The Year in Movies

Ed Harris scares Viggo Mortensen in A History of Violence.Photo: Courtesy of New Line Cinema

Best Movie
‘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.

3 ‘Serenity’
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).

One of the breakneck dancers from Rize.Photo: Courtesy of Lions Gate

Best Art-HouseMovie
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.

2 ‘Caché’
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.

Best Actor
Viggo Mortensen
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.

Michelle Williams in Brokeback Mountain.Photo: Courtesy of Focus Features

Best Actress
Michelle Williams
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 *
Paul Haggis
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.

Best Scene, Comedy
We finally stopped laughing during Shane Black’s comic noir ‘Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang,’ when the amateur detective played by Robert Downey Jr. took a quiet moment in front of the toilet. Then he spied a corpse on the floor next to him. Realizing that he’d been framed for murder, he turned in shock, and, yes, urinated on the body. Played perfectly, it was the most audacious scene of the year, even before the motor-mouth Downey delivered the punch line: “Can’t they get, like, DNA evidence?!”

Best Reason to Stay at Home
The massive Unseen Cinema DVD collection of early avant-garde cinema, from Joseph Cornell’s collage films to Walker Evans’s documentaries. New York curator Bruce Posner even threw in a valentine DVD devoted entirely to experimental visions of his hometown.

Fine film, great poster.Photo: Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Best Poster
The flame-licked Johnny Cash portrait designed for ‘Walk the Line’ by Shepard Fairey, the man behind those Andre the Giant stickers.

Best NYC-Made Documentary Your Teenager Should Be Required to Watch
‘The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till,’ a definitive account of the 1955 lynching that infuriated and invigorated a movement.

Best NYC-Made Documentary Your 12-Year-Old Should Be Required To Watch
‘Mad Hot Ballroom’

Best NYC-Made Documentary Everyone Should Watch Next Year
At the Toronto Film Festival, the work-in-progress screening of Michel Gondry’s hilarious doc ‘Dave Chappelle’s Block Party’ (filmed at a concert the comedian threw in Bed-Stuy) was the most raucous screening of the year—a party onscreen and off (March 3).

Best Wingmen
Edging out The 40-Year-Old Virgin’s Paul Rudd and Steve Carell, Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson (“I think we only use 10 percent of our hearts”) were the year’s funniest duo in Wedding Crashers.

Most Beautiful Sex Scene
Tony Leung and Ziyi Zhang in Wong Kar-Wai’s sumptuous sci-fi romance ‘2046,’ a Hong Kong wonder that united two of the world’s most striking leads with the inimitable cinematographer Christopher Doyle.

Best Comeback
Even more surprising than Robert Downey Jr.’s hilarious return, Woody Allen’s ‘Match Point’ (December 28) shocked us, from its London location to its perfectly cast lovers (Scarlett Johansson and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) to the slick execution of its steamy love triangle.

Best Career Moves
Terrence Howard’s one-two punch of Hustle & Flow and Crash suddenly made the middle-aged actor an A-list name.

Best New Action Star
Tony Jaa, the improbably flexible lead of Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior.

Best Action Scene, Live
The hysterical living-room battle between Angelina & Brad in Mr. & Mrs. Smith.

Best Action Scene, Animated
The fantasy battles of the year’s best animated film, Hayao Miyazaki’s ‘Howl’s Moving Castle.’

Humans just get in the way of the wild, effects-driven King Kong.Photo: Courtesy of Universal Studios

Best Action Scene, Computer-Animated
The wild, thudding, nearly never-ending battle between ‘King Kong’ and the Tyrannosaurus rexes is the early peak of the film: Unlike most too-deliberately choreographed CGI fights, this one felt like a real, messy scrap.

Best Robot
Trumping Robots and War of the Worlds, John Malkovich was glam as the gold-plated, thousand-legged cyborg of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Best Romantic Comedy
Alice Wu’s openhearted debut ‘Saving Face’ dominated a weak field (Fever Pitch, Must Love Dogs, The Wedding Date) with a savvy script about two generations of Chinese-American women in Brooklyn.

Best Title of a Movie
‘Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang’

Best Foreign Director, New Guard
Korean master Park Chan-Wook’s brutal revenge trilogy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, was a gut-punch of visual genre vigor and a vital, Bush-era commentary on our common inability to turn the other cheek.

Werner Herzog, still crazy after all these years. Thank goodness.Photo: Jamie McCarthy/Wireimage

Best Foreign Director, Old Guard
German auteur Werner Herzog proved that old-school mastery still matters in the age of digital video with his three documentaries, Wheel of Time, The White Diamond, and Grizzly Man.

Best Muckraking
While the glut of Iraq documentaries floundered in the shadow of Michael Moore, ‘Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room’ was a Devil’s Dictionary for white-collar crime.

Best Actor Who Really Wants to Direct—And Can
Edging out John Malkovich, actor Tommy Lee Jones makes a strong directorial debut with Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (December 14), a mestizo murder mystery about the death of a ranch foreman’s best friend.

Best Trailer for a Good Movie
‘Wedding Crashers’

Best Trailer for a Mediocre Movie

Best Trailer for a Bad Movie
‘Star Wars: Episode III’

Breakout Performance, Adult
Gilbert Gottfried, poisonously crass as the man who revitalized comedians’ favorite dirty joke in the documentary The Aristocrats.

Photo: Courtesy of Sony Classics

Breakout Performance, Teen
Lou Taylor Pucci, as a pent-up teen who suffers through suburbia and finally makes it to New York in the final shot of Mike Mills’s indie Thumbsucker.

Breakout Performance, Child
Wilson Castillo of Washington Heights and Michael Vaccaro of Bensonhurst, two dashing, diminutive 11-year-old ladykillers who got on the good foot in the documentary Mad Hot Ballroom.

Breakout Performance, Sexpot
You’ll never look at Walt Disney’s Pocahontas the same way after you see The New World (December 25), with Q’Orianka Kilcher’s sexy-poignant turn as the Indian maiden.

New York Movie Most True to the City
Noah Baumbach’s autobiographical drama ‘The Squid and The Whale’ filmed an instantly recognizable Brooklyn that put outer-borough fakery like Duplex to shame.

Best New New York Director
Phil Morrison, who worked in miniature in his naturalistic debut Junebug, dramatizing an utterly believable clash between city mice and country mice.

Best Industry Development
Screw you, Toronto
The revitalized Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre, and Broadcasting instituted new tax incentives this year, spurring more than $500 million worth of productions.

Photo: Clockwise from top right: Courtesy of Touchstone Pictures; Courtesy of Universal Studios(2); Courtesy of TDG Distribution

Best Survivor of Overexposure
Peter Sarsgaard
Still easy to like, even after a glut of performances in The Dying Gaul, Jarhead, The Skeleton Key, and, yes, the idiotic Flightplan.
—Logan Hill and Ken Tucker

The Year Genre Films Got Smart
Photo: Courtesy of Dimension Films

Since the beginning of cinematic time, Hollywood has made its bread and butter with genre movies—Westerns; the gangster saga; private-eye mysteries; sci-fi chillers. They were part of the mix, along with dramas and comedies. But in recent years, the industry has churned out so many bland comic-book adaptations, so many facile film noirs and self-spoofing horror flicks, that the bread seems stale. So it was with great gratification that 2005 turned out to be the year of intelligent (movie) design: genre adaptations with flair, wit, and, at their best, deep emotion.

Take just two examples. War of the Worlds spliced its H. G. Wells source material with state-of-the-art sci-fi destruction and themes Steven Spielberg has nurtured over decades, about the perils of parenthood, the fear of abandonment, and the uncontrollability of the universe. Spielberg also deployed the increasingly fascinating duality of his star, Tom Cruise—the way the actor can hold sunny boyishness and dark-side ferocity in the same character without losing control. The result was a spectacle with soulfulness. Sin City (with Clive Owen and Benicio Del Toro) took a totally different approach to its primary source—co-directors Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez reproduced, onscreen, entire panel sequences from Miller’s graphic novel. But instead of hemming in their creative options, this strategy freed the filmmakers to create a go-for-broke fever dream of sin, revenge, and redemption. For once, using comic-book imagination didn’t make for childish morality or special-effects overkill. Instead, we got an art film disguised as a genre film, its images so stylized they bordered on abstraction.

Other 2005 genre movies that carried their weight with both grace and unpredictability: A History of Violence; Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang; Serenity; and (minus the flat car-chase ending) Batman Begins. What distinguished all these movies was the conviction that genre films, because they arrive in such identifiable packages (we know the general shape of a sci-fi or a detective story), can become, like a poem written in a formal structure such as a sonnet or a villanelle, a field of play for the artists involved, capable of impudence and surprise—the shock of the new wrapped in the context of the familiar.

The Industry Award

James Schamus and David Linde, Focus Features
It was a good year for indie film: The Weinsteins found funding, ThinkFilm offended millions with The Aristocrats, and Sony Pictures Classics got ready-made Oscar bait with Capote. But more than anyone, Focus Features brought art films to the multiplex. Co-founders James Schamus and David Linde got NBC Universal’s backing three years ago; since then, starting with one breakthrough a year (The Pianist, then Lost in Translation, then Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), they’ve built on the Miramax model, using cheap, good genre films like Shaun of the Dead to pay for artier projects and preserve their autonomy. “It helps that the films do well—that they actually send a few nickels back to the mother ship,” says Schamus. “But it also helps that a lot of the personalities in the so-called Universal family get what we do, and get that that’s not what they do.” What Schamus and Linde did do was produce some of the most-talked-about films around. With The Constant Gardener, they reinvented the fast-paced thriller as a politically conscious journey of grief. With Pride & Prejudice, they turned a classic into a popcorn romp full of feminist sass. And with Brokeback Mountain, they created a truly moving gay love story whose buzz didn’t get the better of it. “There’s a definition to a Focus movie,” says Schamus. “Before we even make it, we know a lot of people are going to hate it. They’re not for everybody.” But they’re definitely for us.
—Jada Yuan

The Year in Movies