Tuesday, December 01, 2009

My (and only my) best movies of the decade: The 2004 edition

Before I get into any kudos for movies that came out five years ago, the first (I believe) salvo in this awards season has been fired, and it has landed majorly in Kathyrn Bigelow's corner.

Her "The Hurt Locker" was the big winner at the Gotham Independent Film Awards, taking home the Best Picture award and, even more appropriately, the Best Ensemble award. I can certainly support that, because there's only one movie I've liked more than "The Hurt Locker" this year - Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" - and Jeremy Renner and Anthony Mackie did indeed lead an excellent cast in this flick that looks at war through the eyes of bomb squad soldiers.

But back to the game. 2004 was a good year for quirk, which I indeed like most of the time, but as you'll find out, also the first year of the oughts in which two of the year's box office champs made the final cut.

First off, the runners-up are: "The Ladykillers", "Hellboy", "Coffee and Cigarettes", "Garden State", "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle" and "The Spongebob Squarepants Movie" (and yes really on the last two, but I really like to laugh.)

OK, here goes with the big 10, and as usual, please feel free to add any you think I may have snubbed.

"Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"
Going in, this mindbendingly sweet romance from the skewed minds of Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman was certainly the favorite for movie of the year, but as you'll find out shortly it was edged out by a director who still has - rather sadly - only managed to make very few movies. Still the only movie in which Jim Carrey is entirely enjoyable - in large part because of how well he plays off of Kate Winslet - this flick tackles big questions about love, life and memory with out a whiff of seriousness, but instead the dreamy feel that envelops Gondry's best flicks. (And yes, Kirsten Dunst dancing around in her underwear certainly is a delight.)

"The Agronomist"
Though Jonathan Demme has made many great fictional movies, his documentaries stand up just as strong, and one of the best is this flick about the late Haitian journalist and human rights activist Jean Dominique. Through interviews with Dominique and the people who loved him, you get a thorough portrait of the man that just gets more insightful but also depressing as it leads up to Dominique's assassination.

"Napoleon Dynamite"
You either love it or hate it, I guess, and I'm certainly in the former category. I even stuck with Jared Hess through "Nacho Libre," which though far from anything approaching a great movie, was still almost as sublimely silly as "Napoleon Dynamite." I seriously doubt that Jon Heder will ever get a good part again, but he was just hilarious as Napoleon, and you can still quote this movie to me when I'm having a really bad day and get a smile every time.

"Spider-Man 2"
When Sam Raimi has fun, as he surely did in 2009 with "Drag Me to Hell," the audience does too, as I certainly did with this, still my favorite superhero movie of all time. Though the first "Spider-Man" was a good enough flick (with some of the cheesiest CGI ever), the second installment is better in every way: The Peter Parker/Mary Jane (yes, Kirsten Dunst again) romance is truly heartbreaking, the bad guy (Alfred Molina's Doc Ock) is a superbly complex villain, and it was just the best blockbuster of 2004.

"Maria Full of Grace"
This little gem from director Joshua Marston is indeed my favorite movie from 2004, and it would stand up well in any year since. Catalina Sandino Moreno (who really should be a very big star by now) is just thoroughly charming as a pregnant Colombian teenager who - out of complete desperation - becomes a drug mule running cocaine to the U.S. in her stomach. The movie manages to put a human face on the drug trade and just gets better as we see Maria finally start to work her way out of it, and Moreno was absolutely hosed in not winning the Best Actress Oscar she was nominated for.

"Shaun of the Dead"
Every thing I've seen about Edgar Reitman's next flick - "Scott Pilgrim" - just hints that it's going to be epicly good, but I certainly miss the days that he, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost made an unholy trio. This, their best flick, is a first-rate mix of humor and horror, and though "Zombieland" was a solid entry this year, it lacked both Pegg - who made the perfect antihero - and the blackest humor that made "Shaun" work so well. And that scene at the pub is still just wickedly funny.

"Infernal Affairs"
The source material for Martin Scorsese's Best Picture breakthrough is actually superior to his remake in almost every way. The original flick from directors Wei-keing Lau and Alan Mak keeps the intensity up much better than Scorsese did (though I like me some "The Departed" too), and the lives of our two heroes, a police officer who has infiltrated the Triads and a Triad mole who has infiltrated the police force, intertwine in more interesting ways. Rent this one immediately if you haven't seen it.

I almost put "Garden State" in this spot instead, but Alexander Payne's flick (the last one he managed to make before moving on to HBO's show about the guy with the humongous unit) makes for an engaging road movie through the California wine country and just features first-rate performances from Paul Giamatti and Virginia Madsen. I still like this one as much as I just detest Payne's previous flick, "About Schmidt."

"The Incredibles"
My second-best Pixar flick ("Ratatouille" will always be the king in my corner of the world) had a much more innovative story than most animated offerings for kids as it looked at what happens when the world turns against superheros, and just about the best message (don't be afraid to let your talents shine) you could possibly give to a kid. There is, however, one animated movie from director Brad Bird that's better, "The Iron Giant."

"Hotel Rwanda"
Don Cheadle was just as screwed as Moreno in the Oscar voting for this year, because he told more with simple facial expressions in Terry George's movie about the Rwandan genocide than most actors do with longwinded speeches. The story about how a hotel manager saved thousand of Tutsi refugees from almost certain slaughter also introduced the world (or at least me) to Sophie Okonedo, who almost manages to steal Cheadle's show here and was the star of a flick I just saw at the Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival, "Skin," about the racial complexities of South Africa (too heavy-handed for my tastes, but she's great in it and it was an audience favorite, so check it out on DVD soon.) George also directed my favorite of the '90s IRA movies, "Some Mother's Son."

So, there you have it. Please feel free to add any of your 2004 favorites, and to check back tomorrow for a look at 2005, the year I actually started writing all this mess. Peace out.


Chalupa said...

Thanks for the reminder. I've been meaning to watch Internal Affairs for a while now. Just bumped it on my netflix queue.

Reel Fanatic said...

I can guarantee you'll like it, Chalupa

Sachin said...

As per this link, The Hurt Locker is ineligible for the Spirit Awards this year:
“The Hurt Locker,” which was nominated for two Spirit Awards last year and is ineligible this year, also won the Gotham award for best ensemble performance.

For some reason, I kept thinking it was also ineligible for this year's Oscars as well because after its premier at TIFF in 2008, I thought it had played somewhere in the US in 2008. The US release date is showing as 2009, so not sure how it got nominated for last year's Spirit awards.

As long as the film is eligible, I am happy :)

Sachin said...

this was the link I tried posting above but it didn't work:


Reel Fanatic said...

Ah ... well that explains why "Precious" will almost certainly clean up at the Spirit Awards .. Thanks for the knowledge, Sachin .... I think Bigelow, Renner, Mackie and the movie itself will do very well on Oscar night

The Mad Hatter said...

First of all, HURT LOCKER will be eligible for this year's Oscars. Festival premieres hold no bearing on Oscar eligibility (IN AMERICA played TIFF a whole year before it hit theatres, it was still eligible the year it went wide).

Guess this is just one of those times the Indie Spirit people were way out in front of the rest of us!

As for 2004, I think it might well be the best year for movies of these past ten. The indie films were amazing, the studio movies were clicking...good times all around.

The only film I would champion that you haven't already mentioned is the winner for Best Foreign Film THE SEA INSIDE. If you've never seen it, give it a rent and watch how amazing an actor Javier Bardem is even when he can only work from the neck up.

Once more with feeling...


Reel Fanatic said...

It pains me to admit I haven't seen that one, Mad Hatter, but I'm adding it now to my Netflix list .. thanks for the suggestion!

The Mad Hatter said...

I expect to see a full review on it once it arrives in your mailbox.

Reel Fanatic said...

You will, I promise, but I have to get through all of these decade lists first!

Sachin said...

Thanks for the correction Mad Hatter and I second your view on The Sea Inside. I have enjoyed all the 4 Alejandro Amenábar films I have seen -- Thesis, Open your Eyes (remade ofcourse as Vanilla Sky) and The Others. Keith, I would say that despite the unappealing topic of snuff videos of Thesis, it is also worth a watch.

I am looking forward to Amenábar's new film Agora

Reel Fanatic said...

That's certainly one I had never heard of, Sachin, but I'll have to check it out .. An odd topic indeed, but I'll trust your judgment

Sachin said...

hopefully you are not disappointed :)

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