Thursday, January 06, 2005

Top 10 Films of 2004

I've been working on filming the movie, and it's going really well. It's definitely an improvement over everything I've done in the past, and as long as each one we do keeps getting better, it's good. It's unfortunate that we're always under time pressure, since I'd love to spend more time working on shots, but it's just not plausible. As is, there's some great shots, but I feel like we could be doing more with each frame, but are sort of limited by the time we can spend on each scene. But, it's a learning experience, and getting the story conveyed is the most important part of the process, and I think we're definitely doing that. Plus, I'm having fun along the way, which is also critical. It's just cool to see stuff I imagined being acted out in reality.

So, I've seen pretty much all the movies I really wanted to see that came out in 2004, which means it's time to drop the year's top ten list.

10. I Heart Huckabee's - The black bag sequences in this movie just owned, and were some of the most original cinema I've ever seen. I love the fact that the movie focuses on an intellectual, philosophical dispute, and the way that the events of the movie lead to an intellectual rather than plot-based resolution. I can relate much better to someone who's got a crisis of thought rather than a real pressing physical crisis. Uniformly great acting, particularly from Mark Wahlberg and Naomi Watts, and the Shania Twain cameo was genius.

9. Shaun of the Dead - It's not as good as Spaced, the TV show by the same people, but that doesn't mean it wasn't really good. There were some hilarious bits, but throughout the film, there was character development, and actual attention paid to making the characters change, rather than just getting in gags or forwarding the plot. The end gets a bit too much like a conventional zombie film, but particularly in the first half, this is a really entertaining, smart and funny film.

8. Hero - The colors alone made this a phenomenal film, but the looping narrative structure and some great action sequences gave it a real epic feeling, capturing the mythic nature of old American westerns. It doesn't hurt that two of my favorites actors, Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung are in the film either. This is how an action movie should be shot, as a showcase for phenomenal cinematography and production design. The green sequence and the leaf fight were notable highlights.

7. 2046 - Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung appear again here, but this one's most about Tony, who puts in the best performance of his career. Now, technically this film doesn't come out here until 2005, but it was made in 2004, so it's on the list. I talked a lot about this a few days back, but it's one of Wong Kar-Wai's best, and that's saying something. His use of the sci-fi storyline was inspired, and the sadness of the film was profound. Every single frame had something interesting visually, and I love the ties to WKW's previous works. I feel sort of guilty about ranking this so low, since it was a brilliant film, but there was just so much good stuff this year.

6. Oldboy - Damn, Asia, you don't stop making great films. Now, this film was released in 2003 in Asia, and won't be released here in 2005, buut I saw it it this year, so it's on the list. After seeing Kill Bill I, you might think there's nowhere left for the revenge film to go, but Chan Wook-Park disproves that with this incredible film. This is a film that just pops, with brilliant frames and great use of music. The one take tracking shot in which Oh Daeseu fights a whole gang of people is the sort of thing that makes you say "Respect." The prison sequence is another really dazzling piece of filmmaking, and the ending leaves you thinking. This film is just so alive and popping, it's amazing. There's supposedly a remake in the works, but watch this, because other than Kill Bill, it's been a long time since I've seen an action movie this good.

5. Dogville - Yet another foreign film, this one's from Denmark and director Lars Von Trier. Three hours long, taking place on a stage with chalk outlines instead of sets, you may say, "That doesn't sound very entertaining." Well, it is very entertaining, and it's also brutal and thought provoking. This is a slow build film that draws you into a sort of funk and then jolts you out of it with a morally ambiguous ending that makes you wonder just how much Von Trier hates people. Nicole Kidman gives probably her best performance here, and the rest of the cast does a great job of giving the feeling that this stage is not a stage, but in fact, a fully functioning town.

4. Garden State - A film that hit me at exactly the right time, and is pretty personally relatable, so I may be a bit biased in my liking of it, but that doesn't take away from the great direction and writing of Zach Braff. I love the way the beginning of the film uses all sorts of wacky visuals to bring you into the world, and then segues into a more character focused story. I like the fact that this isn't a really plot driven film, the events come out of the characters. I even love the ending, which is consistently knocked. Maybe it's because I'm not jaded enough, but I think it makes sense for him to give it a try with Sam, the one person in his life who he has really connected with. That's more important than getting back to working in a restaurant.

3. Kill Bill Volume 2 - A very different film from Volume 1, so different that I was a bit disappointed on the first viewing, since the film was so completely different from what I was expecting. However, upon seeing it again, I really loved the film. It's Tarantino's most mature film, and also full of incredible pop moments, notably the training sequence and the trailer fight. The buried alive sequence was another highlight, one of the best uses of sound in a film ever. I love how the ending throws everything that's come before into question, and humanizes all the characters involved. Volume 1 is about the gradual cartoonization of the bride, two is about the humanization of all the characters. Rather than fighting mythic yakuza leaders, she's fighting the bouncer at a strip club, and an old man. David Carradine owns in this movie, it's one of the best performances of the year. The ending is a catharsis, and then the credits bring back all the great moments from the duology, a final glimpse at the world that Tarantino created. The two films together are an astonishing piece of work.

2. Before Sunset - From an action packed, pop style spectacular we now move to two people talking for eighty minutes. That's it, but the conversation is riveting, and the suspense in this film is more than you'll get from any horror movie. Linklater perfectly captures the feelings of regret that people have about things that were done or weren't done in the past. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy completely inhabit their characters, slipping back in after a nine year gap. The beginning of the film, you can tell that they feel an awkwardness and want to get deeper, but are stuck on the surface. It's not just the lines, it's the delivery and physical mannerisms. I love the way this film seems to be much more cynical than Sunrise, but is in fact full of the exact same romantic spirit of its predecessor, even more so, as the ending shows. The ending is so simple and yet it left me smiling for a long time after leaving the theater. This film is not only brilliant, it makes its predecessor even better. Richard Linklater is on an unparalleled role in recent years, and these two films, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, contain everything that's unique and exciting about his filmmaking.

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - It's been a while since this one came out, but it's still brilliant. This film was a perfect fusion of visual technique with story, using the effects to emphasize character emotion rather than replace it. Gondry is a visual master, I love the run down feel of the technology, and the mundaneness of it. The dinky Lacuna Inc. is the most Philip K. Dickian thing ever filmed. This is one of Kaufman's best scripts, so emotionally real. Jim Carrey gives by far his best performance ever, so low key and real. Jon Brion provides another great score, which gives the film a vaguely nostalgic feel throughout. The way that the narrative structure is used to gradually reveal plot developments to us is so brilliant, and the show offy structure never overwhelms the story at the heart of the film.

What a year it was. America got a bit served, with only four films in the top ten, but maybe that means we have to kick up our game a bit.

Related Posts
Richard Linklater Day (7/22/2005)
Wong Kar-Wai Day (8/3/2005)
Top Ten Films of 2005 (1/1/2006)

1 comment:

Keith G said...

Love the fact that our top three films are the same, though slightly in a different order.

And I love the fact you have "Shaun of the Dead" in your top 10 - between I Heart Huckabees and Hero. Great combination :-)