I think 2004 was a better year for films than 2002. Sure, it was the year Gigli came out, but I think that on the whole more good movies came out in 2004 than 2002.
The top movies of that year included Shrek 2, Spider-Man 2, The Passion of the Christ, and The Day After Tomorrow. Of that year's blockbusters, I think Ocean's Twelve was the most surprisingly complex. Steven Soderbergh put a lot of thought into the Ocean's movies, and although Thirteen remains my favorite, it still amazes me that a movie so elaborate could make so much money.
The Passion of the Christ, however. I still think it's a good movie, but the reaction to it was somewhat disturbing. I saw it in the theater, and I can remember hearing children playing in the seats behind me. A guy (Jesus) is tortured to death for two hours, and this other guy in the audience thought it was family viewing.
Critically acclaimed movies included The Aviator, Million Dollar Baby, Sideways, Ray, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I love all those movies - particularly the first three - and I've seen them many times.
Some Good Ones
1. The Perfect Score
Much better than I thought it would be. Six high school students try to steal the answers to the SAT. I myself never took the SAT, so I have trouble understanding what all the fuss was about.
But hey, it's Chris Evans! And Scarlet Johansson! Eight years before The Avengers, these two appeared together in The Perfect Score. There's even a scene where Evans leads the six students in very Captain America-like fashion, and another scene where Johansson fights security guards in black leather.
2. Team America: World Police
America... FUCK YEAH!! Of course I'd seen it already, but I was happy to reaffirm the fact that it's hilarious. "Matt Damon!"
It's not a terrible movie, but I can't say it's tonally consistent. It starts off like Dances With Wolves, but after Viggo Mortensen visits Saudi Arabia it turns into The Mummy. I liked parts of it, but this movie about an American cowboy taking part in a middle eastern horse race doesn't always know what kind of story it wants to tell. I do, however, wish that Mortensen had been in more Westerns.
4. Mean Girls
You'd be excused if you thought it was just another "chick flick." It's a very funny, and very insightful look at high school. Lindsay Lohan stars as a girl new to the world of cliques and gossip, with Rachel McAdams co-starring as the school's "queen bee."
I'm tempted to draw parallels between Lindsay Lohan and Winona Ryder. They both started young, both had troubles with substance abuse, and both starred in similar movies at around the same age. For Lohan it was Mean Girls, while for Ryder it was Heathers. Both are good movies, though I think Tina Fey's writing puts Mean Girls slightly above the earlier Heathers.
5. Vanity Fair
The novel is one of my favorite books, and social climber Becky Sharp is, in my opinion, one of the truly great literary creations. The movie is relatively faithful to the book, and Reese Witherspoon is a convincing Becky Sharp, although I must say that in director Mira Nair's hands this story is a lot more "Indian" than Thackeray intended. My one complaint is that Becky's relationship with her husband Rawdon is never quite fleshed out.
6. Layer Cake
Two years before Casino Royale, Daniel Craig starred in this Matthew Vaughn-directed gangster film. It won't blow your mind but it's pretty good.
There are also some great shots in this movie. That shot up through the glass table as they're talking. That shot in Jimmy's garden after the gunshot. I don't know whether to credit the director or cinematographer with these shots, but whoever came up with them was a genius.
7. Soul Plane
It's half dumb and half funny. If you can get past the fact that Kevin Hart wins a hundred million after his dog gets sucked into a jet engine, and if you can get past the fact that he starts his own airline with zero experience, Soul Plane is an occasionally hilarious movie full of some stunningly beautiful women.
Some Bad Ones
1. The Alamo
Billy Bob Thornton and Patrick Wilson almost save this movie, but it fails to properly introduce its characters, and by the time you get to the end all of the fighting seems entirely pointless. A movie about the Alamo should end with the Alamo, and not with some anticlimactic skirmish in the woods.
Yeah, I had to go there. I'd only seen bits and pieces of this movie before, and it seemed like time to go all in.
It's not so much that the dialogue is a bad copy of something Elmore Leonard or Quentin Tarantino would have written, it's the fact that so little happens. Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez talk and talk and talk - all the while bringing the plot to a screeching halt. Is it The Room bad? Maybe not, but of course The Room was endearingly bad, whereas Gigli is just a chore to get through.
3. Raising Helen
Raising Helen, get it? Like "raising hell," but her name's Helen! HA HA HA HA HA
The magically delicious Kate Hudson stars as a woman burdened with three children after her sister and brother-in-law are killed in a freak accident involving airplane glue, a troop of baboons, and a rusty canister of WWII-era Zyklon B. Or am I making that last part up? Whichever it is, this movie was super boring.
And I understand why someone would write a will with provisions for the custody of their children, but do most married couples write dual wills with provisions for their simultaneous death? Seems a bit anal if you ask me...
4. King Arthur
Clive Owen stars as King Arthur in this Gladiator-esque take on the Knights of the Round Table. Owen gets all the worst lines, and the two Scandinavians - Mads Mikkelsen and Stellan Skarsgard - are far more interesting than any of the other actors. By the end of this movie I was rooting for Skarsgard's Saxons.
If you want a MUCH better film version of this same story, I highly recommend John Boorman's Excalibur.
5. Without a Paddle
In the same year he appeared with Chris Evans in The Perfect Score, Matthew "Shaggy" Lillard starred with Seth Green and Dax Shepard in Without a Paddle. This movie about three guys on a treasure hunt is painfully unfunny, but hey, it did make me nostalgic over old camping spots.
6. The Girl Next Door
Hey, it's the dude from Speed Racer! And the girl Luke Wilson hooks up with in Old School! The trouble with this movie isn't the B-grade stars, but the fact that the both the protagonist and his would-be girlfriend are completely unlikable. Of course Elisha Cuthbert looks GREAT in her underwear, but it's not enough to hang an entire plot off of.
7. Open Water
Horror movie featuring two of the whitest people you'll ever meet stranded in the open ocean. It's one of those "found footage" things; a fad that has thankfully passed us by. The movie's terrible, but having been stung by jellyfish I can affirm that yes, that shit really hurts.
Fun Fact: In financial terms this movie was an unqualified success. It made $5 million against a budget of $120,000.
One That Might Be Good or Might Be Bad - I Really Couldn't Tell You
1. Vera Drake
It's so serious. And SO British. And I saw one of Mike Leigh's other films, Secrets and Lies, not long ago. My apologies to Mr. Leigh, but I couldn't go there after watching Without a Paddle. Maybe someday I'll give it another try.
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