1. Brokeback Mountain
When I started compiling this list, I intended to put Crash in the top slot, but I just couldn't get Brokeback Mountain out of my head. The much ballyhooed "gay cowboy movie" is a sad, beautiful story of the unwanted, impractical, dangerous and unstoppable love affair between two young ranch hands (played wonderfully by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal) in 1963 Wyoming. Filmmaker Ang Lee (The Ice Storm) is a bit too polite with his adaptation of Annie Proulx's superb 1997 short story. A clearer look at the developing romance would have been helpful. Still, the dusty western magic worked on me.
Thandie Newton and Matt Dillon in 'Crash'
A series of interlocking stories set in L.A. The common link is racial bigotry, but the screenplay does not brow beat the audience. Filmmaker Paul Haggis (who also co-wrote the script) is careful to show the human side of his characters, even the ones that say or do the vilest things. Though the film deals with some grim themes, it is consistently entertaining and sometimes even funny, with consistently fine performances from its big cast.
3. Good Night and Good Luck
The second film directed by George Clooney is about facing up to a bully. The bully is Joe McCarthy, a political thug on a power trip. The person standing up to the bully is Edward R. Murrow, a highly-respected television reporter for CBS. The black and white film looks absolutely great and the cast is outstanding, particularly David Strathairn as Murrow.
4. King Kong
Incredibly self-indulgent, but undeniably impressive and entertaining. Peter Jackson's epic is slightly over three hours long, with far too many embellishments to the original story (the first hour in particular needs serious trimming). Still, Jackson's homage to his childhood favorite is a real corker.
Writer/director Joss Whedon's big screen take on his short-lived Firefly TV series is a rousing space western that provides action, excitement, laughs, tears and even food for thought. The story of a high-stakes pursuit through the heavens is the kind of movie George Lucas hasn't made for decades.
Sharp family-friendly tale about what happens when a bag of cash flies through the air and into the hands of a little boy who believes it to be a gift from God. How rare and refreshing it is to see a movie that deals with children, generosity and faith in an adult fashion.
7. TIE: Walk the Line/Cinderella Man
Two dandy biographies, one about a musical icon, the other about a boxing legend. Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon are terrific as Johnny Cash and June Carter in Walk the Line and Russell Crowe uses his imposing presence to great effect in Cinderella Man, a simple, stirring tale of Depression-era fighter James J. Braddock.
8. The 40-Year-Old Virgin
The title-explains-it-all comedy is packed with raunchy humor and explicit sexual references, but it is also a sweet story that will leave you feeling good. Steve Carrell (The Office) is terrific as the title character. Funny, engaging and relatable.
9. Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill
Rich, expertly presented, crowd-pleasing documentary about Mark Bittner, a gentle soul who finds a spot for himself communing with a group of displaced birds. The sweet, wistful production is beautiful to look at, consistently engaging and as dramatically satisfying as any scripted tale on the market.
10. TIE: Mysterious Skin/Twist of Faith
Two memorable movies - one fictional, the other a documentary - about the nightmarish aftermath of molestation. The terrifically-acted Mysterious Skin is built around two young men who were sexually abused when they were smaller. How they deal with that as they inch towards adulthood is at the core of this harrowing, but touching film. The bracing documentary Twist of Fate follows 34-year-old Toledo firefighter Tony Comes, who was repeatedly sexually abused as a child by his religious teacher and priest, as he takes legal action against his tormentor.
And the five most annoying
Absolutely wretched comedy about the rude and crude goings-on within a group of young waiters. If you can find a funny second in this 93-minute exercise in been-there-done-that R-rated humor, drop me a line. Out of the large and unpleasant cast, the smirking Ryan Reynolds is the most repellent.
The Fantastic Four
2. Fantastic Four
You would think that the 45-year-old Marvel comic book series about a squabbling, but loving group of celebrity superheroes would receive the same TLC as Spider-Man and the X-Men, but nooooooooo. Instead, the FF come off like bores in a cheesy film that wastes most of its running time on a tepid origin story. Even worse, the damn thing was a hit!
3. The Brothers Grimm
The long-awaited new offering from filmmaker Terry Gilliam (Twelve Monkeys, The Fisher King, Brazil) is a mess. Not the kind of inspired mess that Gilliam is capable of creating, but the kind of mess that results when you assign tasks to several people and they all do their jobs poorly. Tiresome and perplexing.
4. Must Love Dogs
Romantic comedy that sticks firmly - slavishly, in fact - to the conventions of the genre. Diane Lane and John Cusack star, with support from Dermot Mulroney, Elizabeth Perkins, Stockard Channing and Christopher Plummer. Clearly, this group of actors is talented enough to take even a terribly trite screenplay and wring some entertainment out of it, but why did they sign up in the first place?
Disastrous big-screen adaptation of the beloved '60s TV series. The filmmakers take the original premise - beautiful young witch falls in love with a mortal male and unsuccessfully tries to stop using her powers in order to fit into his world - and lay a second premise - mortal actor meets a witch on the set of a remake of the original series - on top of it. It's all very busy and inconsistent and annoying.