Continuing my highly idiosyncratic and quite personal look at the best of 2004 here on Planet Dave (and thanks to everyone who linked to my comics list), here's a look at films released in anno domini 2004.
Small problem: I didn't see all that many 2004 films. Lack of time and money seriously cuts down on my cinema visits, ensuring that I either rent these films when they come out on home video, or catch them on cable, which means that by the time I get to see 'em, they're not all that current anymore. Anyways, here are the films released this past year that I've seen, according to Movieweb, ranked in order of preference and with star ratings:
Kill Bill Vol. 2 ****1/2:
I quite understand why people might object to this film, and perhaps it's a character shortcoming that I don't share those objections; but I just have a weakness for Tarantino's collage-like homages and tributes to revenge movies, spaghetti westerns, kung-fu flicks, and the like. This one's a bit padded, but it's still full of a lot of clever and impressive scenes, plus serves the worthy goal of rescuing Michael Madsen from late-night Cinemax C-list movie hell. I hope someday to see a combined version of this and Vol.1.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind ****:
I don't usually care much for romance/relationship films, but this one's a totally different animal. I was impressed with the excellent performances by the leads and the imaginative script. I wish the direction had been equally as imaginative.
Spider-Man 2 ****
One of those rare sequels that is better than the original, even though I thought it laid the "poor Peter" schtick on too thickly and Tobey McGuire sleep-walked through the film. For my money, the bank robbery/kidnapping of Aunt May scene with Doc Ock was one of the best action sequences in the history of this genre, but most people liked the elevated train sequence, which really strained my disbelief suspension mechanism. Alfred Molina is becoming one of my favorite actors.
Hero ***1/2: Like I said a couple of days ago, absolutely amazing visuals, full of gorgeous color and graceful wire-fu but lacking a bit in the script department. I did like the conceit of linking calligraphy with swordfighting, though.
Tom Dowd & The Language of Music ***1/2:
Fascinating documentary about the late record producer, with whom I was familiar mostly for his work with the Allman Brothers, Black Oak Arkansas and Rod Stewart (1975-76), but actually whose career has virtually encompassed the history of recorded music in the USA, at least since the late 40's anyway. Sometimes they move on when you wish they'd dig deeper, but overall this is great stuff, and Dowd was a likeable guy and engaging commentator.
Disney's Teacher's Pet *** :
Had some time to kill earlier this year, while I was waiting for the afternoon screening of Return of the King, so I thought what the hell- I'll go see this. I had seen the Saturday morning cartoon, so I knew that I'd probably like it. based on the art of Gary Baseman (no pun intended) and scripted with a more adult tone than you'd think, it's clever and fun (especially on a musical number about the 50 states), but kinda runs out of steam before it's over. Still, it's a great visual experience, especially on the large screen- the colors are bold and bright, and Baseman's odd art style works better than you'd think.
Sky Captain & The World of Tomorrow ***:
Another visually stunning but empty story-wise film. The plot had holes big enough to drive a truck through, and the resolution was weak, but I flat-out loved the whole look of this movie with its soft-focus evocation of 30's pulp novels and Fleischer Superman cartoons and Metropolis and such. Performances were so-so; Jude Law was OK in a role that didn't ask him to do much (and he does that with aplomb), Gwyneth Paltrow was bland, and actually Angelina Jolie, of all people, gave the best turn with her winking portrayal of Air Squadron leader Franky Cook. I wish with all my heart that someone would do a Doc Savage, Shadow, and/or Justice, Inc./The Avenger film in this style.
It's not a very good recommendation of any film when the best thing I can say is "It's not as bad as I feared"- and that was pretty much my reaction to Hellboy. The effects were fine and the makeup was OK (although I thought Perlman looked like a very good Comics Convention costume ball entry), and it kinda-sorta followed its semi-Seeds of Destruction template pretty well...but there were just too many silly and unnecessary changes to the source material (Kroenen becoming a badass mechanical assassin, Hellboy's dopey schoolboy-crush mooning over Liz Sherman, not to mention his being kept in captivity and seclusion, Hulk-like; Abe being portrayed as a C3PO-ish weenie) for this longtime Hellboy fan to thoroughly embrace this. I like Del Toro's work, especially The Devil's Backbone, and I think his heart was in the right place, but he just didn't deliver the groceries this time. Hopefully the inevitable Hellboy 2 will be better, but I won't get my hopes up.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban **1/2:
See the review I wrote a couple of days ago; I can't really think of anything to add.
Van Helsing ** :
Yeah, this was big, dumb, loud and stupid, with a terrible performance from its female lead and its main adversary, and it looked more like a long promo for the latest Universal Studios Theme Park ride- but I actually kinda liked this knuckleheaded update of those old House of... flicks of the 40's. Hugh Jackman was fine as the lead character, the comic relief was kinda comic, mostly, and at least it wasn't dull. Guess this qualifies as a guilty pleasure for me, but I don't really have a burning desire to see it again.
And that's it! I know that there are many excellent films, like The Incredibles, that I haven't been able to view yet- so this list is far too incomplete for me to do a proper "best-of". Next, I'll try to do a music list.