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  • Top 10 films of 2004
    (Andrea, David, Joshua, Leslie)
  • Top 10 films of 2003
    (Andrea, David, Joshua, Leslie)
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  •  TOP10: TOP 10 FILMS OF 2004

    Top 10 films of 2004


    As opposed to my learned colleague (and editor) Joshua, 2004 for me, was a comparatively ho-hum Indie year flanked by movies about robots and puppets and bios, oh my!

    If my 2003 faves were mostly DOCS, in 2004, foreign flicks rose to the top of my heap. All of which means it was a very long year for such a (comparatively) short film list. (But as usual — with subdivisions of narrative, doc and foreign films — my list will still add up to many more than TEN!)


    1 (tie). Dogville

    1 (tie). Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

    Although shot in English with major International and American stars, these two films both felt decidedly foreign both in approach and content. And irony of ironies — two of my least favorite performers gave two of my favorite performances.

    The highly theatrical "Dogville" (think "Our Town") was one of Lars Von Trier's most accessible to date. Star Nicole Kidman's acting career has ricocheted between amazing highs ("The Others," "The Hours") and abysmal lows ("Moulin Rouge," "Eyes Wide Shut"), but her portrayal of Von Trier's canny Brechtian waif stands as a benchmark performance.

    As for Michel Gondry's "...Sunshine/Spotless" — part Long Island working-class love story and part magical-surrealism, the redoubtable Jim Carrey was both real and appealing as the forlorn lover (the highest accolade possible for the snarky show-off star of "Lemony Snicket"). Together the gallic Gondry and Amer-Indie weirdie Charlie Kaufman brought this purely original phantasmagorical tale of a folie ł deux to the screen.

    3. Sideways

    Although the sun-dappled Santa Ynez Valley vineyards stretching as far as the eye can see are lovely to look at, it's not the California countryside that makes "Sideways" a trip worth taking. It's the company. Paul Giamatti outdoes his Harvey Pekar with another loveable schlub, a hapless misanthrope who takes his former college roommate Jack (Thomas Haden Church) on a week's fling in vino country prior to Jack's upcoming nuptials, with Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh as the influential women they meet along the way. Writer/director Alexander Payne ("About Schmidt") keeps his essential, observant comedy rich, rewarding, and very real throughout.

    4. Baadasssss!

    "B-A-A-D-A-S-S-S-S-S!" was either Mario Van Peebles homage to his dad, Melvin, or an Oedipal cry for help (or maybe both), but either way, it was a welcome hoot in '04. A sly wink and a nod to the system that wound up making blaxploitation flicks produced by white dudes, Van Peeps the younger played his dad in this chronicle of his iconoclastic father's indie hit of the '70s which started the whole movement, reminding us once again that it was always about green power!

    5. Garden State

    "Garden State," found debutant director Zach Braff channeling both Orson Welles and Woody Allen for his wryly amusing and somewhat original take on the over-used dysfunctional-family-so-you-make-your-own Indie trope. Braff has a real filmmaker's eye and his acting and directing ain't half-bad either.

    6. Coffee and Cigarettes

    "Coffee and Cigarettes," a sketchbook of dialogues from pioneer Indie filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, featured the likes of Tom Waits, Roberto Benigni, Bill Murray, Elvis Costello and Cate Blanchett talking about whatever — from Abbott and Costello to Paris in the '20s — over the titular combo. A black and white sorbet of a flick that merely whetted our appetite for another "Dead Man" or "Ghost Dog."

    7. Kinsey

    "Kinsey" turned out to be a politically as well as historically important biopic from director Bill Condon. Liam Neeson played the deadpan sexologist with the requisite lack of humor, but Laura Linney was radiant as Mrs. K.

    8. Vera Drake

    "Vera Drake" from Mike Leigh was both a realistic look back at post-WW II Britain and a scathing attack on the revived anti-abortion lobbies world-wide. Imelda Staunton is luminous in the title role.

    9. Saddest Music in the World

    "Saddest Music in the World" put beer-filled glass legs on Isabella Rossellini and a quixotic smile on Guy Maddin, Canada's (and perhaps the world's) most quirky director.

    Best ADULT kiddie films:

    1. "The Incredibles" concerned overweight, over-age superheroes — yeah, I can relate to that!

    2. "Sky Captain: World of Tomorrow" successfully captured the true grittiness of a graphic novel. Giant robots, Jude Law AND Gwyneth Paltrow for a paltry million bucks!

    3. "Team America: World Police:" Best movie ever made starring a puppet dictator!

    Films I really hated:

    "Young Adam," "The Mother," "29 Palms," "De-Lovely" and "Closer."

    Big-budget flix I really loved:

    "The Aviator" and "Ray."

    Most overhyped / overrated:

    "The Passion of the Christ," "Before Sunset" and "Million Dollar Baby."


    1. Fahrenheit 9/11

    "Fahrenheit 9/11" was also over-hyped but was infinitely important art as politics — politics as art.

    2. Divan

    "Divan" in which Pearl Gluck traveled from Hassidic Boro-Park Brooklyn to Hungary in search of her roots, her grandfather's divan and her father's love — well, two out of three ain't bad.

    3. This So-Called Disaster

    "This So-Called Disaster" was Michael Almeyreda's full access backstage pass to the entire rehearsal period for Sam Shepard's play "The Late Henry Moss," starring a fearless Sean Penn, Nick Nolte and Woody Harrelson.

    4. Festival Express

    "Festival Express" featured Bob Smeaton's fabulous 'lost' footage of a trainload of Canadian and American performers (circa 1970) including Janis Joplin (just months before her death), the Band, Jerry Garcia and Buddy Guy — a rolling time capsule and a helluva good time!


    1. The Sea Inside

    "The Sea Inside" with yet another extraordinary performance from the infinitely talented Javier Bardem as Ramon Sampedro, the real-life quadraplegic Spanish poet who spent 30 years fighting to die with dignity.

    2. The Dreamers

    "The Dreamers" an ode to filmmaking and beautiful naked youth from 65 year old Bernardo Bertolucci — yeah, I can relate to that too!

    3. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter ... and Spring

    "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter ... and Spring," South Korea's Ki-duk Kim's series of Zen koan-like vignettes on the cyclical nature of life and love, grasshopper.

    4. Hero

    Whether seen as a gorgeous paean to fascism or an homage to Kurasawa, just seeing Zhang Yimou's first martial-arts film helps to better appreciate his second.

    5. House of Flying Daggers

    "House of Flying Daggers" the companion piece to "Hero," wherein Yimou filled the screen with an overpowering lavishness and, of course, Zhang Ziyi as a blind courtesan/ninja who overpowered everyone and everything else.

    6. Infernal Affairs

    Best damn policier in years! Cops and robbers Hong Kong style with enough double and triple crosses to keep you glued to the screen. (However, be forwarned to skip "IA, III," which, "Godfather"-like, crashes and burns.)

    7. Intimate Strangers

    Who do you tell your troubles to? Would you tell a stranger? Sandrine Bonnaire did with elegant gallic insouciance.

    8. Love Me If You Dare

    And love this French film if you dare, as it follows an amour fou from childhood to adultery.

    9. The Choir

    "Les Choristes" presented a Dickensian view of life at a French state school for the incorrigible revived by the power of music that managed to avoid all of "Mr. Holland"'s foibles.

    10. Maria Full of Grace

    American director Joshua Marston's audacious debut (in Spanish yet!) starred the unknown (but not for long) Catalina Sandino Moreno as a young Colombian drug mule searching for a better life.

    11. The Motorcycle Diaries

    "Motorcycle Diaries," brought the story of young Che Guevara's youthful peregrinations to the screen, starring the ubiquitous Gael Garcia Bernal with the marvelous Rodrigo de la Serna as his Sancho Panza-like sidekick.

    DECEMBER 31, 2004

    Reader comments on Top 10 films of 2004:

  • old boy?   from che, Jan 17, 2005
  • Re: old boy? (by Chan-wook Park of Korea)   from daesung, May 13, 2005

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