July 1, 2004

Best of 2004: The First Half.

OK, the moment all of you have been waiting for, my top lists for the first 6 months of the year. The focus will be on films, but at the end will be a few others for your enjoyment. The films lists will be limited to those films released in 2004, I saw a few more, but they were 2003 releases.
Total Films Seen: 60
Total 2004 Releases seen: 47

Top 10 Films:
1. The Passion of the Christ: This is going to be a tough one to top on my list. The movie was beautifully made and acted, and it affected me deeply. To me it is a movie that transcends religion, anyone can relate to this film. A wonderful gamble taken by Mel Gibson to create something he believed in.
2. Kill Bill Volume 2: Another great from Quentin Tarantino. A straight forward revenge tale filled with wonderful characters, great dialogue, and spectacular fights. You don't need Volume 1 to "get" this one, but taken together, they are masterful.
3. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Jim Carrey's best performance. I love this movie in a similar way to last years Lost in Translation. A beautiful tale of love between two lost souls. This one also has that wonderful high concept of memory erasure.
4. The Terminal: Tom Hanks put on a a clinic and Spielberg is still at the top of his game. An absolutely brilliant movie in its simplicity and complexity at the same time.
5. Super Size Me: An amazing documentary, witty, eye opening. It's something everyone should see, especially those hooked on fast food (like me!).
6. The Saddest Music in the World: Bizarre, beautiful, unexplainable. A unique film with a flair for the bizarre.
7. Shrek 2: Funny movie, a worthy successor to the original classic. A story that holds together, gags for the adults, yet still a movie for the kids.
8. I'm Not Scared: A small film from Italy. Moving and terrifying, humorous and serious. One of the best performances put to film by a child, and a story that is heartbreaking.
9. Fahrenheit 9/11: A film most people have made up the mind on before seeing it. Well I saw it, I don't like Moore, nor do I agree with his politics, but the fact remains he is a master filmmaker, knowing how to twist the facts for his own needs. If it sparks positive discussion, it's done it's job.
10. Spartan: From David Mamet, we get a military thriller that is intricately plotted and perfectly acted. One of Val Kilmer's finest performances. This film sadly went unnoticed in theaters.

Top 5 "Guilty" Pleasures:
1. Hellboy: Guillermo Del Toro has crafted a fine comic book adaptation. I hope the directors cut will expand the story more.
2. Dawn of the Dead: A lot better than it had any right to be, a fun zombie mash.
3. 13 Going on 30: This Big wannabe delivered the goods. A fun light-hearted romp for the whole family.
4. Club Dread: For those wanting a slasher send-up that is good, as opposed to the Scary Movie franchise, here it is.
5. The Chronicles of Riddick: For as many ideas that didn't pay off, this was still a fun action flick.

Bottom 5 "Films":
5. Walking Tall: A disappointment. The rock continues to improve as an actor, but if they keep editing out the story, he will never truly take the next step.
4. Around the World in 80 Days: What a bore. A few good moments from Chan and a couple of funny cameos do not a movie make.
3. Godsend: Decent premise, call back when you have an entertaining movie.
2. Eurotrip: Usually trash like this doesn't bother me, but a few segments were uncalled for. Besides, nothing really stood out.
1. Paycheck: John Woo delivers a major misfire with this clunker. Plus, Affleck's horrible acting can't help.

Top 5 Directors:
1. Quentin Tarantino for Kill Bill Vol. 2: Quentin proves again that he is one of the best working directors.
2. Steven Spielberg for The Terminal: Brilliant. Making an airport terminal interesting for 2 hours is quite a feat.
3. Mel Gibson for The Passion of the Christ: The biggest gamble of the year pays off. Gibson in his finest hour has crafted a beautiful film.
4. Michel Gondry for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: tying together oddball romance and science fiction together, Michel has crafted a lovely film, much like Sofia Coppola did last year with Lost in Translation.
5. Michael Moore for Fahrenheit 9/11: Moore proves once again that controversy sells. Could he win his second Oscar in 3 years?

Top 5 Actors:
1. Tom Hanks for The Terminal: Putting on a clinic. Want to learn how to act? Watch Hanks' films.
2. Jim Carrey for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Possibly his finest performance.
3. Jim Caviziel for The Passion of the Christ: A brave and moving performance with a minimum of dialog.
4. Giuseppe Cristiano for I'm Not Scared: A fine performance for a first time child actor. A natural presence on the screen.
5. Johnny Depp for Secret Window: May not be the best picture, but Depp's performance is so strong that it carries the film to the next level.

Top 5 Actresses:
1. Maia Morgenstern for The Passion of the Christ: A performance very little dialog, it must all be said with the face. What she is able to express is heart breaking.
2. Uma Thurman for Kill Bill Vol. 2: Steps up to the plate and hits a home run bringing depth to what amounts to a one dimensional character.
3. Isabella Rossellini for The Saddest Music in the World: A fine performance that convinces us that she is powerful, on top of the world, yet terribly sad and vulnerable at the same time.
4. Kate Winslet for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Much like Carrey's performance she carries the oddball romance and gives us a character that you truly sympathize with.
5. Jennifer Garner for 13 Going on 30: She wants to be like Tom Hanks in Big, she's not there yet, but the performance was believable and you could tell see was really having fun on the set.

Top 5 Supporting Actors:
1. David Carradine for Kill Bill Vol. 2: Strong as the title character, he is back from the brink.
2. Stanley Tucci for The Terminal: Creating an entertaining foil to Tom Hanks, he succeeds in giving us a unique creation.
3. Mark Ruffalo for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: A goofball assistant. Another strange character in this gem.
4. David Arquette for Never Die Alone: Never thought I'd be putting his name on a list like this, but he did give an excellent performance as a would be writer.
5. Billy Bob Thornton for The Alamo: The best thing about the movie. Thornton brings a more real seeming edge to the legend of Davy Crockett.

Top 5 Supporting Actresses:
1. Monica Bellucci for The Passion of the Christ: Yet another virtually silent performance, makes you forget the pointlessness of her role in The Matrix sequels.
2. Dakota Fanning for Man on Fire: What a joy she was, her relationship with Denzel Washington created a heart on which to hang the action on.
3. Catherine Zeta Jones for The Terminal: A conflicted influence on a trapped would be immigrant, she teaches him to love, and she learns to find happiness.
4. Kirsten Dunst for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Another role, a tag along on a procedure to erase some memories, finds out the truth about herself.
5. Emma Watson Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: Strong, intelligent, mature beyond her years. She stepped up and took charge of a trio of young wizards.

That does it for the films of the first six months. Overall it has been a decent season, it had some strong releases early in the year that I hope are still remembered come Oscar time. But there have also been a lot of middling films. The majority of the films populating the middle of my list (Yes, I have all of them in order) could change positions at any point depending on my mood. Now for a few more lists.

Top 10 DVD Releases:
These are in no particular order, they are all great sets.
1. Ed Wood SE: For those lucky enough to grab one while they were on the shelf, this is a great movie.
2. Bubba Ho-Tep: Bruce Campbell as the King, hard to go wrong, plus it is a nice set for a little known film.
3. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King: A given, great movie, nice set, can't wait for the extended version.
4. Enter The Dragon SE: Bruce Lee's best and one of the best martial arts films of all time gets a great set with some excellent documentaries.
5. Walt Disney Treasures: Actually 4 titles: Tommorowland, The Chronological Donald, Mickey in Living Color Volume 2, and On the Front Lines. Disney has struck again with some great stuff restored from the vaults.
6. Monster Legacy: All of the original Dracula, Frankenstein, and Wolfman films in one big set with some nicely made resin busts.
7. Panic Room SE: A 3 disk set for a good film, this is excellent for the quantity and depth of the supplements, every facet of the production is covered.
8. Onibaba: Criterion: Can't go wrong with Criterion, and they have delivered here with a great Japanese period horror/thriller from the '60's.
9. Best of Abbott & Costello Volumes 1 and 2: Two collections of 8 films each. We get 16 movies filled with Abbott and Costello greatness. Not to be missed.
10. Fox Martial Arts Wave 3: Fox has been doing a great job releasing classic martial arts films at great prices with great transfer quality and original language tracks. This round brought us: Royal Warriors, Prodigal Son, Game of Death II, Operation Scorpio, and The Young Master.

Top 10 CD Releases:
In no particular order
1. Fear Factory: Archetype - Except this one, easily best of the year.
2. Velvet Revolver: Contraband
3. Slipknot: Vol 3. (Subliminal Verses)
4. Damageplan: New Found Power
5. DevilDriver
6. Kill Bill Vol.2: Soundtrack
7. The Passion of the Christ: Film Score
8. Incubus: A Crow Left of the Murder
9. Beastie Boys: To the 5 Boroughs
10. Helmet: Unsung-The Best of Helmet 1991-1997

Top 10 Television Shows:
1. Alias: Easily one of the best shows on TV.
2. 24: Weak season, picked up at the end for a great last third of the season.
3. Scrubs: Best Sitcom on the air.
4. Arrested Development: Best new sitcom of the year.
5. Angel: Sadly had its final year.
6. That 70's Show: Still funny.
7. Wonderfalls: Cancelled, coming soon to DVD!
8. Tru Calling: Actually got really good towards the end of the season.
9. The Dead Zone: Off to a good start.
10. Monk: Also off to a good start.

Let's close out this look back with a few one-offs.

Most Bizarre Film: The Saddest Music in the World

Biggest Gamble: The Passion of the Christ

Best Advertising Campaign: Fahrenheit 9/11 - Can't beat the free advertising on all the news outlets!

Biggest Acting Surprise: Ashton Kutcher may be able to do drama!

Most Overlooked Film: Spartan

Best Family Film: Two Brothers

Best Film Starring Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughan, Owen Wilson, or some combination: Dodgeball

Best Film with the word "Girl" in the title: Mean Girls

Best Voice Acting: Eddie Murphy as Donkey in Shrek 2

Goofiest Comic Adaptation: The Punisher

Best Television Actress: Jennifer Garner for Alias

Best Television Actor: David Boreanaz for Angel

Best TV Ensemble: Scrubs

Best New Drama: Joan of Arcadia

Best New Comedy: Arrested Development

Show I'd like to see brought back: Firefly


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