This is not a list of the Top 10 movies of the year.
That list would include “The Squid and the Whale” and “Syriana.” It wouldn’t include — as this list does — “Lords of Dogtown” and “Thumbsucker.”
You could even argue that it’s easier for good scenes to stand out in so-so movies, just as it’s easier for a good ballplayer to stand out with the Royals than the Yankees. Wow, look at that guy. You remember him. Put him next to Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter and he’s a little more forgettable.
Nevertheless, most of the scenes below are from good movies. A surprising number deal with men breaking down emotionally (No. 5, No. 2) or connecting emotionally (No. 9, No. 6, No. 1). There are few women in the scenes below. I don’t know whether to blame Hollywood (and its chauvinism) or me (and my solipsism) for this. Probably some combination. I apologize in advance.
WARNING: SPOILER ALERT. Plot points in recently released movies will be revealed. If you don’t want to know, stop reading. Everyone else, party on.
10. This ain’t your father’s anti-war movie Jarheads cheer on Wagner in “Jarhead.”
Twenty-five years ago Siskel and Ebert deconstructed the “Ride of the Valkyrie” scene in “Apocalypse Now,” finding it both sickening and exhilarating, which they felt was Coppola’s point. This year Lawrence Weschler, in an excellent piece in Harper’s Magazine, did the same, and wondered whether any war movie could be anti-war since they’re all so exhilarating. But he concludes that “Jarhead” might be that beast — the true anti-war movie — because it teases and teases and doesn’t give the soldiers what they (and presumably we) want. We train these guys for war but don’t let them fight. We train them for war but — if you extrapolate into the 21st century — they become peacekeepers. The scene where the Marines all cheer the pointless “Apocalypse Now” carnage is initially disturbing but ultimately sad. There is no “Ride of the Valkyrie” for these guys; they don’t even get their own war song, as a jarhead later suggests. It’s a Hollywood movie reminding us that reality is rarely as exciting as a Hollywood movie.
9. A big man shows a big appetite and a bigger heart
Vince Vaughn eats breakfast in “Wedding Crashers.”
Vince Vaughn is a big bear of a man whose movie role is to encourage the leading man to do something crazy. He encourages Jon Favreau to go after women in “Swingers” and Luke Wilson to start a middle-aged fraternity in “Old School,” but he can’t convince Owen Wilson to give up on love in “Wedding Crashers.” Maybe that’s why he’s never been funnier. Critics focused on the glorious montage of wedding crashing that opens the film but I’m choosing the breakfast scene where Jeremy (Vaughn) is convinced by John (Wilson) to spend another day at the Cleary estate. Jeremy has just been violated twice by a brother-sister combo but he agrees to stay for his friend. Even so, he refuses to sit with him at the breakfast nook. He piles food on his plate and moves to the counter.
John (grateful): “I love you, Jeremy.” Jeremy (mouth full of food): “I love you, too.”
It’s the second-best male love story of the year.
8. Taking over the table
Terrence Howard doesn’t drift away in “Hustle & Flow.”
Despite the chasm of ethnic, cultural and legal differences between us, there are few 2005 film characters with whom I identified more than DJay, Terrence Howard’s down-on-his-luck, desperate Memphis pimp. It’s part of the human condition, particularly when you reach middle age, to be dissatisfied with where you are. You look around. Is this it? How did I get here? And how can I get there before it’s too late? Howard embodies this desperation; it sears in his eyes. In a movie full of great scenes, acting and dialogue (“You Mormons are some brave mother f----ers”), the turning point occurs when DJay finally gets to sit at the table of visiting hip-hop impresario Skinny Black (Ludacris). Initially celebrated for his weed, DJay is quickly dismissed and forgotten and you can feel him drift away. He could stand up and disappear and no one would notice, and you think that’s what he’ll do because that’s what you’ve done. Instead he takes over the table by calmly and respectfully telling truth to power. Michael Corleone would be proud.
7. Stacy? Stacy who?
Emile Hirsch makes his feelings known in “Lords of Dogtown.”
So you’re a young punk living in 1970s Venice, Calif., the ghetto by the ocean, and while you’re enjoying life with friends, surfing and skateboarding, and while the skateboarding thing seems to be taking off, your home life sucks. Your mom’s boyfriend split on her. Now she works nights at a sweatshop and it tears you up, and one morning you take a kitchen knife and stab the surfboard her ex left you. More and more, you don’t give a crap. So when you’re hanging out on the front porch of a party and your friend Stacy leaves his girlfriend Kathy (Nikki Reed) unattended on the lawn, and Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire” starts playing, you swoop down and dance around her, part-madman, part-Indian, part-air-guitar player. The dance is impromptu and goofy and sexual and it entices her away from the lawn, away from the party, away from Stacy. It encompasses the crazy, pent-up sexual energy of adolescence. If only more of the movie had been like it.
6. Father and son Vincent D’Onofrio reminds us to embrace the everyday in “Thumbsucker.”
Three of the most-overlooked movies of the year (“Jarhead,” “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” and “Thumbsucker”) work within well-established formulas (war, noir, coming-of-age), but go in unexpected directions. Here, high schooler Justin Cobb isn’t concentrating in class. Ritalin is suggested and you think the boy will balk. No. He wants to take it; he wants to be someone other than he is. Who doesn’t? Adventures and misadventures follow. He’s estranged from his dad in an ordinary way. Mike Cobb (Vincent D’Onofrio) probably sees in his thumbsucking son someone he didn’t expect or want, while Justin (Lou Taylor Pucci) probably sees in his father — a sporting-goods store manager — someone he doesn’t want to be. But near the end of the film, in the father’s office, as the boy is getting ready for college, they connect a little. The connection is mostly in looks and pauses and things unsaid. Then the father says, “I was just getting used to you.” It’s a beautiful, bittersweet line that goes beyond fathers and sons. It encourages us to embrace the everyday because the everyday always goes.
5. “Hi, Daddy.”
Eric Bana talks to his daughter in “Munich.”
Along with the main story — five Mossad agents hunting down the 11 Palestinians responsible for killing Israeli athletes in the 1972 Olympics — we get glimpses into the relationship of Mossad agent Avner (Eric Bana) and his wife, Daphna (the beautiful Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer). After the birth of their daughter, his romanticism and her cynicism clash:
Daphna: Israel’s our home. Avner: You’re the only home I know. Daphna (laughs): That’s so corny. Avner (sincere): What — it’s not easy for me to say.
But he goes on his mission and we see what he does and how it changes him. Later he speaks to his wife by phone and she puts their daughter on the line. She speaks. You expect him to talk baby-talk back. Instead his face crumples in anguish, and in that moment you realize all that he’s missed and the toll that is being exacted. Forget the quibbling; “Munich” is the best movie of the year.
3. The Axe Gang cometh Stephen Chow introduces us to his crazy world in “Kung Fu Hustle.”
Picking one scene from this film is like picking a chocolate from a box of Godivas — you can’t go wrong — so I’ll just choose the scene that made me realize what a dream-like, stylized treat I was in for. The film opens as the notorious Crocodile Gang of 1930s Shanghai beats the chief of police; then they waltz out of the station. It’s twilight and the streets are empty. They wonder where the car is. Silence. The gang leader gets a whiff of something bad and tries to go back, but the station doors and windows close, one by one, and when he turns his head again, as in a nightmare, here comes the rival Axe Gang down the street, dressed in “Reservoir Dog” suits and holding, yes, axes. Before the Axe Gang leader dispatches the Crocodile Gang leader, he does a little dance, like Michael Madsen in “Reservoir Dogs.” People who accuse Quentin Tarantino of stealing from Hong Kong cinema don’t get it. There’s no stealing in movies, only borrowing. In “Kung Fu Hustle,” Stephen Chows borrows from “Reservoir Dogs,” “The Godfather,” “The Shining,” “Silence of the Lambs,” Looney Tunes cartoons and countless martial arts flicks, and it’s still the most original movie of the year.
2. Love stinks
Heath Ledger can’t punch his way out in “Brokeback Mountain”
In typical Hollywood love stories, violence often turns to passion. Here, because the passion is forbidden and unnamed, it often turns to violence — both externally and internally. After their affair on Brokeback Mountain, Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Ennis (Heath Ledger) bid farewell to each other. Life is already dragging them in different directions and they don’t resist the pull, although Jack looks forlorn as he drives away, watching in his rearview mirror as Ennis walks down the road and seemingly out of his life. And Ennis? He’s the quintessential cowboy: taciturn, emotionless. Until he ducks into an alleyway to... Vomit? Cry? Scream? All three? He punches a brick wall. This awful thing is inside him and he wants it out. Anyone who’s been torn away from their love can identify. It’s the most powerful, universal moment in the year’s most perfect movie.
1. Tap tap... Tap tap...
Mark Zupan gives a fellow quadriplegic a reason to live in “Murderball.”
Besides filming the characters and stories that grow out of the sport of full-contact wheelchair rugby — notably American champ Joe Soares defecting to coach the Canadian team — filmmakers Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro also follow Keith Cavill, recently injured in a daredevil motorcycle accident, as he recovers in a hospital and returns home. In his bedroom and newly modified bathroom, the permanence of his condition sinks in, and he sinks into depression. Until, that is, he meets Mark Zupan, the poster-boy for “Murderball” and one tough little S.O.B. (he’s got something about James Cagney’s energy about him). Between international competitions, Zupan gives a talk to interested quadriplegics and brings along a rugby wheelchair — designed for action and contact and mayhem. Cavill gets into it. They only have one such wheelchair so he can’t slam into anyone else, but the desire is there; you can tell he’s itching to do it. Instead he merely bumps into another wheelchair. Tap tap. Tap tap. In that moment, as Zupan watches with pride in the background, you see a life being reborn.
Erik Lundegaard can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org