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Friday Night Openers: The Best and Worst of 2004

by Collin Souter

“Phew! I’m finally done with this article,” I thought. “But then there’s that dreaded opening paragraph…oh, no.” What am I supposed to do? Sum up my thoughts on 2004? Reflect on the success of religious martial arts documentaries? Expound upon the fact that the year was mediocre until November rolled around and opened the floodgates for GREAT movies? Expand upon my reasoning of my choice for the #1 spot on my Ten Best? “Sure, I could do all that, but why not just get to the point? Our readers are smart and know most of this stuff anyway.” Very well, then, here’s my Ten Best and Worst of 2004…and much, much more…”

10 Most Torturous Tests of the Human Will:

10. My Baby’s Daddy The first release of the year also happens to be the first to be mentioned. Coincidence? No. This movie really does suck and almost makes me ashamed to be a Sopranos fan. But it makes the list only because I didn’t see all of Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2.

9. Thunderbirds It’s slick, bright, colorful surface is almost blinding while its piercing, Saturday morning cartoon dialogue is almost deafening. Bill Paxton, Ben Kingsley, Anthony Edwards…don’t ever do this again.

8. Darkness I don’t know which is more confusing: This movie or the fact that Zhang Ziyi is now Ziyi Zhang. I know the two don’t relate to each other, but I had to ponder something in order to pass the time while I watched this movie.

7. Fat Albert The most expensive advertisement for a DVD box set I’ve ever seen. It’s so shameless, the poster actually figures into the plot! And I’m sorry Bill, but Fat Albert just doesn’t carry enough importance to make it worthy of a Schindler’s List-like coda at the end.

6. Sleep Over Who knew 14-year old girls could be this hot, right? That’s what director George Nussbaum would like you to believe as he works in a slo-mo shot of the four underage leads as though they might soon grace the cover of Maxim.

5. Alexander The movie has one entertaining moment in its rambling three hour duration, that of Colin Farrell’s post-battle war face covered in red and yellow muck as though he went dumpster diving at a Stake n’ Shake.

4. Soul Plane You know you’re in trouble when it’s a comedy centered around African Americans and Tom Arnold gets top billing.

3. Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius Okay, you have a gun to your head. You’re forced to choose between 2+ hours of Phantom of the Opera and golf. What do you do? I’ll take a cheeseball over a golf ball any day. At least there’s a chance I’ll be nourished.

2. White Chicks I don’t blame the Wayans for wanting to make fun of the Hilton Sisters or the now-legal Olsen Twins. I just can’t believe they ended up being more annoying.

1. New York Minute Okay, White Chicks might be slightly worse (maybe), but what helped spawn it? That’s right. Rich, untalented Barbie doll socialites without a care in the world or half a brain between the two of them.

Movies, Thou Art Bad: Along Came Polly, Chasing Liberty, Connie & Carla, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, Empathy, Exorcist: The Beginning, I, Robot, King Arthur, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, The Prince & Me, Teacher’s Pet, Torque, Troy, A Day Without A Mexican, Win A Date With Tad Hamilton, Shark Tale, We Don’t Live Here Anymore, What the #$*! Do We Know?, The Chronicles of Riddick, A Cinderella Story, The Day After Tomorrow, A Dirty Shame, The Girl Next Door, Twisted, Van Helsing, Welcome to Mooseport, 13 Going on 30, 50 First Dates, Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid, National Treasure, Noel, Woman Thou Art Loosed, The Chorus, Phantom of the Opera, Catwoman, Envy, Garfield, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, The Village, You Got Served, Alien vs. Predator, The Perfect Score, Surviving Christmas

Now, the stuff me likes…

20. Festival Express In a year packed with an unusually high volume of rock-docs, Festival Express was the most fun, the most joyous and the least pretentious. I’m not even a huge fan of some of these bands and I had a ball, which says a lot.

19. A Very Long Engagement Jean-Pierre Juenet strays further from his fantasy roots (Delicatessen and City of Lost Children) to bring us a war epic, a Rashomonic murder mystery, a love story and a poetic fantasy all laced with Juenet’s trademark sense of humor. Just beautiful.

18. Before Sunset While in ruins the wonderful ambiguity of the original, it’s still a pleasure to meet these characters once again as they explore what they’ve learned since they last met.

17. The House of Flying Daggers Like Tina Turner, I didn’t exactly need another Hero, but this martial arts saga sees director Zhang Yimou returning to his own true form as a storyteller and visionary. I liked Hero, but this movie soars higher.

16. Touching the Void Gotta say, not a great year for documentaries. Just not. But this stunningly re-created doc about two mountain climbers who lose each other in the middle of a hellacious snowstorm had me on the edge of my seat and made me never want to go outside again.

15. Garden State Unlike Napoleon Dynamite, Huckabees and Life Aquatic, Garden State is a movie that has its quirkiness under control. It stays grounded in a sometimes painful reality in a movie that will be embraced by generations of lost twentysomethings searching for a voice and ears that will listen.

14. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban What a difference a director makes! Kudos to Warner Brothers for taking a huge risk and entrusting their beloved money maker to an eccentric like Alfonso Cuaron. As a fan of both the series and the director, I couldn’t have been happier.

13. Spider-Man 2 See what happens when you make a summertime popcorn movie that actually gives the audience credit for having brains? Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock should be studied in screenwriting/acting school on How To Create A Three Dimensional Villain Without Making Him/Her Look Silly.

12. Shaun of the Dead The year’s best horror movie also happens to be the year’s best romantic comedy. This touching zombie film perfectly meshes together several different tones and sub-genres and makes it look so effortless, it’s almost too easy to take it for granted. I’ll be going back to this one a lot.

11. The Incredibles It kills me to cut Pixar from the Top 10. You just appreciate these guys all the more when you see something as joyless, pun-driven and star-infested as Shark Tale. Too bad we’ll have to wait until 2006 to see Cars, but I’m sure the wait will be worth it.

10. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy For my money, the funniest and most quotable movie of the year. Will Farrell finally co-wrote and starred in a movie that was his comedic playground, as opposed to something pre-ordained like Elf or Old School. Farrell disappeared into his character of ‘70s sexist anchorman Ron Burgundy while co-writer/director Adam McKay perfectly executed the left-of-center set pieces. It’s a brilliant exorcise in absurdist humor and its straight-to-DVD sequel, Wake Up Ron Burgundy, is also a gem. I love carpet. I love lamp. I like Scotch. Scotch, Scotch, Scotch. Down, down, down, down into my belly! And I really love this movie.

9. Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events It’s not every day that Hollywood gets an adaptation right. This rarity not only captures the author’s tone and the spirit of the books, but also maintains an identity of its own. Brad Silberling was the perfect choice to direct this film, especially coming off of the emotionally draining Moonlight Mile, a film that perfectly depicts the eternal grief associated with losing a loved one. Silberling brings his sensitivity to this film without filing down the original author’s bite. It’s a bigger accomplishment than you might think and the cast couldn’t be better.

8. Moolaadé The best movie I saw at the Chicago International Film Festival also happens to be the hardest to sell to people (this year’s Fast Runner). The story of an African village in a state of revolt against the often practiced custom of female circumcision (see what I mean?) seemed doomed to a limited release from New Yorker films and didn’t have the impact I had hoped it would. Nevertheless, Ousmane Sembene’s film remains an unexpected joy worth cheering for while also being important, courageous and damning.

7. Undertow David Gordon Green follows up his sublime All the Real Girls… with this gothic, poetic incarnation of Night of the Hunter and proves himself worthy of the comparison. Like his previous efforts, Undertow showcases a director who miraculously garners natural, nuanced performances from his cast as they speak his unnatural, nuanced dialogue. This might have something to do with the fact that when Green arrives on location, he refuses to dress it up. Instead, he leaves the dirt and grime in its natural state and finds poetry within the garbage. The landscape doesn’t look or feel phony and neither do the performances. Further evidence that Green may well be the best young director out there.

6. Baadasssss! One of those small miracles that couldn’t have come out at a better time. Here in Chicago, Mario Van Peebles Baadassss! opened after the release of the abhorrent Soul Plane and the torturous White Chicks, two films that stand for everything Mario’s father, Melvin, fought against. That’s not to say that there can’t be any good, stupid black comedies out there, but the more we encourage these kinds of films the more Fat Alberts we’ll get. Unfortunately, Baadassss! didn’t have the cultural impact as the film that inspired it, but this highly entertaining, un-sugar coated love letter from son to father should be rejoiced.

5. Million Dollar Baby Not just because it surprised me, but also because it deeply moved me with its platonic love story, that of an aging boxing manager and his unlikely student, two characters who couldn’t be more different, but couldn’t need each other more. If nothing else, 2004 had its fair share of out-of-nowhere surprises, movies that took on particular subjects or were products of a particular genre that didn’t always suit my taste, but completely shattered my expectations. Million Dollar Baby was no exception. Between this and Mystic River, it may be time to roll out another batch of Career Achievement Awards for Eastwood.

4. Sideways A Top-10 list favorite and for good reason. Alexander Payne has never made a movie that didn’t end up on my Top 10. Paul Giamatti’s perfect performance comes off so subtle and effortless that you almost forget about it being a performance at all. That’s great acting and it may answer some people’s questions as to why a natural, unassuming performance has been receiving so many accolades from critics groups and award givers. The same goes for the unexpectedly cast Thomas Haden Church, the underutilized Virginia Madsen (the re-discovery of the year) and the always great Sandrah Oh. What more can I say that hasn’t been said already?

3. The Aviator In a year obsessed with telling true stories, Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator bravely focuses on the multifaceted life of eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes. Scosese’s movie crystallized Hughes’ inner conflict, that of a sick man who needed big, unthinkable obsessions to keep him from succumbing to the tendencies of an incurable obsessive compulsive disorder. Many questioned the casting of DiCaprio simply because he looks too boyish for the part. Yet Hughes’ behavior seemed often erratic, childish and irresponsible, so in that regard it works and it’s a flawless performance regardless. Rather than sugar coat Hughes’ troubled life, the movie ends on an appropriately somber note as we witness a man stuck in two places at once: With an eye on the future, but no longer capable of seeing it through. The first Scorsese movie to make my Top 10 since GoodFellas.

2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Upon second viewing, Eternal Sunshine hit a nerve with me, which might have something to do with the fact that I “woke up in a funk this morning.” This almost didn’t make the Top 10 portion of the list. I didn’t have the same experience first time around as everyone else when this first came out. I admired it more than anything else, but didn’t feel profoundly blown away by it. I watched it a second time a week before posting this article and sat on my sofa dumbfounded, wondering “How did I not see this the first time?” Jim Carrey’s saddened, soft spoken performance is one of the most complex and perfectly rendered of the year. It’s complimented by Kate Winslet’s brave, hard-hearted portrayal of a woman we’d love to fall in love with, but who doesn’t make it easy. I want to remember this one forever.

1. Friday Night Lights No other film this year surprised me the way this one did and I never, ever thought I’d see the day when I would have a football movie at the top of a year-end list. While Peter Berg’s sports drama deceptively plays into many formulas associated with past sports movies, it does so in a way that makes it less about football and more about the people who play it. It rises above every convention in its path by shunning any conventional approach. The father and son should be at odds and not in a harmonious conflict. The injured star player should win the game in spite of his handicap. The score should be orchestral and bombastic, not guitar-driven and ethereal. The movie’s final moments completely shattered every expectation I had and left me in tears. No other movie this year seemed poised to play by the rules only to break every damn one. It’s perfect.

My Heart Is Still Full: Control Room, Dawn of the Dead, The Door in the Floor, Fahrenheit 9/11, Intermission, Bon Voyage, The Ladykillers, Maria Full of Grace, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring, The Notebook, The Passion of the Christ, Bright Young Things, Saved!, Shrek 2, Super Size Me, The Terminal, This Old Cub, Hero, The Dreamers, Intimate Strangers, Osama, Going Upriver: The Story of John Kerry, Team America: World Police, The Polar Express, DiG!, Vera Drake, Kinsey, The Assassination of Richard Nixon, Closer, The Sea Inside, Bukowski: Born Into This, Guerilla: The Taking of Patti Hearst, In Good Company, Born Into Brothels, I’m Not Scared

Can You Be Perfect? No, But I Still Like You: The Bourne Supremacy, Brother To Brother, Cellular, Collateral, Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle, Kill Bill, Vol. 2, Mean Creek, Mean Girls, Miracle, The Manchurian Candidate, Broken Lizard’s Club Dread, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Slasher, Walking Tall, The Forgotten, Open Water, Two Brothers, The Corporation, Jersey Girl, Finding Neverland, Saw, Alfie, The Spongebob Squarepants Movie, Hotel Rwanda, This Girl’s Life, Go Further, Sex Is Comedy

So Insignificant, I Can’t Even Kill Myself: The Big Bounce, The Butterfly Effect, The Clearing, Napoleon Dynamite, Paparazzi, Seeing Other People, She Hate Me, Starsky & Hutch, Vanity Fair, Hellboy, The Stepford Wives, Godsend, Dogville, The United States of Leland, Coffee and Cigarettes, Ladder 49, I Heart Huckabees, The Grudge, Ray, Primer, Since Otar Left, The Machinist, A Love Song For Bobby Long, De-Lovely, Stage Beauty, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Oceans 12, Spanglish, Meet the Fockers, America’s Heart and Soul, Code 46, Uncovered: The Truth About the War in Iraq, Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch and the War on Journalism, The Saddest Music in the World

“Just for fun” sub-categories:
Best/Funniest Gag: Anchorman rumble in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
Best Use of Music: Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” while the cast of Shaun of the Dead beat up a zombie with pool cues.

Best Line of Dialogue / Favorite Line of Dialogue or Dialogue Exchange: “I’m so insignificant I can’t even kill myself,” from Sideways
Honorable Mentions: Weirdest, from Saddest Music In the World:
“Say, how does your tapeworm feel about burials?”
Jon Voight in Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2: “Shoot dem! ‘Day are just babies!”
Jon Voight in National Treasure: “I wasted my life”

Best Dramatic Pause: Paul Giamatti looking back and forth from the couple having sex to his best friend’s wallet in Sideways.
Best Fight: Spider-Man vs. Doc Ock on the train in Spider-Man 2
Best Newcomer: Emily Browning, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events

The “You Must Stop Making Movies” Award: Joel Zwick, director of FAT Albert (as well as My Big FAT Greek Wedding)

Worst Decision by an Actor: Adrien Brody, The Village
Worst Decision by an Actress: Scarlett Johanson, The Perfect Score
Best Ensemble: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Best Brainless Movie: Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
Worst "Smart" Film: Woman, Thou Art Loosed
Movie That Made You The Hungriest: Raising Helen (I walked in hungry and I couldn’t help but notice every character walking around with a large plate of food. One hour later I had to leave).
Most Underrated (Critically): Saved!
Guiltiest Pleasure: The Notebook
Best Action Scene: The entire train sequence in Spider-Man 2
Most Romantic Scene: The end of Before Sunset
The "F. U." Award (Given to someone - director, actor, anyone - you'd like to get out of the movies permanently - based on a film released in 2004): The Olsen Twins
Worst Sequel: Resident Evil: Apocalypse (Didn’t see Scooby-Doo 2, Baby Geniuses 2 or The Whole Ten Yards.)
Worst Remake OR Movie based on a TV show: Fat Albert
Best Cameo(s): Tim Robbins, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
Sexiest shot, moment or scene: Natalie Portman, Closer (just about any scene…take your pick)
Best Actor: Jim Carrey, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Best Actress: Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby
Best Supporting Actor: Alfred Molina, Spider-Man 2
Best Supporting Actress: Cate Blanchett, The Aviator
Best Director: Peter Berg, Friday Night Lights
Best Cinematography: The Aviator
Favorite Song: “Pearl Harbor Sucks and I Miss You,” from Team America: World Police
Favorite Score: Friday Night Lights and Birth
Favorite soundtrack (score or otherwise, best CD, let’s say): Garden State soundtrack
Favorite moment that made me break down and cry: (tie) The final moment between Garrett Hedlund and Tim McGraw in Friday Night Lights. The last thing Clint Eastwood says to Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby
Best Movie That Never Received A Proper Release: The baseball documentary Up For Grabs
Favorite Bad movie: Paparazzi
Worst actor: Wayans
Worst actress: Olsen
Most overrated whatever (Picture, actor, director, etc.): I Heart Huckabees, Napoleon Dynamite
Best Monologue: Billy Bob Thornton’s speech about what is “perfect” from Friday Night Lights
Favorite Character: Miles Raymond, Sideways
Most nail-biting moment: Almost every second of Touching the Void
Most stomach-turning moment: Morgan Spurlock’s Double Quarter Pounder meal in Super Size Me
Best DVD: The Martin Scorsese collection

Most unwelcome, unfunny and unholy trend in comedy: The Talking Baby (My Baby’s Daddy, Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2, Meet the Fockers, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy)
Worst movie to be pulled from the shelf and dusted off: Darkness
The You-Might-Not-Want-To-Call-Yourself-An-Independent-Studio Award: Warner Independent for shelling out upwards of $50 million to produce A Very Long Engagement.
Movie Posters that Best Exemplify a Producer’s Shortsightedness:
1. Torque “From the producers of ‘The Fast and the Furious,’ and ‘XXX’”
2. EuroTrip “From the producer of Road Trip and Old School”
3. National Treasure “From the producer of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl”

Finally, the Top 10 list I would like to see (in no particular order):

1. Beyond the Sea
2. The Sea Inside
3. The Life Aquatic
4. Undertow
5. Oceans 12
6. Without A Paddle
7. Open Water
8. Shark Tale
9. Mean Creek
10. Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry

Until next year…Be perfect.

link directly to this feature at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/feature.php?feature=1289
originally posted: 01/10/05 10:46:31
last updated: 01/18/05 01:14:49
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