Friday, February 24, 2006
Most Entertaining Films of 2005
It’s hard not to get caught up in the Best list madness, but recently I had a crazy notion. What if I made up a list of the most entertaining films I saw in 2005? When you drop the commandment of ‘Best’ and replace it with ‘Entertaining’, a funny thing happens. You end up with a list that has precious little similarity to the list of Academy Award nominees. Don’t misunderstand me. I’ve seen almost all the films nominated this year, and I think they are all fine movies. But are they films I would sneak out to see twice, or put on my Netflix list to watch again because I so enjoyed the first time?
So, without further ado, I give you Kati’s List of the Most Entertaining Films of 2005.
Most Entertaining Superhero Movie – Well, this is a no brain-er. Batman Begins rocked. Batman Begins erased the bitter memory of Batman and Robin forever. True, I loved Christian Bale before he ever thought to don the pointy eared rubber suit, due, in part, to his utterly random choosing of roles. Why not follow a critically acclaimed indie with a totally absurd dragon movie? I confess I have a weakness for low-budget sci fi flicks which is how I managed to stumble upon Equilibrium, a confusing mess of a "dangerous totalitarian future picture" none the less made compulsively watch-able by the presence of Mr. Bale.
Batman Begins should have been the beginning chapter of Christian Bale’s much deserved superstar period. His star moment was unjustly eclipsed by the perfect storm we now know as TomKat. Katie Holmes may have a lot to answer for, particularly when she finally produces the L. Ron Hubbard clone baby she now carries, but nothing more egregious than stealing Christian’s limelight. But perhaps true Christian Bale fans know that this is how we like it, his awesomeness is our little secret.
Most Entertaining Long Awaited Conclusion to a Beloved Sci-Fi Classic – This is a no brain-er too. It’s obviously Serenity. Oh, wait, you thought I meant that other one…Chapter Three-of-Six, the Lava Years. What am I on about? Why Firefly of course, the best damn space western that ever got canceled, developed a huge cult following and got made into a rip-roaring space movie.
What’s that? You say you never saw the TV show? Well that don’t matter none. Saddle up, my friends. No previous experience with the Serenity crew necessary. This is just a plain old great action adventure movie. Scruffy but attractive characters find themselves in some dangerous situations, run afoul of one Big Brother of a government, race around the universe while being chased by an un-redeemably evil agent of darkness as they try to clear their names and possibly save the universe while they’re at it. God, it almost reminds me of another movie I saw long long ago in a movie theater far far away. This movie is proof that George Lucas sold us a bill of goods. He tried to convince you that the reason you weren’t loving his turgid long winded sequels is that you ‘grew up’ and were now somehow impervious to his magic. Nuh-uh. Serenity has got the magic and its not afraid to use it. Sorry George. Joss Whedon is my master now.
Most Unnecessary but Entertaining Adaptation of a Jane Austin Novel – Bride and Prejudice. After side trips to the Valley and Utah, Jane Austin arrives where she was perhaps always meant to be: Bollywood. In this version our star crossed lovers are hotel magnate dragged to India by his best friend to attend a wedding and Aishwarya Rai , a woman Roger Ebert calls both the first and second most attractive woman (women?) in the world.
I realize lots of people had trouble with the singing. Unlike another great wedding themed Indian picture, Monsoon Wedding, no attempt was made to streamline the singing and dancing into the story. They just randomly, joyously burst into song. Personally, I thought the movie casting department made a critical error casting an instantly forgettable blonde guy as Mr Darcy while picking Naveen “Totally Dreamy” Andrews to play the second sister suitor role. Forgettable blonde…Naveen Andrews…Forgettable blonde…Naveen Andrews. I know who I want on my desert island.
However…this movie is a blast. It’s fun. The story translates itself well to India where, at least to Western eyes, they still hold to some traditional practices regarding marriage like “parental approval”. It doesn’t apologize for it’s Bollywood-ization which, quoting Roger Ebert once again, “are the Swiss Army Knives of the cinema, with a tool for every job: comedy, drama, song and dance, farce, pathos, adventure, great scenery, improbably handsome heroes, teeth-gnashing villains, marriage-obsessed mothers and their tragically unmarried daughters, who are invariably ethereal beauties.”
I read this week that Will Smith has been touring India and the Bollywood film industry, where he expressed his fondest hope to become a big Bollywood star. The world is shrinking. There’s no escaping. Bollywood is coming, people. Join now. Avoid the rush.
Most Entertaining Coke Coming Out Your Nose Comedy – It’s a tie, actually. Both Wedding Crashers and The 40 Year Old Virgin handcuff your funny bone and spank it silly. Wedding Crashers wasn’t a surprise to me. How could Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson not make a hysterical movie? I confess that The 40 Year Old Virgin did surprise me, though. I went tentatively, expecting to spend more time cringing than laughing. Even though I have had not one but several guys explain to me how American Pie is a true comedy classic, I have yet to make it through an entire screening of the Pie. I just…don’t…get it, I guess. Or maybe I get it, but am not actually entertained by it. I feared that 40 Year Old Virgin would be the middle-age male answer to American Pie.
And you know what? It is. It totally is. It has every kind of disgusting joke involving masturbation, blow up dolls, sex and all its associated secretions, drugs, sex and more sex. It is also a shockingly surprisingly sweet movie. After spending two hours watching the hilarious antics of one man’s friends desperate attempts to get him laid, you leave the theater realizing that the point of this movie is actually shockingly romantic: Love is the answer, my friends. Love and lots of laughter.
Most Entertaining Adaptation of a Beloved Children’s Book – Chronicles of Narnia – The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I was worried the first time I saw a preview for the Chronicles of Narnia. There’s no getting around the fact that it’s a beloved story, one I read over and over again in childhood. What were they going to do? Disney-fy it? Sanitize it? Pump up the Jesus imagery? Make talking animals that look like animatronic monstrosities? They did none of these things. They did, it seems, everything right.
Unfortunately upon its release we were unable to escape the ocean of punditry discussing the Christian symbolism (symbolism, I confess, which never occurred to me as I read the book as a child and did not, in fact, get until someone told me in college). I really feared that it would adversely affect the movie. Who wants to pay ten bucks for a bible lesson? The movie contains as much of that symbolism that exists in the book which is to say, there and obvious if you’re looking for it, but easily overlooked if you’re wrapped up in the adventure.
Most Entertaining Harry Potter Sequal – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. What can I say? I love Harry. I love the books. I read them, repeatedly. There were concerns, of course. How could they adapt Goblet of Fire, a book the size of a telephone book, into an exciting movie without cutting critical pieces of the Harry mythos? Well, they couldn’t. They did cut critical pieces of the Harry mythos, but did I miss them? No, I was too busy being awed and amazed and entertained. I’ve told people before, though I clearly don’t listen to my own opinions, that books and movies are different artistic mediums. You can do things in each that you can’t do in the other. I vaguely recall hearing once that 2 pages of book equals one minute of film. Despite my love for Harry, a six hour movie aimed at a young audience seems a bit excessive. Movie makers have different goals and tools than book writers, although both may be totally committed to telling the same story. The makers of Goblet of Fire got that. They made an exciting entertaining movie, and saved the mythos for another day.
Most Entertaining Movies You Might Have Missed – Dear Frankie and Millions are both British films which came round the local art house cinema this year. The Brits do a certain kind of film well. I'd call them 'quiet films' or perhaps 'small films', films about people you could actually imagine meeting, or find living next door. It's a riskier challenge than might seem obvious. You can't help but want to call these movies "sweet" or "endearing" or "charming" or "heartwarming", which unfortunately too often translate into "excruciating treacle". But the Brits have the magic it seems to wrest real charm from stories about everyday people.
Dear Frankie is a three hankie movie about a single mom determined to protect her son from his n’er do well dad. For years she has told the boy that his father is a sailor, and for years she has been writing and sending her boy postcards from his “dad”. As in all movies that start with a lie, there are complications. A ship which happens to bear the name of the boat upon which Frankie’s imaginary Dad works is suddenly coming into port in their city. A friend suggests Mom hire someone to pose as Frankie’s Dad for an afternoon, which she does. But the stranger doesn’t go away after an afternoon. He keeps coming back…and meanwhile Frankie’s real Dad is on the phone…he wants to see his son.
Millions is not the kind of film you’d expect from Danny Boyle, the man who brought us Shallow Grave (the scariest movie about roommates ever), Trainspotting (the scariest movie about heroin addiction ever) and 28 Days Later (which is about zombies but I can’t claim knowledge as whether it’s the scariest since I generally avoid zombie movies unless it’s Shaun of the Dead which I can confidently state is the funniest zombie movie ever). Millions is a little scary, in a gentle sort of way, but mostly it’s a terrifically entertaining movie that you could actually take your grandmother to.
A bag of British pound notes falls seemingly from the sky into the clubhouse of two brothers. It is only days before Britain converts to the Euro and the pound notes become worthless. One brother quickly begins acquiring the sorts of things a boy would want, like skateboards and personal servants (he begins to pay fellow classmates to fetch him sodas). The other boy, still wrestling with the recent death of their mother, has recently developed an unnerving habit of seeing and talking to saints and decides to give the money away, dropping a huge donation into the penny cup being passed around at school, and drawing some small attention to their windfall.
Don't fret. This is a still a Danny Boyle film. It has his same hair raising cinematography and of course, just as there’s no such thing as a free lunch, rarely do duffle bags of cash fall from the sky without someone eventually looking for them.
Most Entertaining Film You Definitely Missed – Unless you were lucky enough to attend the Seattle International Film Festival last summer or are a resident of Canada, I’d say chances are good that you didn’t get to see a small gem of a picture called Sabah. Directed by young Canadian director Ruba Nadda, this film has unfortunately been referred to, in SIFFs promotional material no less, as “a Syrian Big Fat Greek Wedding”. I don’t know how to express how unjust this description is to this beautiful complex picture.
The elements are admittedly similar. Sabah is the eldest daughter of a Syrian family that immigrated to Canada. While her brother has been educated and become a successful businessman, Sabah has been dutifully caring for their aging mother. After being encouraged by her young outgoing niece, she decides to bust out and…rip off her headscarf in public? No. Tell he family she’s going to go to school whereupon she also cuts her hair and begins wearing full makeup? No. Inspired by a childhood photograph of her and her father at a swimming pool, Sabah decides to start swimming at the local community center in the afternoons.
Her swimsuit is beyond modest. She continues to completely cover her hair with a bathing cap. When a man comes in and starts swimming laps, she panics. She leaves the pool, extricating herself while trying to cover as much of her body as she can. She comes back though. The lure of the freedom found in swimming gives her to much to give up. She gradually gets more relaxed around the other swimmers in the pool, until one day, one of them asks her for coffee.
Of course, the other swimmer is a man, a reasonably handsome but decidedly Canadian man. He tells her that he’ll be at a certain coffee spot at a certain time if she’d like to come by, and she does. I suppose it’s obvious that she will become more attached to this man, that she will fall in love with him and he with her, that she will desperately try to hide him from her family until he finally insists on being acknowledged. Of course her family will disapprove. There will be tears, recrimination and perhaps reconciliation.
What’s not obvious is how gentle the film is with all of the characters. When Sabah and her brother have their inevitable showdown, her brother is not shown as a laughable caricature of an uptight old-world male. As hard as Sabah’s life has been, we get to see that her brother has struggled too, trying to hold the family together, burdened by some painful truths that he has hidden in attempt to protect the rest of the family. There is also the interesting acknowledgement that often when families emigrate to a new country, they actually find themselves becoming more conservative than they were in their own countries, withdrawing into the safe cocoon of a memory.
Even when we get to the happy ending, we see that Sabah has not given up her culture or her faith. We know that she would never be willing to abandon her family even for love. She still covers her hair in public. These were not props to be shed when something more exciting came along. She is not transformed into a new person, but instead transformed into herself.
I think this was my favorite film of the year. It makes me sad that it may never get a wide release. The same day I saw Sabah I also saw a documentary called Touch the Sound, a movie that was in fact picked up for wide release. It tells the story and sound of a deaf woman who is a professional drummer. It is undoubtedly fascinating, although I found it to be 45 minutes beyond interesting. After the fifth or sixth shot of pigeons flying through dusty sunbeams in warehouses, I began to feel like this was a movie about a director who is only slightly more interested in a deaf drummer than his own brilliance.
Who knows the intricacies of why a film is ‘chosen’ or not. Maybe the studios decided that the Greek Wedding scene was so over and it was time to move into films about the daughter of the president going to college and falling for her not-so-cleverly disguised bodyguard. I check IMDB every few months, hoping that maybe they’ve decided to at least release it on DVD. I’ll be in line when they do, not just for the library but for my own personal collection too.