2005: The Year in Movies
Other than a glaring spike in left-leaning political films (Good Night and Good Luck, Syriana, The Constant Gardener, Munich), one of the most notable movie trends in 2005 was the triumphant return of decent family fare.
True, none of the past year’s crop quite stacks up to the brilliance of 2004’s The Incredibles. But then, The Incredibles was just about the only family film worth getting excited about in 2004.
By contrast, 2005 had a comparative wealth of family-film offerings: Duma, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Because of Winn-Dixie, Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Robots, The Greatest Game Ever Played, March of the Penguins. And that’s not even mentioning the latest Harry Potter, the imaginative but flawed Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Zathura, or the harmless but uninspired Sky High.
Actually, that pattern of decent but not remarkable applies to a lot of 2005 fare, including Walk the Line, Just Like Heaven, Revenge of the Sith and King Kong, Even so, there are some films that stand out from the crowd, such as the 10 listed below. Some are family-friendly; others deal with content that might make even adults squirm, and aren’t necessarily recommendable to all viewers.
Yet even the more unsettling selections below illustrate the words of Pope John Paul II in his 1999 Letter to Artists: “Even when they explore the darkest depths of the soul or the most unsettling aspects of evil, artists give voice in a way to the universal desire for redemption.”
Downfall & The Ninth Day: Two stunning German films about the Third Reich. Bruno Ganz is heart-stoppingly authoritative as Adolf Hitler in Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Downfall, a mesmerizing account of Nazism’s last days seen from the infamous bunker. Ulrich Matthes, chilling as Nazi propagandist Göebbels in Downfall, has a diametrically opposite lead role in Volker Schlöndorff’s The Ninth Day as weary, wary Abbé Kremer, a Catholic priest whose brief furlough from Dachau’s infamous “priest block” provides the occasion for an extraordinary moral drama casting rare light on the role of Pope Pius XII and Church leaders during WWII.
Content Advisory: Downfall contains graphic scenes of wartime violence and surgery, suicide and killings, and a sexual scene with brief nudity. The Ninth Day contains horrific but restrained depictions of concentration-camp atrocities, some crude language, and mixed perspectives on the role of Pius XII during WWII. Both are mature viewing. Subtitles.
Dear Frankie & Millions: Two exceptional British not-quite-family films, each a moral parable about an exceptional boy being raised by a single parent, and that boy’s interactions with person(s) who may or may not actually be there. Shona Auerbach’s Dear Frankie, set in Glasgow, centers on the correspondence of a deaf lad (Jack McElhone) with his absent father, whom he believes is a sailor on a ship. Danny Boyle’s Millions is about young Damien (Alex Etel), whose inner life is dominated by the lives of the saints, to such an extent that they appear to him, though the saints themselves make less of an impression than Damien’s deep and simple faith.
Content Advisory: Dear Frankie contains some profane language and a couple of sexual references. Millions contains fleeting but clear implication of a non-marital affair, brief depiction of juvenile curiosity in online lingerie ads, recurring strong menace, and some mildly objectionable language. Both are appropriate for teens and up.
Batman Begins: Christopher Nolan sets the bar high for future super-hero films in this dark, mature take on the soul of the Dark Knight, a brilliant reinterpretation of the Caped Crusader (Christian Bale) and his origins, methods and moral struggles.
Content Advisory: Recurring menace and frightening imagery, much stylized action violence, at least one instance of profanity and some minor profanity and crass language. Teens and up.
Brothers: Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier’s harrowing but deeply moral film tells the story of two brothers, Michael (Ulrich Thomsen) older and responsible, Jannik (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) younger and dissolute, whose lives are forever changed when Michael, a military man, is lost and presumed dead in Afghanistan, and younger brother Jannik assumes an unwonted degree of responsibility for Michael’s wife Sarah (Connie Nielsen) and two daughters. Written and directed by Bier with great intelligence, humanity and unexpected humor, Brothers explores themes of guilt, obligation and reconciliation with wrenching honesty and deep feeling.
Content Advisory: Recurring obscene and crude language, some profanity, disturbing war-related and domestic violence, sexual references. Mature viewing; discernment required. Subtitles.
Cinderella Man: Russell Crowe starred as Depression-era boxer Jimmy Braddock in Ron Howard’s well-crafted biopic about a rare movie boxer who isn’t a morally checkered, socially alienated single man with a history of extracurricular violence and troubling relationship issues, but a wholly decent, self-controlled, devoted family man who loves his wife (Renee Zellweger) and children, and fights solely to put bread of the table.
Content Advisory: Much brutal pugilism violence; recurring profanity; mild sensuality; a couple of sleazy taunts. Could be okay for teens.
Duma: Carroll Ballard, director of Fly Away Home and The Black Stallion, outdoes himself in the year’s best family film, the story of a boy and his cheetah. Young Xan (Alex Michaeletos), a white South African boy whose pet cheetah becomes a pressing liability when tragedy forces his mother to relocate from the family farm to the city, and sets out to return him to the wild.
Content Advisory: Some tense and menacing sequences and animal gore that could be disturbing to sensitive children.
Pride and Prejudice: Given the authoritative 1995 BBC five-hour miniseries, was there really any need for a new feature adaptation of Pride and Prejudice? Yes. For one thing, there’s always room for a version that doesn’t bother about being authoritative and doesn’t take five hours. For another, where the BBC version, invaluable as it is, is a bit stodgy and stagey, Joe Wright’s exquisite, joyous retelling feels lived-in and vibrant. Nothing in Keira Knightley’s résumé remotely suggested she was capable of this rendition of Elizabeth Bennett; her performance is both a revelation and a sheer delight.
Content Advisory: Nothing problematic, but young children won’t stay with the story.
Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit: The humor is a bit broader and there’s a sprinkling of rude humor, but Wallace and Gromit’s first feature film has the same wacky invention, cheerful silliness and satiric homage of classic film as the classic shorts.
Content Advisory: Comic menace and excitement, mild rude humor, including some comic belching and a few double-entendres; fleeting comic religious references involving an Anglican clergyman. Might be okay for kids.
Steven D. Greydanus
is editor and chief critic of DecentFilms.com.
- January 29-February 4, 2006