We’re beginning to get into years that I haven’t seen as many movies. I was a minor in 2000 so I couldn’t go see R rated movies without my parents and I lived in a pretty conservative home. However, I’ve seen many films since that time and tried to fill in the gaps. This list has always been a subjective one, but I like to be fair in my judgments so I will try to take the advice of other critics and moviegoers into consideration as we move forward in this process.
I’m also going to try and move quickly through these, because I think the real fun is going to be when we have the head -to-head match-ups of the bracket. With that in mind, I’m just going to list my top 3 and then any honorable mentions will be in the read more section. Here we go.
I’m glad this is the Best Movie Bracket and not the most re-watchable or most entertaining movie bracket. Requiem for a Dream will stay with you and make you feel like you might never be happy again. It is like a film Dementor. We follow four people involved with drugs as their lives spin more and more out of control; the devoted mother (Ellen Burstyn), her junkie son (Jared Leto),his girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly), and their friend (Damon Wayans). Everything is spinning out of control, because when it comes to drugs, once you are hooked, you are hooked.
Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan, The Fountain, and Pi) brings the camera so close to the characters that you can almost feel their sweat dripping on you. As they stumble confused through their addictions and the consequences of them, Aronofsky makes us feel every emotion until we feel like throwing up in unison with these poor souls. The last half hour of the movie is a crescendo of these stories and it is the most effective part. He cuts between all four stories as they go deep down the rabbit hole each in their own way. Ellen Burstyn was deservedly nominated for an Oscar for her performance as Sara, the lonely mother who puts up with everything just to get a visit from her son.
Set in 1973, it chronicles the funny and often poignant coming of age of 15-year-old William, an unabashed music fan who is inspired by the seminal bands of the time. When his love of music lands him an assignment from Rolling Stone magazine to interview the up-and-coming band Stillwater — fronted by lead guitar Russell Hammond and lead singer Jeff Bebe William embarks on an eye-opening journey with the band’s tour, despite the objections of his protective mother.
Cameron Crowe (Writer of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Director of Say Anything and Jerry McGuire) directs this nostalgic story as if it was his own childhood. I am personally not a big fan of 70s music, but it is used very well in this film, most of my favorite scenes are made all the more memorable by the music, which includes Simon & Garfunkel, Elton John, Joni Mitchell, Black Sabbath, and The Beach Boys. Most of the actors and actresses in this film give the performance of their lives, Frances McDormand being especially comical as William’s mother, and many of the best moments are all hers. William himself has an endearing quality about him to the audience, and I’m surprised I haven’t seen Patrick Fugit in any other films since this one.
Ridley Scott (Alien and Blade Runner) created this shields and sandals epic. It is considered by many to be the best movie of 2000. It was nominated for 12 Oscars and won Best Picture, Actor, Costume, Sound, and Effects. The acting in the movie more than lives up to expectations.
Russell Crowe is brilliant in his role as Maximus, the “general who became a slave, who became a gladiator, who defied an emperor.” Crowe’s intense style is perfect his character’s relentless determination and confidence. Joaquin Phoenix is equally wonderful in his role as the corrupt emperor. He plays a great villain because he is able to give Commodus depth by showing certain vulnerable or fragile sides, while at the same time instantly transforming to let the ruthless nature of his volatile character shine.
When you mention the year 2001, one event comes to most Americans’ minds. The events of September 11, 2001 changed the course of history and things have never been the same. It was also the year that I graduated from high school and left for college. When 9/11 happened, I was in my first semester of college and was over 200 miles from the only home I had ever known.
Little did we know that our little college campus would be rocked with a tragedy less than two week afterwards that felt more significant than towers falling. There was a van accident which killed three of my peers as they were returning from a ministry event. It was a very sad time, but it drew me closer to the beautiful woman that would become my wife. We grieved together and drew strength from each other’s faith.
Film was one of the last thing on my mind during that time, but it seemed that just a few months after this tragedy many Americans were finding refuge from the pain of reality through the imagination of a handful of master storytellers. Two film franchises were born during this year and they would persist for many years following. I’m speaking of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
While both of these were good films and left a lasting impression on film, they are merely footnotes or honorable mentions in this competition for the best film of the year. Before I get to my top 3 films of the year, you should know that the Academy Award for Best Picture went to my 4th best movie of the year, A Beautiful Mind. Other honorable mentions are: Amelie, The Others, Donnie Darko, Training Day, The Royal Tenenbaums, and Ocean’s Eleven. All of my Top 3 are at least a bit surreal and dive into and out of the deepest and most intimate place in all of us, our memory. That is appropriate since I have such deep memories of this year.
The first time you watch Spirited Away you are blown away by the visuals. Hayao Mizayaki’s decadent hand drawn animation is always moving and is totally beautiful. You are left thinking about the meaning and the symbolism that is deep under the surface of this story of a young girl who gets lost in a spirit world and has to find her way back. Every time after that, you will be sucked deeper into the symbolism until you realize that this is a commentary on growing up in a Capitalist culture but not losing the innocent wonder of childhood.
Chihiro means “thousand questions.” It means that she is inquisitive and takes nothing for granted. We see this wide eyed girl lose her parents to greed and consumerism. She gets a job at a bath house and trades away part of her name. The name is a symbol of a person’s character and she becomes Sen which means “thousand.” Literally, the questions have been removed. She is warned not to forget her name because that is the secret for her escape. I won’t go any deeper than that in case you haven’t seen it, but I just might do a full spoiler laden breakdown at some point.
Technically, Memento was released in 2000 but it wasn’t seen on US soil until 2001, so I had to put it in this year. Long before Christoper Nolan started diving into the brains of his characters and viewers in Inception, he was beginning at the end with Memento. Simply put, it is the non-simple, non-linear story of Leonard who suffers from a Dory-like version of short-term memory loss. He retains memories from before his accident but cannot create any new memories. Instead, he litters his jacket pockets with Polaroid pictures and scraps of note paper, and covers the canvas of his body with tattoos to remind him of his overall purpose.
We learn through 22 vignettes that Leonard is hunting a man called John G. who is behind the rape and murder of his wife. I don’t want to spoil too much because it is such a fun puzzle to put together, but let me just say that you will be engaged and guessing with the story until the very end. This is one of the films that made Christopher Nolan the brand name that he is today.
Have you ever had a dream that freaked you out and left you gasping for breath as you rushed back to consciousness? When your loved ones come in the room to check if you are okay all you can say is I had a bad dream. Invariably, they will ask what it was about, but we can’t say because the dream is quickly retreating into our sub conscience, and because no matter how well you explain what happened in the dream you sound psychotic. Mulholland Dr. is that creepy dream.
More people have become familiar with David Lynch since the new Twin Peaks was released. I would recommend this movie as a good starting place, but I would encourage you not to analyze too much. To truly enjoy it, you must surrender yourself to it. As Roger Ebert said, “If you require logic, see something else.” David Lynch loves to make films which defy logic, but Mulholland Dr. follows no conventional plot structure, it simply ebbs and flows like a dream.
Did I get something wrong? What would you change? Have you seen any of these three? Let me know in the comments or on social media.
Welcome to 2002. It was a pretty awful year. If you don’t remember, it was the year following the most terrible terrorist attack on human soil. The papal sex abuse scandal was uncovered, President Bush created the Department of Homeland Security, the DC snipers killed 10 people, No Child Left Behind became law, the world was in political upheaval, wars were beginning, and Chicago won best picture over The Pianist. But at least we found water on Mars.
Perhaps the Academy chose the more brightly colored and glitzy musical over the gritty story of a man who survived the Holocaust because they needed something happy. If you recall, there were talks of cancelling the event or postponing it because we had just invaded Iraq and it didn’t seem right to have a glamorous celebration while we sent our children off to war. Eventually they decided that the show must go on, but they decided to forgo the red carpet with security concerns too high.
But I see it from the other side. Chicago was the favorite going into the awards. It had 13 nominations and was riding high much like La La Land did last year. However, The Pianist sneaked in to surprise everyone, taking home three of the major prizes of the night: Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay. I’m not sure if it would have ever stolen away the Best Picture, it was a big enough surprise that Roman Polanski bested Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese. The Pianist might be a bleak story, but it is undeniably beautiful and shows the power of the human spirit to overcome adversity. It is truly the film that America needed to weather the dark times.
Some people think this isn’t one of Martin Scorsese’s best films. But what does that say when it was nominated for 10 Oscars. Granted, it was snubbed for all of them but that doesn’t make it any less impressive. Daniel Day Lewis is so impressive with his method acting skills. There is a scene where Bill the Butcher taps his glass eye with a knife, Daniel Day Lewis has prosthetic glass put on his eye and learned to actually tap it! That is dedication to your craft.
This also marked the first time that Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio worked together. That relationship obviously developed and he has gone on to work with him on four more films so far (The Aviator, The Departed, Shutter Island, and The Wolf of Wall Street).
This could have been called “The Gangs of Rio De Janerio,” because Martin Scorsese seems to have had a big influence on the director of this film, Fernando Meirelles. He uses close ups, freeze-and-zoom shots, long takes and other trademarks that are easily recognizable to any fan of Scorsese’s work. The film is told through narration by Rocket, a young photographer in the slums. The story charts the growth of several members of the gangs from their childhood as young hoodlums through their transformation into adult drug barons. The final parts of the story focus on the battle within the Cidade De Deus “City of God” between two different groups pressed into an unavoidable confrontation. The result is a powerful story based around real-life events.
City of God is powerful and should be seen by everyone. If you are looking to start watching more foreign language films, start here. It is easily accessible and quickly digestible. In short, this is a superb achievement, and is easily one of the best films of the year.
Just outside the top 3, I have 2 films from legendary director Steven Spielberg, Minority Report and Catch Me If You Can. I’m sad that I couldn’t fit either of these gems in my top 3. The fact is that I have rated them exactly the same as City of God and Gangs of New York (4 stars). They are both excellent and worth your time if you haven’t seen them. I chose to put the other two higher precisely because I think that less people have seen them and I always want to encourage people to reach outside of their comfort zones to watch movies that they wouldn’t otherwise be likely to see.
So, that’s the Top 5 of the year, but you know I can’t leave you with just that. There are a number of honorable mentions: Adaptation, Punch Drunk Love, Signs, The Bourne Identity, and Bowling for Columbine.
It was also the start of a number of big franchises: Spider-Man, The Bourne Identity, 28 Days Later,Ice Age, Resident Evil, Transporter, and Jackass. But it marked the continuation of even more: Lord of the Rings: Two Towers, Star Wars Episode II, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Men in Black II, Austin Powers Goldmember, Blade II, and Spy Kids 2.
Did I miss something? Am I way off? let me know in the comments below or on Social media. See you in 2001!
Sorry it has been so long since I’ve posted. I want to get back on track with my Best Movie Bracket. 2003 was a bit of a weak year for film. There were some memorable gems which floated to the surface, but overall it left avoid that would be filled by a fantasy film. These films generally get very little credit, but 2003 was the perfect year for this film to take home far more awards than it normally would.
Before I can get to that film though, I need to let you know about my runners up. Honorable mentions include Kill Bill: Volume 1, Oldboy (the good one in Korean), X2: X-Men United, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, and Dogville. With that being said, here is my top 3 of 2003. You may have others that you adore from this year that I left off the list. But that’s why it’s my list. I’d love to hear your opinions, and then I will tell you to go make your own site where your opinions can reign supreme.
Mystic River is a sad movie. It is about three boys who grow up to be damaged people. Jimmy (Sean Penn), who is a former convict, Sean (Kevin Bacon) who’s wife recently left him and Dave (Tim Robbins) who… Have you seen the film? I better keep my mouth shut about the plot.
The acting in this movie is phenomenal, especially from Tim Robbins who very much deserved his supporting actor Oscar. Sean Penn is fantastic as well in his very best performance. Kevin Bacon is also very good, though he does get overshadowed by the other two leads. They are flanked by a very capable supporting cast including Laurence Fishburne, Laura Linney and even Eli Wallach also shine in this movie.
The story is very well told, tense, and dramatic. The writing is very good as well. Brian Helgeland, who penned L.A. Confidential and A Knight’s Tale, elevates the novel by Dennis Lehane who is no stranger to film adaptations (Gone Baby Gone, Shutter Island, and others). It also has great cinematography and excellent music. I haven’t even mentioned that it is directed by the inimitable Clint Eastwood. In fact, along with Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby, this may be Eastwood’s best directed movie.
If all of that is true, then why is this #3. It is my main problem with all of Dennis Lehane’s stories. I tend to figure out the ending before the big reveal. Maybe it is because I’ve seen so many movies, but I pretty much see it right away. Also, I like a little more ambiguity in my endings, so I wish the movie had ended about 10 minutes earlier. It’s not the ending is bad, it’s just if it had ended earlier, I just feel like it would have been more powerful.
Not since 1995 and Toy Story had Pixar done something so revolutionary. They tackled so much with the visual textures and light patterns that we only see underwater. This film was a visual feast, but it is also funny and emotionally rich. I also believe this film has the absolute best sound design of any Pixar film.
This film deserves acclaim for more than its audio visual achievements. Marlin (Albert Brooks) goes down in my book as one of the best fathers in cinematic history. I mean, they essentially stole the plot of this film to make the entire Taken series. Marlin traversed the oceans over thousands of miles filled with sharks, jellyfish, angler fish, and ravenous seagulls, battling all his own fears, just to rescue his son. His adventure is filled with some of the most memorable moments and quotable lines of any film I’ve seen, and I still love it to this day.
As a father myself with 2 sons, it teaches me the undying love a father will have for his son, and the distances he will go to ensure his utmost protection. It helps to understand just how much a father cares for his son, no matter how harsh he may seem to be. It just goes to show how universal Pixar films really are.
As far as I’m concerned, Return of the King can be as long, as indulgent and end as many times as it wants to. It deserves it. This 263 minute monster of a film manages to round out an epic trilogy by bringing all the characters and plot lines to a gripping and joyful conclusion. It takes the emotional resonance of the first film and marries it to the epic warfare of the second. When all is said and done, we get something as close to perfect as a film can possibly get.
The scope of the film is staggering. Combining fantasy politics, multitudes of different species for our imaginations to go wild with and stunningly vast geography. This is an epic in every possible sense of the word. The assault on Minas Tirith and the ensuing Battle of Pelenor Fields is visceral action-cinema at its very pinnacle. It is very hard to find fault in this film because of my inability to criticize Tolkien’s phenomenal source material and because of the sheer spectacle of it all.
This is Jackson’s true labor of love, and you can tell that he’s poured his heart and soul into every second of it all. He has an evident adoration and respect for the story and characters. That is what marks Lord of the Rings out from the other blockbuster franchises as a true and heartfelt film that effortlessly elevates itself to legendary status.
You can tell that the actors are clearly in love with the material too. The relationship between Frodo and Sam, while undeniably sentimental, is always touching and pleasant without descending into obvious schmaltz. Elijah Wood and Sean Astin are remarkable here, with Wood in particular maneuvering nicely out of the tricky spot of becoming evil while under the influence of the Ring. There’s some scene-stealing from John Noble as the emotionally-imbalanced Steward of Gondor, Denethor, while Theoden (Bernard Hill) and Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) make the most of their meaty inspirational speeches.
And as I said before, I don’t have any problem with the endings. Why would you not want to stretch out your goodbyes with the dense and lovable characters you’ve just spent 11 hours of your life with? There is no problem with how the trilogy closes, as every character is given their little moment to savor. It’s touching and a good way to close this series.
Before I really get into it, I will note that I have not seen Before Sunset, Downfall, Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, or Million Dollar Baby (gasp). I know that those four get a lot of respect. I have seen Before Sunrise, and I thought it was a good Richard Linklater film, just like I’m sure that Million Dollar Baby is a good Clint Eastwood film and Life Aquatic is a good Wes Anderson film. Sadly, I can’t judge films that I have not seen. Now, let’s get down to business.
Michel Gondry made his mark on Hollywood by directing this funny, quirky, touching film. He shaped a very malleable actor like Jim Carrey into a serious role that makes up for a half a dozen Ace Venturas. Kate Winslet in her multi-colored hair and perfect bi-polar personality. Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood, and Kirsten Dunst having their crazy “memory erasing party” on top of Jim Carrey’s sedated body. It is a movie about love, fate and memory and it is still one of the most unique science fiction love stories you will ever see.
That’s right… I picked a Pixar animated film over the sexy choices like The Aviator,Hotel Rwanda, Layer Cake, or Collateral. I did it because Brad Bird was able to pull off a better superhero movie than Spider-Man 2, which is the best Spider-Man we have seen to date. He created a completely original and fully realized world of colorful superheroes, political realities, and family dynamics and made it accessible to anyone from five to 95. I don’t simply consider this the best Pixar movie to date, even with Marvel’s success, I would say that this is one of the best superhero films ever made. I know that they have finally announced a sequel to this beloved film. I’m happy for that, but I would also love to see him take the reins of a struggling property like the Fantastic Four and breathe some new life into them.
I was really close to giving Shaun of the Dead this spot, but I honestly like Hot Fuzz more and I cannot deny the cultural impact of Mean Girls. it is incredibly rewatchable, crazy quotable, and really well done.
Alright, I’ll stop trying to make fetch happen. I’m going to go shopping with Glen Coco, get in loser! No? Boo, you whore. It’s not my fault you’re like in love with me or something! It’s been fun looking back at 2004 with you. Don’t forget to wear your pink shirts on Wednesdays.
What do you think? Did I totally miss the mark somewhere? Is butter a carb? sound off in the comments below.
If you forgot about my Best Movie Bracket, I’m looking at each year individually and picking the best movie. Each of those winners will face off against another years winner in a bracket style tournament. But before I get to the tournament, I have to complete the seeding. I try to look objectively at the films, which means I need to study them from a couple of different angles. For 2005, let’s see which films come out on top financially, critically, and popularity.
Ultimately, however, this is my list and the final vote comes down to me. Here are my top 3 from 2005.
3. Walk the Line
I have a soft spot in my heart for Johnny Cash. Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon did a fantastic job of becoming Johnny and June Carter Cash. The music is infectious and the man in black’s story is worth telling well. I almost put Crash in this 3rd spot, but I think it has had enough press with its unearned Best Picture win over…
2. Brokeback Mountain
Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger pour out a lot of emotion in this very moving drama from director Ang Lee. Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway put in remarkable supporting roles as the pained wives of the men who are inflamed for each other. I just watched this for the first time a few months ago and it took me a while to process.
1. V for Vendetta
I can’t say enough about this film. It is infinitely rewatchable and quotable. Natalie Portman is my favorite actress and she is stunning as she peeks behind the fascist curtain. Just a few weeks ago I celebrated the 5th of November as one should. I didn’t blow anything up, but I’ll put that on my calendar for next year. It is stylized and poetic. Despite it not topping the stats anywhere, it is my favorite of the year.
As I look ahead to my Best Movie Bracket for 2005, I had to acknowledge a blind spot that I have missed over the years. Back when Brokeback Mountain was released in 2005, I was just beginning my stint as a youth minister after finishing my Bachelors of Theology. I was definitely into movies, but I was not watching them with the same eyes or frequency that I see them today. I would have likely been in the camp of Christians who followed their conscience and decided to completely abstain from the film and sadly to avoid even the discussion of its themes, happy to be cloistered away with other likeminded people.
I am a different person than I was then. Life as a pastor, manager, father and husband for over a decade has changed my perspective. I won’t say that it has changed for the better because I can certainly see where my conservative Christian brethren are coming from. However, I believe that I have the responsibility as a Christian to see the film and to offer my opinion on it from a biblical perspective. I’m afraid that most of the reviews that I read in those days were in two camps. Either reviewers loved the film and sang the praises of the cinematography, bucolic setting, and powerful performances, or they condemned the film as immoral or dirty with little explanation as to the reason behind their emotional response except for “the Bible says it’s wrong.”
As a Christian and a movie critic I have a set of lenses that I view every film through. But let’s not act like this is a unique scenario. Everyone who shares their opinion of a film sees it through the lenses of their life. Those lenses could be republican, democrat, liberal, conservative, racist, sexist, feminist, black, white, rich, poor, urban, or rural. The list is as long as the human experience. We don’t generally see movie critics come out sharing their particular lenses. Instead, we have to reverse engineer the way they see the world through the reviews they give. My point is that no one comes to a film as completely objective. We all have preconceptions, experiences, and beliefs that shape our opinions and color our world. How boring would things be if we were all cookie cutter copies of each other with the same passions, interests, and desires?
However, we must also understand that many (if not all) dramatic filmmakers are trying to say something with their film, not just providing 2 hours of celluloid to entertain the audience. As a theology student and later as a pastor, I spent years studying the Bible for meaning and interpreting its words to teach believers how they should implement the words and lessons that they encountered. I approach films in much the same way. There is a lesson to be found. If I walk out of a film the same as I walked in, I feel cheated. It’s as if I dove into a pool only to find that there is no water.
However, film works almost imperceptibly at times. Because of the medium, the message comes through almost so well that it hits us directly at an unconscious level. This is unlike the Bible that is often shrouded in mystery because of thousands of years of changes in culture, location, and language. The Bible often takes time and study to uncover meaning. We have to pull the meaning out of the text. That is the same with film. However, in that case, we are pulling the meaning out of ourselves to see things through the eyes of the writer, the characters, and the filmmaker.
As a Christian, there are behaviors which I believe are sinful. However, if I limited my movie viewing only to this without portrayals of sin, I would never enter the theater or turn on the television. Because every person besides Jesus that enters the frame is a sinner in some form or fashion. So I have no trouble looking at this film and calling out the sinful behaviors that I see. However, the presence of these behaviors does not make the film any worse or any better. Whether it is the dishonest way that Aguirre is having them tend his sheep, the premarital sex that we see between Jack and Lureen, or the consistent lying that surrounds their illicit relationship, there is plenty of sin to go around. This film could have just as easily left out the homosexual relationship and had the two men destroy their relationships by being inattentive and selfish (which they are). But that would miss the message that Director Ang Lee is trying to communicate.
The basic premise is that two cowboys, Jack and Ennis, take a job tending to sheep in the Brokeback Mountains of Wyoming. The two grow close on the trip and on a particularly cold night they share a tent and things get physical. After this summer job they go their separate ways to their own lives. Ennis gets married to Alma as he planned before the summer and she has two girls rather quickly. Soon, four years have passed and Jack finds Ennis and they have a sordid reunion. Ennis insists that they cannot be together and Jack settles down with Lureen, a fellow rodeo professional, and they soon have a son. Jack and Ennis however keep up their relationship under that pretense of hunting and fishing trips. However, they retreat to the place where their relationship began and argue about whether or not they can leave all that they have tied themselves to in order to be together.
Brokeback Mountain is trying to say, if these two men were allowed by society and their own consciences to love (and consequently have sex with) whomever they chose, then they would have been happy and their wives would not have had to suffer through loveless marriages. But I have heard some who make it sound like the solution is to have them forget all about their one-time fling and go home to their marriages and focus on their wives and families. However, I would disagree with this as well. Sure it would be great for these men to treat their wives with love and respect and to care for their children, but doing these things would not be any more redemptive than their “fishing trips” which don’t feature any fishing. In fact, the natural setting of their very unnatural relationship is probably the most insidious and disturbing part of the film. The wives do not push their husbands away, yet home is seen as a trap while their “forbidden love” is shown as peaceful and natural.
Before I say anything else, I should say that I believe this film deserved the praise that it received. It was a difficult film to make, though Ang Lee never felt that until after it was released and started to gain traction. The performances specifically from Michelle Williams and Heath Ledger are spectacular. Ledger is so stoic in his portrayal that when he does peel back the layers to reveal emotion it is very effective. Williams crushes it with one scene in which she discovers that her husband’s fishing buddy is more than a friend. Her eyes show all the betrayal that she dare not utter. She knows it to be true but keeps it locked away hoping that maybe she was just seeing things. I think the biggest flaw of the film is that we don’t get to see enough of the families. We are so wrapped up in the affair of the two men that we are left guessing about what is going on at home. I would love to see the exact same story told through Alma and Lureen’s eyes. I believe that it would be an even more engaging and heartbreaking tale. From a technical standpoint I would give this film high marks but the story seems to be lacking.
In an interview, when Ang Lee was asked if he practices any particular religion, he said,
No, my mother is a baptized Christian, so she made me go to church every Sunday, and I prayed four times a day until I was 14. And at lunchtime kids at school would giggle at my praying…I stopped praying. And two weeks later, nothing happened to me, so I didn’t pick it up again.
I am not particularly religious. But I think we do face the question of where God is, why we are created and where does life go, why we exist. That sort of thing. And it is very hard to talk about it these days, because it cannot be proven. It is hard to discuss it rationally.
Given his experience with organized religion, I’m surprised we don’t see it play more of a role in the film. We are given 3-4 hints of the religious culture of the late 60s and 70s that they are living in. On their first summer together Jack and Ennis discuss their upbringings. Jack speaks of the Pentecost as if it is the day of judgement, and Ennis is just as ignorant saying that his parents were Methodist. Alma and Ennis are married in a religious wedding and we hear of church events that Alma and the girls want to attend. Ennis calls them “that fire and brimstone crowd.” This tells us a lot about both Ennis and the religious people who surrounded him. He characterizes the church people as a judgmental group, but we have no way of knowing if this is because they truly are or because they don’t make him feel good about himself because of his behavior.
I will be wide open in saying that I believe homosexuality is a sin, but I also believe adultery and premarital sex are sins. However, none of these sins are unforgivable. That is the beauty of Christianity. It is not all about guilt and judgement, but grace and redemption. I believe that Brokeback Mountain is a harsh and stark image of sin in a fallen world. In Ang Lee’s world where God is an absentee landlord who makes threats but doesn’t really have the power to carry them out, this life is as good as it gets. If that is the truth then I would say that Jack and Ennis should run off together and live with passion and do everything they want because one day they will die and that will be the end.
That is where I believe Jack is coming from. That is why we see him going so hard after Ennis and holding onto dreams longer than he really should. But I think Ennis at least has some sense that this life isn’t all there is. He is fighting with the physical urges that he has. It seems that Ang Lee is trying to push us towards a societal solution, but that solution only solves a physical problem. If Ennis did not struggle with the fears and doubts and societal norms then he would have been the same as Jack and they would have probably both ended up dead. But if society were more tolerant towards their beliefs then perhaps they would have started their ranch together and lived there the remainder of their days. But the question that the Christian asks is but what happens after that?
If they are resolute in their belief that God does not exist or that their god is okay with their relationship then I am fine with them doing whatever their heart desires. Alma and Lureen would have been better off in the meantime. As a Christian, I don’t care about disrupting what is going on in their bedroom. I care about God disrupting what is going on in their hearts and souls. I want to see a realistic portrayal of that kind of faith in a film. I would have loved to see Alma broken by her husband’s sin. I wanted to see her confront him and tell him that she still loves him. I wanted her to share her faith with him. The realistic response would have been for him to curse at her and storm out and then we could see the divorce happen just as it did, but instead we get the bigotry and disgust without any of the real love that Jesus commands. The closest we get is Jack’s mother loving Ennis in their shared grief and asking to see him again. I want to think the best of her, maybe she thought better of sharing her beliefs about Jack and Ennis’ lifestyle at this time but planned to do so soon after fostering a relationship.
Lee is right that we live in a very complicated world where talking about religion is difficult to do rationally. But that is just what we are called to do. Jesus wanted us to be salt and light. Salt, as in the stuff that we put on meat to preserve it. We are called to come into contact with the dirty and corrupt things of the world in order to bring the preservation of life. And where does a light shine? Do you use a flashlight in the middle of the day? No, the light’s purpose is to reveal what is hidden in the darkness. But that means that we must first be in the darkness in order for our light to be seen. Is this easy? Is this safe? Is this the kind of life that fits a stereotype? No, but we are not promised a good and comfortable life with all that we could ask for here. We are pilgrims passing through. This world is not our home.
In the end, Brokeback Mountain is a painful reminder that this world is broken and that sin is rampant. I wish we could have seen our protagonists have an opportunity for redemption, but in our nearly post-christian society perhaps the absence of a coherent voice of faith was the most realistic aspect of the film. It features some beautiful cinematography, and most likely some of the best acting of the year. However, I doubt that you will see it on my Best Movie Bracket for 2005. I hope that you can see that it isn’t because I’m a religious wing-nut or because I think God hates gays, but because I feel like there is so much missed potential in the film.
“Good Night, and Good Luck” feels almost like a documentary of real events from the 1950s. How stunning it must have been to watch TV journalist Edward Murrow and his confrontation with Senator Joseph McCarthy. It is a political film, but it doesn’t feel preachy. It is a spectacular movie about television and the role of media in the communication of the news. It should stand side by side with other classics like “All the President’s Men”, and “Network”.
Murrow, played chillingly by David Strathairn, was there at the dawn of television journalism and he cast a mold that all serious news reporters have tried to fill ever since. This film was nominated for Best Picture in 2006, and received five other nominations but criminally went home with nothing. George Clooney was Oscar nominated for his co-writing and direction, his portrayal of the CBS studio is made even more realistic by the film being entirely in black and white.
I am a skeptic by nature and I agree with the film’s premise that we must learn to question things. Television can be a tool in this cultural skepticism when real journalism is taking place, but everything from advertising to our own shrinking attention spans has turned television into just another entertainment device. As Murrow says at the end of the film, “There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference. This weapon of television could be useful. The instrument can teach, it can illuminate. Yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise, it is merely lights and wires in a box.” The same could be said of the silver screen and the films that are produced by Hollywood. I’m glad that movies like “Good Night and Good Luck” still exist to do more than entertain but educate and enlighten.
What was the best movie of 2006? I’m going to change the way I do this a little bit. Normally I would share some information about the year and other movies that are honorable mentions in the first few paragraphs. However, I’m afraid that most of you are clicking away before you even get to the #1 pick. So, I’m going to start with my top picks and I’ll try to pepper in more information about the year and other possible choices throughout my reviews.
From the innovative mind of Guillermo del Toro comes Pan’s Labyrinth. It is a coming of age tale of innocence and imagination. It is a story about a young girl who is other worldly. Like a crystal vase in a sea of tupperware, she doesn’t match her surroundings. Del Toro creates a fantasy world that is draws us in and leaves us feeling like a child who just heard a fairy tale for the first time.
A warning to my more language challenged readers, this film is in Spanish. It is subtitled. I don’t see that as a problem. I would like to hear why you do if you do. The story is set in Spain in 1944 following the Spanish Civil War. So really any language besides Spanish would feel forced and inauthentic. If you claim that you don’t go to the movies to read, then that is just laziness and you need to get over it. The story centers around Ofelia who is traveling with her pregnant mother. They are moving to a fascist command centre in rural Spain led by the fiendish Captain Vidal who happens to be the father of the mother’s unborn child. Ofelia is the type of child whose imagination feeds her energy. Unfortunately, it is also her imagination that causes Ofelia’s disconnect with the real world.
Ofelia’s exploring leads her to meet a faun. This is the Pan of the English title of the film (del Toro has told us that that is not actually the faun’s name). The first interaction between Ofelia and the faun is revealing because Ofelia doesn’t draw back in horror at the sight of this creature, in fact she seems more comfortable in his presence that with her own mother. This fantasy is her reality and it becomes ours. Ofelia learns the fact that every little girl steeped in fairy tales has yearned to hear, that she is a long lost princess separated from her kingdom.
Half of the story plays out in this ominous and sometimes frightening dreamland. However, del Toro is using the other half of the story to give us a picture of good and evil. The real monster of the film is Captain Vidal despite his normal outward appearance. Let me be quick to say that this is not a kids movie. With the young protagonist and presence of fairy tale creatures it might be tempting to present this to a child, but violence play an important part in this film showing the harsh, unwanted situation that Ofelia’s real life presents her with and blood, guts, and broken bones are all present in this reality.
Children of Men is a near future science fiction film based on a 1992 P.D. James novel and directed by the ever versatile Alfonso Cuarón (Y Tu Mama Tambien, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and Gravity). It is set in 2027, but there is nothing special about that date. It could just as easily be 2050, or 2019. It feels like it is just a breath away. Forget giant asteroids or alien invasions, Children of Men conveys a doomsday scenario that is realistically frightening and contemporary.
Mankind has become infertile, there has not been a new birth recorded for over 18 years. Devolving into chaos from the ticking clock facing everyone, the world has resorted to violence. Britain, the only country that still “soldiers on,” has closed its borders to the swarms of refugees (sound familiar?) Those that make it through the cracks, called “fugees,” are captured and deported. The country is now a completely totalitarian state with state police and surveillance cameras everywhere.
Theo (Clive Owen), a former political activist, is roped into a rescue mission by his ex-lover Julian (Julianne Moore), an outlaw fighting for refugee rights. The job she commandeered him into is to help Kee, an African woman, escape the country. We soon discover that she is pregnant.
The war-torn atmosphere and the mayhem that seems to erupt out of nowhere convey the urgency and danger of the situation. All of it is captured brilliantly by Alfonso Cuarón and the incomparable Emmanuel Lubetzki. Without hope, people are resorting to their base instincts ad lust for survival. Theo’s quest to protect Kee becomes the only thing that matters. The revelation that she is pregnant means that she is fighting for the future of all mankind.
Clive Owen plays Theo as a very ordinary man. With the action in this film, he could have easily become a 007 knockoff, but instead we are left in the frightening mess with him and allowed to feel his fear. In the same way, it would have been easy to write the appearance of this pregnant woman as a miracle, but Cuarón never makes that mistake. It’s hard to categorize this film as either a rich thematic drama when it elevates into a high-octane action film. That is one of the best things about it. It is a great dystopian thriller that is one of the best things that we have seen from a talented young director.
This is why remakes shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. The legendary Martin Scorsese with his screenwriter William Monahan have taken an okay Chinese film, Infernal Affairs, and breathed new life into it, framing it as an American epic crime drama. This is Scorcese’s best since Goodfellas and it deserves mention alongside Scorsese’s other most celebrated films Taxi DriverandRaging Bull.
I don’t want to go into the plot too far. The trailer goes a bit too deep in my opinion. I will just say that it is a high stakes game of lies, secrets, and hidden identities. This is among the greatest of ensemble casts of all time. We have headliners like Martin Sheen, Mark Wahlberg (Oscar nominated), and Alec Baldwin turning in superb supporting roles while Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon shine under the leadership of a premier director. This was the role that skyrocketed DiCaprio into the stratosphere. He and Scorsese work so brilliantly together, this was the best work he had done at the time. This is an amazing return to form for Jack Nicholson. He relishes every moment before the camera with this diabolical confidence and intensity. I think it was criminal that he wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar.
Speaking of Oscars, The Departed did go home with four awards on that night. Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Editing. As far as crime dramas go, this is one of the best. Take note, this is a gangster film by Scorsese so there is a fair amount of violence and profanity. However, The Departed is somewhat tame in comparison to some of the director’s other films. It is entangling and highly entertaining, truly the best of 2006.
These posts are getting pretty long as I can’t help but write a full review for the film instead of just a quick snippet, so to help with this, starting with 2005, I will be posting my reviews separately and the Best Movie Bracket post will fairly short. It will link to my full reviews and will help explain why I chose one film over another.
Zodiac is a woefully underrated film from David Fincher, the same director that gave us Se7en and Fight Club. Roger Ebert said in his four-star review, “Zodiac is the All the President’s Men of serial killer movies, with Woodward and Bernstein played by a cop and a cartoonist…. What makes Zodiac authentic is the way it avoids chases, shootouts, grandstanding and false climaxes, and just follows the methodical progress of police work.” The cast (Mark Ruffalo, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Robert Downey Jr.) as well as the tone and script are all so tight and precise. It’s a delightful movie and immensely frustrating and entertaining. Now, onto the two films which I will be including in the Best Movie Bracket Competition.