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The Schwartz: Year of the Unexpected :Best Movies of 2005

Nothing cheers up a film critic like bestowing its honors on the films that have brightened our long hours at the theaters each year.  In 2005, while some “surefire” hits failed to live up to the hype (even Nicole Kidman forgets about “Bewitched”, or wishes to), the majority of the films below were minor blips on the radar.  They starred has-beens, newcomers or were so controversial, timid Hollywood would never expect them to be a forerunner in this year’s Oscar race, yet this became the year of the unexpected.

10.  Kung Fu Hustle—As slapdash as any Roadrunner cartoon, “Kung Fu Hustle” combines precise martial arts, farcical hijinks and an under-story of honor and community for a perfect brew of comedy and action. For those waiting patiently for the next Tarantino epics (“Grind House” and “Inglorious Bastards”), this kooky film will fill the void.

9.  HeightsGlenn Close returns to form as an egomaniacal Broadway diva suffering through family turmoil and infidelities. A young talented cast, including Jesse Bradford, John Light and Elizabeth Banks, benefit from Close’s aura of genius.

8.  Murderball—Nothing seems in worse taste than quadriplegic men playing violent bumper cars with their wheelchairs, yet this documentary of the US Paraplegic Olympic Rugby team displays such rich human emotions: pride, determination, cockiness and resolve.  The men on this team not only rebuff pity, they’d kick your butt if you condescend towards them. 

7.  Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe—Children and talking lions are a tricky trade. In the wrong hands, they can lead to a nebulous children’s film that could bore adults and confuse children.  Yet the casting of four un-precocious youths and the noble voicing of Liam Neeson, along with adept leadership from “Shrek” director Andrew Adamson and ice-cold villainy from Tilda Swinton, lead to a freshly constructed fantasy drama with epic scope and a future of delights (Turkish or otherwise) to come.

6. Transamerica—And the winner for this years’ Best Actress is Felicity Huffman.  We heard this at the Emmy’s in 2005. We’ll probably hear it at the Golden Globes in a few weeks, and if there’s any justice, the pretty David Mamet-trained actress will hear these words in February.  Her performance as a pre-operative transsexual obligated to face her past before rewriting her future has been a revelation.  Had a newcomer attempted this role, it would have been exciting enough, but we watch Huffman, the epitome of femininity, each week on “Desperate Housewives.” Her attempts to wipe away our image of her as every-mom should have been impossible, yet she strips the other persona away.  Never for a moment during the film did I recall her other roles while she completely inhabited this befuddled, but determined man/woman.

5.  Walk On Water—More successful than the murky waters stirred by Steven Spielberg in this year’s other morality play based on Israeli events, “Munich”, “Walk On Water” weighs the balance between tipping the scales of justice and allowing humanity to lapse by interweaving the lives of a gay philanthropist with a Nazi bloodline and a Massad agent losing his grip. The film addresses the fear that decent people feel when they must exact justice, but never discounts that justice must be obtained.

4.  Brokeback Mountain—“Brokeback Mountain” is a world where Romeo loves Romeo with no Juliet in sight, yet society-at-large still conjures up suffering for these two star-crossed lovers who have the nerve to ignore the ground rules. Utilizing cinematography and sound design to place the audience in its surroundings, Director Ang Lee opens up the fourth wall, sucking the audience into the story. Michelle Williams matures as an actress, displaying true depth as the proper wife to a man forced to include her in his charade. Jake Gyllenhaal brings a peck’s-bad-boy charm as the seductive rodeo rider. Yet it’s Heath Ledger’s moving, melancholy portrayal that compels even those ignorant to the gay man’s plight to identify.

3.  Crash—Paul Haggis’ case-study on race relations in America conveys a society in constant turmoil.  Haggis clarifies that as a human race, not only do we clash with anyone different from us, we cannot relate to our own families or even ourselves. Groundbreaking performances, particularly by Matt Dillon as a racist with heroic tendencies and Thandie Newton as the woman he both abuses and protects, represent the dichotomy of our world.  As people we are incapable of getting along, yet instinctually we so want togetherness.

2.  Kiss Kiss Bang Bang—A breezy satire of Hollywood in the film noir ‘40s, “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” is Shane Black’s triumphant return to the action genre.  Robert Downey Jr. proves that all that jail time has not dulled his acting talent. Newcomer Michelle Monaghan displays sexuality, humor and sensitivity that could make her our next star. Val Kilmer gives the most brazen gay portrayal in movies today as a cavalier private investigator, who just happens to be gay (like some people just happen to have green eyes.)

1.  Happy Endings—One of the year’s most misunderstood comedies, “Happy Endings” disappeared from the theaters before it even arrived. Most critics ignored the film, which is a shame because more successfully than any film this year (including “Crash”), “Happy Endings” represents, in humorous terms, the consternation that we humans cause just trying to struggle through our days.  Part Robert Altman, part sitcom, “Happy Endings” proves that Don Roos (“The Opposite Of Sex”) comprehends how chaotic and irrational life can be. The entire cast gives breathtaking performances, particularly Maggie Gyllenhaal as a gold-digging singer and Tom Arnold as the man she’s ensnared. At the forefront is Roos’ muse, Lisa Kudrow, giving the best performance of her career as a woman haunted by a decision she wrongfully made as a youth.
Runner-Ups:  “Batman Begins,” “King Kong,” “Pride And Prejudice,” “Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit,” “History Of Violence,” “Mr. And Mrs. Smith,” “Wedding Crashers,” “The Hitchhiker's Guide To the Galaxy,” “Constant Gardener.”

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