More intriguing were two films that challenged audiences on the subject of violence, and the sanctity of human life. David Cronenberg’s "A History of Violence" earned only one nomination in the major Oscar categories – for William Hurt’s oddball performance as a gangster – but the film deserved better. A troubling examination of what lies behind our violent acts, "A History of Violence" contains two excellent leading performances from Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello as a husband and wife struggling to cope with a haunted past that leads to physical threats and bloody acts of self-defense. The film’s two sex scenes between these characters show how a betrayal of trust affects their marriage at its most intimate level. Violence also speaks to fears about past sins, but leaves viewers with the possibility of grace and acceptance from those whose trust has been most violated.

Less challenging, but more uplifting, is "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada." Tommy Lee Jones, who directed the film, stars as Texas ranch hand Pete Perkins, a friend of Estrada’s who carries out his wish, prior to his death, to have Estrada’s body returned home to Mexico for burial. Perkins forces Estrada’s killer to accompany him on the journey. The film includes much dark humor involving Estrada’s corpse, but Jones and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga don’t settle for a few morbid chuckles. Rather, they turn the journey into a religious quest to fulfill a promise, and redeem a lost soul. The final few moments hint at one character’s renewal and rebirth – a worthy end to the dark night of the soul that precedes it.

Jones’ and Cronenberg’s films, along with Spielberg’s "Munich," make for a triumvirate of excellent films examining violence from a moral perspective. Regardless of which of the nominated films wins Best Picture at this year’s Oscars, these three films were the most important, collectively, of 2005.