Sunday, July 26, 2015

MrMoviesETC's TOP 10 FILMS of 2004

Greetings, Movie Lovers!

Welcome back to another week of Top Ten as I go through the films that I enjoyed the most from 2004.

I acknowledge that I've done my share of complaining during this countdown project, particularly while going through the 2000s. The theme of grievances have been that, while each year during this decade has had great films, the selection has been annoyingly slim all the while keeping in mind that I have obviously not seen every film ever made and there's always the chance there are some excellent films that I have yet to come across ("Ray" and "The Terminal" come to mind).

Upon doing some research, it also appears that 2004 was not an exceptional year financially for mainstream Hollywood. Of course, a successful box office doesn't mean squat anymore as to whether a film is actually good, but as an example, the two largest domestic summer blockbusters in 2004 were "Harry Potter and Prisoner of Azkaban" and "Dodgeball: An Underdog Story" - I'm not against either one of those movies, but that does say something, doesn't it?

Simply put, I had a mighty struggle putting this Top Ten list together. I had enough trouble filling all ten gaps that I considered changing this singular post to a Top Five. I'll additionally admit that since it was more laboring to put this thing together, it was difficult to even get excited for it. I did not have a solid #1 as the Top Three are easily interchangeable, though it is important to keep in mind that I do enjoy all ten of these movies or else I would not have even bothered to put this together.

So, without further delay, here is my Top Ten list of 2004:


Plainly put, if you're not a fan of Metallica and/or documentaries, there's no reason that you lend anything resembling a care to this film. In my position, I cannot say that every single song and every single album that Metallica has ever made has stimulated me without fail; however, when they do hit the mark for me, it's generally long lasting and something I can and will revisit numerous times. It's hard for me to decide convincingly whether or not "Some Kind of Monster" was always intended by the band or if it was a circumstantial marketing damage plan in the less-than-stellar response their 2003 album "St. Anger" received universally. I'm not one to absolutely loathe that effort entirely as I can still appreciate the title track and maybe one or two others, but outside of that, it is a challenging album to tolerate. The documentary goes into the band's inner turmoil during the creation of that record as James Hetfield was struggling intensely with drugs and the group itself trying to get around only being a 3-piece at the time. Even if it is a simple chronological telling of one of the biggest bands in metal music history hitting one of its lowest points, the documentary is exceptionally well made and is all but guaranteed to please the fans of the group. It was certainly a pleasant surprise for me, and one I wouldn't mind revisiting every now and then.


In what I still consider to be Richard Linklater's best body of work to date, this second installment in the "Before" trilogy finds Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy meeting again after 9 years from the conclusion of their first chance encounter in "Before Sunrise". You're not apt to find a more simple or human approach to a story about two strangers that became lovers, went their separate ways, found each other again only to find that their sparks still burn brightly despite all the changes that have occurred in their lives, and have it somehow be entertaining. Linklater can take a lot of the credit with his breathtaking choices of location and intimacy, but it's really Hawke and Delpy that propel the films to be what they are. Hollywood plays the sugary "everything works out" card all too readily in romantic comedies, but Linklater keeps this mood grounded as, while the two leads would like to pretend that their lives hold no ground on their romance, they additionally cannot sustain such naivety and that reality will force their relationship to show its true colors. After having seen "Before Midnight" this past year, I wouldn't call "Sunset" my favorite out of the series, although it is a balanced and necessary progression in a charming love story.


Whether being a fan of Johnny Depp or not, I've always been surprised at the lack of conversation surrounding "Finding Neverland" - a story based around J.M. Barrie (Depp) that has been struggling to get his plays to take off in the local theater, and then by happenstance, comes across the widowed Sylvia Llewelyn Davies and her four children. After bonding with the family - the boys in particular - Barrie begins to find inspiration for his play about Peter Pan. Of course, the circumstances are not that simple as they never tend to be, as Barrie's ex-wife and Sylvia's mother begin to feel uncomfortable about Barrie's constant presence with the family. That's really the bare bones of it all as far as the story, but the magic in "Neverland" is truly afforded by Depp's performance (one of his more down-to-Earth ones, at least), and the story's equal ability to be uplifting at one moment and completely heart-wrecking in the next.

The story of Peter Pan has always been rooted in imagination, and I feel "Finding Neverland" captured that essence in a way that is accessible. The only way I can think of why a person would undoubtedly despise this film is if they were lacking in that imagination.


As much as I appreciate the "Kill Bill" films for what they are and what they mean to the Tarantino library, I will go out on a limb and say that neither film comes close to being my favorite from said library. I think they are a great deal of fun and gave Tarantino a means to flex his need for creative over-the-top imagery, but all in all, I find myself placing them still below "Django Unchained", "Inglorious Basterds", and "Reservoir Dogs", seeing as I could watch any of those movies on a whim, whereas I need to be in the right mood to watch "Kill Bill". Nevertheless, "Vol. 2" was one of the best action films of 2004 in my opinion, even though it did not focus nearly as much on action as "Vol. 1" did. The latter focused on initial revenge rage of Kiddo and any of Bill's henchmen getting chopped to bits for crossing her path; "Vol. 2" exercises the more personal side when the actual confrontation with Bill takes place and she finds it more difficult to cut him down than she would have initially thought. Overall, it provides a satisfying conclusion to the story, and while it cannot boast the same acting level as perhaps "Basterds" or "Django" can, Tarantino does bring enough cut-throat polish to this closer to make it memorable.


It's hard to believe that a full decade has gone by since this film's release, and really the last time that anyone took Jim Carrey seriously. That is sort of depressing to me in a way as I grew up on Carrey's style of comedy, and while this effort is rooted almost purely in drama, it shows that the man does have range. It's almost as if Hollywood knows his kind of slapstick isn't as embraced as it once was, and now they can't figure out what to do with him. I'm still not entirely sold on his romantic chemistry with Kate Winslet in this film, but, to me, that really is non-impacting in the grand scheme of the story about two ex-lovers trying to forget each other, and, guess what, there's a piece of technology that can do that. I did attempt to watch "Sunshine" once back when it was released and couldn't really get behind it. I felt the characters were too strange and the story didn't make any cohesive sense, but hey, young and dumb back then, what can I say? After giving it another try, I (clearly) enjoyed it much more and found that I or anyone that has ever suffered heartache could relate to it. In all honestly, the story and its interesting use of visuals really are not that complicated; in simple terms, the present times are moving forward and the flashbacks are moving in reverse to symbolize the literal destruction of memories. Expectantly, it turns out that wiping the mind clean is not nearly that simple, but I will not risk going into spoiler territory from there. What you need to know is that it's a well-made film with a good message and acting to boot.

5. SAW

Yeah, so what? These lists have never always been about the best films ever made, but the films I enjoyed the most during that year, and "Saw" happens to be one of my favorite horror films and also my favorite horror anthology. My only regret is not seeing the original in the cinema so I could say that I was there from the start; sadly, I did not make it until "Saw III". I do admit that these films deserve to be labeled more in terms of junk food than anything else, but I like the twists that they contain regardless of how goofy or nonsensical they are, and Tobin Bell could not have been more perfect to play the role of Jigsaw. Slashers and gorefests are not what I consider to be my cup of tea when it comes to this genre, but at the same time, one has to admit that the kills and devices in this movie and ones that follow are amicably effective. Additionally, I always talk about suspense when it comes to horror, and while "Saw" may not keep that cranked up in full on a consistent basis, they do have enough of it to make them feel superior to most modern horror in that respect. There's not much else I can say, really. I will continue to watch these movies in the years to come, and will gladly get on board if they decide to pick the series back up again for more releases.


I could not really decide whether to put this in front or behind "Saw", because even though the two are absolutely nothing alike, the both were about even on my enjoyment scale. Riffing off of the classic Romero zombie classics, "Shaun of the Dead' showcases why Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are a comedy force to be reckoned with. There's really no way to describe it other than the two comedians have that "it" factor when it comes to their chemistry. The story itself, while self-explanatory, was a perfect fit to show off the two leads' capabilities. I think one of the best jokes of the movie was in the beginning where the modern world is shown as being so mundane that they don't even notice at first that the undead are starting to walk among them. Once the thrills do begin in earnest, between the one-liners and the physical humor of the zombie kills, "Shaun" becomes, at least for me, a laugh-per-minute riot. This one comes easily recommended!


One of my theories of why I didn't like "The Wolf of Wall Street" quite as much as everyone else seemed to is because I had happened to "The Aviator" merely months prior to "Wall Street", and in some ways, it kind of felt like deja vu - Scorsese directs Leonardo DiCaprio as a character that knows the recipe to success, yet either via drugs of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, has a mental breakdown all the way into the abyss. I suppose the big difference is that one of the characters (I won't say which) is able to come back from the dark, while the other is not so lucky. Don't misunderstand me, both films are expertly done and are entertaining on high degrees, although if I had to choose, I'd probably go with "The Aviator" for the sole reason that it's easier for me to sympathize with a character that cannot ultimately help his situation as opposed to someone on an unapologetic path of self-destruction. While the supporting characters did matter in "The Aviator" since some of them could take credit for helping Howard Hughes (DiCaprio) over the cliff, this is completely DiCaprio's vehicle, and in this film similarly to "Wall Street", he takes the role by the reigns and goes crazy with it. I appreciated as well that Scorsese knew well enough to continually bait the audience that perhaps there is still hope for Hughes, only to watch it wither away again in another bout of hysterics. This film definitely tests its audience, and it will be the viewers that can digest everything crammed in this 3 hour ride that will get the most out of it.


You know this movie is good when, 11-years-later, the general pulse of the Pixar fan crowd is still that "we want an 'Incredibles' sequel!". If the current MCU march is anything to base the theory on, it shows that superhero films can continue to be successful due to the seemingly endless possibilities they hold, and hell, "The Incredibles" came on the scene before superheroes were cool again. Inevitably, you can count on Pixar to bring this action comedy into the family dynamic, especially since this group of heroes are a family trying to live a normal life in a world where superheroes have become outlawed. Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) does what he can in that dynamic but cannot help but chomp at the bit when he's presented an opportunity to put the mask and suit back on. The story still holds up strong today with its message of staying together as a family and facing adversity even if the adversaries are the people that used to praise you. Even at 11-years-old, the animation quality remains to be a marvel to look at (especially on blu-ray), and some of the scenes are so glossy, they almost appear to be realistic.

I'd say this movie ranks in about the middle if I were to rank all the Pixar films; however, that doesn't say a whole lot as I still find #15 on that list to be watchable.

At last, my #1 film from 2004 is:






As I mentioned in the preamble, I could have swapped a couple of these films around and made an entirely different list, but I think I settled on "Sideways" for my #1 pick because I realized that I still consider it to be one of the biggest surprises of that year. What I mean to say is that I knew it would be good because it had the formula to be good; what I didn't expect it was how great it would turn out to be thanks mostly in part to the performances of Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church. The premise is that Miles (Giamatti), a depressed and unsuccessful writer, offers to take his closest friend, Jack (Church), on a road trip down the countryside to get a taste of wine country as a sort of Bachelor party for Jack whom is soon to be married. Raymond assumes that it will be a relaxing, leisurely trip, while Jack clearly has other plans to hook up with multiple women before he settles down for good. Miles tolerates this behavior initially as it really isn't his problem, but the easy going success of Jack's ventures begin to grade on Miles and their friendship as a whole. The dynamic of "polar opposite" friends has been done before in Hollywood, yet somehow this take on it felt different and fresh. Again, I think that it is a testament to the performances that Giamatti and Church give and how well that chemistry really works on screen. I personally felt it was a wonderful romantic dramedy and was no less deserving of the #1 spot than any of the other films on this list.

Thank you as always for reading! I hope you enjoyed this week's post.

See you next for my Top Ten films of 2003!

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