Monday, December 14, 2009

Decade in Review: 2004 Top Ten

Moving on to 2004. What follows is my original top ten list, based on films released in NYC in 2004. If I have anything new to say that'll be in red after the original text.

Top Ten Runners Up (in descending order): Aviator, Hero, House of Flying Daggers, Mean Girls, Maria Full of Grace, The Five Obstructions, Collateral, Goodbye Lenin!, Birth and Closer Yes, I'm absolutely horrified by the rankings now. Nothing about that ranking feels right now. I am most ashamed that Birth was only at number [cough] 19 in its year. In my self-flattering memory I "almost" put it in the top ten despite the then brutal reviews. I was ahead of my time! Oh well... at least I did actually name it the #1 most underappreciated film of the year. At the time I said...

Jonathan Glazer made a significant splash four years ago when his brilliantly acted heist film Sexy Beast debuted to much acclaim and some arthouse success. That film's success was attributed largely to its magnetic star Ben Kingsley. Glazer's sophomore effort is also built around a brilliant performance, Nicole Kidman's this time. The reaction has been decidedly different. It's far closer to hate than love. Birth is a confounding and unsettling movie and it's meant to be. Nevermind that it's on many worst lists. It's worth seeing because Glazer is going to be an important filmmaker. Despite an ending that feels like a fumble, there is much in Birth that's superbly handled, haunting, daring, and evocative. Stay tuned to Glazer's career.

That big career I was hoping for hasn't materialized (there's still no Birth follow-up) but the film has aged beautifully. But I still love everything on my top ten list so I don't know where exactly I'd put it now... or Mean Girls, which I've watched more than any of the films in the top ten list since. All of a sudden the dawning realization. Might 2004 be the best year of this decade rather than 2001?

Bad Education (Pedro Almodovar)Pedro's films have a way of growing stronger on repeat views. You become more attuned to their beautifully executed imagery and storytelling structures. Even if you resist they eventually win you over (though I've yet to succumb to Matador). So, on principle, I knew better than to leave this twisty 'fag-noir' out of my list, even if I loved the also-rans just as much.

Bad Education has many immediate virtues; Gael Garcia Bernal's carnality and triple-whammy star turn, and the expected visual thrills and chills. Curiously though, this fascinating noir also has one virtue that seems to be playing a double role as vice; the layers of stories that are actually all one story. Therein, at least at this writing, lies my tiny seed of discontent and the film's 10th place rank (low for a Pedro). I'm not sure that Bad Education's many superb threads weave expertly into one superlative garment. I loved the stories. I understand them as one story. But I waited for the grand emotional fusion which never quite came. The disparate threads are tightly knit in my head but not my heart.

09 I ♥ Huckabees (David O Russell)
A comedy of chaotic singularity. It's been a long time since we've seen rapid-fire sophisticated verbal joking alongside manic slapstick. It's been an even longer time since the last "existential detective comedy" (Wait --was there a last one?)

If the cultural zeitgeist in 2004 had been all about playful soul-searching rather than blindly choosing sides, Huckabees may have hit big. The film's climax, a scene between two existential detectives (Hoffman & Tomlin) and corporate climber Brad Stand (Jude Law) is formed around the question "How am I not myself?" This inquiry is first posed as a throwaway. Brad's more defensive than curious. He's annoyed that the detectives have questioned his basic internal honesty. He exasperatedly asks "How am I not myself?" as if swatting them away. (What a silly thing to question!) But the detectives begin to repeat the inquiry aloud, spinning it around their own tongues to taste its true meaning. The comedy often emerges from the way they engage and disengage from conversations becoming distracted by their own curiousity. They are both service providers and true believers. But laughs are not the only purpose of this movie. The sequence darkens. Going about his day Brad moves from exasperation to self-loathing to fear, the question haunting him all the while. It takes on a mantra feeling by the end. It's a good question to answer, if you're up for it.

Like Mean Girls this is ridiculously rewatchable. I adore it and I still wish there could be a movie serial that ran before all features following the further exploits of Bernard and Vivian, existential detectives. In fact I wish they could interrupt every bad movie and start "investigating" the director, actors or screenwriter's issues. Why are you making this movie?

08 Dogville (Lars von Trier)
Prologue) In which we are stunned by brilliant staging and an impressive huge cast.
Chapter 1) In which Grace (Nicole Kidman) arrives and Tom (Paul Bettany) the
obvious director-surrogate in this parable gives a 'moral lecture' and is immediately chastized by the narrator for "lashing out somewhat haphazardly in all directions."
Chapter 2-5) "Happy Times" -The cast interacts lovingly...
Chapter 6,7) until their love is exposed as shallow self-interest and their "true face" emerges and the film becomes totally shattering.
Chapter 8,9) In which the director (Von Trier) lashes out somewhat haphazardly in all directions and the film ends.

Dogville is harrowing, excruciating in its inevitability, and unforgettable. While colder than the 'Golden Heart trilogy' (Breaking the Waves, The Idiots, Dancer in the Dark) which raised Von Trier's profile to an icon of divisiveness, Dogville is equally potent. Understandably misread as an Anti-American screed, it's closer to a condemnation of the entire human race. This town is "...not far from here."

07 The Incredibles (Brad Bird)
I saw The Incredibles three times within the month of its opening. And every time something else opened the following month that only looked half-appealing I thought to myself. "Now, self, you can always go and see The Incredibles again!" This great superhero film may be written off as comfort food, but it's not without nutritious value. I've never considered re-watchability to be the strongest indicator of quality but it counts as an obvious plus. The film's cheerful but serious inventiveness becomes more obvious upon repeat viewings.

Brad Bird, who also directed the last American 2-D animation classic The Iron Giant, deserves all the kudos he gets for this special toon. He also wrote the jam-packed, funny and relevant screenplay. He's not the first auteur to work in animation, but he's the genre's greatest superhero behind the scenes in quite some time. He may only be voicing Edna Mode ("I never look back! It distracts me from the 'now'.") but to me he's Mr. Incredible.

For more on Brad Bird, I suggest reading Robert's Directors of the Decade entry. I haven't seen this movie in too long. I'm totally watching it again as soon as this year's awards crush is over.

06 Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring (Kim Ki Duk)
Gorgeously humane and intimately scaled, Spring... is the spiritual tonic that the cinemas most needed in this year of religious-fueled fury (The Passion) and human pettiness and ferocity (Dogville). Director Kim Ki Duk also moved from cruelty (see previous films) to peace and meditation here. spring, summer, fall, winter...and spring is structured with complete simplicity (the title is truthful), but what could have been a precious and obvious film is instead profoundly moving.

05 Before Sunset (Richard Linklater)
Making a sequel to a film as delicate and "moment in time"-ish as Before Sunrise seems like a fool's errand. But writer/director Linklater and his stars Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke are no fools. This re-meet is less cute (though still cuddly), deeper, and more resonant. It improbably improves the original, which is a pretty awesome trick. Celine and Jesse have aged well. Before Sunset's purity (it's told in real time) gives a beautiful ebb and flow to the chatty conversation and emotional reveals, and culminates in one of the great movie endings.

The last two movies just get to me. Man, do they get to me. Tears!

04 Sideways (Alexander Payne)
He's four for four now. Payne first made a mark in 1996 when Citizen Ruth won many cinephile hearts for its satirical know-how, poking fun (with gusto) at both sides in the eternal abortion rights battle. Next up came Election (my personal favorite) a hilarious high-school-as-macrocosm of politics movie. And finally, two years ago broader audiences finally discovered his work (with the help of a genuine legend Jack Nicholson) in About Schmidt. Apparently though, for a complete triumph with the sacred trinity of Audience|Critics|Oscar, the fourth time is the charm.

The current backlash-generated question is: Are critics wrong to have been so unanimous in declaring Sideways, a light angsty middle age buddy comedy, the best film of the year? Perhaps. Is that anything to hold against this funny, incisive, memorable, and superbly acted gem? Absolutely not. Drink up!

Though I still think the backlash was as suspect as it claimed the critical reaction was, I readily admit that I don't love this as much now. Before Sunset feels richer when it comes to romantic baggage and if the negatives of this and, say, Birth were on fire. I'd be trying to save Birth. You know? But it's a good movie. So there.

03 Vera Drake (Mike Leigh)
Leigh is most frequently thought of as an ensemble director. His now famous method of working involves months of rehearsal and improv with his team of actors before the movie has a real script and before any footage is shot. His films tend to have uniformly strong work from their entire teeming cast... even the bit roles are perfection. What is less often remarked upon is the way his film's are often built organically around one magical, lived-in and accomplished lead performance from a character actor. Add Imelda Staunton's Vera Drake to the list that includes Brenda Blethyn's teary Cynthia Purley (Secrets and Lies) and the great Jim Broadbent's towering, magnificent William Gilbert in Topsy Turvy.

I wish I had given Imelda Staunton my gold medal that year. I was too caught up in that silly Bening vs. Swank round two stuff. Argh! Done in by Oscar punditry and my own actressexual "issues".

02 Spider-Man 2 (Sam Raimi)
The first film in years to make me feel like a little kid again. Absolutely joyous from start to finish. My gratitude goes out to Tobey Macguire and Kirsten Dunst who continue to exhibit a rare chemistry. Kudos also to the team behind Doctor Octopus. Superheroes need a great rogues gallery and Doctor Octopus alone makes 2 a significant improvement on the original. I don't know if "there's a hero in all of us" but Sam Raimi is one in my book. He continues to show complete acceptance and love for that most maligned genre; the comic book film. This webslinging adventure is, quite simply, the greatest superhero movie ever. "Excelsior!"

01 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry)
When I first published my top ten list I never entered any text to explain my number one choice. For a movie that's at least partially about self-erasure, I suppose that's appropriate. The movie is utterly brilliant. Unlike Joel's memories, it will endure forever.

I know you love Eternal Sunshine, but what else made 2004 great for you? Oscar went crazy for Million Dollar Baby (I like it more now than I did back then), the public went crazy for Shrek 2 and The Passion of the Christ and The Bourne Supremacy. You?


mosquito wenzi said...

That says descending order, so you ranked Birth #12.

Anonymous said...

My hairdresser borrowed Eternal Sunshine and never gave it back. Bitch. (My #1 of '04 too).

Eric Henderson said...

I saw way more movies in 2004 than any other year this decade, and these were the movies I rated as masterpieces or close enough (in descending order of love):

01. Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
02. Decasia (Bill Morrison) [additionally, the short Light is Calling]
03. Before Sunset (Richard Linklater)
04. Crimson Gold (Jafar Panahi)
05. Blissfully Yours (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
06. Bad Education (Pedro Almodóvar)
07. Vera Drake (Mike Leigh)
08. Million Dollar Baby (Clint Eastwood)
09. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry)
10. Moolaadé (Ousmane Sembene)
11. Bus 174 (José Padilha)
12. Los Angeles Plays Itself (Thom Andersen)
13. Dogville (Lars Von Trier)

I've cooled a tad on both Million Dollar Baby and Eternal Sunshine, and would today likely rank Dogville near the top. Another movie that took me some time to realize I sort of loved was Catherine Breillat's gorgeous/ugly/compelling/unwatchable Anatomy of Hell.

par3182 said...

1. bad education
2. eternal sunshine of the spotless mind
3. the incredibles
4. vera drake
5. hotel rwanda
6. closer

Dean said...

Regina: She's so pathetic. Let me tell you something about Janis Ian. We were best friends in middle school. I know, right? It's so embarrassing. I don't even... Whatever. So then in eighth grade, I started going out with my first boyfriend Kyle who was totally gorgeous but then he moved to Indiana, and Janis was like, weirdly jealous of him. Like, if I would blow her off to hang out with Kyle, she'd be like, "Why didn't you call me back?" And I'd be like, "Why are you so obsessed with me?" So then, for my birthday party, which was an all-girls pool party, I was like, "Janis, I can't invite you, because I think you're lesbian." I mean I couldn't have a lesbian at my party. There were gonna be girls there in their *bathing suits*. I mean, right? She was a LESBIAN. So then her mom called my mom and started yelling at her, it was so retarded. And then she dropped out of school because no one would talk to her, and she came back in the fall for high school, all of her hair was cut off and she was totally weird, and now I guess she's on crack.

My vote for best screenplay of the decade

Jim T said...

Well, I know I'm the only one but I think Kinsey is great and perhaps my favourite of that year (I saw it recently).

Eternal Sunshine hadn't floored me but I rewatched it recently and it seemed (even) better.

I haven't seen all of Bad Education. A few days ago I came across a film (on TV) that seemed weird and I watched it. It turned out to be that film. I liked it but it was the second half. I missed a lot.

I had tried to see the Aviator but I got a bit bored and stopped.

I liked but didn't love I ♥ Huckabees .

I liked Dogville but I hadn't seen the metaphors. After learning about them it seems even better.

I saw The Incredibles recently and I thought it was good and very well made but not great.

I liked Sideways but when I found out it is considered a masterpiece I was like "what?"

Vera Drake is just great. Mike Leigh=never disappoint

I really enjoyed Spider-Man 2.

I liked Finding Neverland and I wasn't even a Winslet follower back then.

Now I hope you forgive me but I think Million Dollar Baby probably deserved the Oscar. I think it is great. Perhaps this and Kinsey are my favourites of that year.


@Mosquito -- descending order from #1 so that's #11 through 20 you're looking at.

@Nick -- i hope you found a new hairdresser

@Eric --ooh, tropical malady. That's a goodie. I thought that was 2005 though? well or it was for me.

@Dean -- i'm happy that Tina Fey is making me guffaw every Thursday at home but I REALLY wish she'd write another movie. Because Mean Girls is so fetch.

@Jim T -- a lot of people think AVIATOR is boring and I just don't get it. I loved it. Maybe it's just that I'm a sucker for the recreation of Old Hollywood. I wish Martin Scorsese would have lent his sets and everything to like 15 other directors simultaneously to give us like 15 movies about that time period all at once. YUMMY

Ann McD said...

2004 is definitely my favorite year of the deacade.
Top Ten:
Kill Bill Vol. 2
Million Dollar Baby
Eternal Sunshine
The Passion of the Christ
Mean Girls
Before Sunset
I Heart Huckabees
Maria Full of Grace

Anonymous said...

I think ETERNAL SUNSHINE and the Kidman double feature (all films I love) will have the most enduring legacies, but the one from that year that I love the best has to be HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN. Has there been a more innovative and consistent director this decade than Alfonso Cuaron? He not only showed the potential this series had, but elevated it beyond the "Cliff Notes" cash grab it looked like it was about to become. Movie studios aren't always a friend to movie lovers, but you have to give Warner Bros. credit for their efforts with the high quality blockbuster (the POTTER films, Nolan's BATMAN films, and staying out of Spike Jonze's way on WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE).


Mark said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark said...

before sunset should be #1, and eternal sunshine #2. i can watch celine and jesse talk all day long. are we getting a sequel in 2013 (9 years later)?

Joe Reid said...

I've long thought that 2004 was totally underrated and just packed with movies that delivered. Great writeup.

Scott said...

So much to love in this year. Eternal Sunshine was my immediate favorite, though Bad Education just gets richer and richer with time (and I already thought it, and Gael, was excellent on my first viewing). What's the 1 thing that sticks in my head most though? Patricia Clarkson in Dogville. Devastating. Quite the year for Kidman too.

Lorenzo said...

10 Closer
9 Collateral
8 Kinsey
7 Garden State
6 Million Dollar Baby
5 Kill Bill – volume 2
4 Dopo mezzanotte (by Italian director Davide Ferrario)
3 The eternal sunshine of the spotless mind
2 3-Iron (but Ki-duk Kim also made Samaritan Girl that year!)
1 La mala educacion

Runners-up: The motorcycle diaries, Vera Drake, Walk on water, I heart Huckabees and the Algerian movie Exils.

Wayne B said...

2004 was definitely a GREAT year for movies especially for comedy.

Underrated: BAADASSSSS!, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, I <3 Huckabee's, Kinsey, Saved!

(#15-11) The Bourne Supremacy, Dawn of the Dead, Harold&Kumar Go to White Castle, Shaun of the Dead, Some Kind of Monster

(#10-6) Collateral, House of Flying Daggers, Kill Bill Vol. 2, Mean Girls, Sideways

Top 5: Bad Education, Before Sunset, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind(#1 film of the decade), The Incredibles, Maria Full of Grace

Anonymous said...

In order:

Eternal Sunshine
Before Sunset
The Corporation
Code 46
Maria Full of Grace
The Incredibles
The Bourne Supremacy

Followed VERY closely by I Heart Huckabees, Time of the Wolf, Closer, Spider-Man 2, Vera Drake, and Kill Bill V. 2. I also have immense love for Sideways, Spring Summer Fall Winter and Spring, The Return, Hero, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I also watch The Aviator, The Dreamers, Undertow, and Bad Education quite frequently.

This really was perhaps the best year for cinema during this decade. For me, it's only followed by 2002 and 2005 (probably 2001 but I never got the chance see enough films from it).

Derreck said...

oh, i loved Spider-Man 2. I swooned like crazy at the end. Kirsten Dunst really brought it home in that last scene.

"I know you think we can't be together, but can't you respect me enough to let me make my own decision? I know there'll be risks but I want to face them with you. It's wrong that we should be only half alive... half of ourselves. I love you. So here I am - standing in your doorway. I have always been standing in your doorway. Isn't it about time somebody saved your life? "

That could've ventured into cheese but the way she delivered it was so earnest and heartfelt. Plus, like Nat said, Kirsten and Tobey definitely had the natural chemistry. Then when you add that Peter finally gets the girl after so much angst, you have yourself an unexpectedly romantic scene.

and then there's Birth. Initially when i watched it, i thought the ending bungled up everything.

BUT due to the lovely power of Netflix and a couple years to stew over it, i watched it again and learned to love it. The ending was just more complex than i imagined and more open-ended. It was unexpected and it was a decent way to end the film instead of settling on either fake little Sean or supernatural Sean.

Plus, the scene at the opera will always be magnificent in my mind as the many emotions and feelings flood Nicole's face and her surrender into this idea of Sean. I can see why people didn't really gel towards it though, with the whole 'controversial' bath scene and that 'kiss' between Kidman and Bright. I thought those scenes were hugely important in the narrative though. It can be seen as a most untraditional story of love.

Derreck said...

and i'll never watch Million Dollar Baby again after that ending destroyed me by coming out of freaking nowhere.

Anonymous said...

Eternal Sunshine may just be the best film since the golden age of cinema in the 70's. You just can't fault it. Winslet is obviously brilliant & its easily Jim Carey's best...but what I love most is how vivid and intimate the supporting performances are- Jane Adams, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffolo, Tom Wilkinson and his tired, unsurprised, shattered wife.... its a gem. An absolute gem. .

- Sean C.

Jason Adams said...

Nathaniel, stop trying to make fetch happen!

Sorry, had to do that.

Kurtis O said...

I thought 'The Aviator' was brilliant and beautiful. I still think the way Scorsese incorporated those turquoie tones is intoxicating. And don't even get me started on Blanchett. I love 'The Departed,' too, and I suppose I'm glad Scorsese got the Oscar for a film more demonstrative of his gritty sensibilities, but 'The Aviator' is my favorite of his films from this decade, and my favorite film of 2004.

Lucky said...

I love Garden State, and I know I want to love it more than I actually love it, but it's just that I forgive all it's quirkiness (too much... with the pet graveyard, and the black brother and the boat in the abyss and Natalie's helmet) because I think that at that time it wasn't so overused. Garden State wasn't desperately trying to be original, it just was (IMO). A lot of indies that followed were clearly trying. Too hard, some of them.

Anyways, Zach Braff and Tina Fey should write more movies (not together!), and Eternal Sunshine is my favourite film ever.

Jude said...

I think I have to watch Eternal Sunshine again. I feel like it might be better knowing what to expect. Not that I didn't like it the first time, but it just might get even better now that I know how it's going to play out. Sort of like Memento.

Also, am I totally crazy for thinking Jude Law can get some awards season traction for Sherlock Holmes? Is it just the name we share making me predict him? Or does he have a shot? Anyone can answer!

Trent said...

1. Eternal Sunshine
2. Maria Full of Grace
3. Sideways
4. Kill Bill Vol. 2
5. Dogville
6. Closer
7. Bad Education
8. Birth
9. Moolade
10. We Don't Live Here Anymore
11. Mean Girls

Jim T said...

I liked Mean Girls a lot but I think Rachel McAdams is the best thing in it. I think she makes the whole thing work!

Eric Henderson said...

@Eric --ooh, tropical malady. That's a goodie. I thought that was 2005 though? well or it was for me.

It was for almost everyone, but I was lucky enough to catch it at a one-off '04 screening at the U Film Society in Mpls.

Amir said...

here's my list:

1-eternal sunshine of the spotless mind (SUCH a good choice, i love that we agree on this)

2- kill bill vol. 2 (i always view these movies as one)

3- spring summer fall winter and spring

4- bad education

5- crimson gold

Bryan said...

Nat: You mentioned that Tina Fey makes you laugh every Thursday-- did you see your girl Julianne guest star? Wasn't she great? I LOVED THE ACCENT!

Winslet and DiCaprio got some buzz last year for their performances in Revolutionary Road (although his kind of died off in the end). However, I would offer that they each put out their career-bests in 2004, with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (she should have won!) and The Aviator. Nick Davis (don't get me wrong, he loved it) has called Eternal Sunshine "eggheady". Was that why Winslet didn't get more traction--the style of the film? Or was the Million Dollar Baby buzz just too overwhelming?

Henry said...

Hmm. I had forgotten what a good year for movies 2004 was. But just looking at this list, I'd argue for a number of films in your Top Ten as qualifying for #1. I didn't get Dogville, but I LOVE that Before Sunset is in the top five.

I wouldn't argue about Eternal Sunshine being at the top, but I put Million Dollar Baby at the top of my personal list so... Hmm, it's making me want to watch it again now. Haven't seen it in a while.

Flosh said...

Surprised no one has any love to share for THE LIFE AQUATIC. I know it's still widely considered the red headed stepchild of Anderson's career, but for me it's his masterpiece. Both the funniest and most profoundly sad film of the decade.

rosengje said...

I don't think that Before Sunset is necessarily the best movie of 2004 but it is certainly my favorite (or at least in a dead heat with Eternal Sunshine). That is the only movie that can truly devastate me and yet somehow be replete with beautiful details and laughs. Paradox? I think Celine tentatively reaching out to Jesse to comfort him in the car but withdrawing her hand before he can see it is one of cinema's most beautiful moments. Love love.

Y Kant Goran Rite said...

This might actually be my favourite year of the decade - also I've seen more films made in 2004 than from any other year: the final total was 167, and technically - still counting.

1. Kings and Queen
Comfortably in my personal canon (I know it's an '05 release for you people though). My heart jumps just at the mention of the title, or the name of its director, or that of its incandescent star.

2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

3. Bad Education
I'm totally behind you re: Pedro's movies growing stronger with repeat viewings. This was barely in my Top 30 when I first watched it and lost my way through the third act. On a second viewing, I was gripped, and wrenched, and transported - all good things. I know it's the fashion this year to say I never really liked Pedro anyway, but I'm only just realising I never really liked him enough. He is my favourite working filmmaker (well, technically Woody Allen is, but not for his recent work) and very possibly one of my 10 favourite directors in general. (I finally - finally! - get to catch Broken Embraces on Friday.)

4. Kill Bill, Vol. 2
I too was a tad disappointed initially (for some weird reason, as soon as The Bride tracked down her daughter, I was disconnected emotionally), but a second viewing took care of that. Not quite as visceral or cathartic as its predecessor (though certain sequences are), but an oddly beautiful, resonant film in its own right.

5. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
Is it still underrated? Surely people have gotten past the surface quirk by now and come around to the wise, aching undertone?

6. Birth
How did so many - sooo many - people overlook this level of insight and originality and eerie genius?

7. I Heart Huckabees
Another movie that is fashionable to hate, but it's such a joy. Flawless timing and performances.

8. 3-Iron
Spring, Summer is an '03 entry for me, but Kim Ki-duk came up with another delicacy to represent him on my list this year.

9. Maria, Full of Grace
So effortlessly sharp and compelling that it's all too easy to overlook the mastery behind it. Has Joshua Marston made another film yet? He really needs to.

10. Mysterious Skin
Bold, incisive and very very moving.

I have too many honourable mentions to name, so I'll just stick to the main ones:
- 2046 (which is bound to climb upon second viewing, Wong's films - like Almodovar's - always do);
- Control Room (mesmerising doc, in any other year I could manage to make room for it in the Top 10);
- In Your Hands (Annette K. Olesen has come up with some of the decade's strongest Danish cinema, yet hasn't landed a cinema release in the US or Australia);
- The Motorcycle Diaries (sentimental, somewhat trite, and pretty obvious, really, but so damn beautiful - I could feel it hitting my buttons - positively hammering, in fact - and still I fell for it);
- Mean Girls (I underestimated the wit here - Kings and Queen aside, this is the '04 release I've re-watched and re-enjoyed most often);
- The Edukators (fantastic, criminally neglected script and performances).
And I'm sorry but very quickly, I have to also mention State of Mind (bewitching doc on North Korea), Palindromes (bold, complex, devastating), Red Lights (a thrill from start to finish), Moolade, Changing Times (Téchiné disgustingly underrated as ever), and Guerilla: Taking of Patty Hearst.

Dogville is at the top of my 2003 list (would be at no. 3 on this one), Crimson Gold is on the same list, not much further down (around 4 or so, from memory).

MDB was my pick of that year's typically uninspired BP slate; DiCaprio and Blanchett hurt my eyes and ears in The Aviator, which is at no. 92 of my list for the year (and Hotel Rwanda's stodgy exposition amd liberal guilt doesn't fare much higher). Sideways I was very reserved about. Maybe when I watch it again, I'll see what I missed. I'm sure I didn't miss anything in Spiderman 2, but to this day I can't quite figure out what others saw in it (even the actors looked embarrassed with that dialogue).


Y KANT... Remind to never let me travel in these circles where it's "fashionable" to not acknowledge Pedro Almodovar's genius (i can see why that would take place if it does -- directors of "women's pictures" always get the shaft with respect but people come back around) and to hate on Huckabees. I never want to go to this world of which you speak. Huckabees is one of the funniest movies I've ever seen.

and Hotel Rwanda above The Aviator? I cry. That movie is just so generic and tv-level. The Aviator is a gorgeous behemoth at the very least.

kent said...

THE INCREDIBLES still holds up well as it was in 2004. but WALL-E remains the best animated film of the decade.

Paul Outlaw said...

There were also pleasures to be found in Alfie
The Assassination of Richard Nixon
Being Julia
Brother to Brother
Der Untergang
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
A Home at the End of the World

and yes, The Notebook.

notanotherblog said...

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Kill Bill 2
Mysterious Skin
Darwin's Nightmare (Best Doc of the decade)
Turtles Can Fly (my little slice of Third World Cinema)
Vera Drake

Top 5 female performances:
Nicole Kidman - Dogville
Kate Winslet - ESotSM
Uma Thurman - Kill Bill 2
Imelda Staunton - Vera Drake
Natalie Portman - Closer

Imelda Staunton would be number 1 on this list if she had a speech.
Hopefully that didn't sound like I was poo-pooing her.

Anonymous said...

Tina Fey should definitely write another movie...I was shocked when they passed her over a screenplay nomination...that movie is way too smart,first I thought that the movie was not Oscar-type but then Borat gets nominated...

Juno101 said...

I love that you have Vera Drake at #3, Awesome.

Y Kant Goran Rite said...

Re: Aviator
Oh sure, the sets were gorgeous, and the lighting atmospheric, and the editing at times exhilarating. But the people at the centre were hollow caricatures that went on for well over 2 hours.

And yes, I would have been happier if 10 other directors got to use Scorsese's sets. By the looks of it, the budget could have also covered 10 tighter, much better films.

Chris said...

My top 10 of 2004 looks like this:

01 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
02 Gegen die Wand - Head On
03 Shaun of the Dead
04 Sideways
05 2046
06 Kill Bill: Vol. 2
07 Spider-Man 2
08 Garden State
09 Collateral
10 The Aviator

Closest runner-up would be "The Bourne Supremacy" and "Hotel Rwanda".

But how come nobody has mentioned "Shaun of the Dead" yet? I mean it's a truly original, funny story that is perfectly executed. I watch it at least once a year and it just cracks me up every time I see it.

Glenn said...

Birth was my #2 then, Dogville my #1. I'd swap them around and feel comfortable. Both are masterpieces of the highest order.

2004 is the best year of the decade. There are at least 8 titles that I feel deserve to be top 3 and yet they can't!

1. Birth
2. Dogville
3. Eternal Sunshine
4. Spider-Man 2
5. Collateral
6. Before Sunset
7. The Incredibles
8. I Heart Huckabees
9. Dawn of the Dead
10. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

and so many more. Brilliant year.

OtherRobert said...

I remember telling classmates the two best films of the year were Closer and Vera Drake, without question. Then I got my hands on Dogville and retracted the statement. I feel like there's a great horror film I'm blanking on...Ginger Snaps 2 maybe? Saw? Shaun of the Dead?

I've also found myself growing more and more attached to The Village as the years go by. It's a very subtle period/romance/suspense film that still stands completely apart from anything Shyamalan has done. It was the combo of the massive spoilers in film magazines (I counted at least 4 articles detailing the leaked early draft of the script's final twist) and online plus the impossibly high expectations caused by The Sixth Sense that doomed it. The woods scenes are terrifying because of the score and light editing hand.

2004: Great Year for Film.

Bing147 said...

Movies still to see include: The Five Obstructions, Tropical Malady, Primer, Los Angeles Plays Itself, Bus 74, Crimson Gold, Blissfully Yours, 3 Iron, BAADASSSSS!, The Corporation, Moolade, Mysterious Skin, The Edukators, Palindromes, Changing Times, Head On...

So many to see, so little time... that said, my top 10 would have to be:

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
2. Kings and Queen
3. Brodre (Brothers)
4. Kill Bill Vol 2
5. Howl's Moving Castle
6. The Sea Inside
7. Before Sunset
8. The Incredibles
9. Anchorman
10. The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou

With VERY honorable mentions to Collateral, Yes, Sideways, The Motorcycle Diaries, Downfall, Control Room, Nobody Knows, The Door In the Floor, I Heart Huckabees and Garden State.

filmgeek said...

I haven't seen (but really want to) Bad Education, Goodbye Lenin or Sideways but my top 10 is:

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
2. Garden State
3. Before Sunset
4. The Notebook
5. Maria Full of Grace
6. Shaun of the Dead
7. Napoleon Dynamite
8. Finding Neverland
9. A Very Long Engagement
10. The Aviator

Deborah said...

I didn't like a lot of well-received movies of 2004. I didn't love Bad Education, I disliked I Heart Huckabees, and I despised Sideways.

Movies I loved (LOVED) in 2004:
1. The Incredibles
2. Garden State
3. Stage Beauty
4. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
5. Before Sunset
6. Howl's Moving Castle
7. Spider-Man 2
8. Mysterious Skin

Movies that were pretty damn good (rounding out my top ten):
9. Kinsey
10. The Aviator

Pretty damn good runners-up:
Enduring Love
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Layer Cake
Million Dollar Baby
Shrek 2
The Bourne Supremacy

Lara said...

God, I don't remember half of the movies I saw in 2004, but of the ones I remember Dogville easily takes my no. 1 spot. I loved Eternal Sunshine and I Heart Huckabees. I liked Head On, Sideways, Kill Bill 2 and Shaun of the Dead.
And though it came out 2001, 2004 was the year I saw Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (in a open air cinema nonetheless). My first and and so far only Bollywood film. It was like watching Denver, Dynastie and Dirty Dancing simultaneously. I still can't grade it, but I had a lot of fun watching it despite being maybe 4 hours long.

Roger said...

While the film is not very developed in many ways, Lemony Snicket's A Series Of Unfortunate Events was a better than average kids movie. Hey, it got four Oscar noms (score, art direction, costumes and it won makeup). Deserved or not, I'm glad the Academy paid at least some attention to it despite its targeted audience. Besides these noms, the acting ranged from satisfactory to masterful, which for any film with Nickelodeon's name tacked onto it is a pleasant surprise; Meryl Streep captured her character perfectly (according to the books, that is), and Jim Carrey, though arguably just being himself, kept you interested the whole way through with his sliminess and black humor. It's a shame that no sequel ever happened (and probably never will at this point), but it's the movie I remember well as an older kid, but still respect artistically 5 years later.

1994 said...

Why not Matador? Just curious. Sex and murder, what's not to love? :)

adri said...

I would still like to see "Downfall", "I Heart Huckabees", and "Vera Drake" which I missed.

1) "Before Sunset"
2) "Look At Me" ("Comme une image")
3) "Kill Bill, vol. 2"
4) "Million Dollar Baby"
5) "Shaun of the Dead"
6) "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban"
7) "Hero"
8) "House of Flying Daggers"
9) "Saved!"
10) "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"

And although they were panned, I liked "Vanity Fair" and "De-Lovely". For fluff, "13 Going on 30", "Wimbledon", "Laws of Attraction" and "Being Julia" are re-watchable (especially when you have the flu).

Bernardo said...

2004 is definitely the best year of the decade:

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
2. Sideways
3. Million Dollar Baby
4. Vera Drake
5. (Don't punch me) Finding Neverland
6. Dogville
7. Last Life in the Universe
8. Closer
9. Before Sunset
10. The Dreamers
with honourable mentions for Spring, Summer, Fall..., The Incredibles, GoodBye Lenin! and Saved! (All of them would have made the Top 10 in any other year of the decade)

But more amazing than the movies themselves were the actresses:

1. Staunton
2. Bening
3. Swank
4. Kidman (Birth)
5. Winslet
6. Delpy
7. Kidman (Dogville)
8. Eva Green
9. Uma Thurman
10. Bryce Dallas Howard
11. Sinitta Boonyasak (last Life in the Universe)

Any of them would have been nominated in any other year except 2001 and any of the Top 7 would have won in 2005 and 2007.

Alex said...

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
2. Hotel Rwanda
3. The Aviator
4. Sideways
5. Million Dollar Baby (DON'T SHOOT!)
6. Closer
7. We Don't Live Here Anymore
8. Vera Drake
9. The Incredibles
10. Birth


Bernardo -- i definitely agree that 2004 was incredible for actresses.

my nominees were

and that was even leaving out MORENO and THURMAN and not allowing double nominations for KIDMAN.