It was a great year for movies.
In discussing these movies, I won't give away anything about the plot.
1. The Machinist
A haunting film, reminiscent of David Lynch's Mulholland Dr. (2001). Very effective. After the movie was over, my mom explained to me what had actually happened. To prepare for his starring role, Christian Bale dropped from 190 lbs. to 130 lbs., eating only an apple and a can of tuna each day. He looked frightening.
2. Team America: World Police
Trey Parker and Matt Stone's parody of the war on terrorism, using puppets. To my mind, this is one of the funniest movies ever made. The soundtrack is a hoot. Until I saw it, I was not a fan of South Park, but afterwards I gave the show a chance and enjoyed it.
3. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
After I saw this movie, I didn't feel like letting on how much I liked it. The whole experience felt too personal. Kate Winslet is one of my favorites. I also liked her in Enigma (2001). I don't remember much about the acting--it was almost incidental to the movie.
4. Maria Full of Grace
This is a Spanish-speaking movie about a young woman in Colombia. Once you see it, you'll appreciate the title. I think it's best to know nothing more about the movie, going in.
5. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
This was a good year for silly comedies; I also liked Dodgeball. I used to think of Will Farrell as a sorry excuse for a Saturday Night Live megastar, but now I like him a lot, partly because he doesn't take himself seriously. Ron Burgundy is lovably dumb, like Homer Simpson or The Tick. I liked all the campy 70s stuff. Ben Stiller and Tim Robbins have funny cameos.
6. Hotel Rwanda
If the academy had taste, this would win Best Picture, but it wasn't even nominated. Don Cheadle plays the Oskar Schindler of Rwanda. It's not quite as good as Schindler's List (1993), but it isn't as wrenching either. I'm glad Terry George got his way; the investors wanted Denzel Washington or Wesley Snipes in the starring role (I hope the Snipes part was a joke, but I think it wasn't). Cheadle's African accent sounded authentic to me, and it was certainly better than Kevin Costner's New England accent in Thirteen Days (2001). This was Richard Roeper's best movie of 2004. (By the way, if you haven't seen Ebert and Roeper, I like Roeper even more than Siskel.)
7. Fahrenheit 9/11
This is miles better than Bowling for Columbine (2002), which was meandering and self-important. Moore shows us a lot of good footage. For example, we see Bush sitting in an elementary school classroom looking scared and doing nothing after being told of the planes hitting the trade towers. I'm not a big fan of Moore, but I thought his themes were perfect. After you see the movie, you wonder why everyone around here seems to accept war so easily.
8. Napoleon Dynamite
A unique comedy about a high school loser in Idaho who doesn't make eye contact with anyone. Bullies throw him up against the locker, he falls down and walks away as though he didn't notice. You'll know from the previews whether it appeals to you. Uncle Rico is a great character too. He's involved in a pyramid scheme and shoots home videos of himself throwing football passes to himself.
9. Super Size Me
This documentary about the death-dealing fast food industry is entertaining. I hope it wins Best Documentary. Morgan Spurlock ate nothing but McDonalds for a month, and we get to watch him throw up. Spurlock said that getting permission to shoot in New York City franchises was often denied, but in other places the conversation usually went: "What are you guys filming here?" "We're shooting a MOVIE!" "Okay."
10. The Incredibles
This quirky animated superhero comedy is the most visually spectacular movie I've seen which didn't suck (like The Day After Tomorrow (2004) and Lawrence of Arabia (1962)--just kidding about The Day After Tomorrow). I look forward to seeing it again.* I enjoyed it as much as any movie of 2004.
*It was not as good the second time, which is why it's down at #10---ed.Honorable Mentions
Shaun of the Dead; Kill Bill: Vol. 2; Garden State; Dodgeball; Mean Girls; The Clearing; Harry Potter: The Prisoner of Azkaban.
About Kill Bill: Vol. 2: This is far better than the first one (about which my brother said, "It says a lot about a movie when the best scene is the coma unit rape scene"). Uma Thurman is great, and David Carradine seems much more sinister than Warren Beatty could have been--Beatty was Tarantino's first choice but turned it down because he thought the movie was one long fight scene.The Worst 2004 Movie I Saw:
Coffee and Cigarettes was the most horribly pretentious thing I've ever sat through, but as it turns out, this Jim Jarmusch "film" is from 2003. So the prize must go to Harold & Kuhmar Go to White Castle, which is just as good as it sounds.
Yuck. I didn't see Finding Neverland, but none of the Academy's other picks came close to making my top ten list. Here's why.
Nothing much happens in this seemingly endless (2 hour and 50 minute) exercise in watching Leonardo DiCaprio fear germs. It's fabulous looking, so if that's enough for you, you'll like it.
This movie was fairly good. It was what you'd expect from a Ray Charles biopic, except that Jamie Foxx was outstanding in the lead role. I hope he gets the Oscar, though Don Cheadle was great too. In general, I find most actors to be superb (the Kevin Costners, Andie McDowells and Quentin Tarantinos really stand out to me), so I have a hard time picking best actor categories. But there's a big difference between a great performance and a great movie, and this movie wasn't great.
I like slice of life movies (You Can Count on Me, The Station Agent, and Muriel's Wedding, for example), and Paul Giamatti is fine, but this movie dragged on. I always wonder how much people's opinions reflect the movies themselves rather than the idea they have of the movie, later.
Million Dollar Baby
Thumbs up, but there were several hugely stupid things in this film, so I couldn't put it on my top ten list. It was certainly no Napoleon Dynamite. Morgan Freeman seemed to get nominated for Best Supporting Actor just for being himself. Hilary Swank was great; I hope she wins something. At the bottom of this page, I'll mention some problems I had with the movie. Don't read it if you haven't seen the movie.
A Stray Thought about Actors
Like I said, I think that most working actors are very good. Here are three who are supposed to be terrible: Burt Reynolds, Bruce Willis and Nick Nolte. But are they? Have you seen Boogie Nights (1997), The Sixth Sense (1999), and Affliction (1997)? I think they're terrific actors.
(Greg Pak, who was recently interviewed on Fresh Air as a promising young director, once told me that he considered Bruce Willis to be "the Burt Reynolds of the 1990s." He didn't mean it as a compliment---a fact that puzzles me.)
P.S. Questions about Million Dollar Baby
Why wasn't Billie "The Blue Bear" arrested for attempted murder? Were there no witnesses? Do you think it wasn't captured on film? Why wasn't Maggie declared the winner of the fight? Isn't it a thematic problem that Maggie was destroyed not by boxing, but by criminal assault?
Why did Clint Eastwood pull out Maggie's breathing tube in addition to giving her the shot? And why didn't he find the needle in his bag before pulling the tube out? Do you think he just wanted her to suffer? Did he disappear from Morgan Freeman's life in order to avoid the arrest warrant that would probably have been issued for him? And how much do you think Maggie would have gotten for suing the hospital that let her leg go gangrene in about two weeks? Don't you think her leg was in good shape going in? Didn't the nurses ever flip her over?
Do you think Maggie's family was mean enough? I couldn't tell whether we were supposed to like them. After all, I missed every word of dialogue in those scenes.