Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle

Has it been 12 months already? Is it just me or does the year go by quicker the older you get? Of course, seeing as though I routinely have been waiting until March to unveil my 10-Best lists in recent years, maybe the year just feels short. Anyway, here we are again, and what a year it’s been at the movies. A massive box-office slide. Shorter windows between theatrical and DVD releases. Political controversy over movies (starting with “Million Dollar Baby,” ending with “Munich,” “Jarhead,” and anything with George Clooney attached). And best of all, an overly mediocre year at the movies that has given us undeserving hits ($154 million to “Fantastic Four?”; $128 million to “Robots?”), undeserving flops ($25 million to “Serenity?”; $47 million to “Kingdom of Heaven?”), and no clear Oscar front-runners that are without question marks. That I’ve seen 127 of the movies that have been released this year makes me highly suited- I think- to say this has been one whacky year at the movies, and 2006 is only gonna be wackier. How was the year for me? Take a look at the lists of my Favorite in films for 2005 and you tell me.

Oh, and if it looks as though I’m missing a few movies, keep in mind I have yet to see “Brokeback Mountain,” “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” “Match Point,” “Memoirs of a Geisha,” “Munich,” and “Pride and Prejudice,” among other late-’05 releases. And I promise in the new year my reviews of “Star Wars: Episode III- Revenge of the Sith” and “King Kong” will be on the site. -Brian

Brian’s Favorite Movies of 2005
1. “Serenity” (Joss Whedon)- “Buffyverse” mastermind Whedon- in his feature debut as a director- takes a chance on making his coming-out party to the masses a cinematic sequel to his short-lived- but much-beloved- sci-fi Western TV show “Firefly,” and from a creative standpoint was up to the challenge. In continuing the story of “Firefly’s” crew of smugglers and fugitives as an action-adventure thriller where the chase leads to a horrible truth about the ‘Verse’s monolithic Alliance government, Whedon juggles multiple storylines and expositional details like a magician who continues to amaze his audience while all along peppering it with a sly humor, inventive action, and deep emotion, all of which help reveal the desires and true humanity of his characters. Genre fans haven’t seen such spirit onscreen since the original “Star Wars” trilogy. The crew of Serenity- and the film and TV show telling their story- is far too disreputable to achieve the iconic grandeur of that saga’s epic battle of good vs. evil, and I wouldn’t have it any other way (though I wish the film had done better at the box-office). Like Serenity’s betrayed and reluctant hero Captain Mal Reynolds, Whedon aims to misbehave, not join the establishment. So long as he keeps fighting the good fight for quality pop entertainment (and “Serenity’s” some of the best in years) his way, I’ll be proud to consider myself one of his crew. And with two more films down the pipeline (including the much-awaited “Wonder Woman” in 2007), American genre cinema is getting a second wind at the hands of a filmmaker who couldn’t be happier to oblige.

2. “Star Wars: Episode III- Revenge of the Sith” (George Lucas)- The circle is now complete. (I’ll believe Lucas makes the much-rumored “Episodes VII-IX” when I see them on the big screen.) While watching “Episode III” on DVD recently, it occurred to me that Lucas probably had the storyline for film in his head much longer than he did the story’s for “Episode I” and “II.” I’ve no doubt he had the basic seeds for those stories- the origin of Anakin, Obi-Wan’s relationship with him, the Jedi order and the rise of the Emperor- in his head for as long as there’s been a “Star Wars” film for audiences to enjoy; the prequel trilogy’s political power struggle is too well formed for me to think otherwise. But don’t you get the feeling watching “Sith”- the best “Star Wars” film since “The Empire Strikes Back”- that this is the story Lucas has been yearning to tell for all the years since 1983’s “Return of the Jedi?” For me, there’s a joy to this film in the storytelling- the best Lucas has done since “A New Hope”- that compliments the virtuosity of ILM’s visual effects and mastery of John Williams’ thematic musical development better than it ever did in “The Phantom Menace” and “Attack of the Clones,” which in retrospect, are fun films- with brilliant visual effects and astonishing music (if you forget the last 45 minutes of “Clones”)- but lack the dramatic heft we were all hoping they would have. That isn’t to say the earlier prequels are without worth to “Star Wars” fans- see my forthcoming review for my feelings on that. And don’t get me wrong- “Sith”- while tremendously entertaining- has a lot of the problems- flat performances, bad dialogue, technical over-indulgence- its’ prequel predecessors had. But with “Sith”- which also brings a sense of mythic destiny back to the series- I feel as though George Lucas has finally given us the “Star Wars” movie that was in his head back in the ‘70s. Case in point- there’s not a single addition/subtraction to the DVD release of “Sith.” At last, Lucas has given his fans a “Star Wars” movie he considers definitive. And I couldn’t be happier that Lucas saved his best for last.

3. “War of the Worlds” (Steven Spielberg)- In his Great Movies review of Spielberg’s “The Color Purple,” Roger Ebert says, “There is a tendency to demand perfection even at the cost of effect.” Those words are as true for Spielberg’s alien invasion drama as they were for his excellent 1985 film, maybe even more so. What Spielberg has done with this film is take a familiar story- H.G. Wells’ tale of a merciless attack on Earth- place it in the modern times, and infuse it with the fears and feelings we all experienced in the days after 9/11 as he creates the first on-screen American refugee saga in following a divorced father (Tom Cruise, in one of his best action performances) who must learn to be a parent for the first time with his kids in tow as they simply survive. “Worlds” is too beset by logical flaws to garner a place with Spielberg’s all-time greatest work, but between the close encounters at an intersection and on a ferry, the tense moral choices that arise hiding in a basement or driving the only working car around, and the tough parental choices Cruise is faced when his children call his abilities as a father into question, the effect Spielberg achieves in “Worlds” is undeniable. His film is meant to rattle us on an emotional level that goes beyond watching a suspenseful work of fiction; he wants us to be shaken with feelings we’ve been witness to- maybe even experienced- first-hand. We are.

4. “In the Realms of the Unreal: The Mystery of Henry Darger” (Jessica Yu)- Eligible for 2004’s Oscar for Best Documentary Feature- though not nominated- Oscar-winner Yu’s fascinating and provocative documentary wasn’t released in Atlanta until April of 2005…few films this year were more worthwhile. After a second viewing, I still feel as though Yu’s decision to animate Darger’s numerous and beautiful artwork of “The Realm of the Unreal,” a self-created universe centering around an epic battle between the virtuous Vivian Girls and the evil Glandolinians, was a mistake- let the art speak for itself, but the creative pow of his work is stunning nonetheless. By keeping intricate count of casualties and costs as well as vivid detail- through his writing (his 15,000-page manuscript is one of the longest in history) and artwork- he created a universe to rival Tolkien’s Middle Earth with little to inspire him but his faith- the war he recounts is a Holy War- his imagination, and the pictures he collected. It should be no secret now my appreciation for any film that shows both the pleasure and difficulties of an artist. That Yu has found fit to bring such a remarkable creative soul’s life work to the attention of all of us- even if the way she does doesn’t always work- is a tribute to the legacy of a singular artist who created art for an audience of one during his life, only to be embraced by so many more after his death. No artist- especially one so isolated from the outside world after a lifetime of hardship- could ask for a better tribute.

5. “Proof” (John Madden)- Not since the storyline that lead to Buffy’s mother passing away in Season Five of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” has a work of pop culture resonated with me on such a deeply personal level as “Shakespeare in Love” director Madden’s thoughtful drama about math, sanity, and loss did when it finally came off the Miramax shelves at the time of the Weinstein’s leaving of the company. Gwyneth Paltrow has never been more courageous as an actress as she is as a mathematician’s daughter who looked after her brilliant father (Anthony Hopkins makes a resonate impression) for five years after his mental state deteriorated into madness. He has recently died, and now his daughter- who may have written a mathematical proof during the time as vital as her father’s work was- wonders if some of his madness has passed to her. If “Proof” were just about math, it would not resonate as deeply as it does; for me- who identified strongly with Paltrow’s character in the film- the film is more importantly about personal issues and emotions of family, responsibility, and death that strikes at the core of the human experience. It is a film I will continue to cherish and relive over the years, for its’ emotions ring true and add some perspective to some of my own experiences.

6. “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” (Nick Park & Steve Box)- The dynamic between inventor Wallace and canine pal Gromit is what we love about them, I’ve realized. I have watched all the W&G I can get my hands on from the Claymation masters at Aardman Animation- from the Oscar-winning shorts (“A Grand Day Out,” “The Wrong Trousers,” “A Close Shave”) to the recent years Internet shorts (coupled with the Oscar-winners on a must-own DVD)- and the character’s feature-film debut is the icing on the cake. What makes the pair work, though, is the inspired twist by Park and co. that says that while Wallace is the genius, Gromit is the smart one, with an uncanny ability to think on his feet- all four of them- and get his master out of a bad scrape, even when he’s an enormous rabbit. That devotion- coupled with his ingenuity and personality (that he never says a word is a plus, allowing him to express himself with body language that says a thousand words)- make him probably the most beloved animated character since Mickey Mouse, and the coolest dog this side of Snoopy. Their bond- and Park and Box’s inventive adventure for the two- makes “Were-Rabbit” one of the loopiest and most entertaining films of the year.

7. “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” (Judd Apatow)- My favorite live-action comedy of 2005 is also the one I didn’t necessarily see coming. I had heard about this raunchy sex comedy starring “The Daily Show’s” Steve Carell (in the comic performance of the year) as the titular sexually-challenged adult in the Summer movie previews, but didn’t really want to see it until I saw the few hilarious trailers for the movie leading up to the movie. I shall never doubt a “Daily Show” alum again. (I am so there if Samantha Bee, Ed Helms, or Rob Corddry hit the big screen. I don’t know that I’d support that Colbert character. Or that Stewart fellow. Something about them I just don’t trust.) While “Wedding Crashers” got all the headlines, “Virgin” rightfully got all the praise for its’ anarchic blend of down-and-dirty sex humor (All hail the giant box of porn! All drool at the kinky book store worker! Carell really ripped off his chest hair for that scene!) and disarmingly sweet romantic comedy as Carell’s Andy finds the woman he loves in Catherine Keener’s single mother. Like the “American Pie” movies (all of the theatrical ones anyway), we come for the kicky, kinky laughs, we stay for the engaging characters and deceptive heart. This is how this kind of comedy should always be.

8. “Rent” (Chris Columbus)- It’s not on here for the movie per se, which is predictably stagy with the unbelievably of people constantly breaking into song (though like “Chicago” and the “Buffy” musical, it’s one of the better examples of making the latter work). That’s sounds strange, but it points up the powerful hold Jonathan Larson’s musical- which tells a year in the story of 8 friends in the Bohemian SoHo district in New York- had on me that it transcended the screen and grabbed into my gut. Beautifully rendered onscreen by “Harry Potter” director Columbus (it’s one of his best films), “Rent” has been criticized for becoming dated (it takes place in the NY of 1989-90) and for using the original Broadway cast (all but two at least), who was 10 years younger and looked inappropriately older now, according to critics. Balderdash. The cast works beautifully (I wouldn’t want anyone else playing these parts) in parts they clearly love playing, and the greatness of Larson’s work- adapted from “La Boheme” with a brilliant musical score- is that the emotions and situations he has put these characters- a mix of gay, straight, and bisexuals, some with AIDS, some with great health, some on paths to self-destruction, some following their passions- through transcend setting and are able to find applicability in the lives of the audience. “Rent” could easily seem depressing for people. It’s sad to be sure, but few stories felt so full of joy as this one did for me, as the characters all face down death and despair and watch as both blink in these character’s ability to find meaning and love in this life, and find the strength it takes to live their lives as best they can, even if they don’t have much time left. There aren’t many stories I’ve seen over the years that I felt could honestly make someone reflect on their own outlook on life, and be resolved to change it- as these characters have done by the end. But “Rent”- which I’ve never seen on stage sadly- was always an original anyway. This was one of the most rewarding personal discoveries I had in 2005.

9. “King Kong” (Peter Jackson)- That the worst I can say about Jackson’s pet project- a remake of the 1933 classic that inspired him to make movies- is that its’ simply an fantastically entertaining adventure movie is a credit to Jackson and his co-writers, who are coming off a historic undertaking in the Oscar-winning “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. That it’s so low on this list says more about the films above- and their value to me both as entertainment and as personal reflections- than it does about “Kong” itself. A bit overlong at over three hours- snippets here and there could have been trimmed, though no individual scene is really unnecessary- with a quickie score by James Newton Howard that is too popcorn-lite to carry the film’s complete emotional weight, Jackson’s “Kong” nonetheless re-imagines the story with the same fantasy allure the original film now carries, with staggering action set pieces- they come one on top of another in the Skull Island middle section- blended with a story that both reads like a pulp yarn and as a poetic tragedy when beauty (Naomi Watts has rarely been more radiant) and beast (motion-capture master Andy Serkis creates a haunting physical performance as Kong) form a bond that is unshakable for either. A film of visual wonders and sometimes lyrical grace (scenes of Watts’ Ann Darrow and Kong sitting overlooking the grand vistas of Skull Island and 1933 New York are images of startling beauty), Jackson honors his source simply by staying true to its’ heart as a poignant tale of misunderstood love in the soul of an epic adventure with surprises around every corner.

10. “Constantine” (Francis Lawrence)- This was my favorite movie of 2005 until “Star Wars” came along. That says a lot about the first four months of the year in movies- it also says a lot about this film itself from a first-time feature director (Lawrence previously dabbled in music videos) who used his visual grammar to create a rich atmosphere that serves the story well. That story is one of the year’s most underrated and fascinating, an adaptation of Alan Moore’s “Hellblazer” comic book about damned demon hunter John Constantine (Keanu Reeves, in one of his best performances; yes, you heard me) who has been secretly keeping demons off our plane of existence- as they try to influence souls to do evil- until they stop playing by the rules and start coming out into the open. Lawrence’s thriller- which resonates with fascinating theological ideas and visionary images (you’ve never seen Hell like this)- may seem like “The Exorcist” played for illogical thrills, but “Constantine” was just one of a handful films this year that towed that thin line blending escapism with intelligent ideas about politics and religion (“Kingdom of Heaven” and “Dominion: A Prequel to The Exorcist” are just as good on the genre front). That it has the potential to be the type of cult hit Reeves’ “The Matrix” was purported to be says a lot about the way Lawrence and Reeves (and a great supporting cast) manage to care about the potential nonsense we’re watching onscreen.

Eleventh Place: There were a lot of movies I ended up liking this year. Here are the ones that didn’t quite make the cut, but are guaranteed repeat viewings from me: “Capote,” Bennett Miller’s haunting drama about the years writer Truman Capote (the unforgettable Phillip Seymour Hoffman) spent researching his masterpiece “In Cold Blood” by spending countless hours talking to the two men convicted of murdering a family in the mid-West who would become the protagonists of his work; “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” a wickedly funny hybrid of the buddy action picture and film noir with badboys Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer making an inspired pair for “Lethal Weapon” scribe Shane Black in his directorial debut (he seals the deal by giving us a honey of a femme fatale in hottie newcomer Michelle Monaghan); “The Weather Man,” a deeply underrated drama- laced with laughs that stick in the throat- from director Gore Verbinski about a weather man (Nicolas Cage at his best and boldest) trying to put his life back together after a perpetual lack of self-confidence contributed to his inability to maintain his marriage, make a connection with his children, and please his father; “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” British director Mike Newell’s continuation of Warner Bros.’ J.K. Rowling adaptations that is the dramatic and cinematic turning point of the franchise; “Batman Begins,” Christopher Nolan’s thrilling rejuvenation of the DC Comic franchise that is probably the best film in the franchise; “Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride,” the newest stop-motion masterpiece from Gothic filmmaker Burton and the best love story he’s ever told (could this finally win him an Oscar?); “Kingdom of Heaven,” Ridley Scott’s underrated historical epic about the Crusades audiences too easily dismissed as just another “Gladiator” (it’s not that clear-cut folks); “Must Love Dogs,” a wonderfully charming pairing between John Cusack and Diane Lane- how did no one think of that coupling before?- in a very funny romantic comedy; “No Direction Home: Bob Dylan,” Martin Scorsese’s fascinating look at the folk legend’s groundbreaking career from his start in 1960 to his reinvention in 1965- when the guitar got plugged in, which stands as one of the great documentaries of the year; “Shopgirl,” a touching and poignant love story from the pen of Steve Martin featuring a never-better Claire Danes; “Man With the Screaming Brain,” a crazy-kooky Sci-Fi Channel production long in development for writer-director-star-smartass royale Bruce Campbell (“Bubba ho-Tep”) I got to see in theatres with the man himself in attendance; “Cinderella Man,” Ron Howard’s moving, real-life Depression boxing drama with great acting by Russell Crowe, Renee Zellweger, and Paul Giamatti and something to prove on DVD (since audiences largely ignored it); “Grizzly Man,” German director Werner Herzog’s fascinating and tragic documentary about a naturalist who lived with the grizzly bears until one killed him; “Good Night, and Good Luck.,” George Clooney’s fiery and vital black-and-white recreation of the on-air battle between Edward R. Murrow and Senator Joseph McCarthy that was one of the year’s best thrillers; “Sin City,” Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s visually thrilling adaptation of Miller’s iconic graphic novels that was 2/3s of a pulp masterpiece; “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” Tim Burton’s freaky family funhouse with frequent star Johnny Depp and Danny Elfman’s delightful songs; “Red Eye,” Wes Craven’s gripping B-movie airplane thriller with tense, terrific chemistry between Rachel McAdams and Cillian Murphy; “Wedding Crashers,” the very funny summer sex comedy smash starring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson with ace comic support by leading ladies Rachel McAdams and Isla Fisher; “Elizabethtown,” Cameron Crowe’s personal- but dramatically uneven- romantic comedy featuring a radiant turn by Kirsten Dunst as Orlando Bloom’s annoying angel, showing him that life is worth living; and “Broken Flowers,” iconoclastic indie writer-director Jim Jarmusch’s dry, involving dramatic comedy about the past that catches up with the wonderful Bill Murray’s aloof bachelor.

Honorable Mentions: “The Aristocrats”; “The Brothers Grimm”; “Dear Frankie”; “Dominion: A Prequel to The Exorcist”; “Hitch”; “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”; “Howl’s Moving Castle”; “Inside Deep Throat”; “The Island”; “The Jacket”; “Jarhead”; “Kung Fu Hustle”; “March of the Penguins”; “Melinda and Melinda”; “Nobody Knows”; “Oldboy”; “Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior”; “Paper Clips”; “The Producers”; “The Ring Two”; “Saving Face”; “Steamboy”; “Syriana”; “The Upside of Anger”

Brian’s Favorite Performances of 2005
Was it a great year for movies? Not really, but what a wonderful year for performances. The Oscars would have their work cut out for them if they looked past the usual Oscar-baiting and sometimes delusional beliefs of critics- and their awards- and audiences and looked deeper- there was more great acting out there than they may think. Here are just a few of the performances that left an impression on me this year: Nathan Fillion brought new depths and perspective to his world-weary and reluctant hero from TV’s “Firefly” in “Serenity”; Gwyneth Paltrow found the heartbreak and lasting wounds of a woman forced into dealing with pain head-on in “Proof”; the wizards of Aardman brought the wry intelligence and wily courage of their canine creation Gromit to entertaining life in “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit”; Steve Carell was endearingly sweet and perversely silly as the titular character of “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”; Kirsten Dunst was the type of take-charge and charming young woman any young man would gladly spend a night on the phone with as the stewardess in “Elizabethtown”; Summer Glau radiates fragility and inspires compassion as the damaged government guinea pig River in “Serenity”; Keanu Reeves finally found an action role with some teeth as a demon hunter with guilt and suffering just below the surface in “Constantine”; Tom Cruise played a dead-beat dad forced to be a father for the first time when aliens attack in “War of the Worlds”; Gong Li played a prostitute who inspires the best from a tailor in “The Hand” segment of “Eros”; <bIlsa Fisher plays a sincerely sweet and sexy bridesmaid with a kinky side in “Wedding Crashers”; Alan Rickman’s voice and Warwick Davis’ movements brought the endearingly cynical robot Marvin the Paranoid Android to life in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”; Ewan McGregor portrayed Obi-Wan Kenobi in a way that both honors the late Alec Guiness but also makes the role entirely his own in “Star Wars: Episode III- Revenge of the Sith”; Naomi Watts brought all her craft to a re-imagining of Ann Darrow to make us believe beauty could really love the beast in “King Kong”; meanwhile, Andy Serkis matches his achievement in “Lord of the Rings” as the soulful 25-foot gorilla in “King Kong”; Michelle Monoghan played the type of sexy, whip-smart woman film noir deserves in “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”; Diane Lane and John Cusack play engaging divorcees who can’t seem to make it work in “Must Love Dogs”; Daniel Radcliffe brought his Harry Potter to a whole new emotional level in “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”; Claire Danes brought quite soul and reflective feeling to the role of a young woman in a holding point of her life in “Shopgirl”; Nicolas Cage played a weather man with serious inferiority complexes regarding his life, family, and career in “The Weather Man”; Ian McDairmid played the best example of seductive evil in movie history as the Emperor in “Star Wars: Episode III- Revenge of the Sith”; Mickey Rourke had the comeback of the year as an ex-con framed for murder- and out for revenge- in “Sin City”; Bruce Campbell brought his trademark manic hamminess to the title role in “Man With the Screaming Brain”; and Chiwetel Ejiofor played one of Joss Whedon’s best villains as the single-minded Operative in “Serenity.” Hell, I could name at least a dozen more after them, but if you start there, you’ll see what I mean about the acting on display this year, and see how good it really was.

Brian’s Favorite Scenes of 2005
OK, here’s the deal. With this list, I haven’t really been keeping up with it since late September. Still, the favorite scenes of any movie year are the ones that leave an indelible impression on you as a moviegoer- that’s why we like them. This year, here are my Top 10: 1. Obi-Wan & Anakin, Yoda & Emperor duel (“Star Wars: Episode III- Revenge of the Sith”); 2. Catherine’s realization (“Proof”); 3. the first rule of flying according to Mal (“Serenity”); 4. the ferry attack (“War of the Worlds”); 5. Kong and Ann overlook the island (“King Kong”); 6. Gromit & Phillip dogfight (“Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit”); 7. the entire segment of “The Hand” (“Eros”); 8. Andy flirts with the hottie bookstore clerk (“The 40 Year-Old Virgin”); 9. Vader attacks the temple/assassination of the Jedi (“Star Wars: Episode III- Revenge of the Sith”); 10. Gloria gives Jeremy an under-the-table treat (“Wedding Crashers”)

Beyond that, some of my favorites from 2005 include: Harry and Voldemort connect wands/visions of the dead (“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”); Drew and Claire’s all-night phone call (“Elizabethtown”); remembering friends/rebuilding (“Serenity”); “One Song Glory” (“Rent”); Kong vs. the V-Rexes (“King Kong”); late-night pest call (“Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit”); Baptism into a new world (“Constantine”); idea slappers (“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”); first journey into the Realms of the Unreal (“In the Realms of the Unreal: The Mystery of Henry Darger”); Gloria wants a late-nite quickie (“Wedding Crashers”); River and Simon (“Serenity”); Jake and Sarah on the hunt for a condom (“Must Love Dogs”); the end of a year in the life of friends (“Rent”); Ray and Robbie on the hill (“War of the Worlds”); Andy tries to work a condom (“The 40 Year-Old Virgin”); Victor and Victoria at the piano (“Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride”); Andy has his hair removed (“The 40 Year-Old Virgin”); Hermionie enters the ball (“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”); Tom and his wife the cheerleader (“A History of Violence”); the entire segment of “Equilibrium” (“Eros”); Dwight and Jackie Boy in the car (“Sin City”); Melinda meets Ellis (“Melinda and Melinda”); the intersection scene (“War of the Worlds”); Marv visits his parole officer (“Sin City”); pullout from Earth (“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”); and Constantine’s visit to Hell (“Constantine”).

Brian’s Favorite Music of 2005
Wow. After a stunning two years in film music (in ‘03 and ‘04, my three top scores of the year were also nominated for Oscars, with plenty left over to round out the category), the genre hit a low end of average music (I don’t want to say mediocrity, since that implies a lot of bad- not the case). How bad is it? The Best Original Song category is flying off into the stratosphere in oddball selections while finding ways to ignore the good stuff (more on that later), and the Best Original Score category will have a hard time naming off five scores without nominating John Williams more than once. What I’m trying to say I guess is that this is why I need to be in the Music Branch of the Academy- to shake them around into realizing that by honoring “original” scores they need to recognize “originality” in music. Case in point, the best score of this year not from “Star Wars: Episode III- Revenge of the Sith” (John Williams finishes his magnum-opus space opera with thrilling emotional sweep) so far- as there are many end-of-years I haven’t seen yet- was the dynamic and exciting score to “Serenity” (David Newman finally writes a score to rival his brother Thomas and cousin Randy), which captured the spirit of Greg Edmonson’s versatile score for “Firefly” but brought a big-screen flair to go with the Western-Eastern blend of the score. After that, Williams’ strikes again with a dark and dramatic musical pallet for Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds” that is all the more impressive when you learn- on the DVD for the film- he only worked from half of the finished film, while the three composer tag team that happened on “Sin City” (Graeme Revell, John Debney, and Robert Rodriguez) collaborated on one of the year’s most satisfying soundtracks for fans (at least this one)- alas, you know they wouldn’t nominated a three composer orchestral score for an Oscar (forget about the fact that its’ highly inventive for the genre and some of all three’s best work). Between two rewarding collaborations with Tim Burton, Danny Elfman gave us a soundtrack with good score and great songs (“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”) and a soundtrack with a great score with good songs (“Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride”)- tragically, none of Elfman’s inventive songs for “Charlie”- which hark back to his Oingo Boingo days- are eligible for Oscar contention, and only one of “Bride’s” is, meaning it might still be a while for the most underappreciated composer in the business before he finally wins an overdue Oscar (shakes head in disappointment at the Academy in advance). After this, things get- well- a little less than great, though still a little more than noteworthy. Howard Shore wrote another thoughtful and abstract dramatic score for long-time collaborator David Cronenberg’s “A History of Violence”, which I’d nominate for an Oscar in a second, but the Academy likely won’t (having to leave “King Kong” over “creative differences” doesn’t help his Oscar chances, either; more on that later, though). Not far behind Shore is Patrick Doyle, who proved more than capable of continuing the musical tradition of John Williams with an elegant and wonderful score for “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”; Alberto Iglesias, for a gripping and rhythmic percussion-infused score for “The Constant Gardener”; Rachel Portman, for a dramatically mature orchestral score- quite an accomplishment for the “Emma” Oscar-winner- for Roman Polanski’s “Oliver Twist” (it deserves Oscar attention, though I doubt it’ll go in my collection); Brian Tyler and Klaus Badelt, two fine genre composers- Tyler, “Bubba ho-Tep,” Badelt, “Pirates of the Caribbean”- who collaborated on a more-than-fine genre score for “Constantine”; and Hans Zimmer- who gets props for his themes from “The Ring Two”, which were played with by Henning Lohner and Martin Tillmann (from his Media Ventures studio) capably, and his better-with-each-listen collaboration with James Newton Howard (who replaced Shore on “King Kong”, and wrote sometimes-admirable, mostly generic music for the epic on a tight schedule) on “Batman Begins”– who wrote one of his best, most distinctive scores for Gore Verbinski’s sadly neglected “The Weather Man”. From there, it was just good fun listening to the moody horror evocations in Angelo Badalamenti’s “Dark Water” score, the emotional heart-tugging of Thomas Newman’s “Cinderella Man”, the rollicking, comic adventure in Julian Nott’s score for “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit”, the suspenseful coloration in James Horner’s score for “Flightplan” (one of his best in years), the haunting pull of Mychael Danna’s minimalist score for “Capote”, the jazz noir action score John Ottman delivered for Shane Black’s “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”, and finally, the subversive wit on display in the year’s best original song, “So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish” (by Joby Talbot, Garth Jennings, Bernie Leadon) from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. OK, so maybe this year hasn’t sucked (other scores with some pleasure to be had include Christophe Beck’s for “Elektra”, Graeme Revell’s for “Aeon Flux”, and Alexandre Desplat’s for “Syriana”), but when one of the most rewarding movie music experiences of the year is the discovery of music written about 10 years ago (Jonathan Larson’s brilliant musical “Rent” finally came to the big screen, and was treated right by director Chris Columbus), and the year’s best is the conclusion of a symphony begun 28 years before (“Star Wars”), something’s just not right with film music (props also to Mel Brooks’ wonderfully vulgar and subversive songs from the Broadway hit “The Producers”). And this looked to be a great year as well; in retrospect- seeing all the scores cited here- maybe it wasn’t so bad after all.

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