November 18, 2012 at 7:27 pm | Posted in Decade One | Leave a comment

My Top 10 Films of 2004

  1. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring             

This Korean film made the top of my list, in part, because it is so unlike anything else I saw this year.  Visually stunning, poetic and imbued with a sense of stillness completely lost on American filmmakers.  This simple, quiet film is a treatise on Buddhist notions of life, death and rebirth.  Its magic came in its ability to let each moment sit, without boundary, explanation or a need to rush onward.

  1. Sideways

Well, we all know this film.  In many ways this movie reminds me of one of my favorites from last year, “Lost in Translation.”   I was moved by the truthfulness of these characters- so painfully human.  Some people I spoke with hated them but I was deeply moved by all o f them.  The acting was so present and genuine and the dialogue was masterful: funny, heartbreaking and real.  The discussion between Paul Giamatti and Virginia Madsen about why they like wine was the best conversation in a film this year.  Everything was said but not spelled out.  That writing takes skill.

  1. Machinist

This film could not be more different than my first two choices.  Very dark.  Creepy.  Haunting.  It stars Christian Bale (“Empire of the Sun”, “Henry V”, “American Psycho”, “Velvet Goldmine” and the new “Batman Beyond”), who gives a stunning performance.  He lost 1/3 of his body weight to play this role and he looks like a ghost.  He plays a man haunted by something that happened a year ago and he has not slept since.  Weird things start happening and you don’t know what is or is not real.  Watch carefully, everything means something- random quotes, t-shirts, the colors of things.  Bale’s performance should have been up for an Oscar; he could run circles around Leo DiScowly-Face.

  1. Tarnation

In the “Year of the Documentary,” this is my favorite one by far.  Again, so unlike anything else out there.  This is a very personal and heartbreaking film.  It chronicles one boys struggle with his mother’s mental illness, his very dysfunctional family and his own sexuality.  He began filming his life when he was 11 years old and he has spliced those films together to make this movie.  He could so easily milk the audience for sympathy but never does.  His love for his mother permeates the film and makes the images of her all the more haunting.   Probably the only movie last year that brought me to tears.  The last image lingers with me; I think of it constantly.

  1. The Corporation

Another great documentary and far more traditional than “Tarnation.”  This one takes on the concept of the multi-national corporation, telling us its history and implications.  This film opened my eyes and gave him more to think about than any of the bigger name documentaries.  A must see for all social activists.

  1. Napoleon Dynamite

Brilliant!  The funniest movie I saw this year.  Made by a couple of Mormon boys from Idaho.  This film is clever and unbelievably weird.  It apparently is developing quite a cult following amongst teens.  It also has the best, completely non-manipulative, most unabashedly sentimental ending of any fictional film I saw this year.  If you see it on DVD, check out the filmmaker’s comments (this guy is a complete nerd himself, he basically just made a movie of his life).  Also, check out the kickball sequence in the extras.  Truly brilliant.

  1. The Woodsman

Be warned, I like dark films but this movie was the most difficult film I have seen in a long time.  I was so uncomfortable in one scene that I contemplated leaving the theater.  The movie deals with pedophilia and sexual abuse and does not pull punches.  It doesn’t demonize or valorize Kevin Bacon’s character.  This is what I loved about the film: I felt sorry for him and creeped out by him at the same time.  That is not an easy thing to manage.  All the principal actors did a great job.  I was especially taken by Kyra Sedgwick.  She seemed transformed by this character (miles away from “Phenomenon”).   The film does not look for easy answers and never resolves the questions it asks.  I respect a film that is willing to look so unblinkingly at a controversial subject.  If I have one criticism (and it is a serious one), it would be that the film implies that the world is crawling with men preying on young kids (an irresponsible premise that just feeds our culture of hysteria).  However, I am still moved by the films ambivalence about its subject matter; compare the metaphors of the woodsman and the bird watcher.  Are you so sure you know where the film stands on Kevin Bacon’s character?

  1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

My god, the mind of Charlie Kaufman!  This film is woefully under-represented in Oscar nominations, probably because it came out early in the year.  The concept for this film could have been done so badly (think Nicholas Cage & Meg Ryan, Goo-Goo Dolls, etc.).  Instead, we have a twisted, bleak death-plunge down the rabbit hole.  It is not a perfect film and stumbles several times, losing its focus.  However, the ending is so beautifully constructed and so bleak in its implications (Kaufmanesque, I think, should be the term), that it ultimately redeemed any flaws I thought the film had.

  1. Supersize Me

Another great documentary.  Funny, interesting and creative.  Morgan Spurlock really tapped into something with this film.  It cuts to the quick of American culture on so many levels.  I entered the theater somewhat jaded; I did not think this film could tell me anything I did not know.  I was wrong.  And I am not referring to Morgan’s shocking physical deterioration (I am still dubious of that b/c it smacks too much of Hollywood melodrama).  Rather, I was moved by how central fast food has become to so many people’s lives.  It really brought home the cultural divide to me.  Watch this movie with “Corporation.”  The perfect double feature.

  1. Ray

Again, a movie everyone knows about and most of you have probably seen.  I wrestled with putting it on the list.  I don’t really think Ray Charles’ life, brilliant though he was, warrants a movie.  But the movie was full of lush images, beautiful period sets and nice touches.  All of that would not be nearly enough but for Jamie Foxx’s performance (most surprising simply because it was Jamie Foxx).  I have seen many actors play someone famous (Malcolm X, Nixon, Jim Morrison, Andy Kaufman), none seemed as lost in the character as Jamie was.  His performance alone put this movie on my list.


Honorable Mentions

Million Dollar Baby: the best film not in my top 10.  Well acted.  Nicely directed.  I really enjoyed the dynamic between Morgan Freeman & Clint Eastwood.  I just didn’t like the ending.  No, not because it was too dark.  It wasn’t true to Clint’s character.  Like the reviewers all say, this is not the movie you think it is.  It’s not some sappy, crappy Rocky/Hoosiers/Karate Kid stinky pile of celebrity feces.  It looks like that is exactly what it is going to be for the first ½ of the film but then it all gets interesting.  I want to be clear, it really is a very good film.  It almost made my list.  I just felt cheated by an ending that was too easy, too pat.  Many people will strongly disagree with me.  You are probably right.  Sometimes I disagree with my own opinion of this film.  But I’d enjoy arguing about it.

Shaun of the Dead: oh, lord, this is a funny film.  I do love British humor.  Many, many people will find it dumb and boring.  Fair enough.  It is not for everyone.  But if you like dry wit and absurdism, don’t miss this.

The Motorcycle Diaries & Hotel Rwanda: interesting, true stories.  Well acted but ultimately too hollywoodized.  Hotel Rwanda in particular tells an important story but they could have just let up on the score a bit.

Vera Drake:  Beautifully acted and, as above, an important story to tell.  But I felt detached, always kept at bay by the movie.  I realize these people are British but I’m fairly sure they have emotions.

Undertow & Mean Creek: Kids doing creepy things.  Well-acted.  Visually interesting (especially “Undertow”).  Worth seeing.

OutFoxed:  The little documentary that almost could.  VERY rudimentary graphics (I mean, as in, Powerpoint graphics).  However, they do a good job of making their case.  Rupert Murdock is an asshole.  Go figure.

Coffee & Cigarettes: 3 brilliant skits, unfortunately the rest were uninspired or worse.  If you rent it, fast forward to the ones with Cate Blanchett, Alfred Molina, and the last one.

Best closing credits: Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.  Too bad the rest of the movie is shit.  But, really, those closing credits are fantastic.  I would watch them all over again.

Most misunderstood movie: The Mudge Boy.  The film premiered at the Gay & Lesbian Film Festival in 2003, which is when I saw it.  It opened this year to limited release and, sadly, was hated by most critics.  It even ended up on a couple worst films list (Rolling Stone and The New York Time’s A.O. Scott).  Shows you what critics know.  This movie was odd and hard to figure out but I loved it.  I just connected to Emile Hirsch’s chicken-geeking farm boy.  What can I say?

The Worst Movies of 2004:

  1. What the Bleep Do We Know?

Indeed.  I kept asking that question throughout this wholly unwatchable film.  An even better question is, “who the bleep do they think they are?”  Foisting this pseudo-scientific, new age spiritualist bullshit on us and then trying to pass it off as insight ought to be a capital offense.  Think your way out of cancer, you know you can.  Jesus, people make me crazy.  And, speaking of Jesus…

  1. The Passion of the Christ

The Porno of the Christ is more like it.  This is just titillation and cheap thrills for believers.  It was a giant, 3 hour, right-wing circle-jerk.  The worst film that I never bothered to see.  I just have never really enjoyed snuff films.

  1. The Village

Poor, poor M.Night.  For a minute and half, he was a brilliant filmmaker.  One perfect film.  And then the long, horrifyingly slow descent into irrelevance.  Arrogance is a bitch.

  1. Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events

Jim Carrey’s Series of Unfortunate Characters.  Ya know, the books don’t actually revolve around him.  Not that you would ever know that.


The rest I saw, roughly in order from better to worse.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

The Incredibles

Maria Full of Grace


I Heart Huckabees

Bad Education

The Clearing

I’m Not Scared



House of Flying Daggers

The Aviator

I, Robot

Goodbye, Lenin



The Grudge



The Sea Inside


Monsieur Ibrahim



Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow


Spider-Man 2

The Bourne Supremacy

Fahrenheit 9/11

The Merchant of Venice

Day After Tomorrow

Kill Bill, Vol. 2

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou

The Manchurian Candidate

Shark Tales

The Polar Express

The Stepford Wives

A Very Long Engagement

The Terminal


Total Seen =62 Films


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