The Tens: Best Of Film 2004

natalie-portman-thong-bra-ass-strip-club-clive-owen-closer(A “Then & Now” perspective.)

Like my 2005 list, this Top Ten comes at you twenty strong, because that’s how I wrote it back in the day on my LiveJournal. And like last time, I’ll be adding my commentary about how the movies have held up 11 years later, because tastes change. Some of these movies have aged well in my mind, and others? Not so much.

I don’t think of 2004 as a particularly strong cinematic year in the abstract, mostly because the movies that dominated the Oscars fell, in my mind, in “good, but not great” territory. (They’re in my Top 20 here, but mostly not in the Top Ten.) A Clint Eastwood movie cleaned up in Best Picture, Best Director, and two of the acting categories, and three biopics of varying quality also made stronger showings than they probably deserved. (Those would be the biopics of Ray Charles, Howard Hughes, and J.M. Barrie.) Even the year’s critical darling, Sideways — which did manage to come away with several nominations, including Best Picture — felt too uneven for me to wholeheartedly embrace, despite some lovely moments. (More on that later.)

However, now that I’m looking at 2004 again, I realize how many incredibly strong films came out that year, several of which I’d count amongst my favorites. They just weren’t incredibly well-represented at the Oscars.

So here it is. Let’s revisit 2004.

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THE TOP 20 FILMS OF 2004

20. RAY

Jamie Foxx had the Oscar for Ray before the film was even released; now that he’s won a Golden Globe, he’s almost a shoo-in to take home the golden guy. I’m happy to say it’ll be a well-deserved award, for Foxx not only captures Ray Charles in a way that few other actors could, but also makes him a dynamic character. Smartly, the film avoids using his blindness as too much of a foil, and allows the story to delve into some of the darker elements of Charles’ life (heavy drug use and lots of womanizing, though they’ve been toned down a bit). Supporting performances are solid and the film has a nifty structure, though I wish it didn’t devolve into Trainspotting territory toward the end. The best moments in Ray are far better than the picture as a whole; those moments are good enough for me. Congratulations in advance, Jamie.

(I haven’t revisted Ray. Of course, Foxx did win the Oscar, and that remains the primary reason the film is at all noteworthy. Like Walk The Line, released the next year, this one became the go-to example for a “typical” musician biopic, the sort mocked in Walk Hard. I’d be curious to see how it plays now, but not quite curious enough to seek it out.)mEAN-girls-jonathan-bennett-linsay-lohan-trash-can-rachel-mcadams19. MEAN GIRLS

There aren’t many comedies these days that actually get funnier every time you watch them; Tina Fey’s first screenplay (adeptly adapted from a nonfiction book) isn’t a triumph of storytelling, but its consistently wry humor makes repeat viewing enjoyable. No movie this year has spawned half as many worthy one-liners, and the performances are all tons of fun. Lindsay Lohan is a capable leading lady, but Rachel McAdams steals the show as Plastic Regina George, a complete bitch we’d still totally hang out with. Lots of stuff, like a running joke that compares teen girls to feral animals, is funny, but it’s the little things that make this movie stand out: Amy Poehler’s hilarious “Cool Mom,” for one. It’d be pretty lame to call this movie “so fetch,” so… I’m not going to try and make fetch happen. But it’s, y’know… fun.

(Oh, here we go. It’s almost funny to see a comedy staple like this on a Top 20 list. Mean Girls really has held up as one of the most consistent comedies of this century. It hasn’t aged a bit, and in fact, a lot of its more subtle jokes really do take a few viewings to catch on… but now, of course, you’ll hear them quoted often. Fey’s zany brand of humor plays a little better now that we’ve seen 30 Rock and gotten used to it. I still don’t know that this is Top 10 material, but I’m sure I’ve seen it more than any other movie from 2004, so maybe it deserves to be up there.)

18. SIDEWAYS

Critics have overpraised this simple comedy, stretching a small, low-key movie into “the best movie of the year!!” In its straightforwardness and lack of focus, Sideways can’t quite fulfill that hefty obligation, but let’s not forget the movie’s charms: a solid leading man in Paul Giamatti and a lovely supporting performance from Virginia Madsen; a setting and subject that allow for lush, wine-soaked set pieces; and some delicious dialogue in the film’s best scenes. Parts of the movie are superbly written and directed, others left me wanting more from the script. The best scenes center around two middle-aged men struggling with new relationships mid-life. (Have they aged as well as the wine they’re drinking? Not really.) The worst scenes depend partially upon Thomas Haden Church’s one-note, sitcom-level performance, which would be a complete bust if not for his character’s funny lines (as is, he brings nothing to the underwritten character or the movie itself). Still, there are enough funny and touching moments in the film to recommend it — though it’d be far more enjoyable if you imbibed some merlot beforehand.

(I had a bone to pick with Sideways in 2004. I simply didn’t enjoy it as much as most critics did, and I got tired of the heapings of praise I kept hearing. I stand by my assessment of Sideways as a flawed movie, though I’m probably not quite as bothered by it anymore. I’d still call it ever-so-slightly overrated.)

17. HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN

Harry Potter has hit puberty, and so has the series of films based on his adventures. Director Alfonso Cuaron infuses new life into the series, lifting the story off the page and creating a story that truly is as magical as it ought to be. The film isn’t afraid to go a little darker than the prior films in the series, no doubt setting up even further mayhem at Hogwarts. Almost universally agreed to be the best of the Potter films, Harry Potter and the Prisoner Azkaban has me eager for more.

(While all of the following Potter sequels were good enough, none were quite as daring as this. Cuaron was the only filmmaker to really put his own stamp on a Potter movie.)

16. FINDING NEVERLAND

A story can’t really be any cuter than one about the creator of beloved childhood hero Peter Pan and his make-believe games with the real-life boys who inspired it. Really, it just can’t. Unless that man is played by Johnny Depp, doing an accent. Hooray for Finding Neverland, then! It’s a bit somber for a family film, a bit light for an adult drama, but Finding Neverland tells an engaging story with a fine cast (Kate Winslet, Julie Christie, Freddie Highmore, Radha Mitchell, and Dustin Hoffman all do solid work). It touches on important, mature themes, but never strays far from childhood, much like its subject. Strangely enough, the figure who never quite comes into focus is J.M. Barrie himself, but the movie is so good-natured and well-executed we hardly notice. Seeing “Peter Pan” performed for the first time (and how people react to it) is especially fun.

(This review tells me I liked this movie a lot more in 2004 than I thought I did. I don’t recall any particular for it, maybe because Depp has overstayed his welcome as a movie star in his latest endeavors. On the other hand, Kate Winslet is worth watching, always. I still don’t see myself going out of my way to see this again.)A+Very+Long+Engagement+audrey-tautou-gaspard-ulliel 15. A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT

Audrey Tautou more or less reprises the role of Amelie for Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s wartime love story about a woman determined to find her lost lover against all odds. The cinematography is beautiful, and the more serious subject matter lends itself to Jeunet’s talents for creating big moments out of small things. Tautou is winning, as always, and the supporting characters are just as well-drawn. A sweeping love story, an epic war, comedy, drama, suspense, Jodie Foster, and the French — A Very Long Engagement has it all.

(I’ll have to trust my 2004 opinion. This isn’t a movie I’ve thought much about, though I’m sure it’s perfectly fine, still. The problem with Top 20 lists is that they’re bound to be padded with some decent but unremarkable films.)

14. MILLION DOLLAR BABY

Okay, so Clint Eastwood looks like an exhumed corpse and the trailer made this movie look godawful. It’s actually pretty good. Hilary Swank deserves the Oscar she’s probably going to get for her portrayal of a driven boxer-wannabe who won’t give up because she’s got no other future. Morgan Freeman lends his graceful presence as the narrator and Eastwood’s longtime friend, and he too will be nominated for his efforts here. Eastwood’s gruff presence is sometimes right on target and sometimes a little awkward (I personally think it’d be a better film with someone else as the lead), but that’s the way he likes it. He takes his sweet time getting to where the story is going, but it thankfully deviates from the usual sports champion film formula and instead delves into some dark, somber themes. Eastwood should be praised for his originality in tackling the material, from his moody (lack of) lighting to his willingness to abandon the tried-and-true Hollywood champ-movie formula. Million Dollar Baby packs in a few surprises — one of them being that it’s not terrible.

(Ouch. Some harsh words from 2004 me. I think Eastwood’s movies are often more acclaimed than they should be — though many of his more recent efforts have earned dwindling praise for this very reason — but this one does feel like a bit of a classic. It’s easy to see why it won so many Oscars, including Best Picture, though I still wouldn’t count it amongst my favorite films. Leaving it off my Top 10 may have been a reaction against its frontrunner status — fair enough, though it’s possible I’d find room for it now. Then again, maybe not.)

13. HOTEL RWANDA

It’s hard to compare a movie about mass genocide to one about a few characters squabbling over adultery or enjoying a hootenanny in wine country. As far as big themes go, Hotel Rwanda is the most important film of the year. While the film is competently (but not super impressively) written and directed, the subject matter transcends any flaws that could be found in the storytelling. Hotel Rwanda tells the true story of a man who used his hotel-manager savvy to do an entirely different sort of negotiation, saving the lives of hundreds of Rwandans targeted for death. As that man, Don Cheadle gives an utterly convincing performance that should pave the way for his status as a leading man — and earn him an Oscar nomination. (Sophie Okonedo, as his wife, deserves props as well.)

Though absent of graphic violence, Hotel Rwanda can be difficult to watch — there is constant tension as we wonder how these people are going to stay alive. But the film’s refusal to wallow in unimaginable horror — criticized by some for treating genocide too lightly — and the protagonist’s modest heroism make it watchable and even, at times, uplifting. Director Terry George makes a subtle but clear point about international relations with Africa (basically, that the Western world is unwilling to concern itself with Africa’s troubles), but thankfully leaves unnecessary politics aside, focusing the story entirely on Rwandans. There’s no denying the power of a story like this one, one that many moviegoers will know nothing about. There are some haunting moments here, and while the film doesn’t leave the kind of imprint Schindler’s List does, it isn’t too far off.

(Through a twist of fate, I ended up sitting through this twice in week, which was not ideal. I haven’t watched it since, but I still have a high enough opinion of it. #13 seems like the right slot to me.)mean-creek-trevor-morgan-josh-peck-rory-culkin-scott-mechlowicz12. MEAN CREEK

It’s easy to dismiss or even forget Mean Creek as the subtle gem that it is, but writer-director Jacob Aaron Estes has made a tiny masterpiece that perfectly captures the ferocity and frailty of adolescent males. The film avoids cliches, making every character — even its meanest ones — a real person. Led by an unusually talented young cast (some familiar faces like Trevor Morgan, Scott Mechlowicz, and Kieran Culkin joined by newcomers Ryan Kelley, Josh Peck, and Carly Schroeder — all considerably talented and spot-on), the story is a straightforward, simplistic one, tackling big themes with its young characters. These kids don’t act like adults when faced with tragedy — they act like adolescents, making big, stupid mistakes, and they deal with the consequences. The film is layered with male-male relationships: between brothers, friends, a bully and his victims, all of which seem like natural, uncharted territory. I can’t think of a film that better understands the unspoken rules and hierarchies of adolescent males, the ways they interact with one another, their fears and insecurities. Truly one of the most underrated, underseen films of the year.

(Yep! And still not a movie most people know about. It probably deserved to be in my proper Top Ten, which made me want to cheat and sneak it in there, but instead I preserved the list as it was in 2004, so here it is at #12.)

11. THE BOURNE SUPREMACY

If Collateral was the 2004 film that showed that thrillers can be done in exciting new ways, The Bourne Supremacy is the one that proves there ain’t nothing wrong with tradition. That isn’t to say that Bourne is by-the-numbers in any way — everything here feels fresh, which is particularly impressive since this film is a sequel. This time, Jason Bourne is the hunter, under the false impression that Treadstone is still after him. He still struggles with his memory loss; he is still tortured by his dual-sides: sensitive Matt Damon guy versus calculating killing machine. Damon proves again that he’s a true movie star while Paul Greengrass directs with a fresh, almost documentary-like approach, so the action is all the more immediate and engrossing. It’s all pretty standard fare, but the superb cast (also including Julia Stiles and the always-outstanding Joan Allen) and stylish direction make this an action film that is truly, truly exciting. (Perhaps my favorite moment is the film’s last scene, reincorporating Moby’s “Extreme Ways” at just the right moment.) There are no frills here, just pure, unadulterated wham-bam action. And it’s so much fucking fun.

(This film is actually even more notable than it seemed at the time, one of the first to usher in the handheld camera in a blockbuster — which is now such an action staple, you’ll see almost zero movies that don’t use it. It remains the strongest of the Bourne movies.)

And now, for our main attraction… The Top 10!

aviator-cate-blanchett-jude-law-leonardo-dicaprio-adam-scott 10. THE AVIATOR

In a year where most of the would-be epics were anything but (Troy, Alexander, The Alamo), it’s refreshing to see one of those big-star, big-director, big-movie movies actually get it right. Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio make up for the misbegotten Gangs Of New York with the Howard Hughes biopic that deftly balances the man’s soaring career and dazzling public persona with his shadier private life (madness and womanizing and nudity, oh my!). As an added bonus, we are taken back to the glory days of Hollywood to fraternize with icons like Ava Gardner, Louis B. Mayer, Jean Harlow, Erroll Flynn, and Katharine Hepburn.

Like any Scorsese production these days, the film rounds up one of the most impressive casts imaginable — Alec Baldwin, Alan Alda, John C. Reilly, Jude Law, Kate Beckinsale, Willem Dafoe — plus, of course, Cate Blanchett’s very showy turn as the very showy Katherine Hepburn. DiCaprio’s performance is one of his very best and Scorsese’s filmmaking is exciting. You can call the movie bloated, but it’s bloated with so much good stuff it’s hard to complain. There’s something to be said for the big prestigious Hollywood drama that actually delivers.

(I know not every Scorsese fan ranks this amongst his best, and sure, it’s no GoodFellas or Taxi Driver. I have a fondness for Scorsese’s excesses, which is how I picked the similarly sprawling The Wolf Of Wall Street as my favorite film of 2013. I can understand anyone who feels like it’s all too much, but I’ll take this over Ray or Finding Neverland any day.)

edna-incredibles9. THE INCREDIBLES

There’s no question that The Incredibles provides some of the most entertainment value you’ll get in any movie this year. What it also does is redefine our expectations of the computer-animated film: The Incredibles masquerades as a family movie, but most of it is pitched at an adult level — which isn’t to say the kids don’t love it too. (Pleasing the parents and the kidlets accounts for the boffo box office.)

Director Brad Bird has taken Pixar to a new level, doing away with the standard Disney formula “kiddie story + some jokes for the adults = all-around hit” and making a bona fide action movie that just happens to be animated. (It’s not hard to imagine a live-action version that plays out in almost exactly the same way.) Will Pixar ever fuck up? After watching The Incredibles, I’m compelled to say, “Probably not.”

(I’m not sure anything Pixar has put out counts as a “fuck up,” but a handful of their attempts since have not found the same level of unanimous praise — take Cars, Brave, or Monsters University. Still, with WALL-E, Toy Story 3, Up, and Inside Out under their belt post-Incredibles, they clearly still have the magic touch most of the time. I did recently see this again, and while many stories since have definitely played in this same superhero sandbox, this remains one of the strongest entries in the genre.)laura-linney-liam-nesson-kinsey8. KINSEY

Biopics are tailor-made for Oscar season. A famous actor playing a famous persona, often with some sort of accent or disability (see Ray or The Aviator), is bound to get an Oscar nomination. Kinsey, at least, never seems like it’s actively going for the gold; written and directed by Bill Condon, Kinsey is content to tell a fascinating story without being flashy or grandiose.

Kinsey, as portrayed by Liam Neeson, is certainly a worthy subject for a movie, and his ambition to explain sexuality in scientific terms is not only an interesting story, it’s an interesting character study. Why does Kinsey do this? How does it affect his life? More than telling us what happened, Kinsey centers around the man at the heart of it all, and doesn’t try and make light of the fact that his actions, though monumental, might also have been damaging to the people around him.

Neeson and Laura Linney (as Mrs. Kinsey) both turn in great performances, and Condon’s script is tidy and effective. Condon shows us everything we want to see and nothing more; it’s a well-crafted story about an interesting man studying something that fascinates and baffles us all.

(I remember almost nothing about this movie.)

bad_education_gabriel-garcia-bernal-naked-towel-fele-martinez7. BAD EDUCATION

Oh, Pedro Almodovar. What a task you’ve given me, trying to explain why Bad Education is one of the 10 best films of the year. How could I ever summarize what this movie is about, or why it is so compelling? Suffice to say that Bad Education is about real life versus how films depict real-life, and is also an homage to Alfred Hitchcock, and is also a disturbing tale of molestation and abuse in the Catholic church, and also stars Gabriel Garcia Bernal as a cross-dressing prostitute (and that’s just one of his personas). If that doesn’t at least make you curious, I don’t know what will.

Bad Education isn’t a perfectly executed movie — at least, not by traditional Hollywood standards — but that’s part of it’s charm. It forgoes some character development and obscures what, exactly, is going on in order to keep an aura of mystery and suspense. And that’s all right with me. There are excellent performances all around, but Almodovar’s energetic direction is the glue that coheres the choppy individual pieces into a fresh, satisfying whole. The film’s final moment is a chilling stroke of genius — and this is bound to be the creepiest use of “Moon River” ever put to the screen.

(This is probably the film that first set me aflame with Almodovar love, though I saw Talk To Her before this. I’ve only come to appreciate him more since, though this probably remains my favorite. Definitely my cup of dark, fucked up tea.)tom-cruise-collateral6. COLLATERAL

Collateral was one of few films this year to give me that geeky film student thrill of excitement at its very coolness. Sure, it’s basically just a standard Hollywood thriller at its core, but it’s such a damn good one! Michael Mann gives us a kinetic jolt in every electrifying scene, even when it’s just a seemingly innocent conversation between a cabbie and his fare. Jamie Foxx and Tom Cruise are pitch-perfect in their respective roles: the daydreaming cab driver and the merciless hitman who holds him captive. The action scenes are plenty good, but what makes the film is the smart dialogue by Stuart Beattie — between Foxx and Cruise, between Foxx and Jada Pinkett Smith, between Cruise and whoever he’s planning to kill. (It’s fun to see Cruise’s usual stalwart hero persona subverted, allowing him to come off as a bloodthirsty asshole for a change.)

You might expect a story centered around a taxi to take place in Manhattan, but this one plays like a nasty love letter to the City of Angels. Mann makes after-hours Los Angeles a very sinister place indeed, and the film packs some smart surprises without getting too caught up in plot twists and turns. A smart thriller (I’d rather call it an “action drama”) is a rare thing, but Collateral has it all — an intelligent plot, compelling characters, plus an exciting visual style.  equals one of the best movies of the year. Not bad, for a Tom Cruise action flick.

(Like The Bourne Supremacy, Collateral looked and felt a lot more “different” than it does now. Its style has been aped, though it is still one of the most respectable thrillers of the past dozen years. Alongside a win for Ray, this was definitely the Year of the Foxx, though it marked an interesting departure for Cruise, whose career is robust as ever in 2015, while Foxx has had only a small handful of memorable parts since. Long story short, this is still a great movie.)

before-sunset_ethan-hawke-julie-delpy5. BEFORE SUNSET

It was a big year for high-quality sequels, with Shrek 2, The Bourne Supremacy, and Spider-Man 2 repeating themselves all the way to the bank. But the year’s best sequel is Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset, reuniting Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy as strangers whose one-night stand in Paris nine years ago left the question “What if?” imprinted in the back of their minds. Hawke and Delpy co-wrote their own stories and dialogue — the performances are fresh and genuine, but also as precise as anything you’ll see elsewhere. (They’re not as improvised as they may seem.)

Best of all, the film unfolds in 80 minutes of real time, following these two characters on a walk through Paris with the sinking sun reminding them that, again, they only have a short time together. Somehow, Linklater pulls all this off flawlessly, and although the film is essentially one long conversation, it’s never boring for a single second. I sincerely hope that this is only the second entry in a series of inspired films.

(And I got my wish! This was actually the first of these films I caught, and it took me several more years to catch Before Sunrise. I still find this the best of the trio, but each film makes the others stronger and more layered. There’s basically no limit to the praise I could heap on Linklater, so I’ll just stop.)

Closer4. CLOSER

It’s unfortunate that many critics were turned off by the morally questionable actions and frank sexual dialogue in Mike Nichols’ Closer (I guess USA Today‘s Mike Clark and Entertainment Weekly‘s Lisa Schwarzbaum never raise their voices or speak of cum). To each their own, but for my money I identify more with Closer‘s fierce, angry lovers than the mopey loser Paul Giamatti portrays in critical darling Sideways. (Come on, guys — everybody gets a little nasty when it comes to sex and love.) Likable or not, the characters in Closer are vividly brought to life by four outstanding performers who, in a just world, would each get an Oscar nomination. (Why Julia Roberts’ delicious foray into bitchville hasn’t received more praise is a mystery to me. She’s fantastic.)

Patrick Marber, who adapted his own stage play, has crafted playful, biting dialogue that puts most Hollywood movies to shame, and Nichols has brought the production to life in a way that rarely betrays the film’s theatrical roots. The movie’s two best scenes occur back-to-back — the supercharged confrontation between Roberts and Clive Owen as they admit their infidelities (it has to be some of the best acting ever), and Natalie Portman’s coy striptease that simultaneously shows us how much and how little she’s willing to reveal. Closer is great fun to watch — how can you go wrong with four incomparable actors spouting off acidic dialogue in a film directed by one of Hollywood’s greatest?

(It surprises me to find this at #4, given that I have the poster in my living room and count it amongst my favorite films. I’ve seen it more than any of my other Top 10 films from 2004. It’s just one of those films that seems like it was made for me — four of my favorite actors screaming at, crying about, and fucking each other, plus some super gorgeous cinematography. It’s not really in the wrong spot on this list, but as I’ve found in other years, sometimes the movies you rank the best don’t necessarily become your favorites.)

still-of-catalina-sandino-moreno-in-maria-full-of-grace3. MARIA FULL OF GRACE

Maria is full of heroin, full of fetus, or full of shit in any given scene in this movie; she is rarely full of grace. But the movie is. Joshua Marston’s documentary-like tale of a young, knocked-up Colombian girl who becomes a drug mule to escape her humdrum home life is both subtle and searing, an exercise in restraint that doesn’t shy away from the real dilemmas girls like Maria face.

At the center of it all, Catalina Sandino Moreno turns in a fantastic first performance. She’s neither a sinner nor a saint but rather your average teenage girl, one who takes a huge gamble that could cost her her life (in several ways). Marston’s movie is smart enough to avoid drug-movie cliches and the sense that you are watching A Very Special Film. It’s all utterly real, unfolding in front of you, neither melodramatic nor underwritten. Maria Full of Grace never makes a misstep — it truly is a graceful picture.

(Still holds up, though we haven’t heard as much from Marston as I would have expected since. Moreno pops up here and there, though she also hasn’t had a role quite as juicy as this. Maybe it’s time for a sequel?)

jim-carrey-kate-winslet-eternal-sunshine-of-the-spotless-mind-table2. ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND

There’s no doubt that Charlie Kaufman is one of the most original screenwriters out there, but until Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, he hadn’t proven that he could write a story about real people. The ideas in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind are brilliant and intricate and unique and absurd, but they’re also rooted in the deepest of human emotions, and that’s what makes it work.

As Joel and Clementine, Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet give some of the most heartfelt performances of their careers. Like the gang from Closer, they’re real people — sometimes they’re cuddly, sometimes they’re assholes. They flirt, they fight, they fuck, they drink — they do all the things that real couples do. Since their relationship is essentially seen backwards, Kaufman shows us their uglier final fights and then slowly reveals the better times, the reasons they were together in the first place. By the end, we’re fighting for their memories to survive not because they’re perfect for each other, but because we know these are the moments that defined their lives, for better or worse.

Director Michel Gondry handles Kaufman’s script masterfully, the perfect visual accompaniment to such a kooky, bizarre screenplay. The supporting characters, too (portrayed by Elijah Wood, Kirsten Dunst, Tom Wilkinson, and Mark Ruffalo) round out the story. It’s a convoluted premise based around a very simple notion: that love is too painful to remember and too important to forget. Anyone who’s ever been in a relationship gone sour should relate. There are beautiful moments both visually and narratively — this is truly a landmark cinematic achievement.

(And has remained so ever since. This might very well be the most enduring film of 2004. If I had to pick one film from this year to preserve for a future civilization to remember us by, it’d probably be this.)

dogville-nicole-kidman-set1. DOGVILLE

Lars von Trier’s Dogville is perhaps the year’s biggest anomaly; I moved it around everywhere between #2 and #11 before deciding that it belonged here. It’s difficult to place because it is such a challenging film to enjoy — in some ways, it’s hardly a film at all. What it is is a Dogma 95 study in bare bones moviemaking essentials: a compelling story and strong performances, that’s it. There’s nothing else in Dogville: no sets, no special effects, no locations save the stage itself. Even the titular dog is imaginary.

The ensemble cast is great, and Nicole Kidman proves exactly why she’s Hollywood’s hottest actress in a performance that would be unbearably sweet if not for the film’s tongue-in-cheek finale. It’s easy to see why one would claim that Dogville is a bad, or even terrible, film — with its purported anti-American sentiment, three-hour running time, and blatant disregard for the comforts we look for in today’s moviegoing experience, it’s a film that many (particularly those who are virgins to Von Trier’s always-unconventional storytelling) won’t understand or enjoy. For me, it was a groundbreaking cinematic achievement that went above and beyond its experimental mission statement. My favorite films are those that take risks, and Dogville does so in a major way. There’s simply no way to compare it to these other films. Dogville is in a league of its own, and for me is the year’s crowning cinematic achievement.

(I have soured on Von Trier since this film. I didn’t even bother to see Dogville’s Kidman-less “sequel” Manderlay. I try not to let his more recent efforts get in the way of what was so daring and brilliant about his first few films, which remain great — I just wish he’d move on and do something else for a change. I wrote more in my “#1 Club” revisitation of this film.)

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BEST DIRECTOR

Michel Gondry — Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Mike Nichols — Closer
Michael Mann — Collateral
Martin Scorsese — The Aviator
Bill Condon — Kinsey

Honorable Mention: Joshua Marston — Maria Full of Grace

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Charlie Kaufman — Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy — Before Sunset
Joshua Marston — Maria Full of Grace
Stuart Beattie—Collateral
Bill Condon—Kinsey

Honorable Mention: John Logan — The Aviator

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Patrick Marber — Closer
Paul Haggis — Million Dollar Baby
Jean-Pierre Jeunet — A Very Long Engagement
David Magee — Finding Neverland
Tina Fey — Mean Girls

Honorable Mention: Larry GrossWe Don’t Live Here Anymore

gabriel-garcia-bernal-drag-Bad+Education-almodovarBEST ACTOR

Jamie Foxx — Ray
Leonardo DiCaprio — The Aviator
Liam Neeson — Kinsey
Gabriel Garcia Bernal — Bad Education
Don Cheadle — Hotel Rwanda

Honorable Mention: Ethan Hawke — Before Sunset, Jim Carrey — Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

BEST ACTRESS

Catalina Sandino Moreno — Maria Full Of Grace
Hilary Swank — Million Dollar Baby
Julia Roberts — Closer
Julie Delpy — Before Sunset
Laura Dern — We Don’t Live Here Anymore

Honorable Mention: Nicole Kidman — Dogville; Kate Winslet — Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Clive Owen — Closer
Morgan Freeman — Million Dollar Baby
Jude Law — Closer
Freddie Highmore — Finding Neverland
Peter Sarsgaard — Kinsey

Honorable Mention: Alan Alda — The Aviator

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Virginia Madsen—Sideways
Natalie Portman—Closer
Laura Linney—Kinsey
Cate Blanchett—The Aviator
Sophie Okonedo—Hotel Rwanda

Honorable Mention: Regina King Ray

BEST ENSEMBLE CAST

Dogville
Closer
Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind
Mean Creek
Collateral

*

2004 FILM RANKINGS

1. Dogville
2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
3. Maria Full of Grace
4. Closer
5. Before Sunset
6. Collateral
7. Bad Education
8. Kinsey
9. The Incredibles
10. The Aviator
11. The Bourne Supremacy
12. Mean Creek
13. Hotel Rwanda
14. Million Dollar Baby
15. A Very Long Engagement
16. Finding Neverland
17. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
18. Sideways
19. Mean Girls
20. Ray
21. Alfie
22. Shrek 2
23. Open Water
24. Garden State
25. Spider-Man 2
26. Saved!
27. Kill Bill Vol. 2
28. Born Into Brothels
29. Fahrenheit 9/11
30. We Don’t Live Here Anymore
31. I, Robot
32. I Heart Huckabee’s
33. In Good Company
34. Good-Bye, Lenin!
35. Little Black Book
36. The Passion of the Christ
37. The Phantom of the Opera
38. Coffee & Cigarettes
39. Hero
40. 13 Going on 30
41. The Terminal
42. Spanglish
43. Ocean’s Twelve
44. Meet the Fockers
45. Napoleon Dynamite
46. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
47. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
48. Alexander
49. Around the Bend
50. The Dreamers
51. Eurotrip
52. The Manchurian Candidate
53. Starsky & Hutch
54. Shark Tale
55. The Day After Tomorrow
56. Saw
57. Troy
58. The Village
59. The Stepford Wives
60. Tarnation
61. Van Helsing
62. The Forgotten
63. A Home at the End of the World
64. The Chronicles of Riddick
65. Catwoman

dogville-apples*

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