10. Brokeback Mountain
The quintessential gay cowboy movie is more a triumph for the gay community than it is the best picture of the year. Nevertheless, this biting film lives off the performances of its wonderful principle cast. The weak 2nd act gave the film a disjointed feeling, but the powerful ending combined with that sweeping score helped elevate the movie past its own judgment.
This and Capote prove that sensitive, quiet American filmmaking isn’t dead yet, and that slow-building character pieces still have a place here. The acting is probably the most understated and realistic of the year, and all the aspects of the film, from directing to cinematography to editing to the music, compliment each other perfectly.
No film better explained how the monotony of life can actually dwell on an individual in war. The story of soldiers stranded in the hot desert with nothing to do but daydream and drink water is a harrowing one. Filled with gorgeous visuals and career-building performances, this is an effort that should not be missed.
Visually it’s amazing, and the cast is doing all they can, but the story just lacks the dramatic depth that made Sam Mendes’s first film, American Beauty, so incredible. Like he did with Road to Perdition, Mendes takes a flawed story and turns it into a good film with standout performances, but he also proves once again that it takes a great screenplay to make a great film.
8. The Constant Gardener
Fernando Meirelles’ second feature takes a look at how pharmacies dispose and test drugs on third world countries. Emotionally charged and fever-inducing, The Constant Gardener is a raw and hard boiled film taking aim at corporate America and pulling the trigger.
Meirelles shows that he’s among the best at infusing raw emotion into the heart of his films, and The Constant Gardner has two of the year’s best performances. But all the great corporate warfare stuff comes unraveled when the film’s plot takes a dramatic twist, and the third act feels disjointed, at best.
One of the only films that is actually overrated and underrated at the same time. Paul Haggis’ straight-forward story of race and prejudice in America is nothing surprising but consistently mesmerizing. Haggis’ writing is truthful and surreal, and so is his film.
It might be surreal and allegorical, but by masquerading as a gritty, realistic thriller, Crash loses whatever message it hoped to push across amidst a haze of its own contrivances. The writing is far from truthful, severing all ties from reality pretty early on, and the performances range from quiet greatness (Matt Dillon) to soap opera obnoxiousness (Thandie Newton).
Slow and heartbreaking is the perfect description of Truman Capote’s life and the film about it. Philip Seymour Hoffman is endlessly dynamic and captivating. The most revealing and gravitating performance of the year is the heart of this gruesome film.
Has it really only been a year since Along Came Polly? Hoffman is perfect as Capote, and has enough great supporting roles behind him to prove he won’t be a one hit wonder. The film itself, meanwhile, is calmingly brutal, and its wintry gray tones and dark colors only add to the effect.
5. Match Point
A story about people with good fortune and enough of it to know when luck plays its roll in their lives. A deeply arresting film that has everyone hailing Woody Allen’s name once again. It clearly is his best in years and one of the better films about the modern upper-class lifestyle.
Allen finally exercises those “I liked his earlier work better” demons, and presents the best comeback film ever by a director who never really went away. We’ve known all along that Allen’s unmatched as a writer and hilarious onscreen, but it’s been a while since he proved he can really direct as well, and Match Point does just that.
A gut-wrenching film that poses no solutions to an unfixable problem. Spielberg is always at his best when dealing with serious subject matter, and he proves that once again with Munich. Eric Bana is a strong actor who continues to propel his career through difficult roles. He accepts this one head on with a magnificent portrayal of a man that is slowly losing his own shadow as he participates in the plotted killings of the Munich slaughterers.
Spielberg struggles a little with the end here, but the majority of the film is fantastic, and manages to be emotional and entertaining at the same time. Janusz Kaminski’s old school cinematography is perfect, and the acting is right on. It’s a little heavy-handed at times, but no one ever called Spielberg a master of subtleties, and the film still works as a revenge thriller and a historical character piece.
3. King Kong
Extreme in every way imaginable. This movie was an event, and certainly one to be remembered. With its predictably amazing visuals and solid action, one might wonder where director Peter Jackson found the time to fill this epic with its subtle love story that carries the burdened film throughout. Expertly crafted through and through, King Kong is an amazing journey that works on so many levels, stimulating all the senses. Some of the most fun one might have had at the theaters in 2005.
Jackson’s career has been marked by style over substance, and even though the style is usually pretty amazing, the lack of real emotion has hampered him as a filmmaker. With King Kong, he finally achieves both, evidenced by the contrast between the breathtaking dinosaur chase scene and the frozen lake romantic interlude in Central Park.
2. Sin City
A tough, rowdy, disgusting, obnoxious piece of work that is unforgettable with its unique style, accomplished storytelling, and characters that are as creative as you’ll find in any medium. Robert Rodriguez’s insistence on artist Frank Miller’s participation in the film was understandable and definitely worthwhile. This is a film like nothing you have ever seen.
Rodriguez’s goal as a filmmaker seems to be to never have to go outside. His entire approach and attitude drip with pretentiousness and calculated anti-establishment pandering, but at the same time, he’s making undeniably fun and interesting exploitation films. Sin City is daring and different, and thoroughly entertaining from start to finish.
1. Batman Begins
With its ubiquitous appeal and appetite for darkness, Batman is one of the most appealing and fragile of the superheroes. But here we have a movie not about a superhero but about a tormented man seeking his own comfort in a confusing and often neglected world filled with poison and garbage. Nothing this year was as affective or powerful as Christopher Nolan’s interpretation of Batman. With memorable performances all around and expert direction, Batman Begins is easily the best and one of the most surprising films of 2005.
Nolan has proved he can build a tone in his films early on and maintain them throughout, evidenced by the stunning Memento and the underrated Insomnia. So the fact that he did a good job with Batman Begins isn’t surprising, but the way he did it is. The fifth of the modern Batman movies feels much more like a dark, complex graphic novel than a goofy comic book, and the expert casting supports the seriousness Nolan set out to attain.
Honorable Mentions: Where the Truth Lies, Walk the Line, Wedding Crashers, The Upside of Anger, The Family Stone, In Good Company, Murderball and Layer Cake.
Danny Gordon can be contacted at email@example.com.