best film: Before Sunset is still Linklater’s crowning achievement. The film takes some of what Malle did in My Dinner with Andre (of course Linklater already did this with the wonderful 1994 first leg of the (so far) trilogy), put it on the move in Paris, does so in real time (meh), and destroys us with one of the best endings in film history. That’s enough for me.
most underrated: It took me about a decade to fully appreciate Michael Mann’s Collateral but apparently I’m way ahead of the critics because they still have it as the #29 film of 2004 (had to go to the TSPDT 21st century list). That’s ridiculous. I remember, when it first came out, being disappointed that it didn’t have the weight of mohicans, heat or the insider. It’s an exercise in style but it’s a trip well worth taking and if anything I could see it moving up my list (what a contrast it makes with Payne’s sideways which is just one slot ahead of it).
most overrated: Apparently I need to dedicate a month to Apichatpong Weerasethakul for a revisit because I’m way behind the consensus here. They have Tropical Malady as #251 of all-time which is masterpiece land and #2 of 2004. I can’t find a spot for it in my top 10 but Weerasethakul isn’t easy or accessible and I’ve only seen it once so perhaps I’m missing something. I hope I am.
gem I want to spotlight: Sexy Beast was Glazer’s debut (2000) and was well received. His 2013 film Under the Skin is being hailed as the cream of the crop from that year (I’m not there yet) but his 2004 entry, birth, was widely panned and ignored. I think it’s extremely underrated and has some of the greatest cinematic images (see below) from 2004.
trends and notables: 47 archiveable films and running for 2004 so we have a deep year but a bunch of them (we don’t live here any more, ray, garden state) feel fringy and I’m not sure if they’ll stay in when I go to revisit. I think at the very top you have to start with peak Linklater. Certainly many will argue Boyhood but to me the “before” trilogy is still Linklater’s greatest accomplishment and this entry, his peak. I think Kill Bill is an underrated masterpiece and should be appreciated and, ahead of even the brilliant being john Malkovich we have to pause and recognize this as peak Charlie Kaufman (to date) and an interesting antithesis to the “director as auteur” here with his screenwriting abilities and personal artistic stamp. In 2004 we have the continuation of the Clint Eastwood renaissance with Million Dollar Baby– that’s back to back years with top 5 films—amazing. Paul Giamatti is having a bit of nice stretch coming off of a great performance in 2003 with american splendor and another one here in sideways- great leading man roles for a career-character actor. We have a great auteur debut here from Edgar Wright with Shaun of the Dead. Michael Mann’s collateral may actually be the biggest notable here in 2004 with Mann pushing digital. He’s front and center there and way ahead of many—and it’s in an awesome cause here. If you’re going to make a push for a new technology this is a great way to back it up. 2004 is a big year for Jamie Foxx with an academy award nom in both lead (won here actually for Ray) and supporting (collateral). Zhang Ziyi is everywhere coming off of Crouching Tiger in 2000 including two 2004 films (2046 and The house of flying daggers). Same for Naomi Watts (3 films- I heart huckabees, the assassination of Richard Nixon, we don’t live here anymore), Jude Law (3 films- the aviator, I heart huckabees, closer) and Ruffalo (collateral, eternal sunshine and we don’t live here anymore). All of these actors are really capitalizing on success in 1999/2000/2001. We also have the archiveable debut of one of the all-time greats in Marion Cotillardshe’s in A Very Long Engagement.
best performance male: I feel good about the five actors with exceptional 2004’s here but I’m not sure on the order. I think I have to go with Leo’s breakthrough work in The Aviator as the tops. His performance has everything and is his best work to date here in 2004. Closely behind him are Ethan Hawke and Jim Carrey for their work in eternal sunshine and before sunset. They aren’t asked to do as much as Dicaprio (or even their female counterparts) but they’re superb and in the better film. David Carradine completely takes over Kill Bill Vol 2 and Paul Giamatti is gut-wrenchingly good in sideways. Lastly, Bruno Ganz’s performance playing Adolph Hitler in Downfall is something to behold.
best performance female: Another tough one. I have three that could easily be the top performance in this category for any given year. I think forced to choose I’m going to go with Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine by the very slightest over Julie Deply (before sunset) and Hilary Swank (Million Dollar Baby). Winslet is a ball of fire on screen can you can’t take her eyes off her. All three of these are exactly what this category is for though: superb work, really helping to carry or carrying a film that is a masterpiece. Behind the big three mentioned here from 2004 is Cate Blanchett for her work in The Aviator. Her Katharine Hepburn performance goes beyond mimicry and if you need another reason here it think she’s solid in life aquatic as well.
- Before Sunset
- Kill Bill
- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
- Million Dollar Baby
- The Aviator
- The Incredibles
Archives, Directors, and Grades
|A Very Long Engagement- Jeanut||R|
|Bad Education- Almodovar|
|Before Sunset- Linklater||MP|
|Closer- M. Nichols||R|
|Collateral- M. Mann||R/HR|
|Down To the Bone||R/HR|
|Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind||MP|
|Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban- Cuaron||R|
|Howl’s Moving Castle- Miyazaki||R|
|I Heart Huckabees- O. Russell||R|
|Kill Bill Vol 2- Tarantino||MP|
|Kings and Queen||R|
|Million Dollar Baby- Eastwood||MP|
|My Summer of Love||R|
|Nobody Knows- Koreda|
|Shaun of the Dead- E. Wright||R|
|The Assassination of Richard Nixon||R|
|The Aviator- Scorsese||MS|
|The Door in the Floor||R|
|The House of Flying Daggers- Yimou Zhang||R|
|The Intruder- Denis||R|
|The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou- W. Anderson||R|
|The Manchurian Candidate- Demme||R|
|The Motorcycle Diaries- Salles|
|The Sea Inside- Amenábar||R|
|The World- Zhangke Jia||R|
|Three Iron- Pieta- Ki-duk Kim||R|
|Tropical Malady- Weerasethakul||R|
|Undertow- Gordon Green||R|
|Vera Drake- M. Leigh||R|
|We Don’t Live Here Anymore||R|
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives