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Dan Heaton's Top 10 Films of 2005

by dan heaton

1. Serenity

This continuation of the short-lived television series Firefly is not the most unique or artistically important film of the year. However, this highly entertaining story offers such an enjoyable experience that I couldn't list it anywhere but at the top of my list. I caught the bug earlier this year after viewing the series on DVD, and this movie effectively continues the story of the nine lead characters. Several big surprises occur that saddened many fans, but this unpredictable nature is one of the film's strongest points. Nathan Fillion makes the transition to big-screen hero flawlessly, and all the cast members look extremely comfortable in a more large-scale effort. Hopefully creator Joss Whedon will find a way to make a sequel or resurrect the television series to provide new stories of Serenity's beloved crew.

2. Good Night, and Good Luck

Director George Clooney takes a leap of faith and hopes that viewers will be interested in a historic tale of journalists using words to battle the bully Joe McCarthy. And the result is a tight, wondrous depiction of the positive effects that the media can deliver. David Straitharn shines in the leading role of Edward R. Murrow and makes his persona completely believable. Clooney's direction of this black-and-white film is confident and subtle, which makes the scenes believable and avoids over-dramatizing the true events.

3. Syriana

The murky issues concerning the oil industry's role in the Middle East struggles are not unknown, but fiction films have rarely covered this topic. Writer/director Stephen Gaghan ( Traffic) takes an extremely complex approach and follows numerous characters on diverse sides of the issue. Certain individuals cross the lines into corruption, while others' eyes are opened to unfortunate truths. George Clooney, Matt Damon, and Jeffrey Wright shine in the lead roles, and such prominent actors as Chris Cooper, William Hurt, and Christopher Plummer are strong in brief roles.

4. Batman Begins

Following the disastrous camp of Batman and Robin, the resurrection of the Batman franchise seemed nearly impossible. Christian Bale takes over as the Caped Crusader in this origin story that rewinds the tale and provides a darker, more serious look at the superhero. Liam Neeson and Cilian Murphy are more believable and effective villains than the over-the-top baddies, and the visual effects never overwhelm the story. Its only misstep is Katie Holmes as the love interest, but her limited role fails to bring down the surprisingly effective thriller.

5. Cinderella Man

This powerful film appeared early in the year, so it will probably receive only a few awards from critics who typical have short attention spans. Russell Crowe shines again in the true story of boxer Jim Braddock, who overcame remarkable difficulties during the Depression to become boxing's heavyweight champion. Paul Giamatti, Renee Zellweger, and Craig Bierko offer solid support, and the boxing scenes rank among the best ever filmed.

6. The Constant Gardener

City of God director Fernando Meirelles helms this thriller that initially appears to be a murder mystery but stretches to indict the pharmaceutical industry's treatment of Africans. Rachel Weisz shines in flashbacks as the wife of Ralph Fiennes' Justin Quayle, the quiet gardener who must enter the fray to discover answers about her death. His investigation reveals secrets about his wife's activities and unveils a much larger conspiracy, with fascinating results.

7. Capote

Philip Seymour Hoffman delivers possibly the year's best acting performance in the title role and crafts a complex, understandable character. The story focuses on Capote's interviews with the killers that inspired his groundbreaking non-fiction book In Cold Blood. Catherine Keener and Chris Cooper are stellar in supporting roles, but the Hoffman carries the story to impressive heights.

8. Walk the Line

Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon shine as Johnny Cash and June Carter in this love-story version of Cash's life. Both sing all the tunes for their respective characters and deliver completely believable performances. I'm not enough of a Cash expert to comment on the historical accuracy, but the film delivers an entertaining and often poignant experience.

9. Hustle & Flow

Terrence Howard delivers a star-making performance in the inspiring story of DJay, a pimp who catches the artistic spark and wants to change his life. Shot on location in Memphis, this tale nails the excitement of creating music and presents believable, three-dimensional characters. Anthony Anderson and Taraji P. Henson also perform strongly in supporting roles.

10. Shopgirl

Steve Martin pens this adult romantic tale of three believable figures struggling to find themselves in Los Angeles. Claire Danes stars as a young artist working at a department-store counter and living in small apartment, but her life quickly changes when she meets a rich older man, played by Martin. But does he really love her? Jason Schwartzman shines as the young dude who falls for Danes but needs to grow up before competing for her affections. The overall result is a realistic film that aligns us with the characters while showing us their personality flaws.

Honorable Mentions:

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith George Lucas finally overcomes the bad dialogue and shoddy pacing of the first two prequels to deliver the grand film that fans have wanted since the original trilogy.

Broken Flowers Succeeds due to its offbeat approach and dry wit from Bill Murray and Jeffrey Wright.

The Squid and the Whale Funny, difficult look at a parent's divorce and its effect on their kids.

Crash Multi-layered story indicts everyone and no one for racism still prevalent in today's society.

Me and You and Everyone We Know Performance artist Miranda July stars and directs this clever tale of kids and adults dealing with all types of issues.

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