Screw it — while there are three or four 2004 movies I want to see that I could see if I was willing to delay this puppy another couple of weeks, I’m gonna go with what I’ve got. The rules, as per last year:
This is the list of my ten favorite movies of 2004. I didn’t see every movie I wanted to see, so I can’t claim it’s the ten best movies of 2004. I’m also being a little liberal about foreign flicks; if it was made in 2003 but was released in the US in 2004, or if it hasn’t been released in the US yet but I saw it in 2004, I’ll count it as a 2004 movie within reason. E.g., Days of Being Wild was released in the US in 2004, but was made in 1991, so it doesn’t get on the list.
Without further ado, the lists, not in any order: 30 movies plus a special mention for a 2003 flick of rare quality.
Sine Qua Nons
Closer: they say there’s a new cruelty in the arts, but if you ask me this sort of thing is as old as the movies. I loved Closer for being pure and elegant and unrelenting, not to mention for the acting.
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou: Wes Anderson continues to make the movies he wants to make, and I continue to love them. Everyone’s talking about Bill Murray, but has anyone else noticed the way Jeff Goldblum is quietly slipping away from his typecasting back into indie film?
Kinsey: fearless and ballsy and committed. This was the movie which struck me as being the most personal directorial statement of the year.
The Incredibles: Pixar transcends animation by virtue of the decision to bring in the remarkable Brad Bird. It’s a great movie not because of the marvelous CGI, but because of the story and the voice acting and the perfect production values.
Gozu: Takashi Miike made a movie about growing up and being a son and all that kind of thing; it just happens to be phrased as a surrealistic yakuza movie.
Last Life in the Universe: “Hi, we’re from Thailand and we would like you to pay attention to our cinema.” It convinced me. If it hadn’t been for Hero, this would have been the most beautiful movie of the year.
Zatoichi: Kitano deconstructs the classic Zatoichi story with gleeful abandon. His use of sound to echo Zatoichi’s perceptions of the world is icing on the cake.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: in a year full of surrealism, this movie won. There’s a richness to the story that comes from the surrounding characters; Joel and Clementine wouldn’t be all that they were if it hadn’t been for Patrick and Mary and Dr. Mierzwiak.
Before Sunset: my review is coming, but until then, I’ll just say that this was the perfect companion piece to Closer — I want to show a triple bill with Before Sunrise, Closer, and Before Sunset. The technical skill it took to make a movie that a) was tightly scripted, b) exists in real-time, and c) appeared so spontaneous amazes me.
Hero: questionable politics, yes; it’s still a movie that took the vocabulary of wuxia movies and used it to create an art film. An audacious reconstruction of the martial arts genre.
How Could I Miss
Million Dollar Baby? Cause it hasn’t released wide yet. Finding Neverland? I’m just a little wary of biopics, even though I shouldn’t be. Goodbye, Dragon Inn? Sheer inertia. When Will I Be Loved? Cause I didn’t hear about it, damn it, which pisses me off. The Saddest Music in the World? Came and went too quickly. Infernal Affairs? Fell asleep the one night it played in Boston. Hotel Rwanda? Another late opener. We Don’t Live Here Anymore? And I claim to be a fan of Peter Krause. Purple Butterfly? Hasn’t opened in Boston yet, but it’ll be eligible for next year’s list. I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead? Another one that slipped under my radar.
But now I’m depressing myself. Time to talk about more movies that I actually saw.
Best of the Rest
Honorable mentions go to Shaun of the Dead, which I never reviewed but which perfectly married comedy and zombies; Spider-Man 2, which combined with The Incredibles and Hellboy to create the best superhero movie year ever; Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, which will never be less in my eyes than a perfect evocation of pulp as it was; House of Flying Daggers, which nearly beat out Hero for the top ten list; Garden State, which I just enjoyed; Sideways, in which a flawed story was mitigated by some of the very best acting of the year from an unexpectedly good cast; Kill Bill, as a whole, because I can’t really consider either of the two movies complete without each other; Collateral, which should be shown as a double feature with To Live And Die In L.A.; and Spartan, for Val Kilmer and David Mamet.
Special mention to Fog of War, which didn’t open wide until 2004 but which was a 2003 movie. It deserves to be on one of my top ten lists.