2004 at the movies: Howie picks the year’s top 10
Yes, it’s that time of the year again: Time to choose the best pictures of this past year. Some will sound familiar and some you may have forgotten. Most of the selections were screened up here at the lake with a few exceptions. The selections here are in no particular order.
A few other movies almost made it into the Top 10, so I have included my top six honorable mentions, because they were just as good in my mind.
Although not much on the technical aspects, I chose those that either moved me in some way or just took my breath away with their content and cinematography. It’s been a good year, and look for a number of these movies to make the Oscar cut come February.
Here’s to an even better crop of motion pictures in the new year, too!
Kurt Russell plays Herb Brooks, the tough-as-nails head coach of the ice hockey team that would eventually become the best ever, facing off against the Soviet Union in the 1980 Winter Olympic Games. The event was a moment in time I will never forget and one I think that really brought out patriotic feelings in all of us, probably because we were the underdog. “Miracle” is more than just a sports movie – it tackles obstacles that seem impossible, leaving one in a virtual depth of despair and then, by some miracle, the dots connect at just the right time, leading to victory both in life and in sports.
“The Passion of the Christ”
When a movie makes headlines and gets people talking before it even opens … well, you’ve got something more than just a movie taking place. You have what we call an “event” or a “moment” in the industry. I was rather surprised when people on TV and radio were forming opinions about the movie when they hadn’t even seen it yet. I believe it’s called “ignorance,” and just perpetuates facts based on myth until one does finally see the product. First off, the facts: Jim Caviezel was remarkable as Jesus, from his painful facial expressions that needed no words, to his speaking in Latin. You almost “feel” what it is these actors are saying even when no subtitle was given. The movie was very violent, and director Mel Gibson took a huge chance by Hollywood standards to do a film on Christianity, but he succeeded and in the end proved that you could be faithful to your own beliefs, and damn all others for telling you not to. I found the movie very difficult to watch at times and wept over some of the scenes openly.
Loved the first one and wasn’t disappointed with the sequel. Shrek (Mike Myers) is back, but this time must meet Princess Fiona’s (Cameron Diaz) parents, voiced by Julie Andrews and John Cleese. They are the King and Queen of Far, Far Away, and are expecting a prince charming, not a mean ‘n’ green ogre! The animated flick works on several levels, entertaining the little ones and adults as well. The sequel introduces us to a whole new cast, including talk-show host Larry King as the Ugly Stepsister, Joan Rivers as herself (yes!) and a character who almost upstages Donkey – the sword-carrying bounty hunter, Puss-in-Boots (voiced by Antonio Banderas). There are so many “inside” jokes that I had to see the movie twice to pick up what I missed the first time. I also enjoyed the saucy Fairy Godmother (Jennifer Saunders from England’s “Ab Fab”) and Prince Charming (Rupert Everett from “My Best Friend’s Wedding”). Eddie Murphy as Donkey has got to be one of the best animated sidekicks ever.
“Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”
Without a doubt, it seems as if everyone enjoys these sequels, and rightfully so. “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” boasts one of the best adaptations ever from a book to the silver screen. J.K. Rowling’s books are ones that you virtually cannot put down, and same with seeing her stories adapted for the big screen. Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón (probably best known for his R-rated sex comedy, “Y Tu Mama Tambien”) does an exquisite job here making this movie a little darker than its predecessors. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), now 13, is in his third year at Hogwarts’ School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Fellow students and best buds Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) have returned as well. We’re introduced to some new characters, including Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), and the story, coupled with the marvelous cinematography, makes for a great picture.
Whatever you feel about him, controversial filmmaker Michael Moore knows how to get a dialogue started when you see his “movies.” His last documentary received an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature (“Bowling for Columbine”) and there’s a good chance he may snag another Oscar, which would make history. With 2004’s “Fahrenheit 9/11,” Moore showed the world what an inept president Bush was, from Moore’s point of view. Slanted? Definitely. Powerful persuasion and an argument to garner intense discussions about our involvement in Iraq? Also definitely. Michael Moore begins his film with the presidential election in 2000, re-planting the seeds of doubt over the closest election in history, where George W. Bush “stole” the election, and then everything from there just mushrooms into one man’s campaign to try and unseat a president (which, as we know, failed).
Most will agree that this sequel actually outdid the original – it was that good, and sets up the next obvious sequel, which should be just as good. Tobey Maguire reprises his role as the titular superhero, and all the principle players are back as well. Without a doubt, “Spider-Man 2” set the bar high, and part of the reason the sequel was so good is that it had a completely new story and not just a rehash from the first. Spider-Man is the one comic book hero who deserves his own “Web” site, too.
This little-seen French film about a woman who mistakenly goes to a tax lawyer instead of a psychiatrist was hysterical, smart and original to boot. Sandrine Bonnaire shines in this little film, along with an equally fine performance by Fabrice Luchini. At no point during their initial “appointment” does she realize she isn’t talking to an analyst, and he sees nothing abnormal, either. Director Patrice Leconte keeps the evolving dynamic between the two characters grounded and very natural. Kudos to translator Nigel Palmer for keeping the subtitles witty instead of blindly literal.
The cinematography alone makes this picture one of the best epic dramas of this past year. Originally titled “Ying xiong” in China, and released here two years later, “Hero” is an astounding piece of moviemaking that is a masterpiece of artwork for any Chinese film. The storyline, the direction and of course the martial arts are all woven into one epic movie that has no parallel. Jet Li shows he is truly the “real thing” when it comes to the martial arts sequences, and his acting has never been better.
Jamie Foxx can count 2004 as his year in the spotlight, when he transformed himself from a relatively OK actor into a serious, dramatic contender on the big screen. His supporting role in “Collateral” practically stole the movie away from top-billed actor Tom Cruise. In “Ray,” Foxx not only played the late Ray Charles, but channeled him. With Golden Globe nominations in several categories, expect a nod for Best Actor at The Oscars.
Paul Giamatti is one of my all-time favorite actors. He’s what you would call an “everyman” out there. He radiates in this picture, playing Miles Raymond, a man full of self-doubt who realizes he will never amount to much in this lifetime. His best friend and former college roommate, Jack (Thomas Haden Church) is about to get married, so the two embark on a pinot wine road trip of the trippiest kind. As the duo drives through the wine country of Northern California, the film becomes a midlife excursion into one’s inner self. What unfolds is a movie filled with intelligence and warmth as the journey becomes a metaphor for life, like a bottle of wine that has yet to be opened.
“Touching the Void”
– Howie Nave is host/manager of The Improv Comedy Club inside Harveys and reviews films for seven radio stations throughout northern California and Nevada. He hosts his own daily show afternoons on Tahoe’s KRLT radio.