Click here to read the 2005 Movie Club discussion.
Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine's documentary Ballets russes retraces the history of the company (largely Russian emigres at first) that essentially brought ballet to the New World, and it's 100 cc's of pure pleasure. The historical footage of ballets that form the foundation of modern dance would be enough. But it's the weave of those fragments with the lucid narration and the brilliant, tart, affectionate, witty, poignant reminiscences of the surviving dancers (many of whom look astonishingly fit in their eighties, their "instruments" bent but unbroken) that makes this a miraculous experience, an enduring tribute to the most ephemeral art—and the ephemeral bodies that give it life. Ten cc's of pure displeasure comes from Hubert Sauper's Darwin's Nightmare, which depicts the last twitches of life on the shores of Tanzania's Lake Victoria. In this Darwin-forsaken place, the imported Nile Perch has consumed virtually every other species in that vast body of water, and a multi-tentacled ecosystem—natural, human, economic—appears on the brink of extinction.
Nine Lives, directed by Rodrigo Garcia, is nine stories with nine protagonists, each tale told in a single traveling shot. It's a gimmick and it isn't—because the mixture of real time and skillful dramaturgy creates unbearable tension and makes for a movie that's Epiphany City. Some of the episodes are more devastating than others, but there are no outright duds. And the movie boasts the best performance of the year, by Robin Wright Penn as a very pregnant woman who bumps into her old flame in a supermarket. As she circles the store with her grocery cart, her face alternately flushed and ashen, it's as if we're looking directly into her soul.
And, you know, I could keep going ... to the riotous Kung Fu Hustle, Head-On, Kings and Queen, Broken Flowers, Pride & Prejudice [sic], Breakfast on Pluto, March of the Penguins, Murderball, The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices, and After Innocence—heartbreaking and infuriating tales of people freed from long-term incarceration and even death row by DNA evidence.
Another underrated film of 2005 is The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio, the story of a housewife and mother (played by the sublime Julianne Moore) who fulfills her creativity in the only way her ('50s) culture lets her: by composing poems and jingles for the corporations that help to keep her down.
Call me every kind of sicko but I still love Sin City. And not since Diner has Mickey Rourke been as magnetic as he is under pounds of latex that take our attention off his own peculiar physiognomy and, paradoxically, allow the ravaged yet tender soul to shine through.
There are so many heartening developments to discuss. For instance, the spate of films about the challenges of being gay or transgendered in a less than welcoming culture, released into a culture that might or might not be welcoming: Breakfast on Pluto, Saving Face, My Summer of Love, Transamerica, Brokeback Mountain. ... And then there's all the preposterous anti-globalization conspiracy movies that I find so unexpectedly convincing: Syriana, The Constant Gardener, even the annoying wine documentary Mondovino. (Don't imbibe before you see it or the camerawork will make you puke.) And let's not forget the Revenge With a Guilty Conscience Genre, embodied most vividly by A History of Violence. I had problems with the movie's have-it-both-ways pulpiness, but on its own terms (direction by David Cronenberg; screenplay by Josh Olson; acting by Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris, and William Hurt; virtuosic splattery and bone-crunching brutality; two remarkable sex scenes) it works like gangbusters.
I'm going to save my list of the worst movies and best performances of 2005 for later in the week. And I'll refrain from commenting on Terrence Malick's The New World until Jonathan Rosenbaum can fight back. Jonathan and I had a spirited discussion of Malick's last film, The Thin Red Line, in Slate's very first Movie Club back in 1998. I'm delighted to welcome him back (along with Scott and Tony) for this, my final Movie Club, as I'll be (sadly) leaving Slate for New York magazine at the end of—my God, Thursday. No time to waste. Let's shake hands and come out punching.