Despite studios bitching about low attendance at movie theatres (maybe you should tally your DVD sales receipts, guys), these films made spending a year taking notes in the dark a pleasure. About half are already out on DVD. I only wish there were room for superb films like A History Of Violence, Moolaade, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit, The World, C.R.A.Z.Y. and Junebug.
1 MUNICH (Steven Spielberg) Of Spielberg's two 2005 films, War Of The Worlds was the big money-maker, while Munich will be the one people remember and talk about years from now. Focusing on the bloody aftermath of the kidnapping and murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics, Spielberg and co-writers Tony Kushner and Eric Roth have found a powerful metaphor for the war on terrorism. Working at the top of his game, Spielberg exploits the thriller genre to draw us into a complex moral debate about family, vengeance and loyalty. Riveting.
2 LOOK AT ME (Agnès Jaoui) Jaoui's poignant, empathetic comedy looks at a self-involved French novelist (co-writer Jean-Pierre Bacri ), his miserable family (including the wonderful Marilou Berry as his zaftig daughter, named, unfortunately, Lolita) and various social-climbing intellectuals orbiting around him. The script won an award at Cannes, and it's razor sharp - capturing, like the translated title, both pat-on-the-back smugness and a genuine plea for attention and love. The bonus? Some gorgeous music.
3 HEAD-ON (Fatih Akin) When two Turkish Germans meet in a Hamburg psychiatric clinic after separate suicide attempts, their lives collide in endlessly surprising ways. Director Akin, himself a first-generation German of Turkish descent, captures the complexity and contradictions of living and loving within two cultures, but this is no routine immigrant tale. Besides booze-fuelled nihilism, sweaty sex and a traditional Turkish band performing in Istanbul, there's shaggy-haired, brooding 40-something actor Birol nel screaming, "Punk is not dead!" on the dance floor.
4 FRANK MILLER'S SIN CITY (Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez) The title says it all. Miller's neo-noir books get the big-screen treatment, with all their graphic visual and hard-boiled narrative punches intact. The eye never tires of the film's hypnotic, deeply shadowed black-and-white look, occasionally punctuated by hits of colour. And while the comic-book dialogue occasionally sounds cheesy, the actors sell it - especially Mickey Rourke as Marv, the bandaged, pill-popping thug who wants to find out who murdered the woman who just gave him the night of his life. Insanely enjoyable.
5 THE SQUID AND THE WHALE (Noah Baumbach) If Baumbach's breakthrough film makes you flinch at times, it's because the writing is so uncompromising in its look at human folly. No wonder: Baumbach based the script on his own painful memories of his intellectual parents' messy divorce. Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline are terrific as the Brooklyn teenagers who act out their anger differently, but Laura Linney and especially Jeff Daniels are devastating as the self-absorbed parents who live in their heads yet aren't smart enough to see the damage they're doing to their kids.
6 BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (Ang Lee) Lee's film about two cowboys and their secret, decades-long love affair got plenty of ink because of its A-list actors mountin' on the mountain. But the story, taken from Annie Proulx 's story, is heartbreakingly universal in its themes of forbidden love and longing. The actors ( Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger , in breakout performances) commit themselves physically and emotionally, and while the film's pace occasionally feels slack, the wide-open country vistas demand slower rhythms. Haunting.
7 KING KONG (Peter Jackson) Another doomed romance, this time between a 1930s actor ( Naomi Watts ) and a gorilla 10 times her size ( Andy Serkis , adding tons of emotion to his CGI beast). Jackson's remake of the ultimate monster movie is the year's biggest hankie film wrapped up in a state-of-the-art action/adventure flick. In every frame, you sense Jackson's love affair both with the 1933 original and with filmmaking in general.
8 CRASH (Paul Haggis) Haggis and co-writer Bobby Moresco carjack the rusty old interweaving storyline structure to show a dozen perspectives on racial tensions in L.A. The result is one of the year's most powerful scripts, equally full of angry, politically incorrect racial put-downs and tender moments of grace and forgiveness. The sleeper hit - one of the year's big indie successes - divided critics and viewers, but everyone agreed the ensemble cast was terrific, especially Matt Dillon as a racist cop.
9 PARADISE NOW (Hany Abu-Assad) Two Palestinian friends are recruited to carry out a suicide bomb mission in Tel Aviv. Director Abu-Assad shows - in chillingly believable detail - how this happens, and also explores the why. The film is a balancing act of mood and tone, with elements of suspense and even absurd comedy humanizing what could seem like an anonymous news headline.
10 NOBODY KNOWS (Hirokazu Kore-eda) Inspired by an actual news item, Kore-eda's film about four Japanese children abandoned by their flaky mom in a Tokyo apartment is so carefully, subtly captured, it almost feels like a documentary. In a way, it was. He filmed it over a year, capturing his young cast's inevitable growth spurts. More than that, though, he catches the children's spontaneity and simultaneous need for family bonds and freedom. Looking up at airplanes hasn't been the same since.
Joan Allen (The Upside Of Anger), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote), Viggo Mortensen (A History Of Violence), Steve Carell (The 40-Year-Old-Virgin), Min-sik Choi (Oldboy), Terrence Howard (Hustle & Flow), Jeff Daniels (The Squid And The Whale).
Best supporting performances
Amy Adams (Junebug), Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardener), Catherine Keener (Capote/The 40-Year-Old Virgin), Maria Bello (A History Of Violence), Matt Dillon (Crash), Kevin James (Hitch), Mickey Rourke (Frank Miller's Sin City).
Most fascinating doc subjects
Mark Zupan (Murderball), Mark Bittner (The Wild Parrots Of Telegraph Hill), Timothy Treadwell (Grizzly Man).
Most pleasant surprise
That Keira Knightley can act, and that an unknown 30-something director ( Joe Wright ) could successfully remake Pride And Prejudice.