It seems certain that 2005 will be remembered as something less than a red-letter year for Hollywood. Ticket sales took a well-documented nose dive, and for every visionary gem such as "Sin City," the major studios released karats upon karats of fool’s gold ("The Honeymooners," "The Dukes of Hazzard," "Bewitched").
However, it was a bull year in at least one way. Specifically, we saw several talented yet oftoverlooked character actors step up and excel in lead roles: Philip Seymour Hoffman in "Capote," Terrence Howard in "Hustle and Flow," Joan Allen in "The Upside of Anger" and Toni Collette in "In Her Shoes," to name a few. Space permitting, I would have included them all in my list of the year’s best films.
1. "Hustle & Flow": A gutsy, ragged, feverish portrait of artistic struggle and transformation. Terrence Howard is sensational as an angsty Memphis pimp with dreams of hip-hop stardom, finding — with the help of rising writer/director Craig Brewer — the ideal vessel for his boozy, sensual magnetism. And the music? Proper. Howard’s streetwise rhymes burn with menace and regret, incubated by a sticky-hot Tennessee summer.
2. "Capote": Philip Seymour Hoffman turns in the year’s other defining male lead performance, playing writer Truman Capote with a mix of swishy charm and chilling perfidy. Confronted by the true-crime story that will seal his legacy, Capote slips into a coma of guilt and paralytic self-awe, pushing away his closest friends and destroying his soul in the bargain. One of the decade’s great character studies.
3. "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room": Documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney navigates the Enron fiasco with tact and harrowing frankness, creating, in essence, a capitalism-themed horror flick. We’re revolted, but fascinated, too: The company man as a cultist crack-head.
4. "The 40-Year-Old Virgin": Along with the year’s other R-rated comedy hit, "Wedding Crashers," this drop-your-baby-hilarious tale of a late-life deflowering marked the return of the adult sex farce. Unlike "Crashers," it also has an endearing side, showing us a friendly but reclusive man (Steve Carell) with a serious hang-up and a serious desire to beat it. The best American comedy since "Office Space."
5. "Me and You and Everyone We Know": Miranda July’s delightfully tweaked vision of American loneliness stands out as a rare bird in a solid if unspectacular flock of independent "art" films. July explores the mysteries of adolescence and sex in a way that’s delicate, funny and refreshingly nonjudgmental. More droll than dangerous, the movie suggests a sunnier companion piece to Todd Solondz’s "Happiness."
6. "Good Night, and Good Luck" (pictured below): A passionate ode to the preinfotainment days of television journalism, when newscasters and audiences held themselves to a different standard. David Strathairn ("Eight Men Out") plays Edward R. Murrow with just the right touch of genial, chain-smoking intensity, and director George Clooney’s black-andwhite filmmaking proves almost as soberly eloquent as the man himself.
7. "Kung Fu Hustle": Like "Enter the Dragon" remade as a Looney Tunes feature, Stephen Chow’s gloriously addled martial arts comedy is part gangster saga, part disco and pure, unbridled inspiration. A kung fu blockbuster in drag.
8. "The New World": Terrence Malick’s lyrical tale of love and war in the Jamestown colony gives us many reasons to feel ambivalent, but the more it soaks in, the more I want to treat myself to a repeat viewing. Raging under the film’s impenetrably dreamy surface is an epic current of discovery, hope and anguish, and without ever consciously realizing it, you’ve been swept away.
9. "King Kong" (pictured above): No screen monster has fought, clawed, roared and inflicted pure adrenal distress quite like Peter Jackson’s 30-foot ape. Can there be any serious doubt that Jackson is the movie industry’s greatest living showman? Not as long as he’s orchestrating heartstopping dinosaur stampedes and terrorizing his actors with cockroaches the size of surfboards. Naomi Watts holds up the human end of this strangely touching interspecies love story.
10. "Old Boy": A lightning bolt of blood, mayhem and noir intrigue from Korean director Chan-wook Park, starring Min-sik Choi as a kidnapping victim transformed into a street-brawling revenge machine. Choi — whose rumpled intensity suggests the Far East’s answer to Gary Oldman — throws his heart and soul into the role, along with several other body parts that shall remain nameless.