Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A Year in Review

This year saw some really great pieces of work, but sadly, not enough. It wasn’t difficult to narrow down my choices at all. Hollywood has struggled this year with a massive drop in theater-going sales, while DVD, most notably TV-on-DVD, made a huge jump in sales.

As for TV, there were a lot of series finales, and a few really great new and recurring shows.

Comics, for the few of you that read them, are much like music. There is always quality stuff coming out. You just have to be choosy.

I’m not gonna throw book reviews in because, sadly again, I haven’t finished but a few this year. I’m slackin’.

Without further ado:

Best of Movies
(In no particular order)

Batman Begins – Christopher Nolan did an outstanding job of crafting a film that fans have been clamoring for all along; a true representation of the Dark Knight. Drawing from Frank Miller’s early Batman work as well as current history, Nolan focused the film on Batman rather than the rogue’s gallery who seemed to be the spotlight in the early films.

Christian Bale is great as Bruce Wayne/Batman and plays him vulnerable and determined. You can see the transformation in the character and it truly brings you into the mind of Batman, rather than the antics of his villains. A great supporting cast adds even more clout to the film. The action sequences and special effects/design are outstanding and ground the film in a world where you can believe that Batman could really exist.

Star Wars: Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith – While not a perfect film, the third and arguably the most important of the Star Wars saga, the material and storyline are handled with a level of maturity that has never graced a Star Wars film yet. Yeah, there’s still plenty of cheesy dialogue and some still don’t like Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker, but I feel he did a nice job.

The true star of the early prequels is Ewan McGregor who brings great depth to his Obi-Wan Kenobi, giving a lasting resonance to the Alec McGuiness version in Episode IV. The special effects are obviously great and the end lightsaber duel is awesome. In the end, Revenge of the Sith both ends and begins a great journey and does so in a classy and admirable way.

Domino – Tony Scott’s hyperbolic, flashy, and style-crazy film is way ahead of its time. I loved the way this film was done, whereas many didn’t. Scott builds on his over-the-top style that originated in Man on Fire (and an early BMW film) and takes it to a whole new level.

For those that dig the style like I did, the rest of the film is a great ride. It’s no secret that I love Keira Knightley and probably the coolest thing I heard all year was her yelling “Put your fucking weapon down!” in that hot English accent.

The story is crazy and it’s meant to be. Written by Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko) it opens you up to a world of craziness and gives you a peek into a life that is violent and unpredictable. The cast is awesome (another great nod to Mickey Rourke – keep it goin’ man) and Edgar Ramirez. Having Christopher Walken doesn’t hurt either.

A great, chopped up score by Harry Gregson-Williams is featured here and it’s a shame it isn’t released on CD. Gregson-Williams has done some outstanding work in the past few years and I love the style he used in this film. Underrated and Overhated, Domino is an exercise in style-to-the-max and in a few years it’ll be a cult hit.

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang – Holy crap, this movie rocks! You can read my more in-depth review below, but the gist is a great detective story told with tongue-in-cheek and with a great array of flawed characters that will have you rooting for them throughout.

Shane Black, my own personal hero, has written and directed a clever film with bits of comedy, drama, action, and mystery. It’s one of the best rides you’ll have all year without being inundated with special effects.

Robert Downey, Jr. and Val Kilmer are a reluctant duo with a sly chemistry. Michelle Monaghan is beautiful and surprisingly great in her role, which is so rare to find in most movies today. Quite possibly the perfect flick of 2005.

Cinderella Man – How did I miss this in theaters? Oh, wait, everyone did. I bought this on DVD and watched it two nights in a row. It is the perfect formula film. It’s almost like you’ve seen it before. However, with such a strong cast and crew, Ron Howard at the helm, Russell Crowe in the lead, it’s a great ensemble.

Crowe plays boxer James Braddock, based on the true story of the man’s life and times from being way up to hitting the depression and sinking lower and lower into poverty. There are scenes where you truly feel for the man, who resets his priorities and through the luck of a second chance, surprises everyone, including himself, with what he has left.

It is a feel good film in the best sense. You want to feel that you can predict the end, and probably you will, but you never quite know for sure, and it’s just great to see things work out the way they do. A completely satisfying film with great performances throughout and yet another fantastic music score by Thomas Newman.

Sin City – Robert Rodriguez should be given an award for the most faithful comics adaptation to date. Capturing Frank Miller’s hard-boiled comic capers in faithful black-and-white (and a few splashes of color) Sin City is a wild ride into the mind of Miller, where audiences can finally feel the essence of his work from comics to screen.

An unbelievable cast leads this film of three separately interwoven stories, all filmed shot-for-shot from the original graphic novels, retaining Miller’s black and white art style perfectly. Violent, over-the-top, and full of style and pizzazz, Sin City is a hallmark of filmmaking as well as a staple in the comics-to-film machine.

Wedding Crashers – I can’t forget the comedies and Wedding Crashers was a blast. I was the loud, obnoxious laughing guy in the theater on this one and I didn’t give a shit. Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn were a dream team in this film, which hits all the right marks and leaves you with a comic high. This is comedy at its best.

The 40 Year Old Virgin – Steve Carrell, who is hilarious in the TV show The Office, shines as the virgin who is trying to pop his cherry. Not as laugh-out-loud funny as Wedding Crashers, but equally on level with talent, this film is funny and sweet at the same time, coming off much like a romantic comedy made for men. Great fun, great cast, great comedy.

Best of TV

Now, a lot of people say, “Oh, I don’t watch TV,” and think that I care. I don’t need to talk to them. Most people that say they don’t watch TV say that because they think they’re being a martyr for all the “fried brains” that do watch TV. Stick it up your ass and turn on channel 2 you haters!

The fact is many TV shows, especially cable TV shows, are better than most movies out there. If you’re missing out, then you’re missing out.

Six Feet Under – The fifth season was to be the series’ last and it was sad to see it go. SFU has been consistently excellent throughout its entire run. The creator, Alan Ball, has crafted a series of complete originality, beauty, heartbreak, truth, dark comedy, and deals in the harsh lessons that life has to teach us.

Built on tragedy and death, the show revolves around the owners of a funeral home and the intricacies and catastrophies of their lives. There are so many hilarious moments of blatant honesty and realistic portrayals of raw, human emotion, that the show brings you into its world as if you were part of the family.

If you buy season one on DVD, I guarantee you’ll be hooked. This is stellar stuff and it will be a good, long while before another show comes along to match the complex originality and fresh, innovative writing done on this show.

24 – You couldn’t ask for a better action/adventure/thriller/drama show than Fox’s 24. Kiefer Sutherland has built a character out of CTU agent-extraordinaire Jack Bauer, encompassing a hard-boiled professional who never plays by the rules but always gets the job done, no matter the sacrifice. Now, that may sound like your prototypical “bad ass” character, but you really have no idea if you haven’t seen the show. Whereas the “normal bad ass” would maybe slap a few guys around, Sutherland’s Bauer kills, maims, tortures, and lies his way through every possible scenario, all in the name of duty.

The liberal minded probably hate this show as it stands for everything they’re against. However, able-minded people will recognize its cognizance of today’s issues and 24 makes no apologies about that, which I strongly admire.

Full of twists and surprise, 24 is the edge-of-your-seat ride that should not be missed. This guy right here watched every episode of the 4th season EXCEPT the last episode, which breaks it all down, because I was moving. DAMN! At any rate, I’ll buy the DVD set and re-watch gleefully.

Season 5 starts in January with a FOUR-HOUR PREMIERE. Sweet.

The Apprentice – Yeah, yeah, I know there are a lot of haters out there and most of them have never even watched the show. So, if you haven’t seen it, shut your fucking pie hole.

Anyways, Trump’s Apprentice is awesome. Watching his gathering of hopefuls jump through hoops to get a job working for him is entertainment at its best. Watching each group perform their tasks and fucking up royally is like having an insider’s view and its great to see them drop the ball (especially when it’s not you).

With sagging ratings, The Apprentice seemed to be in trouble, but it’s been renewed up to a sixth season and I’m ecstatic. This season has got to be the best yet, as Trump changed up the rules this time and started mass-firing people. No longer were people safe when one person was fired, now they all feared for their jobs. Great stuff.

Watching four people fight for their lives in the boardroom and having Trump fire all of them was beautiful. To say that you could predict this show would make you a liar in the vein of Ms. Cleo.

The Office – Steve Carrell fills in for Ricky Gervais in this American adaptation of the famed British show and it is perfect. I’ve seen the old and the new and I absolutely love the new. Carrell is hilarious as the boss everyone hates and his weekly antics are cringingly funny.

The supporting cast is just as great, adding that flavor of favorites that are easily recognizable and representative of normal people rather than the glossed up Hollywood vision of normal people. Paul Fieg, creator of the short-lived, but much beloved Freaks and Geeks, directs many episodes of The Office and his touch his ever-present to those familiar with his work.

Following the gossip, attitudes, and personal lives of each character in The Office is a blast and brings an air of recognition to our own lives that resonate with each episode. Not to mention that it’s funny as shit and you’ll laugh your ass off from start to finish.

My Name Is Earl – Perhaps the best new series on TV, Jason Lee has created a character of Earl that is instantly likeable and unforgettably mischievous. Coupled with his brother, played by Ethan Supplee, we follow Earl on his journey to create good karma in his life by making up for every bad thing he’s ever done in his life.

Kudos especially to Jaimie Pressley as Earl’s ex-wife. Pressley has always demonstrated great strength (and supreme hotness) as an actress and she is perfectly fit for her role in this show. Each episode features an odd assortment of guest stars and everyone seems to be having a blast making the show.

Much like The Office, Earl gives a resonance that allows the audience to relate to it, rather than forcing themselves to believe in it. It’s easy to accept Earl and his family and friends, because they’re just like us, to an extent. What Hollywood normally forgets about is something strictly adhered to in this show and that’s the relationship of the show to its audience. Great and funny stuff.

Rome – What a knock out of the park for HBO. I approached Rome with much skepticism but after giving it a shot found that it was absolutely brilliant. Retelling the age-old tale of Julius Ceaser’s rise to power and fall from glory, Rome interweaves fictional characters with real-life ones and tells a powerful story of the men fighting to rule the world and the women who stand behind them.

Kevin Kidd as Lucious Veroenus is perfect as the do-good soldier who rises through the ranks to become a senator and his relationship with Titus Pullo, a trouble-making, risk-taking soldier is much like the ancient times Lethal Weapon duo of Riggs and Murtaugh.

The stories are emotional, raw, and excessively violent and sexual in nature. While not necessarily glorifying these traits, the show focuses on showing the reality of these elements rather than the hyped-up vision of it.

The second to last episode features a Gladiator-esque fight that far surpasses Gladiator itself. I saved the episode in my Tivo for further re-watching in the future. This is a show that gives you a peek into history without trying to sway you one way or the other, but rather to give you the most in-depth and realistic view of what it was like to live in ancient Rome.

There are a few others that I think qualify as some of the best of the year, but I wasn’t able to catch them all or watch them on a regular basis.

Best of Comics

Yes, I’m a dork and I read comic books. No, I don’t live with my parents in the basement and yes I’ve had consentual sex with a woman. No, I don’t believe that superheroes are real, although I have been able to sense when I’m not wanted.

Get over it.

The Punisher – Those of you who actually still read comics should be familiar with the team(s) involved in this title and the reputation that precedes it. If you aren’t reading it, shame on you. This is the most intense, violent, compelling, and edge-of-your-seat storytelling in comics today and that’s no stretch. Garth Ennis has been writing the Punisher for a while now and has graduated the book into Marvel’s MAX format, meaning it is basically an unrated comic book.

What a leap the loss of ratings allowed this book to take. Ennis is now able to tell stories the way they’d very well happen in the real world, with real dialogue and real violence. The Punisher is more finely tuned and relentlessly entertaining than any movie or TV show out there.

Ennis has brought on Leonardo Fernandez and his work captures the grit and depth of what you’d expect from such a dark and violent book. His artwork shows the age and emotion of the Punisher’s face in picturesque fashion, taking you deep into his tortured soul. This book is simply amazing and I keep waiting for Marvel to cancel it, as it always seems that something so good can never last. If you’re an avid comic reader or someone just looking to start out, The Punisher is essential reading and the best you’ll get.

Batman – The Hush storyline by Jeph Loeb was an amazing piece of work that seemed to work in every key villain from Batman’s history and even snuck in some surprises while they were at it. Certainly Loeb played to his artist, Jim Lee, who has proven to the world that he really is the best penciller working in comics today.

The action and energy are in high gear and the story retains the intrigue and mystery that matches the tone of the “world’s greatest detective.” With the introduction of a new key villain and the most surprising resurrection in years, the stories have continued past Hush’s run and put Batman at the top of his game once again.

Superman – Once again, Jim Lee tackled one of DC comic’s legendary (if not THE legendary) characters, highlighting a few famous villains, introducing some new ones, and even reinventing one of the greatest.

The story takes an approach to Superman’s own fears and dilemmas and gets to the core of his being, which makes the Kryptonian alien more human than he’s ever been. The entire story gave a great sense of foreboding and darkness, something not common in Superman tales and sending the “boy scout” soaring to great heights.

Daredevil – Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev have created the modern-day Miller storyline and that’s not a small feat. The Murdock Papers is the greatest Daredevil tale of this generation and is tackled in such a mature and real-world way that you almost feel like you’re watching breaking news.

This is true storytelling and it does such a great credit to the character of Matt Murdock. In rare form you can actually feel that the character has evolved, changed, and grown, while still retaining the traits and characteristics that make him great. The final showdown has been ticking away all year and has been one of the wildest rides in comic history.

The Ultimates – Marvel’s Ultimate line has had great success, so much so that DC has now copied the formula with their All Stars series. The Ultimates is THE Ultimate book. Once again, Bendis is writing and although his liberal-minded propaganda manages to splash onto the page too much, the stories are still tight, fun, and in the fashion of most books today, realistic.

Bryan Hitch’s artwork is simply astounding and he has to go down in history as the world’s greatest splash page artist. His sense of size and magnitude put on the page is like watching a big-budget Hollywood popcorn flick. And really, that’s what the Ultimate’s is. It’s like a James Cameron directed superhero epic with sharp dialogue and colorful characters, all fighting against imminent doom on earth. This is what comic books are all about.

Next up: My DVD and Music picks of 2005. See ya then!


Anonymous said...

Batman Begins = yes

Star Wars: Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith = fuck that shit

Sin City = hell yeah

The 40 Year Old Virgin = the only movie I have watched more than once lately...

Six Feet Under and the Office are the only things worth watching. The Apprentice is uber gay even tho' I am trying for the Trump hair do. It's tought, lemme tell ya!

I didnt see ONE Batman comic in the Anchorage news...I don't know what youre talking about.

...carry on my wayward son.

Katie said...

Paul-You know my life is not complete until I get your top ten lists.

Anonymous said...

Cherie says.....

Add Lost to the list.
One more thing for us to become addicted to.