You surely disagree with *something* on this list – so comment away, and stay tuned for our Worst Of, coming tomorrow.

1.  Match Point

Match Point
has the conventions of an easy-to-follow thriller - a busty seductress, a suspicious wife, a scheming husband and an act of murder - but what it lacks is what makes it special. The film is a post-religious parable, with no overriding moral authority at the center. "Faith is the path of least resistance," one character scoffs at a dinner party. In other words, the only meaningful struggle with moral choice is the one that we are willing to have internally. Is the main character - an ambitious, social-climbing young tennis coach - willing to have that struggle? The signs aren't promising. He reads a Penguin edition of Crime and Punishment with the attention you would give US Weekly, and morally-loaded Verdi operas inspire nothing more from him than a blank stare. On the other hand, he has the self-preservation instincts and the dumb luck of a Patricia Highsmith fox. Watching him operate will keep you on the edge of your seat for the full two hours. The year's best film. – Ryan Stewart



2. A History of Violence

A History of Violence
is a rare thing: a genre hybrid film that actually works. On one level, it's an effective thriller about a mild-tempered Midwesterner who may or may not be a stone killer masking his identity; on another level, it's a schlock horror film with make-up effects that would be appropriate for a Friday the 13th film, circa 1987. A lot of bullets fly, but when they do, people aren't simply knocked down or off-screen - they are disfigured, maimed or reduced to chunks of sputtering flesh. It's as if an EMT was present on set as an advisor, and piped in with "no, no...a shotgun blast at that range would do much more damage..." The result is that the audience's ho-hum desensitization to violence is briefly circumvented and the central question about the main character – why is he so at home with blood and gore? – is brought into sharp relief. Director David Cronenberg is asking the same question of the audience. – RS



3. Pride & Prejudice

Pride & Prejudice
is, in some ways, a perfect film. Director Joe Wright follows the much-worshipped source material closely and never steps wrong with character, music or scenery. When we think of Austen, our first thought is not wild animals roaming through the Bennett house, but little details like that seem to have some historical grounding, and it adds to the realism. The screenplay also modernizes and clips Austen's language in the most surgically careful ways, so that only those who pay their Austen Society dues a year in advance will notice the seams. Keira Knightley, though certainly more athletic and forcefully feminist than anything Austen could have imagined for her Elizabeth Bennett, somehow owns the role like no one before her. Austen characters famously speak in unbroken paragraphs, expounding themselves purple in the face, but Knightley handles the language and the meaning behind it as easily as slipping into a warm bath, and the other characters fall into line behind her. – RS



4.  The New World

Don't be fooled by New Line's last-ditch efforts to recoup their investment in Terrence Malick's latest: The New World is not a de-Disneyfied tale of pilgrims and indians and a snow-crushed first Thanksgiving full of pious pumpkin eyes; it is not a battle-heavy, voodoo-tinged culture-clash adventure; it is not, by any means, a Colin Farrell film. Sure, Farrell is stunning as Captain John Smith, the borderline-infidel who is spared from execution just in time to meet and fall powerlessly in love with a 12-year-old native princess. But this is The Pocahontas Story, and from its opening frames of still-water reflection to its near-hallucinogenic final sequences, The New World  reimagines a historical footnote known to most six year olds as a fairy tale rich enough to seduce most adults. Drunk, in grand Malick fashion, on sunlight and internal monologue, The New World will irk those who want their historical epics to function as freeze-dried educational substitutes. The rest of us will stare slack-jawed at Q'orianka Kilcher, as she and Farrell and Malick recast the silliest of American myths as a swirling tale of obsession and longing on the order of Lolita. – Karina Longworth

 


5.  The Beat that My Heart Skipped


Is it really fair to call Jacques Audiard's stunning criminal character study a remake of James Toback's 70s cult classic Fingers? Watch Audiard and Toback's films back to back, as I did one night last summer, and all you'll see nothing but the discrepancies. Audiard keeps the bare frame of Toback's film - both are stories of youngish thugs chasing salvation up and down the slopes of a toccata – but adds enough color and layer to transform the original's one-line onslaught into a symphonic portrait of a man on the brink. It helps that Audiard has managed to find himself a lead actor that blows Harvey Keitel (the star of the original) away. Romain Duris' brutal sexiness is almost hateful but completely undeniable; he's the kind of guy who will threaten to kill a girl's lover in order to get her attention, but once he has it, he'll never lose it. Beat might strike you in much the same way. I had to see it twice for it to really make an impression, but by midway through my second viewing it (and, especially, Duris) had me fully enthralled. Neither has lost my attention yet. - KL



6.  Grizzly Man

Or, Little Dieter Wants To Die. Werner Herzog uses bear enthusiast Timothy Treadwell's own words against him in this sad and shocking documentary, the best non-fiction film of the year. A man with an appalling gap between his ideals and his judgment, Treadwell documented his travels - years' worth - to a dangerous Alaskan preserve where angry, hungry bears roam about freely. His reality is heavily influenced by a fantasy life that he pours out to the camera, starring himself as the sovereign of a bear kingdom that is under threat by the encroach of man, or industry, or something. It's possible that he never intended some of his sillier footage to be viewed by anyone but himself; unfortunately, his life and his 'work' became public domain after he was eaten - literally - by a hungry brown bear. His girlfriend, too. It seems cruel to call Herzog's film a portrait of awesome stupidity, but that's the way some will see it. – RS



7.  Mysterious Skin

Those who walked into Mysterious Skin hoping for a taste of vintage Gregg Araki – the man who once placed a decapitated head in a salad bar and directed it to spew both invective and condiments – left largely unsated. Or did they? The opening shot of the film, – a slug-motion rain of fruit loops falling on the young protagonist's head, scored to Slowdive and lit in an amber haze – announced wordlessly that Araki meant to use his old talents to plumb new depths. Skin bleeds with the same eye-watering colors, and aches with the same shoegazer longing, of Araki's earlier films, but it's also leaps and bounds more sophisticated than even his last piece of work, Splendor  – a hipster Jules et Jim which itself represented a huge surge ahead of everything that came before. Skin's story of aliens, pedophilia and the Doppler effect of abuse dispenses with the Brechtian cartoonishness we've come to associate with Araki. In its way, it's just as violent as The Doom Generation (that's the one with the head), but Skin actually makes its impact by leaving any and all exploitation offscreen. Deeply moving and unexpectedly complicated in its spiritual aims, Mysterious Skin is the most unjustly overlooked film of 2005. – KL



8.  Brokeback Mountain

How did a movie about gay cowboys, directed by a notoriously erratic Taiwanese filmmaker and featuring two himbo hearthrobs in their first serious, starring roles, become the odds-on favorite to beat this awards season? It's not an easy question to answer, but it should be said again and again that Ang Lee's film is certainly not riding high on political pretension, a questionable commodity of which the film (thankfully) seems to have none of.  The courage of the thing, to be sure, lies in the fact that Brokeback Mountain doesn't pretend to solve a single problem – be it social or personal, public or private, within its narrative or in relation to the larger issues outside of it. Brokeback can and should be considered outside of the American Left's desperate, zombie-like hunger for "classy" campaign films. In its emotional aims and policies of persuassion, it's very much more of a  Gone With the Wind than a Philadelphia – that is, it may wear historical tethers in its art direction, but it's got not a drop of ideological blood in its veins. By obstinately limiting his focus to the tiny fissures and even smaller triumphs that alternately frustrate and propel one long, difficult love, Lee has, however ironically, created a film that opens itself up far beyond niche. – KL



9.  Mutual Appreciation

It could have easily been Funny Ha Ha, Andrew Bujalski's first hyper-talky ode to twentysomething meaning-seeking, taking up this coveted slot. Though that film was completed several years aog, its theatrical release continued through this past Spring, hot on the heels of Mutual's world premiere at SXSW. Here's why Mutual won out: without changing course from everything that 2004 Independent Spirit Award winner Ha Ha established that Bujalski does well, Mutual is the product of a considerably raised game.Whereas Funny's heroine Marnie was entirely lost but sweet and affable and probably destined for some kind of happiness somewhere down the line, Mutual's Alan makes a point early on of (somewhat drunkenly) announcing that happiness isn't what he's looking for. "I'm in it for the story," says the slightly wild-eyed struggling nerdrocker played by Justin Rice, before willfully proceding to instigate a host of events – a late-night call to an ex, the crashing of a near-dead party full of strange girls, and, most crucially, an ongoing flirtation with his best friend's girlfriend – that privilege temporary theatricality over real consequence. That the picture – darkly funny and morally conflicted throughout – ends at the height of its convolutions is by now a Bujalski given. Funny Ha Ha was a good film, but Mutual Appreciation is a near-great one. – KL



10.  Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

In a year in which dubious slump dialectics dominated film journalism, it seems to make sense that the Obligatory Blockbuster slot go a action comedy that actually flopped. Shane Black's brutally overlooked directorial debut/comeback seems to want to synthesize the promises made by of a number of Godard titles - a Breathless Band of Outsiders, or, The World's Most Beautiful Swindlers – and it's fitting, because formally, Black seems to have made a concerted a effort to apply that master's deconstructive genius to his own blockbuster oevre. Performances don't get much better in action films than what Robert Downey Jr offers here, as a bumbling bullshit artist who slides down an almost inscrutable rabbit hole into an imaginary LA of absurdist noir; Michelle Monaghan (unfortunately about ten years too young for the role) simultaneously gives him a kick in the ass and a  ray of hope. Glaring age difference aside, Downey and Monaghan have amazing chemistry together, and their falling for one another forms the very honest, intimate core to a film that otherwise falls over itself in the pursuit of storybook surrealism. Neither is exactly Rules of the Game, but along with Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Bang recalls a long-lost time when major films began not with posters or effects maps, but with a couple of fully-realised protagonists and a handful of near-genius setpieces. If we're going to live in a culture in which the most modest of hits demand sequels and ancillaries are king, here's to a new cycle of all-demos-in-one comedies that make the very idea of the franchise seem a little bit less unbearable. – KL
CATEGORIES Cinematical