Where my 2006 list featured lots of comedies and my 2005 one had a disproportionately high number of documentaries, this one doesn’t really feature any remarkable trends. Indeed, as great as all the films on this list are, perhaps the most noteworthy thing about these ten is what a homogeneous collection it is. All of them are fictional movies, and they could all be said to be American (though three are by directors from other countries, and a fourth takes place solely in Europe). As I’ve said before, I make no concious effort to either infuse or stamp out variety in these lists of mine. It just so happens that my favorite films of 2004 just happen to be these ones. And there is at least genre diversity within the specific subgroup here, with drama, comedy, action, animation and romance all getting their time in the spotlight.
As usual, this is 2004 strictly as listed on IMDB (which is the reason why there can be two Best Picture Oscar winners on here). And it’s merely a list of my favorite films, and nothing more than that.
10 – THE INCREDIBLES (Brad Bird)
” ‘Greater good’? I am your wife! I’m the greatest good you are ever gonna get!”
This is my favorite Pixar film, and a large part of it is due to its relatable characters. Sure, the family of superheroes all have their superpowers, but their problems are all human and recognizable, from Mr. Incredible’s longing for his old glory days in the spotlight to his shy daughter Violet’s feelings of inadequacy. Having a bunch of cool action sequences helps too, of course.
9 – CRASH (Paul Haggis)
“That’s good. A little anger. It’s a bit late, but it’s nice to see.”
Some love it, some hate it. I’m among the former. Crash‘s strength doesn’t lie in what it has to say about racism (someone in my Twitter feed once suggested that’s it’s actually less about that than about grace). Rather, what I appreciate in this film is the power of its individual scenes, helped along by strong performances by Michael Peña, Matt Dillon, Thandie Newton and others.
8 – KILL BILL: VOL. 2 (Quentin Tarantino)
“But if you wanna be old school about it – and you know I’m all about old school – then we can wait till dawn and slice each other up at sunrise, like a couple of real-life honest-to-goodness samurais.”
It’s almost unfair to judge the Kill Bill movies as two separate entities because they really need each other to offer the full effect. But they were split up, and so they shall be evaluated. I personally prefer the more dialogue-heavy second volume and would probably call it my favorite Quentin Tarantino flick. It’s basically the director plunging headfirst into homages of all his favorite movie genres, even more so than usual. This is stylish and intense, just ever so slightly over the top. The climactic confrontation between Uma Thurman‘s Bride and David Carradine‘s Bill had me on the edge of my seat.
7 – ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY (Adam McKay)
“You are a smelly pirate hooker.”
“60% of the time, it works every time.” “I don’t know how to put this but I’m kind of a big deal.” “I’m in a glass case of emotion!” “Milk was a bad choice!” “I love lamp.” “Whammy!” I could do this all day. A hilarious comedy with so much good material that they were able to make a passable secondary film just from what was left on the cutting room floor (Wake Up, Ron Burgundy: The Lost Movie).
6 – ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (Michel Gondry)
“He’s off the map. He’s off the map!”
A concept like the one in this film (guy decides to erase all memories of his ex but changes his mind midway through the process) could quickly turn overly gimmicky. Here it doesn’t, however. Sure, Michel Gondry plays it for all its worth, with a non-chronological structure and plenty of dreamlike sequences as we traverse a man’s mindscape. But underneath it all lies a strong and poignant story about a romantic relationship and the ways it changes with time. The movie is also notable for having both Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet play against type (and expertly so): Carrey as the unfunny and timid Joel, and Winslet as wild and spontaneous Clementine.
5 – CLOSER (Mike Nichols)
“Have you ever seen a human heart? It looks like a fist, wrapped in blood!”
Had Glengarry Glen Ross been about relationships rather than business, it would probably have turned out something like Closer. As the four principal characters (Jude Law, Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts and the stand-out Clive Owen) drift in an out of love with one another and battle with the importance of truth, we’re treated to the movie’s greatest strength: the dialogue, so wonderful that the film would probably play just as well in audio form.
4 – THE WOODSMAN (Nicole Kassell)
“Uncommon beauty is commonly overlooked.”
For a long time, I had a somewhat irrational dislike for Kevin Bacon as an actor. Something about him just irked me. This film changed all that in an instant. He puts forth a masterful performance here as Walter, a man just out of prison after serving time for child molestation. He wants to move on with his life and “be normal”, but does not know if he deserves it or if the world will let him. This is one of those films that grabbed my attention right from the start and had me hoping it would stay as great throughout. And it did. The Woodsman is a powerful movie about a tricky subject matter, and it makes no mistakes whatsoever.
3 – MILLION DOLLAR BABY (Clint Eastwood)
“Show me a fighter who has nothing but heart and I’ll show you a man waiting for a beating.”
What starts out as a somewhat typical (if incredibly well-made) sports movie transforms into something much richer and more heartfelt. From one woman fighting adversaries in the ring to one man wrestling with concepts of morals and principles. Clint Eastwood and cinematographer Tom Stern bathe the film in darkness, which makes the moments in the spotlight all the more effective. But it’s the relationships present and forming between the three main players (Eastwood, Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman) that really make the film shine.
2 – SIDEWAYS (Alexander Payne)
“I like how wine continues to evolve, like if I opened a bottle of wine today it would taste different than if I’d opened it on any other day, because a bottle of wine is actually alive.”
As Alexander Payne is currently making waves with his new film The Descendants (which I haven’t seen but very much want to), it seems as good a time as any to remember his 2004 masterpiece Sideways. But I don’t have to specifically remember it. It has never left my thoughts. One of those movies that really resonate with me on a personal level, filled with gorgeous views of California’s wine regions and with two teriffic performances by Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church as best buddies Miles and Jack. I really wish I could put this film at #1. It’s that kind of movie.
1 – BEFORE SUNSET (Richard Linklater)
“Now I’m older and my problems are deeper, but I’m more equipped to handle them.”
But there’s no denying Before Sunset. Jesse and Celine (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) meet up again, nine years after the events of 1995’s Before Sunrise. Things have changed for both of them, but the more things change, the more they stay the same. Youthful romance has given way to grown-up responsibilities, yet thoughts about what might have been still linger. Like the first film, this is “just” two people talking for the entire movie. But since they’re fascinating people who find each other fascinating too, this never gets remotely close to dull. And since it all transpires in pretty much real time and Jesse has a plane to catch, there’s a sense of urgency to everything we see, and the pay-off at the end is perfect. For my money, there has never been a sequel as great as this one.