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Explosive situations aplenty

2005: SHAKEN & STIRRED | MOVIES | KEVIN THOMAS

December 18, 2005|KEVIN THOMAS

THERE have been a substantial number of good-to-better Hollywood films this year and a wide range of notable independent and foreign films. Among them are Debra Granik's "Down to the Bone," with Vera Farmiga's powerfully low-key portrayal of a blue-collar housewife and mother trying to kick a cocaine habit; Fatih Akin's "Head-On," a boldly sustained foray into grand passion, and Jia Zhangke's daunting and disturbing "The World," in which a cross-section of young workers seemed trapped in a vast Beijing theme park.

1. "Mysterious Skin." A poetic fable that takes a subtle approach to an explosive subject. Gregg Araki traces the long-term consequences on two young men (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brady Corbet) of having been molested by their small-town Kansas Little League coach (Bill Sage). The film has a mesmerizing, floating quality yet also considerable offbeat, deadpan humor.

2. "Brokeback Mountain." Ang Lee has brought an epic dimension to E. Annie Proulx's great, spare short story about two cowboys (Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal) who fall in love in the early '60s and thereafter struggle to hold on to each other.

3. "Crash." Writer-director Paul Haggis expertly put his finger on the tension that underlies Los Angeles' daunting multicultural diversity. In his multistranded, deftly interlinked stories, he suggests that language and cultural barriers, ignorance and racism can blind us to our common humanity. Matt Dillon's hard-pressed cop, at once racist and unhesitatingly brave, is a standout.

4. "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada." Tommy Lee Jones directs himself in this classic trek western that subtly moves from social commentary to fable as Jones, cast as a Texas border town cattle ranch foreman, becomes determined to honor the last wishes of one of his men.

5. "Garcon Stupide." An utterly distinctive work, with offbeat structuring and storytelling and a deeply personal point of view, it is the story of a young gay man who begins to want to escape being an uneducated "stupid boy" but discovers the learning process can be painful indeed.

6. "Hustle & Flow." This underrated movie dares to treat a pimp as a hero. Wrenching in its raw emotions, hilarious in its earthy humor yet subtle in myriad ways, "Hustle & Flow" catches life up in a warm embrace, unafraid of sentiment but not looking away from the harsher realities of everyday existence.

7. "Ballets Russes." This irresistible film chronicling a reunion of the Ballets Russes dancers -- ranging in age from their 60s to their 90s -- is chock-full of remarkable archival footage and rich reminiscences, revealing how a sustained creative spirit ensures an unquenchable zest for life.

8. "Tropical Malady." This mysterious and venturesome film opens with a developing romance between a Thai forest ranger and a boyish young man. The film shifts from the everyday world into the supernatural, and a love story evolves into a parable about the sacrifices true love demands.

9. "Keane." A young man becomes increasingly agitated as he tries to retrace the last moments he spent with his 6-year-old daughter before she vanished. Relentlessly drab and impersonal landscapes reinforce the terrible isolation of Keane's anguished odyssey.

10. "The Holy Girl." Argentine writer-director Lucrecia Martel charts a potentially calamitous collision between devout faith and budding sexuality within a lovely, naive teenager. Martel's storytelling, psychological insight and social comment flow easily and implicitly.

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