10) Shaun of the Dead - I suppose I'm betraying here my soft spot for cult horror movies. However, even non-horror fans might like his movie since it's an adventure, romantic comedy, and zombie movie rolled into one. This movie is a riot, especially for fans of George Romero and Lucio Fulci, with its frequent hilarious allusions to great zombie movies of the past.
9) Fahrenheit 9/11 - Documentary or leftist propaganda? Even many liberals have gotten sick of Michael Moore blowing his own horn. It's hard to believe this won really won the Palme d'Or, even though it is a quite a well-made and thought-provoking documentary. Of course, Moore has been known to stretch the truth, which is a headache for both liberals and conservatives. This movie is no exception. However, I'm glad that it raises a lot of important questions about Bush, the neoconservatives, and the Carlyle Group's motives in the "War on Terror". It's just a shame that Moore has been more maligned than Karl Rove, who is an equally shameless and devious propagandist.
8) 2046 - This was the film I was most eagerly anticipating this year. It's Wong Kar-Wai's follow-up to 'In the Mood For Love', which was one of my favorite movies this decade. According to Wong, the idea for 2046 comes from the promise the Chinese government gave to the Hong Kong people: 50 years of no change in its political and economic systems after the 1997 handover by Great Britain. Chow (Tony Leung) is a writer whose novel describes a mysterious train that leaves for the year 2046, a year/place where people are said to revisit the past and recapture lost memories. This is mere speculation since no one has returned from 2046. Chow stays at the Oriental Hotel. He is a womanizer who relives his past affairs with his old neighbor's wife, Su Lizhen (Maggie Cheung, playing the character from In the Mood for Love), a card shark by the same name (Gong Li), and a high class madam, Bai Ling (Zhang Ziyi). His current neighbor, Jingwen (Faye Wong), is the daughter of the hotel's owner and she encourages him to write the novel. If you're confused, so was I. This film was rushed to Cannes, did not receive any awards, and was panned by many critics. I think there are some good ideas here but not enough for a coherent full-length feature film.
7) Infernal Affairs - This movie actually came out in 2002, swept the 2003 Hong Kong Film Awards, was one of the most popular movies in Asia, and has already inspired two sequels. The plot is fairly straightforward: it's about a mole (from a Hong Kong triad) in the police department and an undercover cop within a Hong Kong triad. While the police chief knows who the cop is and the triad boss knows who the mole is, neither group knows who the traitor is among them, although each group makes this eventual discovery their long-term objective. Nearly a decade passes and each mole faces profound moral, personal, and professional dilemmas in continuing their roles. To avoid giving away too much, I'll leave it at that.
6) The Incredibles - Believe the hype. This is one of the best animated movies I've seen and is definitely the best thing the Disney/Pixar collaboration has produced. It's a superb blend of action, humor, and drama. I felt like the little kid on a tricycle (you know who I'm talking about) while watching this movie. Mr. Incredible, Frozone, and Bomb Voyage were especially hilarious.
5) Kill Bill: Vol. 2 - Tarantino closes his two-part tale of revenge with a thoughful character study. It's more artistic and almost as gory as Vol 1. The cinematography is excellent, particularly the B&W scene on the porch at Beatrix's wedding rehearsal. The film reveals Beatrix's (Uma Thurman) development as an assassin under Pai Mei (Chia Hui Liu), her transformation during her pregnancy, her inextinguishable survival instinct, and the violence and jealousy that threatens and finally destroys the love between Bill (David Carradine) and Beatrix.
4) Collateral - Vincent (Tom Cruise) is a hit man who hires a cabbie, Max (Jamie Foxx), to help him do his dirty work in L.A. Cruise is a stone cold killer who is blunt but insightful, and almost likable, if it weren't for the fact that his conversation with you probably means that he's going to shoot you in the face the next minute. Foxx is terrific in his role as a hapless cabbie; he conveys a sense of quiet desperation as he is figuring out how to cope with the predicament he's in. Director Michael Mann borrows a page from "Rear Window" and "The French Connection" to develop a tense and thrilling climax. Mann paces the movie well and creates a claustrophobic sense of urgency in the taxicab and a haunting, noirish, apathetic Los Angeles.
3) Garden State - Actor/writer/director Zach Braff is fortunate to work with a cast that isn't typical for Sundance entries. Natalie Portman, Ian Holm, and emerging actor Peter Sarsgaard turn in good performances. Garden State is an endearing story about Andrew (Braff), a struggling actor best known for his role as a retarded quarterback, who returns to Jersey for his mother's funeral after 9 years away with hardly a word to his family or friends. Subdued from years on lithium and antidepressants, Andrew becomes inspired to take the reins of life after meeting a new, carefree friend, Sam (Portman), and he begins to discover what he has been missing in life. My favorite scenes are the pool scene and the fireplace scene. However, I didn't particularly care for the Method Man scene or the contrived ending.
2) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - I remember when I first heard about the concept for this movie, I thought it would be a contrived piece of garbage. But writer Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) hadn't disappointed me yet, and he doesn't here either. If you've ever loved and lost or wondered why it is so hard to forget someone, this movie will have special meaning for you. Jim Carrey tops his 'Truman Show' performance as Joel and Kate Winslet is terrific as the eccentric Clementine.
1) The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou - Wes Anderson's genre-bending adventure is my favorite film of the year. Add action and pseudodocumentary to his usual mix of offbeat drama and tongue-in-cheek dark comedy, and you have a quirky, winning combination. The cast is strong throughout: Bill Murray brings a unique energy to the screen and imbues his character with the complexity and edginess necessary to drive this rather unconventional mid-life crisis story; Owen Wilson's deadpan delivery as Zissou's possible long lost son works well; Willem Dafoe is funny as a jealous senior team member; Anjelica Huston is a commanding presence in her smaller role, sometimes even stealing scenes from Murray; Cate Blanchett is lovely as a pregnant journalist whose incisive questioning and romantic impassability rub Zissou the wrong way; Jeff Goldblum is hilarious as Zissou's ambiguously bi archrival; and Seu Jorge is a great supporting cast member who helps segue scenes with fun Portugese renditions of David Bowie songs. Initially, the atmosphere may seem lighter than that of Rushmore or The Royal Tenenbaums. However, the humor and quirky plot do not mask the dark undercurrent or detract from the poignancy of the film's climax. Although the screenplay seems a little bit more disjointed than those co-written with Owen Wilson, the playful randomness is a welcome element in this adventure and I didn't feel too much was missing from Wilson's absence in the writing department. The set pieces and costumes are appropriately weird and wonderful and Wes Anderson is certainly in his element with effective use of color (i.e. the helicopter scene), music, editing, shot selection, CGI, and mise-en-scene (especially the intro, the entrance and exit of key characters, and the ending).
House of Flying Daggers, Hero, The Bourne Supremacy, Spider-Man 2, Team America: World Police
2004 movies I still want to see:
Sideways, Finding Neverland, Kinsey, Ray, The Aviator, Closer, Vera Drake, Maria Full of Grace, The Sea Inside