What we've come up with is a mixture of titles that were generally praised, such as "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" (a no-brainer for our list) and "Crash" (a searing study of racial prejudice, lauded by the secular and religious press despite its hard-hitting adult nature), along with films such as "An Unfinished Life" and "The Greatest Game Ever Played" that we found particularly worthy, but were dismissed by the mainstream.
In addition, we've included smaller gems such as "Dear Frankie," "The Ninth Day" and "Millions," which failed to receive wide distribution, but nonetheless left a strong impression.
"Cinderella Man" was an example of a film that garnered generally good reviews, but curiously tanked at the box office, prompting Universal to attempt a rerelease in the fall.
"The Upside of Anger" and "North Country" were other admirable releases, overlooked by most critics in their year-end tallies.
Here then -- in alphabetical order -- are our picks, followed in parentheses by their USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification and Motion Picture Association of America rating:
The Top 10 Films of 2005
- "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," a captivating live-action fantasy adventure based on C.S. Lewis' beloved children's classic set in World War II-era England about four siblings' adventures in the enchanted realm of Narnia. Seeded with Christian symbolism and subtext, the beautifully told and faithful adaptation explores themes of good and evil. A-II (PG)
- "Cinderella Man," the moving true-life story of Depression-era boxer Jimmy Braddock who -- after several years out of the ring -- took up fighting again to support his loving wife and their three young children, making a miracle comeback. The human story of Jimmy's devotion to his family is paramount. A-III (PG-13)
- "Crash," a powerful drama with a strong moral center about a disparate, racially mixed group of Los Angeles residents whose lives intersect in unlikely and redemptive ways. A transcendently moving essay on the benevolence that may lie beneath racial intolerance, and the interconnectedness of human beings, showing how good and bad can coexist in all of us, and how the former generally prevails. L (R)
- "Dear Frankie," a heartwarming film set in Scotland about a loving single mother who pretends to her 9-year-old deaf son, Frankie, that his father -- whom the boy has never seen -- is simply away at sea, and forges letters purporting to be from the absent father, then pays a stranger to pose as the father for a day. A beautifully written story that is immensely appealing, sensitively acted and sure to bring a lump to the throat. A-III (PG-13)
- "The Greatest Game Ever Played," an absorbing and inspiring true-life story of a young amateur working-class golfer, Francis Ouimet, who played against British golf champion Harry Vardon in the 1913 U.S. Open. The themes of class conflict, overcoming the odds, loyalty and good sportsmanship are vividly drawn. A-I (PG)
- "Millions," a disarming fable about a 7-year-old enthralled by the lives of the saints who finds a stash of stolen money and, believing it is from God, tries to do good with it by giving it to the poor. There are delightful vignettes in which the young hero talks with various saints, and the modest film touches on themes of the corrupting influence of money and humanity's basic decency. A-II (PG)
- "The Ninth Day," a quietly arresting drama about an interned Catholic priest who is given nine days to convince the staunchly anti-Nazi bishop to sign a letter supporting Hitler. Based on the prison diaries of Father Jean Bernard, the film is an emotionally forceful and morally complex meditation on faith, redemption and the cost of true discipleship. A-III (not rated)
- "North Country," a compelling drama set in northern Minnesota about a struggling single mother who takes a job at a local mine, encountering hostility and abuse from the predominantly male ranks, eventually filing a landmark sexual harassment lawsuit against the mining company. Touching on issues of gender discrimination, justice, family, community and human dignity, the film's highlight is a tender scene with a strong pro-life undertone. L (R)
- "An Unfinished Life," the absorbing story of an embittered Wyoming rancher who takes care of a ranch hand badly mauled by a bear and gives shelter to his son's widow and the 11-year-old granddaughter he never knew he had, when the woman flees her abusive boyfriend. The film vividly conveys an admirable message about forgiveness and letting go of the past. A-III (PG-13)
- "The Upside of Anger," a profoundly moving comedy-drama set in a Detroit suburb about an embittered wife deserted by her husband who finds healing with a burned-out DJ who becomes a surrogate father to her four daughters. A sharply observant spin on the nature of anger, which intercuts the story with clips of hatred's ramifications on a global scale, and imparts a strong moral about the destructive nature of misplaced animosity. L (R)
Among many other excellent films of merit, we give honorable mention to: "Cache" (A-III, R), "The Constant Gardener" (A-III, R), "Daltry Calhoun" (A-III, PG-13), "Good Night, and Good Luck." (A-II, PG), "The History of Violence" (L, R), "Innocent Voices" ("Voces Inocentes") (A-III, R), "Keane" (L, R), "Look at Me" (A-III, PG-13), "Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont" (A-III, not rated), "Nine Lives" (L, R), "Paradise Now" (A-III, PG-13), "The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio" (A-II, PG-13), "Proof" (A-III, PG-13), "Rory O'Shea Was Here" (A-III, R), "Saint Ralph" (A-III, PG-13), "Turtles Can Fly" (L, not rated), "Up and Down" (A-III, R), "Walk the Line" (A-III, PG-13) and "The White Countess" (A-III, PG-13).
The top 10 best family films of 2004 were:
Amid the outcries of concerned viewers over the prevalence of sex, violence and vulgarity on the screen, 2005 also gave moviegoers much to smile about in the form of wholesome entertainment.
Here -- in alphabetical order -- are our top 10 picks for best family films of the past year, followed in parentheses by their USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification and Motion Picture Association of America rating.
- "Because of Winn-Dixie," a gentle and disarming story about a Baptist preacher and his young daughter who move to a small Florida town, and -- with the help of a stray dog -- change the lonely lives of several of the town's misfits. A-I (PG)
- "Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story," a heart-tugging crowd-pleaser set in rural Kentucky about a dispirited racehorse trainer, his young daughter and his estranged father, who nurse an injured thoroughbred back to championship form and in the process mend their own broken relationships through the healing power of love. A-I (PG)
- "Duma," a first-rate coming-of-age adventure set in Africa about a headstrong young boy who embarks on a journey of self-discovery when he resolves to trek across hundreds of miles of treacherous terrain in order to return his pet cheetah -- which he raised since it was an orphaned cub -- to its rightful home in the wild. A-II (PG)
- "Howl's Moving Castle," a marvelously imaginative and deeply moral Japanese animated fable about a young girl transformed into an old lady by a witch's curse who becomes the housekeeper to a handsome, but reclusive, wizard who lives in a dilapidated fortress that moves around on mechanical legs. A-II (PG)
- "Little Manhattan," a warm and winning romantic comedy set in New York City about a 10-year-old who thinks that girls are "icky" until he falls for an apple-cheeked cutie and finds himself adrift in a befuddling sea of newfound emotions as he sweetly experiences the agony, ecstasy and magic of first love. A-II (PG)
- "March of the Penguins," an exceptional nature documentary which details the annual mating migrations of emperor penguins in Antarctica, during which they endure treacherous treks across inhospitable terrain, facing subzero temperatures and starvation to insure the survival of their species. A-I (G)
- "Oliver Twist," director Roman Polanski's handsome version of Charles Dickens' timeless classic about an orphan boy's misfortunes among a gang of thieves in 19th-century London. A-II (PG-13)
- "Pride & Prejudice," a fine retelling of Jane Austen's evergreen romance concerning five unmarried sisters whose mother is strenuously determined to marry them off in class-conscious Georgian England. A-I (PG)
- "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit," the whimsical clay-animated adventure about a cheese-loving inventor and his faithful pooch who are hired by a batty blueblood to catch a monstrous rabbit terrorizing neighborhood gardens on the eve of the town's annual vegetable competition. A-I (G)
- "Zathura: A Space Adventure," a fancifully entertaining and visually dazzling adaptation of Chris Van Allsburg's children's book about two bickering brothers who play a magical board game that transports their suburban home into outer space, where they learn tender lessons about family and forgiveness. A-II (PG)