Here's my round up of my favourite films of the year.
Paul Giamatti follows up last year's American Splendor with an outstanding turn in this look at winetasting and middle age. Although Sideways offered some outrageous scenes, it and Giamatti's character were rooted in reality. The scene outside the church is, for me, the best scene in the movies this year. With that scene and the ending it completely wandered outside cinematic convention and offered a little slice of reality that made you feel like you had watched something special.
2. Million Dollar Baby
I knew very little about this when I went into it and as a consequence it came out as my second favourite film of the year. Eastwood, Swank and Freeman were well worth their Oscars. I think most people have left this off their year end lists as Eastwood's near cinematic perfection is common place these days, but this had it all, feel good moments, drama and heartbreak. With every new picture you forget that this was the man who directed The Rookie.
3. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Robert Downey Jr and Val Kilmer amaze audiences as a perfect on screen duo. Shane Black gets to do exactly what he wants and the result is one of the most entertaining films of the year. Downey Jr's narration is a hoot and the deconstruction of movie cliches makes the whole thing a ride from start to finish.
A film centring on the racial divide in Los Angeles as a collection of characters from different racial and social backgrounds criss-cross and coincidences bring people together and push them apart. There's an excellent cast and although you can pick holes in the story if you so wish it makes for a compelling drama, with plenty of characters that you find yourself rooting for, hating and then rooting for again.
5. Batman Begins
Christopher Nolan and Batman always seemed like a combination that would work and work it did. With every movie Christian Bale gets better and better and Gary Oldman as the future Commisoner Gordon was inspired casting. Darker than the earlier Batman movies and all the better for it.
As you may have read on previous posts Fraser hotly disagrees with me on this one, but as I had never seen the TV series Firefly I saw it as a stand alone film and I absolutely loved it.
I thought it was a fine romp through space with wisecracking characters and a slightly darker tone than I was expecting.
7. Sin City
I always knew Mickey Rourke still had it in him. Dark, twisted, horrific in parts, gbut brilliant throughout. Three directors and still a first rate film.
8. The Machinist
Christian Bale again in a fascinating performance. It’s shocking how skinny he is and his performance makes you uncomfortable throughout the whole movie. As you should be cos you know it’s going to be bleak.
A very amusing documentary focusing on The Dandy Warhols and the insanity that is The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Two groups that started off in the same place, but ended up having very different careers.
A fine overlooked indie film with superb performances all round.
11. Broken Flowers
A lot of people seemed disappointed with the lack of action or resolution from this Bill Murray starring Jim Jarmusch vehicle. Me? I found it a terrific film, with Murray on screen for the whole thing how could I not?
A no holds barred documentary on quadriplegic rugby and the people who play it. The guys in the film look for no sympathy showing that just cos you’re in a wheelchair it doesn’t mean you can’t be driven, heroic and every bit as much of a dick as anyone else.
This, from Erik Lundegaard on MSNBC Interactive highlights one of the films best moments.
Filmmakers Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro also follow Keith Cavill, recently injured in a daredevil motorcycle accident, as he recovers in a hospital and returns home. In his bedroom and newly modified bathroom, the permanence of his condition sinks in, and he sinks into depression. Until, that is, he meets Mark Zupan, the poster-boy for “Murderball” and one tough little S.O.B. (he’s got something about James Cagney’s energy about him). Between international competitions, Zupan gives a talk to interested quadriplegics and brings along a rugby wheelchair — designed for action and contact and mayhem. Cavill gets into it. They only have one such wheelchair so he can’t slam into anyone else, but the desire is there; you can tell he’s itching to do it. Instead he merely bumps into another wheelchair. Tap tap. Tap tap. In that moment, as Zupan watches with pride in the background, you see a life being reborn.
I saw a few stinkers this year. The most overrated film for me was A History of Violence, yes it’s well made, yes it has a lot of good actors in it, but it’s a story completely told in the trailer and resolved in about 55 minutes. So in order to keep it going, what happens is the story starts all over again. When you need a story to move on one of the worst things you can do is make your characters stupid, which is what this film did. I really can’t understand why so many people thought this was one of the better films of the year.
The other two shockers that come to mind is first of all, Blinded, which is a typical Scottish short film with no story stretched out to a feature length 90 minutes. Secondly Green Street was a laughable look at English football hooliganism through the eyes of an American intellectual Elijah Wood. The silly plot points are too numerous to go into now and although it offered a few decent scenes it was largely just plain daft.
But back to the good films. There are very few, if any comedies on the list and off the top of my head The Wedding Crashers is the one that first comes to mind. Full of likeable stars in Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson and Christopher Walken it offered an entertaining wee tale, if predictable in places.
Cinderella Man ticks all the right boxes as well. Crowe might be a bit of dick in real life by all accounts but he’s still one of the best actors around. Giamatti gives another great performance and it was nice to see one of my favourite actors Paddy Considine getting a turn in a big picture.