Review of 2004:
-This was the year of the biopic, in my opinion. Ray, Kinsey, The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Beyond the Sea, and Vera Drake were among the most successful this year. Also, there was Delovely. I don't think I'm a genius for coming to that conclusion, either. It was just an obvious trend that for some reason all happened this year.
-This was the year where there was a sense that there was a Brat Pack. The term was coined by the media somewhere (don't remember who) and they were kind of cemented. It's hard to explain how that stuff works but factors that lead to it were: 2 of the biggest water cooler movies of the summer in Anchorman and Dodgeball along with a lot of Ben Stiller movies: Envy, Starsky and Hutch, and Meet the Fockers (one of the highest grossing films of the year). The brat pack is basically Owen Wilson, Jack Black, Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson, Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell. In this year all of those people except Owen Wilson was in Anchorman in some form or another, Stiller and Vaughn were in Dodgeball, Owen and Stiller were in Meet the Fockers and Starsky and Hutch together, and Stiller and Black were in Envy together. You can trace this group back and forward (i.e. Old School was Luke, Ferrell, and Vaughn, see the pattern?)
-This might have been the very peak of the summer blockbuster season. 2005's grosses went downhill and that's not so much because 2005 was a failure, just for the fact that 2004 had so many humongous movies hitting the theater pretty much every weekend. Troy had a big opening weekend gross of $45 million, only to be brushed aside 5 days later when Shrek 2 nearly set a box office record eventually becoming #3 all time, followed by Harry Potter with a $245 million domestic gross, followed by Spiderman 2 which dominated the box office for 2 weeks, to be then be set aside by a string of films I, Robot/Bourne Supremacy/Village, each of them grossing over $50 million opening weekend. In between, The Day After Tomorrow grossed enough its first weekend to set a record for the highest film never to hit #1. The year produced 3 films that broke into the top 10 all-time, Shrek 2, Spiderman 2, and Passion of the Christ, which brings me to the next bullet
-There was a whole thing in the press about a red-state and blue-state divide that got blown up a lot. This was representative through two big successes. One appealed to the religious right because it was a big picture about Jesus, and the other was not really religious in nature but it was made with the purpose of removing George W. Bush from office. The connection is somewhat hasty, but nevertheless: Passion of the Christ was a humongous film coming from Mel Gibson and was made even more impressive by the fact that it was in subtitles, incredibly violent and very long, which usually isn't a good formula for commercial success. On the other side, Michael Moore's documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 set a box office record for documentaries and looked like it had the potential to really make an impact
-A couple small independent films made a splash. The first, Garden State was written, directed by and starred Zach Braff and won him the National Board of Review honor for new director, a Grammy for best soundtrack, and a lot more young fans in addition to those who love him on the TV show Scrubs. The second, Napoleon Dynamite, an offbeat film about incredibly odd characters growing up in Idaho, became a cult hit. This wasn't significant from an art standpoint (at least I hope not. I hope a lot of people don't imitate this), but it did mark a success for the people at the Sundance Film Festival where the film was originally released and sold for national distribution. The following year, Sundance also saw more success for independent films Hustle and Flow and Junebug which both got national distribution and Oscar nominations
-Lastly, it was a big year for Martin Scorsese, or at least it had the potential to be. His movie the Aviator was very hyped up and was supposed to guarantee him an Oscar. As you can see from my list, i thought it was a great film, and others did too. It also did win a lot of Oscars, but the big prize at the end of the evening went to Clint Eastwood, so Scorsese had to go back to the drawing board.
Top 10 Movies of 2004:
10. Anchorman, Adam McKay
I’m sure I’m in the minority in calling Anchorman one of the best films of the year, but when done well a pure comedy can be just as much a show of great film-making as anything else. Set in a 1970s San Diego newsroom, Anchorman is the best display of improvisational comedy on screen since Christopher Guest. The comic timing was excellent as jokes were pushed to extreme situations (i.e. the West Side Story like brawl, the random a capella rendition of “Afternoon Delight”). More than that, however, a great comedy is about the characters and what I loved about this film is how everyone in the cast stepped it up to match Will Ferrell’s intensity in mining the zaniness out of their characters.
9. Ray, Taylor Hackford
Ray showed us a portrait of a man who whether morally in the right or wrong, was unquestionably a man of great vision. Heeding his mother’s parting advice to not let anyone treat him like a charity case, Ray Charles refused to act blind. He denied himself a walking cane or even a helping hand. At the same time, however, Charles was blind in a way: to skin color. Despite the discrimination he faced, he befriended black and white people alike and musically opened himself up to both style. Jamie Foxx turns in the best performance of the year that captures the man inside and out.
8. Manchurian Candidate, Johnathan Demme
Johnathan Demme’s remake of the 1962 classic managed the rare feat of updating an original to a contemporary setting while preserving the spirit of the original. Demme’s version also plays out more like a thriller than the original much like the novel. Even by the standards of Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep, the performances are surprisingly tuned in.
7. Fahrenheit 911, Michael Moore
Michael Moore didn’t succeed in changing the course of national history with his documentary. He did, however, succeed in infusing the non-fiction format with mainstream entertainment and broke a box office record along the way. More than just a presentation of facts, Moore’s documentary tells a story infused with emotion that brings the viewer to tears and laughter.
6. Spanglish, James L Brooks
In his first film of the new millennium, Brooks does a great job of exploiting both the humorous and dramatic possibilities of the cultural and class barriers between a wealthy suburban family and their new Mexican housekeeper. Adam Sandler gives a surprisingly mature performance that doesn’t compromise his likability, the underrated Tea Leoni hits the right notes as a high strung wife, and the introduction of Paz Vega as the housekeeper is a welcome surprise. She gives a delicate performance of a character that acts as a counterbalance to the dysfunction.
5. The Life Aquatic, Wes Anderson
Some were disappointed with Wes Anderson’s follow-up to The Royal Tannenbaums, but I might just be a sucker for Jack Cousteau-type adventures. Still, it’s hard to see what’s not to like with the addition of Willem Dafoe, Cate Blanchett, and Jeff Goldblum in place of frat-packers Luke Wilson and Ben Stiller, and Bill Murray back at the helm, the Life Aquatic brings an ensemble of rich and multilayered characters that mesh together in the trademark Wes-Anderson-style. The plot follows a ship out at sea and it could be argued that it’s not particularly focused, but with such beautiful visuals and a soundtrack of such original sources as David Bowie covers covered in Portuguese, it’s fine just to sit back and enjoy the ride whatever direction it takes you.
4. Sideways, Alexander Payne
A somber and highly engaging comedy that derives its humor from its strong footing in the tragedies and subsequent triumphs, however small they may be, in real life. Payne’s last film, the critically acclaimed About Schmidt starred Jack Nicholson in a toned-down role. In contrast, this film centers around four quirky character roles cast perfectly with Thomas Haden Church as the brash playboy, Sandra Oh as a raunchy single mom, Virginia Madsen as a fragile waitress, and Paul Giamatti as an introspective elementary school teacher who wants just a little more in life.
3. Motorcycle Diaries, Walter Salles
One of the greatest and most important stories of Latin-American folklore is brought to the American movie screen and turns out a winner. The Motorcycle Diaries is the firsthand account by a young Ernesto “Che” Gueverra and his traveling companion of an 800-mile motorcycle trek through South America. Guevuerra would go on to become one of world history’s most notorious revolutionary figures, and the immense appeal of this story is its tale of a naïve and innocent man before en route to becoming the icon that so many of his countrymen revere.
2. Hotel Rwanda, Terry George
Described as “Schindler’s List set in Africa,” Hotel Rwanda is an intense gritty war drama is powerful in its horrific imagery, shot on location. Yet, it is a story of hope as well. Don Cheadle plays Terry George as a hotel manager in Rwanda who first tries to save his immediate family from the conflict, but is then moved to save everyone he can. It’s a truly eye-opening experience about a part of the world and one of the many conflicts within that all-too-easily get ignored.
1. Aviator, Martin Scorsese
2004 was undoubtedly the year of the biopic with movies being made about singers, abortion activists, sex researchers, and whether Howard Hughes was a more important figure in history than Bobby Darin or Ray Charles, it was clear that no biopic story this year was told with more passion for its subject than The Aviator. Like the Golden Age of Hollywood in which the movie is set, Aviator was quality film making at every end, with big production values, a majestic score by Howard Shore, and a roster of talent so deep that bit parts were being filled out by the likes of Jude Law and Willem Dafoe. Alec Baldwin as a slithery airline executive and Kate Beckinsdale as bombastic belle Ava Gardner stand out for their performances, and Leonardo DiCaprio tosses aside his “pretty boy” persona for a deeper performance.