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Movies that captured the imagination - Serenity is #10

Robert K. Elder

Monday 19 December 2005, by Webmaster

Movie magic is back

1. "Brokeback Mountain" — A movie that lives up to its hype, director Ang Lee’s "Brokeback Mountain" is as powerful and poetic as it is haunting. Screenwriters Larry McMurtry ("Lonesome Dove") and Diana Ossana faithfully adapt Annie Proulx’s short story about a decades-long love affair between two Wyoming cowboys, played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger.

Revelations: Disney star Anne Hathaway ("The Princess Diaries") as Lureen, a rodeo queen turned icy Texan housewife. She’s onscreen for less than 10 minutes, but is unforgettable. Ledger’s tight-lipped, emo-tionally fragile turn as the macho Ennis del Mar might just land him an Oscar. He deserves it too.

Director Lee ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "The Ice Storm) delivers his magnum opus in "Brokeback," a rare epic that captures both the emotional and physical landscape of the West.

Regardless of your background, if you don’t tear up (even a little) during "Brokeback," you’ve traded your heart for something cold.

2. "The 40 Year-Old Virgin" — I haven’t laughed this hard at a movie since "There’s Something About Mary." We’re talking milk-shooting-from-the-nose funny.

Judd Apatow, the creative mind behind TV’s cult "Undeclared" and "Freaks and Geeks," recruited virtual unknown Steve Carell for the title role as Andy Stitzer, a sensitive but sexually naive electronics salesman. When his coworkers (Paul Rudd, Romany Malco and the brilliant, deadpan Seth Rogen) discover his inexperience, disaster follows as they coach him in the ways of love.

Despite the bawdy bedroom humor, Apatow’s "Virgin" can be rather sweet and promotes values that not even the 700 Club could object to.

3. "Batman Begins" — Director Christopher Nolan ("Memento") reinvigorates the Batman franchise by treating the Dark Knight seriously. Yes, it’s a genre film, but an excellent, artful take on a modern icon.

Nolan and co-screenwriter David Goyer ostensibly rebuild Batman’s origins from the ground up, giving rhyme and reason to his motivations, symbology and those "wonderful toys" in this existential action movie.

Christian Bale dons the cape and cowl, with Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman and Liam Neeson providing solid supporting performances. This isn’t just the best Batman movie to date — it’s the superhero movie by which all others will be measured.

4. "The Constant Gardener" — No other film in 2005 was as dense and visually stunning as Fernando Meirelles’ adaptation of John le Carre’s difficult novel about the politics of drug-testing in Africa.

Meirelles, who wowed us with 2002’s "City of God," adds a geographical panorama and spiritual depth to the story of a low-level diplomat (Ralph Fiennes) investigating the death of his activist wife (Rachel Weisz). Fiennes and Weisz offer two of the most restrained, heartbreaking performances of 2005, captured in cinematographer Cesar Charlone’s shattering, awe-inspiring landscapes.

5. "Kung Fu Hustle" — I have seen the future of kung fu, and his name is Stephen Chow.

Though he’s been a fixture of the Asian film scene for years, writer/director/star Chow followed the promise of 2001’s "Shaolin Soccer" with "Kung Fu Hustle" — a video game valentine to Bruce Lee, Mortal Kombat, Buster Keaton and Warner Bros. cartoons.

Chow plays Sing, a ne’er-do-well street hustler who gets caught in a territorial scrap between the Axe Gang and Pigsty Alley, a small, impoverished community.

Action choreographer Yuen Woo-ping outdoes himself, topping his fight choreography between Neo and the 100 Agent Smiths in "The Matrix Reloaded" in this astonishingly funny martial arts movie.

6. "Broken Flowers" — Jim Jarmusch, indie auteur of "Down By Law" and "Dead Man," delivered his most accessible (and financially successful) film to date with this tale of aging playboy Don Johnston (Bill Murray). After being dumped by his latest girlfriend (Julie Delpy), Don receives a letter from an anonymous former lover telling him that he has a son who may be looking for him.

Don’s mystery-loving neighbor Winston (the excellent Jeffrey Wright) spurs on a friend to take a road trip and visit past girlfriends in an attempt to find the author, his son . . . and perhaps himself.

Here, Murray is in "Lost in Translation" mode, underplaying the melancholy Don in a clever, touching road movie about love and loss. Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange and a terrifying Tilda Swinton play Don’s former loves.

7. "King Kong" — If Peter Jackson’s "Lord of the Rings" trilogy was a gigantic, cinematic banana split, then "King Kong" is the cherry on top. In "Kong," Jackson revisits and reimagines the film that inspired him to direct.

Jack Black, Adrien Brody and Naomi Watts play the higher primates in a tale of monkey love gone bad. (Don’t start writing letters, I know Kong is a gorilla). When schlocky director Carl Denham (Black) travels to foreboding Skull Island to shoot a jungle picture, his crew discovers homicidal natives, carnivorous slugs, dinosaurs and . . . oh . . . a giant ape.

Jackson hits his stride during Kong’s marathon blood-in-your-eardrums fight with a toothy cadre of T-Rex dinos, but it’s his ability to weave CGI wizardry with genuine emotion that makes "Kong" king.

8. "Murderball" — Documentary directors Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro follow the politics and volatile personalities of quad rugby, a.k.a. Murderball, the full-contact wheelchair sport for paraplegic athletes.

Amid team defections and assorted dramas, the directors track the U.S. world championship team from 2002 to ’04, where they compete against bitter adversaries Team Canada at the 2004 Paralympic Games.

Obscenely funny, bone-crushingly brutal and deeply moving, "Murderball" will find your soft spots.

9. "Grizzly Man" — In 2003, self-proclaimed protector of grizzly bears Timothy Treadwell and his girlfriend were eaten alive while living among the bears in Alaska.

Famed director and documentarian Werner Herzog goes through Treadwell’s footage to unravel the mystery of what happened to the controversial figure. A master filmmaker, Herzog’s singular feat in "Grizzly Man" is turning Treadwell — an annoying, overbearing, mentally unstable force of nature — into a sympathetic, compelling figure. Even if Herzog doesn’t agree with Treadwell’s worldview, he finds a kindred spirit.

10. "Serenity" — OK, so I’m letting my freak flag fly here. But Joss Whedon’s sublime sci-fi mini-epic gives his groundbreaking "Firefly" television series a proper sendoff.

Whedon ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer") marshals his cast of outlaws to take on an intergalactic government tinkering with human DNA. The end result is a shocking (not everyone makes it out alive), pulse-pounding space thriller that puts a brick on the gas pedal, then dares you to jump out the airlock.

Mr. Whedon, sir, may we have another?

Honorable mentions: "Layer Cake," "The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill," "A History of Violence," "Sin City," "Good Night, and Good Luck," "Me and You and Everyone We Know," and "Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior."