The International Writers Magazine
: Movie Talk

A Year at the Movies Dec 2004 - Dec 2005
Robert Cottingham

This year, more than ever, the best films were the unexpected triumphs from some new names and old favorites. It was a golden year in particular for the old guard: January alone saw films from Scorsese, Clint Eastwood and Mike Leigh. By Oscar time, it was clear that thetre was only room for one winner. Perhaps few were surprised when Million Dollar Baby won all but one of the major five awards.

Nine Songs

It had everything the Academy loves; a strong female lead struggling against adversity, Morgan Freeman and Eastwood, whose career couldn’t be any more highly regarded right now. Unfortunately the film itself was rubbish, and I would do anything to avoid having to sit through it again. Much, much, better was Sideways, which picked up Best Screenplay, although the Academy’s failure to recognise Paul Giamatti was nothing short of travesty. Sideways was my favorite film this year because it succeeded in creating brilliant and believable characters, and then gave them a brilliant premise. It had a freewheeling quality typical of the best American films from Easy Rider to Annie Hall. It also said something about the nature of male friendsip that no eighties buddy movie starring Mel Gibson could get near. We never found out how Miles and Jack became friends because the film didn’t need to explain – it gave us two men whose lives could not be more different, the only thing in common being their dependence on each other. Like the Pinot wine that Miles so adores, I predict that the film will improve with age.

Along with Sideways, Wes Anderson’s Life Aquatic starring Bill Murray was another crossover hit. I wasn’t sure about it when it came out, it felt too whimsical, but after having seen it again recently I have a different view, It was just as good as The Royal Tenenbaums and Rushmore, possibly better because Anderson’s collaboration with Noah Baumbach gave the film a more expansive feel.

There was a glut of biopics that had begun the previous year with Kevin Spacey’s (pretty dire) Beyond The Sea. I found Taylor Hackford’s Ray hackneyed and cliched, and thought that Jamie Fox impersonated rather than acted the part of Ray Charles. Kinsey was better, perhaps partly because no one has any idea what the real Kinsey was like, leaving Liam Neeson the freedom to interpret the role as he wished. The film told the story of Kinsey’s life in the early part of the last century and went right up to the period when he wrote Sexual Behavior in The Human Male. As a biopic it didn’t break the mould but it showed an honesty in dealing with sexuality that was commendable in an American film. Even now, in these supposedly enlightened times, there was protest at the film’s portrayal of Kinsey as an American hero. I have no doubt that some of Kinsey’s research methods may have been a little flawed, such as interviewing a notorious sex criminal in order to understand the workings of male desire, but on trhe whole he was a force for good. Kinsey may have been all about sex, or talk about sex, but Nine Songs really was all about sex. Apart from Star Wars Episode 1, this was probably the most talked about film of the year, in the UK at least. Some called it pornography, others cinema verite. It was a bold move for Winterbottom to make it in the first place, now the film has been released there should hopefully be no more fuss about real sex in films. In any case, Nine Songs has hardly been the first to show, uncensored, the sexual act as it really is, rather than the writhing limbs we are so used to seeing. Actually, Nine Songs was all a bit of a letdown. After five minutes of seeing the lovers in coitus I was ready to move on, but the film wasn’t. Plus the songs, recorded live by some of the so called best bands of today sounded appalling.

Wong Kai Wai confounded people with 2046, but visually the film was the most sensual of the year. Chris Doyle said in an interview that the film was shot over a five year period with no script, allowing the actors to improvise. One of the film’s key sequence was seft on a train in the futuure that allows charcters to access the past and their memories. It was a lovely idea but all in all the film was too cold and clinical, particularly in its treatment of the female characters to whom the writer was so irresistable. French Cinema gave us 5x2 and The Last Mitterand, as well as A Very Long Engagement which felt like a very long time spent in the cinema. (Although it was stunningly tragically beautiful).
But one film this year stood head and shoulders above the rest: Oliver Hirschelberg’s Downfall. Some thought that the film went too far to show Hitler as human, as if the terrible acts he perpetrated prevented him from being made up of flesh and blood. What was troubling about Bruno Ganz’s staggering portrayal of Hitler was the refusal to make him a monster without feeling.
In fact the film was made more chilling precisely because he was given a well rounded characterisation. On the one hand, he was so cold hearted as to abandon the German people for what he saw as their waekness in giving in to the invading allies, and yet in another scene we saw his love for his dog and his young mistress. The film stayed close to the facts of the final days of the Reich, yet in style and erxecution, the film was closer to a thriller than any other film this year.

What else was there? I saw plenty of films this year, some at the cinema, some on DVD because most of the films I wanted to see weren’t on at the cinema, at least, not at any cinema near me. As the gap between a film’s cinema release and DVD release grows ever shorter, people perhaps won’t bother to see a film in theatres, because a: that’s becoming more and more costly and b: the range of home cinemas available means that viewers can create the cinema experience within their own homes without having to sit through half an hour of irrelevant trailers, drinking overpriced drinks anfd having some complete arsehole spend the entire film taliking on his mobile or explaining each plot detail to the person next to them. My feeling is that its not the films that are spoiling the cinema experience but the idiots who are going to see them.

Even so I managed to enjoy Me You and Everyone We Know, Mysterious Skin and Kung Fu Hustle, so things haven’t been all that bad. So for what it’s worth, my top five films this year were;
The Life Aquatic
Me, You and Everyone We Know

© Robert Cottingham Dec 6th 2005

*Hackwriters Editorial Staff choice top six are:

Factotum - starring Matt Dillon
Serenity - Directed by Joss Whedon
Crash (2005) - starring Matt Dillion
, Dir Paul Haggis
The Cat Returns - (Jap Animation) Dir H Morita
Mr and Mrs Smith - starring Brad and Jolie

Sin City - starring Bruce Willis


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