Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...
I love how Harry busts my balls about being “late” in publishing my Ten Favorites Of 2004 list, then tells me about films he’s just now getting around to watching like FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS. Not that he’s alone. There’s such a rush to be the first to put up a list that I see people start at the beginning of December. I spent almost a month making sure that I’d seen as many of the eligible films released during 2004 as I could, and I feel pretty confident about my final list. Sure, I wish I had seen BIRTH or ENDURING LOVE or P.S. or PAPER CLIPS or GOODBYE, DRAGON INN, but no one sees everything. I’ll catch up with those films as soon as the opportunity presents itself, and I hope I enjoy them all. They’ve all got ardent supporters (and detractors), and it’s not like I missed them on purpose. I did much, much better this year, though, than last year. I saw a total of 170 films to prepare for the list, better than three a week on average. No shame in that. I count less than 60 films that I “missed,” and many of those are movies that I have no interest in ever seeing, like DANNY DECKCHAIR or Tim Story’s TAXI.
To prepare for writing the list, I broke the films down into five separate groups: EXCELLENT, VERY GOOD, GOOD, NOT-SO-GOOD, and FUCKING AWFUL. My entire top ten list, as well as my ten runners-up, come from the EXCELLENT category, which indicates to me that this was a wonderful year for film. What’s even better is how strange and varied the films in that category were for me. There was a fair amount of discovery in there, films that blindsided me. Some of the most hyped titles of the year just didn’t make it onto the list at all, even if they did end up in the VERY GOOD category. Which, might I add, is no slam on those films. If I had to put together a top ten list just from those, I’d still be very happy with it. It’d probably read something like RIDING GIANTS, COLLATERAL, PRIMER, HOTEL RWANDA, SILMIDO, HERO, ONG-BAK, LAYER CAKE, A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT and TOUCHING THE VOID. Maybe. And I’d be very happy with that year. So you can imagine that I’m ecstatic with the list that I’m really publishing.
Let’s do this backwards, since that’s always more fun. I’ll start with my runners-up, the ten films that almost made the grade.
Don’t read this film’s placement on this list as some sort of condemnation, because it’s not. I may not be head over heels goofy in love with the movie, but I certainly believe that Alexander Payne is a filmmaker who continues to refine his gifts each time out. He makes smart and funny films, and he does outstanding work with actors. Paul Giamatti’s been revving up for this movie his whole career, and he delivers tremendously, investing a real soul into this character that could easily have become a one-note joke. What makes this such a great surprise is the way Thomas Hayden-Church and Virginia Madsen both step up with mature and fully-formed characterizations. Add in the earthy, sexy work of Sandra Oh, and it’s really no wonder so many people have gotten so drunk off this particular vintage.
9. METALLICA: SOME KIND OF MONSTER
Even if you’ve never heard a single note of their music... even if you hate heavy metal... this is a remarkable study of the way inter-personal dynamics play a part in any successful venture, and what can be done to preserve a partnership once a friendship breaks down. Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky are some of the best documentarians working, and they ended up making their most personal film here, healing their own creative partnership in the process. It’s a long film, around two and a half hours, but it’s absorbing for the full duration. Paramount’s new DVD edition is incredibly dense with extras, and I found the film just as fascinating the second time.
8. FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
Who knew? Here’s a case where I completely prejudged a film and skipped it in the theater. Sorry I did, too, because this is a piercing, honest look at the fanatical world of small town high school football. Billy Bob Thornton and Lucas Black, reunited for the first time since SLING BLADE, serve as the center of the film as the coach and the star quarterback of the team, but this is a true ensemble drama, and everyone gets a moment to shine. In particular, keep your eye on Derek Luke, who is absolutely incendiary as a player sure he is destined for great things. Director Peter Berg has finally stepped up to deliver on the promise of his earlier work. It may be a sports film, but it manages to avoid the clichÃ©s of the genre. Normally I wince when I hear someone say that a film’s got heart, but this one does, and I have a feeling people are going to be rediscovering this one for some time to come.
7. CODE 46
Michael Winterbottom has quietly matured into one of the most versatile and subtle filmmakers working. In the last few years, he’s made such remarkable films as 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE and IN THIS WORLD, movies that grown in the memory and get better with each viewing. This year, he tried his hand at science-fiction for the first time, and the result is absolutely hypnotic. It’s rare to see a SF film that isn’t actually an action film or a mystery or a horror film disguised as SF. Finding a genuine SF film is sort of like spotting Bigfoot at this point. This would make a great double-feature with ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, since they share some striking thematic similarities, but they end in very different ways. Samantha Morton and Tim Robbins are amazing here, and their work reminds us how important it is to hold on to the human soul in a world where technology increasingly rules our lives.
6. SPIDER-MAN 2
Whenever I hear people make sweeping generalizations about the death of the superhero genre, I just think about the pure sugar rush of this, the absolute best of the Marvel movies so far. They could have easily subtitled this THE PASSION OF PETER PARKER, as director Sam Raimi heaps misery after misery onto the head of our hero, testing him past the breaking point before finally giving him one of the most-deserved happy endings of the year. Even in those final moments, though, Raimi pushes it farther with a last shot that casts shadows over sunshine, and which proves that popcorn can be art, too.
5. I HEART HUCKABEES
I would never tell someone who didn’t like this film that they didn’t “get it,” so I’m surprised how quick people are to tell me that I’m wrong for liking it, and that there’s nothing there to understand. Screw ‘em. I HEART HUCKABEES is completely in love with itself, dizzy from all the ideas that David O. Russell packed into it, filled with crazy scenery-chewing performances, and I just plain love it. That Jon Brion score is ridiculously catchy, and the movie’s got a rich eye-popping cartoon palette that is a pleasure to look at. What I love most, though, is that brave go-for-broke quality to the work by all the actors. Whenever I watch this film, I feel like Mark Wahlberg’s character, dancing at the scene of the fire in a state of existential bliss.
4. Z CHANNEL: A MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION
Xan Cassavettes made one of the best movies I’ve ever seen about what it is that drives the true film freak to spend endless hours in the dark, and if that’s all this movie about, it still might be enough to make it onto this list. But there’s also the true story of Jerry Harvey, the genius programmer who turned a local cable station into a sort of movie lover’s Mecca before his personal demons finally cut him down. One of the things that will make this worth revisiting is the wealth of tantalizing clips it contains from film that are currently unavailable on video. What makes it count is the human story at its heart.
3. THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU
I have to admit, I’m surprised by the chilly reception that Wes Anderson fans (and audiences at large) have given this daffy confection. It’s actually grown on me since I saw the rough cut this summer, and I found the final version to be utterly charming. All of Anderson’s fetishes from his previous films are on display – his tidy symmetrical composition, his impeccable taste in pop music, his eccentric ensemble casts, Bill Murray – but he’s picked up a few new ones as well. The way Henry Selick’s stop-motion animation is used to punctuated the film is a delight, and for the first time, Anderson seems willing to be silly without restriction. THE LIFE AQUATIC may not be a consequential film on its own, but taken as a step in the development of this singular artist, it’s very encouraging, indeed.
2. HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS
Pretty much pure cinema, this is certainly the more overtly melodramatic of Zhang Yimou’s two films to get a Stateside release this year, and that’s precisely what I like about it. The story of a doomed love triangle played out against the backdrop of espionage and revolution, this affords the newly rechristened Ziyi Zhang her best role since CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON. She may well be the most beautiful actress working today, but that’s not what makes her so powerfully watchable. She gets better with each film, more in control of her considerable gifts, but she has something that no amount of technique can ever teach... her face is like a window directly into her soul. No director knows her better than Yimou, and this, their third collaboration, is easily their best.
Hell, yes. Guillermo Del Toro’s long-harbored passion for this project paid off this year with a film that is deeply felt and willfully weird. Ron Perlman finally has a starring role worthy of his talent, and he proves once again that there’s no actor working today who can better project through make-up. And speaking of make-up, this is a monster lover’s dream, filled with all sorts of creepy crawlies that seem to have erupted onto the screen directly from the pencil of Mike Mignola. Del Toro assembled a solid supporting cast, and they all do nice work, but this is ultimately Hellboy’s show. Theatrical cut, director’s cut... doesn’t really matter to me. I can watch this one any time, and it just keeps getting better.
Wow. Again... if that was it, the final ten, I’d be delirious. What a range of experiences we’ve been offered in 2004 by filmmakers. What a wealth of characters we’ve been introduced to. And the top ten, for me, represents the very best that cinema had to offer this year. As always, I remind you... these are my favorite films of the year, not the “best” in any sort of authoritative definitive way. That’s so arrogant, trying to state that your taste supercedes everyone else’s. Of course it doesn’t. For me, these are the ten films I’ll revisit most frequently, the ten films that most deserve their moment in the sun.
10. I’M NOT SCARED
I feel like such a dunce. In the three weeks since I finally saw this film, I’ve been bubbling to anyone who will listen that director Gabriele Salvatores is a major find, a guy with an amazing natural sense of visual storytelling, a “young Spielberg.” Don’t ask me why I thought he was a young filmmaker. Maybe it’s because he seems to be so intuitively able to evoke the way a child sees the world. Maybe it’s just the energy of the filmmaking. Whatever the case, I am, as stated, a dunce. Salvatores was born in 1950, and he’s been making movies for 20 years. In fact, I’ve seen and admired several of his earlier movies like MEDITERRANEO and the deeply strange DENTI. Trust me... I won’t forget his name again, and neither will you after you see this beautiful, haunting little thriller about a young boy who uncovers a conspiracy that alters the way he sees the world. When he discovers a child chained up at the bottom of a hole like an animal, he can’t help but unravel the mystery of who put him there and why. It’s ugly stuff, and by the end of the film, he’s taken his first important steps towards adulthood and maturity, but at a terrible cost. The film is exquisitely crafted and shot with a painter’s eye, and Salvatores gets remarkable work out of his young leads. There was a time when Miramax would have worked tirelessly to get a film this good the attention it deserves. Their evident indifference to it suggests that it may well be time for Harvey Weinstein to pack it in and find something new to help him rediscover his love of films. Don’t let the mishandling of the film fool you, though. This is the kind of movie that will truly entertain any audience, young or old, so check it out.
9. IN THE REALMS OF THE UNREAL
Great cinema casts a spell over the viewer, and there are times when I’m sorry to see a film end. Jessica Yu, a documentarian who won an Oscar for an earlier short subject, has created the most impressive and affecting look inside the creative process since Terry Zwigoff’s CRUMB, and this film deserves the same sort of breakout success that Zwigoff’s movie enjoyed. Yu made this film because she became fascinated by the story of Henry Darger, an artist whose work is truly inseparable from his life story. He was orphaned young, raised in a home for mentally feeble children, and eventually settled into a solitary life as a janitor. What no one realized until Darger died in the early ‘70s was that he spent his private time creating a body of artistic work that is truly mind-boggling. Hundreds of paintings, a 15,000 page novel, and a memoir that is both blunt and brutal all combine to offer up a portrait of a man so disillusioned with the real world that the only rational response was to create his own. It wasn’t a peaceful retreat, though. His novel and his paintings detailed a surreal civil war led by a group of sexually ambiguous children, holy innocents. What Yu’s film does is bring Darger’s work to life, immersing the viewer in it, and the effect feels like taking a plunge down the rabbit hole. It would be easy to dismiss Darger as a crank, but Yu reaches deeper than that, and if there’s one word I would use to describe the film, it is “empathy.” Darger is as pure an artist as I’ve ever seen. He didn’t create his work for money or for fame or even for an audience. He created it to try and make sense of a hostile and disappointing world. He created it because, simply, he had to. The most haunting detail of his story is that there are only three photos of Darger from his entire life, as if he barely existed. But thanks to Yu’s extraordinary film, there is finally a portrait of this man that should stand the test of time.
8. BEFORE SUNSET
A film about optimism, pure and simple, and the restorative power of possibility, which may be what makes it such an effervescent rush. When Richard Linklater first announced that he was planning to make a sequel to BEFORE SUNRISE, part of me hoped that something would happen during pre-production and the whole thing would fall through. The original’s a gem, and it feels like a happy accident, something that would be impossible to reproduce. Amazingly, Linklater and his cast, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, got it exactly right, proving that sometimes a second chance can pay off. If you’ve ever wondered what might have happened if you had made a different choice in life, this film offers up the sweetest possible fantasy, tempered with the wisdom that comes from age and experience. Both Hawke and Delpy are as good as they’ve ever been, and the highest compliment I can pay the people who made this is that now I can’t wait for another installment in the story of Jesse and Celine.
7. THE AVIATOR
If 2004 was the year of the biopic, then two of them stood head and shoulders above the pack for me, but for very different reasons. Martin Scorsese’s big, beautiful version of the Howard Hughes myth (because no matter how “factual” anyone claims this is, Hughes was a privacy freak who knew full well how important it is to create your own story) is a tremendous piece of entertainment, an amazing example of filmcraft. Leonardo Di Caprio is at his very best when he plays damaged people, and Howard Hughes is the role of his lifetime. The entire supporting cast seems to have been chosen with care, and if there’s anyone who deserves movie star billing alongside Di Caprio, it’s Scorsese himself. His command of film language just plain frightens me. He is such a powerful cinematic wizard that there are things in this film that we’ll see ripped off and imitated, maybe even subconsciously, for decades, the same way we see directors still aping his fight scenes from RAGING BULL a quarter-century later. I don’t think there’s any larger social significance to the story of Hughes, since his is such a singular, unusual story, but I think this is the kind of big canvass storytelling that very few filmmakers could accomplish with this level of ease, and I was absorbed by every single frame.
This, on the other hand, is a socially significant film, and that’s what gives it the edge in the 2004 Biopic Derby. Liam Neeson rarely works with filmmakers who are as smart as he is, and he seems deeply engaged by the material here. Prok isn’t an easy character to like, and I’ve heard some people complain that they didn’t feel connected to him... but that’s the point. Prok was a man who felt more at home among insects than among people, a man who believed that the whole world could be boiled down to scientific data, even something as vague and difficult as the human heart. His research into the sexual habits of Americans continues to send shockwaves through our culture even today, and this film, directed and scripted with uncommon grace and humanity by Bill Condon, dares the viewer to acknowledge everyone, no matter what their particular tastes or desires, as equal and normal as long as they aren’t hurting anyone. It’s a message that this country continues to need to have reinforced for them, and when a film’s this exceptionally well-crafted, it’s a fairly easy thing to absorb.
5. KILL BILL VOL. 2
It was worth the wait. As much as I was irritated when Tarantino decided to split KILL BILL in half, it makes perfect sense when you finally see the second film. There’s such a sharp tonal shift between the two movies that they feel perfect as separate volumes. If the first film is the blood and guts, then this film is the heart and the soul. Uma Thurman’s work is even better in this film than in the first movie, and David Carradine should probably go ahead and retire, because no one’s ever going to get this good a performance out of him again. I love the House Of Blue Leaves and the anime sequence from the first film, but what I keep returning to with this one is the small moments, the character beats. I love Michael Madsen’s work. I love the interplay between Uma, Carradine, and their daughter. Which, of course, is not to say that this film doesn’t have its fair share of bad-assery. The Pei Mei training sequence, the showdown with Daryl Hannah, and the final moments between The Bride and Bill all remind you of the pulp roots of this whole enterprise. What could have easily been the most self-indulgent moment in Quentin Tarantino’s career instead confirmed him as a true artist, a magpie with a master plan, and he’s created one of the seminal works in exploitation cinema as a result.
4. SHAUN OF THE DEAD
The little film that could. I’ve seen this film with a half-dozen different audiences, and I’ve talked to people who love horror films, who hate horror films, and who simply don’t know horror films, and they all had the same reaction to Edgar Wright’s exceptional blend of blood bags and belly laughs... absolute delight. SHAUN OF THE DEAD is a major announcement for both Wright and his co-writer/star Simon Pegg, and the sky’s the limit for them after this. No matter what the film did in terms of actual dollars and cents, it put them on the map, and everyone I’ve talked to at every studio in town had the same sort of stunned “Who the hell are these guys?!” reaction. Add Nick Frost into the mix, and this is a team that I hope we see many, many more collaborations from in the years to come. In the meantime, they’ve set the bar pretty damn high for themselves with the best mix of humor and horror since Peter Jackson’s DEAD ALIVE.
3. SPRING, SUMMER, FALL, WINTER... AND SPRING
Like Harry, I am very fond of the new wave of Korean cinema that we’ve seen in the last five or six years. There are several artists who just seem to be hitting their stride, and what makes me happiest is that they’re not rushing to leave Korea and move to Los Angeles, the exact thing that destroyed the Hong Kong film scene of the ‘90s. I liked both the films on Harry’s list very much, but for me, one movie transcended above all the sound and fury to stand out. You might describe this as the exact polar opposite of THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, a film that is all about the internal voyage to enlightenment, following an old monk and his young student through their lives, using moments set in each of the five progressive seasons. It’s a beautiful film, unafraid to be harsh at times, and there are some very difficult moments in it. Ultimately, though, there is a feeling at the end of this film that you have experienced true change and spiritual growth, and no matter what your faith, this is an inclusive picture. When you can honestly say that you are better for having seen a film, that’s something to celebrate, and director Kim Ki Duk contines to get better every single time he rolls film.
2. ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND
I’ve written so much about this film so far this year that I’m almost at a loss for what more I can say. Jim Carrey has been working towards this film for his entire career, and he finally was handed a role that allowed him to drag out all the dark and damaged he carries around inside him, and he trusted a filmmaker to not burn his career down in the process. Michel Gondry’s work here is revelatory, genuine genius, and like Spike Jonze, he seems perfectly suited to bring Charlie Kaufman’s work to life. I wasn’t convinced with HUMAN NATURE, but he’s grown so much from that film to this that it’s hard to believe he’s the same filmmaker. What really makes this whole thing work is the fact that Kaufman doesn’t just tell one story about what happens when we try to forget those we love. The subplot involving Kirsten Dunst is just as important, and in fact drives the entire film. I love that people still argue about whether or not the film’s ending is about hope or despair, and I think what you believe says a lot about your own outlook on the world. I choose to believe in hope, and this film just about broke my heart, but only because it suddenly felt overfull.
And, after very little internal debate at all, my favorite film of 2004 is...
1. THE INCREDIBLES
I am humbled by Brad Bird’s first collaboration with Pixar, and at the same time, every bit of desire I’ve ever had to make movies has been rekindled in a major way. You want to see a great film about a man struggling with the compromises of middle age? Look no further. You want to see a film about trying to be special and stand out and wanting to excel about something? Here’s your best bet. Anything that any of the other possible candidates for this spot had on their minds, it seemed like Bird managed to do it better, and he also made a film that is so preposterously entertaining that it seems impossible. I went back four times to keep checking to see if it would have the same effect on me, and if anything, I became more and more entranced by the magic on display. I don’t know how any live-action filmmaker is going to hope to top this film’s superhero action scenes, and I don’t know how the makers of the Bond series are going to best what Bird has done. He had a lot of help, too, from some remarkable artists and performers, and as much as I was amazed to see Thomas Hayden-Church give a great performance in a real film this year, I’m doubly amazed at what Craig T. Nelson brought to the table using just his voice. I’ve never been a fan of his, per se, but I am now. In that first teaser trailer, Mr. Incredible was pretty much a sight gag. Sure, it was a great sight gag, but I had no idea how impressively nuanced the character would be in the final film. A reader wrote to us at the site a few weeks ago complaining about something that was bothering them, asking, “Doesn’t THE INCREDIBLES send the wrong message? How are normal people supposed to value themselves when the film says that only superpowered people are special?” But that’s not what the film says at all. Instead, this is a film that says that we are all special, and the key to understanding it is finding something in yourself that you can embrace. Syndrome didn’t have to become a superhero. It’s obvious if you look at all the technology he created that he was brilliant in his own way. That didn’t matter to him, though, and he spent his entire life trying to be someone else instead of celebrating what it was that made him unique. For a filmmaker working on a big giant Disney superhero movie to invest the film with the sort of subtext that Bird did is above and beyond the call of duty. The reason this film is number one on my list is because nothing else hit me dead center the way this one did. This is the sort of film that I know I’ll still be watching 20 years from now, and I look forward to that, and to whatever else Brad Bird’s cooking up.
Now, the other side of the coin... the ten films I most detested this year, or as I traditionally label this list, The 20 Hours I Want Back... is also not meant to be comprehensive. I avoided a lot of stuff that looked totally terrible this year, and I think I’m happier for having done so. Still, morbid curiosity got me a few times, and there’s also the sense of wanting to see for myself in a few cases. As a result, there were plenty of times I staggered out of a theater or shut off a DVD feeling like I just kicked in the store by a filmmaker, and I want to make sure to repay them in kind. In no particular order, since I can’t really qualify this sort of abject mental misery, dig it:
Joseph Kahn should be tried for war crimes against my eyes and the laws of physics. On the positive side, this may well be the highest-budget film ever directed by a retarded person.
BEYOND THE SEA
Bobby Darin’s dead, and now so is Kevin Spacey’s directing career.
So, wait... the “real” story is that King Arthur was a black hole of charisma who did nothing exciting and who was surrounded by nondescript characters who you can’t remember even while you’re watching the film? No wonder we all like the legend better.
ANACONDAS: THE HUNT FOR THE BLOOD ORCHID
It makes the first one look like JAWS.
When future film historians look back and try to figure out the exact moment where Robert De Niro just completely gave up, this film will finally serve some purpose. Until then, it’s just pain wrapped in pain.
I’m going to give this trash a special award below, but I’ll say this much: this is the most distasteful revenge fantasy I’ve seen in a long time.
Speaking of revenge fantasies, I’d like to know when we decided to start making films out of fucking greeting card characters. GARFIELD was never funny. None of his four jokes are funny. THE FAMILY CIRCUS has more depth. And this film STILL manages to disgrace the source material. Absolutely the nadir of Bill Murray’s professional life.
I know THE HITCHER, and you, sir, are no THE HITCHER.
I really enjoyed the premiere of this film. Dreamworks turned Hollywood Boulevard and the Chinese Theater into Christmas in October. The afterparty was tremendous. And still, I can’t quite scour the unfunny from my brain pan. If you looked closely at Ben Affleck’s eyes, you could see him dying inside the whole time.
ALIEN VS. PREDATOR
Hey, remember what I said about TORQUE? Well, that’s only because I’m not sure how much this film cost. How can you take a movie with both Aliens and Predators in it and manage to not create a single compelling or exciting image in the entire running film? There’s exactly one good shot, and Paul “What Script?” Anderson ripped it off completely from JURASSIC PARK. A shocking waste of two of the great franchise resources that Fox owns. And yet, it’s Bryan Singer they locked off the lot. Go figure.
And we’re not finished yet! I also want to hand out some individual accomplishment awards, and I’d like to mention some of the many moments that made sitting in the dark such a pleasure this year. There are films that aren’t on any of these lists that nevertheless provided me with absolutely unforgettable highs and lows, and it would be a shame to neglect any of them. So sit back for the absolute most random list of things worth mentioning I can compile...
The “I’m Naked In Public” Award
MEL GIBSON was involved in two films released this year, and taken as a whole, they paint a picture of a deranged individual. I am genuinely afraid of Gibson at this point. All questions of anti-Semitism aside, his PASSION OF THE CHRIST is all suffering and no salvation, a spiritless snuff film that just plain pissed me off. Still, it’s his faith, and I’d be willing to just ignore it completely if not for the split personality it must have taken to also make a film in the same year about how the paparazzi are so annoying that movie stars should kill them. Hey, Mel... you remember that thing Christ said about turning the other cheek? Seriously... it’s called Paxil. Get some.
The BULLIT Car Chase Award
THE INCREDIBLES. It all starts with Dash by himself on Nomanisan Island, but by the time it builds to the entire family together, reunited, the adrenaline rush is almost impossible to take.
The “Envelope? What Envelope?” Award
SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW. Whatever you think it cost, you’re wrong. This was a low-budget film by any studio’s standards, and Kerry Conran’s labor of love was one of the most unique pieces of pop art all year. Love it or hate it, you’ve got to respect the fact that the industry is changing, and this is a signpost of things to come.
The Honorary “Mathilda May In LIFEFORCE” Award
Eva Green in THE DREAMERS. The girl’s a goddamn marvel of modern architecture, and Bernardo Bertolucci is just the perv to prove it. No one spent more time more gloriously naked this year, and I think we’re all better because of it.
The “Remake This!” Award
There was some stiff competition for this one this year, but in the end, it’s WALKING TALL that wins for the single worst remake of the year, mopping the floor with AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS and THE STEPFORD WIVES. I liked Kevin Bray’s first film, but he was fighting a losing battle from the moment they decided to de-redneck Buford Pusser. And change his name. And the story. *sigh* What’s the point? Can anyone explain it to me?
The “Haley Joel Who?” Award
Freddie Highmore from FINDING NEVERLAND. The kid’s just plain spooky, so talented and natural that it seems like a special effect. I’m sure he’ll make a tremendous Charlie for Tim Burton this summer, and I’m equally sure that he’ll get overworked to the point where we’re all sick of seeing him, but for right now, his work in this and TWO BROTHERS was pure and powerful.
The “Did I Just See That?” Award
THE POLAR EXPRESS in 3-D IMAX. I don’t care for the film at all, but I’d say that anyone who missed the experience of seeing this thing in 3-D IMAX has done themselves a disservice. It’s truly amazing, and it’s no wonder other filmmakers are starting to consider 3-D as a genuine possibility. The process has finally been refined to a point where it’s not a novelty. I can’t imagine how anyone would even watch this film on a regular 2-D screen. It’s so obviously meant to engage you on a visceral level, pulling you in and making you part of the experience, that it simply wouldn’t work. Robert Zemeckis may not be making great films these days, but there’s no one alive who can use the toys with more confidence.
The “Somewhere, Gerry Anderson Is Crying” Award
TEAM AMERICA. If only for the scene where Gary vomits for what seems like a half-hour while the score swells heroically, this film was worth seeing. And no matter how much some people cried because they felt like it beat up liberals unfairly, the film made some great points in a year where the political discourse in our country hopped the track completely.
MORE PERFORMANCES WORTH WATCHING
Thomas Jane, STANDER
Gael Garcia Bernal, BAD EDUCATION
Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx, COLLATERAL
Daniel Craig, LAYER CAKE
Don Cheadle, HOTEL RWANDA
Rodney Bingenheimer, THE MAYOR OF THE SUNSET STRIP
Troy Duffy, OVERNIGHT
Natalie Portman, GARDEN STATE
Sean Penn, THE ASSASSINATION OF RICHARD NIXON
Takashi Kitano, ZATOICHI
Clive Owen, CLOSER
Javier Bardem, THE SEA INSIDE
Rodrigo De La Serna, THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES
The entire cast of ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY
Billy Connelly and Jim Carrey, LEMONY SNICKET’S A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS
Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger, A DOOR IN THE FLOOR
Clint Eastwood, MILLION DOLLAR BABY
Baby Godzilla, GODZILLA FINAL WARS (did I mention he drives a freakin’ car?!?)
Tony Jaa, ONG BAK: THE THAI WARRIOR
Colm Meany, INTERMISSION and LAYER CAKE
Christian Bale, THE MACHINIST
Topher Grace, IN GOOD COMPANY, OCEAN’S 12, and WIN A DATE WITH TAD HAMILTON!
Ryan Reynolds and Jessica Biehl, BLADE: TRINITY
Paz Vega and Adam Sandler, SPANGLISH
Kurt Russell, MIRACLE
Jamie Foxx and Curtis Armstrong, RAY
Denzel Washington and Dakota Fanning, MAN ON FIRE
The sharks, OPEN WATER
Catalina Sandino Moreno, MARIA FULL OF GRACE
Sarah Polley, DAWN OF THE DEAD
Mos Def and Hannah Pilkes, THE WOODSMAN
Timothy Olyphaunt, THE GIRL NEXT DOOR
Jude Law, ALFIE
Antonio Banderas, SHREK 2
Alan Tudyk, I ROBOT
And with that, I can finally stick a fork in 2004 and turn it over. It’s done. Now I can look forward to a year that promises an amazing range of brand-new tastes and sensations for the film fan. I can hardly wait for long-anticipated events like THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY and EPISODE III, seeing directors stretch with films like Sam Mendes’ JARHEAD and Chris Nolan’s BATMAN BEGINS, the anthology film EROS and the oft-delayed 2046, Ridley Scott’s KINGDOM OF HEAVEN and Tony Scott’s DOMINO, personal projects like Crowe’s ELIZABETHTOWN or Malick’s THE NEW WORLD or Aronofsky’s THE FOUNTAIN, animated films like STEAMBOY and A SCANNER DARKLY and HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE and OVER THE HEDGE, potential art house giants like Cronenberg’s THE HISTORY OF VIOLENCE and Zwigoff’s ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL, crazy pulp like Harold Ramis’ THE ICE HARVEST or Rob Zombie’s THE DEVIL’S REJECTS or Shane Black’s KISS KISS, BANG BANG, stop-motion marvels like THE CORPSE BRIDE and WALLACE AND GROMIT, sci-fi like SERENITY and AEON FLUX, or new films from great directors like THE CONSTANT GARDENER, WHERE THE TRUTH LIES, ASK THE DUST, ALL THE KING’S MEN, and KONG, glorious KONG. I’m sure I’m in for many surprises and my fair share of disappointments, and I know I’ve left off a bunch of other great stuff that I’m sure I’ll end up being excited by once I remember it, but one thing’s for sure... as always... I look forward to sharing it all with you guys. As AICN prepares to kick off our ninth year of existence, you continue to be a tremendous audience, and being able to groove with you on all the fun stuff we see and do is what makes it all worthwhile. Stay tuned. I hope we make it worth your time.