I’m not ready to deliver a Top Ten Films of 2005 yet. There are several key candidates I’ll be seeing for the first time in the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned. I’ll publish the list on December 31st, when 2005 really is ending and the buzzer sounds. Then I’ll publish a revised list sometime around the end of January when the last heavy hitters of 2005 have become available in Seattle. (All of these folks publishing their top tens… have they really seen all of the key players already? Really?)

However, I will single out the performances that have made the strongest impression on me this year.

If I could cast Oscar votes, I’d be stirring up attention for these folks:

1. Andy Serkis – King Kong
He won’t be nominated. Probably can’t be, for one technicality or another. But the emotion, the power, and the glory of Kong onscreen comes from Andy Serkis, and the fact that what we’re seeing looks suspiciously like a gorilla… THAT comes from the animators. I think Serkis deserves an Oscar for his groundbreaking, sensational work.

2. Georgie Henley – The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Alexander Nathan Etel – Millions
Henley’s the very best reason to see the Narnia movie. No one could have done a better job suspending my disbelief. Too bad Lucy doesn’t have a big part in the sequels. I’d follow her anywhere. Here’s hoping they kind find someone just as enchanting to make Prince Caspian come alive.
Like Henley, Etel posseses a fantastic ability to forget about the camera and become a kid bursting at the seams with faith and personality. Nothing brought me to tears this year more than his joy in Millions‘ brilliant, climactic dream sequence.

3. Jonathan Rhys-Meyers – Match Point
I would have found it hard to believe, but now I’ve seen it. Rhys-Meyers is better at playing a heartless, malevolent antihero than any other actor… except perhaps John Malkovich. He should get cast in the next film version of a Patricia Highsmith novel, or a remake of Dangerous Liaisons. He should star in the film adaptation of The Screwtape Letters. He’s brilliantly wicked, and he makes the nightmarish proceedings of Match Point riveting.

4. Rosamund Pike – Pride and Prejudice
Yes, Keira Knightley was dazzling in the lead role, but Pike broke my heart while saying very little at all. Her fragile silences were, for me, the miracle of the movie.

5. Philip Seymour Hoffman – Capote
Brilliant. Oscar-worthy. Far more deserving than Brokeback Mountain‘s Heath Ledger, who is for some reason suddenly the front-runner. Whereas Ledger’s performance is being perceived as brave, I think it stopped being brave for a straight guy to play a gay man decades ago. Capote doesn’t just play a homosexual man. He creates a complex, remarkable character who commands our attention through every scene of the film. He’s one of the great actors, and the great actors are sometimes overlooked in favor of more popular performances. The Academy should seize this opportunity to celebrate Hoffman now, or in the future this will be seen as one of those unfortunate award-flubs.

6. Paul Newman – Empire Falls
Newman is as wonderful to watch now as ever, and every time he steps into the otherwise unremarkable HBO two-part adaptation of Empire Falls, the film comes to life with energy and wit. He makes this series well worth watching.

7. Issei Ogata – Tony Takitani
Ogato makes Tony into an intriguing case of longing and heartbreak. I came to this film eager to see the actor who lit up the middle act of Edward Yang’s Yi-Yi. I never saw that actor here–Ogato became something entirely different. Now I realize that he is a great actor, because I have no idea what the real Ogato looks like.

8. David Strathairn – Good Night, and Good Luck
As Edward R. Murrow, Strathairn convinces us that his brain is in overdrive and likely to burst almost every minute he’s onscreen. He’s one of Hollywood’s secret weapons, serving the character at all times, and it’s his quiet concentration on his work… not any kind of sensationalism… that draws our attention. But this is nothing new. He’s been turning in great performances like this for years.

9. Anthony Lapaglia – Winter Solstice
Lapaglia had good competition this year in the “Best Long Silences” category, especially from Bill Murray. But his work here as a damaged widower is delicate and full of grace, a performance that has been sorely overlooked (just as he was for Lantana a few years back.) Lapaglia is doing the kind of work that DeNiro would be doing if he still had any passion left for acting. He deserves greater roles, and more of them.

10. Viggo Mortensen – A History of Violence
Who knew that Mortensen was capable of such complex work? This is a helluva challenging role to play, and he plays it like a pro. I worried that he’d never shake off the mantle of Aragorn to do anything really impressive and new. Forgive him for Hidalgo… THIS is a major step forward.

11. Nathan Fillion – Serenity
The movie, like the television series, never got the credit it deserved. And its cast is fantastic, deserving of a long-running blockbuster franchise. But Fillion really is the captain of this ship. He’s the most engaging action hero since Harrison Ford put on the Indiana Jones hat. Here’s hoping that Serenity finds a way to live again.

12. Zhang Ziyi – 2046
In what may be the most exquisite big screen exhibition of beautiful women ever filmed, Zhang Ziyi is the bright and shining star. House of Flying Daggers showed how she can kick butt. 2046 rockets her to the ranks of Audrey Hepburn in terms of her gravitational pull. She’s otherworldly.

13. Daniel Day-Lewis – The Ballad of Jack and Rose
The greatest screen actor working today, Day-Lewis refuses to turn in a forgettable performance. Here’s another great one, entirely different from his other work. I wondered if it would throw him off, to be acting while his wife directs. Apparently not.

14. Bill Murray – Broken Flowers
Another good performance, made great by one quiet moment in a graveyard. Jeffrey Wright is also very good here (and equally good in Syriana), but the performance that becomes more and more affecting every time I see the film… Frances Conroy as the prefab-home seller.

15. Sam Rockwell – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
He may have blown it, by turning himself loose to a Jim Carrey maximum here. I mean, if he shows this kind of reckless humor again, it’ll just be seen as a variation on this inspired turn. But he sure kicked some life into this otherwise disappointing movie.

Okay, who have I forgotten? Yeah, yeah, Phoenix and Witherspoon. They were great, but the script didn’t make enough sense out of them for me.

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