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Critic: Ann Morrow

1. Millions

Who would’ve thought that Danny Boyle, a specialist in the grimmer impulses of human behavior, would’ve come up with this joyous, imaginative, and, yes, uplifting fable about altruism? Alexander Nathan Etel is a revelation as the grieving youngster who has visions of the (charmingly down-to-earth) saints.

2. A History of Violence

A genre crime film about the ripple effects of violence, reinvented with intellect and emotion. David Cronenberg is at the height of his powers here, and Viggo Mortensen is mesmerizing as a humble, small-town family man whose dark past catches up to him—and him to it—as the sinister plot infiltrates his still-steamy long-term marriage.

3. Syriana

A geopolitical thriller about “petroleum security” that (just barely) fictionalizes U.S. machinations over the world’s dwindling oil supply, written and directed by Stephen Gaghan with depth, complexity, and visual immediacy. The stellar cast includes an unglamorous George Clooney as a weary CIA operative caught in the shifting sands of governmental imperative.

4. Lords of War

This entertainingly cynical comedy about a high-level illegal-weapons trader (Nicolas Cage) assimilates a decades’ worth of censored stories about the near-genocidal impact of arms proliferation in the troubled areas of the world.

5. Batman Begins

Director Christopher Nolan elevates the tragic backstory of the oft-filmed superhero into a compelling psychological drama, and does so without stinting on moody atmospherics or inventive combat choreography. Christian Bale is the most interesting (and watchable) Batman yet, especially in his interactions with his good-cop ally (Gary Oldman), his warrior nemesis (Liam Neeson), and his droll butler (Michael Caine).

6. The Squid and the Whale

A penetrating semi-autobiography (by Noah Baumbach) of a family in the process of disintegration, as two narcissistic intellectuals heading for divorce let it all hang out in front of their two troubled sons. Jeff Daniels as the pompous, selfish father, and Jesse Eisenberg as his worshipful older son, are both Oscar contenders.

7. March of the Penguins

Over a year in the filming, this groundbreaking documentary on the mating season of emperor penguins is a fascinating tale of tenacity, parental devotion, survival skills, and love. Though the emperors are adorable, their harrowing trek to their Antarctic breeding ground is not for the faint of heart.

8. The Constant Gardener

Directed by Fernando Meirelles (from the John Le Carre novel), this story of a genteel diplomat (Ralph Fiennes) who is awakened to the harsh realities of his post in Kenya by his passionate, activist wife (Rachel Weisz) takes on the insidious topic of corporate profit-mongering in the Third World. Though its impact doesn’t measure up to its provocative ambition, it’s dazzlingly crafted and movingly acted.

9. Walk on Water

This gripping espionage thriller from Israel is about an anti-terrorism agent ordered to assassinate an elderly Nazi. Set against the most beautiful locations of the Holy Land, it’s also about the schisms between Jews and Arabs, gays and straights, young and old, and the fine line between revenge and redemption.

10. Layer Cake

Sheer cinematic pleasure, this pulpy morality tale expertly utilizes all the best elements of the British crime caper, including acerbic observations on socioeconomic conditions (here, it’s the trickle-down corruption of global high finance). In a star-making performance, Daniel Craig plays a nonviolent drug dealer with cool-as-McQueen charisma.

 

worst of 2005

1. Alone in the Dark

Uwe Boll is widely regarded as the worst director making films today, and this incoherent adaptation of the video game torturously demonstrates why. Do not—I repeat—do not rent this movie, no matter how much you like the game.

2. Doom

Seemingly made by zombies for an audience of zombies.

3. Stealth

A slick, soulless, and tediously convoluted commercial for overpriced and ineffectual weapons of select destruction. Jamie Foxx’s onscreen preening is an embarrassment.

4. XXX: State of the Union

This sequel to the empty-headed but energetic Vin Diesel vehicle is even more moronic, and the action sequences are cheesy instead of cheeky. Roly-poly Ice Cube is pathetic as a super-athletic secret agent.

5. The Island

Hack emeritus Michael Bay takes an intriguing premise—human cloning for organ harvesting—and blows it up into a mindless action extravaganza. Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson both strive—and fail—to humanize their cologne-ad characters.

Critic: Shawn Stone

 

1. 2046

The visually glorious sequel to In the Mood for Love is even more heartbreaking than the original, with year’s best performance in Tony Leung’s seedy journalist. Wong Kar-Wei weaves together the political turmoil of the 1960s, science fiction and doomed romance into something ineffably profound.

2. Grizzly Man

Nature is indifferent to you, and bears aren’t your friends. That’s not all you’ll take away from Werner Herzog’s fascinating documentary about the late grizzly enthusiast Timothy Treadwell, but it’s a good lesson to learn.

3. Good Night, and Good Luck.

George Clooney’s elegiac look back at TV journalist Edward R. Murrow’s battle with red-baiting Sen. Joseph McCarthy managed to re-create a lost America while speaking directly to our current political situation.

4. The 40-Year-Old Virgin

All honors to writer-director Judd Apatow and writer-star Steve Carell for this deranged but oddly sweet romantic comedy about, well, a 40-year-old virgin. Stands with the Apatow-produced Anchorman as one of the great—and deeply weird—comedies of our time.

5. A History of Violence

Blood and violence have a cost. That’s the message of David Cronenberg’s haunting—and, naturally, gross—drama about a seemingly “normal” guy (Viggo Mortenson) with a dark past.

6. Syriana

Writer-director Stephen Gaghan explains Middle East politics for you. Deceptively complex and totally entertaining, with great performances by George Clooney, Christopher Plummer and a talented ensemble.

7. The Constant Gardener

Ralph Fiennes gives the second-best performance of the year as a nice-guy British diplomat in Africa, unprepared for the depths of both First-World evil and his wife’s (luminous Rachel Weisz) love.

8. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

This documentary about the Enron story contains more pure evil than a grindhouse splatter flick. When does Ken Lay’s trial begin?

9. Howl’s Moving Castle

Hayao Miyazaki’s animated adaptation of Diana Wynne Jones’ novel about witchcraft and war had a topical resonance that went beyond the story or the fantastic visual ideas. Excellent voice casting, too, with good work from Christian Bale, Jean Simmons and Lauren Bacall.

10. Mr. and Mrs. Smith

Once in a while, movie stars can be a good thing. The same goes for big-budget commercial filmmaking. Doug Liman, who also directed the nifty The Bourne Identity (not the lifeless sequel), helped the usually dull Brad Pitt and the usually over-the-top Angelina Jolie become an appealing screen team.

 

worst of 2005

1. Elizabethtown

Hideous. Cameron Crowe should go back to school. Again.

2. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Only missed being the worst of the year because Yoda a good fight scene had.

3. Bewitched

That director Nora Ephron (You’ve Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle) dropped this celluloid turd is no surprise, but Nicole Kidman’s slide into ditzy inanity is a shocker. Only missed being the worst of the year because Steve Carell’s channeling of Paul Lynde as Uncle Arthur was hilarious.

4. The Man

In which Samuel L. Jackson used up the last shred of cred left from his glory years, and Eugene Levy proved he can’t save every piece-of-junk comedy.

5. Capote

News flash: Journalists are assholes. I probably hate this one more than it deserves, but, sweet Jesus, it made me feel sorry for (the real) Truman Capote—something I didn’t think possible.

Critic: Laura Leon

 

1. Murderball

Fast moving, sharp-edged documentary about quadraplegic rugby players will have you both applauding and hoping you never have to face the likes of these athletes on your own home court. Refreshingly honest, revealing “differently abled” athletes in all their glory, warts and all.

2. Good Night, and Good Luck.

Elegantly told, beautifully crafted movie about the effect of Edward R. Murrow’s staunch defiance of Cold War hysteria as personified by Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Set in mid-’50s America, the film says more about the current state of journalism than any other movie. Ever.

3. March of the Penguins

Absolutely mesmerizing documentary about the dating and mating rituals of the emperor penguin. One can’t help but sound hyperbolic when describing the sheer beauty and amazement that this movie is.

4. Layer Cake

Stylish gangster film that rises above the merely attractive to look at by dint of its sense of real menace and incredibly sharp dialogue. Plus, Daniel Craig—now the new James Bond—oozes cool; he’s the frosting on the cake.

5. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Wonderfully effective immersion into the beloved world of C.S. Lewis’s seven books. Die-hard fans will always find something to quibble about, but this is a magical, overwhelmingly successful tale of courage and sacrifice.

6. Syriana

A complex and intriguing geopolitical thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat, only in part because that’s where you’ll need to be in order to pay proper attention to the myriad maneuverings that weave the threads of oil, terrorism, money and power into one stunning whole.

7. Me and You and Everyone We Know

Weirdly disquieting, yet profoundly hopeful look at the desire for connecting.

8. Red Eye

A solid B-movie that, more than most movies this year, showed how to blend genuine tension with solid storytelling and unusual wit.

9. Shopgirl

Wistful story about love and the longing for it. Despite a few moments in which Steve Martin’s older lothario comes off as, well, a little creepy in his pursuit of waif Claire Danes, and despite the clunky voice-over narration, the movie has style, wit, lyricism and poetry.

Good Night, and Good Luck.

photo:Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

10. Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

What can we say? It’s Wallace and Gromit, dammit, and they’re back!

worst of 2005

1. Bewitched

Call me bewildered—why cinematize yet another paltry TV series, only to make it much worse than that original? At least this time, the filmmakers score one for equal rights: Instead of making Darren the insipid, milquetoast partner, they make Samantha, played by a whispery, fawning Nicole Kidman, the repulsively unappealing spouse.

2. Must Love Dogs

Or, what you need in order to get through this movie, with its really tacky, not at all funny plotlines. Not even John Cusack’s nascent charm can salvage this stinker, in which Diane Lane plays disastrously against type, as a fidgety, flirty, newly single woman.

3. Cinderella Man

Despite a stellar performance by Russell Crowe, this turkey just can’t rise above its one-two knockout (and I mean that in a bad way) punch of Renée Zellwegger’s constant whine and director Ron Howard’s inability to tell the story without resorting to constant replays and flashbacks meant to ensure that the audience gets it—really gets it.

4. Man of the House

People mock the fact that Tommy Lee Jones started off on the daytime soap One Life to Live, but any episode of that show has got to be better than this purported comedy, in which Jones plays a crusty lawman entrusted with the care of a gang of obnoxious college cheerleaders. They happen to be material witnesses to a murder, but that’s not the point. What is, apparently, is seeing aging Tommy wrestle with broken curfews and panties hung in the bathroom. Say it isn’t so.

5. Pride & Prejudice

Watch as the rain pours down on lovely Keira Knightly’s face each time she, as Jane Austen’s beloved Scarlett O’Hara, I mean, Elizabeth Bennett, confronts that confounded Heathcliff, I mean, Mr. Darcy. . . . A movie more in awe of the natural elements streaming down on its attractive costars than anything related to the literary classic.

 


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