The Best Films of the Decade: 2004
The years are rolling by as we hit 2004, half-way there to the voting for the Best of the Decade, and not long before the final films of 2009 are hitting the cinemas. We're almost there. For now though, let's keep focused on the year in hand, 2004, and it's another good year for film.
You know despite what we see day to day with remakes and sequels, there are still some great films to be found and I'm surprised how many I'm finding looking back on the decade. I wonder next decade if I'll be thinking the same thing? In the meantime let's get going with the Best Film of 2004. Get reading, get voting.
Closer (Filmstalker review)
This film brought us something rather unique, a really good performance from Clive Owen.
Mike Nichols brings the stage play to life from Patrick Marber's play via his own screenplay, and a powerful one at that packed full with amazing performances from Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman and Clive Owen. I was captivated by the writing, the dialogue and the acting. Great film.
Martin Scorsese directs Leonardo DiCaprio in the film about the legendary character of Howard Hughes, Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn, Kate Beckinsale as Ava Gardner, and supporting cast members of John C. Reilly, Alec Baldwin, Alan Alda, Ian Holm, Danny Huston, Gwen Stefani, Jude Law, Willem Dafoe, and many more. It's a huge film with a huge cast, but I'm just not sure that it's deserving of being at the top of this list.
I always say this, but Tom Cruise is unfairly criticised, and when a director pushes him he pulls out stunning performances, here is no exception, especially playing a bad guy, Then there's the fact that Michael Mann has filmed Stuart Beattie's script absolutely wonderful, packed with tension and suspense from one scene to the next, and the powerful performance from Cruise. There's also Jamie Foxx, Jada Pinkett Smith, Mark Ruffalo and Peter Berg. Cracking film and one of Mann's and Cruise's best.
Paul Haggis created, wrote and directed this superb film that really did bring Matt Dillon to the fore again and delivered Sandra Bullock her best role ever. Then there's Don Cheadle, Keith David, Loretta Devine, the gorgeous Jennifer Esposito, William Fichtner, Brendan Fraser, Terrence Howard, Thandie Newton, Michael Peña and Ryan Phillippe bringing in a superb ensemble cast in a powerful and emotional film. I loved some of the scenes and redemptive moments for the characters, and Bullock played a fantastic character.
Downfall (Der Untergang)
Oliver Hirschbiegel's film delivered a powerful film that has been made iconic by the number of times that famous scene of Hitler ranting insanely has been taken off and played with different subtitles on YouTube. However the film itself is filled with a fantastic cast and tells the last days of Hitler and Nazi Germany in an uncompromising style that has you glued to the screen.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
I'm not the biggest Michel Gondry fan, sometimes I think he's just too quirky and odd, but then with this Charlie Kaufman and the power of Jim Carrey playing it straight alongside Kate Winslet and a supporting cast including Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood, Tom Wilkinson and Kirsten Dunst, he delivers a superb film. At the heart it's a love story and how love can win through everything, given the desire. Wonderfully inventive film that really does capture the imagination and the heart.
House of the Flying Daggers (Shi mian mai fu)
This is perhaps one of the most beautiful looking films I've seen as Yimou Zhang unleashes more Far Eastern magic on Western audiences to great effect. Takeshi Kaneshiro, Andy Lau, and the beautiful Ziyi Zhang. It's a wondrous film filled with a superbly emotional story that taps into every aspect of the film from cinematography to sound. Beautiful.
This is the best superhero ensemble film ever made, and Brad Bird has given us one of the best animations of the decade, that I really do believe. Everything about the story is perfect, the characters are wonderful to watch, and their voice actors are chosen perfectly - Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson and Brad Bird as Edna - Incredibles is Incredible.
Million Dollar Baby
What a film. Clint Eastwood is a stunning director and a great actor to boot, and he combines the best of both in this film alongside Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman. I always find his films are packed with genuine human emotion, and restrained emotion at that, the kind that we really do have in life, not the windswept, poured out, over romanticised you often see in film. I loved Bridges of Madison County, and this has similar themes of people repressing emotion while investing their hearts in someone and something else. It's a fantastic film that won four Oscars, and quite rightly so.
I haven't seen Ray, but the critics I read do say it's a great film with a superb performance from Jamie Foxx before he became too big and his roles became just Jamie Foxx. He also has a couple of strong talents behind him for the film, Kerry Washington and Regina King as well as a list of other talent appear in this biographical story of the great Ray Charles.
Shaun of the Dead
I'm not sure if this has a good chance of beating the competition here, after all there's a lot of good films in 2004 for it to beat. However Shaun of the Dead is perhaps one of the best big commercial British films in a long time (not that it has a lot to contend with), and I say big commercial quite deliberately because Britain has a great small independent output. However this is about Shaun, and the film is a superb testament to British comedy, and one that survives viewing after viewing. There's some immensely clever and reverential writing in the film that really does raise a lot of laughs. Excellent film. Although when I watched it with my parents one Christmas they really didn't get it and were quite offended by some of the rude words!
Sideways (Filmstalker review)
Sideways only won one Oscar and I think that's a complete travesty for the film is fantastic and features some excellent performances from Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, the absolutely gorgeous, alluring, and personal favourite actress of mine, Virginia Madsen, and the equally beguiling Sandra Oh. It's a great cast who really play off of each other superbly well, it feels more like a play than a novel with everything concentrating on the characters and the relationships, and there are plenty of laughs as well as some hugely poignant moments that are easy to connect with, and some strong emotional aspects. Love this film.
The Passion of the Christ
I love the older epic religious films that I grew up with, one of my favourite being The Robe, however as life has moved on so have my tastes and I've not really been a fan of these films since. However that said The Passion of the Christ was a hugely successful film and was an amazing production from Mel Gibson as well as a great performance for James Caviezel, what has happened to him since? It's a film that chronicles the story from the bible of the final hours of Jesus Christ. While it did really well with audiences of faith, it didn't do so well at the Oscars with only three nominations. Actually it's just struck me that I should have also been writing about how many BAFTA wins that films have received. Next list.
Twist of Faith (Filmstalker review)
I'll end this list with another religiously themed film, but this is a documentary from the stunningly good documentary director Kirby Dick in a film that made me sit up and watch this director before he became so widely known. Twist of Faith is truly a stunning documentary that really does capture what a documentary should be about, capturing something real about humanity and life in the lens, there's nothing overly contrived about the film which we can see with other documentary makers. The story sees the documentary maker begin making a film about the a small town priest who has been accused of sexual abuse of children, and he begins to interview a married man with a family who uncovers that he was a victim of the abuse and slowly his life unravels before the camera revealing the extent of the effect on his life and how he deals with the healing process. Believe me, this is one of the most affecting and moving films I've ever seen. This is a stunning documentary.
So that's the list of my suggestions for the Best Film of 2004, moving forward towards the Best Film of the Decade. Which do you think is the best for 2004 then?
While you ponder that list, let's have a look at list that almost made my list.
3-Iron (Bin-jip) (Filmstalker review)
This is a gorgeous film that has such an amazing concept that on paper couldn't seem to work, but amazingly does on film. Wonderfully shot too. I really struggled with this and maybe it should have been on the list. Still not sure. You can put it on that list in the Other voting section if you want.
Alexander (Filmstalker review)
I think this film got a lot of bad press, and the Director's Cut, which I reviewed, is superior to the first release. There are a lot of issues, but at the same time it's a huge film. Worth mentioning, not quite on the list though.
Kung Fu Hustle (Filmstalker review)
An amazing film that has such a unique style it was almost breath taking when I first saw it, it certainly offered huge amounts entertainment and packed a CG enhanced punch. Fantastic stuff.
M. Night Shyamalan is the reason I didn't put this on the top list. Not because I don't think he didn't deliver a good film, I think he did and I really do like this film, but most people don't, and so began the backlash against him and his films. Shame, because I think time will tell a different story.
Finding Neverland, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Hellboy, Hotel Rwanda, Howl's Moving Castle (Hauru no ugoku shiro), I, Robot, Kill Bill: Vol. 2, The Phantom of the Opera, Saw, Spider-Man 2, Troy, Vera Drake
Now get voting for what you consider to be the Best Film of 2004, and we're half-way to our goal for the Best Film of the Decade.