In some ways, 2005 looked a lot like 1977 at the movies.
George Lucas’ “Star Wars” franchise took the No. 1 spot at the box office. Woody Allen hit a career peak, marquees were promoting “Fun With Dick and Jane,” and a remake of “King Kong” was in wide release. Steven Spielberg imagined what extraterrestrials might be like — though the sweet aliens of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” have now turned into the sour monsters of “War of the Worlds.”
On the other hand, there were no gay cowboys, no penguins, no Harry Potter, no George Clooney, no Jane Austen remakes in 1977. For all its similarities to another era, 2005 was more diverse, more eclectic, more reflective of a post-9/11 world. “Syriana” and “Paradise Now” could not have existed even five years ago. Neither could “The Constant Gardener” or “Brothers.”
Box office bummerAt the box office, 2005 was almost universally regarded as a disappointment. The final “Star Wars” installment, “Revenge of the Sith,” may have grossed more than any other 2005 film, but it sold far fewer tickets than most previous installments in the series.
Box Office Mojo’s “adjusted for inflation” chart shows it trailing the original “Star Wars” (No. 2 on the all-time list), “The Empire Strikes Back” (No. 12), “Return of the Jedi” (No. 14) and “The Phantom Menace” (No. 19). Far behind at No. 55, “Revenge of the Sith” bested only “Attack of the Clones” (No. 81) in Lucas’ series.
The year’s other box-office champs, “War of the Worlds” and “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” look even less impressive in the long view. If you count ticket sales rather than inflated admission prices, they can’t compete with such 1950s hits as “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” “The Robe” and the 3-D version of “House of Wax.”
One estimate suggests that attendance hasn’t been this low since the mid-1980s. The reason could be DVD sales, which frequently top box-office income. If a would-be blockbuster like “The Island” flops in theaters, it can have a substantial second life just a few months later. It’s clear that many home-theater fans, who won’t put up with boorish audiences and ringing cellphones, prefer it that way.
This system also works well for foreign and independent films, which are reaching a much larger audience than before. Many are turning up on DVD, just in time for year-end awards and the Oscars.
The best of the best
Which brings us to the subject of 10-best lists. In alphabetical order, here are my picks for 2005:
“Brothers” (Susanne Bier). A devastating Danish film about a career soldier and family man who is shipped off to Afghanistan, where he is captured and forced into an impossible “Sophie’s Choice” situation with another prisoner. Connie Nielsen stands out as the wife who thinks he’s dead and is tempted to start a new life with his troubled brother.
“The Constant Gardener” (Fernando Meirelles). The Brazilian Meirelles, who earned a surprise Oscar nomination a couple of years ago for directing “City of God,” makes the leap to mainstream movies with this confident, provocative adaptation of John le Carre’s best-seller about a politically motivated murder. Ralph Fiennes was born to play the title character, an ineffectual British diplomat with an activist wife (the surprisingly excellent Rachel Weisz).
“A History of Violence” (David Cronenberg). The Canadian director demonstrates his mastery with this story of a seemingly normal family whose lives are turned around when the father reveals his true nature — by committing what appears to be a heroic act. The sense of dread is palpable, thanks in large part to Viggo Mortensen’s assured performance in the central role.
“Lord of War” (Andrew Niccol). Another gifted New Zealander wrote and directed this scathing satire starring Nicolas Cage as a gun-runner who makes a fortune selling Cold War weapons to homicidal dictators. As he acquires a trophy wife, misleads his conscientious brother and competes with a more seasoned dealer, Cage brings a cranky deadpan flair to an almost hopelessly amoral character.
“Mysterious Skin” (Gregg Araki). Araki’s eighth and strongest film is the most unsettling and memorable of the recent movies about child abuse. After a Little League coach molests them, two damaged boys grow up to lead entirely separate lives: one of them entrenched in comforting fantasy, the other acting out his frustrations through a dangerous street life.
A second 10: “Broken Flowers,” “Crash,” “Downfall,” “Grizzly Man,” “Keane,” “Look at Me,” “Munich,” “Paradise Now,” “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada,” “3-Iron.”