Year-End Movie Survey, Question 10

Munich Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

Politics came into last year's discussion a fair bit (mainly in reference to Fahrenheit 9/11). Do you believe there's a strong co-relation presently between politics and movies? Did movies in 2005 reflect or portray or allude to political events in a way that was both aesthetically and historically satisfying? (Is such a thing even important to you?) Any other thoughts on this admittedly broad subject (particularly as it relates to the present day)?

Despite not having the lightening rods of The Passion of the Christ and Fahrenheit 9/11, 2005 saw the movies tackling more politically charged issues than ever before. Movies like Syriana, Good Night, and Good Luck, Walk on Water, and The Century of the Self engaged audiences in ways that seemed impossible just four years ago. The two most important movies of the year may turn out to have a profound effect on the way people talk about the world today.

Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain might be the most culturally significant movie of the decade. By telling a simple love story involving two gay cowboys who can scarcely comprehend what they're feeling, Lee uses bold compositions to draw his audience into the moment-to-moment discovery of what it means to love another person. Unlike Philadelphia or Making Love, Brokeback Mountain pulls off the impossible by accepting its two lead characters on their own terms. The message of the movie lies in the matter-of-factness of the two leads played by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal. The life-size nature of their performances is what makes the movie so affecting.

The other important political movie of the year is Steven Spielberg's Munich. Spielberg's dazzling historical fiction is charged with the moment-to-moment dread and excitement of the best political thrillers. Spielberg's remarkable direction puts the viewer in the middle of the action. In the brilliant recreation of the massacre of the 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics Spielberg pinpoints the moment when world politics entered the modern age of vengeance. At once clear-eyed and confused, Spielberg looks into the past in order to show us what lies ahead in our future. That is the mark of a good movie.

We certainly had our share of political fare, and it took multiple forms: straightforward (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room), preachy (Munich, Paradise Now), industrial (Mondovino) smart-aleck (Inside Deep Throat), apolitical (Jarhead), sociopolitical (Crash), metaphorical (War of the Worlds), moralist (March of the Penguins), and just god-awfully boring (The Constant Gardner). But there was nothing scathing. Cinema, it seems to me, went mild this year because either a) the re-election finally shut all the rabble rousing lefties with cameras the hell up, or b) everyone's getting their cinematic artillery ready for '06 to slam on Katrina and judiciary appointments, or c) the film community, critics included, were too busy with politics of their own. My big beef? Renowned filmmakers were praised for films this year that, let's face it, two years ago wouldn't have received half the laud had they competed with a true heavy dose of good filmmaking. The filmmakers and films that got praise, not for their work, but because of who they are: Spielberg and Munich, David Cronenberg and A History of Violence, Wong Kar Wai and 2046, Herzog and Grizzly Man, Christopher Nolan and Batman Begins, and I'll throw in an actor--Johnny Depp for parading in a minstrel show costume in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Again, are we just that desperate to fill up that ten list, to hand out five nominations in every category, that we automatically let the "names" pass go and collect gratuitous ass kissing?

From my Top 10, my number-one film is explicitly political, three others are tangentially so (Inside Deep Throat, Mad Hot Ballroom, and Crash), and there's a case to be made--and has been made, many times--that politics can be read into just about film this side of Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle (which I haven't seen, so maybe that's a cleverly disguised allegory about Iran-Contra). But generally speaking, it's the last thing on my mind when I sit down to watch a movie.