Since there's nothing big to report news-wise and I haven't posted anything since I got back in town, I figured it was as good a time as any to include my top 10 films of 2004. Not because I think anyone really cares, but mostly because I'm taking a quick editing break and needed something to do at 4am. So here they are, a rough list. Oh, and keep in mind I haven't yet seen everything (most notably "the Aviator" and "A Very Long Engagement", but also "Fat Albert". Hey hey hey, you never know.)
I'll try to not write too much because, well, I have to get something done tonight. If nothing else, take the time to check these out.
1) "Before Sunset" (Richard Linklater) The sequel to "Before Sunrise" (1995) is a perfect example of a European film done by Americans. Jesse (Ethan Hawke) is in Paris promoting the book he wrote about the one night he spent with Celine (Julie Delpy) nine years ago in Vienna. She shows up at the reading and they spend the hour and a half before his flight walking the streets and trying to figure out what went wrong, how their lives have changed, and where it's all headed. Linklater (who also co-wrote it with Delpy and Hawke) films in real-time and the performances are so organic and sincere you begin to wonder if it's actually scripted. It reminds me of Bergman and Truffaut and everything else I love about film, and Linklater is proving to be the best director of the indie generation, hands down.
2) "Garden State" (Zach Braff) The kid from "Scrubs" has a real director's eye, sort of an indie version of early Woody Allen, and uses a mixture of music and cinematic flair to create the perfect mood for his film about finding your way back home. The first-time director does a great job of creating a cohesive film (unlike such veterans as O. Stone, Mel Gibson, and--yes--Wes Anderson) that's one of the most enjoyable of the year. Ian Holm, Natalie Portman, and Peter Sarsgaard give solid performances.
3) "Sideways" (Alexander Payne) Paul Giamatti's pitch-perfect performance carries this film about a wine-tasting road trip. Virginia Madsen is amazing, and Payne ("Election", "About Schmidt") shows real growth as a director, although not quite as much as most critics are giving him.
4) "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" (Michael Gondry) Charlie Kaufmann is my hero. His trippy take on love gone wrong involves Jim Carrey hiring Tom Wilkinson to erase his memory of his time with Clementine (Kate Winslet) as a means of avoiding the heartbreak, but of course it finds it's way through eventually. Another brilliant script from the man who gave us "Adaptation" and "Being John Malcovich".
5) "Closer" (Mike Nichols) Nichols ("Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe", "The Graduate") specializes in character dramas and this may be one of his best. Clive Owen (who was also in the original play) and Natalie Portman give the standout performances here and Julia Roberts and Jude Law hold their own as a pair of couples working through their various relationship problems. A difficult film to watch, but well worth it.
6) "Farenheit 9/11" (Michael Moore) Forget all the controversy, this is easily the best edited film of the year. The footage of President Bush reading a children's book on 9/11 is just stunning, and the film as a whole (which was fact-checked by the New Yorker) is informative and entertaining. Not quite on par with "Bowling for Columbine", but considering the target in question, an exceptional documentary.
7) "I Heart Huckabees" (David O. Russell) If you have no initial interest in philosophy, you will probably hate this film. If you, say, minored in it, you'll love it. Lily Tomlin and Dustin Hoffman play existential detectives who follow Jason Schwartzman aroud as a means to solve his "coincidences". The thing is absurd and silly and maybe profound at times and definitely weird, but it's entertaining as hell and easily the most bizarre film you'll see all year (yes, even more so than "Eternal Sunshine"). Mark Whalberg gives his best performance in years as a firefighter obsessed with petroleum.
8) "Finding Neverland" (Marc Forster) Johnny Depp is amazing as J.M. Barrie, the man who wrote "Peter Pan", in this look at the backstory of the boy who went to Neverland. Freddie Highmore ("Peter") gives perhaps the best child performance since Haley Joel Osment, and Forster manages to merge reality and fantasy in a believeable way. Kate Winslet plays the mother of the boys who inspired the classic. The ending is heart-wrenching.
9) "The Motorcycle Diaries" (Walter Salles) Gael Garcial Bernal ("Y Tu Mama Tambien", "Amoros Perros") plays Che Guevara in this film based on Che's own journals of the road trip through South America that heavily influenced his political activities. Bernal may just be the best actor in the world under 30, and Salles manages to bring the audience to the same conclusion as Guevara as he's coming to it, without resorting to preaching or cheap sympathy. The visuals are stunning, especially as they visit some of the most rural parts of South America.
10) "Dogville" (Lars Von Trier) Filmed on an essentially bare stage, using basic props and outlines of the buildings, "Dogville" explores a small American town as they attempt to help a woman (Nicole Kidman) in hiding from mobsters. The lack of props and sets forces you to focus on the actors, universally solid, and their eventual cruel treatment of a woman in danger. An extremely difficult film to watch, "Dogville" nevertheless is an effective morality tale by one of the most daring directors of our time.
Ok, enough of my pretension. Back to work.