The best films of the year
CNN.com's critic picks his top 10
By Paul Clinton
Russell Crowe and Paul Giamatti in "Cinderella Man."
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(CNN) -- For the most part, 2005 was a rather mediocre year at the multiplex -- a sad fact reflected in some of the box office numbers.
Fortunately, in the latter part of the year -- as the Oscar nominations loomed -- a number of wonderful films, both large and small, began to appear. Many were not only entertaining, but also shed light upon a variety of subjects not often addressed at the movies.
These films not only moved us emotionally, but also informed and enlightened us. That is the true power of cinema.
So, in no particular order, here are my 10 favorite films of 2005.
Directed by Ron Howard; starring Russell Crowe and Renee Zellweger
This Depression-era drama about the life of boxer James J. Braddock, dubbed "The Cinderella Man" by the press, starred Russell Crowe in the title role and Renee Zellweger as his loyal and long-suffering wife Mae. It's an inspiring film about a man who went from abject poverty to achieving his impossible dream -- and became an unlikely folk hero in his own time. Director Ron Howard created a remarkable story -- with awesome performances from everyone involved -- reminding us that nothing is impossible and heroes are always necessary.
Directed by Paul Haggis; starring Terrence Howard, Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle and Matt Dillon
"Crash" is a series of interlocking stories brilliantly crafted and astutely directed by Paul Haggis. The stories are told from the perspective of cops, criminals and everyday people, rich and poor, with the ensemble cast all telling tales about the power of racism -- and how it defines so many of us in some way. "Crash" makes us aware of the things that hold us together, rather than the things that tear us apart.
'Good Night, and Good Luck'
Directed by George Clooney; starring David Strathairn, George Clooney, Robert Downey Jr. and Patricia Clarkson
The shameful saga of Senator Joseph McCarthy's infamous communist witch hunt -- which ruined hundreds of lives -- lurks throughout the tightly focused "Good Night, and Good Luck." The film shows the impact of McCarthyism through the eyes of CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow and his colleagues, who challenged McCarthy and exposed the senator's agenda with a gutsy television broadcast. David Strathairn gives an Oscar-worthy performance as Murrow. Without standing on a soapbox, "Good Night, and Good Luck" packs a gigantic punch.
Philip Seymour Hoffman gives a terrific performance in "Capote."
Directed by Bennett Miller; starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener and Chris Cooper
In 1959, Truman Capote took on a New Yorker assignment about the brutal murder of the Cutter family in rural Kansas. He worked for six years on what he called the first "nonfiction novel." He also fell in love with one of the killers, Perry Smith, and offered to help the defense -- but ultimately suffered a deep conflict of conscience when it became clear to him that he needed an execution in order to end his epic work. Philip Seymour Hoffman, one of the best actors working today, is at the top of his game as Capote, and Catherine Keener offers fine support as his friend, (Nelle) Harper Lee.
Directed by Ang Lee; starring Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway
Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal in "Brokeback Mountain."
It took several years to bring E. Annie Proulx's short story about two cowboys in love to the screen -- and it took director Ang Lee to see past the genders and into the heart of the piece, a story of love and loss. Heath Ledger gives a stunning performance as Ennis Del Mar, a ranch hand with deep emotions he has no way of accessing or exposing, and Jake Gyllenhaal is Jack Twist, a rodeo cowboy with an innate need to love and be loved in return. Almost accidentally the two fall in love; in Lee's telling, their decades-long journey into uncharted terrain retains an epic scope and a striking intimacy. It's a story of love with no judgments and terrific performances from all involved.
Directed by Peter Jackson; starring Naomi Watts, Adrien Brody and Jack Black
A giant ape and a diminutive actress form a bond in "King Kong."
Movies that last longer than three hours -- and remakes, in general -- make me nervous. But Peter Jackson's longtime dream to remake the 1933 "King Kong" is everything you could hope for in an action-adventure flick -- and then some. Jack Black plays Carl Denham, a filmmaker/con man/adventurer, who steals his own film from the studio, hijacks screenwriter Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) and struggling actress Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) and bribes the captain of a tramp steamer to take the group to Skull Island. The fog-shrouded land is inhabited by strange natives, hungry dinosaurs ... and a gigantic ape. The special effects are amazing, the love story is moving and Kong is an astonishingly well-rounded character in his own right (thanks to the work of actor Andy Serkis). Jackson has taken an old classic and remade it into a modern masterpiece.
Directed by Duncan Tucker; starring Felicity Huffman, Elizabeth Pena and Kevin Zegers
Kevin Zegers and Felicity Huffman in "Transamerica."
"Transamerica's" success can be primarily attributed to the talents of Felicity Huffman, who plays Bree, a man about to get the final snip which will turn him -- once and for all -- into a her. On the eve of her surgery she learns she has a 17-year-old son named Toby (Kevin Zegers), whom she unknowingly fathered during college. Toby has been arrested in Manhattan for hustling and Bree's Los Angeles therapist won't okay the surgery until she meets him and comes to terms with her fatherhood. What results is a cross-country road trip as these two completely different people -- who share nothing but DNA -- learn a lot about their own identities, as well as each other.
Directed by Woody Allen; starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Emily Mortimer and Scarlett Johansson
Scarlett Johansson and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers have an affair in "Match Point."
It's taken awhile, but Woody Allen has once again made a great film. Through a series of events -- both lucky and arranged -- tennis pro Chris Wilton meets a wealthy London girl named Chloe. She falls in love, takes him into her family, and her father puts him on the fast track to success. But Chris has a problem: He's in love with his brother-in-law's (Matthew Goode) ex-fiancée Nola (Scarlett Johansson). When Nola gets pregnant and demands they marry, Chris' theories about luck and destiny are put to the ultimate test. The film is fast-paced, thoughtful, and will keep you guessing until the very end.
Directed by Steven Spielberg; starring Eric Bana, Geoffrey Rush, Daniel Craig
A group of agents talks over their roles in "Munich."
Spielberg has created nothing less than a masterpiece with this deeply thought-provoking look at terrorism, revenge and justice. "Munich," the story of a group of Israeli agents assigned to track down and assassinate the Palestinians involved in the massacre of the 1972 Israeli Olympic team, was written by playwright Tony Kushner ("Angels in America") and Eric Roth, and the pair have created a tightly woven script that offers no easy answers. What remains is a group of men who must look into their own souls and live with the results.
'Walk the Line'
Directed by James Mangold; starring Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon
Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon as Johnny and June Carter Cash in "Walk the Line."
Biopics have been all the rage in Hollywood in recent years. You can put "Walk the Line" at the top of the heap, thanks to an Oscar-worthy performance by Joaquin Phoenix as the "Man in Black," Johnny Cash. From the moment he steps up to the microphone and says, "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash," you believe him, and you never stop believing until the final frame. Reese Witherspoon is equally amazing playing Cash's wife, June Carter Cash. The film is remarkable enough in its own right, but what moves it up a notch for me is the fact that Witherspoon and Phoenix did all their own singing. They're not just good, they're good, and that helps make "Walk the Line" one of the best films of this, or any other, year.
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