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News » Film & TV

Top 10 x 3

Our critics show the love to the movies they loved in 2004.

by and


Scott Renshaw’s Top 10 of 2004

1. Before Sunset

2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

3. Spider-Man 2

4. Dogville

5. Napoleon Dynamite

6. Primer

7. Crimson Gold

8. Vera Drake

9. Million Dollar Baby

10. Red Lights

Is it déjá-vu, or has 2004 finally betrayed my prejudices as a moviegoer?

Looking at my Top 10 list for this year, it’s hard not to recognize some striking similarities to my 2003 list. There’s a quirky drama about a disintegrating relationship (2004’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to 2003’s The Secret Lives of Dentists), and the story of an unconventional, unconsummated relationship between a much older man and a younger woman (2004’s Million Dollar Baby to 2003’s Lost in Translation). There’s an emotionally resonant heroic blockbuster (2004’s Spider-Man 2 to 2003’s The Return of the King). And there’s a love-it-or-hate-it vision by a whacked-out director (2004’s Dogville to 2003’s Gerry). I’ve been pigeonholed. Mea culpa.

But if 2004 gave a definition to the kind of films I like, I’m thrilled that I saw more of them. Whereas last year I’d have been content making a Top Eight list, this year I’d have loved to do a Top 17, just so I could give a shout-out to winners like Shaun of the Dead, Kill Bill Vol. 2, The Saddest Music in the World and The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. Hey, I just did—whaddaya know about that?

So here’s to a 2005 filled with quirky dramas, emotionally resonant blockbusters and whacked-out visionaries. There are spots on next year’s list reserved for you.

MaryAnn Johanson’s Top 10 of 2004

1. Dogville

2. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

3. Hotel Rwanda

4. House of Flying Daggers

5. Spider-Man 2

6. Code 46

7. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... And Spring

8. Vera Drake

9. Collateral

10. The Incredibles

Damn, but I had a good time at the movies this year.

I sat through a lot of cinematic toxic waste, it’s true, but I also had a tough time winnowing down my best-of list to only 10 films. I could name 25 or 30 films that delighted me, made me laugh, moved me to tears, kept me up into the wee hours of the night pondering humanity’s place in the universe, or all of the above and more.

For me, “best” increasingly becomes about surprise. And the more movies I see—226 new theatrical releases in 2004 alone—the less likely it is for me to feel like I haven’t seen this all before. But when I think about which films surprised me the most, my “best” list seems less frivolous and arbitrary than it must necessarily be.

Dogville and The Life Aquatic stunned me with their very different uses of a heightened artificiality to create very immediate realities. Hotel Rwanda and Vera Drake astonished me with their direct and intimate groundedness, as if there were no barriers between the viewer and the subject. The Incredibles and Spider-Man 2 made me feel as if I’d never seen a superhero movie, made a well-explored genre feel fresh and new. Ditto Collateral and the hit man sub-genre. Who’d’a thunk it?

Greg Beacham’s Top 10 of 2004

1. Sideways

2.The Saddest Music in the World

3. Maria Full of Grace

4. House of Flying Daggers

5. Collateral

6. Metallica: Some Kind of Monster

7. The Incredibles

8. Garden State

9. Riding Giants

10. Spider-Man 2

For the third time in six years, Alexander Payne made the best film of the year, but the director of 1999’s Election and 2002’s About Schmidt pretty much lapped the field this time. There were plenty of really good movies made in 2004, but nothing that struck and resonated nearly as loudly as Sideways, his unassuming tale of two nearly-middle-aged friends on a revelatory weekend trip to California wine country. It’s funny and sad, horribly depressing and cathartically uplifting—and it’s made with the confidence and clarity of a burgeoning master.

The rest of my list is a hodgepodge of pleasant diversions: The wacky Canadian poignancy of Guy Maddin’s The Saddest Music in the World; the quiet humanity of Maria Full of Grace; Zhang Yimou’s latest fireworks display, House of Flying Daggers (opening locally Jan. 14); and the gorgeous metallic visuals of Michael Mann’s Collateral (before the weak ending). There were several strong documentaries, though only Metallica: Some Kind of Monster and Riding Giants made the list, while three pure popcorn crowd-pleasers—The Incredibles, Spider-Man 2 and Garden State (don’t kid yourself; it was more manipulative than any slasher film)—rounded out the year.