Vittorio Carli’s 2005: The Year in Film

The best films tend to take risks and subvert audience expectations, but most of the year's big box office films were shallow and predictable. There were very few worthwhile Hollywood blockbusters, but there was an overabundance of great independent and foreign films in 2005. 

“Palindromes” is the year’s most astonishing and potent film. It brilliantly deconstructs the very notion of character by having seven different people (including a male and an obese African-American woman) playing the lead character. “A History of Violence” manages to simultaneously celebrate and problemetize the issue of violence. Jean Luc Godard’s “Notre Musique” erases the barrier between documentary and fictional film; and it shows that its director, Jean-Luc Godard is still a force to be reckoned with. Werner Herzog’s “Grizzly Man” is a brilliant analysis of a disturbed mind that is both tragic and darkly funny.

On the other hand, most of the year’s big, Oscar baiting films were somewhat disappointing. “King Kong” had the best special effects of the year, but the characterizations and script were strictly routine. “Syrianna” was a smart and informative look at the oil industry, but it did not have any emotional impact on me  The biopic” Walk the Line” had a convincing performance by Joaquin Phoenix, but it  ignored the contradictory or paradoxical elements of Johnny Cash’s personality. “Capote” is a well-acted film about a great writer that reveals very little about writing (If someone wants to know more about the man, they would be better off reading his brilliant texts.) Finally, " Munich" is another fine Steven Speilberg/Janusz Kaminski collaboration, but it does not quite rise to the level of "Schindler's List."

There was no one dominant trend in cinema, but several of the year’s most notable films featured characters that blurred the divisions between the genders. For instance, the best film of the year, “Palindromes” featured a segment in which a male played the female lead.

“Transamerica” is about a transsexual who finds out he/she has a son, and it features the year’s boldest and most memorable performance by Felicity (“Desperate Housewives”) Huffman. Her female gestures, voice, and mannerisms were highly exaggerated—like a real drag queen that is a bit off.

“Breakfast on Pluto” was a wonderful film about an androgynous man's adventures during the glam rock era in England. “Beautiful Boxer” was about an effeminate gay kick boxer. “ Brokeback Mountain” is the justly acclaimed Western about a cowboy who overcompensates for his gay sexuality. The weakest of these films was “Capote” which hardly explored the issue of the main character’s sexuality.

There was also a plethora of great music films released in 2005. “Kill Your Idols” is an addictive documentary about the incendiary and short-lived New York No Wave movement from the ‘70s. “The Nomi Song” examined one of glam rock’s great eccentrics, and “We Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen” was an engaging film about a great cult punk band. “Be Here to Love Me” and "New York Doll” are both downbeat explorations of underappreciated musical icons. All of these films were screened in the Gene Siskel Center Music film series or at the Music Box.

However, the best music film of the year was Martin Scorsese’s superb “No Direction Home,” It would have made my top 10, but it is ineligible for my list because it aired in TV and appeared on DVD instead of the movie theater.

This year had many exemplary films in genres that are normally ignored by critics. The best animated film was Hayao Miyazaki’s masterful, “Howl’s Moving Castle ,” but ” “Steamboy, ” “The Corpse Bride,” ”Mirrormask,” and “Hoodwinked” all had great moments. The zombie film, “Land of the Dead” was the year’s best film about the class structure in America, and the French slasher film “High Tension” had one of the most surprising screenplays. “Serenity” was a cheap sci-fi spin-off of a failed TV show, but it made me smile more than any other film this year.  Perhaps the former Buffy producer/ current X-men writer, Joss Whedon is the true king of the world

Here are my favorite films of the year with some specific categories included afterwards. Every year I change my categories slightly so I can include accommodate more excellent films (especially local talents) that were not mentioned elsewhere.

1.) Palindromes- After her cousin’s tragic suicide, a young girl decides that the way to get the most out of life is to become a mother right away. This semi sequel to “Welcome to the Dollhouse” is equally great at skewering liberal and conservative hypocrisy.

2.) A History of Violence- A courageous, edgy and intellectually ambitious film about a seemingly ordinary small town dad who discovers that heroism can have negative repercussions. Director, David Cronenberg masterfully blows up the division between genre movies and art films. Supporting actor, William Hurt has not been this good since "Kiss of the Spiderwoman" (1985), and Maria Bello is a standout. Based on a somewhat obscure graphic novel by John Wagner and Vincent Locke.

3.) Grizzly Man- Werner Herzog’s documentary about a man who lives with bears is the simultaneously hilarious and tragic. In addition, it does not overly humanize animals like “Flight of the Penguins.”

4.) Howl’s Moving Castle-The year’s most visually stunning film is about a young girl who tries to remedy a curse that turned her into an old woman. Director, Hayao (Spirited Away) Miyazaki is on a winning streak, and his films are on par with Walt Disney's best work. This is by far the most imaginative family film of the year. The Japanese version is preferable to the one dubbed in English.

5.) The Libertine-Wickedly funny tale of a debauched, alcoholic writer features a delightfully obnoxious performance by Johnny Depp.   Depp has become so good at playing eccentric loners that “the Johnny Depp” film is almost a genre onto itself. The film also benefits from a highly literate script and elegant cinematography.

6.) Notre Musique- A brainy fragmented Metafillm that meditates on the nature of war. It takes its basic structure from Dante’s “The Divine Comedy.” Like many of Jean Luc-Godard’s best films, it is idiosyncratic, thought provoking, and occasionally baffling. In French with English sub-titles.

7.) Sin City-Gripping neo noir features exciting interlocking stories that take place in the same vicinity. One of the most faithful and visually striking comic adaptations ever benefits from the participation of comics great, Frank Miller. Mickey Rourke's turn as a tough guy is worthy of Ralph ("Kiss Me Deadly") Meeker.

8.) Land of the Dead- George Romero’s zombie film is infinitely superior to your typical gorefest, and it is equal parts an art film and horror flick. It uses a post apocalyptic horror scenario to explore class warfare in America. The quasi-heroic zombies (representing the marginalized struggle against the rich villains (led by Dennis Hopper). A great antidote to the journalistic pro-elite propaganda.

9.) Lila Says-This moving and highly erotic coming of age story about the love between a fair blonde vixen and a bookish Arab boy film expertly explores the racial and cultural tensions in France. It also offers a career making performance by Vahina Giocanti. In French with English sub-titles.

10.) Crash-Well intentioned and wonderfully cast social issue film about the ignorance and misunderstanding between people of different classes, races and backgrounds. The gutsy, socially conscious, but somewhat preachy script is reminiscent of classic Rod Serling.

25 Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order)

Brokeback Mountain, Breakfast on Pluto, Broken Flowers, Cache, Good Night, and Good Luck, El Crimen Perfecto, In Her Shoes, Innocence, Kill Your Idols, March of the Penguins, Match Point, Me and Everyone You Should Know, The New World, Nobody Knows, Oldboy, Ma Mere, Proof, Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic, The Squid and the Whale, Serenity, The Squid and the Whale, The Take, Transamerica, Virgin

Best Picture (English Language) Palindromes

Best Picture (Foreign Language) Howl's Moving Castle

Best-Undistributed Picture: The Poet of the Wastes (from the Chicago International Film Festival)

Best Documentary (English language) Grizzly Man

Best Documentary (Foreign Language)-The Take

Music Documentary -Kill Your Idols

Best Direct to DVD films (tie)-No Direction Home and Havok

Director (English language) Todd Solondz (Palindromes)

Director (Foreign) Hayao Miyazaki (Howl's Moving Castle)

Best Original Screenplay (tie)- Woody Allen for Match Point and George Clooney/ Grant Henslov for Good Night, and Good Luck

Best Adapted Screenplay- (tie) Stephen Jeffreys for The Libertine and Zhad Doueiri, Joelle Touma, Mark Lawrence, and Chimo for Lila Says

Cinematography (English language) Vittorio Storaro (Dominion: A Prequel to the Exorcist) and Emmanuel Lukezki (The New World)

Cinematography (foreign language) Benoit Debie (Innocence)

Actors (English language): Johnny Depp (The Libertine) and Terrence Howard (Hustle and Flow)

Actor (Foreign language): Assani Suwan (Beautiful Boxer)

Actress (English language): (tie) Felicity Huffman (Transamerica) and Gwyneth Paltrow (Proof)

Actress (Foreign language): Monica Cervera (El Crimen Perfecto)

Supporting Actor: William Hurt (A History of Violence)

Supporting Actress: Maria Bello (A History of Violence)

Best Comeback Performance-Mickey Rourke ( Sin City)

Most Promising performer-Vahina Giocante (Lila Says)

Most Promising film maker-Miranda July (Me and Everyone You Should Know)

Most Promising Comedian-Sarah Silverman

Best Avant-garde/ experimental film-Notre Musique

Revived or restored film (English language)-The Seventh Victim (shown at The Gene Siskel Film Center)

Revived or restored film (Foreign Language)-The Conformist

Best Video/Music Collaboration- "Moving Chicago" at the Peter Jones Gallery (featuring poetry by Cathleen Schandlemeier Bartels, visuals and cello by Francois Le Roux, springboard by Eric Leonardson, and trumpet/flute by Peter Bartles)

Best Spoken Word Video- Frammenti (from Josephine LiPuma’s Some Spoken Words)

Best Music Video-"Hold My Scissors" directed by Usama Alshaibi and Camilla Ha and starring Art Vamp (shown at the Movieside Music Box Movie Massacre)

Best Special Effects in a Feature Film-King Kong

Best Special Effects in a Music Video-DJ Acucrack's So to Speak on Chicago’s Underground Inc. for its great cyberpunk influenced visuals (see

Best Soundtrack-Chicago Poems

Best Asian Action-Kung Fu Hustle

Best Comic or Graphic Novel Film-A History of Violence

Best Horror Film (English language)-Land of the Dead

Best Horror Film (Foreign language)-High Tension (uncut French version)

Best Animation Film, Full Length-Howl's Moving Castle

Best Animation short- Ward 13 from The Animation Show II

Best Comedy-Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic

Best Parody Film: The Meatrix (from the Version 0:5 Festival)

Musical- Alain Resnais's "Not on the Lips" (from the Gene Siskel Center’s European Film Festival)

Best Musical Performance in a Film-Bad Brains (from Nightclubbing: The Roots of Hardcore) and Talking Heads (from Nightclubbing: Greatest Hits)

Overlooked treasures: The Zeros and Virgin (at the Gene Siskel Center), Chumscrubber, The Ballad of Jack and Rose

Breakout talent of the year-Heath Ledger ( Brokeback Mountain) and Camilla Bell (The

Ballad of Jack and Rose and Chumscrubber)

Comeback of the Year: Woody Allen for Match Point (I thought he would never make another good film again)

Overlooked performance: Sigourney Weaver in Imaginary Heroes

Most enjoyable piece of unadulterated trash-D.E.B.S

Worst Films- The Curse, Entre Ses Main, The Family Stone, Kamikaze Girls, The Last Days, A Letter to True, Melinda and Melinda, The Ringer, Stoned, and Son of the Mask

Vittorio Carli teaches film at Richard J. Daley College, and literature at Moraine Valley Community College. Visit his web site at E-mail him at


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