Last week, we posted our 10 Most Redeeming Films of 2005. And this week, we present our Critics' Choice Awards for the Top 10 Films of 2005.
What's the difference between the lists? The "redeeming" list speaks for itself—films that told a story of redemption (something or somebody bad turned good, an uplifting story that celebrates truth, goodness and/or biblical values, etc.). Our Critics' Choice list, on the other hand, consists of the 10 films that our panel believes were the most excellent films of 2005, whether they carried a "redeeming" message or not. But all are films of excellence, and many are up for various honors at the upcoming Academy Awards.
Our list resembles some you've seen in the mainstream, but we've got a few off-the-beaten-path picks as well—especially our No. 1 choice. We also let each of our panelists choose "One That Got Away"—a single film they wish had made our Top Ten list. Think of those five extra films as sort of our "honorable mentions."
George Lucas may have capped off the Star Wars saga with a bang, but Serenity was the year's most intelligent and clever sci-fi film. Joss Whedon's cinematic debut wraps up his prematurely cancelled TV series Firefly with a film that explores spiritual and political themes without beating us over the head with sloganeering and polemics. It's loaded with top-notch action and a suspenseful, well crafted script laced with snappy dialogue and wit. The complex characters share a chemistry that's irresistible. (Our review.)
This deconstruction of popular genres—the Western, the gangster flick, the high-school movie—and the moral codes lurking within them is a strange mixture of tragedy and satire. Dark and disturbing—and only for the most cautious and discerning viewers—Cronenberg's film about the American ideal of a "good guy" is one of the most challenging conversation starters of the year. It asks us to consider: If violence is brought against us, what inspired it in the first place? Does violent retaliation set a good example for the rest of the world, and if so, how do we break the cycle of violence? (Our review.)
Jim Jarmusch turns in his most commercial film here, but it's every bit as quirky and idiosyncratic as we've come to expect. Bill Murray gives one of his most heartbreaking and revealing performances as an aging womanizer, showing how our various pursuits can leave us empty, broken, and dissatisfied. As the lonely Don Johnston, Murray creates a funny and affecting character, a man who is running out of time to develop a meaningful life. His expensive belongings and shallow affairs have failed to fulfill him, but with the help of his neighbor Winston, he may yet get up off the couch and pursue some meaning, rather than just observing it. (Our review.)
Another Jane Austen adaptation may seem like the last thing we need, but Joe Wright—the most exciting new director on the block—brings this beloved material such warmth, humor, and energy that it's like we're seeing this story unfold for the very first time. The filmmakers didn't try to outdo previous versions, recognizing the limitations of a movie and working within those parameters to their advantage. The film is mercifully allowed to breathe, with some lovely scenery, texture, and symbolism. As Elizabeth, Keira Knightly delivers her most impressive performance yet, while Matthew Macfadyen, as Mr. Darcy, proves himself a strong leading man. (Our review.)
A dark, thought-provoking, and suspenseful look at Israel's possible retaliation to the assassination of some of the 1972 Olympians by PLO terrorists. Spielberg is at the top of his game in this technically and artistically solid examination of the world's response to evil. Part spy thriller, part political drama, Spielberg's controversial film examines a subject that goes far beyond Israeli-Palestinian tensions. When does the pursuit of justice become vengeance? Does God allow us to take matters into our own hands? As the characters learn the soul-breaking lessons of violent retaliation, the film does lift up a "prayer for peace," just as Spielberg said it would. (Our review.)
Bad marketing … burnout over boxing movies … Russell Crowe's infamous telephone smackdown … global conspiracy … whatever the reason, it's almost criminal the way Cinderella Man was overlooked in 2005. The storytelling and technical aspects make this one of Ron Howard's finest films, with award-worthy performances from Crowe—playing Jim Braddock, a real-life Depression era boxing hero—as well as Paul Giamatti and Renee Zellweger. This is one of those films where you forget the genre and the relatively predictable conventions, because the human drama takes over. More than just a feel-good tale of zero to hero, it's a story of family, friendship and love. (Our review.)
A wonderful, enchanting story about a child's faith, his desire to be like the saints he so admires, and his efforts to be generous. Danny Boyle lets us see the world through a child's eyes, and he brings the saints themselves to vivid, if occasionally slightly irreverent, life. The film avoids stereotyped characters and has a truly unique plot and main character—Damian, played with irresistible charm by Alex Etel. Boyle creates a world we can believe in, while adding fantastical flourishes throughout. And in the end, it somehow inspires doing good without any hint of cheese or an agenda. One of our critics said that every time he watches it, the film gives him hope and makes him aspire to be a better person. (Our review.)
Forget any Batman movies you've seen in the past: This is the definitive one. This film's greatest achievement is not in action spectacles or dazzling-do, but in answering that crucial question: Why does Bruce Wayne do what he does? By showing us the real man—and not just the bat—director Christopher Nolan makes Wayne (Christian Bale) real, understandable, and truly heroic. And by focusing on story and gristle, Nolan makes this film rise above just another comic book movie with a dramatic story about fear, the line between revenge and justice, and what defines each person. A masterpiece. (Our review.)
A well-directed and riveting character drama, Crash showcases a handful of the best ensemble performances of the year: Terrance Howard, Ludacris, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Sandra Bullock, and more. Telling the intercrossing stories of several L.A. residents, the film dissects the sins, racism, and human failings that separate us all—and we see the good and bad in each character. It's a "hyperlink movie," interweaving the short stories of numerous characters, and it holds together to communicate its point without confusing audiences. It's a fresh look at an old topic: racism and prejudice. But whatever your race or social status, Crash makes you consider how you treat those who are different from you. (Our review.)
In a year of "important issue films" (Crash, Syriana, Munich) and biopics (Walk the Line, Capote, Good Night and Good Luck), Dear Frankie is a marvelous breath of fresh air. A charming tale about a boy longing for a father, the film creates an endearing world of an imaginative deaf boy and his struggling mom, who will do anything for her son—even lie. The film is handled with great restraint, sweetness, and originality. Dear Frankie will move you to laugh and to cry, but without ever feeling manipulative. Director Shona Auerbach isn't afraid of silence; there are a number of wordless scenes where the facial expressions alone convey the mood, including one of the most beautiful—and realistically awkward and understated—romantic scenes we've ever seen. Emily Mortimer, Gerard Butler, and Jack McElhone are terrific in the three lead roles. Don't miss it. (Our review.)
The Ones That Got Away
We asked each of our voters to describe one movie they wish had made our list.
The story of Truman Capote's research for his groundbreaking non-fiction novel In Cold Blood is a telling examination of genius, ambition and self-absorption sparked with occasional flashes of conscience and compassion. A wonderful double feature with Good Night, and Good Luck—making for a pair of small, smart, understated historical pieces with a terrific sense of period and place, and both from directors and screenwriters early in their careers. Philip Seymour Hoffman's much-praised performance in the title role is worthy of every accolade: the definitive performance from one of the great actors of this generation. Catherine Keener, Chris Cooper and Clifton Collins, Jr. also shine.
— Ron Reed
The most enchantingly fun time I spent in a theater in 2005 was not in a theater, butthe entrancing world of Narnia.Within minutes after Lucy steps through the wardrobe, I was transported there and felt 10 again. Despite some critics' complaints about small deviations from the book, this endearing film is devotedly faithful to the heart of the story. Director Andrew Adamson brings this colorful fairy tale to life through beautiful visuals,moving performances (especially Georgie Henley as Lucy), and lifelike effects. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe is an emotional triumph ofimagination, awe and Christian metaphor. (Our review.)
— Todd Hertz
David Strathairn's performanceas Edward R. Murrow is spot-on in this story of the newsman's infamous battle with Sen. Joseph McCarthy during the Red Scare of the 1950s. Beautifully shot in black and white to recapture the period and to align the visuals with the television footage from that time, this little film by George Clooneypraises Murrow's efforts without needlesslypromoting a particular ideology. It's more a reminder of the necessity for the media to ask difficult questions during difficult times, not to mention the importance of responsible reportingfor the right reasons. (Our review.)
— Russ Breimeier
This film turns on the cultural tensions that political pundits have reduced to phrases like "red state" and "blue state," but does so with a sincerity and nuance that is often lacking in public discourse. George, a Southern ex-patriot living in Chicago, brings his new bride to visit his family in North Carolina. Among her new in-laws is a pregnant sister, Ashley, who quickly becomes the heart of the film and in doing so reveals the filmmaker's commitment to present characters that refuse to be reduced to cliché s. Suffused with a sense of place and brimming with sometimes painfully true-to-life dialogue, Junebug is a brilliant piece of Americana that explores the ways we are all, in our turns, outsiders.
— Lisa Ann Cockrel
Most culture-clash films portray one side as good, innocent, enlightened while the other side is naive, brutal, and evil. But Terrence Malick portrays both the English colonists and the Native Americans as naive and amazed, capable of both good and evil, generosity and violence, love and arrogance. Further, he does so with an unconventional, poetic, meditative script that takes us to places most movies can't, and these lines are spoken by three outstanding actors, led by the spellbinding 14-year-old Q'Orianka Kilcher, in the best performance by an actress in 2005. But best of all, Malick delivers an extravagant journey through visual beauty that "pours forth speech" of its own. (Our review.)
— Jeffrey Overstreet
In a year replete with big-budget thrillers and action epics striving for political relevance, Hany Abu-Assad's modest account of two Palestinian suicide bombers packs the biggest punch. While the film just barely acknowledges the humanity of the Israeli targets, it paints a strikingly complex and self-critical portrait of Palestinian culture, suggesting that the Palestinians themselves bear some of the blame for making things worse in that part of the world, rather than better. Subtly horrific but also knowingly irreverent, Abu-Assad's film also examines how honor and shame can provide a motivation more powerful than life and death. (Our review.)
— Peter T. Chattaway
The Squid and the Whale
It's easy to tell that Noah Baumbach worked with Wes Anderson on The Life Aquatic—on his new film, The Squid and the Whale, Baumbach strikes an Andersonian balance between oddball comedy and heartbreaking tragedy, and mines his story of a broken family for similar themes of betrayal, loss, and the importance of love. In the end, though, Baumbach makes the film entirely his own, a devastating portrayal of the politics of divorce. It's not an easy film to watch, but its compassion and fearless exploration of the truth make it the kind of movie that gets under your skin and stays there, haunting in its boldness and beauty.
— Josh Hurst
After two forgettable prequels—The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones—I wondered if George Lucas had lost the magic that had wowed us two decades before. The special effects were great, but where was the storytelling and dialogue? But just when I thought I'd never forgive him for Jar Jar, Lucas redeemed himself—and the entire Star Wars saga—with a terrific movie. The opening 20 minutes are jaw-droppingly spectacular (how on Naboo did this movie not get an Oscar nomination for visual effects?), but visuals aside, Sith does a marvelous job of telling the story of Anakin's descent into darkness and, ultimately, the uber-villain Darth Vader. (Our review.)
— Mark Moring
Biopics are all the rage, and Walk the Line joins the best of them with fascinating subjects—Johnny Cash and June Carter—great period costuming, and amazing performances from Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon. Phoenix nails the snarl, the hangdog look, and, most impressively, the vocals. The film gives us a poignant look at the process a man goes through in life. There's no instant demise, cure, or passion here. Instead, there's the gradual unraveling of a man lured by fame's darker side, the slow burn of an intense friendship/passion, and the hard-won road to recovery that could only be accomplished with the unconditional support of others. (Our review.)
— Camerin Courtney
Copyright © 2006 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.