The Great Performances: 2005

Posted by · 5:07 pm · December 18th, 2009

Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain2005 was the year of Heath Ledger’s beautiful, moving performance in “Brokeback Mountain,” which I saw for the first time in Toronto.  It instantly became the talk of the festival, and the film became the one to beat for the Academy Award.

Ledger was astonishing as the taciturn cowboy who is more surprised than anybody when his soulmate turns out to be another cowboy, portrayed superbly by Jake Gyllenhall. If there is a more deeply felt moment in film history than Ledger gently adjusting Gyllenhall’s shirt at the end of the film, his eyes filled with tears, I don’t know what it is. That’s loss, that is absolute heartbreak, that is one of the greatest acting performances of the decade.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman would win the Oscar for his transformation into “Capote” and he’s very good, but just not in the same league as Ledger. I wondered from time to time if “Infamous” had been released earlier if Toby Jones might have won the Oscar instead of Hoffman. Each becomes Capote in a very different manner, and side by side it is difficult to choose the stronger portrayal. Certainly I prefer Hoffman’s as it is darker, and for me more realistic, but there can be no denying Jones.

I was totally unmoved by both Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon in “Walk the Line,” and I could never understand how Witherspoon won the Academy Award.  Writer/director James Mangold missed the entire spiritual transformation of Cash and failed to explore why he wore black, which he made clear in a song. The performances felt forced, never fully realized or believable, and I know, oh how I know, I am in the minority on both.

But did everyone miss Joan Allen in “The Upside of Anger?” The Academy clearly loves her, and here was the perfect chance to award the woman for her work, but they chose instead to not even nominate her. Hmmmm. Odd.

I did like that they nominated the great character actor David Strathairn for “Good Night, and Good Luck.,” and that they noticed Terence Howard for his mesmerizing turn in “Hustle and Flow.”

I had thought Russell Crowe would be nominated for “Cinderella Man” or that Eric Bana might get a nod for “Munich.” Though not a huge fan of Ralph Fiennes, I thought he did his best work since “Schindler’s List” in “The Constant Gardener” and deserved some attention.

Viggo Mortenson gave a remarkable performance in “A History of Violence,” while Jeff Daniels, a well-traveled character actor did career-best work in “The Squid and the Whale.” I remember being stunned by Tommy Lee Jones’s elegant and oh-so-real performance in his magnificent “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada,” which might be the best work of his career and won him great attention at Cannes.

After awards attention for his work in “Lost in Translation,” Bill Murray and his career seemed to be going very well.  In 2005 he gave another fine performance in “Broken Flowers,” a wonderful indie that should have garnered him greater attention. But even with all these great performances, it is still my belief that Heath Ledger’s performance was stronger than them all, one for the ages.

Joan Allen gave the best performance of the year by an actress in “The Upside of Anger,” but the film’s release in the spring hurt her chances and by Oscar time she was all but forgotten. How sad.

Another performance that deserved great attention and a nomination was Naomi Watts in “King Kong,” in which the actress went far beyond what anyone expected of her, fleshing out a character that we came to care about. Judi Dench, meanwhile, was justly nominated for her work in “Mrs. Henderson Presents,” as was Felicity Huffman for her miraculous performance in “Transamerica,” one of the most daring pieces of acting I had seen in a long, long time.

After her win in 2003, Charlize Theron was back among the nominees for a powerful performance in “North Country” along with Keira Knightley, a surprise nominee (for me) in “Pride & Prejudice.” I had always felt Gwyneth Paltrow deserved a nomination for Best Actress for her haunting and haunted performance in “Proof” going far beyond what she accomplished for her win back in 1998.  And Laura Linney matched what Jeff Daniels accomplished in “The Squid and the Whale” shot for shot, doing some of the finest work of her career.

The Best Supporting Actress categopry should have contained such names as Renee Zellweger, so good in “Cinderella Man,” Jessica Lange, all toxic rage in “Broken Flowers,” Thandie Newton in “Crash,” Scarlett Johansson in “Match Point,” Patricia Clarkson in “Good Night, and Good Luck.” or Maria Bello in “A History of Violence.” None, of course, were nominated.

It was rewarding to see Michelle Williams nominated for her lovely work in “Brokeback Mountain” as well as the eventual winner, the haunting Rachel Weisz in “The Constant Gardener” (such a superb performance).

As much as I liked Frances McDormand in “North Country,” I thought her co-stars Michelle Monaghan and Sissy Spacek were equally nomination worthy. Amy Admas gave a star making performance in “Junebug” and then became just that, one of the brightest young actresses working. The great Catherine Keener was a wonderful foil for Hoffman in “Capote” as the celebrated writer Harper Lee, and January Jones was marvelous in “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada,” though no one noticed.

A case also could have been made for the frosty Tilda Swinton in “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” as the evil white witch, the stuff of nightmares.

The Best Supporting Actor I saw in 2005 was Terrence Howard in “Crash,” but they nominated the worthy Matt Dillon and snubbed Howard. Dillon was astonishing, the sequence under the vehicle alone was worth the nomination.

I had really hoped that Kevin Costner might get a nomination for “The Upside of Anger” and was thrilled when Paul Giamatti did get one for “Cinderella Man,” a wonderful performance.

Before Mickey Rourke was winning accolades in “The Wrestler,” he was outstanding in “Sin City,” perhaps deserving of a nomination for his work in that picture. George Clooney won the Oscar for “Syriana” and his is a very fine performance, no question, but better than Danny Huston as the treacherous friend in “The Constant Gardener” or Donald Sutherland in “Pride & Prejudice?”

Anthony Hopkins was terrific in “Proof” oppsite Paltrow, the two of them bouncing off one another nicely, neither dominating the film, each serving the script. Bob Hoskins was wonderfully dapper and fussy in “Mrs. Henderson Presents” and God help me I loved Will Farrell in the otherwise dreadful “The Producers.”

Finally, William Hurt made a stunning comeback in “A History of Violence,” all but stealing the movie in about ten minutes of screen time. Also very good in the film was the always brilliant Ed Harris as a horribly scarred mob henchman.

That’s how I saw the year 2005 in performances.  What about you?  Have your say in the comments section below!

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68 responses so far

  • 1 12-19-2009 at 3:52 am

    Simon Warrasch said...


    Walk the Line
    Brokeback Mountain
    North Country

    Alt. The Constand Gardener


    Ang Lee – Brokeback Mountain
    Bennett Miller – Capote
    James Mangold – Walk the Line
    Paul Haggis – Crash
    Fernando Marielles – The Constand Gardener

    Lead Actor

    Heath Ledger – Brokeback Mountain
    Ralph Fiennes – The Constand Gardener
    Terrence Howard – Hustle & Flow
    Phillip Seymour Hoffman – Capote
    David Strathairn – Good Night and Good Luck

    Lead Actress

    Reese Witherspoon – Walk the Line
    Charlize Theron – North Country
    Felicity Huffman – Transamerica
    Giovanna Mezzagiorna – La Bestia nel Cuorna
    TIE: Julia Jentsch – Sophie Scholl – The Final Days
    Vera Fermiga – Down to the Bown

    Supporting Actor

    Terrence Howard – Crash
    Jake Gyllenhaal – Brokeback Mountain
    Clifton Collins Jr. – Capote
    George Clooney – Syriana
    Ralph Fiennes – Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire

    Supporting Actress

    Rachel Weisz – The Constand Gardener
    Michelle Williams – Brokeback Mountain
    Amy Adams – Junebug
    Thandie Newton – Crash
    Frances McDormand – North Country

  • 2 12-19-2009 at 5:48 am

    the other mike said...

    this seems about as good a time as any to have the ” heath ledger is overrated” discussion. Again, based on 2 performances, u guys on here act like he was Brando, De Niro and Penn all rolled into one. Give me a break. I watched Brokeback eventually and well, whatever.

    Its like blasphemy to actually feel anyone was better than him now, its now written in stone that Heath Ledger was , based on 2 performances, an acting deity.

    Its amazing to me how pretentious film people can be and who they nominate for such positions. Hoffman, Howard and Phoenix gave better performances that year quite frankly but none of them dies young as a tortured artist so i guess they dont get the Kurt Cobain treatment. Remember how Kobain leap frogged a whole bunch of music talent in the pantheon after he died.

  • 3 12-19-2009 at 5:52 am

    the other mike said...

    i say that with all due respect to Heath as i have nothing aginst him personally but i get the feeling most of his fans are teenage girls who fell in love with him and now pontificate about cinema.

  • 4 12-19-2009 at 6:27 am

    JJ said...

    I’m a straight 29 yr. old male who thinks Heath deserved Best Actor (slightly over PSH).

    Of course, it’s easier in hindssight to say that now that Heath HAS his Oscar for ‘TDK’.

    Tough call, but I’d give it to Ledger in 2005. Both those guys gave incredible performances that year.

  • 5 12-19-2009 at 9:08 am

    Bia said...

    Really glad to see you shout out “Three Burials of Melquiades…” I also thought Tommy and January did some great work in that film, it’s a shame it wasn’t more talked about. I think January mentioned that in her recent GQ interview, how the reception was amazing at Cannes and then it died out.

  • 6 12-19-2009 at 11:09 am

    Martin James said...

    Oooh, almost forgot…Richard Jenkins as Charlize Theron’s father in North Country…great performance and totally snubbed.

  • 7 12-19-2009 at 11:48 am

    Maxim said...

    2005 was a very easy year. Best movie/director, etc by far was Munich. Nothing else even came close.

    No one is talking about it of course because the taste level isn’t there but Jonathan Rhys Meyers’s performance in Match Point was also quite good. Though the movie wasn’t quite as good Scarlett Johansson was probably better in Scoop (again I’m talking about the performance).

  • 8 12-19-2009 at 12:16 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    You’re actually the third person to mention Rhys-Meyers, Maxim. No need to get snotty about the “taste level.”

  • 9 12-19-2009 at 1:11 pm

    Scott said...

    I love some of the suggestions in this thread, especially Gordon-Levitt (Mysterious Skin) and Maggie Gyllenhaal (Happy Endings). And hey, Ms. Faris made Just Friends one of the funniest films in years, though sure it’s not a performance many would consider award worthy.

    And yes, the PSH award was just another bit of actors bowing down before him on principle. Jones was a superior Capote, and he wasn’t as strong as either of the men in Brokeback.

  • 10 12-19-2009 at 2:30 pm

    mark kratina said...

    Christian Bale playing three roles in Batman Begins was noteworthy. Bruce Wayne/Batman/Bruce Wayne to the public was fun to watch.

  • 11 12-19-2009 at 6:23 pm

    Lareign said...

    I think they gave it to Heath Ledger for Dark Knight because they realized what monumental screw-up it was to ignore him for Brokeback. I could be wrong, but I don’t think he gets an Oscar if he hadn’t died before the movie got released. They realized that had to honor him for what was a great performance, but not, in my eyes, his best.

  • 12 12-19-2009 at 11:10 pm

    xavi rodriguez said...

    My lineup:

    Best Actor:
    1. Heath Ledger, Broleback Mountain (sorry other mike, I’m a 21 years old man and since 2005 I strongly believed Heath deserved that Oscar. His Ennis is iconic, subtle and human. One of the best performances of the decade. Also he had a lot of range that year: The Lords of Dogtown, Casanova and The Brothers Grimm. Your appretiation is pointless) WINNER
    2. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Mysterious Skin – runner-up
    3. David Strathairn, Good Night and Good Luck
    4. Tony Leung, 2046
    5. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote – not a bad performance per se, but after a second view I think is overrated. But also I have an strange taste with Hoffman
    Alt: Romain Duris, The Beat than my heart skipped

    Best Actress:
    1. Joan Allen, The Upside of Anger – WINNER
    2. Keira Knightley, pride and prejudice – runner up (and even I despite her in last years with flat performances)
    3. Vera Farmiga, Down the Bone
    4. Felicity Huffman, Transamerica
    5. Q’orianka Kilcher, The New World
    Alt: Emmanuelle Devos, Kings and Queens

    Best supporting actor:
    1. Clifton collins Jr., Capote – WINNER
    2. Terrence Howard, Crash – runner up
    3. Jake Gyllenhaal, Brokeback Mountain
    4. Matt Dillon, Crash
    5. George Clooney, Good Night and good luck
    Alt: Christian Bale, The New World

    Best Supporting Actress:
    1. Michelle Williams, Brokeback Mountain – WINNER
    2. Amy Adams, Junebug – runner up
    3. Ziyi Zhang, 2046
    4. Rachel Weisz, The Constant Gardener
    5. Laura Linney, The Squid and the Whale
    Alt: Gong Li, memoirs of a geisha and scarjo, Match Point

  • 13 12-19-2009 at 11:12 pm

    xavi rodriguez said...

    Oh, crap. I forgot Mathieu Amalric for Munich. He’s in number 5 for supporting actor

  • 14 12-20-2009 at 1:09 am

    Brain said...

    The only good category that year was best supporting actress with a well deserved win for Rachel Weisz. Despite of that, nothing was very interesting.

  • 15 12-20-2009 at 7:33 am

    Sam said...

    I think Heath Ledger benefited (as did the movie) from being about a subject that not many movies had been made about. His performance was quite good but I would never consider it iconic. The movie was quite good too, but again, nothing spectacular when compared to other romances. I think Phillip Seymour Hoffman was better. Agree, however, that Witherspoon shouldn’t have won – it had a Julia Roberts winning for Erin Brokavich feel.

  • 16 12-20-2009 at 4:27 pm

    m1 said...

    I agree with the Amy Adams compliments. She was terrific in Enchanted but unfairly underrated in Julie & Julia.

  • 17 12-20-2009 at 4:42 pm

    m1 said...

    And Sandra Bullock in Crash. She was fierce and stole one particular scene when she’s confronting her husband. How she was virtually ignored was completely unfair.

  • 18 12-21-2009 at 8:38 am

    BenitoDelicias said...

    I think that what Phillip Seymour Hoffman did in Capote was just amazing and award worthy, I just think he could do that role over and over again and give a great performance like that a million times, or even better than that one: Devil, Savages for example.

    What Heath Ledger did to me, was one of a kind. It was just too much and so brave and beautiful work. I love Hoffman do death, he might be one of my favorites, but Ledger should have won.

    As for Witherspoon, that was a supporting performance first of all, and an award worthy one over Weisz whose I never got the acclaim I never got. But Witherspoon lead? And a winner? No thanks. I love, adore Walk the Line, but it was too much. That was Huffman’s Oscar.

    And yes, of course Joan Allen was criminally snubbed. It was completely idiotic.

    And Maria Bello got robbed, that Frances McDormand nomination was just ridiculous, she’s the best there is, but that was Bello’s nomination.