John Walker's Electronic House

Top 2 Films of 2005

by on Jan.01, 2006, under The Rest

2005 was a truly horrible year for film. 2004 was particularly poor, but as nothing compared with the dismal offerings in the last year. This isn’t helped by the fact that I never got around to seeing Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, King Kong, Sin City, Corpse Bride or The Constant Gardener, which admittedly might have affected things, although not an enormous amount. As it is, I can offer a Top 2, both of which I now realise I saw on my own, which is unusual. But then, everyone I know hates me. Kung Fu Hustle was top fun too, and could get No. 3 if I had the energy.

2) The 40-Year-Old Virgin – wr. Steve Carell, Judd Apatow, dr. Judd Apatow

By far and away one of the best written comedy films in over eighteen million years, and I’m still the only damn person I know who’s seen this. Steve Carell was the second best thing The Daily Show ever had, and he’s becoming super-huge in the States, fronting their version of The Office, and popping up in all the right places. He stole the show from Jim Carey in Bruce Almighty, got huge laughs from minimal lines in The Anchorman, and here finally gets the front-line position.

The film’s premise appears poor – Andy Stitzer, a 40 year old man, working in the back room of a chain electronics store, has his colleagues realise he’s never had sex. The script seems inevitable, and most people were put off seeing it (especially thanks to the appalling trailer). People weren’t expecting:

a) The central character to be extremely likeable, single by habit rather than character ineptitude, and socially capable

b) The focal relationship between the leads to be believable, flawed and honest

c) The ‘wacky buddy antics’ to be the subject of scorn, pushed into the background, or entirely ignored by Stitzer

d) To painfully choke from laughing, which appeared to nearly kill a girl sitting behind me

e) Stitzer’s virginity to be respected

There are so many excellent scenes to reference, with the stand-out three being the speed dating, the climactic musical number (you need to see it), and the chest waxing, which should immediately enter anyone’s top 10 comedy moments. The key to the latter is the realisation that Carell really is getting his hirsute chest agonizingly stripped, and is desperately fighting to stay in character, while unleashing the most spectacular torrents of imaginative swearing. The cinema was not busy, but everyone I could see or hear was literally crying with laughter.

It’s never schmaltzy, it’s always smart, and apart from one hiccup of a scene toward the end (but thankfully not the end), is seamless.

1) Broken Flowers – wr. dr. Jim Jarmusch

I’m a bit amused by the reaction to Broken Flowers, and extremely fortunate to not be afflicted by either side. People who follow Jim Jarmusch’s work are furious at his mainstream selling out, disgusted he should make a film palatable to an Odeon audience. And people who thought Lost In Translation was an elite art house film they’d been intellectual enough to comprehend were furious at the minimalist script and pacing.

I appear to have struck the perfect position: not so dumb as to think Sofia Coppola a secret underground discovery, but not so intelligent as to have actually heard of Jarmusch before, let alone loved his films. Win!

Bill Murray plays gloomy Don Johnston, a man in his 50s, so freshly single that we see his last lover, Julie Delpy, walking out on him in the opening scene. His response suggests that this is an expected inevitability of his life. That day a letter arrives from an anonymous source, informing him that he has a son in his 20s who may be on his way to find him. This inspires PI-wannabe neighbour, Jeffrey Wright, to near-force him onto a journey through his past, visiting four previous lovers whom he hasn’t seen in two decades.

But I don’t think that’s what the film is about at all. By the final scene, as Murray stands in the middle of a road junction, I thought that perhaps this was an allegory, a fairyless fairytale carrying warnings for the individualist.

The acting is superb, Murray playing the role he perfects, with even Sharon Stone in a subtle and sympathetic character. The pacing reminded me of Lynch’s Straight Story, comfortable with strolling very casually, and even sitting still. A remarkable scene has Murray sat on his sofa, hands clasps and rested on his knees, thinking. For a minute. He’s motionless, the camera is motionless, and throughout you so strongly believe in Murray’s stationary acting that you know he’s thinking, without his mugging a ‘quizzical’ look. And given this space and time, you start to think as well.

17 Comments for this entry

  • Stu W

    Broken flowers was good – youre right. However i came out of the cinema wondering a little at how the writer / director had spent so much time creating colourful characters but missed out 50% of the cast. Take for example the scene with Lolita and her mother. Lolita is great and hilarious but her mother is the most 2D (bereft-of) character that ive seen in a film. Maybe these characters were unimportant and thus rightly lightly passed over but i just had the feeling the depth of character in the writing department was somewhat.. haphazard, which left me feeling a little lop-sided when i came out of the film.

    Nonetheless, a good film…

  • admin

    That was Sharon Stone playing Lolita’s mother. I thought she was well realised. Simply that she had named her daughter such provided a fair chunk of depth, offering the moment that you become aware neither her, nor the girl, are aware of the connotations of the name, let alone their immediate appropriateness.

    But I also think they were all four deliberately caracitures. While not simplistic (the peculiar dignity offered to the animal therapist, for instance, demonstrated a complexity beyond wanting to have a ‘wacky animal lady’), they each represented an aspect of Murray’s past, a phase he had gone through. They were the ghosts of memories, rather than fully-developed individuals.

  • CK

    I’ve yet to see the latter, but that’s mostly because i’ve been put off by masses of negative reviews. That said, by rule of thumb, the ones with bad ratings turn out the best.

    The former was very good indeed, and this comes from a man who isn’t too great a fan of the ‘comedy’ movie genre.

  • Rev. S Campbell

    Nobody who couldn’t be bothered to GET OFF THEIR BIG FAT ARSE AND SEE “DOWNFALL” has any right to call 2005 a horrible year for movies. It’d be like, I dunno, saying 2005 was a horrible year for quirky, funny and inventive platform games by the creator of Monkey Island when you hadn’t played Psychonauts or something.

  • Stu W

    I’d Second that, Herr Campbell. Der Untergang is the best movie i have seen in a long time.

    I’ve noticed that in quite a few of the yearly reviews ive seen (mostly game reviews) people have often said “it wasnt a great year for….” and then shortly after “although i admit i didnt play…”.

    Perhaps it just wasnt a good year for being bothered to find the particularly good content available.

  • Laze1980

    Did you see a movie called Serenity ( based on the tv show Firefly) ?
    There’s been a lot of contrary reviews about it.
    Maybe you would like to write one? ;-)

  • admin

    Ooh, I forgot Serenity. Not from my list of great films, however. It was this: fine.

  • Laze1980

    Not a Whedon fan? :-)
    How about the show? Seen it?

  • admin

    HUGE Whedon fan. Think I’ve harped on about it here on occasion. And Firefly is a beautiful, beautiful thing. The film: not as good.

  • Laze1980

    You’ve got good taste ,I’ll give you that.

  • Steve W

    “HUGE Whedon fan. Think I’ve harped on about it here on occasion”

    This from the man who still hasn’t watched season five of Angel.

    But anyway, The 40 Year-Old Virgin: this was the best comedy of 2005 (Team America was a brilliant parody, but slightly lacking on the actual gag count).

    However, I can’t agree with you on one point:

    “By far and away one of the best written comedy films in over eighteen million years…”

    One of the few criticisms I had when coming out of the cinema was with the writing. Specifically, the gag writing. You’re right about the characters, the acting (Steve Carrell gives the one of the best performances of the year, in a comedy or otherwise), but I didn’t think enough thought or effort had gone into the actual jokes. It was lazy; they go for the easy option, the obvious punchline on almost every occasion and with a little more time spent honing the script it could have been one of the best comedies of all time, rather than merely the best of a rather lean year for comedy.

    It could be said that the film as a whole would have suffered with a more refined script, but I still think there was room for improvement without sacrificing the effortless playing and relaxed tone.

  • admin

    I think I meant the best written story.

  • admin

    I HATE Wallace and Gromit.

  • Steve W

    And that’s where it all goes wrong for you, I’m afraid. Despite problems with all the others, The Wrong Trousers remains almost a masterpiece of inventive animation. Gromit’s subtle, imploring glance towards the empty toaster right before he’s splattered in the face with jam gets me every time.

    You appear to be becoming more curmudgeonly with each passing year.

    As perhaps it should be.

  • aerisdead

    I’m actually shocked that you consider The 40 Year Old Virgin a good movie. I only saw it last week, and I have to say, it was one of the most meandering, confused, and poorly written comedies I’ve seen in ages.

    I’ll give you Broken Flowers, though.

  • Tom Hardy

    I must disagree heavily, aerisdead, 40-Year-Old Virgin was witty, endearing and well-made. Rather than be a collection of comical stereotypes (which I feared after the first 5-odd minutes of the film), it was a collection of several really interesting and convincing character sketches which expanded, developed and played off each other, all managing to be utterly hilarious in the process. It’s also one of only around 3 romantic comedies in the world actually intended to be enjoyed by men rather than tolerated by them. It had gross-out comedy moments but still managed to evade reducing itself to just a gross-out comedy movie.

    But John – you hate Wallace and Gromit? My GOD. You’re diseased, somehow! I know that sounds a bit unpleasant, but I really can’t think of another way to put it! Honestly, I can’t!