Holiday Feast

Our critics chew on the film trends of '05

Curtis also links the rise of neoconservatives in the U.S. to the birth of Islamic fundamentalism in the 1950s; both movements, after all, tied Western decadence to Western liberalism. It's essentially Fahrenheit 9/11 without the screaming, the preaching, the panic — a newsy film that Salon.com's Andrew O'Hehir called "the most important political documentary of this decade, and perhaps of my lifetime." And you will likely never see it, unless you scour the web for the myriad sites hosting bootleg copies. Go figure: The best doc of 2005 is one you'll have to see on your computer. Viva la digital revolution, indeed. (RW)

Keep It Gay: The Year Hollywood Went Homo

Social conservatives may have put the brakes on gay marriage, but there isn't much they can do about gay movies, which arrived like some biblical flood in the last months of 2005. Along with Capote, a vivid portrait of the most celebrated gay writer of the 1960s, Ang Lee's romantic tragedy Brokeback Mountain, the story of two lean cowboys who fall in love and stay there, on and off, for twenty years, may signal a startling shift of attitude in mainstream Hollywood. The film was adapted from a much-honored short story by Pulitzer Prize-winner Annie Proulx, and it stars two of the industry' s most respected young actors — Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal.

Breakfast on Pluto, directed by The Crying Game's Neil Jordan, may not draw as well, but Cillian Murphy puts in an energetic performance as an Irish cross-dresser who gets entangled in an IRA bomb plot in London. Looking for a companion piece? In the offbeat comedy Transamerica, Felicity Huffman (of Desperate Housewives fame) portrays a pre-op transgender candidate who learns that she once fathered a son, now a teenage gay hustler in Manhattan, and they take a mutually revealing cross-country road trip together.

In The Dying Gaul, a gay writer runs afoul of a Hollywood producer over a screenplay about his lover's death from AIDS, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, an exercise in mock pulp fiction, features Val Kilmer as an LA private detective known as Gay Perry. The movie version of the Broadway rock hit Rent is amply stocked with a lesbian couple, a transvestite and a gay man. A couple of otherwise hetero movies also feature prominent gay characters: Trying to ensure that their Broadway musical bombs, The Producers, Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, sign up a cross-dressing director and instruct him to "keep it gay." In Mrs. Henderson Presents, the wartime nudie revues financed by well-heeled widow Judi Dench are anchored by a gay leading man. (Bill Gallo)

Gross Yield: The Awards for Cinematic Depravity

Some of us go to the movies to escape into fantasy, others to cry at tragic drama. Then there are those who just enjoy a couple hours of shock treatment. Maybe it's cathartic, or maybe it's just sick, but it was unquestionably a good year for connoisseurs of the grotesque. Here are our favorite moments:

Finger paining: For all the elaborate death-traps in Saw II, the most intense scene occurs when the cop played by Mark Wahlberg decides to break the Jigsaw Killer's fingers. Tobin Bell's acting sells the pain better than any contraption.

Method acting gone wrong: George Clooney's separation from his fingernails in Syriana was seriously wince-inducing. Falling to the ground later in the scene, he really injured his back.

Barrels of fun: We're used to seeing shotgun blasts in movies, but seldom with the visceral splatter that accompanied Ed Harris' demise in A History of Violence.

Everything Zen? Don't think so! Bush lead singer Gavin Rossdale played a demon in Constantineand ended up getting his face melted. Everyone who listened to music in the mid-'90s rejoiced.

Hammer time: Oldboy not only showed how to take on a corridor full of thugs armed only with a hammer — it also demonstrated how to extract teeth with same. Now that's versatility.

Family recipe: The opening credits haven't finished rolling on the Japanese horror anthology Three...Extremes before we see, in graphic detail, the "secret ingredient" of Bai Ling's dumplings. You guessed it: aborted fetuses.

"I take his weapons. Both of them": What to do when confronted with a mutated, yellow-skinned rapist? If you're Bruce Willis in Sin City, you take his knife, then rip his nuts off with your bare hands.

"I want to eat something alive": In Oldboy — a movie that centers around a plot to trick a man into committing incest, and also involves tongue slicing and amateur dentistry — the most memorably disturbing scene was also one of the simplest. Our hero Oh Dae-su, freed from years of captivity, enters a sushi bar and scarfs down a live, wriggling octopus. Four cephalopods gave their lives for this scene, and live octopus tentacles briefly became a dining fad in Hollywood. Very briefly. (LYT)

Closing Credits: They Called Him Ismail

The Bombay-born film producer Ismail Merchant, who died in May at age 68 after abdominal surgery, collaborated with director James Ivory on a dozen elegantly furnished period pieces over the last quarter-century, including The Remains of the Day, starring Anthony Hopkins as a repressed English butler, three E.M. Forster adaptations (A Room With a View, Howards End and Maurice), and a trove of Henry James tales like The Europeans and The Bostonians. The last Merchant-Ivory production is scheduled for January release, but the faithful may not embrace The White Countess with their usual fervor: Set in Shanghai in the turbulent 1930s, it's a romantic melodrama with a crass sheen — despite the presence of Ralph Fiennes.

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