The Dark Of The Matinee
The Best Films Of 2004
In general, cinema in 2004 was richer, funnier and much more engaging than in years past. Although comedies and dramas abounded, it was really the biopic that ruled the box office. Ray Charles, Cole Porter, Bobby Darrin, Jesus and even the President of the United States formed a queue under the social lens of Hollywood and attracted audiences of all ages. The year was also a breakout one for independent films like Napoleon Dynamite, Shaun of the Dead and Garden State, which made a huge impact with very little invested capital.
There were some other key highlights as well.
Zang Yimou stepped from the shadows of reclusive China into the bright lights of tinsel town with two sumptuous visual feats, Hero and House of Flying Daggers.
Without a Tolkien epic, Sci-fi fans turned retro with the alluring visuals of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow while comic book fans continue to represent, flocking to see Hellboy and another spectacular Spider-Man film.
Throughout 2004, cinephiles were also treated to a barrage of big budget, big-marketed films. However, unlike previous years, the hype machine was a fairly accurate barometer of quality. You could just tell when a movie was going to suck and when it was going to be good.
Therefore, with a heavy pen and lots of white out I have compiled a list of 19 films, some fun, some silly, some serious and some purely entertaining that made me savor all the time I spent in dark theaters.
2. Napoleon Dynamite • Nebbish America has never stood so tall and proud. Some say it is slow and doesn’t do anything. Napoleon Dynamite is the defining moment for geek life in the new Millennium. Kooky characters, weird music and youthful innocence all come together here to make a really fun film.
3. Shaun of The Dead • Zombies are among us — at least in London anyway. This terrifically funny Brit movie came out of nowhere to make us off our head with laughter.
4. A Very Long Engagement • Amelie’s Audrey Tautou shines amongst the mud and blood of WW1 trench warfare and shows us all she can indeed carry a drama. Despite the war, death and sadness this is a powerfully uplifting statement on the horrors of war.
5. The Incredibles • The funniest animated film of the year. Brad Bird has again made a stylish film that nods to all the right retro pop culture styles, namely pulp novels and vintage comics. This is a truly charming film that can be adored by adults and children alike.
6. House of Flying Daggers • Zang Yimou’s most recent visual treat. There’s a lot to take in, but it’s worth it. It’s a martial arts film, a love story, a tale of rivals seeking revenge and glory and, most importantly, a story of destiny.
7. The Aviator • Leo DeCaprio may be really annoying in real life, but he’s not too bad here as Howard Hughes. There are two great things at work here; the year’s best crash sequence and seeing Cate Blanchett steal the film as Katherine Hepburn.
8. Hotel Rwanda • Don Cheadle solidifies himself as a terrific leading actor with a powerfully important role in Hotel Rwanda. It’s not pretty but it’s powerful.
9. Twilight Samurai • This Japanese import was one of the year’s most moving, powerful and poignant films of the year.
10. Garden State • Here is yet another film that came out of nowhere last year and endeared itself instantaneously. It had just the right mix of quirk and melancholy to pull people in.
12. Saved! • Jenna Malone is going to be a big star. This movie about homosexuality, awkwardness and teen pregnancy mocked everything it should have and made people laugh at Macaulay Culkin again (gasp).
13. Million Dollar Baby • You really can’t go wrong with Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman. Hilary Swank returns to real films again with a riveting performance.
14. Sideways • Paul Giamatti has been underappreciated for years now. This film about wine, weddings and wanting wears a pretty great comedic face but is in fact at times disturbing, sweet and tender.
15. Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow • Jude Law made almost 2000 films in 2004. This is the best one he was in. It looked great and took sci-fi films back to their early roots. Its vintage feel and retro touches made it the most amazing film to look at in 2004.
16. The Motorcycle Diaries • Che Guevara’s book about cycling across South America was given a heart with not one, but two moving performances.
17. Hellboy • Ron Perlman is always fun to see on screen and his wise cracking Hellboy was his best turn since City of Lost Children. Guillermo Del Toro’s films always look great and feel creepy. This one did that, but turned up the FX while adding nice comedic touches. This was a very fun ride that for the most part didn’t disappoint the comic’s fans.
18. Spider-Man 2 • It is hard to make a really good comic book movie these days. Making two of them is nearly impossible. This one again fired on all cylinders and delivered a fast and fun ride while setting up several angles for potential sequels. The biggest problem was that James Franco couldn’t hold up to Tobey McGuire as an actor.
19. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy • Will Ferrell is just downright funny. I was completely caught off guard by this film’s brilliant absurdism. Burgundy is so full of himself and so annoying that he works. Imagine Ted Knight with chicks and you get what he’s going for.