Ten just isn’t enough


THOUGH quality films are always disappearing from theaters before people have carved out the time to see them, most motion pictures live as full a life as their subject matter and the resources of their distributor allow. Some, however, to borrow a phrase from Shakespeare, are “untimely ripped” from screens, throttled by distributor neglect even though a wider audience was there for the taking.

1. This year, not one but two exceptional films, “The Best of Youth” from Italy’s Marco Tullio Giordana and “Duma” from Carroll Ballard, suffered that excruciating fate, and it is to underline how infuriatingly destructive that state of affairs is that I’ve paired them at the top of my 10-best list.

Judging by my mail, both “Youth,” serious adult cinema on an epic six-hour scale, and “Duma,” a family movie made with texture and complexity, touched stronger chords in readers than any other films of the year. But disarray at a crumbling Miramax crippled the former, and disinterest at Warner Bros. turned the collapse of the latter into a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is so hard to get films of this quality made, it is beyond frustrating to see them heedlessly thrown away as these two were.


Aside from those depressing misadventures, 2005 turned out to offer a remarkable number of quality films. To maximize credit where credit is due, I’ve grouped together worthy contenders that pointed up the year’s most positive trends.

The rest of the list

2. “Paradise Now” and “Syriana.” A pair of films, one from Palestinian Hany Abu-Assad, the other from Oscar winner Stephen Gaghan, that manage the notable feat of making politically astute and dramatically compelling scenarios out of the nightmarish political reality of the Middle East.

3. “The Squid and the Whale.” As perceptive as it is personal, Noah Baumbach’s well-acted and acutely observed family drama is as good as independent filmmaking gets, with Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain” running a close second.

4. “Howl’s Moving Castle” and “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.” To have Hayao Miyazaki and Nick Park, two of the most creative animators ever, release features in the same year is almost too good to be true.

5. “A History of Violence” and “Munich.” A pair of powerful, genre-bending meditations by two very different directors, David Cronenberg and Steven Spielberg, on the nature of violence and what it does to individuals and societies.

6. “Los Angeles Plays Itself” and the documentary field. Thom Andersen’s intoxicating meditation on this city on camera was one of an unbelievable string of docs. Among the best were “Born Into Brothels,” “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” the Iraq double bill of “Gunner Palace” and “Occupation: Dreamland” and nature films including “Grizzly Man,” “March of the Penguins” and “The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill.” And don’t forget the lovely “Ballets Russes.” Quite a year.


7. “Capote” and “Good Night, and Good Luck.” Two biographies that demonstrate that dramatizations of historic events can illuminate contemporary issues, especially if the acting is as compelling as Philip Seymour Hoffman in the former and David Strathairn in the latter.

8. “Batman Begins” and “King Kong.” If we live in a world that demands tent-pole extravaganzas -- and we do -- it’s a gift to have filmmakers like Christopher Nolan and Peter Jackson who can bring an auteur sensibility to blockbuster material.

9. “Head-On” and the foreign language field. As if a new film by Ingmar Bergman (“Saraband”) wasn’t enough, 2005 saw the widest variety possible of non-English-speaking motion pictures. Especially noteworthy were “Tony Takitani” from Japan, “The World” from China, “Look at Me” and “The Beat That My Heart Skipped” from France, and an unexpectedly strong group from Latin America and Spain: “The Holy Girl,” “Machuca,” “Lost Embrace” and “Torremolinos 73.”

10. “The Constant Gardener.” The unlikely team of British thriller writer John le Carre and Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles came up with a crackerjack film that is socially committed and dramatically involving.