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.
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.
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.
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.
> 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