January 2, 2006

Best film of the year.

I haven't been reading many of the ten bests lists this year. Here's one, rounding up the usual suspects, the Oscar-y crap with landscapes/history/biography and those heavy-handed sexuality and violence themes.

What a big drag! I especially loathe the biopic. This year, we're supposed to care about Truman Capote and Johnny Cash -- I mean a pretentious actor impersonating Truman Capote or Johnny Cash. Last year, we were supposed to be excited about Liam Neeson pretending to be Alfred Kinsey and Jamie Foxx pretending to be Ray Charles. Both of those '04 movies played on cable TV yesterday evening and I was switching back and forth trying to get a bit of a sense of what was thought to be so good there. Neeson seemed to be giving a competent performance as a dull man, but Foxx was being a giant ham. I was cringing.

Why can't we just see actual footage of Ray Charles? It's disconcerting to imitate his mannerisms. Since there's plenty of film of the man, why not make a documentary? Is this acting stunt worth doing? I seriously do not understand why they make so many biopics, especially of people there's plenty of film of, especially when they are singers and we've got innumerable filmed recordings of their concert performances.

Is it because the actor can show us the actual consumption of drugs and alcohol, and we can drag in an actress for him to have big, loud fights with? Those awful domestic disputes! I'm never interested in seeing a man and a woman just yelling at each other about their relationship! I think Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton are interesting in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," but, after that, I really don't need any more. Husband and wife squabbles! Why not just live in an apartment building with thin walls?

I avoided nearly every movie in 2005, pursuant to my aversion to movies. But I did see a few and I can give my full stamp of approval to one. It's a documentary: "Grizzly Man."

And here's Grizzly Liz:


Tristram said...

I also don't understand modern biopics. I mean, for pre-film era figures, it makes sense to dramatise. But I would much rather see real footage of the events, not an actors 're-imagining' it. Who can really give a better reading of MLK's I have a dream speech, or any of Reagan's speeches, or any of Ali's fights than was actually filmed?

However, a hybrid, using actors where film is unavailible would be very touchy. Done poorly, it would have all the hallmarks of a SNL skit...

Joan said...

Oh, Ann, I am silently laughing at your little diatribe here. I totally agree about the actors hamming it up, and have avoided all the biopics you've mentioned here. I like movies a lot more than you do, but I can still see the validity of your points. I guess I just have a higher level of tolerance or willingness to suspend my disbelief... or maybe it's just naive hope that a movie will be worth watching. Then again, I end up watching a lot of movies because they're nice to fold laundry by.

Ron said...

Ann, isn't a post where you complain about movies the very thing you deride in movies themselves? You've said many times how much you don't like them; the variations (biopics, nostrils, etc.) don't change the basic theme. You normally put such thoughtful words together, even about things you don't like, that your movie posts seem lacking in comparison.

PatCA said...

Biopics are made because the executives feel that if someone is famous, maybe their life story will bring butts into the seats. That's also why they buy bestselling novels or NY magazine articles. They need some validation of marketability other than their own judgment. And they don't need to pay a writer millions to write it.

And re Ray, I read that the producer actually tried to lessen the domestic squabble angle! Sheesh. I thought Walk the Line was much worse, though, in that respect.

chuck b. said...


chuck b. said...

I actually kinda like the marital disaster movie. Another favorite is Cassavettes' A Woman Under the Influence with Peter Falk and Gena Rowlands. Mm-mmm.

chuck b. said...

And I've always wanted to see Diary of a Mad Housewife. That's a little different tho, I guess.

bill said...

chuck b, here's another one for the list of marital disaster movies: "Lion in Winter." Yelling provided by Katherine Hepburn and Peter O'Toole. Lost the Best Picture to "Oliver!" with an exclamation point.

Eleanor: What would you have me do? Give out? Give up? Give in?
Henry II: Give me a little peace.
Eleanor: A little? Why so modest? How about eternal peace? Now there's a thought.

Henry II: I marvel at you after all these years. Still like a democratic drawbridge: going down for everybody.
Eleanor: At my age there's not much traffic anymore.

Ann Althouse said...

chuckb: I love "A Woman Under the Influence," but it's not about a husband and wife fighting in the normal way. The woman is more losing her mind, and the man is really struggling and confused about it.

PatC: I didn't see any of the love life material in "Ray." I saw the ridiculous material where the business dork and the concert crowd were mean to him about playing country songs, the pablum in the end where the state legislature honors him, and the melodramatic flashback to his mother infusing him with the will to succeed. And a lot of writing on screen to fill in facts that they couldn't figure out how to dramatize.

bill: Sorry, but that sounds absolutely awful!

Jonathan said...

Husband and wife squabbles! Why not just live in an apartment building with thin wall?

Yeah, no kidding. One of the worst movies I ever saw was a POS called The War of the Roses. It was billed as a "black comedy" and depicted a divorcing couple who ended up killing each other. Ha ha ha! Isn't that funny? I can't imagine why that movie wasn't more successful.

Wade Garrett said...


I understand your not wanting to see those movies, but what sort of movies would you rather see? You post about movies a lot, and usually with a critical tone. What would you rather see?

Anonymous said...

Ann, sorry you didn't like Ray. I love his music and I thought the movie was very well done. The early scene with the busdriver actually made a tear come to my eye.

Of course my favorite movie is The Blues Brothers (the original). So my taste in movies is probably questionable.

Wade Garrett said...

Brylin - you mean Blues Brothers 2000 (released in 1998, oddly enough) wasn't as much fun as the original?

sonicfrog said...

At least the subjects of the biopics were dead (though not by much) when the films came out. I hate it when the subject of the film is still alive.

"What's Love Got To Do With It", though a good movie, was hard to watch 'cause the REAL Tina is so much better to watch. And it's not as if she battered to the point of being an invalid or something - you still can watch her. The worse biopic ever was one about "Arnold" that was hastily made after he won the recall out here in CA.

PatCA said...


That's what I meant. The director wanted more battling spouse stuff, the producer wanted to soften it--like the wife and family spot at the end. But, if you're doing melodrama or a weepie, I say, bring it!

Best biopic melodrama: Lady Sings the Blues.

Tristam, see When We Were Kings about Ali. Wonderful! I became a boxing fan after seeing it.

Ann Althouse said...

Terrence: I said I like "Grizzly Man"! Check my profile for the titles of some movies I like.

Ann Althouse said...

Brylin: "sorry you didn't like Ray. I love his music"

That doesn't even make sense to me. In the first sentence "Ray" is the name of a movie. In the second, it's not. I never said anything negative about Ray Charles's music. It's more out of liking him that I find the movie offputting. It was thoroughly phony.

You know, I do have a musician biopic as one of my favorite movies (see my profile). Do more things like that. Many of my favorite films are about artists, but they aren't that dumb style that's about an actor's impersonation -- the whole "Coal Miner's Daughter" genre.

Ann Althouse said...

PatC: The best biopic is probably "Raging Bull."

For one about a musician, "Amadeus" was awfully good. Personally, I like the Ken Russell film "Mahler."

I'm sure there are plenty of great biopics, really. I just detest the recent ones, which seem old-fashioned and pointless, except as a vehicle for an actor.

So with "Ray," they cut out the stuff that would have offended women, is that it?

Troy said...

Marital discord movies -- Philadelphia Story (or perhaps that's ex-spouse discord) and perhaps Adam's Rib -- great.

War of the Roses... depressing in its unrelenting darkness.

We need more couples like Nick and Nora with endless banter, drinks, and the occasional kid appearance to keep them honest. putillus ex machina

Verification word was Clintonesque "syxbjs". Ponder it for a moment... and then forget all about it.

Troy said...

Greatest biopics...

Patton, Beckett, Lawrence of Arabia

Anonymous said...

Ann, You are right about my poor sentence structure. Sorry Professor.

I've looked at your profile, and I am humbled to say that I don't think I've seen any of your favorite movies. (I am a big fan of your favorite music, however.)

I was thoroughly entertained by Ray. I agree with Paul Clinton's review on CNN. I thought the music was lip-synched perfectly, and for me, the life story could not have been done with actual Ray Charles footage. I thought Foxx's portrayal of Charles' heroin addiction was especially effective. Did you catch the part about feeling the wrist?

Can we agree to disagree on this? After all, my level of sophistication is Blues Brothers (1980).

Anonymous said...

I should probably stick to politics, and stay away from movie comments.

Wade Garrett said...


I'm glad you mentioned Amadeus. I've loved it since I was a kid, but later, when I was in high school, we had to watch it in music class, when our teacher was sick for a couple of days. At the start of the movie, a lot of kids snickered about how we had to watch this crusty costume movie about an old white dude who wrote classical music. After half an hour, everybody in class, including the kids who made fun of it at the start of class, were mezmerized.

I generally dislike biopics for all of the reasons you normally mention, but I don't dislike them enough to avoid seeing them if they otherwise interest me, and I don't think actors are necessarily pretentious for trying to impersonate historical figures. Some of them, such as Amadeus, are incredible. Others, like Braveheart, are mere vehicles for star actors. Some, like Ray and Walk the Line, actually had the real historical figure consulting on the movie, which, to me, misses the entire point.

PatCA said...

Also loved Raging Bull.

For indie biopics, I like Before Night Falls, Ed Wood and Basquiat. They tell you about people you don't already know and wish you did.

Hey, now I feel better. I'm not as disgusted with film as I thought I was. I do tend to enjoy more non-fiction film lately, though, and literature too.

al said...

While I generally avoid biopics or historical revision of any kind at the movies I really enjoyed Ray. While Jamie Foxx may be a egostistical a.. he did an very credible job with the role.

But then I am also a Blues Brothers (1980) fan...

Ann Althouse said...

Yeah, "Ed Wood" was pretty good. I also liked 'Braveheart." Actually, I loved "The War of the Roses"!

zerlesen said...

It's not just any old pretentious actor pretending to be Capote, though - it's Philip Seymour Hoffman!

(Cue tumbleweeds.)

Honey Badger said...

With all the mass-market cornball schlock out there, I find it just isn't worth risking my time and money to go to the theater. I've loathed lots of films that got great reviews, so go figure. Guess I just have a low threshold for sentimental hokum.

Rather than burn time at the movies, I kept myself entertained this year by watching all 38 hours of Justice Blackmun's videotaped oral history. "Awesome" in the truest sense of the word! For all my fellow law nerds out there, here's the link:


Beth said...

Oh, jeez, Brylin. It was bound to happen that we'd agree on something: I too love The Blues Brothers.

Ann, I have to cheerlead for Ray, since it was filmed largely in New Orleans, and my university's film department had a big role providing production and post-production resources, and students for the crew. Taylor Hackford has a home here, and we appreciate that. But I still haven't managed to see the movie! Yikes.

I have mixed views on biopics overall. I watched Luther this winter--we had no TV in our evacuation cabin, and the pickings were slim at the smalltown video store. My partner wonders if Joseph Fiennes has ever worn pants in a movie role. I enjoyed it just because I was the only one in our group raised Protestant. I kept rooting for the Reformation. No Reformation, no Enlightenment.

I really loved Coalminer's Daughter as a work of good filmmaking, and the recent Delovely had some great music scenes, but othewise, eh, it kind of sucked. Biopics do seem to offer a big hammy opportunity for actors.

One final word: I dare anyone to nominate a more godawful work of biography than Song of Norway, the tale of Edvard Greig.

price said...

American Splendor
The People vs. Larry Flynt

That said, having an aversion to movies is nothing to be proud of. Similarly, using the word "they" in reference to all people who create films (as in, "I don't know why they keep making biopics") has always struck me as naive. It's not Hollywood versus filmgoers; there are many different minds creating many kinds of movies for many kinds of people. But again, claiming to not like movies is the same as claiming to not like fiction or rock n' roll or theater. Nothing to be proud of.

Ann Althouse said...

Price: "having an aversion to movies is nothing to be proud of"

I'm not saying I'm proud of it.

Note that my aversion is mostly limited to current movies, especially to the physical experience of sitting through them in the theater. I just don't feel like being there. Not enough to do it without being paid. Yet they expect me to pay them. Them? Yes, them. The idea!

Anonymous said...

Elizabeth: We probably agree on more than either of us would like to admit. Happy New Year!

PatCA said...

"Song of Norway, the tale of Edvard Greig."

You are the only human being I have ever met who has actually seen that movie, LOL!

American Splendor, yes, another classic biopic, (but not for 2005).

Robert R. said...

The problem with the biopic, or any other genre film, is formula. If you can tell everything important about a person in two hours and wrap it up in a bow with a message, chances are the person isn't really very interesting.

The best biopics also function as other films. Lawrence of Arabia works as a drama, an adventure movie, a war movie, and as a travelogue even. Ed Wood works as a comedy. Raging Bull works as a boxing film and a drama. If you have to know the person was real for the film to work, chances are the film isn't very good.

The last biopic that did anything really interesting with the form was American Splendor by incorporating the real Harvey Pekar into the film. There's one sequence in the film with the real Pekar commenting on the Giamatti Pekar who's watching another actor portraying Pekar in a stage performance.

As for the overriding topic, I'm suspicious of the honesty of most top ten lists, except for maybe from the true geek sites. I just get the sense that a lot of times the Top 10 lists are filled with movies that are "good for you" instead of merely being good movies.

Beth said...

Brylin, harrumph. You could be right. Happy New Year to you, too!

Pat, that's not much of a distinction, but I'll claim it. Happy New Year to you as well.

miklos rosza said...

I'd like to see "The People vs Larry Flynt," which features Flynt's conflict with easily reviled Jerry Falwell and all he represents -- redone as a biopic of Theo Van Gogh.

Why am I not holding my breath?

If this project was even announced, would not the director, the head of the studio, the screenwriter, the actors... all be subject to death threats, or fatwas? So where is brave Sean Penn?

Eli Blake said...

As a matter of fact, I did like, 'Ray.' Showing only can coverage of the genuine article would show only the public face. That movie showed more. And the fact is, that Ray Charles was all too human. All I have to say to the critics, is I bet that if he had been a white, Christian singer, you would be shouting about how the film was trying to stir up hate.

It showed a real picture of the man. And that is a good thing.


The reason no one wants to make another movie like the Larry Flynt movie is because it was a big loser at the box office. Go ahead and put your money out there if you think there should be a movie about Theo Van Gogh. I'm sure if you offer Sean Penn enough cash, he'd take the part. But don't expect to turn a profit on it.

Eli Blake said...

To be honest, I can't think of a best film this year. The film I most enjoyed was either the Willy Wonka remake, or 'Oliver Twist' (which they still left a great deal out of the story). There just wasn't much out there this year.

I did want to see 'Pride and Prejudice' and didn't get to, so maybe I missed a great movie.

miklos rosza said...

Eli, I think you're a little disingenuous here. You know very well that all kinds of projects (from Erin Brockovich to Norma Rae to Malcolm X) do not look like surefire hits except insofar as they are "prestige" projects (which might generate Oscars and other awards).

Theo Van Gogh was a complicated character whose life ended quite dramatically, this martyrdom (if you will) having tremendous repercussions still continuing to be felt.

You assert that it's simply good business practice not to make a film about his life. I counter that that's nonsense. His life story has a dramatic arc and is enormously "topical."

If no film is made it's either because: a) any examination of Radical Islam is seen as lending support to George Bush, or b) people are afraid of being killed if they touch anything which might displease jihadis out there.

Either reason is contemptible, especially in the case of those who have used their celebrity to assert that they are more than mere entertainers, those who posture as in any way representing the conscience of our times.

Theo Van Gogh had enough elements of Howard Stern in him to make him an imperfect, difficult character. Perhaps only through the circumstance of his death did he achieve some degree of transcendence.

Good vs Evil here cannot be smirked away.

Eric said...

This was the year of documentary. Besides "Grizzly Man" (which I've heard plenty of good things about, but haven't yet seen), there was "March of the Penguins," "Rize," and what was for me the best movie of the year: "Murderball." Can't recommend that last one heartily enough.


reader_iam said...

"Raging Bull," one of my favorite films ever.

I enjoyed "Amadeus" as well, but that was tougher since I had to hear in intense detail all the inaccuracies, the soundtrack issues vs. what's depicted on the screen, and etc. from my parents. They were right, of course, but still ... I was a little more willing to suspend disbelief for the sake of the experience.

Funny, but now I find that harder to do, and I'm less willing to work at it.

SWBarns said...

Best BioPics:

1. Lawrence of Arabia
2. Melvin and Howard
3. Pollack
4. Coal Miner's Daughter

Does Citizen Kane count as a BioPic? I don't think so but if it does It would certainly be in the list.

PatCA said...


remakes of some Theo Van Gogh films will at least be made soon.

I thought the Larry Flynt pic was too..something.

Happy New Year to you all, too!

jult52 said...

Why Amadeus is a bad movie:

Because the conflict in the story (and the contemporary play and Pushkin's playlet) between Salieri -- a committed artist who has sacrificed much in his quest to become a good composer -- and Mozart -- an immature joker who has the apparently God-given gift to write great music without much effort – has been vitiated in a typical Hollywood way. In the movie, Salieri is the "bad guy" and Mozart is likable. The whole central idea has been eliminated.

Now, I'm glad that this movie has led people to be more interested in Mozart but the way the plot has been dumbed down makes it an obvious failure.

I could go on about how The People vs Larry Flint is a bad movie, too, but I'll stick to Amadeus for now.

vbspurs said...

I'm going to be posting my Top 10 Best Films of 2005 soon on my blog.

But these are some pics I saw this year.


40 Year-Old Virgin


The Squid and the Whale

(Laura Linney looking very Park Slope-Ann Althouse)


Brokeback Mountain

Other notables:


And Walk the Line was great.

Me, I was weaned on the biopics of Paul Muni, and I won't apologise for that taste. Humph.


Ann Althouse said...

Victoria: Yeah, "40 Year Old Virgin" was good. I saw it in the theater and even rewatched the damn thing on TV. But I can't believe you enjoyed "Syriana." How was that possible? (I haven't seen it, but I trust my son's opinion.)

ChrisO said...

Philip Seymour Hoffman is a great actor, and from the interviews I've seen with him seems like a pretty down to earth guy. What cause you to characterize him as "pretentious?"

As for Theo van Gogh, I smell the old conservative persecution complex here. Is it possible that Hollywood won't make a film about him, not because it will be "seen as lending support to George Bush" but because 99 % percent of the moviegoers in the US have never heard of him, or have heard of him only in passing? Comparing him to Howard Stern is ridiculous. There may be some similarities, except for Stern's millions of devoted listeners. Kind of a big difference.

Here's the best one, though. "If you can tell everything important about a person in two hours and wrap it up in a bow with a message, chances are the person isn't really very interesting." Yeah, those filmmakers sure are pretentious. Won't find any of that here, no sir. Among other things, who says a good biopic has to tell you everything important about a person?

By the way, for a great truelife story (highly dramatized) check out "Badlands." My favorite film of all time.

miklos rosza said...

Badlands with a young Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek, based on the Charles Starkweather spree? Oh yeah, an excellent film. (I hope I'm thinking of the right one. I think that title has been used a few times.)

As for Theo Van Gogh, I guess I'm hypersensitive because what happened to him followed the persecution in France of novelist Michel Houellebecq, not to mention Salman Rushdie and Oriana Fallacci, and there seems to be a clear trend. Criticize, mock, or in any way hold up to the light unsavory aspects of the tribalisms accompanying radical Islam and you will be harassed and threatened and possibly killed.

Within Holland Van Gogh was as well-known as Howard Stern is here.

And by the way, I'm a Ron Wyden democrat.

reader_iam said...

I missed the "Song of Norway" reference before.

I did see that movie--actually, it was the very first one I saw in a theatre right after we moved from small-town Illinois to the East Coast.

I became enamoured of Grieg's music for a while, and briefly became obsessed with listening to it when I had math homework to do. To this day, I have NO idea what that connection was about.

And, funny thing--I've ended doing two separate posts on Mozart today, entirely unrelated to Amadeus and inspired strictly by news articles that happened to appear today. Weird.

jult52: Yep, that was one of the big problems--though not the only one--that my musician parents had with Amadeus. You just gave me an intense sense of deja vu!

Robert R. said...

Here's the best one, though. "If you can tell everything important about a person in two hours and wrap it up in a bow with a message, chances are the person isn't really very interesting." Yeah, those filmmakers sure are pretentious. Won't find any of that here, no sir. Among other things, who says a good biopic has to tell you everything important about a person?

Not me, where the original quote comes from. (We agree on this point.) In fact, I'd argue the best biopics don't tell you nearly everything important about a person.

It's the formula biopics, which I'd argue Walk The Line is despite some very good performances, that have that problem. Not every interesting person has a life that fits a neat dramatic arc which formula biopics adhere to.

Formula and cliches are used because they largely work. That said, there always has to be something more to a story than formula and cliches for a film to be good.

vbspurs said...

Victoria: Yeah, "40 Year Old Virgin" was good. I saw it in the theater and even rewatched the damn thing on TV.


Don't you remember that you blogged about 40YOV being a family values film, and I said, nyetski?

But I can't believe you enjoyed "Syriana." How was that possible? (I haven't seen it, but I trust my son's opinion.)

He's right.

It was convoluted, unwieldy, even pathetic at times.

But I saw and liked two performances in it -- the one of the idealist would-be sheik (which I have been told is an actor from Deep Space Nine), and the terrorist recruiting mullah.

I couldn't believe Christopher Plummer signed up for this flick. He must be low on funds.


vbspurs said...

BTW, I have a cell phone applet called Moviegoer -- by inputting city or zip, you can check the show times of any movie house in the US.

Fooling around, I input Boston, Brooklyn, LA, even Madison.

It was then I saw the nearest theatre to you showing Brokeback Mountain, was in Milwaukee, 70-some miles away!

(Landmark Oriental theatre -- I love this programme thingie!)

Maybe I'm too British, but that seems a long way away to me, just to see a good pic.

Especially in ultra-BoBo Madison. What gives?


amba said...

I think people make biopics just because it's so much fun to cast them. Let's have Charlize Theron as Garbo! And Eddie Murphy as Martin Luther King! Don't laugh -- I mean, laugh, but then think twice. Eddie can mimic anybody's vocal cadences. And, there's a real physical resemblance.

Ann Althouse said...

"What gives?"

Probably more to do with the theaters than the local population. The arty films tend to go to a couple small places. The good places are full of family fare and thrillers.

ChrisO said...

miklos rosza:

Yes, that is the same Badlands. Martin Sheen owns the screen, and Sissy Spacek's narration adds a hypnotic quality to the film. Not to mention Nat King Cole singing "A Blossom Fell." I recommend it to everyone.

Wade Garrett said...

I saw Munich last night, and I'm still shaken from it. It is the best political thriller (calling it an 'action movie' doesnt do it justice) I've seen in a long time; possibly ever. It was thought-provoking, emotional, exciting, and at times my heart beat so hard that the friend I went to the theater with told me that even she could feel it thumping.

After seeing it, I think that many of the people who have written about it, criticized it from the right and the left, from the Israeli side and the Palestinian side, did not see the movie before they wrote their articles or made their posts. Why see the movie when you can artibratily attribute a point of view to the director, and then criticize away?

knox said...

Shoo, "Ray" was a stinker. It was very ham-handed (no pun intended) all around. Much more like a made-for-tv movie than a feature film.

And shoo! again to "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf." I'd agree that it's very compelling, but I don't know that I've ever been so exhausted after watching a movie...

Anway, at this point, an Oscar nod is practically like a "This Movie Sucks" label.

knox said...

chuck b. said...
"I actually kinda like the marital disaster movie. Another favorite is Cassavettes' A Woman Under the Influence with Peter Falk and Gena Rowlands. Mm-mm"

OMG, I take back my previous comment. I think "A Woman Under..." left me more exhausted than "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf."

I'm gonna go take a nap now...

Wade Garrett said...

knoxgirl - Munich was a movie that left me feeling exhausted and beaten-up. Movies that can do that, like WAOVW and WUTI are the reason I like movies; its amazing how caught up we can get in a good movie!

vbspurs said...

Ann, if you're still reading this, I saw Grizzly Man last night.

Can't say I liked it much, although I love Herzog as much as the next film-cognoscenta.

I understand the ferocity of Timmy Treadwell's life, and passion, but I just thought it was too disjointed.

They did their best though, as it's not easy to take someone else's camerawork, and turn it into a presentable piece.


PatCA said...

I just saw it, too, Victoria, and I liked it well enough. I don't think it said much new about Treadwell, who to me is the kind of broken personality that ends up awash in some sentimental cause like the bears, but for what it revealed about Herzog. What an erudite, kind man. I liked him a lot. Open Water is another good film about our skewed imagining of nature.