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2004: The Year in Movies

365 Days. 1 Great Movie.

By Jeff Hughes

I’m really tired of modern movie critics. When do they hold that meeting in some abandoned warehouse, when Roger Ebert stands in the shadows puffing a cigarette and A.O. Scott knocks on the front door, armed with the password – “Self-Important.� When do these middle-aged white people (mostly men) decide to proclaim some new Hollywood mediocrity a masterpiece? And why – OH GOD WHY – is this year’s choice Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby? Not just one – but two overblown, overwrought dishonest movies in one.

I’m trying to stay positive.

Trying.

The top ten films of 2004, according to me: (note: I don’t write much about them. If you’re really interested, watch them. If you hate them, tell me.)

10. The Five Obstructions

Director Lars von Trier challenges avant-garde filmmaker Jorgen Leth to remake his classic, The Perfect Human. It’s cinema as psycho-therapy.

09. Vera Drake

Mike Leigh is the closest thing the cinema has to a brilliant dramatist. Vera is a politically fervent film without the imbalance of politically subjectivity.

08. The Manchurian Candidate

Fully expecting (and frankly hoping) to despise this remake by the overrated Jonathan Demme, I was shocked to find it not only the most entertaining Hollywood film of the year, but also the most interesting remake we’re ever likely to have. (That doesn’t mean we need any more people to try.)

07. Before Sunset

They talk and they talk and they talk…then they talk more. Then it ends. And it’s all lovely. Richard Linklater may not be the most visually interesting around but he has the best ear for dialogue since Woody Allen was at his peak.

06. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

Here’s a conversation had after a mid-film brawl between rivaling news teams:

Ron: Boy that escalated quickly… I mean, that really got out of hand fast!

Champ: It jumped up a notch!

Ron: It did, didn’t it?

Brick: Yeah, I stabbed a man in the heart!

Ron: I saw that! Brick killed a guy! Did you throw a trident?

Brick: Yeah, there were horses, and a man on fire, and I killed a guy with a trident!

Ron: Brick, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that. You should find yourself a safe house or a relative close by. Lay low for a while, because you’re probably wanted for murder.

Still makes me laugh…

05. The Assassination of Richard Nixon

I think I’m going to be in the minority on this one but Sean Penn gives one of the greatest performances I have ever seen. Penn’s Sam Bicke is the incarnation of American self-doubt in the immediate post-Watergate era, an analysis of what happens when the American Dream seems unattainable.

04. Friday Night Lights

Man, director Peter Berg really blew this one out of the park (sorry for the sports allusion). It’s the story of one season in the life of a high school football team and it’s wonderfully character-driven. Best scene: showboat tailback, now humbled by an injury to his knee, breaks down with his uncle in the car, “All I know is football.� Earlier in the film, he turns to a reporter who asks how his grades are and says, “The only subject is football.� The film is full of beautiful touches like that.

03. Sideways

The backlash is underway but I’m sticking by Sideways, Alexander Payne’s subtle, funny and touching film about middle-aged drunks discovering themselves in the Napa Valley.

02. Maria Full of Grace

A young, pregnant Columbian girl becomes a drug mule to provide for her unborn child. At times both beautiful and horrifying, the biggest surprise comes in its Emma Lazarus ending.

#1 DOGVILLE

I saw Dogville in the spring. I’m still not sure how to write about it. Lars von Trier’s masterpiece is pointedly anti-American but it’s just as interesting when situated among the other films in his canon. In some ways, it’s a response to his feminist critics of the past decade. Its aesthetic is original and ideology is audacious. A friend asked me, “Isn’t this what all movies should be?� Damn, if only they were.

Films Worth Seeing: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Sea Inside, The Woodsman, Spiderman 2, Mean Girls, Control Room, The Door in the Floor

BUT WAIT! HOPE IS ON THE WAY!
This month, 2005 will save the day. There’s a film about a really fast zebra.

Jeff Hughes is better known as ‘the drunk guy’ or ‘that guy with tasteless humor’ in most circles. In this one, he’s simply known as the guy who slept on my couch for a month and a half.

January 5, 2005