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The Year in Film

From dirty jokes and soldiers to penguins and gays, we made our preferences known.

There were, of course, more serious-minded, topical docs, too: Gunner Palace and Occupation: Dreamland spent countless hours with soldiers stationed in Iraq, where they fought off boredom and anger as often as the so-called enemy. But the most profound and provocative doc that played on U.S. screens -- albeit barely -- will go unnoticed. Titled The Power of Nightmares, it originally aired in three parts on the BBC in October 2004, but collectively, it's a three-hour punch in the gut. Writer-director-narrator Adam Curtis, a well-respected documentarian in England, provides a sobering narrative that essentially says not only that there is no Al-Qaeda (it's a name created by the U.S. government and adopted by Osama bin Laden after September 11, 2001, claim several of the doc's talking heads), but that the same men responsible for selling us the war in Iraq based on shaky evidence also sold us the Cold War in the 1970s using similarly fabricated information intent on scaring the populace into obedience.

Curtis also links the rise of neo-conservatives in the U.S. to the birth of Islamic fundamentalism in the 1950s; both movements, after all, tied Western decadence to Western liberalism. It's essentially Fahrenheit 9/11 without the screaming, the preaching, the panic -- a newsy film that Salon's Andrew O'Hehir called "the most important political documentary of this decade, and perhaps of my lifetime." And you will likely never see it unless you scour the web for the myriad sites hosting bootleg copies. Go figure: The best doc of 2005 is one you'll have to see on your computer. Viva la digital revolution, indeed. -- Wilonsky

Keep It Gay: The Year Hollywood Went Homo

Saw II
Saw II
Everything Is Illuminated
Everything Is Illuminated

Social conservatives may have put the brakes on gay marriage, but there isn't much they can do about gay movies, which arrived like some biblical flood in the last months of 2005. Along with Capote, a vivid portrait of the most celebrated gay writer of the 1960s, Ang Lee's romantic tragedy Brokeback Mountain, the story of two lean cowboys who fall in love and stay there, on and off, for twenty years, may signal a startling shift of attitude in mainstream Hollywood. The film was adapted from a much-honored short story by Pulitzer Prize winner Annie Proulx, and it stars two of the industry' s most respected young actors: Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal.

Breakfast on Pluto, directed by The Crying Game's Neil Jordan, may not draw as well, but Cillian Murphy puts in an energetic performance as an Irish cross-dresser who gets entangled in an IRA bomb plot in London. Looking for a companion piece? In the offbeat comedy Transamerica, Felicity Huffman (of Desperate Housewives fame) portrays a pre-op transgender candidate who learns that she once fathered a son, now a teenage gay hustler in Manhattan, and they take a mutually revealing cross-country road trip together.

In The Dying Gaul, a gay writer runs afoul of a Hollywood producer over a screenplay about his lover's death from AIDS, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, an exercise in mock pulp fiction, features Val Kilmer as an L.A. private detective known as Gay Perry. The movie version of the Broadway rock hit Rent is amply stocked with a lesbian couple, a transvestite and a gay man. A couple of otherwise hetero movies also feature prominent gay characters: Trying to ensure that their Broadway musical bombs, The Producers, Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, sign up a cross-dressing director and instruct him to "keep it gay." In Mrs. Henderson Presents, the wartime nudie revues financed by well-heeled widow Judi Dench are anchored by a gay leading man. -- Gallo

Gross Yield: The Awards for Cinematic Depravity

Some of us go to the movies to escape into fantasy, others to cry at tragic drama. Then there are those who just enjoy a couple hours of shock treatment. Maybe it's cathartic, or maybe it's just sick, but it was unquestionably a good year for connoisseurs of the grotesque. Here are our favorite moments:

Finger paining: For all the elaborate death traps in Saw II, the most intense scene occurs when the cop played by Mark Wahlberg decides to break the Jigsaw Killer's fingers. Tobin Bell's acting sells the pain better than any contraption.

Method acting gone wrong: George Clooney's separation from his fingernails in Syriana was seriously wince-inducing. Falling to the ground later in the scene, he really injured his back.

Barrels of fun: We're used to seeing shotgun blasts in movies, but seldom with the visceral splatter that accompanied Ed Harris's demise in A History of Violence.

Everything Zen? Don't think so! Bush lead singer Gavin Rossdale played a demon in Constantine and ended up getting his face melted. Everyone who listened to music in the mid-'90s rejoiced.

Hammer time: Oldboy not only showed how to take on a corridor full of thugs armed only with a hammer, but it also demonstrated how to extract teeth with same. Now, that's versatility.

Family recipe: The opening credits haven't finished rolling on the Japanese horror anthology ThreeŠExtremes before we see, n gaphic detail, the "secret ingredient" of Bai Ling's dumplings. That's right: aborted fetuses.

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