Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Film Year In Review--2004

As promised, here's my discussion of the films of 2004. It's pretty long, but I probably won't be posting anything for a few days, so you'll have plenty of time to mull it over.

Just a few ground rules. I'll be listing my top ten at the end (no peeking). I don't include shorts (though they're often the best stuff I see any year) or made-for-TV movies or mini-series. While this is for films released in 2004, I will include films released earlier overseas, or knocking around for a while at festivals, if they were only widely available theatrically to me in 2004. (It's a fine line.)

While I saw a fair amount of movies last year, I'm sure there are quite a few I'd like that I haven't seen yet. (You can check out my friend Jesse Walker's top ten lists from previous decades to see a way of getting around this problem, at http://jessewalker.blogspot.com/.) Here's a short list of films I missed: Before Sunset, Dogville, Goodbye Dragon Inn, Notre Musique, Crimson Gold, Vera Drake, Moolaade, Blissfully Yours, Los Angeles Plays Itself, Distant, Cowards Bend The Knee (just missed it yesterday), Primer, The Brown Bunny, The Return, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring, Since Otar Left..., Time Of The Wolf, Maria Full Of Grace, The Big Red One Reconstruction (not sure if this one would count and probably wouldn't make my top ten anyway), Birth, Star Spangled To Death, Last Life in The Universe, Bright Leaves, Blind Shaft, The Passion Of The Christ, The Motorcycle Diaries, Son Frere, Internal Affairs, Zatoichi, Twentynine Palms, Oasis, I'll Sleep When I'm Dead, The Sea Inside, Bright Future, Greendale, The Story Of The Weeping Camel, Touching The Void, Dolls, Father And Son, Red Lights, A Talking Picture, The Assassination Of Richard Nixon, The Dreamers, Enduring Love, Ghost In The Shell 2, A Thousand Clouds Of Peace, Undertow, The Clay Bird, The Twilight Samurai, Mean Creak, Strayed, We Don't Live Here Anymore, Anatomy Of Hell, Gozu, Osama, In The Realm Of The Unreal, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, Zero Day, Days Of Being Wild, Facing Windows, Young Adam, When Will I Be Loved, Beyond The Sea, Dig!, The Door In The Floor, Goodbye Lenin, An Amazing Couple, Rosenstrasse, A Tale Of Two Sisters, A Home At The End Of The World, Secret Things, The Agronomist, Bon Voyage, The Manson Family, Prisoner Of Paradise, The Outskirts, Free Radicals, The Mother, Open Water, Persons Of Interest,Trilogy, Guerrilla: The Taking Of Patty Hearst, Raja, Sex Is Comedy, Jesus You Know, The Keys To The House, The Tracker, Brother To Brother, It's All About Love, Super Size Me, This So-Called Disaster, Aileen: Life And Death Of A Serial Killer, Born Into Brothels, Blind Shaft, Incident At Loch Ness, Zero Day, Princess Diaries 2, Scooby Doo 2, The Notebook, Alien vs. Predator, Garfield: The Movie, White Chicks, Ladder 49, Hidalgo, Barbershop 2, Miracle, Friday Night Lights, What the Bleep To We Know?, King Arthur, Alexander, Bridget Jones, Shall We Dance, Resident Evil: Apocalypse. Catwoman and many others.

Breathe in.

Now for a discussion of the year, followed by awards and categories, followed by the top ten.

Overall, not much of a year. I know I say that every year, but I swear there have been good ones. I seem to recall 1979 wasn't bad, for instance.

It was the year of biopics, documentaries and Ben Stiller. But let's talk about money first.

GROSS OUT: The most amazing numbers came not from The Passion Of The Christ, even though that independent film made an astounding 370 million (all numbers domestic unless otherwise indicated), or Fahrenheit 9/11's equally astounding 119 million (Bowling For Columbine smashed all documentary records when it made 21 million). No, I give the award to Shrek 2. Here was a relatively unspectacular sequel to a film that made 267 million. Sequels rarely make more that the original (well-reviewed Spider-Man 2 didn't), but this one, somehow, made 441 million, making it #3 of all time. Almost as good, a small, no-name comedy about a group of eccentrics, Napoleon Dynamite, that you'd expect to top out, with great promotion, at 10 million, made 45 million.

BENBENBEN: As bad as 2003 was for Ben Affleck, that's how good 2004 was for Ben Stiller. Four hits (and one flop, with a successful cameo in Anchorman). I have discovered the law of conservation regarding Ben Stiller grosses. Sure, when he's in a clear dud (Envy), nothing, and in a franchise (Meet The Fockers, 260 million and counting), the sky's the limit. But a normal BS comedy, such as Along Came Polly, Starsky & Hutch and Dodgeball, makes around 165 million worldwide. So now you know how to set your budget. (Dodgeball did best domestically, but was so peculiarly American it didn't perform well overseas.)

NEWMARKET: The Passion won a huge audience because it was seen as an event, and a religious one at that. We'll see if this affects the content of future films, but it's already changed marketing. When the regular critics don't like something, some producers now try to sell their wares on the 700 Club and at other Christian outlets. It's already helped critically damned but family-friendly films like National Treasure and Christmas With The Kranks.

Enough of this. Let's talk about quality, not filthy lucre.

WHAT'S UP DOC?: Due to the success of Bowling For Columbine, suddenly we were deluged with documentaries. I enjoyed BFC, even though I realized it was thorougly deceitful and its "argument" incoherent--I still enjoyed the gags. I can't say the same for Fahrenheit 9/11. Plenty of gags, sure, but essentially a string of lies, and the kind of lies that help get Americans killed, so pardon me if I don't laugh. (By lies I mean presenting information in such a way as to give a false impression--this includes lies of omission. Actually, what I don't understand is Moore lies even when he doesn't need to. Like claiming the 2000 recount showed Gore would have won, or saying the Bush administration was in trouble before 9/11. This sort of deceit, though, only gets worse as he starts spinning his conspiracy theories.)

I go to documentaries to be entertained and enlightened. I don't go to be lectured at, and certainly not lied to. What's really weird, though, is when I understand the subject better than the filmmaker, such as in Fahrenheit 9/11, The Corporation, Outfoxed, and even Control Room. (I didn't see Super Size Me, which actually sounds like fun, though I doubt it had anything to teach me.)

But not every documentary is political. I'd like to present the Comedian award, which means a doc on a subject of such intrinsic interest to me that I can't help but like it, even if it isn't done as well as I'd hoped. 2004 was full of these. I give it to Charlie: The Life And Art Of Charles Chaplin, Mayor Of The Sunset Strip, Broadway: The Golden Age, Tom Dowd & The Language Of Music, End Of The Century: The Ramones, Word Wars, Festival Express and Overnight..

There were also some decent docs out there that I wasn't so sure I'd like: Rivers And Tides, Riding Giants and Metallica: Some Kind Of Monster.

BIOPIC BIOPSY: Some genres have a lot to overcome. The spectacle runs the risk of losing sight of the human level. Romances run the risk of getting sappy. Comedies run the risk of being produced by Lorne Michaels. (I'll be taking back the last statement before I'm done.)

Biopics are one of the worst genres. Lives don't fall into three-act Syd Field arcs, they don't generally have moments of turnabout and recognition that Robert McKee insists on. So either the filmmaker can just make up stuff to turn a life into a story (that's what they always used to do) or have the movie be just one damn thing after another. Last year, most biopics settled for the latter.

For instance, Kinsey had many interesting episodes, but it just kept going on and on and ran out of plot before it ran out of incident. (Kinsey, the man and film, did a lot to make sex less exciting.) The much-lauded Aviator seemed to me another "this happened then this happened then this happened" (is that one of Hughes' lines?) without really going anywhere. Other biopics, though relying on some pretty cliched writing, still managed to bring some enjoyment with their music--particularly Ray, and to a lesser extent, De-Lovely.

The real solution to the biopic is to concentrate on one chapter in someone's life--something that can be shaped into a story. I didn't think Finding Neverland was great, but I preferred it over the other biopics. Worse was Baadasssss--an intriguing concept (Mario Van Peebles salutes his filmmaker dad Melvin Van Peebles) that didn't have the chops.

SEQUELS--CAN'T LIVE WITH 'EM, HOLLYWOOD SHOOTS 'EM: Less sequels (and less painful sequels) than last year. I'm not a big fan of the Spider-Man films, and in any case preferred the first. The critics were rapturous over Spidey 2, but to me the first one did it best by capturing the origin story, and got Peter Parker right. The sense of discovery is missing in the second one, and I found the romance dreary.

Kill Bill Vol. 2 is more the completion of a large film than a sequel. And while I enjoyed both, this is Quentin Tarantino doing what he does worst. His specialty is not huge fights, but clever dialogue with a sense of menace. He thrills an audience with the threat of someone getting shot, or getting caught, not with hundreds of limbs flying about and blood spraying everywhere. Up till now, he's always written on the human level, whereas here he's dealing with the superpowerful. Someone who can fly through the air and balance on the tip of a sword may be a fun way to salute the chop-socky stuff he grew up with, but it's nothing compared to what Tarantino can do with a guy being robbed in a coffee shop.

Shrek 2 and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban both made good money (especially the former, see above), but really added nothing. Potter in particular, even with a new director, just keeps rehashing the same plot (as do the books). People know what to expect, but are hardly excited. (And I think the audience is starting to figure Daniel Radcliffe, though he looks just like Harry should, is a bit of a stiff.)

TIME FOR TOM: Was this a bad year for Tom Hanks? Yeah, I guess. Though the grosses weren't that bad. The Ladykillers made good money for a Coen Bros. film. The Terminal will probably end up in the black. And The Polar Express, after opening like a stiff turned into the little train that could, chugging to over 160 million. But what about the performances? I liked Ladykillers best. The overall story doesn't work (didn't work for me in the original), but, with the exception of Irma P. Hall (who naturally won an award at Cannes), the support had funny moments. It was Hanks himself, though, who turned in a real gem. One of his best comic turns, I thought. He worked mightily, and with a different accent, to make The Terminal work. The problem here is why didn't he just leave the terminal to begin with? He could get into town, get his autograph, come back, be picked up by the authorities, and be sent home--everything works out. Spielberg never really worked out the problem (even though it's true, due to passport trouble, a man was stuck in a French terminal for years). It's hard to judge a performance done by motion-capture, but there was little beyond the technology that was impressive about Polar Express. It had bigger plot problems than The Terminal. The kid doesn't really move the plot--he's being taken to meet Santa and, as we knew he would, he does. That's pretty much it.

EVERYONE WHO'S A STAR TAKE ONE STEP FORWARD--NOT SO FAST, JUDE: Since Copernicus, everything has revolved around stars. Hollywood sure can't get enough, throwing all the money, scripts, directors, etc, that they have on hand at them. But sometimes Hollywood jumps the gun, treating someone like a star before he really deserves the appellation. Case in point, Jude Law. He starred in four films last year (and did cameos in two others), none of which were hits. We're talking Closer, Alfie (most pointless remake of the year), Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow and I [Heart] Huckabees. I'm not saying he was necessarily bad in them, but we can be pretty sure his name alone won't open a film.

Same goes for Colin Farrell, who's often treated as a star. A reasonably talented and handsome guy, he got the lead in an Oliver Stone spectacle, Alexander, and had the biggest flop of the year. I didn't see the film, but I bet if it starred Brad Pitt or Leo it would have done a lot better.

Then there's Will Ferrell. On the edge, but not quite there yet. His films have done well and Elf went through the roof. But the LA Times was all ready to coronate him, with a big piece on how he'd broken through that came out the Monday after Anchorman opened. Too bad the article was planned before the release, since Anchorman made decent but not great money. It didn't break 100 million, which is what you gotta do if you want to be the next Adam Sandler or Jim Carrey.

AUTEURS GONE WILD: Three of Hollywood's favorite youngish auteurs had films come out this year. Only one can be considered an unqualified success, but they all were of interest.

Wes Anderson's, whose films are getting more and more precious, struck out this year with The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. His films are stylized, always a few steps removed from real life. He's also fascinated with losers. I was a big fan of his first, Bottle Rocket, but I've found each film since (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums and now The Life Aquatic) less interesting. I suggest he try something new.

David O. Russell, who made the great Flirting With Disaster, and the monumentally overpraised Three Kings, somewhat returns to form with I [Heart] Huckabees. This existential comedy was too weird to get much of an audience, and does tend to lose its way. (It also features a rotten character that doesn't fit in, played by Mark Wahlberg--I think Russell sees him as a holy fool, while he just felt like a fool to me. Needless to say, many critics thought he was the best thing in the film.) I say keep doing what you're doing, if you can manage to get the backing.

Alexander Payne's characters are usually from Nebraska, so Sideways, set in California, is a bit of a departure, but it's still about America outside the big cities. I liked his Citizen Ruth and Election, though I found About Schmidt a bit slow. I think he's better than ever in Sideways, which, furthermore, will outgross his previous work, even though it has no stars.

ALL APOLOGIES: Near the end of The Day After Tomorrow (the day after, I guess), the Vice President, clearly based on Dick Cheney, goes on TV and apologizes for not listening to climatologist Dennis Quaid's warnings. (The well-meaning but stupid President died in a blizzard). Slate Magazine had a contest to write how the real Dick Cheney would have apologized. I didn't enter, but I think the speech would have gone like this:



"In the 1960s, there were many significant spokespeople for the environmental movement who claimed the game was already lost and by the mid-70s, we'd have mass starvation in the United States. After being proved comically wrong, they kept predicting apocalypse in very short order, and yet, though disproved time after time, never gave up making terrible predictions, and never apologized for being so frighteningly wrong. By 2004, after more than four decades of being absurdly mistaken, and with the average human on earth better fed, clothed and housed than ever before, you can understand my skepticism when one lone expert predicted outrageous scenarios of disaster, one following upon another, in a matter of weeks. I was not willing at the time to jeopardize the world economy to avoid what sounded like the plot of one of those empty, big-budget hollywood summer movies, full of spectacle at the expense of character. It now turns out after forty years of experts being wrong and not apologizing, one of the experts finally got it right--for not recognizing this, I apologize."

EASTWOOD INSURANCE: When I wrote a friend how much I disliked Million Dollar Baby, he said I don't like anything Clint does. Here's what I wrote back. (At the request of an angry reader, I will note that I do give away important plot points in the next few paragraphs. If, for some reason, you haven't seen the film, and are not aware of the swirling controversy around it, and wish the pleasure of being sucker-punched by an absurd plot twist, please avoid the next five paragraphs and proceed directly to the AWARDS section):

If I have it in for Clint, it comes honestly. I mean, compare me to a critic like Dave Kehr, who'll give any Eastwood crap four stars. I have liked some of his films, after all, such as Space Cowboys, In The Line Of Fire (sort of) and Escape From Alcatraz. But I find his acting generally charmless (this is especially harmful in his "comedies") and his spare directing style dull. (At least it's cheap--if I were a producer I'd love him.)

I admit that Million Dollar Baby is not the complete disaster Mystic River was. Mystic River was pumped up with all sorts of mythical meaning, which made the tiresome story unbearable. Million Dollar Baby is much more modest, so it sits a lot better. Furthermore, the first two acts follow boxing movie cliches so much (the only new thing is the boxer's sex) that you can enjoy it on that level, even though Eastwood's bare bones approach sucks most of the juice out of it. (My complaint here, by the way, is what allows auteur critics to worship Eastwood). If you can ignore the gnomic narration by Morgan Freeman, the story moves along well enough, if a little too deliberately. Though you're right that I find Pat Morita a better fighting teacher to Hilary Swank than Clint Eastwood ever could be.

But even then, the writing is way too lazy. Here's a guy who runs a decrepit gym that attracts only losers, who, by the way, also manages the best heavyweight fighter in the world. (Clint couldn't just be the top cut guy around, he's a star, after all.) Later a scrawny white chick in her thirties wants him to manage her and she turns out the be the best female fighter in the world. Then there's the caricature of Swank's relatives, which is unfair even to trailer trash.

Worst of all, in the final act, Clint decides to kill Swank, so he devises a plan--he's going to walk into the hospital, kill her, then walk out. Brilliant. The only reason he gets away with it (and then disappears) is he's a star, and stars don't get caught.

But it's the third act that really makes the film a disaster. Not just that it's a sucker punch--it's bad on any level. I'm not referring to the fact they play the ending as safe as possible while patting themselves on the back for bravery. I mean it's just silly and pointless, and stops the movie dead. There are a lot of ways the film could have gone, even out of the boxing world and into serious injury, without the cheapness they settled for. Expect major Oscars.

AWARDS:

SEXIEST NEWCOMER: Lisa the marionette in Team America: World Police. I have to admit, there were times I almost forgot...

BEST FINAL SHOT: A slow pullback in Napoleon Dynamite where Napoleon and his girl play tetherball. It's a complete cliche, but suddenly he decides to show off his "skills" and starts whaling on her. (Ruined by a rerelease with a new ending that added nothing.)

WORST FRAMING DEVICE: In Spanglish, the whole movie is apparently an essay the teenage Latina daughter writes to get into Princeton. It's one of those "most memorable people" essays that she writes about her mother--silly enough, though how she knows all the things that happens when neither she nor her mother were around, I have no idea.

BEST DEDICATION: At the end of Man On Fire, which has just shown Mexico City to be a complete hellhole where no one is safe, they thank the beautiful city for allowing them to film there.

MOST OVERRATED PERFORMANCE: This is an almost impossible category, since it regularly happens that I don't like a performance and the next thing you know it wins an Oscar. But I guess I'll pick Peter O'Toole in Troy. The film got slammed pretty bad, but a number of critics said O'Toole manages to stay above the fray, and particularly noted the moving scene near the end where he steals into Achilles tent at night to beg for his son's corpse. O'Toole, overall, is quite bad, and as for the scene, yes, it is a bit touching, but it's helped by the fact that IT'S BASED ON THE MOST MOVING SCENE IN ALL OF WESTERN LITERATURE. (By the way, I liked O'Toole's cameo in Bright Young Things. I also thought Brad Pitt did a decent job in Troy as Achilles, though he was often singled out as the worst thing in it. He certainly didn't hurt with the overseas grosses, which turned the film into a huge hit. You really can no longer figure if something's a hit based on domestic these days.)

SMOKINGEST MOVIE: A Love Song For Bobby Long. This film, set in New Orleans, has everyone smoking in almost every scene. I half suspect the actors took their roles so they could indulge in their habit and claim it's for art.

BEST SONG: Not even close. "America, F**K Yeah!" from Team America. Why is this song not nominated for an Oscar?

MOST TOUCHING SCENE: For all the slams The Village took, I liked it better than Signs. And while I have some trouble with M. Night Shyamalan as a writer, I like his directing style. I think this film would have worked better if he let us in on the secret halfway through, and we could decide if the village elders had a good idea, or were psychotic. Regardless, the scene where the brave blind girl (this already sounds hopelessly hokey, but it played great), portrayed with great feeling by Bryce Howard, finds her way out of the village and meets a moderner (though she doesn't know quite what he is) and begs for help, counting on his goodness, was more touching than anything else I remember seeing last year.

BEST BIT OF DIALOGUE: This exchange from I [Heart] Huckabees sticks in the mind: Lily Tomlin: "Have you ever transcended space and time?" Jason Schwartzman: "Yes...no....time, not space...I have no idea what you're talking about."

WORST LINE: Meryl Streep in The Manchurian Candidate: "The assassin always dies, baby, it's necessary for the national healing." This is supposed to sound smart (several critics quoted it) but is incredibly stupid. Sirhan Sirhan is still alive. Squeaky Fromme is still alive. Arthur Bremer is still alive. Mark David Chapman is still alive. John Hinckley is still alive. Charles Manson is still alive. James Earl Ray died of natural causes. The only major assassin in our lifetimes who died was Lee Harvey Oswald, and that's the best case I can think of where national healing was denied.

BEST END CREDITS: Lemony Snicket ended with some nice Goreyesque animation. Stick around.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: It took James L. Brooks seven years to come up with Spanglish, and I have no idea what it's about. As far as I can tell, it's about two rotten mothers and an ineffectual husband, and nothing really happens.

BEST UNINTENTIONAL LAUGH: In Festival Express, hoping to quell a riot, the concert organizer comes out and announces "Calm down everyone, Jerry Garcia's gonna come out and explain everything."

BIGGEST BLOWN OPPORTUNITY: Stephen Sommers, who made The Mummy and its sequel, got the chance to run wild with three of the greatest monsters in the history of movies, and came up with the most ridiculous film of the year. I'm going to try to recount, as best I can, the plot of Van Helsing, but it may just have been a bad dream. Count Dracula has three wives (?), who lay thousands of eggs (??). These baby draculas hatch but don't live very long so the Count needs to capture Frankenstein so he can learn the secret of life and use it on the dracula babies (???). While the wives can be killed by normal dracula means (holy water, stakes), the Count is invulnerable to everything except a werewolf (????). Though one might think this would mean the Count would keep away from werewolves, in fact, he keeps one around, and isn't worried because he has a serum nearby that will turn the werewolf back into a man if there's any trouble (?????). Now this is mostly backstory, I haven't even gotten to Van Helsing, who's hired by a multi-religious consortium to kill supernatural monsters around the world. In addition, Kate Beckinsale puts on such a bad accent it manages to make her look ugly.

GOOD PLAYWRIGHT EQUALS BAD FILMMAKER AWARD: Won once again by David Mamet, this year for Spartan.


CATEGORIES:

LOVELY TO LOOK AT: Hero, House Of Flying Daggers, Springtime In A Small Town, A Very Long Engagement.

BETTER THAN EXPECTED: Torque, Starsky & Hutch,The Day After Tomorrow, The Stepford Wives, The Forgotten, National Treasure, Meet The Fockers, 50 First Dates, Confessions Of A Teenage Drama Queen, Bright Young Things, Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events (why critics slammed this I don't know--thought it was fun)

NOT AS GOOD AS I EXPECTED: Kitchen Stories, Saved!, Anchorman, Code 46, Collateral (though it shows a lot of promise early on), A Love Song For Bobby Long, In Good Company, The Woodsman, Million Dollar Baby, Flight Of The Phoenix, The Last Shot, The Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (if only I'd felt any chemistry between the leads it would make my top ten), Dawn Of The Dead, The Life Aquatic, Spanglish, Ocean's Twelve.

PRETTY MUCH WHAT I EXPECTED: Japanese Story, Hellboy, Cheaper By The Dozen, Along Came Polly, 13 Going On 30, Christmas with the Kranks, The Grudge.

FUN IF YOU DON'T THINK TOO HARD: Napoleon Dynamite, Dodge Ball: A True Underdog Story, Team America: World Police, Hotel Rwanda. (Actually, the last one doesn't fit into this category, I'm just not sure where to put it. Liked Don Cheadle, though.)

GOOD IDEA, BAD EXECUTION: Troy, Van Helsing, The Village, Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow, Win A Date With Tad Hamilton!, The Butterfly Effect. Let me particularly note I didn't think it was possible to make a bad movie called Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle, but they managed it.

PASSABLE ACTION: I, Robot (even if it turned Asimov on his head).

DIDN'T PASS: The Chronicles Of Riddick, The Bourne Supremacy, The Manchurian Candidate, Anacondas.

GIVE HER A REAL PART AND SHE CAN ACT: Natalie Portman was in a pretty good movie, Garden State, and a quite bad one, Closer. (Guess which one she got an Oscar nomination for?)

SMART COMEDY: Mean Girls (good writing, just misses my top ten--produced by Lorne Michaels, by the way), I [Heart] Huckabees (smart, but could use a stronger plot).

DISQUALIFIED FOR TOP TEN ON A TECHNICALITY: Cidade De Deus. This would easily have made my top ten, but I decided, even though I didn't see it till last year, that since it was released in 2002 and I probably could have caught it in 2003, it's too old.

FINALLY, THE TOP TEN, IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER (SORRY):

BAD EDUCATION. I don't know if I'd call Almodovar a genius, but he almost always delivers.

BUKOWSKI: BORN INTO THIS/ MY ARCHITECT. A tie for two documentaries. Bukowski is an old-style no-nonsense piece that takes a while to get into but is worth it. And great archival footage of the man himself. Bukowski comes across as a rundown West Coast version of the glamorous Beats, but, perhaps, a better writer. My Architect has a very different subject (though both men cared more about themselves and their work than anything or anyone else), a son's search for his missing dad, architect Louis Kahn. A good story but an even better look at his best-known buildings.

THE FIVE OBSTRUCTIONS. A bit dry and therefore hard to recommend, but worth it for the introduction (for me and most Americans) to Jorgen Leth. He's a true gentleman and talented filmmaker, who easily deals with the obstructions Lars von Trier throws at him. He manages to make several interesting short films within this film.

THE INCREDIBLES. This was the only film I paid twice to see last year. I can't say enough about it so I'll just note it's a delightful story--funny, exciting--with great animation and characters. While it has a few minor imperfections, I think it manages to be the best Pixar's done since Toy Story.

OLDBOY. A great revenge thriller with a twisty plot. Exciting, and some bravura scenes. I mostly did not see what was coming. Don't know if I'm looking forward to the Hollywood remake.

ONG-BAK. Tony Jaa is the closest thing we have to a young Jackie Chan, and there's nothing wrong with that.

THE SADDEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD. Up until now, I've always liked the idea of Guy Maddin better than his films. His stuff has generally been too precious and obscure, but this one was fun. It's still hardly conventional, but perhaps starting with someone else's script gave him the structure he needed. (Some critics says his films are reminiscent of stuff from the silent and early sound era. Yeah, if you left those films lying in a field for 70 years. I find his mixed-media style much more reminiscent of avant-garde films of the late 50s and 60s.) And what a great choice to use "The Song Is You," since he needed a protean pop song that didn't sound too American, and Jerome Kern is the most European of great American songwriters.

SHAUN OF THE DEAD. Against all odds, yet another zombie film from England makes my top ten. But whereas 28 Days Later was spooky, this was funny.

SIDEWAYS. There's already backlash setting in. Many top critics find the film too conventional. Well, it is. Conventionally well-written and well-performed, with interesting characters involved in an amusing plot. Hollywood should be churning out films like this, but since they don't, we should savor this one.

TARNATION. What intrigued me about this odd full-length, low budget true story about a child growing up in a strange family, is not how weird the people in it are, but how recognizable they are.

15 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

So . . . what *was* the scene they cut in Team America?

10:20 AM, February 01, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's clear you know nothing about the film world, because if you did, YOU WOULD HAVE POSTED A FUCKING SPOILER WARNING before giving away the ending to "Million Dollar Baby."

Jerk.

10:47 AM, February 01, 2005  
Blogger LAGuy said...

You know, I was gonna post a spoiler warning, but then I figured everyone's had over a month to see the film, and there's been a huge controversy in the papers over what the film's about, so I figured anyone who doesn't know by now doesn't care enough about film to read my round-up.

12:38 PM, February 01, 2005  
Blogger LAGuy said...

I have put up a spoiler warning. Feel free to tell your friends they may read the piece without fear. We listen to our readers at Pajama Guy.

1:04 PM, February 01, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, thank you for the quick response. Your reasonable tone makes me feel bad about the meanness of my own post.

But just for the record: The film was released nationwide only four days ago, so most of us out here are just now getting the opportunity to see it.

1:43 PM, February 01, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm surprised you came around so strongly on "Oldboy" to add it to your top ten. You didn't seem paricularly impressed after you'd first seen it. This is one of the few instances where I think the Hollywood remake may improve the original. I love the setup of Oldboy, but the ultimate explanation for why this is being done to the hero felt like a big letdown to me. I'm sure Hollywood will come up with a new reason, and as long as it's not a government conspiracy, I think it will be an improvement. I prefer Chan-wook Parks previous mediation on revenge "Sympathy for Mr. Vengence."

10:27 AM, February 02, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm surprised you came around so strongly on "Oldboy" to add it to your top ten. You didn't seem paricularly impressed after you'd first seen it.Sounds like an inside job to me.

How in the world do you find time to see so many movies?

12:24 PM, February 02, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey! Congratulations! You've been Volokh'd. (a 2-4-05 entry) It's probably not as good as an Instalanche, but it's pretty good.

1:59 AM, February 06, 2005  
Blogger LAGuy said...

It's not hard to see a bunch of movies every year if you have the time, especially on the weekends, to go out. Also, I have friends who pass along tapes and DVDs that are of recent vintage.

2:13 AM, February 06, 2005  
Blogger Christina said...

I was intrigued by your post. I am a broadcasting and Cinema major at UNCG and when i came across your blog talking about the movies of 2004, my eyes perked up! Grant it, I will have to come back and read it again because I am tired and I have a terrible headache, I loved what I read and look forward to reading the post in it's entirety very soon!

7:27 PM, February 06, 2005  
Blogger LAGuy said...

Thanks for the feedback, Christina. At Pajama Guy, where we talk about politics and entertainment, we're always glad to hear from our readers. If you like us, feel free to spread the word. Our opinions may be quirky, but they're honest. Sorry the piece is so long, but it is a review of the entire year, after all. It's really a lot of mini-essays so you don't have to read it all at once, anyway. In a day or two, there'll be another post up, I promise. About what, I don't know, but it will be shorter. Good luck over in Greensboro.

10:17 PM, February 06, 2005  
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