books was a remarkable visual achievement laced with some dark wit. The three interlocking crime stories varied in quality but the one involving Mickey Rourke’s Marv (a stunning return to form for the actor) was the highlight.

The Door in the Floor (Todd Williams, 2004): Overlooked drama with two fine performances from Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger as a couple struggling to come to terms with the death of their two children. Despite bombing at US box office, it is well worth hunting down on DVD.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (Wes Anderson, 2004): A stylish and quirky comedy with Bill Murray as a Jacques Cousteau-like marine explorer. Judging by the mixed critical reaction it got, perhaps it is an acquired taste but the music, visuals and deadpan performances were all spot on.

THE WORST

Alexander (Oliver Stone, 2004): Oliver Stone has made some brilliant films. But this historical train wreck – complete with comedy Irish accents – wasn’t one of them.
 
Son of the Mask
(Lawrence Guterman, 2005): Did we need a sequel to The Mask? No, I thought not.
 
Miss Congeniality 2: Armed & Fabulous
(John Pasquin, 2005): Wretched and desperately unfunny sequel.
 
Be Cool (F Gary Gray, 2005): See above.
 
Amityville Horror
(Andrew Douglas, 2005): Awful remake of a film that wasn’t that great to begin with.
 
Stealth
(Rob Cohen, 2005): Mediocre action film that stunk up the summer box office.
 
Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo (Mike Bigelow, 2005): Tedious and thoroughly unfunny sequel starring SNL ‘funnyman’ Rob Schneider.

Revolver (Guy Ritchie, 2005): Baffling, incoherent nonsense from Madonna’s husband.

MORE DETAIL
> Movie City News Big List of Critic’s Top Tens of the year
> The Reeler’s Top Ten List of Top Tens
> Xan Brooks of The Guardian picks the films ‘you really out to have seen this year’
> Wikipedia on 2005 in film

A Christmas Story from those Thirty Second Bunnies

If you are a fan of Angry Alien Productions (they do thirty second versions of films with animated bunnies) then they have a special version of A Christmas Story up for the festive season. They also have It’s A Wonderful Life on their site aswell if you want to indulge in another Christmas favourite.

MORE DETAIL
> Angry Alien version of Star Wars
> Angry Alien version of The Exorcist
> Angry Alien version of Pulp Fiction
> Angry Alien Version of The Shining

The Family Stone vs Love Actually

The UK poster for The Family Stone seems remarkably similar to the one for Love Actually.

Note the:

– Similar fonts 
– The use of red and black to highlight the actors first and last names
– The gratuitous sprinkling of red wrapping paper highlighting the fact its a Christmas film.

Compare:

Family Stone Poster 

Is there a designer who specialises in posters for the Christmas period? The US one sheet for The Family Stone was much better but as JoBlo points out even that poster is remarkably similar to a Spanish film called Novios. Strange…

MORE DETAIL
> The forum at DigitalSpy notice the similarities too
Classic Film Posters at Filmsite.org
> Movie Posters at Nostalgia.com

The Friday Review 16.12.05

Here is the weekly rundown of the latest cinema and DVD releases:

AT THE CINEMA

King Kong (12A):
What more is there to say? Peter Jackson’s remake is simply awesome. Great acting (Watts and Serkis via CGI are the standouts), some incredible action set pieces (the sequences on Skull Island and the Empire State building are as good as anything I’ve seen on a cinema screen) and Jackson’s love for the material make this the best blockbuster of the year. I hope its disappointing opening day at the US box office isn’t a sign of things to come because this is as good as mainstream cinema gets. (Click here for our full review)
(Now showing at cinemas all over the world)

The Family Stone (PG): A weird mix of the conventional and subversive this comedy/drama misfires more than it hits. When Everett Stone (Dermot Mulroney) brings his uptight girlfriend Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) home for the holidays she finds that she mixes with the family like oil and water. Some good moments but mostly an uneasy mix of half-laughs and sentiment.
(Now showing at cinemas nationwide) 

Merry Christmas (Joyeux Noel) (12A): French drama set on Christmas Eve during World War I, based on the real life truce when Germans, French, and Scottish soliders decided to play football instead of killing each other. Diane Kruger, Guillaume Canet, Gary Lewis and Daniel Brühl star in a polished and watchable period piece.
(Now showing at cinemas nationwide)  

Lassie (PG): A new version of the story about a couple (John Lynch and Samantha Morton) forced to sell Lassie to a Duke (Peter O’Toole) only for their beloeved dog to try and find its way home. Harmless but unecessary remake. An impressive cast also includes Peter Dinklage (probably best know for his role in The Station Agent).
(Now showing at cinemas nationwide) 

Films also out this week that we haven’t seen yet but might be worth checking out:
 
Screaming Masterpiece (12A): Apparently this film "captures all the energy of the world’s hottest indie music scene in Iceland’s cool capital city of Reykjavik". Sounds interesting, despite
(Now showing at the Curzon Soho in London)


THE BEST FILMS CURRENTLY ON RELEASE IN THE UK

1. King Kong
2. The Constant Gardener
3. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
4. March of the Penguins
5. Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

> Check out showtimes courtesy of The Guardian
> Find out showtimes via Google UK (very handy indeed)

DVD PICK OF THE WEEK

King Kong Collector’s Box Set: Check out the 1933 original (groundbreaking although it looks a little hokey compared to Jackson’s version), a colourised version (maybe not such a good idea), the 1976 remake (not quite as bad as I remembered it and the climax on the World Trade Centre is now quite eerie in retrospect), the documentary "It Was Beauty Killed the Beast" and "King Kong Vs. Godzilla (1963)" and "King Kong Escapes" (1968).