2005: Best in show

By Peter Hemminger, Kyle Francis and Rob Scherf

40-Year-Old Virgin

The 40-Year-Old Virgin won’t pick up any Oscar nominations and quite frankly it shouldn’t, but it succeeds admirably at everything it attempts. It is a one joke gross-out sex comedy, a bizarre coming-of-age film, a heartwarming romantic comedy and an affectionate character study all in one. Considering it balances each of those elements without falling into their traps, the film is not only remarkable, it’s damn near miraculous.

Much of the credit for Virgin’s success lies with star Steve Carell. Instead of treating the role as a joke in itself, he plays Andy Stitzer with enough sweetness the audience empathizes with him, instead of mocking. The humour comes as much from Andy’s friends and the situations they get him into as from Andy’s predicament. Try to imagine Rob Schnieder in the title role and the premise leads just as easily into a European Gigolo-style horror show.

Quite simply, there isn’t a moment in Virgin that feels off. From a conversation where Andy’s friends absentmindedly smash fluorescent lights against one another to the authentic-feeling relationship between Andy and love interest Catherine Keener, everything fits. By the time it hits an entirely random and fitting musical number, Virgin’s success becomes clear. It may not be art, it may not elevate film as a medium, but it is, in it’s own way, perfect.

Grizzly Man

Filmmaker and wildlife activist Timothy Treadwell was an optimist to the point of delusion, an idealist who believed in the benevolence of the natural world. Surprisingly, director Werner Herzog, a renowned cynic who believes the world is grounded in chaos and violence, chose Treadwell as the focus for his latest documentary, Grizzly Man. This disconnect between creator and subject is what makes the film such compelling viewing.

For over a decade, Treadwell lived in the wilderness alone with grizzly bears to protect them from human encroachment. Luckily for us he brought a camera along and the footage is astounding. Fox cubs follow him around like affectionate pets, bears allow him to get close enough to touch them; it’s quite simply unlike anything shown in a nature documentary before.

What lingers after the film, though, is the sense that Treadwell was a man blinded by his own love for the world around him. Through his bizarre rants against his perceived enemies, his increasingly reckless behavior and the supreme irony of his premature death, Treadwell reveals himself as a deeply troubled man. Herzog, who narrates the film, makes it abundantly clear what he thinks of Treadwell’s view, but even he remains astounded at Treadwell’s footage and lifestyle. For both its unbelievable nature footage and its portrayal of a complex and tragic character, Grizzly Man is essential viewing.


Spaceships and cowboys are both undeniably cool. Joss Whedon, creator of the television shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel realized this and decided to make a Sci-fi show about cowboys in space. Firefly, the resultant show, was every bit as awesome as a program about cowboys in space could be. Of course, in their resolution to ruin everything good about television, Fox canceled it before it could even get through a complete season.

Several years later, thanks to booming box-set sales and the tenacity of fans, Whedon was allowed to make a feature length continuation of his ill-fated show. Serenity picks up shortly after the series, following a much grander plot than the series ever aspired to.

Effortlessly blending sci-fi and western film tropes, Serenity succeeds with its operatic space sequences, light human drama and zingy one-liners.


If any film was the most surprising, gruesome and enrapturing movie to be released in 2005, it was Chan-wook Park’s Oldboy. Here’s the pitch: regular guy Oh Desu (Min-sik Choi) wakes up to find himself locked in a prison cell, where he languishes for 15 years. After a dramatic escape, he sets out to find the meaning for his internment. It’s the stuff countless Hollywood thrillers have been based on but in the hands of Asia’s nu-cinematic wunderkid, Oldboy is taken in directions western viewers could never have imagined.

Along with its jaw-dropping plot­–and the most delicious twist ever committed to celluloid­–Oldboy boasts a rare magic in its convergence of disparate genres and photographic techniques. Part Korean melodrama, part bass-heavy martial arts flick and part Dragnet, Oldboy is a true masterpiece any way you slice it.

The Squid and the Whale

Highly influenced by Wes Anderson’s suite of films surrounding deteriorated families, Noah Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale treads familiar Anderson ground. There’s a broken father figure, an unexpected suitor for the mother and, most importantly, a persistent longing for a simpler time. Baumbach nails all of these elements and more, giving the audience a familiar palette of music selection, balanced cinematography and performances which could have been cribbed directly from Rushmore or The Royal Tenenbaums.

Baumbach breaks from the Anderson formula, however, in a strange and wonderful place. In every character there is a sense of inner confusion, far more substantial than are-we-a-family/aren’t-we-a-family and a definite sense of uncertainty about the future. By the half-way mark, it is clear “Hey Jude” won’t break into the final scene and our cast of characters might never find peace with each other.

This dark and subtle perspective is what gives The Squid and the Whale its own unique and entirely effective flavour. In this way, Baumbach has actually succeeded in crafting a film capable, in a sense, of remaking and im- proving upon several modern classics.

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