Best Books and Films of 2005
For those new to my yearly list, these books and films were not necessarily released in '05; they were just ones I discovered in '05. In fact, most of them are much older, due to my habit of being behind the times. So, onward:
My top ten list goes to eleven.
The runner-up six, in the order in which I read them:
The Solace of Leaving Early by Haven Kimmel. Thanks to modmerseygirl for sending me this one! A thoughtful small-town piece with some unexpected comedy, and many observations on theology, family, and graduate school. Quite engrossing.
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. Sci-fi about a group of Jesuits and friends who jet to a distant planet and meet their doom. This book has annoyed both hard-core Catholics who don't like people suggesting that priests are flawed humans, and atheists who don't like any religion in their sci-fi, so I figure Russell must be doing something right. (And I liked the book regardless of those other people's views, which is really the point.)
Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maud Montgomery. I was a deprived little girl, and no one ever had me read this in my childhood. But I'll be sure to read the rest of them now. Captures girlhood and its dramas very well, and it doesn't matter that it took place a hundred years ago. Girls will always be girls.
A Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin. Fantasy that feels like historical fiction--very few dragons, but lots of diverse and complex characters. Apparently based in part on the York v. Lancaster conflict of long ago. Am ready to embark on book two in the series.
Howl's Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones. I could see myself getting fangirly about this one, if the Studio Ghibli animated version is up to the coolness and surreal fun of the book. Talking fires, wizards getting petulant over hair dye, freaky scarecrows, castles trundling through the moors, and even a dose of romance. Rock on.
My Cousin Rachel, Daphne du Maurier. Madame du M. once again delivers, in a tale of paranoia, obsession, betrayal, death, and lush prose, set in the windswept southwest of England.
The winning five, again in the order they were read:
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke. (Some discussion and resources were posted here.) By reading and then adoring this one, I wasn't trying to get on the bandwagon of "the next big trendy thing" in fiction (note that I didn't include Middlesex, the much-lauded prize-winner of the year, even though I did read it in '05). JS & MrN is simply the kind of thing I am bound to love. Cheeky but sincere, comedic but serious, historically realistic but fantastical, and packed with the world's most entertaining footnotes, this one is much richer than suggested by the dismissive description "Jane Austen meets Tolkien" that you'll hear everywhere. You might think of it like that for the first few chapters, but it soon evolves into something all its own.
Sloppy Firsts, Megan McCafferty. A young adult novel that has been all the rage in recent years, and with good reason. Snarky, poignant, and not at all dumbed-down, it will remind you of why you're glad to be out of high school (or looking forward to getting out of it). Also provides a new and non-Harry-Potter-related meaning to the phrase "He Who Shall Remain Nameless."
Pattern Recognition, William Gibson. Thanks for the loan, kenshi! A unique tale of cyber-lurkers, spies, and fashion consultants, which will strike an oddly familiar chord with anyone who has gotten deeply obsessed with some obscure fandom on the web, and who spends years chatting with people they’ve never met. Not that any of us answer to that description. *cough*
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, J.K. Rowling. No explanation necessary, I’m sure. But deserving of a spot here for its ability, unsurpassed by any other book on this list, to keep me up late at night reading. And to make me all weepy. Not that hormones are uninvolved in this last event.
Daniel Deronda, George Eliot. (Read my original rave about it here.) Ms. Eliot's writing puts me in a happy place. She makes sense to me, despite the centuries and miles separating us. And she also writes simply crackin' good fiction, as in this book, which may be one of the only Victorian novels to deal prominently and favorably with Judaism in London at the time. And as any good Victorian novel should be, it's also rich in its treatment of psychology, love, society, and family relations. And when you're done you can watch the awesome BBC miniseries version. What more do you need?
Honorable mentions in fiction:
Evelina, Frances Burney. Ms. Burney was an inspiration to Jane Austen, and you can see the likeness. Fun and silly young angst in Regency England. Whee! I posted a brief quote here.
Hawaii, James Michener. This almost counts as non-fiction. The most memorable stuff I took away from it was the knowledge of the various groups (Polynesians, American missionaries, Japanese, Chinese, etc.) who arrived in Hawaii at various times in history, and the lives they found (and changed) there. Takes us from prehistoric times to well past Pearl Harbor. Michener, as always, knows how to bring his setting to life.
Adam Bede, George Eliot. An earlier novel from our lady George. Great scandalous plot--sort of like Tess of the d'Urbervilles, only it ends better, and the characters are much more believable and less annoying. Does suffer from Overlong Denouement Syndrome, but still a good story.
Best in non-fiction:
Perfume: The Art and Science of Scent, Cathy Newman. I went into rapturous details here. All you ever wanted to know about the fragrance industry but didn't know where to ask. Comes with very pretty pictures.
On Becoming a Novelist, John Gardner. For those of us looking to be novelists in some shape or form, this is a lovely little book, somehow reassuring and encouraging despite the author's rather cynical tone. Couple of inspiring quotes were posted here.
This time I couldn't even confine myself to a number near ten, let alone rank them. Curse you, Netflix! You bring too many diverse and interesting films to my door! However, I'm not counting miniseries or TV shows. Feature films only.
Finding Neverland. I can seldom endorse films that end sadly, but it was so lovely. Anyway, it could have been sadder.
Cold Mountain. Same comment could go here. Not lovely quite so often, though; more eye-opening as to The Way Things Were during the Civil War. But a love story at heart.
Judgment at Nuremberg. Discussed at length here. Fascinating flick that should be viewed in all 20th-century history courses from high school on up.
Dancer, Texas. Small scope, charming portrait of a little town and four guys graduating high school in it. Everyone's so darn polite. (And they do know how to wear jeans in Texas.)
The Village. Not a favorite with the critics, but I liked it. Much better than most movies that try to be different. And excellent performances by all, especially Bryce Dallas Howard as plucky blind girl.
Dial M for Murder. Damn! Grace Kelly was beautiful. I'm jealous. Oh, and the script was pretty much flawless and riveting too, for what that's worth.
Batman Begins. (Discussed over here.) The best Batman yet? Could be, could be.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Discussed, in its turn, over here. Darn good fun, and the likeliest to be re-watched by me, of all the HP films so far. Though I should give PoA another chance and double-check.
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. It was a close run between this one and the similarly oddball I Heart Huckabees, but I chose Life Aquatic for the list because I found it a tad sweeter and less cynical. Adorable Owen Wilson beats out fashionably snippy Jude Law in this match, just going to show that I really do value humor over beauty.
In Good Company. Okay, it wasn't great, but it was way better than expected. I've always liked Dennis Quaid, say what you will; and Topher Grace is funnier than he often gets credit for--and both are likeable here, which helps a great deal.
Napoleon Dynamite. Hee. Come on, how could you not smile? Vote for Pedro.
Meet the Parents / Meet the Fockers. We finally got around to seeing these, and had to admit they were funny. I think my dad resembles DeNiro's role, in the minds of the boys who dated me and my sisters...
Team America: World Police. *waves hand in psychic fashion* I sense this will become a classic.
Wedding Crashers. Owen Wilson AND Vince Vaughn. Hallelujah. Point a camera at 'em and let 'em loose. Works for me.
Without a Paddle. I could almost as easily have chosen Super Troopers or Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle for this slot, as all fall under the Really Dumb Comedy heading, and all three films had us rolling on the floor at some point (I admit). But as an Oregonian I have to hand it to this one, since they do have their fun with Oregon jokes. Plus, Seth Green is just the most endearing thing. It cannot be denied.
Stage Beauty. Some screencaps here. Very pretty and risque fluff that takes a huge load of historical liberties. But hey, it was fun.
Kinsey. Could go under "Drama," but I think "sleaze" might be more accurate. All the same, I liked it because I actually thought it ended up denouncing sleaze-for-sleaze's-sake. People sought, and got, improvements in their sex lives, including lots of free-love promiscuity, yes. But before long, their open talk and open habits were making people get up and leave the dinner table, bringing their spouses to tears, and ruining friendships and marriages. I was glad to see Hollywood make even a token effort toward striking the balance between ignorance and promiscuity, and seeking a happy medium of "educated sensuality in a faithful relationship." Or something. Or maybe I'm just a perv and thought, "Sweet, they got people to talk about that stuff? For real? Before the internet? Nice!"