- Garden State
- Vera Drake
- Million Dollar Baby
- A Very Long Engagement
- Kill Bill Vol. 2
- Dawn of the Dead
- Stage Beauty
Just sheer, sweet perfection. I left this gliding on a cloud of good feeling. I suspect that many under or around the age of 30 feel similarly. Establishes Zach Braff as one hell of a talent to watch, and reminds us of why we loved Natalie Portman. Manages the tricky feat of being wholly contemporary but basically timeless. (Also takes the prize for best soundtrack of the year.)
A crusher. Mike Leigh's skilled hand brings us through this story of good people doing things deemed wrong, and the divisions that causes. Imelda Staunton hits every note to lumpen perfection, including an ending that doesn't offer easy catharsis. (Also takes the award for the best line of total black comedy of this year or any in recent memory.)
Million Dollar Baby
Another crusher. All I can do is tell you to see this. Every frame is true, every moment is right. A movie that could have so easily been a saccharine weeper is guided to something so much more by Clint Eastwood. Will rule the Oscars with a mighty iron fist.
A note here: there is a not-insignificant dropoff from the three listed above to this. In a year that offered a horde of so-called "Great Man Biopics", this one stood head-and-shoulders above the rest. Bill Condon deserves great credit for boiling down this fascinating, infuriating, contrary man whose influence is immeasurable intosuch a genuinely terrific piece of work. Liam Neeson, Laura Linney and Peter Sarsgaard anchor a cast that manages to avoid being lurid or sensational with a subject that could easily have fallen into hagiography in lesser hands.
Apparently the most controversial choice on this list. What can I say? It worked really well for me. I think a large number of men find a lot of themselves in Miles, and nearly all men have a friend like Jack (*cough*cough*BZ*cough). I think all the performances were handled admirably, and the ending was timed to perfection.
A Very Long Engagement
Jean-Pierre Jeunet reteams with Audrey Tautou to bring us a story with a little more depth, perhaps, than "Amelie" (though also, perhaps, not quite as much charm). Still, it's a great success, carried by Tautou's determination; also, does the "horror of war" better than anything since "Saving Private Ryan", at the least.
Kill Bill Vol. 2
Quentin shows us again how it's done. One could go on with stylistic analysis and checking off the list of obvious influences, but let's do it simply and point out that this is (ataken in tandem with Vol. 1) the best revenge movie since...well, fill in the blank.
Dawn of the Dead
Some chose to denigrate this because it lacked the "social commentary" of George Romero's original, and that's a bunch of zombie-snob elitist bullshit--look, people, the malls won, and trying to go all anti-consumerist about it now is like trying to fight against the advent of the cotton gin. Quite simply, this was the most terrifying experience I've ever had in a movie theatre, bar none. When this ended, I didn't want to leave the multiplex because I knew, I KNEW that the second I opened the door to the outside world, they'd be there waiting for me. In fact, just thinking about it like this, I'm going to go check and make sure the doors are locked right now.
I readily admit that most probably won't have the same degree of love for this that I did, but for those that take as dim a view of fundamentalist (excuse me, "evangelical") Christianity as it's perpetrated in the United States as I do, it's just a panoply of delights. Also deserves credit for taking the brave stance that sometimes teenagers don't have perfect skin, but that's a minor thing.
I don't quite know that I can tell you why this impressed me as much as it did, though the script is definitely a major contributor. It's a gloriously-executed trifle, what "Shakespeare in Love" could have been if it had a subversive bone in its body. Actory-types should give it a look.
Beautiful, horrible people doing horrible things to each other. For me, a can't miss.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Charlie Kaufman cleverness--god performances, but perhaps a bit too precious for its own good; borderline sappy.
Haunting and difficult to watch, carried very ably by Don Cheadle. Will make you feel guilty.
Another Pixar gem (though "Monsters, Inc." still heads their work for me); a comic book movie without benefit of having been a comic book first, and, hopefully, it will send people running to the video store to pick up Brad Bird's first work, my choice for the best animated movie ever, "The Iron Giant".
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
Wes Anderson scores again, though not as deeply resonating or quite as wicked as "The Royal Tenenbaums".
Speaking of wicked, Tina Fey's script for this was fantastically spot-on (and made me swear off the idea of having children, like, ever).
Jamie Foxx was mesmerizing, and the only thing which undoes this is an unfortuante, unnecessary sequence at the end; still, it's a life, told completely.
As someone who didn't completely love the original, I approached this with some trepidation, but I was easily won over (in fact, to invoke a little heresy, I preferred this to "The Incredibles").
Team America: World Police
If the only criterion were how hard the picture made me laugh, this would have taken the top spot by miles. I really can't go into, here, just how completely and totally this made me scream with the funny, though I think I'll just say "MATT DAMON!" and leave it at that.
Unfairly maligned work from M. Night Shyamalan. If you can either figure it out fast (like I did), or see it again and not be looking for clues, you realize how pointed a critique of current U.S. foreign policy it is (seriously).
And now, the Bottom Five (I figured out a fifth):
5. The Aviator
Not genuinely bad, certainly, but, upon seeing it a second time, I realized two things: a) there's more of "Martin Scorsese makes a movie about making 'Gangs of New York'" than was really needed, and b) focusing only on the early part of Hughes's life--showing the dashing rake romancing women, flying planes, and standing up to Congress fairly exclusively--is a cheat unworthy of both the filmmakers and the subject. Without Batshit-Insane-Long-Hair-And-Fingernails-a
Bad writing, bad acting, bad effects, and a terrible score. Less fun than a history test on the same subject. Kudos to Eric Bana, Rose Byrne, and Peter O'Toole for their work, which was about the only worthwhile thing in this overlong train wreck.
Just pure shit, through and through. No one comes out of this well. I didn't pay to see this, and I wanted my money back.
2. The Butterfly Effect
Funny-bad. During the screening I attended, several groups, including my own, were shouting invective at the screen within about 20 minutes. Ashton Kutcher has all the gravitas of helium.
And my choice for the worst film of 2004:
1. Napoleon Dynamite
As I noted elsewhere, this was less funny than "The Passion of the Christ". I was filled with nothing but deep, pure, unceasing hatred for every character and situation that appeared onscreen. I prayed for nuclear annihliation of either the onscreen abomination or, preferably, the multiplex where I was seeing this. The creative staff for this should be detained at Camp X-Ray for crimes against the American people.