Cinescene's
Top Ten

Chris Dashiell
Chris Knipp
Don Larsson
Shari L. Rosenblum
Howard Schumann
Mark Sells


Top 10 Movies of 2005 
by Mark Sells

Batman Begins (Christopher Nolan)
Finally, the Batman story we've been waiting to see--one that shows Bruce Wayne's spiral into darkness and his emergence into a legendary superhero. And one that invigorates the franchise with a much-needed dose of reality. Directed by Christopher Nolan of Memento fame and featuring some brilliant brooding by series newcomer Christian Bale, Batman Begins explores the inner demons of Bruce Wayne's past and present as well as his future struggle between justice and vengeance. Certainly, one of the year's most entertaining and enjoyable action adventures, it's the amazing story of the man behind the mask.

Syriana (Stephen Gaghan)
A political potboiler of the most pressing kind, Stephen Gaghan's Syriana wraps itself unabashedly around the politics of the Middle East without passing judgment or standing on a soap box. A brilliant supposition with a brilliant ensemble, the film examines many different and surprisingly interrelated stories, from a CIA agent to a Gulf country prince to an energy analyst, an oil tycoon, and a Washington attorney. And it makes a point to show that in the world's constant struggle for more and more oil, no side is completely free from corruption or compromise. Or unwilling to engage in cutthroat tactics to gain the upper hand. Boldly original and thought provoking, Syriana is a game in which no one really wins because everyone has so much to lose.

Cinderella Man (Ron Howard)
Everyone loves a Cinderella story. And in Ron Howard's heartfelt historical drama, Cinderella Man, the glass slipper is worn by Depression Era boxer, James J. Braddock. What separates Braddock from others in the ring is his nobility, his pride, and his sheer determination--a willingness to slug it out simply to put milk on the table for his family. Driven by love and honor, courage and fortitude, he achieves the impossible, defeating legions of foes on his way to the heavyweight championship of the world. In the title role is Russell Crowe, an actor so savvy at portraying the everyman that he is virtually undistinguishable. Alongside him, on the under card, is Paul Giamatti, a character actor who earns every bit of praise for his zest and encouragement. With some of the most realistic, thrilling boxing sequences ever captured on film, Cinderella Man remains a humbling and stirring account of an upstanding American hero.

Munich (Steven Spielberg)
Violence begets violence. Or so it goes in Stephen Spielberg's most recent docudrama, about the tragic consequences following the massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972. In the aftermath, in an act of revenge, Israel calls upon a special task force to track down the eleven killers and assassinate every last one of them. Avner, the young Mossad leader of the team, played splendidly by Eric Bana, comes close to losing his sanity, his morality, and his own family. In fact, with quiet confidence and restraint, it has to be the most underrated performance of the year. Powerfully dramatic and politically thrilling, Munich has the proper sense to question, suggest, and provoke without attempting to pass moral judgment or blame.

The Squid and the Whale (Noah Baumbach)
Quirky, painful, and insightfully true, Noah Baumbach's The Squid and the Whale is a biting comedy drama about the effects of divorce. And it doesn't seem like anyone is spared from the emotional and psychological wreckage. As Bernard and Joan grow apart and go their separate ways, their two sons Walt and Frank are forced to grow up and come to terms with the demise of their happy childhood. Witty and sincere, Baumbach's script is a gem, focusing on each character individually and giving them the right amount of sensitivity, care, and fallibility. With Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney as parents and outstanding support from Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline, The Squid and the Whale has one of the best ensemble performances and one of the best original screenplays of 2005.

Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee)
The year's most controversial and courageous film stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger as two young cowboys hired to herd sheep up Brokeback Mountain, but who wind up forming an unorthodox relationship instead--one that is especially difficult to shake once they return home and go their separate ways. Directed with perfect pacing and subtlety by Ang Lee, the film is beautifully cinematic and simple, profoundly engaging the emotions associated with unrequited love. And it features a poetically hypnotic score by Gustavo Santaolalla. With passion, conflict, and gritty determination, Brokeback Mountain magnificently explores a new frontier.

The Constant Gardener (Fernando Meirelles)
Director Fernando Meirelles created an international phenomenon with his gritty depiction of life in the Brazilian ghettos, a film simply known as City of God. And he hits it out of the park once more, this time with his English language debut, The Constant Gardener. In the film, a British diplomat named Justin (played by Ralph Fiennes) discovers that his wife has been viciously murdered while investigating a misuse of corporate sponsored drug testing in Kenya. And after a series of colorful flashbacks, he decides to investigate her murder on his own terms. Filled with pulsating energy and charm, the film goes backward and forward through time without missing a beat. And both Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz give heroic performances, perfectly opposite in every way.

Millions (Danny Boyle)
One of the year's most unexpected joys--a child's fantasy full of magic, miracles, and saints. And to think that it was directed by Danny Boyle, the same Danny Boyle responsible for such adult laden projects as Trainspotting and 28 Days Later, makes it all the more fascinating. The film follows the adventures of two young boys from Liverpool, who stumble upon a suitcase full of money, just as England is about to replace the British Pound with the Euro. And they must quickly determine what to do with all the money before it's too late! Maintaining a child's perspective and enthusiasm, Millions is imaginative and vibrant. And it's easily the year's most lovable, family friendly indulgence.

Walk the Line (James Mangold)
Walk the Line is the music biopic that Ray struggled to be. It's biographical, musical, and undeniably focused. The film also features two of the year's best performances from Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon, two actors who go the extra mile, acting and singing and playing music throughout. In fact, their chemistry is simply magic. Based on Man in Black and Cash: The Autobiography, Walk the Line chronicles Cash's early struggles, from his childhood days in Kingsland, Arkansas to his first big break at Sun Records to the gradual rise to fame and fortune on the country music scene, culminating in the famous concert at Folsom Prison. Depicting a beautiful love story and filled with plenty of great music, Walk the Line is nothing short of a stirring, straightforward musical masterpiece.

Crash (Paul Haggis)
If there's one movie from 2005 that simply outshines the rest, Crash is it. Written and directed by Paul Haggis, the Academy Award winning writer of Million Dollar Baby, Crash relays a handful of stories, each with a different spin on racial tolerance in today's world. In fact, it's the kind of film that makes the moviegoing experience worthwhile--it literally can change the way you think and feel. Featuring an all-star cast and some of the finest, realistic writing you'll ever see, Crash dares to go where few films have gone before, openly flirting between lines of race, color, and ethnicity. After all, in today's world, it's not just about black and white. It's about the many, many shades of gray. Poignant, powerful, and provocative, Crash is the best written and best executed film of the year--a masterful morality tale with a lot of guts.

©2006 Mark Sells
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