best film:  The New World from Terrence Malick

Further study of Michael Haneke’s Cache could change things at the top for 2005- but for now- it is Malick’s work (I would say underrated but it has been making headway in recent years) that earns the distinction of being called the best film of the year. This marks the third straight time a Malick release (1978, 1998)  has landed as the top film of the year.

magic hour bliss- at the 108-minute mark (at least in the director’s cut version) there is a jaw-dropper of a frame at dusk with the Native Americas in the river—staggered about the frame.

  • The New World is still only Malick’s fourth film to date in 2005 even if it is a whopping thirty-two (32) years since his debut Badlands. The themes and aesthetics are the same.
  • Though perhaps not quite as dogmatically rigid as Days of Heaven with the natural lighting and magic hour photography- The New World (complete with Emmanuel Lubezki on board as director of photography) would measure up here with just about any other film ever shot. The exterior location shooting (largely in Virginia, but certainly in England as well as the story dictates) is as much (if not more so) of a character as Colin Farrell’s John Smith or Q’orianka Kilcher’s Pocahontas.

One of the best shots (and there are dozens that belong in an art gallery) is the low-angle shot of Kilcher’s Pocahontas holding the sun between her hands. Malick’s sun (and yes, in cinema it does feel like it is his) is often present in the background

a low angle shot early in the film- Malick is a montagist (he shot over 1 million feet of film for this- he just shoots and shoots and compiles it later)—these are not really cutaways from the action at this point. This is his mode. The in-scene dialogue is largely dubbed (which gives him flexibility in the editing room), the priority is on the photography (which drives his themes), the voice-over (which, again- he can control before and after) and the actors are models. Malick often has the voice-over come in over the top of the in-scene dialogue to give you an idea of what he prioritizes here. This does not mean there can’t be good acting in a Malick film– it is just different from 99.9% of cinema.

  • It is not just Lubezki on board with the talented crew. Jack Fisk is back as Malick’s production designer, James Horner does the score (though we will get to his achievement here later) and the rest of the cast and crew has talent all over the place. Christopher Plummer publicly bitched about Malick cutting him out (and if he was mad, how about how little great actors like David Thewlis and Wes Studi are used?), and if you blink, you will miss talents like Ben Mendelsohn and Jonathan Pryce.
  • The New World begins with a look at one of Malick’s Edens on earth. Opening on amalgam of nature arrangements and a reflection in the water. Pocahontas and the Algonquins (or naturals, as they are often called in the film) are swimming and playing in the water. There is a voice-over established early as part of the form (sort of poem to mother earth). Next, the ships arrive carrying John Smith and the English. The arrival is glorious. This is accompanied by Wagner’s Vorspiel to Das Rheingold. This is the most important music in The New World (despite contributions in other parts of the film from James Horner and others). Malick reuses Wagner’s piece here a few times perfectly later in the film. It is just a wall of sound- it has the scales with the horns. When you pair that with the awesome imagery- it does feel like heaven on earth.
  • prepare yourself for it early, the meeting of Malick’s photography and Wagner’s music create a synthesis of beauty that few films ever achieve
  • The message of the film is set from that opening. The English bring an element of war, fear, a certain raping of the land in comparison with the “naturals”. In luminous photography montage form (trademark to his style), Malick shows the English chopping down trees. And later, he shows them with boils, scabs, unclean, dying, disease, mosquitos, etc. Their little fortress they make is ugly, standing water and mud all over the place. “Damnation is like this” “a hell”. Greed. Searching for gold.
  • Water on the rocks is part of the mix, along with magic hour shots, trees rooted in the water, ships off the coast
  • Even when in the cave dwelling of the Chief- Malick and Lubezki have the natural light pour in through the openings.
  • Like all of his previous films (Malick’s depiction of the Native Americans here is similar to those native to Guadalcanal in The Thin Red Line), there is often playing and a sort of frivolity of the characters in the montage combination (along with shots of nature, grass swaying). They are one with nature, and here Farrell and Kilcher’s characters teach each other their languages. Farrell’s Smith describes the Native Americans as “Gentle, loving and faithful”. He talks about his own resurrection because of them “I was a dead man, now I live”.
  • birds, grass, the reflecting water, and a major contribution to the work of art here is Wagner—that music is a large part of the stew
  • For Malick, it is always about the meeting of violence/sin (and I think “progress”) and the intrinsic beauty of nature- that is the duality.
  • I will say that you do not sit up and pay attention to the voice-over like you do with Spacek’s Badlands. The voice-over is more poetic here- sort of part of the music if you will.
  • Christian Bale does not arrive until the 120-minute mark in the director’s cut version. He plays John Rolfe He is kind, patient, a man of virtue. This love triangle feels similar to the Days of Heaven.
  • Nearly the entire three-hour (director’s cut) running time is exterior photography. And again, although it is not all shot at dust— big, meaty chunks of it are (Days of Heaven’s running time is about half this overall). At the 150-minute mark, finally, Malick uses some artificial lighting with the meeting of the King and Queen.
  • While in England, the baroque ceilings, the landscaped gardens—all worthy of praise in the design.
  • One of the strongest compositions in this film is the one at the 158-minute mark. Kilcher is framed by the door approaching Farrell’s character. A marvelous piece of writing is his “I may have sailed past them” when she asks him if he found his Indies yet.
  • The film ends on Wagner (brilliant choice), her passing, the child playing and then slipping into a kaleidoscope of water running through rocks, the sun, the trees swaying from a low-angle (an angle repeated often) as the final frame.
  • Cinema has produced very few artists with an aesthetic dogma like Malick. On top of that, it is largely a visual artform and few (if any), have made films as beautiful as Malick has. This film may have been overlooked by many in 2005—but as we get farther and farther away—the rarity of this achievement becomes clearer.


most underrated:  Sam Mendes’ (frequents this category) Jarhead is a film from 2005 that warrents a closer look and is certainly underrated at this point (nowhere to be found on the 21st century consensus TSPDT top 1000) and Terry Gilliam’s Tideland is worth a quick mention in this category as it has horrible reviews and yet is a film with much to offer as well. Ultimately though, it is Joe Wright’s Pride & Prejudice that is the pretty easy choice for this category in 2005. The TSPDT consensus top 1000 for the 21st century fails us again- this film is completely omitted.


Coming off of American Beauty (one of cinema’s great debut films) in 1999 and Road to Perdition in 2002 the anticipation for Jarhead was through the roof (and that amazing trailer with Kayne doesn’t hurt) – and in that context— the film is slight a disappointment. The final achievement here in Jarhead is not on that level but it still warrants a reappraisal. The film also marks Mendes’ first collaboration with Roger Deakins—Mendes worked with the great Conrad Hall on his first two films and Hall passed away in 2003 (winning the best cinematography Oscar for both American Beauty and Road to Perdition together in 1999 and 2002). Talk about Mendes’ dedication to supreme photography working with these two masterful cinematographers. But, as a tribute to Mendes’ talent as well—these collaborations yielded some of the very best work from Deakins and Hall– and that is no accident.

Pride & Prejudice– Joe Wright’s true debut – age 33.

the greatest work in camera movement in 2005 may be from Wright’s film as he swoops in and out of the dancing scenes like Ophuls…

…yet there is no shortage of sublime compositions from the film as well. The adaptation of Jane Austen is very strong- as is the talented cast.

Anyone going in expecting a dry Jane Austen adaptation was slapped  across the face by the film’s unhinged camera and brazen cinema style. There is an admirable formal marker repeated in the shot of Darcy’s hand as well.


most overrated: The Death of Mr. Lazarescu is the most overrated film of 2005. The Romanian New Wave that emerged in the 2000s is an important movement but the brilliance of one of the pillars of that movement, Lazarescu, is lost on me. The film currently sits at #426 on the TSPDT consensus all-time list making is the third strongest of 2005. Unlike Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers, the film feels more like repetition than form. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu is moving and politically potent, but it is not great art.


gems I want to spotlight:  There are at least three gems to single out from 2005 and again I tried to seek those off the top 10 of the year (forgone that those are worthy of spotlighting and singling out). Amy Adams fully arrived in 2005’s Junebug– a star is definitely born here and this will set her up for one of the best stretches of work from any actor from 2005-2016 (through Arrival and Nocturnal Animals).  Brick is a bellwether film from young Rian Johnson. His debut will blow your hair back. Lastly, The Proposition is a film (written by Nick Cave, starring Ray Winstone, Guy Pearce and Emily Watson) that is hardly ever talked about anymore and should be.


Rian Johnson’s Brick is both a homage to detective and noir films- and a wonderful breath of fresh air at the same time.

it takes a few viewings to appreciate both the dialogue (a wild sort of Coen brothers-esque vernacular here) and the inborn eye for composition that Johnson seems to have

John Hillcoat’s The Proposition (here in 2005) and The Road (2009) need a bit of rescuing- both are very worthy films.


trends and notables:

  • With Kubrick gone,  if there is an event filmmaker in 2005 it is the reclusive Terrence Malick so it is worth noting any year that he has a release. Many were disappointed in 2005 with The New World,  but appreciation for the profound beauty and artistry of his work has grown immensely in the years since.
  • 2005 is a spectacular year for new filmmakers. Joe Wright (Pride & Prejudice) and Rian Johnson (Brick) are mentioned above- but Bennett Miller also arrives with Capote. For all three, this is not only their first time in the archives- but their actual debuts as well.

Philp Seymour Hoffman is the show in Capote, but Miller deserves credit for the strong juxtaposition of establishing shots and transition editing with the open cold Kansas prairie landscapes with the posh New York City skyline (and then beautiful Spanish vacation spot later).

  • 2005 marks the first of three pairings between Viggo Mortensen and David Cronenberg with A History of Violence. Viggo is a big star in 2005 coming off The Lord of the Rings– and similar to what Leo did with Scorsese, Viggo uses that cache to pair with an all-time great auteur to do some masterful work.

Thought it does not quite squeeze into the top 10 of the year, 2005 is a big year for Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan pairing up for the first time in Batman Begins. They both were big time internet rumor mill fodder since 2000 (when American Psycho and Memento made them two of the greatest “next” talents worth watching). This is the first of four collaborations between the director and actor to date.

Like Collateral in 2004, Sin City is the big film for the mounting digital movement in 2005.

this immaculate composition from Sin City recalls a similar shot in Fritz Lang’s 1937 film You Only Live Once

Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez craft easily one of the most visually ambitious films of 2005

  • The top five films of the year is loaded with veteran directors that have been in this place often (Malick, Jarmusch, Cronenberg, The Dardenne brothers and Haneke).  L’enfant marks the third top ten of the year film for the Dardennes as they carry the banner for cinema realism.

in just six short years since the start of the decade- Cache marks the third top ten of the year for a Haneke film- fourth overall going back to 1997 with Funny Games

distanced, cool and ambiguous… Haneke and Cache

  • Star Wars and Harry Potter continue to dominate at the box office-Revenge of the Sith is far and away the best film of the prequel trilogy

It is markedly better than the previous prequels- Phantom Menace in 1999 and Clones in 2002. It is darker, comparisons to Empire are right in terms of the foreboding doom and bleaker tone. The “best since Empire” stuff may be correct as well—but that is no great compliment necessarily either. A stunner of a composition- perhaps the best in the three films- is at the 107-minute mark with Hayden Christensen’s Anakin foreground left and Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan in the background right

  • Lastly, Carey Mulligan’s actual debut is in Pride & Prejudice and Bradley Cooper lands in the archives for the first time in Wedding Crashers- playing the hilariously evil Sack Lodge.


best performance male:  There are six standouts in 2005 worthy of singling out. Heath Ledger is as good a place to start as any. Turn the subtitles on for Ledger- he does not open his mouth to talk sacrificing decipherability for authenticity as Ennis Del Mar. It also marks a formidble 1950s Brando-like one-two punch with 2008’s The Dark Knight. Viggo Mortensen‘s internalized lead helps carry one of Cronenberg’s best films and Bill Murray adds to his already stellar resume in Broken Flowers. Murray is the perfect actor for the Jarmuscian deadpan and pathos. For Murray this makes for yet another pairing as an auteur collaborator-God (Lost in Translation and Rushmore). Irish actor Colin Farrell carves out a spot for his work as John Smith in The New World. Farrell has never become the massive star that was once predicted for him (which was all the buzz from 2002’s Minority Report through 2005/2006)– but he works with auteurs constantly and clearly tries to make great films. Jérémie Renier is next with his gut-wrenching performance  in the Dardenne’s L’enfant. Philip Seymour Hoffman is next in Capote (in that rare spot where an actor’s work merits a spot in this category when a film falls outside of the top ten of the year– he also deserves some love for his collaborations to date with PTA in 1999 and 2002 especially). His work goes far beyond impersonation and mimicry—of course the voice and the laugh is studied—but PSH absolutely disappears- one of the greater chameleon performances.

A stunner of a wall art shot with Ledger and the fireworks in the background in Brokeback Mountain. Similar shots have been used previously in Visconti’s The Leopard and Scorsese a few times (Cape Fear, Gangs of New York)

from Broken Flowers- twice Jarmusch uses the shot from behind Murray as the camera slowly moves in on Murray’s back. The editing is a major achievement—it fades to black in every scene (reminiscent of Dead Man and Stranger Than Paradise). It sets a tone—editor Jay Rabinowitz has also worked on Dead Man, Requiem For a Dream and The Tree of Life


best performance female: It is Keira Knightley for her work in Pride & Prejudice or newcomer Q’orianka Kilcher in The New World for this category in 2005.  It is a credit to Kilcher ( and Farrell) that that the love story works. And even though it is very elliptical in nature (due to Malick’s editing style), her grieving process feels real (the extended running time helps here). Juliette Binoche is not here for her work in Cache in 2005 alone, when you combine her two Haneke films (so this includes 2000’s Code Unknown) to date another mention for her does seem justified.


top 10

  1. The New World
  2. Cache
  3. A History of Violence
  4. L’enfant
  5. Broken Flowers
  6. Pride & Prejudice
  7. Brokeback Mountain
  8. Sin City
  9. Jarhead
  10. The Squid and the Whale


The Squid and the Whale is Noah Baumbach’s fourth film (and finest to date in 2005) and first since 1997

Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) washing clean and anew in A History of Violence

the final film of the Vengeance trilogy- Park Chan-Wook’s Lady Vengeance

In 2005 Spielberg tried to recreate his 1993 again with the release two films- one a big box office film –War of the Worlds– a major financial success, but not a great film,  and a serious awards contender Munich– easily the stronger of the two. Quite a cinematic painting captured here.

Peter Jackson followed up his The Lord of the Rings trilogy with an ambitious, and admirable remake of King Kong

it may not quite be The Nightmare Before Christmas but Tim Burton’s stop motion 2005 film Corpse Bride is worthy of study as well



Archives, Directors, and Grades

A History of Violence- Cronenberg MP
Batman Begins -Nolan R
Brick- Johnson R/HR
Brokeback Mountain – A. Lee HR/MS
Broken Flowers – Jarmusch MS
C.R.A.Z.Y. – Vallée R
Cache – Haneke MP
Capote – B. Miller R/HR
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Burton R
Cinderella Man- Howard R
Corpse Bride- Burton R
Duma – Ballard R
Fateless- Koltai R
Good Night and Good Luck- Clooney R
Heading South – Cantet R
Hustle & Flow – Brewer R
I Am the Angel of Death: Pusher III- Refn R/HR
Jarhead – Mendes HR/MS
Junebug- Morrison R
King Kong- Jackson R
Kingdom of Heaven- R. Scott R
Lady Vengeance- Chan-wook Park R
Last Days – Van Sant R
L’Enfant- Dardenne MS
Match Point- Allen HR
Me and You and Everyone We Know- July R
Munich- Spielberg R/HR
Nine Lives-Garcia R
Paradise Now – Abu-Assad
Pride & Prejudice- J. Wright MS
Red Eye – Craven R
Serenity- Whedon R
Sin City- F. Miller, Rodriguez HR/MS
Sophie Scholl: The Final Days – Rothemund R
Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith – Lucas R
Syriana- Gaghan R
The Beat That My Heart Skipped- Audiard R
The Constant Gardener- Meirelles HR
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu – Puiu R/HR
The New World – Malick MP
The Proposition- Hillcoat R
The Squid and the Whale- Baumbach HR
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada- Lee Jones HR
The Wayward Cloud – Ming-liang Tsai R/HR
Three Times  – Hsiao-Hsien Hou R
Tideland – Gilliam R
Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story– Winterbottom R
V for Vendetta – McTeigue R
Walk the Line- Mangold R
Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit – Box, N. Park R
Wedding Crashers– Dobkin R



*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-See- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives