2004 TOP "TEN" LIST
I generally post my list of top ten movies of the year about now. The problem is, I can't find ten movies from 2004 worth being on my list. In a discussion with some friends last night, we all ended up shrugging that 2004's cinematic offerings were just pathetically thin. So, I put ten in quotes above, because my top ten is really a top six.
1. (Best Movie of the Year) The Passion of the Christ
I'm going to go with the global audience here, and with my own experience of this movie. It moved me like no other movie I have ever seen. And it did it with very little dialogue, without stars, without a conventional narrative structure or character development, and even without my native language. I don't see any point in trying to step out of my Christianity to evaluate this movie, to try and see it the way a pagan would. I have written and spoken much about the high level of art in this film. The editing and imagery, production design, scope and overall vision of the project -- to realize the Stations of the Cross in the art form of today -- is breathtaking.
I do want to add the qualification that the film seems to me to be in another category than just plain old "That's Entertainment!" It isn't trying to entertain, but rather to lead to compunction. It was very successful with millions of people in this, which signals a remarkable achievement in creative control. TPOTC isn't a perfect film by any means, but it absolutely works, and works for good. That the project is devoid of the hip cynicism that needs to be predicable of critically - acclaimed movies, should not, in my view, be a strike against it. The reason that so many critics hated it, its voice of authority (ref. "and not like the scribes"), is one of its strongest points as a project.
2. (Most Entertaining/Best Crafted/Unqualifiedly Good (as in Good, True and Beautiful) Movie of the Year) The Incredibles
I'm not even sure where to start with this film. From a craft standpoint, I found it astounding. It absolutely sets a new standard for multi-level entertainment in that, up to now, most good kids movies have needed to have a few gags in there for Mom and Dad. This film has a mature narrative thread and theme for the adults while also having lots of stuff for the kids. I kept looking around in the theater to see if the kids were getting bored, but they were riveted. I loved the expressions of delight on everybody's faces at the theater.
One of the things the industry is always clamoring for is a project that is "fresh." My young students always want to know what that means. Now, I have a movie to show them to demonstrate what "fresh" means: The Incredibles. If the Academy was at all honest, The Incredibles would cross over from the fake new "Best Animated" category (this year there were only three animated films as I recall, and all of them are nominated...) and nominate this film for Best Picture.
3. Finding Neverland
I found this film lovely to look at. I enjoyed the simple grace of its pacing -- it was nice to watch a movie without having to worry about some studio imposed decapitation happening at one of the turning points just because some executive somewhere thought the story needed some livening up. (For the record, killing never livens up anything.) The production design was rich, the central perfomances by Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet were top-notch, the filmmaking was refreshingly subtle -- which means that I wasn't distratcted off the story once to think of the director. In too many of this years films -- Million Dollar Vegetable,Twisted Ways,The Debauchediator, C-losers, Garden Without Flowers State -- watching them held the nauseating feeling that the director was screaming out from behind trees and porches, "Look at me! Think of me!! I'm a GENIUS, yes, yes, yes I am!"
The script for Finding Neverland was very good. It was actually underwritten in places, but overall, I would much rather have a film leave more for the actors to do - and subsequently the audience.
4. Spiderman 2
This film was just exhilerating to watch. The characters are noble and well-drawn, and even the two villains, Doc Ock and Peter's friend - whose name escapes me - are non-scapegoated, complicated beings. The characters in this series are all balances of good stuff and shadow stuff - the villains have the shadows sides winning and the heros have the good sides winning, but the audience stays interested because the struggles could clearly go either way in every case.
I did think the Peter Parker as indecisive sub-plot, repeated on itself a couple times, but the main story was so much fun that I could forgive the fact that I was getting tired of watching Peter trying to decide if he really wanted his "great responsibility."
5. ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND
I found this film very clever, and even better, not cynical in its cleverness. And best of all, it has something important to say about life and love and human nature. I know that cynicism is a necessary moment before we all shake off the Sexual Regurgitation, but, honestly, I am sick of cinemtaic cynicism. This film was well-conceived and well-executed. It was surprising, in that, even five minutes before it ended, I didn't know where it was going to end up. I like that. (Especially when you have bad films like Million Dollar Baby taking 30 minutes to hook up the two main characters, which we knew was going to happen the first time we saw them together...Oh, am I picking on that film again? 'scuse.
6. HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN
This was the first Harry Potter movie that felt to me like it owned its cinematic skin. The previous two felt like such nervous adaptations, that they couldn't let the screen do anything that hadn't appeared in the book. Director Cuaron deserves lots of kudos for this piece. It had a suspenseful pace, while being lovely to look at, and really served to take the franchise characters to the next level. There were a lot of subtleties in this tellling -- the director really left the audience to see as much as they could see. I've seen it three times now (twice on airplanes...), but I found it delightful each time.
7. - 10. Nuthin. I haven't seen Ray or Hotel Rwanda yet, so maybe I will add them when I do. But for now, I can't add anything else from this dreadful movie year to my list.