When I realized 2004 was ahead for me on this column, I groaned. I groaned hard. For a year with some great films, 2004 is also a minefield of a year. It is a year with some political films. It is a year with some very bad films.
The Bottom 25
#76. The Ladykillers. Hot take: I like this film a lot. By another director, it’s a funny little gem. It’s fluffy if maybe unnecessarily R-rated. Tom Hanks, J.K. Simmons, and Marlon Wayans are hilarious. It’s a weirdly idiosyncratic film that should have been received as such. However it’s by the Coen Brothers (in their first official co-crediting!) so it’s viewed as a giant misfire. Bah.
#77. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. This one hurts. On one hand, I passionately love this film and hate that it was the epic bomb it was. On the other hand, of course it bombed because I have no idea who the hell it was for except me. It’s a big budget steampunk epic that’s overdosing on its love of 30s imagery. A truly wonderful film but, yeah, not a shock.
#78. Raising Helen. Didn’t see it. Wasn’t the audience. Honestly never got the appeal of Kate Hudson. Do get the appeal of the late Garry Marshall. Cheers to him for not only playing a riff on himself on BoJack Horseman but playing a riff that underlined how unfair the criticism his films got was. True, a lot of them weren’t very good. But so what? They weren’t Casablanca (which was in and of itself a studio programmer that accidentally became the greatest film ever.)
#79. Taxi. I’ve seen Jimmy Fallon live. Back in 2002 I saw him do a show. He’s a funny guy. He worked the room great. He’s a great talk show host. And he’s not a bad actor. He was quite good in the wildly underseen Fever Pitch, a warm but maybe a step too low key film. Film didn’t happen for him. Also what was with Queen Latifah’s run of movies with male costars who showed her no sexual interest? Hated that.
#80. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Get ready to feel like you’re looking at a strobe light. The number of great films, in this case the best film of the year, next to bombs, is baffling. This made less than Taxi but left a meteoric footprint in the culture. The absolute end of Jim Carrey’s good movies came with one of his best.
#81. Alexander. I hate Oliver Stone. This was a hard bomb that’s been recut and recut and recut and nobody has ever been satisfied with it. I feel like maybe it could’ve been a success had it just come out in a year not choked with biopics. At least it helped kill out the idea Colin Farrell was a movie star and sent him on to the character acting he’s amazing at.
#82. Closer. For someone who was the it guy in 2004, Jude Law didn’t have it very good at the box office with Sky Captain actually his biggest grosser in 2004. This wasn’t a hit. It’s also a deeply polarizing movie with some finding it aggravatingly stagey. Me? I think it’s great, part of Mike Nichols’ wonderful late career boom where he reminded us all few have handled actors on his level. Law, Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, and especially Natalie Portman are explosive in this. It won’t make you feel good but it’s a feast all the same.
#83. The Punisher. It doesn’t shock me this isn’t a good movie. The Punisher stinks as a character. The only way to do him right is as black comedy like War Zone or the Garth Ennis run this stole from poorly. Here’s what you don’t do. You don’t move him to Tampa. You don’t overlight the film. You give it atmosphere. This is a bad movie.
#84. Team America: World Police. Remember how I said 2004 is a minefield? This is the first big one we cross. I hate this film and I hate it in part for being so let down by it I claimed I wasn’t at first. The longer it’s sat with me, the worse it really is. This is a lazy film that felt so slapped together I was stunned to learn it was actually a passion project. This movie’s nihilistic “everybody is bad” approach reflects something deeply toxic in our culture.
#85. Taking Lives. For a “star,” Angelina Jolie doesn’t make a lot of hits. That’s fine. She makes a lot of very good movies. This is just OK but it’s fun to see her and perpetual weirdo Ethan Hawke playing off each other. Genius twist too.
#86. Anacondas: The Hunt For The Blood Orchid. I didn’t see this in name only Anaconda sequel so can I use this space to point out Anaconda is awesome? A really great cast including Ice Cube kicking ass in what was obviously a tongue in cheek joke of a film. I love that wild film.
#87. Cellular. Larry Cohen! I may never get to talk about the bizarre genius that is Larry Cohen again so I’ll gush here. Cohen is the master of the weird high concept such as killer yogurt or guy trapped in a phone booth. This is a good one (albeit one where his script was gutted.) A woman is held hostage and the only hope is a random guy she calls. In this case it’s Kim Basinger calling Chris Evans at the start of him being more than just a smartass era. Damn good gem.
#88. Johnson Family Vacation. Not a movie I knew anything about then and know less about now.
#89. Open Water. This one interests me. This was thought to be the next indie sensation horror film. Then it just…wasn’t. It did ok but compared to the hype it was just ok. The indie horror that hit this year? Saw which took the #55 slot.
#90. Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen. This was the other Lindsay Lohan teen comedy to hit in 2004. Mean Girls, at #28, falls just outside my sphere of discussion. I didn’t see this one and aside from being Megan Fox’s first notable role nobody remembers it, so I’ll use this space to say Mean Girls was that good. It holds up. It’s still great.
#91. After The Sunset. There’s so much going for this one I’m kind of curious why it wasn’t better known. Probably because Pierce Brosnan, Salma Hayek, Don Cheadle, and Woody Harrelson aren’t movie stars. They’re well known and extremely gifted but have they ever had hits on their own? Not really.
#92. The Prince and Me. The moment where we can call it: It didn’t happen for Julia Stiles. That’s a shame but 5 years after 10 Things I Hate About You, movie stardom wasn’t in the cards for her. Also 5 years later? She shouldn’t have been stuck in this kind of film.
#93. Garden State. I like this movie dammit. Just getting that out of the way. Sure its messages about mental health are, um, nightmarishly dangerous but I like it. I think this might also be the zeitgeist movie of 2004. We had it good. We weren’t ok. We were struggling to deal. That meant being a bit irritating. Another big triumph for Portman, too. Why did she survive her work in the Prequels? 2004.
#94. Jersey Girl. I love Kevin Smith. He’s the king of truly nice guys in film and he’s made some classic comedies. So I hate how much I loathe this movie. There isn’t one tonally correct note in it. It’s a weirdly dark and angry film for a supposedly sweet story. It’s just ugly and nasty. George Carlin’s great though.
#95. Twisted. The last of the Ashley Judd in danger movies. Those were a big thing. It’s weird they’re not anymore. This might be why. I always liked her though.
#96. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Yay I’m going to get torched! I hate this movie. I really hate this movie. Hate is not too strong a word either. This unbearably smug, cloying, cutesy tripe annoyed me right up until the sequence where he finds the fish. Then it becomes transcendent. But it’s only because Staralflur by Sigur Ros is art. This movie also killed Touchstone Pictures. Well done.
#97. Around The World in 80 Days. Wild thought: this was supposed to be a massive hit for Disney. Like the Mike Todd version it was an excuse for cameos. And nobody cared. I’m not even sure it’s in circulation.
#98. Agent Cody Banks 2: Destination London. I was too old for the original. I was too old for the sequel. Are these even nostalgia items? I want to know!
#99. Hotel Rwanda. I feel like there’s always a low budget film to remind me its all relative on these lists. After the Sunset? A bomb for Don Cheadle. This? A hit. Why? It’s about the Rwandan genocide so cracking 20 million was a victory.
#100. Ella Enchanted. Given that this apparently had nothing to do with the book, I get why this didn’t spark. It had a mixed reception and Miramax was at their end. But with time I think this has done ok. I think much of that stems from Anne Hathaway exploding once she left behind her youth oriented roles. That feels like a perfect segue to our next section.
The Top 25 Grossers of 2004
#25. The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement. In which we reach the end of that youth. After this it’s Brokeback Mountain and her work in that eradicated this. (Havoc went DTV the same year but nobody saw it.) And I’m discussing Garry Marshall again too. Look, these weren’t for me but I appreciate that they gave a talented actress her break and Chris Pine pops up here!
#24. Million Dollar Baby. The mines are going to come hard and fast, I stress. On one hand, this is a poetic, well shot, phenomenally acted film with the best work Clint Eastwood will ever do as an actor. On the other hand, this movie’s message is utterly despicable, a celebration of euthanasia as the right option for paralysis. This beat the unnominated Eternal Sunshine and The Aviator for best picture. Grrr.
#23. Collateral. Hell yeah. I’m not going to make anybody mad here. This is an amazing film with career best work from Jamie Foxx and the second best performance by Tom Cruise yet. I hate Michael Mann’s affinity for cheap looking digital cinematography but this should feel like the scuzziest home movie and it looks great. Foxx deserved best actor for this and not the atrocious Ray.
#22. The Aviator. Got nothing negative to say. DiCaprio probably should’ve won for this. Scorsese too. There’s a lot of great work up and down this thing. It also handles the descent of Hughes right. It’s a tragedy and a terrifying one. So great.
#21. The Grudge. Oh boy, the Japanese horror remake. Funny how it was such a brief trend this film’s sequel made the other list in 2006. I don’t get this trend. I get The Ring striking but the way Hollywood screamed “Make Ring again” annoys me. Again, take note that Saw hit this fall. A change happened. You could feel it.
#20. The Village. I swear I have no idea how I feel about this film. I hated it walking out. I hate the second twist. I hate Adrien Brody in it, the one time I think Shyamalan has truly issues with mental health. Joaquin Phoenix, for probably the only time in his only career, is invisible. But I love everybody else in it, especially Howard. I love the cinematography. And I love that first twist which is genius. I’ll never crack this one.
#19. Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story. The biggest of the frat pack movies and not a bad one. Definitely not the worst Ben Stiller movie this year. I laughed at it definitely. Even used a quote from it as a sig for a time. But it’s also never really as anarchically great as the great comedies of the year. It’s good, not great. Get ready to hear that phrase a lot.
#18. Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. This is a nothing film based on nothing books. Oh it’s nice to look at but it’s nothing. With three highly repetitive books adapted, it rapidly becomes agony. Jim Carrey begins a career long descent with only Horton Hears a Who to look forward to. Funnily enough, the Netflix version is actually what this was supposed to be with original director Barry Sonnefeld involved.
#17. Fahrenheit 9/11. :sigh: Can we all agree whatever we said about it in 2004 had nothing to do with the film? It was a propaganda rally. If you agreed with it as I did, it existed to make you feel better. It wasn’t a film. It’s barely coherent. Very poorly sourced. A lot of points made but nothing revelatory. Easily the shoddiest, most rushed film of Michael Moore’s career. There’s a reason nobody watches it now.
#16. Van Helsing. Hoo boy, this was not what Universal wanted. The mediocre $120 million gross pretty much killed this would be franchise dead. Screw it, I’m the guy who wanted more. Sure Hugh Jackman is just Wolverine but he fights vampires but this was a fun, really great looking movie. Stephen Sommers is an underrated director in my book. Not his best but a nice outing that deserved better.
#15. 50 First Dates. Why haven’t I given my thoughts on an Adam Sandler film in this column yet? This movie. This one killed dead any desire I had to watch an Adam Sandler film that wasn’t a serious effort ever again. And it should’ve worked. Sandler reteamed with Drew Barrymore after his very best solo outing should’ve been gold since she gives him a great comic partner of equal skill. Nope, she’s adrift in a premise that I’ll be blunt does not work. This is an icky film. Hated it. Next.
#14. Ocean’s Twelve. I love that this has gotten the redemption it deserves. This is Steven Soderbergh giving us his idea of a sequel. It’s recognizably Hollywood but also unabashedly Soderbergh. The plot is ludicrous and giddily subverts our expectations. Think of it not as a heist film but as a riff on the genre. Damn good.
#13. Troy. Hollywood is convinced we want “the real” version of mythical stories. Nope. I love The Iliad/The Odyssey and this is not the Iliad at all. What kills me about this film is Eric Bana is so great as Hector and Brad Pitt, who should never do a period piece ever again, is so awful as Achilles that by the end I was hoping the movie would go all the way and let Hector win for as unfaithful as it was. Bonus negative points for taunting us with a note perfect Sean Bean as Odysseus and denying us an Odyssey.
#12. I, Robot. Yup. This exists. There’s effects. Will Smith definitely gives a performance in this. This is a thing. This couldn’t more clearly be a film made to plug a hole in the summer lineup like almost every studio’s full summer slate was this year.
#11. Shark Tale. The Shrek franchise gets tarred for celebrity voices and pop culture references galore. Not untrue but you know this is 2004 which means I’ll have thoughts on Shrek coming. This is what people think of when they hate DreamWorks Animation. This is reprehensible. Horrible on every level except for Jack Black being too good. And between this, I, Robot, and Hitch Will Smith had a wretched 12 months.
#10. The Polar Express. I…really really love this movie. I do. Yes, the technique is odd but I found it transporting. Yeah there’s a lot of Tom Hanks in this but why is that bad. This is a stunner. Love it.
#9. National Treasure. I love this movie too. Not wasting time on it. Good movie.
#8. The Bourne Supremacy. A damned good film that I also have nothing to say about. With films like these you either saw them or you won’t. Just a great action film. The third is the best. There are no sequels.
#7. The Day After Tomorrow. The good keeps coming. Seriously. I dig this movie and I think it’s vital for a weird reason. Here is a movie that reminds us climate change ain’t just the Earth heating up. It’s extreme weather. This implausible example at least got the idea in the mainstream. Is this a ridiculous film? Yup. Do I love it for that? Yup.
#6. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. This is the film that made it clear the series would last. Handing it off to Alfonso Cuaron was a smart touch that showed the series could glow freed from Chris Columbus’ clunky style. That said there is so much cut out that really belonged. Just a nod to the Marauders would’ve been nice. Still a killer film.
#5. The Incredibles. :deep breath: Is it ok I don’t love this film like y’all do? I don’t dislike it. I think it’s very good. I liked it enough to see it twice. But of the four Brad Bird animated films I’ve seen, this is his weakest. It’s really pretty generic as someone fluent in the tropes he’s dealing in. They’re all well executed but I just don’t love it.
#4. Meet the Fockers. This movie might top Home Alone 2 in the laziest sequel script ever. Like I’m going to double back and apologize to Austin Powers 2, from the same director no less, for the comparison. This thing is lazy. Entire jokes are repeated verbatim over and over. Furthermore, this thing lacks all the style the first one had. Much weaker cinematography. And nobody was having fun. But it all comes back to the wretched script. Blech.
#3. The Passion of The Christ. I’m at a loss. This is on a technical level honestly quite staggering. Mel Gibson is a tremendously talented director. Caleb Deschanel’s cinematography is art. But what was the point? The story of Jesus of Nazareth has such dramatic moments that could be drawn from it. His death is the least of them. Why was this so agonizingly violent to the point I literally had to watch Un Chien Andalou to warm up to see it? You want an experience that matters? Find Jim Caviezel’s reading of the Sermon on the Mount. That’s great. This beautifully made work of antisemitic torture has faded from memory and rightly so.
#2. Spider-Man 2. Ok I have whiplash. This is a great comic book movie. The best Spider-Man film by far. Alfred Molina is the perfect Doctor Octopus. The fights are the best in the series. Sam Raimi felt the most in control. And the script is a mess at times. The whole psychosomatic power loss is weird and doesn’t work. But I don’t care because the film has a coherent plot and theme. Love this movie.
#1. Shrek 2. The first two Shrek films get a bad rap. The first is a strong riff on the fairy tale tropes. The second then deals with what comes next. Given that I just dinged Meet the Fockers for going into repeats, it thrills me to show what you’re supposed to do. Shrek 2 moves the characters forward. Shrek has to accept life in a society that rejected him. Fiona has to deal with the consequences of falling in love with and marrying Shrek. Even Donkey has new things to do. Then you add the new characters who rule. This is a cracking script, great animation, just everything done right. Superb film that doesn’t bug me as #1.