Best And Worst of 2004
OK, I must admit, I haven't seen everything, but I've seen all the Best Picture nominees and all the films with the great buzz. One lament: I haven't seen Maria Full of Grace.
This post will contain the 10 best and worst films, underrated, overrated, moments, disappointments, surprises, and best performances.
THE BEST FILMS OF 2004
Making such a list is always difficult. You have to remember 12 months or so of film. Luckily this year, I have the archives to tell me what I saw. I will list in no particular order the films that I saw that I thought were enjoyable through and through (and had a shot at the top 10) when I saw them, and then list the actual 10 after that.
THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, DAWN OF THE DEAD, ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, MEAN GIRLS, KILL BILL VOL. II, DOGVILLE, FAHRENHEIT 9/11, SPIDERMAN 2, HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN, THE BOURNE SUPREMACY, BEFORE SUNSET, MEAN CREEK, GARDEN STATE, COLLATERAL, RAY, TEAM AMERICA, FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, SIDEWAYS, THE POLAR EXPRESS, THE INCREDIBLES, A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT, THE AVIATOR, CLOSER, IN GOOD COMPANY, and MILLION DOLLAR BABY.
Yes, many good films came out in 2004, and I believe the mention of both The Passion and Fahrenheit 9/11 sort of tells you of my politics (mostly confusion). These films may not reflect every aspect of technical excellence (for instance, missing from the top 10 list is the masterful The Aviator), but I consider these to be the most enjoyable films I saw this year.
10. Garden State
This was a tremendous debut from Zach Braff, the lead of the funny TV show "Scrubs." Some imaginative camerawork, a sweet script, and great performances from Braff, Natalie Portman, Ian Holm and Peter Sarsgaard made this a memorable film.
9. Before Sunset
Richard Linklater's incredibly fine sequel to Before Sunrise. Once Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy begin speaking, you'll never want them to leave the screen.
8. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Director Michel Gondry and fantastically insane writer Charlie Kaufman really got it right here, and Jim Carrey plays straight to Kate Winslet's insanity--a stroke of genius. The movie is incredibly imaginative, funny, and heartbreaking.
7. Mean Girls
Mark S. Waters directed the surprising remake to Freaky Friday, also starring Lindsay Lohan, and now one of his films makes my top 10 list. This movie is that funny, taking a script from SNL favorite Tina Fey and coming up with some great gags. It's nearly perfect.
6. A Very Long Engagement
Jean-Pierre Jeunet makes another classic in my eyes, this World War II epic with a love story as its backbone and extremely entertaining perspectives and stories interwoven together.
5. Spider-Man 2
Director Sam Raimi blew my freaking mind with this action picture, one where he actually pays homage to his own The Evil Dead in one glorious scene.
4. The Incredibles
Brad Bird's collision with Pixar creates one of the best action comedies you'll ever see. It's hard to top the list of Pixar's best, but this one does.
3. Kill Bill, Volume II
Quentin Tarantino finishes off the glorious two-part story with his trademark dialogue in place, a performance from David Carradine that is among Tarantino's all-time best bad guy characters, and puts the game Uma Thurman through everything imaginable to the point that you forget that her performance is one of the best of the year.
2. Million Dollar Baby
These final films were hard to rate over one another. I like certain aspects of The Incredibles better than all of these films, and the same goes for Kill Bill. Million Dollar Baby was just an emotional movie to sit through. It affected me, with command performances from Eastwood, Freeman, and especially Hilary Swank. Everything was note-perfect.
Alexander Payne has yet to do any wrong in my eyes, and this is a great film, with the criminally un-nominated Paul Giamatti anchoring it along with a hilarious Thomas Haden Church, a told-you-so performance from Virginia Madsen, and solid work from Sandra Oh. It's very funny, and contains great drama. After seeing this a second time, I had to pick this as my favorite.
THE WORST FILMS OF 2004
Believe it or not, I missed many of the films considered the worst by some critics, like Surviving Christmas, but I saw plenty of horribly wretched films.
TORQUE, WELCOME TO MOOSEPORT, SCOOBY-DOO 2, AGENT CODY BANKS 2, TAKING LIVES, CLUB DREAD, DIRTY DANCING: HAVANA NIGHTS, JOHNSON FAMILY VACATION, SOUL PLANE, VAN HELSING, WHITE CHICKS, THE VILLAGE, KING ARTHUR, THE BROWN BUNNY, ALIEN VS. PREDATOR, RESIDENT EVIL 2, SHARK TALE, ALEXANDER, CHRISTMAS WITH THE KRANKS, SEED OF CHUCKY, FAT ALBERT, and BLADE: TRINITY
Yes, many bad films came out in 2004, and I didn't even see some of the others that likely would have made the list.
10. Shark Tale
I've assaulted Dreamworks Animation this year for their soul-less toons, and this one was just the bottom of the barrel. Extra mention because it somehow beat The Polar Express in the Best Animated Feature nomination race for the Oscars.
9. Alien Vs. Predator
An insult to both franchises, which already have bad movies to their names anyway. How could anyone top the bad experienced by Alien: Resurrection? Here's the answer; a terribly staged action film with no scares at all.
8. Fat Albert
Just a dumb movie all the way around. Unbelievable, then adds more unbelievability, and just not funny.
7. Taking Lives
Even Angelina Jolie's tits couldn't save this one, which is beginning to be a common thought. There's a twist in this movie that is so unbelievable (in the bad way) that I'd almost recommend watching it just for that, and it comes after the killer is revealed, which wasn't a big mystery anyway.
6. Scooby-Doo 2
The first Scooby was terrible, and the second is even worse. It's just too much all at once--garish colors, over-the-top acting, nonstop poo jokes, and Freddie Prinze, Jr. all wrapped into one.
This early entry into the Worst of the Year actually got topped four times over, and I never imagined at the time that one movie, much less four, could do it. Motorcycle action goes to the extreme here, and not in the good way.
4. White Chicks
What was astounding about this completely unfunny movie was the raves it got early on. Wretched in every sense, and uncomfortable.
3. Van Helsing
This summer kick-off film couldn't be worse, and director Stephen Sommers just wasted three archetypal baddies all at once in this misguided, confused, lame-ass film.
2. Seed of Chucky
The Thank-God-For...Award goes to this "horror" film, trying to be a "comedy." It was neither, and just ended up being one of those films where you are constantly on the edge of your seat, aching to leave the auditorium forever.
1. The Brown Bunny
Vincent Gallo turns in one of the worst movies of all time, and somehow trimmed enough from his early cut of the film to dupe critics who hated it into actually liking it. Then, other critics followed with their nonsensical reviews giving this movie a pass because it somehow portrayed loneliness better than any film before it. What's so great about that? The movie is still like watching toenails grow, and goes against what movies are supposed to be and what we hope they will or can be. Movies are supposed to tell stories that are worth telling, and no amount of fellatio from Chloe Sevigny could change my mind. An advertisement for Gallo's dick. Possibly the most boring film ever created.
THE OVERRATED FILMS OF 2004
KINSEY, FINDING NEVERLAND, SUPER SIZE ME, OPEN WATER, SAVED, SHREK 2
These are movies that were good, but not that good. Although Open Water sort of falls below good in my book.
By far, the most overrated film was Finding Neverland, getting early buzz that lasted all the way to six Oscar nominations. I liked Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet, I thought Freddie Highmore turned in one of the best kid performances of the year, and Julie Christie was good. The movie itself was just lacking imagination.
THE UNDERRATED FILMS OF 2004
OCEAN'S TWELVE, FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX, THE PERFECT SCORE, HAROLD & KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE, EUROTRIP, MAN ON FIRE
Yes, lots of low-rent comedies in store here, but they were dismissed before they were even watched. These movies were not exactly bad, but not that bad, and had some decent entertainment value.
By far, the most underrated film of the year was Ocean's Twelve. This movie was nothing but fun, made for people who just like movies, made by a guy in Steven Soderbergh who really likes movies, too. Along with the huge cast, obviously enjoying themselves, he treats the viewer to inside jokes, a baffling non-sequiter conversation, a hilarious set of maneuvers through a laser field, and so much more. It's a goody bag of filmed entertainment.
In Eurotrip, a black guy's voice alerts, "Mail, muthafucka," every time main character Scott gets a new e-mail. Also, Matt Damon's cameo in a rock band playing a song about Scott's naivete concerning the fidelity of his girlfriend in "Scotty Doesn't Know."
In Eternal Sunshine (highlighted above), Jim Carrey goes through a mindbending exercise trying to hang on to the memories of his former girlfriend before they are erased. Also, the final moments, where a heartbreaking revelation occurs, filled with hurtful dialogue.
In Spider-Man 2 (highlighted above), director Sam Raimi goes balls-to-the-wall with his slick editing and camerawork, a la The Evil Dead, as Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina) comes to life on an operating table. Also, Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire) stops a speeding train, has his identity revealed, and gets a Christ-like ride from the passengers, who all face up to Doc Oc as he boards. One passenger says, "You'll have to get through us," and in a perfect delivery, Molina answers, "Very well."
In The Incredibles (highlighted above), Brad Bird has Elastigirl (voice of Holly Hunter) navigate a ship full of computerized sliding doors, where her stretchable arms must open the doors, but then fight bad guys as well, all while stretched out to the max. Also, Mr. Incredible (voice of Craig T. Nelson), working his day job as an insurance agent, tells an old woman very subtly all the steps she can take to beat the system even though the system is denying her coverage.
In Sideways (highlighted above), Paul Giamatti yells to Thomas Haden Church, "I am not drinking fuckin' merlot!" Also, Giamatti and Virginia Madsen discuss the wonders of pinot wine, and they just happen to be describing themselves in the process.
In In Good Company, Dennis Quaid tells Scarlett Johansson after discovering her tryst with Topher Grace that she was much more likeable when she was a kid.
In Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle, David Krumholz (who is not one of the main characters, but has a small scene early on) says about Katie Holmes as he watches The Gift, "The things I would eat out of that girl's ass."
In The Polar Express, the train takes a wild ride through the mountains, an experience made for IMAX (an incredible experience). Also, the lost ticket's journey back to the train is breathtaking.
In Team America, Gary (voice of Trey Parker) vomits for a really, really long time. The sex scene. And Spottswoode, in case Gary gets into a jam and doesn't want to live, gives Gary a hammer.
In Mean Girls (highlighted above), Rajiv Surendra plays Kevin G., a mathlete who, after the big win in the competition near the end, rips his shirt off and starts thrusting. Tim Meadows, playing the principal, angrily informs all the girls in the high school, to get to the bottom of the reasons for the fighting, "I will keep you after school all night if I have to," and then is reminded that he can only keep them until 4. "I will keep you until 4," he says without a blink.
In The Notebook, James Garner and Gena Rowlands have a nice dance, and then her dementia pops up, and she forgets who he is, and Garner sits on the bed with tears in his eyes.
In Closer, Clive Owen destroys Jude Law with several admissions, and also teases him with inside info that Law thought was private: "She told me you cry like a baby in your sleep, you momma's boy." The best of all is when Law says (about Julia Roberts), "You would have never met her if it wasn't for me!" and Owen says, "I know! Thanks!"
In Million Dollar Baby (highlighted above), Clint Eastwood's former fighter who has fired him is in a title bout. Eastwood sits and watches it on TV by himself in his house, and is so immersed that he is throwing punches in the disciplined style he teaches all of his boxers--rooting him on as his former pupil crushes his opponent. Eastwood's character is conflicted between love for his former boxer and fear of his pride being hurt by the fact that he didn't think his boxer was ready for a title match. Also, Hilary Swank shrugs as she sends another opponent to the canvas in the first round, after Eastwood has told her she won't be getting many more fights if she keeps embarrassing everyone else's fighters, and with a beaming smile says, "Sorry, boss."
In Dawn of the Dead, as the survivors adapt to life in a mall, a lounge version (played by Richard Cheese and Lounge Against The Machine) of Disturbed's "Down With the Sickness" plays as they look from a rooftop down to the throng of zombies on the streets.
In Ray, Ray Charles plays an improv of "What'd I Say?" after his entire collection of music is played but he has lots of remaining contract time for his live show.
In Collateral, Tom Cruise comes back to the taxi, where he has Jamie Foxx handcuffed. Street thugs take Cruise's briefcase, just in time for Cruise's return. They start mouthing off and get shot instantly. As Cruise retrieves his briefcase from the ground, he gives one thug one last shot in the chest without looking and walks merrily back towards the cab.
DISAPPOINTMENTS OF 2004
These films will often appear in the worst-of category, but there were a few that were just plain misfires. They may have had some OK moments, but were not what you would hope.
THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU, I HEART HUCKABEES, THE VILLAGE, ANCHORMAN, DODGEBALL: A TRUE UNDERDOG STORY, SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW.
For me, bar none, the most disappointing was The Village. M. Night Shyamalan has two great movies in The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. And while Signs in of itself was a little disappointing, after seeing the trailer for this film, I was ready for a comeback. However, it was just a slow, well-filmed exercise in seeing how far an audience would go to see a twist ending. The twist could be seen a mile away, once you knew a twist was coming--it seemed logical to me anyway, but that wasn't the part that made me hate this film. It was just the lack of intrigue getting to the twist.
A close second would be Sky Captain, since it had such entertaining visuals and a fun sensibility. It just didn't measure up.
BETTER-THAN-EXPECTED FILMS OF 2004
NATIONAL TREASURE, SAW, THE PERFECT SCORE, 50 FIRST DATES
However, the surprise of 2004 was National Treasure, in so many ways, and could have just as easily been put under the underrated category. It was a fun adventure film, and it seemed like critics were picking on it because they hold high esteem of The Declaration of Independence--like they thought it was sacrilege to use it as a treasure map. I find that in no way is this a credible reason to not like the movie.
Garden State had several money images strung together, all to the tune of Frou Frou's "Let Go."
In Good Company was a well-edited trailer culminating in Peter Gabriel's can't-miss "Solisbury Hill."
Collateral gets cookin' on some techno as Tom Cruise walks directly towards the camera in the club scene.
Eternal Sunshine's meaty visuals come in a nicely edited package along with Electric Light Orchestra's "Mr. Blue Sky."
Dawn of the Dead goes with jarring images that get frozen and jump like damaged film, finally simulating film burning on the screen, and leading to shadows of zombies crowding onto a white background.
It opens this year but the trailer for Sin City, which debuted last December, rules hard ass, a mixture of black & white and color, with exciting visuals, all to The Servant's "Cells." Star Wars, Episode III continues the tradition of well-made Wars trailers...can a good movie be far behind?
1. Clive Owen, Closer. He has all the dirty, hard-hitting dialogue--the kind that has led some critics to hate the movie. Owen rattles off some tough dialogue and manages to be the hero of the movie. Clearly in his element here.
2. Leonardo DiCaprio, The Aviator. His Howard Hughes was one of the most memorable high-wire acts seen this year. Getting down the tics, the obsessions, the sincerity. It's awesome.
3. Paul Giamatti, Sideways. What, the Oscar voters haven't gone to jail yet for their criminal snub?
4. Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby. She's tough, she's dedicated, and has an untouchable integrity. It's an astonishing feat of acting, because in lesser hands it could have been an eye-rolling annoyance.
5. Jamie Foxx, Collateral and Ray. Unexpected chops from the comedian give him two Oscar nominations. His Ray Charles may seem overhyped, but it's worth the accolades.
6. Alfred Molina, Spider-Man 2. His Doctor Octopus was not some overacting maniac. Very cool but also very evil.
7. The young cast of Mean Creek deserve some mention. Young actors pulling off guilt over adult themes has got to be one of the hardest accomplishments in performing.
So there's a lot of info there. I hope that in any way it's entertaining. I probably missed a lot of things here, but this is all I can think of right now, and I got the most important (and some not-so-important) things.