2004 YEAR IN REVIEW
Well John, here it is: the annual round-up of the cinematic history of the world. While there are some key disagreements, we're once again on the same goddamned page.
I LIKED THESE FILMS.
1. I heart Huckabees.
Joins Miami Blues as the only films that actually have changed my life. Or at least, summed up perfectly how I felt at a particular moment in time. Too personal to talk about.
2. Time of the Wolf.
3. Vera Drake.
4. 5 x 2.
I don't really like Ozon that much, but I saw this great little movie at Toronto. Does that make me an asshole: to talk about a movie I saw "at Toronto" which doesn't even have an American distributor yet? At any rate, it traces a couple's disintegration backwards to the time they met in five deliberately delineated sections. It has more than its share of disturbing/upsetting scenes and all of it rings absolutely true without ever being over the top or placing the blame more on one of the characters than the other. Low-key and thoughtful, I hope it comes out in the US.
5. Days of Being Wild.
Just released in America for the first time this fall, Wong Kar Wai's second film is still his best. Sad and strange, but without the solemnity and over-reaching narrative experimentation that trips up his later films, this movie looks ridiculously great on the big screen. Maggie Cheung (who looks maybe 17 in the film) has never been hotter and more troublingly reticent than in this role. In their first collaboration, he's often content to just point the camera at her face and you can really get an amazing sense of how unique her presence is. Short and sweet, this movie feels very organic and tossed off while still tightly structured and conceived. I wish he would work this hard all the time to make a film work.
6. Before Sunset.
In case I needed a reminder that Before Sunrise was fantastic.
This almost gentle and mainly goofy movie from Takashi Miike borders on being a family film. One hilariously mangled corpse, a detective with a case of crabs and an early serial rape subplot keep it from venturing into PG territory, however. Still, this film gets you cheering for the hapless hero to seize his destiny in way that I can't remember working since Diggstown made me want to stand up and cheer. The film has all of the trademark Miike lunacy and stylistic hiccups that make any Miike film worth watching, but it also resists the urge to cruelly pull the rug out from under the audience - it's closest antecedent is Ghostbusters or something, but thing is all Japanese ultra-madness. It follows its narrative through to a satisfying ending straight out of a million other superhero films and the whole time the light tone floats along with a wink and a smile.
I might not actually like this film. It is certainly the most confusing film I have ever seen, which in this case is a good thing. The intricate design of the film layers over on it self again and again, looping inward on its own internal logic like feedback. Shit man, I'll go out on a limb and say this is the sci-fi film equivalent of garage rock - it's the first film I've seen intentionally upping the noise to signal ratio and cranking out a melody from the seeming chaos it creates. Fucked if I know what's happening half the time, but the film has an unmistakable intelligence and ambition. Not a masterpiece, but movies like this can't be faked.
9. Harold and Kumar go to White Castle.
Miike does Buñuel. Surreal, surreal, surreal. Funny. Seriously, Monty Python scope funny. It should have been arty bullshit, but it ends up being art. I'm as surprised as anyone.
11a. (honorable mention)
I liked this movie a lot, but it could have used a full reduction of its Aunt May content. God, she sucks. I hope Sam Raimi actually does one of those Tappert/Campbell projects he keeps insinuating might happen, though.
11b. (honorable mention)
The Control Room.
I completely left this off the list originally, which was unfortunate: this movie was a kind of anti-Fahrenheit 9/11. It makes all sides of the story, as well as all of its characters, gut-wrenchingly sympathetic and the situation in the Middle East seem heartbreakingly hopeless.
I DISLIKED THESE FILMS A CONSIDERABLE AMOUNT.
Narcissistic actor seeks crazy family to exploit endlessly on camera while wallowing in self-pity. Bad teeth and Texas background a must. No fatties!
2. Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter... and Spring.
This has my vote for most pretentious piece of crap ever. Apparently the ancient Buddhist wisdom it contains was culled from the private files of Hippie H. Moron. Most pretentious setting, most pretentious casting, most pretentious script, most pretentious "message." It does, however, feature a decent scene of fucking, if you like to look at a chubby dude's ass for, like, three and a half minutes.
3. Supersize Me.
4. Napoleon Dynamite.
The thinnest film imaginable. The jokes were sometimes funny, now if there were only a movie to go with them. Also, fucking racist.
5. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.
Somehow, this movie makes me feel better about Wes Anderson, as though now I know where I stand with him. I shouldn't expect another Rushmore. After Huckabees, I am ready to attribute the greatness of Rushmore to Jason Schwartzman as much as to Wes Anderson. No, Wes Anderson wants to make these painfully self-conscious, suffocatingly hip films about idiosyncratic subjects. He likes costume design and colorful frames. Incidentally, this film looks like shit and none of its half-baked ideas pan out for the better. As this mess chugs along through its long, long, long two hour running time, you can practically see Bill Murray unhitching his wagon from Wes' star. He's got that Coppola girl to get him an Oscar now, anyway. This film is the step farther away from Rushmore I was afraid he would take after the dismal Tenenbaums.
6. The Saddest Music in the World.
7. Bad Education.
Seriously, this movie does not work even for a second. I must have checked my watch ten times in the last twenty minutes of this film. For a purported "master," Almodovar has the clumsiest possible grasp on simple narrative devices and filmmaking technique. There are some painfully bad, almost embarrassing moments in the script that seem to be a result of his obliviousness about how to put a film together. He simply has a character show up and yak about the back-story for no reason in a particularly amateurish display of exposition. A real mess, this one. Also, it is fairly gay. But not gay enough.
8. Kill Bill Vol. 2.
My personal least favorite climatic scene in any movie I can think of.
9. The Motorcycle Diaries.
Hey, wasn't Che Guevara a Marxist revolutionary who led guerrilla uprisings of the exploited classes in Bolivia, Cuba, and the Congo? Didn't he say "the revolutionary must be a cold-blooded killing machine?" Wasn't he known for his burning intensity and smoldering charisma as well as his overly masculine decisiveness? Apparently, Walter Salles thought casting the Mexican Freddie Prinze, Jr. in a buddy road-movie would give the world insight into this complicated historical figure. Che was very cuddly and shy and kind of awkward with women, but he still just wanted to get laid. Since this is an American Pie movie (it isn't?), that road to pussy-dom will not be paved with a smooth, easily navigable material. Freddie Prinze at one point decides to swim across a dangerous river so he can celebrate his birthday (or something along those lines) with a bunch of lepers who live on the other side of the river. They are poor. He is generous in spirit and strong of mind. Viva la revolution!
10. The Sea Inside.
All of this bile-spewing is exhausting me, so I'll be brief. The lovable Javier Bardem and the Spanish version of M. Night Shyamalan make their play for awards-season credibility. Features extended sequences of the quadriplegic dreaming of "flying." I almost puked on Vincent Gallo's cock.
(continues on next page with the Movies You May Have Forgotten Existed from 2004)
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