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Mario Anima's Best Movies of 2004

Top Ten Lists can be achingly difficult to put together when you have a wealth of good films to pull from. Surprisingly, 2004 was a strong year for film. Sure, we’ve had stronger years in the past, but the last few years have been somewhat stale with a few surprises here and there. So, after much deliberation and a few last minute changes, I’ve come up with the following list: “Best of 2004”

10. Kill Bill Volume 2 – This film was a sound “yin” to the violent onslaught of Volume 1’s “yang.” Although the blood never flows to the degree of the first installment, the tension and dramatic resolution makes the whole sordid tale come together in a manner that truly satisfies. From the second the credits rolled, this film felt like Out of the Past by way of Lucio Fulci. Fun, fun, fun.

9. Shaun of the Dead – Just another zombie movie, right? Wait, but this one is a comedic look at the zombie phenomena, so that means it lacks heart and feeling, right? Wrong. Shaun of the Dead is one of those few films that I like to classify as a “Dramedy.” It begins strongly enough, feeling as though it will be nothing more than a funny ride through zombie culture. It is, but there are a few scenes that hit where it counts because they are so touchingly and painfully rendered. It’s clear that these scenes only work because the characters, although comedic in nature, have been expertly developed right under your unsuspecting noses, and when it hits it hurts. Sure, things wrap up neatly, but the journey through a land of the walking dead is such a poetic metaphor for the brevity of life and the trials of relationships that it simply cannot be ignored.

8. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – Jim Carrey doesn’t impress me that much. Sure, he’s a funny guy and the first Ace Ventura is what it is, but as an actor he’s never truly done much for me, dramatically speaking. Eternal Sunshine proves that Carrey is capable of rising above his spastically larger than life personas and create a character that looks and feels “real” and unforced. There is, I’m sure, a lot of credit to be given to Charlie Kaufman, who once again creates a plot that could only bend and twist in Kaufman’s own world, yet proves endearing and touching and deeply reflective at the same time. What would you be willing to part with if given the chance? This and more are pondered with a surprisingly expert cast ranging from the always excellent Mark Ruffalo to the questionable but endearing Kate Winslet.

7. Collateral – Michael Mann seems to know the feel of urban sprawl better than anyone else. He seems to soak up the endless twists of city streets and dark back alleys of the big city better than anyone else these days, and his playground is L.A. Think of Heat, and you get the feel of Collateral in a second, but his use of High Definition cameras to lens this film create an environment and mood that are so immediate and soaked in shadows that viewers literally get eaten alive by the mise en scéne. His work here reminds me of the type of work Martin Scorsese used to employ with New York city, the feel that the streets were alive with nefarious ploys to gobble up the unsuspecting if given the chance. Add to all of this a knockout performance by Jamie Foxx (the first of two this year) and the chillingly rendered Vincent (a sort of grey haired guardian devil hit man brought to life by Tom Cruise) and you are left with a truly lethal concoction.

6. Undertow – David Gordon Green’s third feature is not only a reflection of his previous work, but an extension as well. He still focuses on the secrets, pasts, and dramas found in people living simpler lives, which would seem to instill that these people themselves are simple as well. Green’s work seems to argue against that assessment, asserting that complications exist everywhere, even in a family of pig farmers. Here he seems to add a touch of noir to his usual gothic drama, not in chiaroscuro but in theme alone. Someone has a past they wish to cover up and act as though it never existed, said past returns seeking a bevy of ancient coins meant to be split as an inheritance, yet neither party wishes to “share.” In a touching manner, Green manages to wield together staple noir plot developments with the tender and painful issues of adolescence and growing brotherhood.

5. Before Sunset - I never cared much for Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, but some films require reflection in order for them to work in context. Sunset makes Sunrise work for me. In doing this, the charm of the first film is realized. What turned me off from the first film was its eagerness to charm into idealization. Everything seemed to work out in an apparently hopeful fashion. The part I always enjoyed was the end, not as a mean-spirited dig at the film, mind you, but the complication that is finally faced in the final shot. Do they keep their promise or not? That alone provides the premise for Sunset, and the film plays off of the question “what becomes of the two lovers” beautifully. This time around it is less ideal and more hard learned, as is life once age has added context to the situation. The fear of the fleeting moment that has passed by never being obtained again is something we all fear secretly. Second chances are never what they seem, and only when people are willing to give, on both sides of the fence, is anything ever truly going to work out. The final shot here cannot be mistaken as a “whether or not,” it is simply finality at it’s best. I loved every waking moment of this film.

4. Napoleon Dynamite – The question is, where did Napoleon come from? The answer is husband and wife team Jared and Jerusha Hess. What began as a short film had blossomed into a modestly budgeted indie film that has suddenly risen above its destiny as a cult classic to become the breakout film of the year. Yes, I said it. How can that be denied? With months at the Box Office, the film’s DVD release has even spurred surprising results, selling out all over the place and leaving the distributors clamoring to ship more copies to meet demand. What is most shocking to me is how universally enjoyed this off-beat film actually is. People I would never suspect in a million years to find this humor amusing tell me they LOVE this film. Somehow Napoleon seems to hit something inside us all, and the film itself is enjoyable time and time again. I remember reading the cap for Sundance and thinking that it was something I wanted to see, even reminding myself to keep an eye out for it because I would likely have to look for it when it is released; who could have predicted this? Well, other than the Hesses, I guess.

3. Sideways – Alexander Payne is incredible. Sideways is, sadly, the ignored gem in this year’s crop. An ode to letting go, doing the right thing, pining for a love that is no longer accessible. These are all familiar traits for pretty much any human on the planet. Payne’s film, following the model fleshed out by Rex Pickett’s novel of the same name, contrasts characteristics of wine with human counterparts. To delve into why this film works so wonderfully would ruin the charm and the sincerity of the film’s construction. It is something that truly should be witnessed firsthand, but unfortunately many did not and the film sort of lingered at the Box Office. I guess, like wine, Sideways is an acquired taste.

2. The Incredibles – Hands down, the best comic book film put to celluloid. Yes, I know, those who know me personally have heard such grand statements muttered before, but this time its going to stick, I can feel it. Who better to knock the wind out of the superhero genre than the guys at Pixar? It would seem that their work here was so expertly rendered that, according to Cinescape Magazine, the crew working on the new Fantastic Four film have been given extra special effects money to go back to the drawing board for their climactic battle sequence. Apparently the suits felt the effects weren’t meeting the level of expectation, or maybe they just wanted to try and up the ante. Either way, this speaks volumes, and regardless of being animated The Incredibles remains the best realization of the superhero genre and an excellent film all around.

1. Million Dollar Baby – In past years the industry would usually be lauding an up and coming director who has somehow managed to squeeze out a surprise hit for the year, making a splash and establishing their name as a player in the industry. A lot of this rose out of the boom in independent filmmaking, but it would seem that Clint Eastwood would have something to say about the way things “used to be” and it begs to be seen in Million Dollar Baby. I can’t seem to rave enough about this film, and yet the feeling of having one’s hands tied is overwhelming because it simply cannot be ruined through spoiling the plot. Without the natural progression, the film simply wouldn’t work.

Honorable Mentions
(In no particular order)

Aileen: The Life and Death of a Serial Killer, Alfie, The Aviator, Bad Education, The Bourne Supremacy, The Brown Bunny, Closer, Fahrenheit 9/11, Finding Neverland, Garden State, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Motorcycle Diaries, Open Water, Ray, and Touching the Void.

“Thought it would be a bomb but surprisingly enjoyed it”


“Wasn’t sure if I’d like it, but thought it would at least be competent”


“Best Superhero Flick whose title as ‘Best Superhero Flick’ was usurped by an Animated Superhero Flick”

Spider-Man 2

“Films I regret to admit not screening”

Ocean’s 12, Spanglish, Dogville. Hero, Maria Full of Grace, Kinsey, The Sea Inside, The Assassination of Richard Nixon, and Vera Drake.

“Best Adaptation of a stage musical that only succeeded in making me want to see the stage performance again”

The Phantom of the Opera

Mario Anima

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