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Thursday, Dec. 29, 2005


Scene stealers

These top 10 films of 2005 (in no particular order) showcase the best and boldest performances in works that belong less to the director and more to the actors who gave their all to the lens. Some of them are famed icons of cinema, while others are total amateurs who wield the kind of riveting charisma normally associated with the likes of Al Pacino. And then there are first-time performers, such as 18-year-old Deborah Francois who, it seemed, materialized out of nowhere, fluttering in on angel wings. Also noteworthy is someone like veteran actor Daniel Craig, who had done his share of thankless roles but who came into his own and is now on his way to serious stardom as the next James Bond.

News photo
Kids rise to the challenge in "L'Enfant"

"Young Adam" (released in Japan as "Ryoujin Nikki"): Ewan McGregor takes his career to new levels here as aspiring novelist Joe whose voracious sexual appetite extends to every woman he sees, including his employer's coarse, middle-aged wife (Tilda Swinton). McGregor, who used to be such a nice boy, went full frontal here and then fought some ethics committees who wanted to cut out the, uh, particularly obvious, frontal scenes.

"Yes" (released in Japan as "Ai o Tsuzuru Uta"): Joan Allen has matured into one of cinema's most prized actress. Her character in Sally Potter's "Yes," an unnamed "She," is feeling trapped in a sterile marriage. When She meets "He" (Simon Abkarian), they start an affair, though neither are prepared for the ugliness that can accompany a relationship between a wealthy white woman and a Beirut exile. Allen's every gesture and expression is fraught with delicate nuance.

"The Edukators" (released in Japan as "Berlin Bokura no Kakumei"): Shot on a minuscule budget, "The Edukators" is an excellent film which also sheds light on the enormous talents of rising German star Julia Jench. The intelligence in her eyes and her commanding aura brings to mind a very young Marlene Dietrich -- had she chosen to go around in jeans and sneakers. Here, she plays a passionate leftist activist caught between two men but their triangle is only part of the story.

"5 × 2": France's enfant terrible director Francois Ozon toned down his usual salaciousness and cynicism to dissect a marriage. Starting in a divorce lawyer's office and scrolling back to when the couple first fell in love, "5 × 2" draws exceptional performances from Valeria Bruni Tedeschi and Stephane Freiss. Not only do they look extremely convincing as a mid-life couple, but they actually seem to de-age and become loving in the last segment.

"Du Battre Mon Coeur S'est Arre^te" (released in Japan as "Mayonaka no Pianist"): A remake of the 1978 flick "Mad Fingers," this movie charts the emotional changes of a violent real-estate broker/con man named Thomas (Roman Duris). Some may argue that Duris is too willowy to play such a hardass character. But in the end, he makes it perfectly believable that though Thomas habitually breaks people's noses, he also has a passion for playing the piano and is tenderly protective of his drunken father.

"Enduring Love": Some actors are late bloomers, but in the case of British actor Daniel Craig, it was worth the wait. After a long stint playing secondary roles he finally came into his own, first with "Sylvia" in 2004 and then "Enduring Love," in which he plays Joe, a successful novelist who gets ensnared in the ardent gaze of love-struck Jed (Rhys Ifans). Impassive at Jed's advances, Joe fumes and eventually becomes unbearable. One thing hasn't changed with Craig: He's never afraid to play the steely, self-centered jerk.

"L'Enfant" ("The Child," released in Japan as "Aru Kodomo"): This Palme d'Or winner is the gritty story of a young couple who have just turned into parents. Twenty-year-old petty thief Bruno (Jeremie Renier) can't deal with the enormous responsibility and prefers to sell his new-born son for cash. His 18-year-old girlfriend Sonia, however, is able to shift straight from girlhood to motherhood, and amazing first-time actress Deborah Francois expresses the transition without missing a beat. No wonder that Sonia is able to instigate a change in Bruno, not with words but simply by her unwavering will to be a mother.

"Mondovino": For wine connoisseurs, the messages of Jonathan Nossiter's documentary "Mondovino" are, perhaps, old news (encroaching globalization, standardization of tastes, etc.), but it's populated with incredible characters. From a cantankerous French vineyard owner who quotes from Voltaire to a Florentine countess who refuses to give away any family winemaking secrets, "Mondovino" puts a whole corps of professional actors to shame. Don't miss the scenes of the famed wine consultant Robert Parker who can make or break a wine with an arching of his eyebrows.

"Down in the Valley": As a delusional mid-life guy named Harlan who thinks he's a cowboy, Edward Norton is brilliant. There's something evangelical about the way Harlan tries his darndest to spread the word: cars are bad and people should ride horses, men should behave like gentlemen but carry handguns and hone their shooting skills. In another age, Harlan would have been a hero; in this one, he's a crackpot. Harlan knows it, won't admit it and winds up staging his own inevitable tragedy.

"The Cave of the Yellow Dog" (released in Japan as "Tenku no Sogen no Nansa"): This was a year for exceptional performances from child actors, but 6-year-old Nansal Batchuluun is unique in that she had never seen a camera, and subsequently "acted" with refreshing artlessness. You'll love this movie for the splendid landscapes and the lifestyle of the Mongolian nomad family drawn with loving detail by director Byambasuren Davas, but you won't be able to take your eyes off Nansal.

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