“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”
Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman’s wild opus into a man’s erased memories of a doomed love is a personal best for everyone involved. Gondry lends heart to Kaufman’s wild imagination and long overdue gravitas to Jim Carrey’s sorely underappreciated performance. The romantic comedy is literally turned inside out, as we watch Carrey’s love from end to beginning through a veil of nostalgia. Watching the breakup in reverse is oddly life-affirming, as is the film’s achingly beautiful conclusion. It’s not just the best movie of the year; it’s one of best romances ever made.
“Kill Bill Vol. 2”
Quentin Tarantino’s fifth film is the elegiac better half of last fall’s frenetic, amphetamine-fueled, genre-pilfering, cinephile-adoring, orgiastic romp, “Vol. 1.” Uma Thurman’s performance is refined, and David Carradine’s nearly nonexistent Bill of the previous half chews scenery as eclectically as super-hero mythology to the vengeance of Shaolin monk Pai Mei. An elegy to samurai films, nameless spaghetti western men, Yakuza thugs, exploitation and ethereal film scores, this is a postmodern, globe-trotting smart aleck at its monochromatic AND colorful best.
Films with a relatable main character often become personal to the viewer. Paul Giamatti’s Miles, the protagonist of “Sideways,” is no exception; he is someone in whom viewers may see a lot of themselves. This fact, as well as the overwhelming performance by Giamatti and my favorite ending of any movie this year, make “Sideways” a wonderful film.
“Shaun of the Dead”
From its countless one-liners to an impromptu drunken hip-hop jam to its heroes throwing vinyl LPs at zombies’ heads, “Shaun of the Dead” is a self-conscious and pitch-perfect marriage of gore and absurd humor. The film follows electronics-store slacker Shaun (Simon Pegg) and his lovable dimwit roommate Ed (Nick Frost)’s hapless misadventure as zombies invade their drab universe. Edgar Wright’s consistently clever direction of a script co-written by Wright and Pegg has left us with a sincere tribute to classic horror films and the funniest British film since Monty Python ran amok.
“A Very Long Engagement”
Aside from his most recent film “Amelie,” relating Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s previous directorial efforts to this film would be a useless venture. Indeed, many were surprised to find out that the same man who directed “Alien Resurrection” also directed that delightfully whimsical movie chronicling “The Fabulous Destiny of Amelie Poulain.” “A Very Long Engagement,” starring the same protagonist Audrey Tautou, is comprised of some elements similar to its predecessor. Jeunet continues to use the warmth of Tautou’s on-screen presence as a way of wooing his audience into her world. However, in contrast to “Amelie’s” narrative levity, “A Very Long Engagement” is loaded with a considerable amount of emotional and cultural weight taking place during the First World War. The film is surprisingly vast and yet made cohesive through Jeunet’s direction and Tautou’s nuances. Through and through, it was an excellent film that refused to be restrained by any genre type or pervasive popular demand.
“The Life Aquatic”
In his latest opus, director Wes Anderson shows the waning career of oceanographer/documentary filmmaker Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) and his underwater world. Following his cast of caricatures and whimsical cinematography, Anderson and co-writer Noah Baumbach show a disenchanted crew out to destroy the shark that devoured Zissou’s comrade. While still eccentric and original, “The Life Aquatic” shows a less accessible cast of characters in comparison to Anderson’s previous films but is still a quirky, Truffaut-esque premise placed on a gorgeous canvas.
For the ultimate romantic double feature, rent Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise” and his new sequel “Before Sunset.” In the latter film, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (a brilliant Julie Delpy) come back together to once again discuss the meanings of life, love and identity. This time, however, they also ponder what might have been had they not separated so permanently nine years before. “Before Sunset” doesn’t answer any questions about the future of the two existential drifters, but Jesse himself states that it all depends on whether you’re an optimist or a cynic. The film’s brilliant dialogue and acting and the best ending of 2004 might bring out the optimist – and romantic – in everyone.
After five critical and box office hits, everyone was expecting Pixar’s latest to be their first failure. Instead, it turned out to be one of their best. Writer-director Brad Bird (“The Iron Giant”) teamed up with the animation wizards at Pixar to create this witty and exciting addition to the superhero canon. The action and comedy are top notch, and the screenplay is among the best of the year, its subtleties an essential part of the film’s appeal. From the retro design of the Parrs’ house to its subtle cinematic references, “The Incredibles” was the most fun I had at the movies this year.
This tightly constructed thriller draws priestly abuse, forbidden loves and transsexual identity issues into its chilly momentum. Pedro Almodovar creates a mystery that blurs reality and fiction as film director Enrique (Fele Martinez) investigates the sudden appearance of a man (Gael Garcia Bernal) claiming to be his Catholic school love, while at the same time reigniting their romance and shooting a movie about their past. Almodovar’s most restrained movie yet is both a tribute to film noir past and an exploration of a filmmaker’s struggle with personal demons through art.
Who would have thought that an intimate love story would have become the summer’s biggest blockbuster? Sam Raimi’s sequel to the 2002 phenomenon broke more than a few rules in the process. It started by breaking the adage of sequels never being as good as the original; this one was bigger, badder and much less cartoonish. Furthermore, the filmmakers made the bold decision to have Peter Parker quit the superhero racket for a large portion of the film; it was a superhero movie with no superhero at all. And to top it all off, the majority of story focused primarily on the romance between Peter and Mary Jane. Ick. Who kisses girls? Raimi’s daring attempt at doing something different led to one of the best films of 2004.