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john cribbs

What's the Big Deal?

Movies people treated like the Second Coming, when it was more like a monkey coming.

1. A History of Violence

This wasn't supposed to happen.  History was supposed to be at the top of the Best Films list this year, not this one.  The film the public decided to praise the amazing David Cronenberg for is his worst by far, an unnaturally limp B-movie with an askew moral agenda. Telling Cronenberg, "Hey, you finally made a GREAT movie!" is like telling a gay dude, "Hey, you finally scored with a chick!"  This movie is not Cronenberg.  Some people may be fooled by a bloody, blown-off jaw or two, but it doesn't distract from the truth that it is the biggest disappointment since Eyes Wide Shut.


2. Crash


3. Brokeback Mountain

You hear "gay cowboys" and expect a rootin' tootin' good time, but instead you're treated to stoic landscapes and soapy The Way We Were-style melodrama.  The "ain't queer" romance of Ledger and Gyllenhaal, aided by Ang Lee (who never met a movie he couldn't squeeze all the genuine emotion out of) feels like a possibly interesting subplot has been centralized and wrung free of any dramatic weight.  Calling this a western would be a grave injustice, not because of its content (I'd be with a movie that had Pat Garrett pounding Billy the Kid) but because those involved are more wrapped up in their own imagined controversy ("did we mention they're. GAY?") than a serious probing of the subject matter.


4. Good Night and Good Luck

George Clooney is a talented filmmaker, but it's hard to get behind the hype surrounding what is essentially a one-set biopic, 85% of which is just transcribed Edward Murrow editorials and stock footage of Joseph McCarthy.  The only drama written into the picture is an incidental, uninteresting romance between Robert Downey Jr. and Patricia Clarkson that sits up on screen like a fizzled shrug.  That it splits its intentions (saluting the CBS news team's rivaling of McCarthy while subtly prodding the progressive lack of television's integrity) only relieves the film of the tight foundation Clooney is so aggressively attempting to maintain.  There's gravity to the scenes but the movie itself is weightless: The Insider-Lite.  As Murrow himself might say, "This... is boring."


5. Hustle and Flow

A Terrence Howard movie pops up on the list for the second time, but his breakthrough isn't undeserved: the performance carries this movie.  Alas, there's very little to carry.  Every pimp, pusher, prostitute, and compassionate pal in the movie is a broad caricature and the script, while less a sterile 8 Mile knock-off than Get Rich or Die Tryin', treads familiar Underdog Triumphs ground.  Most offensive is the Ludacris ending (nuck-nuck), so suddenly frantic and anti-climatic it cancels out any sincerity that came before.


6. Layer Cake

It's always funny to hear about how a movie redefines its genre even as it transcends it, and then see the movie and realize it's just like all the other crappy, slick British crime flicks.  Seriously, it's time to run the Transpotting-influenced aesthetic of Guy Ritchie and Matthew Vaughan to the city limits and have it put down.  Daniel Craig scored the Bond gig based on this glorified gangster movie, despite his uncharismatic performance.  There's nobody to root for and the story's so contrived that by the end it's difficult to care about the movie at all.


7. The Squid and the Whale

Not as offensive as some of these other bland overachievers (and certainly nowhere near as worthless as The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou), but certainly guilty of what many independent films do these days, namely minimize the conflict of any five Hollywood movies and win itself substance by riding its reputation as a "small film."  Whale suffers from this Sideways syndrome, and never quite achieves the greatness that's been credited to it, despite some truly great performances.


8. Syriana

It has subtitled actors shot in arid landscapes, a uselessly overdramatic subplot involving an embarrassed main character turning a blind eye to a loved one's addiction, and stylistically over- and under-emphasized car bombings, but the main thing that Syriana has in common with Traffic is that Steve Gaghan again tries to take a vastly complicated international problem and use multi-plots and characters to resolve it in two and a half hours.  And by the end, the piled-on melodrama presented is not only morally confusing (are we really meant to be rooting for the Arab extremists?) but often flat-out sensationalistic: I'm surprised the CIA agents didn't have Snidely Whiplash-style mustaches.


9. Downfall

The line to see this at Film Forum stretched around the block, but it sort of felt like everyone should have stayed at home to view this miniseries-style docudrama. Despite weird and interesting performances by Bruno Ganz and Juliane Kohler as Mr. and Mrs. Hitler, respectively, this bunker opera's uncomfortable claustrophobia is offset by its blatant hokum.  20 or so minutes of good scenes don't make up for 136 minutes of men standing in a small room arguing over a map, and the film loses a lot of its authenticity by centering itself around Hitler's secretary, the real life version of whom was more interesting to listen to in the 2003 documentary.


10. March of the Penguins

This year's Winged Migration.  I love penguins as much as the next guy, but why is something I can see on the National Geographic Channel grossing millions and millions of dollars?  Those birds must be fucking rich.

Movies that could have been much better

1. War of the Worlds and Munich

Spielberg has been an easy write-off for the past 15 years, but in 2005 he produced two films that, while undeniable failures, stayed with me for some reason.  I've come to conclude that both films had the right idea, but are impaired by the rules of their own Big Movie importance.  The terrorizing atmosphere of Worlds is palpable: you can feel the desperation during a devastating alien tripod attack as well as before and after.  The tripods themselves are colossal nightmares, some of the best effects in recent movies, and the horror of the human situation for the first half of the movie (especially in the Athens sequence, where people quickly turn against each other) has an actual sense of hopelessness that Schindler's List, for example, severely lacked.  However, with this atmosphere you must also accept the banal David Koepp story arc of Tom Cruise bonding with his estranged children amidst tragedy, Tom Cruise and Tim Robbins bringing the plot to a stand-still while bickering over a shotgun, Tom Cruise heroically blowing up a tripod, and some pretty gay designs for the aliens themselves.  The two don't mix well together.  As for Munich, the attractive themes of vengeance and retribution are buried under much self-indulgent pondering and cheap, outdated Hitchcockian tricks. Hate should not look so pretty.


2. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

The original Star Wars being my first film, the legend of Darth Vader has an Arthurian significance for me, which explains why I still went to see the third prequel despite the abysmal first two installments. The tragedy about this one is that the structure is there and you can see how the entire new trilogy could have worked.  Sadly, the movie is dragged down by same problems that marred its predecessors, namely campy dialogue, elementary plot twists, overwhelmingly distracting computer animation, and the poor central performances of Christensen and Portman.  "You're beautiful."  "No, you're beautiful."  "I'm only beautiful because you love me."  "No, I love you because you're beautiful."  "Well, I love you because you love that I'm beautiful." You stupid monkey!


3. Batman Begins

Any Bat Nipple-less reworking of the series would have been acceptable, but Begins had other things going for it, too: excellent art design, more of Bruce Wayne as a character, great work by Gary Oldman as Jim Gordon.  Unfortunately it does too much: there's a few too many eggs in this Bat-omelet and by the end it collapses under its own weight.  Certainly they could have lost Katie Holmes, but even more so the prolonged genesis of the vigilante's weaponry, the franchise's strange requirement of dual villains, and the hilarious antics of Alfred the Butler could have been reworked to better suit a 2-hour movie.  And does everyone need to learn Batman's identity???


The Local Hero award for most overrated underrated film of the year: Millions

Definitely not the worst film of the year fuck you very much Owen Gleiberman: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Probably the worst film of the year. but maybe the greatest film EVER?  Stealth

Acceptable sequels: Transporter 2, Deuce Bigelow: European Gigolo

Unacceptable sequels: Miss Congeniality 2, Big Mama's House 2, Cheaper by the Dozen 2, Son of the Mask, The Legend of Zorro, Saraband

Sequels to hope for: Transporter 3, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Stealth 2.0

Sequels to dread: Return to the Island, Son of Alexander, Remember the Geisha


Title I'm most jealous of this year: Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance

(runner-up: Murderball)


Most unfortunate title: Cinderella Man

Least convincing title: The Greatest Game Ever Played

Wish it really was about a squid and a whale: The Squid and the Whale

Throne of the King of Bad Titles belongs to.Ralph Fiennes for Chumscrubber, The Constant Gardener, The White Countess and The Goblet of Fire (the one exception: Curse of the Were-Rabbit)

Terrible movies named after great songs: Just Like Heaven, Walk the Line

Terrible Reese Witherspoon movies: Just Like Heaven, Walk the Line

Biggest surprise of the year: Unleashed

Biggest disappointment: A History of Violence

Other notable disappointments (in a year of disappointments): The Great Raid, Terry Gilliam and The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3-D

Best ending: The Dandies find time for the season of loving (Dear Wendy)

Worst ending: Crash rips off the ending of The Transporter

Most offensive theft: The missing person leaving a trace, the vital clue as to their existence, on the window in Flight Plan a'la Alfred Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes

Second most offensive theft: 9 Songs swipes the "I look like a boy" scene nearly verbatim from Paul Verhoeven's The Fourth Man


Still not entirely convinced this movie wasn't a joke: The Man

(runner-up: The Pacifier)


Best character name: Skinny Black, Hustle and Flow

Worst character name: Jackson Ripner, Red Eye

Worst case of "Futro" in a movie: Neon "Good Morning!" signs in The Island

Holy crap!  A movie based on a TV show that works!  Serenity

Holy crap!  A bunch of movies based on TV shows that don't! Bewitched, The Honeymooners, Dukes of Hazzard


Two best reasons to sit through a movie: Carla Gugino (Sin City)

Maggie Gyllenhaal Award for Nude Scene I Wish I Could Un-See: Maria Bello, A History of Violence

Most bored I've ever been watching two ugly people have actual sex: The Brown Bunny

Runner-up: 9 Songs


Most instantly forgettable movie: Underclassmen (runners-up: The Cave, Two for the Money)

Best death: Elijah Wood, grinning despite missing all his limbs and being fed to a dog, in Sin City

Worst death: Natalie Portman dies during childbirth in Revenge of the Little House on the Prairie rerun

Most surprising death: "I am a leaf on the wind..."  (Serenity)

Stand-out joke of the year: "May contain nuts." (Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-rabbit)

Stand-out lame joke of the year: Jim Carrey ordering cappuccinos mid-coffee shop heist (The Fun with Dick and Jane preview)

Speaking of Jim Carrey.  maybe Morgan Freeman is God - he sure does narrate a lot: March of the Penguins, War of the Worlds

The Ghost of Gene Wilder must be furious: Unceremoniously replaced by Johnny Depp in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matthew Broderick in The Producers in the same year?

In case I needed a reminder that Harry Potter 1 & 2 were no good: Harry Potter 4


Stand-out performances: Steve Carrell and Catherine Keener (The 40 Year Old Virgin), Jet Li & Bob Hoskins (Unleashed), Q'Orianka Kilcher (The New World), Ian McDormaid (Revenge of the Sith), Jeffrey Wright (Broken Flowers and Syriana), Christopher Plummer (Syriana and The New World), Mickey Rourke (Sin City), Gary Oldman (Batman Begins), Stephen Rea (Breakfast on Pluto), Ray Wise (Good Night and Good Luck), the cast of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy especially Mos Def

Performances of the year: Birol Unel and Sibel Kekilli in Head On.

Most surprising performance: Pierce Brosnan as Julian Noble in The Matador

Worst performances: Heath Ledger (The Brothers Grimm and Brokeback Mountain), Jessica "Channeling Behind Enemy Lines Owen Wilson" Biel (Stealth), Vince Vaughn (Mr. and Mrs. Smith), Sandra Bullock and Thandie Newton (Crash), Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line), the cast of A History of Violence (excluding William Hurt) especially Maria Bello

Stinkiest performance of the year: Joaquin Phoenix as "Johnny Cash" in Walk the Line

Most disappointing performance: Tim Robbins as "Shotgun-Wielding Nut in Basement" in War of the Worlds

Most overrated performance: Phillip Seymour Hoffman as "Truman Capote" in Capote (I'm sorry, but an impersonation is an impersonation)

Most em-bar-raz-zing performance of the year: (tie) Jonathan Pryce and Peter Stormare in The Brothers Grimm

Apparently got the Adrien Brody Treatment: Noah Taylor in The New World

Should've gotten the Adrien Brody Treatment: Adrien Brody in King Kong

Genius most in need of a new agent: Keith David, still stuck in thankless small parts (Transporter 2, Mr. and Mrs. Smith) and movies with Cole Hauser (Dirty)

Genius most in need of a new agent Part Deus: Polanski - did anybody see Oliver Twist?

Best cameo: Takashi Miike in Hostel ("Be careful.You can spend all of your money in there.")

Best cameo for those with good eyes: Jason Schwarztman in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Weirdest cameo: Jarvis Cocker & Radiohead in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Lasse Hallestrom: Legacy of the Most Soulless Filmmaker Ever continues: Casanova

Filmmaker of the year: Michael Haneke, Cache

Filmfucker of the year: Rebecca Miller, Ballad of Jack & Rose


Great moments from movies this year:

- Sarah Silverman's version of the Aristocrats joke

- Jay Hernandez and a Japanese girl and a pair of pliers and an eye dangling by a thread in Hostel

- "Akuzi beans/Are good for you" by Grandpa, The Great Yokai War

- Joe Don Baker, classiest man on earth, explains to cast and crew that Jessica Simpson always flubs her line when he's checking out "her titties".highlight of the Dukes of Hazzard outtakes and the entire movie as well

- the Godfather-style wiping out of the Jedi in Revenge of the Sith

- Dennis Hopper feels bad after learning he needlessly murdered his rich chum in Land of the Dead

- "Heat of the Moment" by Asia used not once, but TWICE, to score the triumphant climaxes of The 40 Year Old Virgin and The Matador, respectively

- Robert Downey Jr. turns to see the corpse in his shower (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang)

- Stephen Rea's magic show in Breakfast on Pluto

- "If I were an optimistic doctor, I'd say there was hope." (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance)

- Race up the stairs to the palace in Howl's Moving Castle

- In SPL's shattering denouement, Donnie Yen launches the bulk of Sammo Hung into the glass centerpiece of a bar...

- ...and in retaliation Sammo propels Donnie out the window onto the hood of the car in which Sammo's wife and baby are waiting: IRONY DEFINED!

- Stephen Chow's pathetic retaliation upon having his head literally beaten into the floor in Kung Fu Hustle

- Statham demonstrates the art of Firehose Fu, Transporter 2

- Chris Evans, as Johnny Storm, doesn't miss a beat after spontaneously combusting on skiis and creating a hot tub in the middle of the snow - invites his lady friend to join him, she accepts (Fantastic Four)

- Jackie Chan decapitation POV (The Myth)

- plane rapes refueling tube in Stealth

- lone grunting modern American hero Josh Lucas defiantly tosses empty "near-futuristic" semi-automatic at helicopter in Stealth


Biggest things to look forward to at the beginning of next year:

Final Destination 3

Finally! Linklater's A Scanner Darkly

Hugh Jackman's hot self in The Fountain

Joaquin Phoenix and Kate Hudson not making any more movies (yeah right.for once, can't some bullshit movie star say they're retiring and really mean it?)


Jury's out:

Spike Lee's vapid-looking genre picture with Denzel Washington and Jodie Foster

A Brett Ratner-helmed X3 that unfortunately does have a pretty cool teaser


Bleakest things to stomach in the near future:

M. Night Shyamalan's mermaid movie

Marie Antoinette: filled with people I like - Jason Schwartzman, Rip Torn, Judy Davis, Asia Argento, Aurore Clement, Molly Shannon, Steve Coogan - yet directed by Sofia "Yippie Look I'm Hip So I'm Putting New Order on the Trailer BLURRGHH!" Coppola

Freedomland - how many kids is Julianne Moore going to lose before someone calls child welfare?


Movies given temporary reprieve from being by being pushed back from their original release dates: The Pink Panther, V for Vendetta, Ron Howard's The Da Vinci Code

- john cribbs, January 2006

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