Filmmage: The Bestest 2005

For the first 10 months of the year I was willing to write 2005 off as among the most unexceptional year for films in a while. And then it happened – all at once, the early little films that I had missed showed up on DVD and the predictable studio Oscar contenders settled into theaters with a holiday flurry. As usual there was loads of mindless crud, a ton of beautiful small films, and another very small handful of top-notch big budget star-laden Hollywood epics. Like most years I tended to prefer the little films – the ones with perfect soundtracks that seemed to mirror the curious performances or swirling big screen theatrics that often left you momentarily lost before sweeping you along. Of course I missed a few this year, and picked up a bunch from last year, but I’m sure this whole list will be available on DVD next month. You should see and savor them all.

1. Syriana – Dir. Stephen Gaghan (George Clooney, Matt Damon, Jeffrey Wright)

This one is pretty obvious. Rock-star cast, intriguing and topical premise, big enough to look really good, ridiculously good screenplay – it couldn’t possibly suck. Far from it, “Syriana” is a film that makes you think. Although you often get lost in its complicated parallel storylines, this disorientation helps establish more a state of mind than overcomplicated distraction. I suppose the global oil business is filled with so many shades of gray that certainty about anything, except for the price you pay at the pump, is an impossibility. As long as we acknowledge that this film is a “film,” and a damn good one about corruption, commerce, and globalization – accept it as great. I do and I will.
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Tunage: The Bestest 2005

A banner year for music I must say. I guess I burned out of electronica a bit this year, as nothing seemed to emerge from that prolific, dots & loops sampled computer landscape that has grown to occupy so much space on my hard drive. This year I suppose I was mostly impressed by good old-fashioned white male indie rock/folk/pop. A few female voices can be found, but sadly a lower than desired yield. So praise the comeback of the singer-songwriter. Real instruments played by real musicians, filled with props to all the trailblazers of the underground musical past. The good news is there is no more complaining about where to find this stuff. If you are reading this, then you have internet access. If you have internet access, you can gather all this stuff in a few moments. So please do.

1. The High Dials – The War of the Wakening Phantoms (Rainbow Quartz)

In a league almost by itself, “The War of the Wakening Phantoms” is easily the pop record of the year. Montreal’s High Dials have rather quietly been passed the baton from last year’s hometown victors The Arcade Fire. The album is a meandering homage to all that has come before it. There are lazy harmonica-driven Lennonesque tunes, jangly banjo-driven stories that recall the obscure melodies of the painfully underappreciated Harvest Ministers, rootsy Jayhawks-like Americana, to more obvious shimmering brit-rock songs that roll along like summer. All told this is a masterpiece assembled like a quilt, borrowing neat little squares of the past and arranging them so that they feel like something brilliantly new.

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