The Best Films of 2004
You all can start breathing again... I'm unveiling my choices for the Top 10 Movies of 2004 ...
(in ascending order) ....
The most impressive aspect of this biopic is the way writer-director Bill Condon balances admiration for his hero with the understanding that the man was, in many years, off his rocker. Liam Neeson is in top form as the controversial sex researcher Dr. Alfred Kinsey. The movie is far from perfect, but it lingers in your mind afterward.
9. Kill Bill Vol. 2
Quentin Tarantino might just be the biggest movie buff alive, and it shows in the hyper-caffeinated charge and boundless audacity he brings to his loving chop socky homage. This is nothing less than celluloid cotton candy (doesn't that sound appetizing), a riff on martial arts flicks, spaghetti westerns, John Ford and everything else rattling around in our collective unconsciousness.
8. I Heart Huckabees
Many critics labeled David O. Russell's metaphysical farce a disjointed failure, but this humble reviewer finds its trippy and ambitious sendup of philosophy to be, in the best sense of the word, delightful. I love the Sixties-era Richard Lester vibe and the performances by Mark Wahlberg and Jude Law, both of whom have never been groovier.
7. The Incredibles
Pixar maintains its standard of excellence with this stunner from Brad Bird, who, in addition to having an easy-to-remember name, is quickly becoming the great auteur of animation. Who knew that a computer-generated family of superheroes could be so emotionally rich and insightful? And if depth isn't your thing, "The Incredibles" also happened to be vastly entertaining.
6. Finding Neverland
A delicate, melancholy film that uses the story of Peter Pan author J.M.Barrie to springboard into a loving meditation on loneliness and the creative process. Most of all, it's a helluva tearjerker. Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet are excellent, of course (what else is new?) but the most interesting discovery here is uber-child actor Freddie Highmore (can't wait to see him in the "Willy Wonka" remake).
5. Before Sunset
A sequel that improves greatly on its progenitor, Richard Linklater revisits the two characters of 1995's "Before Sunrise" in this romance ripe with absorbing, insightful talk (yep, there's a lot of it here) amid the backdrop of Paris as twilight approaches. Surrender to it and you will be charmed and touched -- right up to its wonderful ending.
4. The Aviator
Martin Scorsese's best movie in nearly 15 years, this is epic Hollywood filmmaking at its zenith, a star-studded panorama of the genius and madness that was Howard Hughes. This is that rarest of rarities -- a three-hour biopic that never lags, but instead revels in cinematic fantasy, whether it's silent-era Hollywood or a ride aboard the Spruce Goose. Leonardo DiCaprio, incidentally, proves his naysayers wrong.
3. Maria Full of Grace
Catalina Sandino Moreno is remarkable as a teenaged Columbian girl who tries escaping the poverty of her hometown by serving as a drug "mule" for a drug cartel. Still, thanks to the extardinarily talented first-time writer-director Joshua Marston, this film is much more complex than it sounds -- expertly crafted suspense, taut drama and an unflinching character study of gutsiness and, yes, grace.
2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Who would have guessed that screenwriting mastermind Charlie Kaufman's biggest head trip to date would also be one of the most poignant (and realistic) relationship movies in recent memory? Played straight by director Michel Gondry, this Russian nest egg of a story ponders some pretty heavy concepts, but never loses sight of its very human drama and endearingly flawed characters.
Alexander Payne's bona fide masterpiece strikes so many right chords in this moving story of two men grappling with inner demons on a road trip through Northern California's wine country. A uniformly excellent cast led by Paul Giamatti, an insightful screenplay, open-ended direction that gives these exceptionally well-drawn characters a chance to breathe and live. Oh, and it's also hilarious. You know what? I think I'll start a cult dedicated to this movie.
One final admission: As of this writing, there are a few potential contenders I have not seen as of yet (namely, "Bad Education," "Million Dollar Baby," "Love Song for Bobby Love," "Being Julia" and "Vera Drake").
And there you have it. Your thoughts?