JASON'S BEST: The Ten Best Films of 2005 (Return to Jason's Best Main Page)

OF 2005

I happen to agree with some of the critics that 2005 wasn't quite as bad as so many people tried to make it out to be. This was the year where we heard so many discussions about the potential death of cinema, that DVD would take over as the medium of choice for viewing motion pictures, that people were staying home more, that the movies weren't quite what they used to be. But I found myself disagreeing ... 2005 was a pretty solid year for motion pictures if you worked hard enough and found the films worth seeing. In 2005, I found myself wondering in particular why one film simply seemed to be forgotten in the year-end awards talk, and was pretty much ignored at the boxoffice. Several years ago, I always found myself choosing not to watch movie musicals, only liking a small handful of classic musicals. But in recent years, we've seen the genre come alive again, and for me, it never came alive more than it did when Jonathan Larson's award winning Broadway musical finally came to the big screen. I had never seen the musical before, but was absolutely blown away by one original and well written musical number after another, and a film which shows the potential of bringing Broadway musicals to the screen that should be followed by so many adaptations to come (The Producers should have taken note of this film). But 2005 was more than a great musical that deserves to be remembered as a classic of cinema. This year, I had enough films that could have filled a Top 15, as I really hated to leave five films off this list. But in my top ten, there were a number of amazing achievements by very skilled directors and actors working at the top of their craft. It was a year for landmark movies of many kinds, whether it was the first real films to start tackling the difficult issues of terrorism, or the war in Iraq, or to the examination of our own selves that showed us that maybe we all are a little prejudiced from time to time. And one landmark film in particular will I think be remembered for many years to come, as the story of two cowboys who fall in love, in one of the biggest mainstream films to approach love between two men head on. It was also a year of great biographies, whether it was the tragic unraveling of Truman Capote during the writing of his biggest success, the engaging true story of CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow and his fight with Joseph McCarthy during the 1950's that proved how liberty must truly be fought for, or the engaging life story of one the biggest music legends of all time, Johnny Cash. This was also the year of wonderfully written screenplays that kept us guessing, particularly in the story of a mild mannered family man who may have a much darker past. And finally, this was the year that proved that true movie magic and epic spectaculars were still possible ... George Lucas would finally conclude one of the most remarkable film achievements of all time with an overpowering tour de force, finally delivering the story that Star Wars fans had long been waiting to see. But in the final analysis, with so many wonderful films that took me in so many different directions in 2005, I ultimately came back to the simple yet moving tale of a memorable group of characters all trying to survive, in a story told through songs that should become immortal in what became something I thought I'd never see ... the fact that I selected a musical as the best film of the year.


Never had a movie musical managed to do what this film did to me in 2005. As a genre, I would always avoid movie musicals like the plague, only holding up Singin' In The Rain as that rare exception of a musical that could actually engage me. In recent years however, the movie musical has been coming back, and films like Chicago and Moulin Rouge have shown me that musicals, if done right, can be remarkable entertainments. But no musical has moved me and touched me as deeply as Rent did, and I instantly knew I had seen the best film of the year. Never before has a musical been filled with so many incredibly well written and beautifully performed songs ... every single song in this film is a treasure. Each song propels the story forward, and since the majority of this cast is the original Broadway cast, you could so clearly see how lived-in their characters were, and even the rare newcomer like Rosario Dawson demonstrated how much passion these creators had for the art of Jonathan Larson's amazing Broadway production. I had never seen the play on Broadway, so I came to Rent all new with this film, and emerged one of its biggest fans. Director Chris Columbus has managed to expand the Broadway production and breathe incredible life into it, in telling the simple yet deeply touching story of bohemians living in New York's East Village, struggling with their art, and in many cases, struggling with AIDS. These are such memorable characters ... from Roger, the aspiring songwriter, to Mimi, the dancer who eventually sparks something in Roger, and particularly, to Angel Shunard, a street drummer who becomes an inspiration for everyone. It's fascinating to watch the lives of these characters unfold, and I just cannot say enough about the film's music. For days afterward, I found myself singing "And when you're living in America, at the end of the millenium" ... remembering the fiery performance by Rosario Dawson as Mimi dances her way down the street asking someone to "take me out tonight" ... remembering the amazing song of back-and-forth in the newly committed couple Maureen and Joanne singing "Take me baby, or leave me!" ... the playfulness of Mimi first introducing herself to Roger asking him "will you light my candle?" ... and particularly the refrains of "No day but today", which is really the entire running theme of this film, making sure that we live our lives now, as there may not be a tomorrow. The rock songs hit their peak with the centerpiece performance of La Vie Boheme, where the characters perform a rousing number that sums up the theme of their lives, looking for acceptance and a society that won't judge them. The sheer joy of watching this film, even as the film takes many difficult and sad turns, is watching the utter display of pure humanity, and the happiness in many ways that these characters find in living a life full of creativity, tolerance, and most importantly, love. The movie musical has returned indeed.


It seems like every time Steven Spielberg makes a movie, I find myself saying that he continues to prove himself as one of our most gifted and most talented film artists, and lately, one of our most prolific. Spielberg pulled another "two-fer" this year, releasing a popcorn entertainment like War of the Worlds in the summer, and then while that film was playing in theaters, he was shooting this one, an amazing return to the serious kind of drama that Spielberg has continued to proven can be just as accomplished as his blockbusters, and this is where I find myself preferring Spielberg these days. Munich deserves to stand with the greatest works by Spielberg, which I consider to be Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan. With this film, Spielberg presented one of the most complex and honest portraits of terrorism, and more importantly, the cycles of revenge, retribution, and violence that resonate to this very day. The film is centered around the 1972 terrorist incident at the Olympic Games in Munich, Germany, where Palestinian terrorists abducted a band of Israeli athletes, which resulted in the eventual death of nine of those athletes. This film however is concerned with how Israel responded to that terrorist attack, as a secret group of Israeli Mossad track down all those who had a hand in planning Munich, to summarily kill them. What Spielberg ends up accomplishing in telling this story is nothing short of brilliant. Firstly, as a straight-forward thriller, Spielberg manages to show the technique and flair of Hitchcock, giving us a pretty standard thriller where we learn the process of how the Mossad plans to kill their various targets, and slowly watch as some go awry, especially a haunting sequence where a child is almost killed accidentally. And as Spielberg has done so brilliantly before, he infuses Munich with an incredible amount of realism, with hauntingly violent sequences and the realism of murder, as the assassins often fumble with their weapons, bombs not detonating when they should, etc. It also speaks to what violence does to the soul, as the team of Mossad assassins slowly starts to break apart, and the leader, Avner, finds himself even questioning what all he is accomplishing with one murder after another. Even the style of the film starts changing to reflect the changing state of mind that Avner finds himself going through as the mission takes many unexpected turns. But during this engaging thriller, which at times reminded me of a taut film from the 1970's, Spielberg also frames a film that haunts you in its very ideas, as it leaves us with more questions than answers. Spielberg has been criticized by some for taking sides, but I contend that he does neither. He never says that Israel was wrong in what it did to kill the Palestinians who planned Munich ... all Spielberg tries to do is present the tough questions that deserve to be asked, especially in a world where we now find ourselves dealing with perhaps the same kind of retribution happening around the world for the attacks of 9/11 and the continuing spectre of terrorism in our lives. The sheer futility of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict underscores the whole theme ... once one group of killers is eliminated, new ones come up in their place, and the cycle just keeps going. As Eric Bana's character says by the film's end, "Did we accomplish anything?" It's a stunning image, as he walks away from one mission, as we see the World Trade Center towers standing in the background, waiting for the next cycle of terrorism to continue. I left this movie incredibly haunted, realizing that this new world of terrorism will never provide any easy answers, if there were any answers to ever be found. Spielberg should be applauded and deserves another Oscar for not only giving us a film of amazing power and technical achievement, but also for providing for the world a testament that man's inhumanity to man, no matter who might be right or who might be wrong, produces a cycle from which we may likely never recover.


After writing last year's Oscar winning Best Picture Million Dollar Baby, the film I also chose as the year's best film, Paul Haggis decided to direct his next screenplay, the enormously engaging experiment that became Crash. Filled with an all star cast of actors delivering some truly remarkable performances, even some surprising us like Sandra Bullock with scenes of amazing rawness and power, Haggis delivered a stunning testament to the true nature of racism in our current society, and that in so many ways, we all find ourselves exhibiting various levels of racism, while at the same time possibly finding ourselves the victims as well. In a style that reminds us of Robert Altman, Haggis presents a broad canvas of characters in Los Angeles, all living their lives, and at various times "crashing" into each other at pivotal points that reveal some of their true natures. Particularly engaging was the story of a racist cop, played by Matt Dillon in one of his very best performances, molesting a black woman, played by Thandie Newton, while her husband watches and does nothing. Later on, he saves her when she's in a car crash, and the reactions on both their faces as they go through so many different emotions is an amazingly powerful moment. What I loved about this film was how it so wonderfully showed what we tend to ignore in our daily lives. So many times in life, we cross someone and instantly assume something about them, based on the way they look, and we never get to see what they do next in their lives, who they love, what they're afraid of, what they're going through. But Crash allows us to jump from one character to the next, moving into their lives just when we think one certain thing about them, only to find we were wrong. It's an incredibly accomplished film in its narrative style, and is deeply moving in what it has to say about ourselves.


Every once and a while, a movie comes along that "shakes the world", as a recent American Movie Classics series would say ... a film that transcends the very art form, and becomes a landmark in what it brings to the cinema or what it ends up changing as a result. When a few years pass, I truly believe that Brokeback Mountain will be looked upon as such a film. For the first real time in a mainstream Hollywood film, the romantic and passionate love between two men is presented on screen, and treated with as much respect and tragic cinema emotion as if it were any normal relationship. It's stunning to watch the simple yet raw beauty of human emotion and more importantly, the mysteries and tragedies of love that are handled so beautifully by the accomplished film director Ang Lee. The true nature of love's mystery, and how love so often ends up being affected by the society around us, and even more dramatically, by the demons of our own lives, is presented with a stunning amount of honesty in this film. It's 1963, and two ranchhands, played brilliantly by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, end up working alone together up on Brokeback Mountain. Eventually, they give in to their mutual affection for the other, and make love. The film chronicles the next twenty years in their lives, as they each go about marrying women, having children, but then finding each other again, trying to make time for each other in a world where society said they couldn't be together as a lifelong couple. Heath Ledger is a revelation here, an amazingly sad character who is incapable of finding the ability to admit his true love, due to the way he was brought up. It's an epic of pure tragedy, as is any story where love goes unfulfilled. It's tragic, because we so often find this very thing happening in so many people's lives, and the actors and the director handle this story with such delicate grace and respect, and it will long be remembered as a landmark classic. The film is an example of watching for what's not said, which is often more powerful than what is actually said. Most people joked this was the "gay cowboy movie", but those people just don't see what this film truly is ... it's about the inescapable mystery of tragic love, which can take on any form, whether it's gay or straight. And what I hope this film ends up accomplishing, which I think it might, is that it's time to examine homosexual relationships on screen without all the usual stereotypes that we've seen before.


David Cronenberg directed his most mainstream film in 2005, with this remarkable film that keeps you guessing all the way through. I never could tell where this story was going, and it was fascinating to take the journey of discovery that this thriller/drama takes you on. It begins with a simple story of a mild-mannered husband and father, played by Viggo Mortensen, who lives a seemingly quiet, mundane life. Then one day, two violent criminals hold up the coffee shop that he owns, and Mortensen springs into action, quickly killing the two criminals in a manner that may suggest that he's had some experience with violence before. As he becomes a local hero, strange men begin showing up, led by Ed Harris, who insist that this man is not who he says he is. It's absolutely fascinating to watch the rest of the story unfold, as we try to figure out who this man is, and also to watch the transformation he undergoes to try to protect his family and how he slowly descends back to what he tried so long to cover up, and the transformation that his wife undergoes, played brilliantly by Maria Bello in one of her best performances. The film tells us that we never can truly escape violence, and that our pasts can come back to haunt us. An incredibly well written thriller, filled with memorable performances (especially the ten minutes that William Hurt makes a brief appearance), this is truly one of the most original movies to come along in quite some time.


Philip Seymour Hoffman has always been one of our greatest unsung actors, known for delivering very memorable supporting performances in so many remarkable films. But finally in Capote, Hoffman took on a lead role, and ended up delivering one of his most nuanced and layered performances in one of the best recent biographies. First time director Bennett Miller wisely decided to focus on one portion of Truman Capote's life instead of giving us a full biography of his entire life. This film focuses on the critical time period of Capote's life that found him writing his most successful and most well known book, In Cold Blood, but also losing his own soul and beginning the downward spiral that would eventually consume him. And to watch that process through Hoffman's mesmerizing portrayal is something truly fascinating. By the time the film starts, Capote is already a well known author, who one day happens upon an article in the New York Times about a grisly murder case, where four members of the well-known Kansas farm family, the Clutters, are brutally and systematically killed in their own house. Capote becomes intrigued with the idea of writing a novel about the case, and begins detailed visits with the two killers, and eventually forms a strange relationship with one of them, where he becomes very close to him, identifying in many ways with the background that he grew up with. Capote ends up finding himself in a very strange position ... the killers are relying on him to help them possibly overturn their conviction, but he needs them to be executed to be able to finish his book, to have the ending he needs. It's a fascinating portrait of one man losing his own soul, a stark film debut from a director to watch, and showcasing one of our very best actors in a role that should finally bring him a much deserved Oscar.


I grew up on the original three Star Wars films, in fact, the very first movie I ever saw was the 1977 original classic. One of the things that most fascinated me about the Star Wars story was the whole backstory of Anakin Skywalker, and his fall from grace that eventually turned him into Darth Vader. The original trilogy would give us various peeks into this backstory, and for all those years growing up, there were always rumors that George Lucas would one day create Episodes I, II, and III, and we would finally see what happened. Episodes I and II weren't quite what we expected, but still managed to build up the intriguing final act with Episode III, where we finally got to see the Episode we had been waiting for almost thirty years. And when Lucas finally delivered that motion picture in 2005, it became one of the best films of the entire six-part series, in the process changing the entire outlook on the character of Darth Vader into a much more complex, more tragic character than the evil villain we had known from the original trilogy. Episode III was filled with so many moments of pure escapist fun ... from the opening space battle, to the announcement that Padme is pregnant with the future Luke and Leia, the slow seduction that Chancellor Palpatine plays to convince Anakin that the dark side of the Force is the path he should follow, through that tragic moment when Anakin makes the turn, to the slaughter of the Jedi, and to the pinnacle of the entire series, when Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin fight their incredible lightsaber duel on the volcanic planet of Mustafar. The entire final sequences are an emotional tour de force, seeing Anakin burned beyond recognition, hearing Obi-Wan's final words to Anakin, and finally seeing Anakin suited up as Darth Vader intercut with the births of Luke and Leia Skywalker. Lucas wrapped up the saga, finally giving us the images and emotion to go with the story in our heads. Filled with groundbreaking visual effects, and the continuing evolving of the John Williams score, Revenge of the Sith was a rousing final chapter to conclude the experience of Star Wars, bringing the saga full circle, and proving once again that the Star Wars series remains one of the most enduring screen classics of all time, and one of the most amazing mythologies we're likely to ever see.


Sam Mendes, who continues to take on different genres with each film he has made, took on the war film in 2005, and crafted something truly unique in the genre of war movies ... the war movie about the soldiers who don't get to fight the war. Centered around the first Gulf War battle in Iraq, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jamie Foxx, and Peter Sarsgaard lead a cast of soldiers who train for the army, train to kill, and look forward to the day when they can defend their country on the ground in battle in Iraq. But for anyone who remembers the first Gulf War, the battle was won amazingly quickly, and ground soldiers were hardly needed, and some never saw actual combat. It's amazing to see this story, to see what happens to these men, and how they slowly are driven crazy by the boredom of the desert, and how it tears them apart to not get that opportunity to kill after having been trained to do just that. The cinematography in the film is gorgeous, and the performances universally accomplished.


Whenever we have seen a biopic about a musical legend, the film follows a pretty typical structure, and this year's Walk the Line invited so many comparisons to 2004's portrait of Ray Charles. A lot of the structure is the same, but the story of Johnny Cash's life portrayed in Walk the Line manages to accomplish something even Ray couldn't, and I think this is most especially because Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon actually sang the songs in the film, lending a much different realism to the portrayals of Johnny and June Carter Cash. Phoenix and Witherspoon are both revelations here, particularly Phoenix in his ability to step into a legend, and make us believe he is truly Johnny Cash. Witherspoon also surprised me, delivering a performance full of strength and passion, particularly as she supports Johnny during his difficult days with drugs, and standing by him through to the end. The film is also a captivating love story, showing us how Johnny and June took a very long time to finally give in to their mutual attraction to the other. Phoenix in particular channels Johnny Cash, no more so than at the legendary performance at Folsom Prison, where Phoenix is completely engrossed in the role. Johnny Cash was one of our most fascinating and unique musicians, and this is an incredibly admirable and thoroughly enjoyable portrait and glimpse into that life, and that love story.


George Clooney stepped back into the director's chair this year to deliver one of the most amazing stories from the history of broadcast journalism, giving us a very matter-of-fact re-telling of the days in the 1950's when CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow, played brilliantly by David Strathairn, decides that Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House on Un-American Activities Commission has gone too far in prosecuting Americans, and decides to go on the air to take on McCarthy. Some people forget how bold of a move this was, taking the newsman more into the editorial realm, and many chances were taken, and it's a fascinating portrayal to get an inside glimpse to the CBS of that time period to see what went into that historical time when television could be proud of itself. During a speech towards the end of the film, Murrow delivers a very moving speech about what television has the capability to do, and it's sad to think of how much we have moved away from the days when people would be interested in listening to political discussions and the important discussions of the day on television instead of just the next gross-out episode of Fear Factor. Clooney made the perfect decision to film the movie in gorgeous black-and-white visuals, allowing him to use Senator McCarthy himself from footage of the time, lending an even larger sense of realism to the film than if he had been played by an actor. Clooney reminds us in this story from so many years ago how many of the same freedoms of dissent are being trampled on in our own time right now, where criticizing the government and its actions seems to incur the same risk that it did back in the McCarthy era, and I hope films like these continue to show people why we must be politically viligant, to prevent a farce like the House on Un-American Activities Commission from ever happening again. Learn from the past, as to never repeat it.


This year, I have to make special mention of the next five films that would be on my list, five more remarkable and stunning achievements that just couldn't quite make it.

11. THE NEW WORLD: Terence Malick continues to prove why he's a true visual poet of cinema, telling the story of John Smith and Pocahontas and the clash of two cultures in a film of tremendous beauty and thought

12. KING KONG: Peter Jackson's amazing passion project reminded us of the true magic of the movies, providing an update to the legendary monster movie that appreciates the wonder of the 1933 original classic, while using present day advances in visual effects to create an amazingly realistic King Kong, and has definitely portrayed the relationship between Beast and Beauty with the most honest emotion we have seen ... Naomi Watts continued to prove what a talent she is, giving this fantasy film a wonderful amount of tenderness

13. SYRIANA: One of the most complex films I've seen in many years, but also one of the most engaging about what we might be experiencing in our world at this very moment. Stephen Gaghan makes his directorial debut with a remarkable film about the oil industry and the corruption that ensues, making a film so brilliant that we admit that we're lost as we follow the story, but then we realize, that's the whole idea ... even the people involved can't follow the world they live in

14. THE CONSTANT GARDENER: The adaptation of the John Le Carre novel is a very moving story set against the backdrop of illegal drug testing in Africa, bolstered by two very strong performances by Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Wiesz

15. SIN CITY: And finally, one of the most visually stunning and truly original film entertainments to come out in 2005 had to be the adaptation of Frank Miller's comics, in a film of true visual beauty even as we follow severed heads, extreme violence, and a story where almost everyone is a criminal ... it contained an incredible all star cast, especially led by Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, and Clive Owen.


One of the most stunning and haunting examinations of sexuality and the human need to escape loneliness was portrayed in Gorman Bechard's independent film, You Are Alone. Jessica Bohl gives a haunting performance as a depressed escort, who is discovered one day by her next door neighbor, played by Richard Brundage. She agrees to spend an hour with him, and during the course of the hour, he will test the very limits that she says she will go to, while at the same time, revealing the darkness of both their souls. It's an eye-opening portrait to the human condition, and a film that stays with you for days.


John Cernak's short animated film Joyride was a fascinating short film that managed to throw together so many images representing the madcap world we live in nowadays. The images flash by just as fast as they flash by in our culture, where everything is sound bites, and this is a film made up of so many sound bites, and by the end, you are simply worn out by the continual flash of images, and yet so inspired at the same time.

Honorable Mentions
(In no particular order)

MATCH POINT: Woody Allen's stunning return to form, this time presenting a thriller set in London

NORTH COUNTRY: Charlize Theron gave another stunning performance as a woman whose sexual harassment lawsuit against the iron mine where she worked ended up paving the way for the reforms that eventually came out, and was an incredibly moving story of one woman's fight for the justice of simply being able to work at whatever job she chooses

NINE LIVES: A wonderful experimental film, portraying nine different short films combined into one feature, each shot in one take, presenting us a pivotal moment in each of these women's lives ... particularly moving is Robin Wright Penn's encounter with a former lover in a grocery store

FLIGHT PLAN: Jodie Foster as a woman whose child suddenly disappears on an airline flight and has to try to convince everyone on board that she even had a daughter on the plane in the first place ... a very solid and engrossing thriller

AN UNFINISHED LIFE: A sadly overlooked drama, this was a well crafted story about forgiveness and pain in a family, containing amazing performances by Robert Redford (continuing to show why he's one of our most gifted actors), as well as Morgan Freeman, and Jennifer Lopez in one of her best performances

THE 40-YEAR OLD VIRGIN: One of the most enjoyable comedies of the year, an R-rated comedy that also had a surprising amount of tenderness and sweetness to it

BROKEN FLOWERS: Bill Murray in another accomplished performance, playing a former player who finds out one day that he has a son but doesn't know who the mother is. His journey to visit his past ex's is fascinating and funny

THE ISLAND: I thoroughly enjoyed this film from director Michael Bay, as I felt he finally achieved something more than just mindless action ... an incredibly thoughtful film about the possible dangers of cloning, that evolves into a solid action thriller in its second half ... Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johannson were wonderful together

CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY: Tim Burton delivered a wonderfully stunning remake of the 1971 Willy Wonka classic, using the advances in visual effects to his advantage, and putting Johnny Depp into the role of Willy Wonka ... my favorite moments had to be the musical numbers by the Oompa Loompas

BATMAN BEGINS: Christopher Nolan FINALLY made the true Batman movie, and was able to rescue us from the terrible direction that the series had taken with Joel Schumacher at the helm. Christian Bale portrays the Caped Crusader, in a film that finally took the time to show us how Batman became who he is, and surrounded him with terrific supporting performances, from Morgan Freeman, to Michael Caine, to Liam Neeson, to Gary Oldman.

MR. AND MRS. SMITH: I liked this one much more than I thought I would, an enjoyable thriller starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in the story of two people in a dead-end marriage, who find they can revitalize their relationship when their mission is to kill each other

CINDERELLA MAN: Ron Howard delivered another moving biopic starring Russell Crowe, this time telling the story of the Depression-era boxer James J. Braddock, whose fall from grace and eventual rise back to the top was a true inspiration, and another memorable performance by Russell Crowe

THE UPSIDE OF ANGER: This film from way back towards the beginning of 2005 was a wonderfully written comedy/drama, showing that love was still possible in middle age ... Kevin Costner and particularly Joan Allen were stunning in their very honest, lived-in portrayals

SARABAND: Another stunning film from the master director Ingmar Bergman, showing us another wonderful portrayal of human relationships

THE INTERPRETER: A solid thriller from director Sydney Pollack, starring Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn, in the first film allowed to actually film inside the United Nations