2005: Cinematic Hits and Misses

Monkey Business

2005 was a lacklustre twelve months – or perhaps it just seemed that, without an obvious standout at the top, in the way of previous years. Actual cinema-going was definitely down from 2005, not just for me but it seems in the county as a whole: an increase in ticket-prices and irritants [the parents who thought a four-year old child would enjoy King Kong should be barred from the movies for life], and the increasing appeal of home theatre, helped sap the appeal of the cinema experience.

On a personal level, this certainly meant that viewing at the McLennan Scottsdale 2 theater – that’s our living-room and bedroom, in case you wondered – reached record heights. However, my return to “proper” employment both wiped out Friday through Monday evenings; while you can work around this [Wednesdays and Thursday night have become our preferred viewing sessions] it did also prevent attendance at the Phoenix Film Festival for the first year ever. And that’s a shame, as it was always good for an unexpected gem or two.

Which is more than can be said for the box-office hits of 2005. I did vaguely want to see the #1, Revenge of the Sith, but in actuality, only five of the top 25: War of the Worlds, King Kong, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Batman Begins and – earlier tonight, actually – Mr + Mrs. Smith unfolded in front of my eyes. All competent enough, in their own way, but only one makes the top 10. As for the others, it’s not an issue of time, money or other patrons holding loud cellphone conversations. I simply see very little that I have any desire to spend money on: pointless remakes like The Longest Yard, Fun With Dick and Jane and The Dukes of Hazzard do not exactly inspire me to run to the cinema.

Things were little better on the arthouse side, with Brokeback Mountain this year’s Sideways, i.e. the critically-acclaimed darling which I have no interest in at all. I do not watch cowboy movies; I do not watch romances; I do not watch (quote, unquote) “gay” movies. So, why, exactly, would I go and see a gay cowboy romance? And if this makes me narrow-minded and homophobic in your eyes, so be it. This year’s Oscars threaten to be the blandest in a very long time as far as I’m concerned: will Miyazaki get another Oscar, being about the limit of my interest [I predict no, it’ll go to Nick Park instead].

Fortunately, a steady stream of DVDs filled the gap nicely, and a tip of the hat here to Ed, Amanda and Darrin, of MTI, The Asylum and Brain Damage respectively, who have been of much help this year – and find themselves with an entry each in the top 10. [Thanks also to Rhiannon at ArtsMagic, whose omission is largely because they release mostly back-catalog stuff, which is not eligible here. If it was, Osaka Tough Guys would certainly be a contender.]

Companies like these are why I increasingly believe that the future of movies is less and less tied to the theatre, and more to DVD, streamed downloading and other alternative methods which will allow the film-makers largely to bypass conventional distribution methods. All of these should lead to more choice and convenience for consumers to watch what they want, when they want. Though if there is a way for the studios to screw everything up, I’m sure they’ll a) find it, and b) blame piracy. Memo to Hollywood: make better movies, and people will show up. But enough of such things…

Firstly, some honorary mentions to movies which almost made the cut, but didn’t quite get in, for one reason or other. In alphabetical order, they are: Howl’s Moving Castle, Khakee [which would have been in 2004’s Top Ten, if seen a couple of months earlier], Night Watch (left), Red Riding Hood, Subhuman and War of the Worlds.

  • 10. Shadow Hunters. Microbudget film of the year, making up for in imagination what it (admittedly, often obviously) lacked in production values. Demons + co-eds + a deserted hospital = loads of fun.
  • 9. Never Been Thawed. The mockumentary is a tricky genre to get right, but this is deliciously deadpan, taking potshots at the worlds of rock-music, Christianity and obsessive collectors with equal abandon.
  • 8. The Kiss. Despite the director all but disowning this because of studio interference, it still had a warmth and genuine heart to it that came through any post-production tampering. Caused more sniffling on the TC couch than any film in quite some time.
  • 7. Dead Men Walking. The cinematic equivalent of the wood-chipper: it really only serves one purpose, but is very good at what it does. DMW‘s purpose is head shots. It is very good at what it does.
  • 6. Azumi 2: Death or Love. While not the same director as the original, and less visually stylish as a result, this was still a highly-entertaining piece of swordplay. From the writer of Ninja Scroll, there were great enemies for our young heroine to face, amid plentiful sprays of digital blood.
  • 5. Cup of my Blood. The truly intelligent horror-film is a rare beast these days (now Cronenberg seems to have left the genre), but it’s not quite dead yet. Mixed religious paranoia, sex and good, old-fashioned gore to fine effect.
  • 4. Cypher. The rest of the world got this in 2002, but America only just caught up. More fool us. The biggest cinematic Dick-ing ever – er, as in Phillip K. Dick, that is – with a mind-bending plot that defies explanation, and a nicely-rendered corporate future.
  • 3. King Kong. Okay, the first hour was awful, and as the boat arrived at Skull Island, this looked as likely a contender for the Top 10 as Are We There Yet?. But Jackson redeemed himself in spades, with the best action set-pieces of the year.
  • 2. Kung Fu Hustle. Steven Chow in top form, albeit only a supporting role, in a film that melded classic martial-arts with Warner Bros cartoons to spawn what may be an entirely new genre: kung-fun…
  • 1. Sin City. Finally, a film based on a comic-book that actually captures the unique look and feel of the medium. A slew of great stories, well-told, and with a love for the genre that was both immediate and infectious. What the cinema should be about.