I've put this off for long enough. The last two weeks have been a mad dash consisting of my consuming the film of 2004 on dvd in the hopes of streamlining a Perfect set of lists. I now realize that this task is impossible. Some day I'll happen upon on a great film I missed, but for now, this'll do, pig. So, yeah, this is my list of 2004 as of right now, January 15th. Enjoy. The music list will be up in a week or two.
And you'll still be able to find my dynamic Top Ten of 2004 here. It'll change with my whims.
Top Ten Films of the Year
Kill Bill Vol. II
d. Quentin Tarantino
Not as much fun as Vol. I, but still a true hoot. QT, love him or hate him, is a master. The guy has no business being as good as he is. The only relevant criticism is that he has nothing original up his sleeve. But isn't that the point?
d. Richard Linklater
A real time discussion between two former lovers, seeing each (by chance, kinda) for the first time in years? Boring, right? Yeah, I thought so too, and I dig this type of stuff. Amazingly, it isn’t boring. Rather, this is the most hopeful love story (sans schmaltz) of the year, steadily gazing at love, not *LOVE*. This is the love of real life – caustic, forgetful, and horribly (sadly) disposable. Hollywood won’t touch this subject anytime soon.
d. Brad Bird
Dear Mr. Bird (and the rest of the folks at Pixar),
Thank you for restoring my faith in the animated film.
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring
d. Kim Ki-Duk
Easily surpasses its own genre (the admittedly tiny Life-Cycle Buddhist film), by portraying a heartbreaking universality - life & death. S.S.F.W...a.S. is a film that causes one to realize that all good films really are coming-of-age films. We never stop learning, or at least we never should. Meditative (or slow, s'il vous plait), but never overbearing. Pensive, but never cerebral. Brimming with life lessons, but never didactic.
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
d. Wes Anderson
Hidden among the fantastic set design and almost irritating cleverness is a film about redemption, regret, and coming to terms with the end of something/one loved. All this while being real damn funny. Zissou marks a slight turn for Wes Anderson - a step toward a more somber, reflective film style. (And a step toward a film style that doesn’t genuflect before the altar of baby pink.) Like a cop directing traffic, I say, "Go for it."
I [Heart] Huckabees
d. David O. Russell
Probably would have made my top ten if it were just a smartly written, off beat comedy. Instead, Russell takes it one step further, humorously vamping on the absolute terror and fear of modern life. The best line of the year (and maybe the most heartbreaking) occurs when Lily Tomlin refers to the disaster of 9/11 as "that September thing." Pay a little bit of attention and you might be moved.
d. Mike Nichols
A dreadful picture in the fullest sense of the word. It kills to watch Closer
, but it's worth the work. The quartet of players turn a nasty dance, leaving a circular, mimetic swirling eddy of lust in their wake. Nichols development of a stage play into a film is spot-on (as to be expected from the director of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
) and Patrick Marber's screen adaptation of his own play hits all the right notes. I don’t understand the outcries of "stagey" - this is about as acerbically realistic as it gets.
d. Shane Carruth
Blooms upon repeat viewings. What looks like a really clever (and well made) sci-fi turns into a dissection of money & power and its inverse relationship with trust. Frighteningly apropos in our Enron society, really. Remarkable without any knowledge of the production process, Primer
is amazing when one considers that it is A) a first feature B) a film made on a $7000 budget and C) Produced, Written, Directed, Edited, & Acted by Carruth. Get to studying, boyos.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
d. Michel Gondry
Completing the quartet of fantastic love/anti-love films this year (Birth
, Before Sunset
, and Closer
being the other three), Eternal Sunshine is King God in the category. Not quite as sweet as Before Sunset
, not as contrived as Birth
, and not nearly as acerbic as Closer
, Gondry's film is placed perfectly in the middle. Oh yeah, but with 10x the creativity. All his optical tricks were performed in camera. How astounding is that? I don’t know whether my faith in love is bolstered or deflated by this film, but I do know that I connect with it. A brilliant piece of filmmaking.
d. Lars von Trier
Well, what to say that has not already been said? Dogville
is a three-hour film that passes like Brett Favre. The most easily discussable film of the year, with layer upon layer of readings. The allegations that this film is antihuman are spot on, but why is that a detriment? The mimetic terror of Dogville
is extremely difficult to watch, but absolutely necessary. For that reason alone (not to mention the technical prowess shown), it is the best film of the year. Full of invention, but lacking that nasty ickiness of gimmickry, Dogville
is one of the most outstanding films of the 00's thus far. LvT has outshined himself in every way imaginable.
Worst Five Films of the Year
I managed to avoid some of the really terrible (or so I've heard) films of the year: Van Helsing
, The Chronicles of Riddick
, Man on Fire
, The Alamo
, etc. Nevertheless, I saw some pretty terrible movies, including one the worst films I have ever seen. Revel in my misery.
The Passion of the Christ
d. Mel Gibson
This is sad, really. There was so much potential here for a truly moving and well-made film. Instead we are left with this: Jesus' death meant something because it hurt so bad. I don't know about you, but I don't need to see the cross being turned over, with Jesus attached, three times, in S L O W motion. The result is sensationalism. Regardless of your beliefs, this is callow and reprehensible filmmaking.
d. Chris Kentis
Entirely amateur. Oh yeah, the red filter shot of the ocean means that there are blood-hungry sharks in the water. Don't worry, we got it. So pathetic that they had to put an entirely unnecessary nude scene in the film. Who greenlighted this floater?
The Stepford Wives
d. Frank Oz
Really, I cannot remember a whole lot about this film. Something about sexism, maybe. Possibly a bit about technology. The true reason it's one of the worst films of the year is because of the overwhelming mediocrity of the thing. Oz could have done something of value with this, and he didn't. And to think: this was the guy who brought us Yoda.
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
d. Adam McKay
This is supposed to be funny? Outside of some of the work by Steve Carell, there is not a single moment of humor in the entire film. Ferrell can, and has, done really good work. Not here though. The scary part is that he had a hand in the script. Time to stop with the blow, my good man - it's affecting your work.
d. Bruno Dumont
The single most reprehensible film I've ever seen. Up until the last 20 minutes the film shows distinct signs of OK, even a little bit of promise. Then Dumont, with a hand full of shit, slaps the entire film-viewing population in the face. Replete with violence, sex, and death for no apparent reason, this is a truly deplorable and wretched piece of filmmaking.
In such a great year for documentaries (Tarnation, Super Size Me, Riding Giants, In the Realms of the Unreal
, et cetera) it would be a crime not to say a few words about the best of these.
Touching the Void
d. Kevin Macdonald
It pushes the envelope of what is or isn't a documentary (its totality consists of two men recalling their harrowing climb and descent of Silua Grande, and dramatic reenactments of said event), but, regardless of category, Touching the Void
is a phenomenal, gripping film. The actions in the film are less important than the feelings experienced by the two climbers, Simon and Joe. Coming to terms with dying, and the powerless feeling that accompanies that, is Joe. He faces death head-on and, rather than turning to a higher power or recalling his loved ones, he analyzes the act of death, focusing on minutiae to keep himself going. Rather than being a film of hope, it turns on itself, becoming a documentary about the smallness and fragility of man.
: Nicole Kidman, Birth
Runner Up: Kate Winslet, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
: Jim Carrey, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Runner Up: Paul Giamatti, Sideways
: David Carradine, Kill Bill Vol. 2
Runners Up: Thomas Haden Church, Sideways
Mark Wahlberg, I [Heart] Huckabees
: Cate Blanchett, Coffee & Cigarettes
Runner Up: Virginia Madsen, Sideways
Breakthrough Performance: Bryce Dallas Howard, The Village
: Lars Von Trier, Dogville
Runners Up: Jonathan Glazer, Birth
Michel Gondry, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
: Lars von Trier, Dogville
Runner Up: Charlie Kaufman, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
David O. Russell et al. I [Heart] Huckabees
: Patrick Marber, Closer
Runner Up: Alexander Payne, et al. Sideways
: Harris Savides, Birth
Runner Up: Dong-hyeon Baek, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring
: David Wharnsby, The Saddest Music in the World
Runner Up: Valdis Oskarsdottir, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
: Mark Friedberg, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
Runner Up: Dan Leigh, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
: Alexandre Desplat, Birth
Runners Up: Jon Brion, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Mark Mothersbaugh (and Seu Jorge), The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
Best Moments of Film in 2004
1. The ECU of Nicole Kidman at the symphony in Birth
2. Bryce Dallas Howard, with blind trust, waiting for Joaquin Phoenix's hand, and the ensuing slow motion shot in The Village
3. Young Jonathan Caouette's soliloquy in which he becomes Hillary, a battered, trailer park wife, in Tarnation
4. The tour of the Belafonte
in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
5. The rather lascivious verbal exchange between Julia Roberts and Clive Owen in Closer
. (You know the one.)
6. The dinner table scene in I [Heart] Huckabees
7. Paul Giamatti sipping Chateau Cheval Blanc
from a Styrofoam cup in Sideways
8. Elastigirl caught in the automatic doors in The Incredibles
9. The young monk carving the characters out of the floating monastery in Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring
. (Honorable mention for the old monk using the cat's tail to paint said characters).
10. Lars Von Trier's final, lucid speech to Jorgen Leth in The Five Obstructions