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Top Performances of 2005

Guilty Pleasures, 2005 | 'Kong,' 'Brokeback' Struggle | Hidden Gems on CD

Guilty Pleasures, 2005

And so it's here. We've reached the penultimate day of 2005.

No more movies will be released. Oscar and Golden Globe voters have their ballots in hand. Some of them have special DVD players from Disney that will play only their discs. Others (I'm not saying who) will doze during parts of every film. Many will not see all the offerings.

But if they did, they would find lots of interesting little things that are unexpected. These gems range from those that will most definitely get nominated to many that don't have a chance. But we'll mention the best of them anyway, in case someone is paying attention.

Here's a list of the great performances of 2005, whether they were from movies good, bad, or "bleccch."

1. Michael Lonsdale and Mathieu Amalric, "Munich" — In a movie you must see this weekend, this pair stand out as a wealthy French father-and-son team who midwife (mid-husband?) terrorism. They're on no side, sell information to friends and enemies and live with a delicious amorality while everyone around them suffers.

2. Joan Allen, "The Upside of Anger" — This is the damnedest thing. If this movie had turned out to make sense in the end, Allen would be winning the Oscar. Writer-director Mike Binder was "this close" to pulling off a coup — that is, until Kevin Costner went out back and found Joan's husband had fallen into a hole. What? Anyway, Allen's performance is A-plus. Years from now, when she's getting Lifetime Achievement Awards, I guarantee her clips from "Anger" will get huge ovations.

3. Clifton Collins Jr., "Capote" — He plays Perry Smith, one of the killers Truman Capote chronicled in "In Cold Blood." Collins is a revelation, giving an understated performance that almost makes him seem sympathetic. Almost. Collins' pas de deux with Philip Seymour Hoffman is one of the many satisfying parts in this terrific movie.

4. Michelle Williams, "Brokeback Mountain" — No one talks about poor Michelle — of "Dawson's Creek" fame — in this twitchy horse opera. But without her, "Brokeback" really would be just a gay cowboy movie. For one thing, she plays the only character who doesn't mumble. She speaks distinctly; you can hear exactly what she says. She's also not too bad to look at.

5. Oliver Platt, "Casanova" — Another movie not to be missed, "Casanova" is a sly comedy directed with unexpected bravado by the often more somber Lasse Hallström. The inept, befuddled Lord Papprizzio is a creation of both the director and actor, but Platt makes him come alive so vividly you fear he'll become typecast. Who he should play: Oliver Hardy in a biopic.

6. Emily Mortimer, "Match Point" — Woody's back, it's true. I told you that back on Nov. 15th. His cast of British actors is extraordinary, and Scarlett Johansson always boggles the mind because of her relative youth. But the film wouldn't work if Mortimer were not exceptional, sympathetic and engaging. You think you're just watching Scarlett and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers cause destruction wherever they go, but Mortimer as their lovely victim is this vivid movie's anchor.

7. Fionnula Flanagan, "Transamerica" — Yes, Felicity Huffman's going to win Best Actress. Let's not jinx her, but 2005 is hers. Nevertheless, when her transmogrified character arrives at home en route to Los Angeles, Flanagan provides the needed jolt as her mother. Dressed in polyester pastels, with teased hair and long nails, Flanagan makes you forget she terrified Nicole Kidman in "The Others." It's as if she got a master's degree in John Waters.

8. Jeff Daniels, "The Squid and the Whale" — You know in your heart he has no chance of getting an Oscar nomination up against Hoffman, Viggo Mortensen, David Strathairn, Heath Ledger, Terrence Howard, Eric Bana, etc. But he's the kind of actor who, if they call his name that morning, everyone will take credit for it. Daniels is so on the money with this latest piece of work that I could swear he was playing a pretentious self-important college poet/teacher I knew 25 years ago in Boston.

9. Chris Bridges (aka Ludacris), "Hustle & Flow" — I'm sure I've never heard one word of Ludacris's rapping, but he's huge in that field. As "Skinny Black," the hit rapper come home in this underrated fairy tale gone bad, Bridges amply shows that he's got more of a future in acting than any of his peers. It takes guts to allow yourself to endure the things that happen to Skinny in that roadside men's room. (Nothing sexual, don't get excited.) He's equally good in "Crash," too, a movie stuffed with its own excellent players, including Matt Dillon and Thandie Newton's brilliant work.

10. Jane Fonda, "Monster-in-Law"; Meryl Streep, "Prime" — the movies were, ahem, not so good. These ladies rose above a formulaic script and an implausible one, respectively, and both came out smelling like roses. Each is the defining American actress of her generation. They never make mistakes and are always eminently watchable. Streep, thank goodness, never stops working. Fonda tried this out to see what would happen. Next it's time for her Oscar comeback. She'll do it — you'll see.

'Kong,' 'Brokeback' Struggle For Supremacy

"King Kong" is not having a great Christmas vacation.

After years of not working, the prospect of coming out of retirement with Peter Jackson was tantalizing, too. Jackson had an Oscar and billions of bucks in the bank with the "Lord of the Rings" series.

Kong probably thought nothing could go wrong. And as we can see on the screen, he needed dental work desperately.

But on Wednesday, "Kong"'s three-hour comeback was trounced by Disney's "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."

It doesn't help that "Narnia" may be pulling in the "Passion of the Christ" audience, a massive marketing niche that has often proven its box-office power in the past.

"Kong" is inter-denominational at best. His appeals go out to all, but mostly those who worship good entertainment atop the Empire State Building.

Still, "Narnia" did about $1.5 million more than "Kong" on Wednesday, easily taking first place for the second day in a row. It may not be that "Kong" is doing badly, but that "Narnia" is doing so freaking well.

It just proves the adage that every dog has its day. Disney hasn't had a hit in eons, and Walden, the company that made "Narnia," had suffered severe embarrassments previously.

Over on "Brokeback Mountain," things are leveling off. After a big Monday, the rasslin' ranch hands have found a daily plateau of about $725,000. "BM"'s per screen average is still highest of all films, but that's because it's in very limited release in concentrated areas.

The real test will come next Friday, when the number of screens increases dramatically and kids go back to school.

Focus Features also has "Pride and Prejudice" on the charts, but I can't help thinking, what the heck happened to the distribution of their Jim Jarmusch movie, "Broken Flowers?" Botched, I would say.

Jarmusch, Bill Murray and Jessica Lange should have been up for many awards. Now they've all but been forgotten.

Hidden Gems on CD

I've been listening to Kate Taylor's "Live at the Cutting Room," with great pleasure. You can probably pre-order it on Amazon.com.

Kate is James Taylor's sister; she released a number of excellent albums in the '70s, as did brother Livingston Taylor. (He has a cool album out now on Chesky Records.)

If you like Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, Reba McEntire, Martina McBride, etc, then Kate is for you. She has the Taylors' smoky North Carolina twang, and a beautiful vibrato. She also sings the heck out of Marvin Gaye's "Stubborn Kind of Woman."

Eric Burdon has a new album out called "Soul of A Man." The man whose hits include "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" and "It's My Life" with the Animals is another underrated bluesman. Again, you probably have to order this online. But it's become a staple on my MP3 player; for some reason the random shuffle seems to know I want to keep hearing it. Bravo!