Movies Of The Year: 2004

Well, this is definitely an improvement over 2003, though it’s helped a lot by the addition of a few films that didn’t get released in the US until 2005. But, since I’ve decided to use IMDB’s year designations for these lists, we’ll have to consider them 2004 films.

36. Jersey Girl
35. Howard Zinn: You Can’t Be Neutral On A Moving Train
34. Outfoxed
33. Bush’s Brain
32. The Hunting Of The President
31. Crash
30. Melinda And Melinda
29. Ray
28. Win A Date With Tad Hamilton
27. Before Sunset
26. Starsky & Hutch
25. Spartan
24. Primer
23. Closer
22. Million Dollar Baby
21. Spider-Man 2
20. Garden State
19. Fahrenheit 9/11
18. The Aviator
17. In Good Company
16. I Heart Huckabees

15. Shaun Of The Dead – Very funny, and good, parody of zombie horror movies that seems to have become ridiculously overrated. I’m not exactly sure how or why that happened. Maybe it was just built up too much before I finally got around to seeing it. Maybe it also hurt that this was the first zombie movie I ever saw. It was only later I watched the four george Romero movies. That’s probably not it though; zombie movies cliches aren’t exactly obscure.

14. Napoleon Dynamite – Another very good movie that seems a little overrated, possibly because I only got around to watching it after all the hype. A lot of the seemingly disproportionate hype around this and Shaun Of The Dead probably also has a lot to do with them being such independent films: they needed the buzz to get the audience they deserved. That’s fine. I was actually pretty bored with this for long stretches, napoleon’s just such a seemingly unlikable character. But the end really makes up for everything. One of the best movie endings of the last decade, for sure.

13. Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow – A fascinating experiment that almost, but not quite, works. It’s a highly stylized homage to classic film serials that unfortunately lacks the quality of writing that allows a movie like Raiders Of the Lost Ark (#1, 1981) to transcend that limited genre. Like Sin City, the film is entirely composed of live actors acting in front of a blue screen. The first half hour or so is terrific, with giant robots attacking the big city and all, but it’s all downhill from there. Jude Law and Gwynneth Paltrow are good, but Angelina Jolie is unfortunately underused.

12. Anchorman – I think Old School (#18, 2003) was really overrated, as is Will Farrell generally. He was good on SNL, but his greatness was relative to the poor quality of the rest of the cast for most of the time he was on the show. I really liked this movie though. It’s not the best of the recent Farrell-Rudd-Vaughn-Wilson-Stiller-Carrell group of comedies, but it is very funny. I think the supporting cast is funnier though, especially Steve Carrell. The massive fight scene between the many San Diego news teams might be the best scene in any comedy of the last 10 years.

11. Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind – Yet another movie I watched after everyone else and can’t figure out why is so overrated. I mean, I often see this listed around the internet as a person’s favorite movie and I just don’t see it at all. I though Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet were totally lacking in chemistry. While the film looks really good, and is possibly Charlie Kaufman’s best, most hum at least, screenplay, I really had trouble believing in the romance of it. Maybe I need to see it again.

10. Collateral – Jamie Foxx’s best performance of the year is in this Michael Mann thriller about a cab driver who’s forced to drive a hitman around LA all night. The story, especially the end, is absurd, and Tom Cruise is merely mediocre as a the killer, but Foxx’s solid performance and Mann’s stylish directing make the film worthwhile.

9. Dodgeball – This is the best of the recent Farrell-Rudd-Vaughn-Wilson-Stiller-Carrell group of comedies. Well, this or The 40 Year Old Virgin. The DVD has the real ending, which is much better than the theatrical one. The all-B-list cast includes Vince Vaughn, Ben Stiller, Christine Taylor, Rip Torn, Stephen Root, Jason Bateman, Gary Cole, Hank Azaria, William Shatner, Lance Armstrong, Chuck Norris and David Hasselhoff.

8. Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban – Directed by Alfonso Cuarón (Y Tu Mamá También, #24, 2001), this is the darkest Harry Potter movie thus far, at least visually speaking. It’s also the best adaptation of the books into a film. While Chris Columbus’s Sorcerer’s Stone (#3, 2001) was a charming translation of a kid’s book into a kid’s movie, Cuarón’s adaptation turns a kid’s book into a grownup movie about kids. It’s the most serious film in the series.

7. The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou – I’ve decided that, with the exception of Rushmore, I probably need to see Wes Anderson’s movies more than once before I make up my mind about them. I’ve only seen this once, so I can’t be sure of this rating, though I did enjoy this movie. Anderson’s great at charming, innocent fun in the face of depression and tragedy, and this movie’s got that in spades. It’s essentially a whole bunch of screwed up people who chose to ignore reality and play instead of and as a means of dealing with, their problems. Like every one of Anderson’s films, I guess. It seemed a little too long though. Seo Jorge, one of the stars of City Of God (#2, 2002) contributes the best part of the film: acoustic, Portugese folk covers of several David Bowie songs.

6. Kill Bill Vol. 2 – There are a lot of great things about this movie, but it just doesn’t have the kinetic energy of the first one. As such it feels both too slow and too long, especially at the end and during the wedding flashback, with David Carradine’s interminable speech-making dragging the film to a dull halt. Still, there’s a whole lot to love here: every scene with Gordon Liu’s kung fu master; the great fight scene between Darryl Hannah and Uma Thurman; Michael Madsen talking to his boss at the bar he’s reduced to working; and the five-point-palm-exploding-heart technique.

5. A Very Long Engagement – Director Jean-Pierrre Jeunet and star Audrey Tautou’s follow-up to Amélie is less cute but just as good. Tautou plays a girl who relentlessly searches for her reportedly deceased fiancée after World War I. Seems he, along with four other Frenchmen were accused of cowardice and forced into the no-man’s land between trenches to be killed by the British. But, apparently, they survived. It’s a predictably beautiful film and an engrossing and thoroughly entertaining mystery. It also stars Denis Levant and Jodie Foster.

4. The Incredibles – Very stylish Pixar movie that might be a little overrated, in that I liked it a lot, but I didn’t think it was one of the best movies of the last decade or anything. Another victim of watching a movie after a yearful of hype, as I basically knew the entire story before ever watching it. Usually, I like films like that better the second time, but alas, I’ve only watched this once. The animation is really cool, though the story isn’t as clever or original as I’d heard.

3. Kung Fu Hustle – Finally musicals and Looney Tunes cartoons are fused with kung fu movies into one film in director/writer/star Stephen Chow’s follow-up to Shaolin Soccer (#9, 2001). These genres have always had a lot in common, what with Hong Kong’s love of the spectacle of human bodies in motion on the one hand and the humor of cartoonish violence on the other. The action’s directed by the great Yeun Woo-Ping, with the help of Sammo hung on a couple of scenes. Pretty much a perfect action comedy.

2. 2046 – Wong Kar-wai’s follow-up to In the Mood For Love (#4, 2000) is not really a sequel, but more of a rumination on what happens after a tragic love story ends. Tony Leung reprises his role as a writer in 1960s Hong Kong, though he’s been reduced to writing cheesy romance novels. He lives in a hotel and has become a bit of a ladies man since being rejected by Maggie Cheung at the end of the first film. He’s also a little obsessed with his successive neighbors in room 2046, a series of women he may or may not also love, a little. They’re played by Zhang Ziyi, who I believe I’ve mentioned her before, and, in her first film since lighting up Wong’s Chungking Express (#2, 1994), the singer Faye Wong. Gong Li plays another version of Maggie Cheung’s character from the first movie, and so does Maggie Cheung. And Chang Chen (from Crouching Tiger (#1, 2000) and Happy Together (#4, 1997) shows up somewhere in there as well. Intercut throughout the film are scenes from a story Leung’s character is writing, set in the year 2046, beautifully shot about a train and some androids that supposedly help people relive or get over memories that they can’t resolve. It’s a strange a beautiful film, complicated but it makes sense even if I can’t describe it intelligibly. Another movie I need to see again.

1. House Of Flying Daggers – Zhang Yimou’s follow-up to Hero (#1, 2002) is a very beautiful film, though not as formalized as that previous film. Instead of imposing a unique color scheme for each scene, the beauty comes more organically out of the setting. This makes the film look more organic, though no less pretty. The film stars Zhang Ziyi as an agent for the title rebel organization and Takeshi Kaneshiro (Chungking Express, Fallen Angels) and Andy Lau (a Cantonese pop star who appeared in Infernal Affairs and Drunken Master 2 (#12, 1994) as a couple of police out to capture the leader of her organization. Of course, none of them are quite what they seem and as the story unfolds there’s a complex sequence of double crosses, fallings in love, and doublings and mirrorings of various scenes and actions. Much like the visual style, the plot lacks the formal play of Hero, but the more traditional genre story is more satisfying in that it manages to not be an apology for totalitarianism. It was a very close call between this and 2046 for #1 movie of the year. But I’ve seen this twice, the second time just a few days ago, whereas I only saw 2046 once several months ago. It’s possible I’ll change my mind at some point in the future. Regardless, they’re both great movies. This is the third Zhang Ziyi film of the 2000s to be ranked #1 on my lists. Yeah, I’m a fan.

A fair number of Unseen movies this year. Some I really want to see, some not so much.

The World
Millions
Hellboy
Incident At Loch Ness
The Life And Death Of Peter Sellers
Troy
Passion Of The Christ
Shrek 2
The Village
Saw
The Butterfly Effect
I, Robot
Finding Neverland
Sideways
The Bourne Supremacy
Ocean’s Twelve
The Terminal
Team America: World Police
Man On Fire
Hotel Rwanda
Alexander
King Arthur
The Downfall
The Notebook
Mean Girls
The Motorcycle Diaries
The Manchurian Candidate
The Machinist
Ladykillers
Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle
SuperSize Me
Kinsey
The Polar Express
Miracle
Layer Cake
Friday Night Lights
Control Room
Ghost In The Shell 2: Innocence
Maria Full Of Grace
Hidalgo
What The Bleep Do We Know?
Van Helsing
Hitch
Stage Beauty
The Day After Tomorrow
The Chronicles Of Riddick
The Stepford Wives
In The Realms Of The Unreal
Catwoman
She Hate Me
Alien Vs. Predator
PS
Palindromes

5 thoughts on “Movies Of The Year: 2004

  1. I absolutely agree with you on <>Eternal Sunshine<>. I also saw it quite some time after the release, and although I could appreciate the craft, it didn’t strike a single emotional chord with me. A film I did love, though, was Gondry’s non-Kaufman follow-up, <>Science of Sleep<>, which completely bowled me over. Everything they said its predecessor was, and more.

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  2. I’m very curious about that one. I missed it when it was out, and haven’t gotten around to it on DVD yet.The concert film Gondry did with Dave Chappelle I liked quite a bit.

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  3. I have to very strongly disagree with the high placement of Napoleon Dynamite. Especially with its being rated higher than both The Aviator and Million Dollar Baby, which I think were two of the best movies of the year.

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  4. @Karl really? I thought that ESotSM was the stronger of the two, and it really got me. The melancholy atmosphere was intense in that film, but maybe because I live in the Northeast, in a region very much like Buffalo, that has a similar atmosphere and light, with a lake.
    I liked Science of Sleep, mostly because of the interesting music videoish props in the dreams and the interesting way time passes on the film.

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