Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

07 January 2005

Top Twenty-Five for 2004

I have decided to release this list without having seen (most notably) Hotel Rwanda and The Polar Express. I should also duly note that there are probably at least ten other movies that I missed and that I will definitely see in the next year. These include but are not limited to Man on Fire, 13 Going on 30, Mean Girls, Son Frère, Tarnation, Goodbye Dragon Inn, The Polar Express, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Crimson Gold and Alfie. If you have any movies to add after reading my complete list, feel free to comment and say "Check this movie out, you bastard."

Without further ado, from the bottom up:

25. Good Bye, Lenin! A very funny, bittersweet film from German director Wolfgang Becker that has farcical tendencies but is definitely in the right place politically.

24. Bon Voyage Part war-flick, part noir, part glamorous movie-star vehicle, this film from Jean-Paul Rappeneau (Cyrano de Bergerac, The Horseman on the Roof) may be all over the place, but it is thrilling to watch and a load of fun.

23. Vanity Fair Mira Nair's adaptation of William Thackeray's 19th century novel is almost always entertaining and gorgeous to look at. It is a story with an anti-heroine, and how often do you find those? (If I had been spared every single scene with Romala Garai, I would have rated this movie much higher.)

22. Being Julia Loads of fun, especially if you're a gay man who works in the theatre. This film, from Hungarian auteur István Szabó (Mephisto, Colonel Redl) is All About Eve if Margo Channing had fabulously defeated Eve by publicly humiliating the little tramp and to frenzied acclaim from adoring New Yorkers.

21. Bad Education I've been waiting for this film, but I qualify my recommendation of it. Bad Education is a damn smart film, and one seemingly obsessed with Douglas Sirk and Billy Wilder (?), but it's many layers left me emotionally detached from the story, and I think in the end, Almodóvar misses the boat if he's trying to make a film about love... or maybe that's just what I wanted to see.

20. Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events I loved this children's film from Brad Silberling. It's performances are spot-on, the comedy is riotous. Jim Carrey seems to fit in perfectly, and the art direction is nothing short of perfect: intricate and ancient without ever being really horrifying. There's a brilliant scene where a toddler is nuzzled by an absolutely enormous python: if that's not love...

19. The Bourne Supremacy Badass filmmaking from Paul Greengrass, whose Bloody Sunday was a powerful, stunning debut a couple years ago. Supremacy is the sequel to The Bourne Identity, and part two is easily better than the first. This film is faster, riskier and more violent with one of the best car chases I have ever seen on a movie screen in my life: on the level of Ronin and The French Connection. Seriously. This movie rocked.

18. Želary A beautiful film from Czech director Ondrej Trojan. This is a WWII film about social mores and small town sensibilities. Excellent.

17. I [Heart] Huckabees Full of non-sequitors and abusively funny. I have a fierce affection for this movie from infamous taskmaster David O. Russell. I love its politics, its jokes, and especially its performances. Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin do their best work in years. Jude Law is hilarious and Mark Wahlberg is an absolute revelation.

16. The Incredibles Magic. Absolute magic. This should be higher on my list, but I am prejudiced against animation. Something to work on.

15. Collateral This is how Los Angeles really looks. With a sobering performance by Jamie Foxx, and an energetic one from Tom Cruise, Collateral is an excellent film from Michael Mann, who makes me believe we're running around the city in which I live.

14. We Don't Live Here Anymore This is the kind of film I am a sucker for... the kind of film I would probably direct if I directed films. It's a cold film set in New England about university professors and their wives, all of whom hate their lives. It's not a date movie, but director John Curran understands adult relationships the way few people do.

13. The Twilight Samurai See this movie as an antidote to this year's soulless offerings from Zhang Yimou. The Twilight Samurai from director Yoji Yamada is a beautiful movie about a middle-aged man earning the respect of his children and the love of a woman.

12. I'm Not Scared This Italian movie is a thriller set in the 1970s and stars the gorgeous Aitana Sanchez-Gijon. The real story is about a young boy finding another young boy in a secret ditch in the middle of nowhere and befriending him. This is a movie about a son's love for his father and the power of friendship. (I can be a sucker for movies about small children, never having been one myself.)

11. A Very Long Engagement A World War I film that is also a powerful love story and an effective mystery from the French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amélie). I've gone into it here recently, so I won't retread.

10. Kill Bill: Vol. 2 The best western since Unforgiven and the fitting conclusion to last year's Vol. 1. Part two is not as uproariously funny or incredibly violent as part one, but it's ending is transcendent and Uma Thurman, Daryl Hannah and David Carradine are all wonderful.

9. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind See it. This is a film about the memories we treasure and the inevitability of true love. It also explores the things that we have to give up and put up with for love to succeed. Love is as much a sacrifice as it is a rapture, and this film by director Michel Gondry and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman captures this perfectly.

8. The Motorcycle Diaries An empathetic, human film about two men (one of whom happens to be Ché Guevara) traveling the South American continent to explore its wonders and its people. Director Walter Salles (a Brazilian) and a cast from a whole host of Spanish-speaking nations would have made Ernesto Guevara proud. This is a film about the unity of South Americans: a unity of which they are perhaps unaware, and the journey of a man from an idealist into an idealogue. This is a beautiful, haunting film with brilliant performances from Gael García Bernal and Rodrigo de la Serna.

7. Dogville This movie packs a wallop, and whatever its detractors say, this movie from anti-American director/sadist Lars von Trier is chilling, uncomfortable and horrifying. I alternately squirmed in my seat and sat with my mouth agape. He borrows (steals) from Thornton Wilder, Bertholt Brecht and Mark Twain and comes up with a film that made me feel like a million bucks walking out. I think this film has the biggest emotional payoff of the year.

6. Million Dollar Baby An excellent film from Clint Eastwood about boxing, love, parenthood, and what we do for the people we love. This is a film about chasing down dreams, achieving them, and knowing when to quit. I can't do it justice. This is an extremely powerful work by a director who wants to probe man's capability to behave humanely. This is also one of the most emotionally stirring films of the year.

5. The Door in the Floor A very funny and cold film from director Tod Williams that boasts the best performance of the year (from actor Jeff Bridges). This is a film that reminded me in a lot of ways of Woody Allen: except that Door has elements of Interiors as well as some from Broadway Danny Rose. This is a film about grief and about our selfishness and inability to be generous with those closest to us no matter how much they need us.

4. The Return Fascinating father/son drama from Russian director Andrei Zvyagintsev. This movie plays like a mystery, but is really about the growth of two young boys and how their father (whom they despise) forms them into men.

3. The Sea Inside An uplifting, emotional film that is so life-affirming you wouldn't know it's about a quadraplegic fighting for the right to end his own life. This movie, from Spanish director Alejandor Amenábar and starring Javier Bardem is powerful and complete. Calling it a biopic might be stretching the genre a bit, but this is the best movie based on tru events I have seen in a long time.

2. Garden State You either get it or you don't. If you are over thirty, you probably don't get it. All I can say is that for me and every other person I have spoken to in my age bracket, Garden State expresses something we have been trying to put into words for a while now. I don't want to call it angst (I feel like I'm putting myself down if I do that), but it is a kind of spiritual displacement or perhaps a lack of faith in society that my generation seems to feel keenly and that Garden State just understands. I do think that the film is unfairly biased against our parents' generation, but I forgive that, because, well Hell, I am unfairly biased against my parents' generation as well.

1. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter ...and Spring My favorite film of the year. This one is from Korean director Kim Ki-duk. It's a Buddhist fable that is set in five stages of a man's life as he achieves harmony with the universe and forgives himself for the things he does. This film is inexpressibly beautiful to look at as well as emotionally powerful. Awesome.

I have a worst of the year list, too, that I can post eventually.

Happy movie-going. Please comment if you feel the urge.

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