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Rafe's Obligitory Top Ten Of 2005

One of the disadvantages of not being an officially “professional” film critic (with no other day job) is that there are only so many hours in the day to watch movies. Living in a smaller city, away from the hustle and bustle of the larger metropolis areas, there are also fewer opportunities to catch smaller films and Oscar runs – movies that are only released for a week and then disappear until they get their Oscar nomination.

So while my list of movies seen may not be as comprehensive as, say, Josh Tyler’s 100, 65 movies in a year is still a pretty good score. I think that’s enough for me to be able to tell you what was good and what wasn’t in theaters this year.

So what makes my list different from anyone else's? Well, with less chance at smaller movies, most of the films you’ll find on my list are pretty mainstream releases. Looking at the box office take for the year, it’s also pretty indicative of what people actually saw, as opposed to cramming as many artistic independent films on here as possible. This means a lot of you out there have already seen most of the movies on my list, but if you haven’t, these are the ones worth renting or purchasing on DVD, or even heading to the theater for the few on here that can still be caught there.

Without further ado, here are the ten movies I think were the best of 2005.

1. Crash

Directed By: Paul Haggis Written By: Paul Haggis, Robert Moresco Starring: Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Jennifer Esposito, William Fichtner, Brendan Fraser, Terrence Howard, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Thandie Newton, Ryan Phillippe, Tony Danza

Hands down, Crash is the best film of the year. From the moment I left the theater in June I knew Paul Haggis’s racial tale would rank high on my list. I just assumed 2005 would have more to offer and it would eventually be unseated from the number one slot. Not only has it not lost its throne, but subsequent viewings on DVD have only reinforced the idea that this movie is an Important Film (regardless of how much others might hate applying that title). Haggis creates a realistic portrayal of life in Crash not by trying to convince us racial discrimination is bad, but that it’s everywhere in some degree and that people, like race relations, are not just black or white, but a total variety of grays. As such, Matt Dillon’s despicable character gets a shining moment, while even Ryan Phillippe’s most noble-hearted part has a moment of weakness. Haggis’s script is brought to life by an amazingly talented cast who all are willing to work as part of an ensemble for the greater good of the story and message, regardless of being filled with a cast that easily could have ruined the film by trying to take center stage by themselves.

Best Line: “You embarrass me. You embarrass yourself.”

CB Quote: "There is no one without spot here, and just when you think you’ve got a character nailed down first time director and screenwriter Paul Haggis peels back another layer to reveal something else entirely underneath.”[CB Review]

2. Batman Begins

Directed By: Christopher Nolan Written By: Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer Starring: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Ken Watanabe, Katie Holmes, Tom Wilkinson, Rutger Hauer, Sara Stewart, Richard Brake, Gus Lewis, Emma Lockhart, Linus Roache

The dark knight finally returned to screens this summer and has never been this good. For the first time I felt like I was watching an actual movie about Batman and not just a comic book adaptation. That subtle difference in approach was huge, as Christopher Nolan attempted to bring a reality to Batman that has never been attempted before. As such, we finally get to truly feel the anguish caused by the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents, and how Bruce carries that with him deep inside despite all the people around him who still love him. Michael Caine’s portrayal of Alfred brings a new depth to a character that was previously just background, and Morgan Freeman gets a chance to amuse the audience as Nolan finally explains just how Batman does get all of those wonderful toys. The story clearly sets up a sequel and all I can say is: with Nolan at the helm and Bale beneath the cowl, bring it on! I’m ready for another story with this same approach. It appears my nightmares of day-glow paint and Bat-nipples can finally be a thing of the past.

Best Line: “Why do we fall down? So we can pick ourselves up again.”

CB Quote: "When he finally attacks it’s in a blur of darkness and pounding kicks, for the first time we fully understand what it is about him that strikes so much fear into the heart of his opponents”[CB Review]

3. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Directed By: George Lucas Written By: George Lucas Starring: Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Jimmy Smits, Frank Oz, Anthony Daniels, Christopher Lee

You can take all of your complaints about Darth Vader hollering “Nooo!” and stow them. This is the best of the new trilogy of Star Wars films. Is that not saying enough? How about saying this is the first Star Wars movie in over two decades that can rival the original trilogy? Yes, that’s right - Revenge of the Sith fits perfectly with the original trilogy, finally creating the sympathetic character in Darth Vader that Lucas has been trying for two other films to create. In fact, we didn’t really even need those other two films. Other then setting up characters, everything the other movies created was superfluous and misleading. Anakin Skywalker doesn’t move to the Dark Side out of jealousy, anger, frustration, or any of the other things the first two movies made us think. Instead his move to the Dark Side is done out of love in an effort to save the woman he cares for more than his own well being. That noble sentiment surpasses Lucas’s weakness for dialogue. With that idea, the first real space battle of the new trilogy, and the light saber battle we’ve been waiting decades to see, Episode III finally meets the dreams and expectations that had previously been shattered by Jar-Jar Binks and a snot-nosed slave boy.

Best Line: ”Execute Order 66”.

CB Quote: "Revenge of the Sith is the movie [Lucas] ought to have made right from the beginning. This is the story he kept promising he’d tell, the movie we’ve all kept hoping he’ll make. " [CB Review]

4. Serenity

Directed By: Joss Whedon Written By: Joss Whedon Starring: Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, Morena Baccarin, Adam Baldwin, Jewel Staite, Sean Maher, Summer Glau, Ron Glass, Chiwetel Ejiofor

Speaking of shattered dreams and expectations, here’s the film that almost beat Star Wars for me this year as far as space opera goes. Serenity brings that rough feeling of space the original Star Wars trilogy brought, but with more solidly built characters then the new trilogy. Now I’m not one of those crazy Browncoat fans, in fact it wasn’t until a few months ago that I was even introduced to Captain Mal and his renegade crew, but I thought the movie was the perfect follow up to the television series. Unfortunately so few people actually went and saw Serenity in theaters, it’s most likely a conclusion for the show as well – apt since Joss Whedon uses his trademark heartbreak style to put the pain to his devoted fans through the story. Serenity should have been the beginning of a beautiful film franchise, and numerous viewings of the movie on DVD just keep me wanting more of the western frontier in space. At best though, we’ll possibly get a made-for-tv movie which is one of the biggest disappointments this year.

Best Line: Too many to pick from, but above all: “I am a leaf on the wind. Watch how I soar.”

CB Quote: "A rip-roaring and sometimes moving space adventure that picks up almost where the crew of the Millennium Falcon left off, except this time without any of those pesky, holier-than-thou Jedi around." [CB Review]

5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Directed By: Mike Newell Written By: Steven Kloves Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, David Tennant, Timothy Spall, Bonnie Wright, Robert Pattinson, Jason Isaacs, Tom Felton, Roger Lloyd-Pack, Michael Gambon, Brendan Gleeson, Miranda Richardson, Alan Rickman

This has been a fantastic year for Potter fans, who got a new movie and the newest book in the series. For me, who loves the books but hasn’t been a big fan of the movies, it’s also been notable because Goblet of Fire finally makes an adaptation of Rowling’s novels work. The previous movies have felt listless to me, capturing little of the magic and wonder that makes up the everyday lives of the Hogwarts students in an effort to remain true to the books. Since the source material was so large in this case that two movies were almost made, writer Steven Kloves had no choice but to cut massive amounts of the story out in order to put something solid up on screen. For the first time all of those sacrifices pay off with an excellent movie. Even more excellent is that Kloves didn’t cut the idea of the children growing up, both focusing the story at times on their adolescence and also making the film the darker movie it needed to be, earning it the first “PG-13” rating of the series. If higher ratings is what it takes to make future movies work, bring on an “R”!

Best Line: “Everything's going to change now isn't it?”

CB Quote: "This time around Harry fights dragons, angry shrubs, and a school dance. For him, it's that last item that's the worst.[CB Review]

6. Walk the Line

Directed By: James Mangold Written By: James Mangold, Gill Dennis Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Ginnifer Goodwin, Robert Patrick, Dallas Roberts, Dan John Miller, Larry Bagby, Shelby Lynne, Tyler Hilton, Waylon Payne, Shooter Jennings

Many people will complain that Walk the Line should be higher on my list and their right, it probably should be. However, this is my list and if I want space pirates and jedi to beat out Cash then I can put it that way. Don’t take that to mean this isn’t an excellent movie though, and one totally worth your time if you’re looking for an excellently crafted drama. Everyone will mention how chillingly accurate the stars’ performances are, but that’s not what compels me to include this movie on my list; it’s the story that makes the movie work for me. Mangold crafts together a love story that spans several decades and shows us Cash’s disappointments, including concerns about his own music and what it might say about him as a person. Besides, if you’re discussing performances, the underappreciated Robert Patrick deserves mention as Cash’s father, playing a role that spans 20+ years and creating a large part of the motivation behind Phoenix’s performance.

Best Line: “You got a problem with the Air Force, Mr. Phillips? Well, I do.”

CB Quote: “When Cash dismisses his accomplishments as accident or happenstance, it's not because he's humble, but because he's worried about what his music and his style says about him.” [CB Review]

7. Cinderella Man

Directed By: Ron Howard Written By: Cliff Hollingsworth, Charlie Mitchell, Akiva Goldsman Starring: Russell Crowe, Renée Zellweger, Paul Giamatti, Connor Price, Craig Bierko, Bruce McGill

Again it’s about the story for me, and those of you who missed Ron Howard’s Cinderella Man (and by the box office numbers there were a bunch of you) missed a fantastically told inspirational tale. Yeah it’s a boxing movie, and the moments that depict boxing do so in a brutal way, making the audience feel as knocked around as the prizefighters in the ring. But it’s the story of a family trying to survive in the depression that really makes Cinderella Man work. Howard creates a feeling of desperation and Crowe and Zellweger make us understand what people had to go through during that era, including facing obstacles that forced men to shelve their pride in order to maintain their family. I’m not a fan of Crowe as a person, and Zellweger’s peformances can get monotonous at times, but this movie shows both actors at their best. Paul Giamatti is brilliant as always in the type of role that has made his career. One of these days it would be nice to see him get some credit for his work. If he couldn’t get it for Sideways, perhaps this would be just as good a place to start.

Best Line: “I didn’t always lose… I won’t always lose again.

CB Quote: "The film's stunning cinematography draws you into the ring, and leaves you feeling like you're sitting there in person." [CB Review]

8. Hitch

Directed By: Andy Tennant Written By: Kevin Bisch Starring: Will Smith, Kevin James, Eva Mendes, Amber Valletta, Julie Ann Emery, Robinne Lee, Nathan Lee Graham, Adam Arkin, Michael Rapaport, Jeffrey Donovan

Yes it’s a romantic comedy. Yes it’s sappy, silly, and saccharine. Am I not allowed to love the lame every once in a while too? I’m sure I’ll get flack for having this film on my list while Sin City was omitted but chalk it up to my interest in happier stories with more redeemable qualities. Smith re-invents himself as a comedic lead rather than the big action star he was a few years ago, but the best moments of the movie involve Smith’s attempts to turn Kevin James into a modern day Lothario despite flailing around when his own love interest comes into play. Both Smith and James have enough talent to hold their own movies, but together they are comedic dynamite. While a sequel to this film would be completely out of the question, the former “Fresh Prince” and James should definitely team up again. They could be the team David Spade and Chris Farley didn’t get the chance to be.

Best Line: ”Now what am I doing? I'm makin a pizza! ”

CB Quote: "Kevin James has a real talent for being well, fat, and some of the film’s funniest moments come simply from James’s jiggly dance breaks. " [CB Review]

9. King Kong

Directed By: Peter Jackson Written By: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson Starring: Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Andy Serkis, Jamie Bell, Kyle Chandler, Lobo Chan, Thomas Kretschmann, Evan Park, Colin Hanks, John Sumner

What do you go on to once you’ve adapted one of the most fantastic and challenging series of books for the screen? You go on to remake one of the most fantastic and challenging movies ever brought to the big screen. Although the original is a time-honored classic, Jackson seemed poised as the perfect person to craft an updated version of the tale. The movie suffers some flaws – it’s too long and some of the composite shots look incredibly poor for WETA work – but the work WETA, Jackson, and Andy Serkis put into Kong himself is incredible. I dare you to watch the movie and not cry when Kong is captured and eventually killed. The creature himself is absolutely human in his emotions, creating a very different relationship between beauty and the beast that pays off with some really nice moments as Naomi Watt’s Ann Darrow entertains Kong and the giant ape takes Darrow skating in Central Park. If you can make it through the three hour running time this is a great film to catch on the big screen. If not, wait for DVD when you can create your own intermission.

Best Line: "Ladies and gentleman, I give you... Kong!"

CB Quote: "...has the unexpected effect of making it possible to absolutely love Kong, even while he's biting the head off one of the movie's human hero characters." [CB Review]

10. Elizabethtown

Directed By: Cameron Crowe Written By: Cameron Crowe Starring: Orlando Bloom, Kirsten Dunst, Susan Sarandon, Alec Baldwin, Bruce McGill, Judy Greer, Jessica Biel, Paul Schneider

Cameron Crowe creates yet another very human story with his latest film. Although the movie isn’t on par with his best (hence its place at the end of this list), it’s still a very good, easily connectable story. Bloom finally has the opportunity to show what he can do without a sword strapped on as he deals with his father’s death, discovering the man his father was, and facing his own shortcomings as a businessman. That’s some pretty heavy subject matter for a film that spends so much time being a comedy, but Crowe makes it work. Sadly, the movie’s shortcomings come from the female side – not as much from Dunst who is her usual self (which means less than it used to), but from Sarandon’s portrayal of the mourning mother who celebrates her husband’s death by leaping into a stand up comedy routine. Not sure if it’s the script or the performer, but it’s one of the weakest moments to hit screens this year. Ignore that far too long part of the movie though, and you have another emotional journey from the man who brought you Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous.

Best Line: ”I’m fine.”

CB Quote: “…though Elizabethtown’s premise and predilection for unique, mood-setting music gives it an outer veneer similar to Zach Braff’s critically hugged directorial debut, the emotional impact of Crowe’s local-boy-comes-home movie is entirely different." [CB Review]

Great Stuff that didn't make the cut:

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Kung Fu Hustle, Oldboy, Inside Deep Throat Childstar Sin City

Just in case you were wondering:

War of the Worlds was the worst film of 2005. Not the Tom Cruise/Dakota Fanning vehicle (although that was bad too); the Timothy Hines version of the classic novel set independent filmmaking back to the age of silent pictures and was so bad I couldn’t finish it. Alone in the Dark and Son of the Mask came in close behind as movies I would rather rip my eyeballs out than see again and the closest I’ve ever come to walking out of a free movie in the theatre respectively.

me with the way you see it.