‘A History of Violence’
David Cronenberg’s triumphant exploration of what happens when one man’s peaceful small-town life is exploded by a visitor from his past. Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello help create a portrait of a solid, sexy marriage strained to the breaking point. The year’s most surprising mixture of genres—thriller, love story, revenge tale—told with the meticulousness of a great prose short story.
2 ‘Brokeback Mountain’
Not a reinvention of the love story, as some would have it, but a different way to tell a big, commercial love story—with same-sex romantic leads who aren’t pushing a self-congratulatory, life-affirming “message” at you. Director Ang Lee takes E. Annie Proulx’s short story and helps Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal achieve two new personal bests in delicate shadings of emotion. Their characters face down entire lifetimes of desire and heartache for each other.
The year’s best underrated movie, courtesy of writer-director Joss Whedon’s resurrected short-lived TV series Firefly: spaceships, quips, and soaring wit—all for a relatively modest price (see Best Debut).
David LaChappelle’s documentary about “krumping”—the explosive yet meticulous South Central L.A. street dancing—was the year’s most exhilarating look at a subculture that most moviegoers would otherwise have never seen.
A French thriller (out December 23) that gets its jolts from its eerie ominousness, this hushed film by writer-director Michael Haneke is a mesmerizing puzzler about a family under surveillance by—whom?
3 ‘League of Ordinary Gentlemen’
The big-city media were never more provincial than when they neglected this documentary about uncool professional bowling and the, um, striking star personalities it produces.
As a small-town diner owner in A History of Violence forced to erupt into violence, Mortensen brings essential shadings of reticence, regret, anger, and guilt to the year’s most complex portrait of manhood under siege.
2 Heath Ledger
Ledger provides the season’s second-most-complex portrait of same in Brokeback Mountain. An inarticulate cowboy who cannot let go of the feelings he has for a youthful male love, Ledger’s character suffers in eloquent silence.
3 Jeff Daniels
And Daniels provides the third: As a prickly, third-rate novelist and first-rate neurotic in The Squid and the Whale, Daniels pushes every character’s buttons with sadistic eloquence, and he’ll push yours too.
The hurt wife in most domestic dramas is a thankless role, and this is also a relatively brief appearance in terms of screen time. But in Brokeback Mountain, Williams—remaining both loyal and stung when the romance between her husband (Heath Ledger) and his lover (Jake Gyllenhaal) leaves her no breathing room—uses her powerfully quiet performance to convey a world of long-suffering agony that other actors would need star billing and time to project. Williams just flat-out floors you, instantly.
2 Reese Witherspoon
As a mostly ebullient June Carter Cash in Walk the Line, Witherspoon also taps into reserves of steely resolve that enable her to more than hold her own against Joaquin Phoenix’s powerhouse Johnny Cash performance.
3 Joan Allen
A looser, goosier, yet also more bitter role than Allen usually assays, her Upside of Anger character is a widow caught between sorrow and the suspicion that she’s about to be freed into a new, more exciting life.
Best Debut *
Haggis had done some TV directing, but nothing could have prepared us for the multiplot storytelling he so adroitly layered into his big-cast stunner Crash.
2 Shane Black, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang: For his first feature, Black could have coasted on his clever script and the performances of Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer; instead, he also established himself as a devilishly clever manipulator of pacing and showcased his stars’ eccentricities to create a noir puzzle with resonance.
3 Joss Whedon, Serenity: Made for $40 million, a fraction of the budget of a Star Wars movie, Whedon’s feature-film debut was a sci-fi lark that was scarier, emotionally richer, and a lot funnier than anything Lucasfilm could come up with.
*Special all-directors edition, because this year they just kept coming.
The Short List
Best Chick Flick
Shirley MacLaine, Cameron Diaz, and Toni Collette gave us hope for a genre bedecked with dreck in 2005, in Curtis Hanson’s genuinely moving drama about wayward sisters, ‘In Her Shoes.’
Best Scene, Opening
With the chilling murders that kick off ‘A History of Violence,’ David Cronenberg established the menace that coursed through the rest of his film.
Best Scene, Period
‘Capote’ The final jailhouse conversation, in which Truman Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman) pries a confession from murderer Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.). “You pretend to be my friend,” says Smith, taking out a newspaper article about Capote’s reading from his forthcoming In Cold Blood—and objecting to the title’s implication. The author lies: “How could I choose a title when you still haven’t told me what happened that night? How could I? I couldn’t possibly . . . I have something from your sister. She misses you.” The best part? Capote would surely approve that the film’s truest scene was an utter fiction.