2004 YEAR IN REVIEW
The end of the year is quickly approaching, so I'm turning the report in early. Many movies such as The Assassination of Richard Nixon, Lemony Snicket, Life Aquatic, Ray, A Very Long Engagement, The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Closer, The Return, Gozu, Distant, Ocean's 12 and House of Flying Daggers have not been viewed at this time. Although, I frankly have very little faith in any of them.
Best of the Year
(quite tentative at this point)
1. The Incredibles
2. Time of the Wolf
3. I Heart Huckabees
4. Vera Drake
7. Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle
8. In My Skin
9. The Bourne Supremacy
10. Shaolin Soccer
What if every studio film were as flawless as The Incredibles? Then none, as the movie imparts upon us, would be special. Safe to say, there is no danger of that, this of all years, and it stands out as truly exceptional. Just as Bob, Helen, Dash, Violet and Lucius do in their world, the world of Brad Bird: funny, scary, exciting, and oh so pleasing. Showcasing mind-blowing computer effects and top-notch voice work, Brad Bird's adventure not only surpasses pathetic animated competition like the primitive Spongebob movie or video capture fiasco Polar Express, it pretty much blows away all the live action competition, too, which is a fair supposition considering you forget that it's animated most of the time (not to call away attention from the fact that it's the best looking computer animated film to date). As much as I enjoyed Spiderman 2, the critics this year may have called the wrong film the "best superhero movie ever made." The reluctant hero seems less a dramatic challenge than one who asks, "How do you deal with the pressure of always being Super?" What more to expect from the people behind Finding Nemo and Iron Giant, who succeeded in fulfilling the dreams of that kid in the audience who, like the kid on the three-wheeler in Bob Parr's driveway, just wants to witness something amazing.
Michaels Haneke, Mann, and Leigh did not disappoint with their respective post-apocalyptic, cab fare-from-hell, and humane abortionist anti-genre successes, but it's sad that there was little else to compliment these works by continually great filmmakers. The exception was David O Russell's eccentric, id-obsessed experimental narrative I Heart Huckabees which, if it had only been a little less lazy and Flirting with Disaster-ish, would have been the best non-Pixar movie of the year. An existential Big Question movie to end all existential Big Question movies, it's genuinely funny, captivating in its chaotic randomness and gloriously flawed: it's fine to criticize its nonconformity, but no one can deny its importance in an ocean of kooky schlock that disguises itself as intelligent.
It's hard to say what was more horrifying: the tentacle-happy Lovecraftian monsters of Guillermo Del Toro's lovingly crafted (I swear, that was an accident!) Hellboy adaptation or Marina de Van's progressive fascination with self-mutilation in her directorial debut In My Skin. I squirmed in my seat during the water scene of each respective film. The title heroes of Danny Leiner's Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle taught us that the key to life is never losing sight of your goal, whatever it may be.
And in the fight-the-power category, Hollywood served up a great revenge/survival tale with the Jason Bourne sequel and also managed to finally release the transcendent Shaolin Soccer: an uplifting tale of the correct way to channel your powers, not unlike Incredibles.
(PS: I am aware that In My Skin and Shaolin Soccer were officially released last year, but nobody in America - well, me at least - could see them until 2004.)
Worst of the Year
1. Van Helsing
2. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
3. The Saddest Music in the World
5. The Day After Tomorrow
7. She Hate Me
9. Jersey Girl
10. The Alamo
Once every couple of years, there comes a movie so extravagantly awful that it almost deserves its own category. A special isolated realm of cinema in which a hunch-backed Mr. Hyde lives at Notre Dame cathedral, in which werewolves can't... or can (?!) outrun carriages, in which the only thing that can kill Dracula is... the Wolfman. There have been bigger messes than the lamentable Van Helsing, but not for a long, long time.
I did, however, sit through it. Not true of Sky Captain, an offender of over-CGification so atrocious that it became painful to look at. Speaking of technical hodge podge, Guy Maddin's Saddest Music in the World proved that independent auteurs obsessed with expressionist aesthetic, the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, and beer-filled glass legs in Winnipeg can be just as unwatchable as overly experimental Hollywood hack jobs. Between Colin "Actor-as-Virus" Farrell's Irish brogue (appropriately reminiscent of Mel Gibson's grunty William Wallace) and Angelina Jolie's hammy Count Chocula accent, Oliver Stone found plenty of entirely new and original ways to suck in his 20 hour bio-epic. "There will never be an Alexander like you - Alexander the GREAT!" So that's how he got the name. That movie? Little gay.
The Day After Tomorrow (what's with all this "tomorrow?" - didn't anyone learn from the disastrously titled Tomorrow Never Dies?) hoped its "controversial" political message and clever real politician look-alikes would mask its plotless return to the special effects gimmickry of Independence Day and Godzilla (1998). All the scene with Sela Ward staying behind with the cancer kid reading Peter Pan after the disaster was missing was a fireman valiantly opening the door to say, "We're here to save you!" (oh wait - it did have that). And while Hollywood supplied its share of mindless dreck, Lars von Trier managed to quickly nullify the stimulating notions of "pure" filmmaking in The Five Obstructions with Dogville. Ostensibly Avant Garde for Dummies, its attempts to satirize dehumanization in America (a country von Trier's never set foot in) are embarrassingly dense and self-servicing, as well as misogynistic and hokey.
Moving on to people who are actually known to have talent, Spike Lee disappointed with the misguided She Hate Me, his first full-blown disaster in since 1996's Girl 6. In a year when Ben Stiller made the questionable transition from clown prince to annoying jackass, the hopeless Envy epitomized the lack of comic creativity evidenced also in Along Came Polly, Dodgeball (delightful enough movie, but we've all seen Tony Perkis), Meet the Fockers and Starsky and Hutch (not to mention last year's Duplex). And Kevin Smith persisted to drive the brilliance of Clerks and Mallrats deep into the recesses of our memories with his Hallmark card of a bare-boned Baby Boom rehash Jersey Girl. Stop blaming Bennifer for its failure, fatso - just fess up to how shitty the movie is. And let's just all get together and end Billy Bob's career, people - he couldn't possibly have any defenders, especially not as Davy Crockett in Disney's overblown snooze-fest Alamo adaptation. Where's Fess Parker when you need him?
Didn't need to see it to know it sucked
4. The Punisher
5. White Chicks
6. The Terminal
7. Napolean Dynamite
8. Ladder 49
9. Shark Tale
10. The Manchurian Candidate
While some may have expected miracles from Pitof, I'm somewhat reluctant to accept that the best way to adapt the story of a second-hand comic villainess (popularized in a 12 year old movie) is to completely rewrite her background, cut any reference to the hero, and put her in a bra and Mickey Mouse hat. Casting Revlon and AOL spokeswomen in the leads may have been mistake number two. In the tradition of Jim Breuer, Julia Sweeney and, of course, Joe Piscopo, amateur SNL alum Jimmy Fallon crossed over in order to laugh at his own witless shtick on the big screen. Another crossover to potential film franchise was Jim Davis' lovably lazy cat, shown in the preview dancing and sliding around all over the place. The CG ass shaking was enough to judge the potential of Garfield before it was even revealed that middle-aged lovable loser Jon would be portrayed by...Breckin Meyer?
Is there really such a lack of dark-haired actors in Hollywood that they are always forced to dye the hair of whoever plays Frank Castle, AKA The Punisher? Thomas Jane's oily head not withstanding, John Travolta playing the villain is always an instant turn-off. A more drastic makeover was performed on the Wayans boys for White Chicks, and the nightmares are still recurring (there must have been a less scary way to have revenge on C. Thomas Howell for Soul Man 18 years ago). It was an orgy of accents for Tom Hanks this year, but after his Southern drawl only contributed to the disaster of Ladykillers, how could his bumbling Balki-esque immigrant in Spielberg's meaningful (read: meaningless) attempt to capitalize indie hipness expect to enchant and charm? Maybe if they video-captured him playing all the characters and... ah, nevermind.
Speaking of indie hipness, Napolean Dynamite joins a long line of Sundance talk-of-the-towns which hopefully isn't fooling anyone. Anything described as "fresh" by its own director is just asking not to be seen. And what would the "worst list" be without another appearance by Travolta, this time in the "let's-cash-in-on-9/11-while-the-flags-are-still-flyin'" Ladder 49. Is it possible to sit through the obviously bland Shark Tale, an animated feature more interested in its high-profile voice performers than originality, when something as strikingly inventive as The Incredibles is just around the corner? Dreamworks must be as clueless as Jonathan Demme, who learned nothing from his critically and commercially maimed remake of Charade and followed up the interesting The Agronomist with another adaptation of Manchurian Candidate, which Angela Lansbury herself denounced.
(continues on next page with the The Most Over-rated of 2004)
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