indieWIRE's Top Ten Lists for 2004
by Eugene Hernandez, Brian Brooks, James Israel, Erica Abeel, Liza Bear, Peter Brunette, Brandon Judell, Anthony Kaufmnan, John Leahan, and Wendy Mitchell
One day each year we allow ourselves an excessive moment of self-indulgence as we look back at the best films of the year according to our New York staff and key indieWIRE contributors. This year's lists follow:
Eugene Hernandez, indieWIRE Editor-in-Chief
Each year, one film seems to emerge as my favorite of the year. In 2003 it was HBO's "Angels in America," while in previous years "Far From Heaven," "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," "Dancer in the Dark," and "All About My Mother" topped my personal list. Even though I saw some truly terrific movies in 2004, by mid-December I realized that no one film was my favorite... that is until I saw "The Aviator" two weeks ago. After catching Martin Scorsese's spectacular new film at a Monday morning press screening I went back for opening night later that week. My list also includes 9 other favorites and a handful of honorable mentions that I simply couldn't ignore.
Best film - "The Aviator"
Howard Hughes exudes promise and passion when we meet him in the 1930s. It's a time of exciting possibilities in the city of the future, Los Angeles, where the fast-growing region's dominant industries -- aviation and the movies -- are on the verge of explosive growth. Martin Scorsese's biography is a big, loud, colorful look at the life of Hughes and one of the filmmaker's best works in years, as striking as his other classic portraits of conflicted men: "Good Fellas," "The Last Temptation of Christ," "Raging Bull," and "Taxi Driver."
Nine more films (listed alphabetically):
"Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"
"Maria Full of Grace"
"Super Size Me"
Among my personal highlights from the other nine films listed below are: Gael Garcia Bernal & Pedro Almodóvar at their best in "Bad Education"; Ross McElwee making the personal, compelling in "Bright Leaves"; the incisive activism of "The Corporation"; the sheer insane creativity of Gondry and Kaufman ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"), the true discoveries of 2004: Josh Marston and Catalina Sandino Moreno ("Maria Full of Grace"), Jacob Aaron Estes ("Mean Creek"), Morgan Spurlock ("Super Size Me"), and Jonathan Caouette ("Tarnation"); and finally, the mesmerizing character created by Imelda Staunton and Mike Leigh, "Vera Drake."
Honorable Mentions (listed alphabetically): "Before Sunset," "Birth," "Fahrenheit 9/11," "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou," "Metallica: Some Kind of Monster," "Undertow"
There were twenty more films that stood out for me this year, but I'll list those on my blog...
Brian Brooks, indieWIRE Associate Editor
1. "Tarnation" - Jonathan Caouette: I was mesmerized the first time I saw it, and the emotion did not dissipate the second time around. It's a truly heart-felt and revolutionary masterpiece.
2. "Fahrenheit 9/11" - Michael Moore: Nevermind the backlash, Moore's Cannes d'Or winner gives the God-awful truth to the disastrous rule of Bush.
3. "Control Room" - Jehane Noujaim: This eye-opening doc gives a refreshing perspective on the Iraq war that is not filtered through the wimpy journalists with no backbone to stand up to the Bushies.
4. "Good Bye Lenin!" - Wolfgang Becker: A very refreshing story driven film. Plus, who can resist Daniel Bruhl?
5. "Bad Education" - Pedro Almodovar: Almodovar is a brilliant filmmaker with a long history of revolutionary story-telling, and this is no exception. Ole!
6. "The Dreamers" - Bernardo Bertolucci: Paris in the '60s seen through the eyes of three hot idealists who have no problem taking off their clothes. Vive la revolution!
7. "Sideways" - Alexander Payne: A great story that shows male bonding can be more complex then a couple of brewskies and some bitches. And lately I've been drinking Pinot Noir. No more fucking Merlot!
8. "The Aviator" - Martin Scorsese: Three hours long, and I didn't fight drowsiness nor did I glance at my watch. OK, Leo is in the $20 million club, but he's a fine actor! And Bravo Cate Blanchett and Kate Beckinsale!
9. "Maria Full of Grace" - Joshua Marston: One of the best to come out of Sundance 2004. The film is a unique perspective on the war on drugs, and brilliant filmmaking.
10. "Metallica: Some Kind of Monster" - Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky: You don't have to like Metallica to appreciate the complex relationship between the members of this fantastically successful metal band. But if you do, then all the better.
RUNNER UPS for 2004
"Carandiru" - Hector Babenco
"Saved!" - Brian Dannelly
"Super Size Me" - Morgan Spurlock
"The Mudge Boy" - Michael Burke
"Kinsey" - Bill Condon
"Since Otar Left" - Julie Bertuccelli
"Open Water" - Chris Kentis
Films I didn't see unfortunately, but very well may have changed my line up:
"The Motorcycle Diaries" - Walter Salles
"Before Sunset" - Richard Linklater
"Bon Voyage" - Jean-Paul Rappeneau
"Undertow" - David Gordon Green
"I ♥ Huckabees" - David O. Russell
"Dogville" - Lars von Trier
"A Very Long Engagement" - Jean-Pierre Jeunet
James Israel, indieWIRE Administrative and Marketing Services
In no particular order:
1. "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" - One of the best films I've seen about the ups and downs of troubled relationships and the importance of the memories (good and bad) they create.
2. "The Incredibles" - The most accurate portrayal of a comic book superhero without actually being a comic book adaptation, and an insightful examination of domestic squabbles and what it takes to make a family work. Most fun to be had at the movies this year.
3. "Maria Full of Grace" - Naturalistic, tense film that shows a sympathetic, realistic view of a drug trafficker.
4. "Dogville" - Superior to "Breaking the Waves" and "Dancer in the Dark" in providing a point behind Von Trier's brutalized woman, with the brilliant use of a chalk outlined soundstage to show the hypocrisies of a small town America.
5. "Napoleon Dynamite" - The overall plot is familiar, but the main character is hilarious. Haven't laughed this hard since "Rushmore." (Also the most popular movie character to impersonate around the indieWIRE office.)
6. "Vera Drake" - Harrowing, microscopic examination of an abortion provider for the poor with a sensational lead performance.
7. "Hero" - Visually stunning story of the creation of a nation.
8. "Tarnation" - Inventive use of home movies to create a moving story of a troubled mother and her son who comes to her rescue.
10. "Control Room" - Insightful view of what is really happening in Iraq. Hopefully there will be more of these in the future.
Still haven't seen "Million Dollar Baby," "Bad Education," "The Aviator," "The Woodsman."
Disappointments: "Garden State," "Spiderman 2," "House of Flying Daggers," "A Very Long Engagement"
indieWIRE CONTRIBUTORS (listed alphabetically)
Erica Abeel, top ten list (not ranked):
"Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence"
Liza Bear, best films released in 2004:
"Born into Brothels"
"House of Flying Daggers"
"James' Journey to Jerusalem"
"Story of the Weeping Camel"
"The Sea Inside"
"Maria Full of Grace"
Best Re-release: "The Battle of Algiers"
Best Adaptation: "The Merchant of Venice"
Honorable Mention: "Kitchen Stories," "Notre Musique," "The Take," "Crimson Gold," "A Talking Picture," "Zatoichi: Blind Swordsman," "Red Lights," "29 Palms"
Peter Brunette, top ten (in alphabetical order):
"Maria Full of Grace"
"Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring"
Honorable Mention (in no particular order): "Tarnation," "Undertow," "Crimson Gold," "Kitchen Stories," "Noi Albinoi," "I'm Not Scared," "Coffee and Cigarettes," "The Mother," "Code 46," "We Don't Live Here Anymore," "Hero," "Bad Education," "The Aviator," "The Assassination of Richard Nixon"
Most Overrated Hollywood Film of the Year: "Million-Dollar Baby"
Most Underrated Hollywood Film of the Year: "I, Robot"
Most Overrated Foreign Film of the Year: "Motorcycle Diaries"
Two Most Underrated Foreign Films of the Year: "Distant" (Uzak) and "I'm Not Scared"
Brandon Judell, ten best:
"Tarnation" - Home movies transformed into great art.
"Broadway: The Golden Age" - A "dying" art form is celebrated by gifted folk with sterling memories.
"Fahrenheit 9/11" - A bombastic showpiece that wound up giving hope to millions, yet sadly didn't make any difference in the end.
"Kinsey" - A first-rate biopic about a bug-researcher who taught America no sexual act is really taboo. Too bad weπve forgotten his advice.
"I'm Not Scared" - A Truffaut-esque look at childhood that is as frightening as it is insightful.
"Since Otar Left" - Three generations of women lie to each other under the guise of love. Brilliantly acted.
"Cowards Bend the Knee" - A whacky look at life under the microscope by one of cinema's greatest living surrealists.
"The Mother" - A bang-up of a screenplay and a jarring performance by Anne Reid prove that orgasms and love are possible after 65.
"Son Frère" - Patrice Chéreau's wise, unsentimental paean to the sudden, troubled affection between two brothers who never quite got along until one started dying.
"Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" - An off-the-wall romancer that gets better, gets deeper, and gets even more astounding with each additional viewing. A Charlie Kaufman conceit at its best.
Anthony Kaufman, top ten of 2004:
2. "Time of the Wolf"
3. "Before Sunset"
5. "Vera Drake"
6. "Goodbye Dragon Inn"
7. "Red Lights"
8. "The Return"
9. "Crimson Gold"
I've never liked ranking my best film lists, as I think the practice is mostly arbitrary and pray to mood swings. Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan's "Distant" may be my number one film of the year because it's agonizingly beautiful and wryly funny, but the choice is also somewhat political: too few people saw this quiet masterpiece and therefore it tops my list as a way to raise its nonexistent profile. It's an exquisitely profound movie that hopefully finds its audience on DVD.
I could say the same for Michael Haneke's "Time of the Wolf," the most disturbing horror film of the year that no one saw. It gets number 2, possibly by virtue of its poor box office earnings, but moreso as a result of the blistering, bone-chilling way it looks at the callous soul of man in an age of apocalypse. This movie gave me nightmares for a week.
I must confess the rest of my list is a hodgepodge of favorites from the year, hard to quantify. "Before Sunset" comes in at 3, largely because I think it's the best American film of the year after "Sideways," and it's a poignant, nostalgic and simple in a way that left me high on life hours after seeing the film.
Lars von Trier's "Dogville" (4) is so innovative, disturbing, perceptive and gloriously anti-American that it had to place in the top five; "Vera Drake" (5), especially the first 90 minutes, is so finely crafted that it ranks among Mike Leigh's best work to date; Tsai Ming-liang's "Goodbye Dragon Inn" (6) is such a shockingly gorgeous piece of cinema (and ode to its fading magic) that it also demands a high rank.
And while I think Jafar Panahi's "Crimson Gold" (at 9) is probably a more astute and significant work than Cedric Kahn's "Red Lights," the deliriously wicked and witty Simeon adaptation was filled with so much sick and suspenseful fun that I had to place it at number 7. The power of Andrey Zvyagintsev's mystifying debut film "The Return" still resonates, especially the performances of its two young leads, boys who deliver scenes of such visceral heartbreaking intensity that it surely deserves number 8.
Lastly, Alexander Payne's "Sideways," a movie that has already received its fair share of deserving accolades that I thought it an appropriate entry on which to close.
Some final thoughts: Martin Scorsese's few-minute montage clip of "Hells' Angels" in "The Aviator" was as much a breathless and luminous ode to cinema and destruction as Jean-Luc Godard's opening "Hell" section in "Notre Musique." These sequences, by themselves, deserve honorable mentions. As do (in no particular order), "Tarnation," "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," "The Five Obstructions," "House of Flying Daggers," "Hero," "Control Room," and "Birth." As of press time, I regret to admit I still haven't seen "Moolaade" and "Million Dollar Baby."
Jonny Leahan, top ten list:
3. "Goodbye Lenin!"
4. "Kill Bill: Vol. 2"
5. "I ♥ Huckabees"
7. "Godzilla" (original 1954 version not released in the US until this year)
8. "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"
9. "Fahrenheit 9/11"
10. TIE: "Garden State" and "Napolean Dynamite"
Honorable Mention: "Bad Education," "Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence," "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou," "Kinsey," "Spiderman 2"
Wendy Mitchell, top 10 (mostly in order):
"Metallica: Some Kind of Monster"
"Down to the Bone" (if it had received distribution)
"Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"
The Steve Coogan-Alfred Molina short in "Coffee & Cigarettes"
Honorable mentions: "Born Into Brothels," "The Corporation," "Sideways," "Young Adam," "Reconstruction," "Super Size Me," "The Mother," "Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself."
And one already on my 2005 list: "Head On" (opening in January)