The Best Movie of 2005
"Sadness is easier because it's surrender. I say make time to dance alone with one hand waving free."
It's award season in Hollywood. As such, I've been thinking about movies from 2005. Recently, I got an e-mail from my cousin asking for my top ten list. I've decided to forego "top ten best of the year" lists. Instead, I decided I will simply announce my favorite film of the year. I don't care about critics or box office either. The best film of 2005 is ELIZABETHTOWN.
For me a great movie has to have an emotional impact. I'm not looking to be "entertained" anymore, I don't need great action, and I almost require that there be no CGI invloved. As I look back on the entire year, only ELIZABETHTOWN resonated with me so deeply as to stick with me months later. Another loose criterion I use is having the strong desire to see the movie again. Viewing a movie twice in a theater complex nowadays is a very rare occurrence for me. After watching ELIZABETHTOWN with Chrisy, about a month later, I so wanted to revisit the feeling that I went back for a second viewing. As it stands now, I'm really looking forward to the DVD release on February 7.
Written and directed by Cameron Crowe, ELIZABETHTOWN is a little oasis in an island of remakes, sequels, and extended television shows from Hollywood this year. It's got an amazing soundtack and score to boot! On its face, ELIZABETHTOWN is a love story between Drew Baylor played by Orlando Bloom and Claire Colburn played by Kirsten Dunst. And, although I adore every interaction between these two characters, for me this film is really about three things: fathers, family, and failure.
When we meet Drew Baylor he's a successful shoe designer, the golden boy, a man at the top of his game. However, we quickly learn that he's caused an Oregon shoe company to lose an amount of money so big that you could round it off to one billion dollars. In short, he's the architect of a fiasco. With hysterical lines like, "I cry a lot lately," Alec Baldwin is so funny as Drew's boss that I was hooked on the film in the opening 15 minutes. Devastated, Drew realizes that "Success, not greatness, was the only god the world served." That's not a world he wants to live in. Unable to face his failure, Drew decides suicide is the only way out, but he is interrupted by the startling news that his father has died. He has to go to Elizabethtown, Kentucky to bring the body back home. It's on the flight that he meets Claire.
For those of you that really need something big to happen in a movie, you may never get the payoff. That's exactly what I think I like about this film: it just seems real to me. More and more I am realizing that I like small films that seem honest, like glimpses into someone's real life. Indeed, I think this movie fits very nicely with my number one film from 2004, GARDEN STATE as well as LOST IN TRANSLATION, my favorite from 2003. All three of these movies include authentic conversations that I felt I could have had, honest, at times even uncomfortable, but always true, and always bringing a smile to my face. For example, in ELIZABETHTOWN, after a wonderful phone conversation, you'd expect sparks to fly between Drew and Claire, but they have the transparency to admit, "We peaked on the phone" and go home. I love that moment because you don't expect it in a love story. Things you'd find in a cookie-cutter romantic comedy, you won't find here.
I feel that no moment captures the feeling of new love better than Drew and Claire's scene in an empty banquet room. Playing around, Claire goes to the microphone, you get the feeling she wants to announce, "I love you!" But, what comes out is the awkward, "Welcome to the annual meeting of people who annually meet, and we'll see you next year." It's courageous writing, it's bold to be so understated, it's the opposite of the spoon-fed, dumbed-down dish that Hollywood has been serving us. It's too wonderful for words.
There are many other moments between Claire and Drew that actually feel profound to me. In shotgun fashion these include Claire's observation that "Everyone is less mysterious than they think they are." Also, her question, "Do you ever just think, 'I'm fooling everybody?'" and Drew's response, "You have no idea." I love it when she says, "I think I've been asleep most of my life." Most importantly is the conversation in which Claire offers Drew her take on failure, "Do you think I care about that? You want to impress me, have the courage to fail big and stick around anyway."
As much as I love the romance, it's the family and father themed lessons that gave me the sucker punch to the gut. I love the discussion with his cousin Jessie wherein Drew tries to convince him that he and his deceased father were close, "I knew him very, very well." Jessie (brilliantly played by Paul Schneider) sees right through it, and, although he lives walking distance from his own living father, he confesses: "Yea, I don't know my father very well either." There are flashbacks to Drew and Mitch, a young boy and his dad having fun, these serve to magnify the tragedy of a dad and son growing so far apart. It's what makes Drew's realization that he should have spent more time with his dad, taken "that" trip, while he was alive so touching. At its heart, this movie is about accepting family as they are, spending time with people you love before it's too late, loving people despite their differences, and trying to extract joy from life while those you love are still around to feel the joy, have it rub off on them, and enjoy your laughter. It's really the same message as found in a song that is shrewdly used in the movie. I'm talking about Patty Griffin's "Long Ride Home" in which the main character figures things out too late. "40 years go by with someone laying in your bed, 40 years of things you say you wish you never said, how hard would it have been to say some kinder words instead?"
Without giving too much of the movie's nuances away--afterall, it's this film's nuances, not plot, that make it great--there are a handful of little concepts that I adore. Among them are the ideas: "If it wasn't this, it'd be something else," "substitute people," "last looks," and stopping to take snapshots in your mind of really beautiful moments in life. There are also the delightful tidbits that only Cameron Crowe could offer. These include an urn in a funeral parlor that says "KISS forever," a road trip set to music that one of my best friends could have compiled, a suitcase topped-off with Ryan Adams and Heart CDs, and a rousing live, almost fantasy-like, rendition of "Free Bird" by the now classic band "Ruckus." My suggestion: choose to buy-in, don't criticize, enjoy your role as the quiet observer, and just let your heart take over.