Thursday, January 19, 2006

Movies I Saw in 2005:
It's late January, so probably too late really to be compiling "Best Of" lists, but I felt like doing a sort of "Best Of" retrospective of some of my entertainment this year and really, it's my blog and who's gonna stop me?

First up, I went through my Netflix queue and my Quicken to see what movies I'd watched on DVD and in theatres this year. There might be some others I re-watched from my collection and some that I got as gifts, but this is a pretty good indication of what movies I watched this year. So I hope you're all good and bored at work, because that's about the level of distraction I can offer here. Y'all will quickly notice that I have very "pop" tastes in what I pay to see in theatres. I generally want to see loud, over-the-top blockbusters, and prefer to watch the actual films with dialogue, plot, etc. in my home on DVD where I'll enjoy them more.

My Top Five (Counting Theatres and DVD):
I should preface by saying I'm not judging on objective quality, but which movies I saw for the first time this year that I really enjoyed the most.

1. Crash - Great flick. I've been a fan of Paul Haggis since his TV show "EZ Streets," and the buzz on this one, his writer-director debut, was absolutely right. Everyone in the cast was great, the dialogue is terrific, the story weaves nicely... it's a little heavy-handed at times, but not so much as to be annoying. The only reason I didn't buy it is because I don't know how much I'd actually re-watch something this serious, I tend to go more for popcorn style flicks when re-watching.

2. Million Dollar Baby - Love when Clint Eastwood does the actor-director thing. This is a terrific movie, although again, I won't buy it because I can't imagine re-watching it that often.

3. Serenity - Everything I'd hoped for, and probably my favorite movie that I saw in the theatre this year. Gutsy choices by Joss Whedon and a great swansong for a great show. In an ideal world, we'd all be watching season three or four of Firefly right now, as it was a setting and cast that had plenty of room for the long-term, but actually getting a major motion picture coda for the series is more than any fan really could have wished for. The cinderella story of the year, and hopefully Arrested Development will be the cinderella story of next year, rescued from cancellation by ABC or Showtime.

4. Closer - Fantastic. Great dialogue, great actors, a real character piece with a dark streak to it.

5. Garden State - Loved this movie, and have since watched it when it was on HBO and loved it again. Good cast, nice quiet vibe and some real humor. I haven't bought it yet, but I can see buying it at some point.

In Theatres:
Batman Begins - Overrated. Dull. Sorry, folks, I can't get on board the bandwagon with this one. In retrospect, the flaws in Burton's Batman are more than evident, but it's a better movie than this one.

Chronicles of Narnia - Pretty great high fantasy, nice spectacle, very watchable. It's not Lord of the Rings, but it's probably the next best thing.

Fantastic Four - Better than Batman Begins, at least in terms of capturing the spirit of the comics. Oh, at least half the cast is mediocre, the script is laughable, and the music is distracting and vapid... but the action sequences are solid, Michael Chiklis shined as The Thing and Chris Evans nailed the Human Torch part. Plus, it was fun, something lacking in both superhero movies and superhero comics a lot these days.

King Kong - Saw this one twice, once with friends and again with family. Both times, the people who went with me were underwhelmed. I actually quite liked it. It's over-indulgent in its length, and definitely flawed, but the high points won me over. Naomi Watts did incredible work, Andy Serkis and the CGI team deserve a lot of credit for making Kong a character instead of a special effect and the pulp action and wonder quotient was very high.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith - This one I liked in the theatre and when I recently re-watched it on DVD. Saw it with my wife on our anniversary. Doug Liman is a director I really like (Bourne Identity and Go are two of my favorite re-watchable DVD flicks), I like Brad Pitt (ever since Snatch, Fight Club and Ocean's 11, I've decided he's my kind of pretty-boy actor, the kind who can actually act), love Angelina Jolie (dislike most of her movies, but when she's in the right one, I like her a lot, and she's super-hot) and I thought there was some fun, goofy action in this one.

Sin City (twice, once at a free screening and once at the Paramount theatre premiere) - I really enjoyed this both times, although when I got a chance to revisit it on DVD recently, I started to see some of the cheesiness that others picked up on in early viewings. That might be because the luster is off Frank Miller's comically over-the-top noir stylings after seeing it applied to the wretched All-Star Batman and Robin. Still glad to have the DVD, though, and Rodriguez's 10-minute cooking school had me craving breakfast tacos, even though it's a food I don't like all that much.

Star Wars Episode III - Good lord. The buzz, from critics and fanboys alike, was that this was the film, the one that actually lived up to the original trilogy in some respects. And it was just godawful, just like the other two prequels. The ancillary stuff derived from the ideas in these movies, from Star Wars Battlefront to Gentle Giant's Bust-Ups to Tartakovsky's Clone Wars cartoons to the Ostrander/Duursema comics, ranges from good to great, but the source material, the movies, are just dreck. George Lucas, you are dead to me.

War of the Worlds - I actually liked this one in the theatre, but quickly realized that I have no real desire to ever see it again. So call it three stars at best, more like two and a half. If I want to watch a Cruise/Spielberg sci-fi movie, I'll turn to the very watchable action flick Minority Report.

DVDs I bought:
Beverly Hills Cop - Finally added this bit of '80s action-comedy to my shelf. It holds up pretty well, still funny and well-done.

Get Shorty - Waited for the special edition that I knew would hit eventually, got it and it turns out that the only feature I really care about is the movie anyway. Ah, well. Lots of fun, a good adaptation of Elmore Leonard, one of my favorite re-watchable flicks. Which only makes the crapulence that was Be Cool all the more disappointing.

Heat - I love this one more every time I watch it. Great crime flick by Michael Mann, and an incredible cast

Incredibles - Great Pixar flick, great superhero flick. Although surprisingly, I haven't re-watched this one as much as Finding Nemo, Toy Story or Monsters Inc, possibly because my daughter is too young to really be a fan of this one. She does love Iron Giant, also by Brad Bird, though, so I suspect when she gets a little older she'll love it

DVDs I rented:
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy - Love Will Ferrell, still waiting for him to get the right movie that really captures everything he's capable of. But this one had some really fun stuff, and a great cast, including Steve Carell, Paul Rudd and a memorable turn from Vince Vaughn. Won't make my comedy best of lists, but if it was on cable, I'd probably watch it.

The Aviator - Solid movie from Martin Scorsese, but I've realized two things: 1) I just don't care about Leonardo Di Caprio, no matter what the role and 2) I really just want to see Scorsese's gangster movies

Battle Royale - I was actually expecting something more outrageous and funny given what I've heard, but the movie is a relatively serious horror flick. I enjoyed it.

Be Cool - Just awful. Mind-bendingly bad. I love Get Shorty, I enjoyed the book of Be Cool, how did this all go so very wrong?

Blade: Trinity - Not as bad as I'd heard, but certainly not good. Their version of Dracula was laughably bad (whoever designed that costume should be staked) and most of the cast were obviously phoning it in, but there were some fun action moments. I'd put it on par with Blade 2... but then again, I didn't really like Blade 2.

The Center of the World - Moody little character piece with Peter Saarsgard and Molly Parker (of Deadwood) that was a little slow, but had some memorable moments and a nice guest turn from Carla Gugino. Very "indy."

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Good. Not great, but good. Nice production values, and of course Burton gives it a quirky look and feel and Depp is great... but I can't really see watching it again, unlike Big Fish, which is probably my favorite Burton movie ever.

The Comedians of Comedy: The Movie - Dark, funny look at what comedians do when they're not making people laugh on stage. Watched this and the TV series version of it, and both are excellent and fun.

Constantine - Mostly what I expected, dull even when it's trying to be action-packed, not at all true to the comic (that ending with the chewing gum is a complete betrayal) and Keanu Reeves was just not the right guy for the role. Not wretched, but not really good either.

Criminal - Good, quiet movie about a con man and his protege starring John C. Reilly, who is always great, Maggie Gyllenhall (ditto) and Diego Luna (whose work I don't know).

Donnie Darko: Director's Cut - Finally saw this one, and really liked it. It's deliberately confusing, but not so hard to follow that I couldn't enjoy it, and I really liked the cast, especially Jake Gyllenhall, Mary McDonnell and Jena Malone.

Dude, Where's My Car? - This was surprisingly funny. Rented on the strength of some positive word-of-mouth from friends and the strength of Harold and Kumar. The lead actors are weak, and as a result it's not as strong as Harold and Kumar, but it was still funny and worth watching.

Family Guy Presents: Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story - Fun, bizarre, not as good as the current season of Family Guy. Have not yet bought it, but I own all the other Family Guy DVDs, so it's probably just a matter of time (and bargain pricing).

Green Day: Bullet in a Bible - Great concert film, makes me really sad I missed them in San Antonio.

Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle - So much funnier than I expected, and so completely bizarre. Neil Patrick Harris has an amazingly funny cameo, the two leads are great, Anthony Anderson has a memorable guest turn... I'm going to add this to my Amazon Wish List right now.

Infernal Affairs - Really great, tense foreign movie about a cop undercover in the mob and a mobster undercover with the cops, both trying to ferret out the traitor in their home organizations. Due to be remade in the States, as I understand it, and will probably be screwed up. See the original.

I, Robot - More fun than I expected, a solid sci-fi actioner probably just a notch or two below Minority Report in my estimation.

The Jerk - Hadn't watched this one in ages, but is indeed Steve Martin bringing the funny, as remembered. Very stuck in its '70s period, but still a very funny movie.

Kill Bill Vols. 1 & 2 - Decided to revisit these while waiting for that rumored special edition. Enjoyed them both again.

Layer Cake - I found this convoluted and unsatisfying in a lot of ways, after hearing so much good about it. Not a bad movie, just kind of OK.

National Lampoon's Van Wilder - I really like Ryan Reynolds, and coming off of his memorable guest turn in Harold and Kumar, I decided to finally give this a rent, since people said it was funny, in the spirit of good National Lampoon movies like Animal House and Vacation. Nope. Predictable, mostly not funny... I actually watched it all the way through, but I'm not sure that was the right call.

Ocean's Twelve - A notable drop in quality from Ocean's 11, but I still really dig this flick. If there's an edition put out with some extras, I'll definitely buy it.

Reefer Madness: The Musical - Got about 10 minutes in when I realized that despite how much I like Kristen Bell, I'm generally not a huge fan of campy musicals.

Scrooged - My holiday tradition is to rent this and watch it every year, along with Elf (which I own). If they ever do a special edition or something with extras, I'll buy it.

Secretary - Twisted and engaging flick about S&M with Maggie Gyllenhall (she was on The Daily Show around this time, and I got on a Maggie Gyllenhall kick, as you can see by the follow up of Criminal and Donnie Darko) and James Spader.

Shaolin Soccer - After seeing Kung-Fu Hustle, I had to see Shaolin Soccer. Hustle is the better movie, but this one is a lot of fun in the same spirit.

Sideways - Found it to be watchable, but not as highly rated as everybody said it was. Still love Paul Giamatti, though.

Sky High - A little too goofy for me, and after hearing a lot of folks at the comic shop tell me how good it was, my expectations were maybe a little too high. Still kind of fun, but too cheesy and too Disney to make it to my "buy it" list.

Sneakers - The tech stuff seemed obsolete and silly, and the ensemble didn't come together as I'd hoped it would. I found this to be disappointing and not what I was looking for. Watchable, but not really that memorable.

Team America: World Police - Not as funny as everyone said, a letdown after how much I loved South Park... but there were indeed some very funny parts, and these guys do outrageous musical comedy better than anyone

Troy - Better than I'd heard, but too long and compares badly to the more scholarly take of Age of Bronze. Still, with Rome on the horizon and a recommendation from my friend Dave, I was in the right mood, and it worked alright.

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