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ISSUE 119 VOL 10 PUBLISHED 12/2/2005

The cinematic year in review

By John Douglass
Variety Editor


Friday, December 2, 2005

This past year was tough on the business side of the movie industry, but a boon for serious film aficionados. On one hand, box office receipts dwindled to record lows, but on the other, studios continued to release fantastic films.

Every genre – from the most expensive studio blockbuster to the smallest independent film – brought something refreshingly original to the table. Whether watching reworked versions of previously overdone stories, or completely original stories with well-known actors, the cinema has been a great place to be.

In putting together a comprehensive list of my picks for the ten best movies of the year, I really began to panic. I feel that even though I spend more time at the movies than your averae film-goer, I still feel that I have not seen enough movies – at least not as many as I would like.

Under the circumstances, with a lack of time and many surely great movies still pending release – enjoy my picks, and do your best to see them if you have not already.

1. Hustle and Flow

This under appreciated movie is the story of a low-level street pimp who dreams of being a rap star. The premise is cliché, but this one is all about the execution. Terence Howard turns in a phenomenal performance as the pimp DJay, as do Taryn Manning and Taraji P. Henson as his working girls. Half the joy of this movie stems from watching the seeds of a dream come to fruition in all its bumping, rapping glory.

2. Capote

This Truman Capote biopic is notable for just about any reason you could dream up. Phillip Seymour Hoffman finally gets the high-profile starring role that he deserves. The story focuses on the saga of Capote’s process of writing the revolutionary "In Cold Blood." It is equal parts fascinating, terrifying and utterly engaging.

3. Crash

Paul Haggis won an Academy Award last year for screenwriting, but in his directorial debut shows that he is no slouch behind the camera either. This investigation of race relations in Los Angeles is wonderfully executed by the best ensemble cast, including Howard (again), Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Sandra Bullock and Brendan Frasier, of the year. "Crash" belongs to the elite class of movies that can actually inspire social change.

4. Kung-Fu Hustle

I am not sure if this movie should be listed, since the film was belatedly released in the United States, but came out last year in its native China. Regardless, it is a creative visual smorgasbord of different styles – a hybrid of martial arts, "Looney Tunes" and Hollywood satire. "Kung-Fu Hustle" is absolutely hilarious, and undoubtedly, one of the most original films released this year and ever.

5. Walk the Line

Biopics in Hollywood have never been better, and this movie is no different. Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon channel Johnny Cash and June Carter with uncanny abilities that stretch into their vocal performances. "Walk the Line" is infinitely more deserving of recognition than last year’s hackneyed "Ray," despite their obvious similarities.

6. Batman Begins

Since I am a complete sucker for comic books and comic book movies, it was a relief to see director Christopher Nolan treat "Batman" with both blockbuster splendor and indie spirit. With another fantastic ensemble cast, including Michael Caine and Christian Bale, this is the Batman movie the world has always deserved.

7. The 40 Year-Old Virgin

Unquestionably the funniest movie I saw this year, this film cements the status of former Daily Show correspondent Steve Carell as a viable leading comedian and also lifts up the woefully underrated director Judd Apatow. The charm in "Virgin" comes from the heart that lies beneath all of its soon-to-be-classic gross-out comedy.

8. A History of Violence

David Cronenberg’s twisting and turning gangster movie is an interesting allegory on the nature of violence. It is superbly acted, Viggo Mortensen especially shines in his first notable post-Aragorn turn. Although it may leave you feeling slightly sick afterwards, "Violence" will ultimately challenge your beliefs and preconceived notions regarding violence.

9. Jarhead

Unjustly defiled by the majority of critics, Sam Mendes’ contribution to the over crowded world of war movies is a gorgeous investigation of the effects of the Gulf War on the individuals involved. Furthermore, Jake Gyllenhaal finally throws his hat into the ring of young actors ready to define their generation.

10. Sin City

Setting the bar for comic book adaptations, directors Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s ultra-violent, pulpy vision is realized in all its stylized glory. "Sin City" reinvents film noir and injects it with a serious dose of steroids.





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