Lost in Translation

The Best Films of the Year 2004



Well, it's here. And, if you can believe it, I actually came up with ten films I liked last year. Let's hope this year's batch of films will be better. Click on the banner above to go to the super exciting awards page and post comments there (if you please) telling me how much my list sucks and/or posting your own list. Maybe in a few weeks we'll all have a list war.
Mulholland Dr.

A Very Long Engagement

Here is a film that, if I watched without subtitles, I would have liked it just the same. Though a coherent story still eludes him, Jean-Pierre Jeunet is an amazing French director of sumptuous visual delights. The director of brilliant films like Delicatessen, City of Lost Children, Amelie (and oh, okay, Alien: Resurrection too) has created yet another poetic realism saga of bustling nymphs, grizzly frogs, throbbing machinery, quirky characters and unforgettable landscapes.

The closest any director can ever get to making a serious live action cartoon, the vibrant Engagement contains the kind of surreal world where reality takes a back seat to visual poetry.

Fashioned as if a detective mystery (but without the inciting incident of a murder) the wide-eyed angel Audrey Tautou is without a doubt the most adorable love detective ever. Set during WWI where an idealistic disabled woman is determined to find the missing soul mate she knows survived the war, Engagement does everything Cold Mountain tried to do but failed.

As the separated lovers get closer with each beautiful step and as each flash back illuminates the fate of the soldier, we feel the connection between these lost lovers and yearn for them to be found.

Grade: A-
Spirited Away

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence

The thinking man’s anime. This existential exploration of artificial intelligence and the nature of souls in a soulless society packs a lot of intense action but even more intense is the ideas it raises. Ghost in the Shell 2 surpasses the original in depth, visuals, and action.

It would be the kind of film you watch just to watch if only it wasn’t such a mind-bender. The most beautiful looking film of the year masterfully blends hand drawn animation with breathtaking CGI backgrounds but, visuals aside, the most beautiful thing of all is Mamoru Oshii ability to create a smart, action movie that has a good story without coming off condescending or didactic. It may be nebulous but this animated masterpiece gets the neurons firing.

Grade: A-
Spirited Away

Closer

Another love story!? Not quite; more like an anti-love story. Veteran Mike Nichols may be pushing eighty years of age, but he has crafted a film with such rich energy and zippy tension that you’d guess it was made by an energetic director with a bight career ahead of him.

Closer contains all the focused energy and intimate passion of a play but with all the breath and versatility of a film. Adapted from a popular London stage play by Patrick Marber (who also penned this film’s airtight script), Closer explores the life, love and discord of two couples. As a Neil LaBute fan, gender conflict discourse fascinates me and Closer --more than any LaBute film-- never shies away from depicting the nature of both sexes, capable of as much viciousness as tenderness. But the film is not mean, it’s just keen.

While Julia Roberts, Natalie Portman and Jude Law all give career best performances, it is Clive Owen as the pathetic dermatologist who gets his wife stolen by Jude Law, who in turn steals this film. Owen’s engrossing mix of powerlessness and vice combined with masculine displays of confidence and wit are all carefully balanced in one of the best performances –and within one of the best pictures—of the year. This film isn’t easy--it’s hard, but good.

Grade: A
Mulholland Dr.

Before Sunset

Wait a minute, what could this be? Maybe Hollywood can make challenging, non-gimmicky love stories after all. But to do it they had to go to France, city of love and creeps, I mean crepes.

For anyone who says adventurous writing has gone the way of John Dahl, look to this beautiful film to boost your faith in good writing. In this follow-up to Before Sunrise, director Richard Linklater (along with the actors/screenwriters who star in the film) deftly uses dialogue, word play and proximity to tell a gripping story about… nothing. Well not nothing; the beauty is that this film, while about nothing much on the surface, contains a geyser of feeling and depth underneath its walk-and-talk exterior.

A few more mature sequels of this quality, spanning a few more decades, and maybe Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy will become the most meaningful couple in movie history.

Grade: A
Lost in Translation

Spanglish

So enraged was I by this film’s self-coveted qualities that I stormed out of the theater, half debating whether I should yell “fire!” on my way out to save everybody from a fate worse than a thousand fires, which would be seeing this movie. Collapse )
Lost in Translation

Lamest Nicolas Cage Names

Lamest Nicolas Cage character names

1. Randall 'Memphis' Raines (Gone in 60 Seconds)
2. Benjamin Franklin Gates (National Treasure)
3. Acid Yellow (Sonny)
4. Dr. Stanley Goodspeed (The Rock)
5. Castor Troy (Face/Off)
6. Cameron Poe (Con Air)
Spirited Away

Year End Stuff

My first semester of graduate work is over and for the next month I will be (mostly) hard at work formulating my Best Of section for this year’s crop of crap movies. Because I have so many winter films to see and because I want to get to all the good, bad and Martin Scorsese ones, I’ll be whipping up mini-reviews instead of long rambling ones until the new '05 season.

Post here your favorite films of the year, peeps, and I’ll put up whatever you send alongside my (slightly better) lists. I can't wait to see what (if anything) everybody liked this year.

Greg