Mike’s Top Ten of 2004

2004. Quietly amazing year. I mean, yes, I’m partial to most of the years of the 2000s just because they were my teenage years and that’s when I was most impressionable. So I made the strongest connections to movies during these years. That said, there are some really awesome movies this year.

Part of the top ten list is a very consensus set of movies. But I guarantee there’s at least one almost no one’s heard of or would think to put on their list, one that is very specific to me that most people probably won’t agree with, and a third that I don’t think enough people get that most people wouldn’t have anywhere near their list. But that’s what makes my lists unique. You get my favorites, and not what everyone else would put.

Wouldn’t it be crazy, though, if my #1 movie was Welcome to Mooseport? Don’t laugh, I considered it.

Mike’s Top Ten of 2004

The Aviator

Collateral

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

EuroTrip

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

I ♥ Huckabees

Kill Bill: Volume 2

The Life and Death of Peter Sellers

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

Shaun of the Dead

11-20: Before Sunset, The Bourne Supremacy, Howl’s Moving Castle, The Incredibles, Man on Fire, Million Dollar Baby, Ocean’s Twelve, Team America: World Police, The Passion of the Christ, Ray

Tier two: Along Came Polly, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, District B13, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, Finding Neverland, The Girl Next Door, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, Hotel Rwanda, House of Flying Daggers, Jersey Girl, Kinsey, The Ladykillers, Layer Cake, The Machinist, Miracle, National Treasure, The Notebook, Spider-Man 2, The Terminal, A Very Long Engagement

Tier three: 13 Going on 30, 2046, Around the Bend, Beyond the Sea, Birth, Closer, Dawn of the Dead, The Day After Tomorrow, Duck Season, Fahrenheit 9/11, Friday Night Lights, Maria Full of Grace, The Phantom of the Opera, Saw, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Sideways, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Troy, Welcome to Mooseport, The Woodsman

Tier four: 50 First Dates, Alexander, Alien vs. Predator, The Chronicles of Riddick, Coffee and Cigarettes, Hellboy, Hidalgo, Home on the Range, I Robot, Kung Fu Hustle, Mean Girls, Mr. 3000, The Polar Express, The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement, Shrek 2, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, Starsky & Hutch, Vera Drake, The Village, White Chicks

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1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

“This is it, Joel. It’s going to be gone soon.”
“I know.”
“What do we do?”
“Enjoy it.”

This was the one where everything came together for Charlie Kaufman. Being John Malkovich and Adaptation were critical hits and had some audiences who knew about them immediately, but I feel like by and large, people came to those after the fact. This one, everyone knew about immediately and it was the perfect storm (and finally got Kaufman his Oscar, despite him probably having earned at least two by this point).

I’m sure everyone knows what this is about, but for those who don’t, it’s about a man going through a very bad breakup who finds out that his ex has undergone a new medical procedure in which her memories of him have been completely erased from her memory. He decides to do the same, and the rest of the film is hum undergoing the procedure and reliving the memories of their relationship, both good and bad. Jim Carrey gives another fantastic dramatic performance and Kate Winslet continues her streak of incredible work that began in the 90s and continues pretty much through the 00s.

Spike Jonze directed the first two Kaufman films and here is replaced by Michel Gondry, who seems like a perfect choice for the material, given his visual flair and ability to create unique practical effects. It’s a perfect movie. But you all know that, because it’s one of those movies everyone sees early and falls in love with.

2. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

“That’s an endangered species at most. What would be the scientific purpose of killing it?”
“Revenge.”

This is my favorite Wes Anderson movie. For a while, I’d always say it was one of three, then it was this or Fantastic Mr. Fox, but honestly, the more time goes on, it’s just this.

There’s something joyous about this movie. The plot revolves around a famous oceanographer who sets out to murder the shark that killed his friend. It’s a sort of parody/loving tribute to Jacques Cousteau and his films. The cast is amazing — Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett, Anjelica Huston, Jeff Goldblum, Michael Gambon, Noah Taylor, Bud Cort — and really what I love most about it is the line between fantasy and reality, which is already kind of blurred in a Wes Anderson movie to begin with. But when you watch the scenes play out, you’re able to see them from both the perspective of what’s probably actually happening, versus the version portrayed in the “film”, which is almost like what it’s like for kids playing in the playground. The way a child would see something like this in their mind as they play pretend, that’s kind of what this movie is. And that’s what’s so great about it for me. It’s got that wonderful innocence to it.

Every Wes Anderson movie is special in its own way, and each one could legitimately be someone’s favorite. But this one is mine, and will probably always be mine. There’s a certain kind of magic to this that sings to my soul.

3. Kill Bill: Volume 2

“You and I have unfinished business.”
“Baby, you ain’t kidding.”

Again, Quentin gets beat out by some all-time movies. This would be a #1 a lot of other years.

It’s the finale of the saga, and arguably the better of the two movies. Not that I really compare them, since they’re both part of the same overall story, but I gravitate toward the western elements over the kung fu elements, so this is the one I have slightly more of an affinity toward.

But this story as a whole is tremendous and is a fine, fine piece of work. Uma Thurman gives the performance of her career, David Carradine resurrects his, and you get fine pieces of work out of Michael Madsen and Daryl Hannah, plus a dual-role Michael Parks to sweeten the pot.

Say what you will about Quentin, but when he makes something, it’s special.

4. Shaun of the Dead

“You’ve got red on you.”

Edgar Wright’s first movie, and probably still his best. This is one of the best comedies of the decade, and probably even one of the best films of the decade.

It’s a zombie comedy, but also a movie about friendship. And it’s wonderful. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are great, and the movie is just a joy to watch. This is one of those movies that everybody loves, because it’s just good, and the humor translates to everyone.

This is genre parody done right. And that’s not something that even gets done competently most of the time.

5. Collateral

“Take comfort in knowing you never had a choice.”

This movie feels like the perfect confluence of events. Because on its own, this story… this story could be a forgotten, straight-to-video thriller. But you get someone like Michael Mann, and then you get Tom Cruise playing a villain for the first time in his career (unless you wanna count Interview with the Vampire), and you get Jamie Foxx at the peak of his stardom. And the result is a taut, visceral thriller that still holds up as a great piece of filmmaking.

The story is simple: cab driver picks up a random guy at the airport who offers him more than a fair amount of money to drive him around town for the night. Along the way, the cab driver realizes the man is a hitman and that he’s going around murdering innocent people.

This movie walks an interesting tightrope of not being too heavy on the action and having enough dramatic heft to where the whole situation feels like it means something, rather than just something that’s ‘happening’. A lot of times in these movies it just feels like a cinematic construction that you’re meant to go along with for entertainment. Here, it feels like there’s a point to all of it. That we’re getting something out of it. Plus, this is the film where Michael Mann’s mix of film and handheld digital works the best. It mostly works in Miami Vice, and looks incredibly odd in everything after this. But we get a beautiful portrait of Los Angeles and a great thriller with terrific performances.

Plus, like I said — Tom Cruise plays the villain, which he so rarely does (this is the only one I’d call an out and out villain among the ones you could sort of count as villainous). And he gives one of the performances of his career. I keep going back to this film and finding that it holds up great. Though it was weird for me that first time I watched it after moving to LA and realizing, “Oh wait, I know where all these places are.” That was a new one for me.

6. The Aviator

“Do you know those men? Do they work for me?”
“Everybody works for you, Howard.”

Since we just finished with a Michael Mann film, he actually was the original director of this movie. But he opted (I guess after having directed both The Insider and Ali, two biopics) to just produce it instead, and gave the script to Martin Scorsese, who continues his run with Leonardo DiCaprio and gives DiCaprio what might be the best acting performance of his career. Both to that point and even quite possibly even now.

It’s a biopic of Howard Hughes, to which Scorsese adds a certain amount of flair and master filmmaking to in order to make it a real experience. There’s an energy to this movie that only Scorsese could have given it. He shoots the first act (well… digitally renders, but you know what I mean) two-strip Technicolor to recreate what color films would have looked like during the years he’s portraying. He leans into the Hollywood history aspect of it for the first half, and then moves into the airplane stuff and the slow deterioration of Hughes’ psyche in his later years. It’s a wonderful piece of work.

You also have Cate Blanchett, who won an Oscar for playing Katharine Hepburn, you’ve got a nominated Alan Alda as a corrupt senator working with Hughes’ rival to keep him out of the sky, you’ve got Jude Law (as Errol Flynn!), Alec Baldwin, Kate Beckinsale (as Ava Gardner), John C. Reilly, Ian Holm, Danny Huston, Gwen Stefani (as Jean Harlow), Adam Scott and even Willem Dafoe shows up at one point.

At one point in college, a professor raised the question of how vital this movie is to Scorsese’s career. The question was posed as such: between Gangs of New York and this, which do people like better, and then, second to that, if you had to strike one of the two from Scorsese’s filmography (with the implication that it was the less important film for him and his career), which would you pick? And for me, the answer was always, I like The Aviator more, but it’s the less important of the two. And really the point of that story is — no filmmaker is going to have every single film be one of their major works. But when you have a film that’s just them making a movie, you know you’re in the hands of a master filmmaker when they turn out as good as this one.

7. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

“I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.”

This film changed everything about this franchise. They had Chris Columbus for the first two, and he made these fun, kid-friendly movies that adequately translated the novels to the screen and got a lot of viewers on board with what they were doing. But here… here they started translating the material.

They brought on Alfonso Cuaron, a completely inspired choice out of left-field, considering his previous film was Y Tu Mama Tambien. And he made this franchise dark. But dark in the right ways. He set a visual palette that would set the tone for the rest of the franchise, and he made what is generally considered the best film in the franchise.

This is probably my favorite of the Potter films, but it’s not entirely because of Cuaron as much as it’s about the casting of Gary Oldman as Sirius Black. I also always loved this book, and how they handled the character, hanging over the events like a specter, leading to that amazing sequence in the Shrieking Shack. I think visually they exceeded this one in the later films, but in terms of an overall product, this feels like the class of the franchise.

8. EuroTrip

“I gotta say, I’m not feeling anything.”
“Me neither.”
“Sober as a judge. How about you?”
I’m not feelin’ a goddamn thing. This Absinthe is BULLSHIT!”

I saw this in theaters. And ever since then, I’ve had a real love for this movie. And I still beat the drum of this being one of the most underrated comedies of the decade.

To start, do you know what the team behind this movie (Jeff Schaffer, Alec Berg and David Mandel) are the same people who wrote 33 episodes of Seinfeld, are the main contributors on Curb Your Enthusiasm, worked with Sacha Baron Cohen on Bruno and The Dictator, created The League (Schaffer) and created Barry (Berg). On that alone, maybe you shouldn’t dismiss this movie.

But that aside, it’s just funny. The plot almost doesn’t matter. It’s about a guy who gets dumped by his girlfriend after graduation and decides to go to Europe with his friends to surprise his female pen pal. And they get up to all sorts of antics along the way. It’s so great. I’ve always really loved this movie and can’t see why some people don’t.

The most underrated element of this entire movie to me is the fact that they write a completely original song (“Scotty Doesn’t Know”) and use it as a motif throughout the film, and the song is actually great. Plus how the introduce the song, and that completely random cameo that introduces it — it’s just wonderful.

9. I ♥ Huckabees

“Have you ever transcended space and time?”
“Yes. No. Uh, time, not space… No, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

This is another one of those movies where I wonder, “How was this something I’ve always loved?” I know it’s because I loved Three Kings, and this was David O. Russell’s followup to that. But even so, that just meant I was eager to see it. The fact that I saw this at 16 and immediately fell in love with it is just weird to me. It’s such a strange movie. I imagine people going back to it now will see it and go, “What the hell is this?” Especially if your introduction to Russell is his later movies.

How do you even describe this one? It’s an existential comedy, for one. The basic plot is that Jason Schwartzman is an environmentalist fighting to stop a department store chain from opening a new store on some local land. And he ends up hiring two “existential” detectives to spy on him. Trust me, it’s very weird, and it can be an acquired taste. You’re pretty much either gonna love it or hate it. But to me, it’s so funny. Dustin Hoffman, Lily Tomlin, Mark Wahlberg, Jude Law, Naomi Watts, Isabelle Huppert, and a slew of famous cameos throughout. I love this movie.

10. The Life and Death of Peter Sellers

“How was lunch with your son, Mrs Sellers?”
“I don’t know really. I didn’t see him.”

I was always slightly upset that this ended up premiering on TV in the US rather than being released theatrically. I mean, ultimately I understand it, but man, do I love this movie and do I feel like this just is completely unknown.

It’s a biopic of Peter Sellers starring Geoffrey Rush as Sellers. And I just love it. I loved it from when I heard it was gonna come out, I loved it immediately upon seeing it, and I’ve watched it a bunch since then.

The film takes an interesting track to telling its story, having Rush occasionally slip into other characters, portraying Sellers playing them, a nod to the fact that Sellers was best when disappearing into his roles.

It’s not a perfect movie, but I love it dearly and think it’s been terribly overlooked since its release and that people should give it a shot.

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11-20:

Before Sunset — The second of the “Before” films. The first was Before Sunrise, with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy as strangers who meet on the train and forge a connection, despite knowing they’ll probably never see one another again. Now, nine years later, Hawke is in Paris on a book tour and encounters Delpy again. Only he’s only got about an hour or so before he needs to leave (just like last time). It’s a beautiful, beautiful film. This entire series is perfect.

The Bourne Supremacy — A sequel that some might say is better than the first one. It’s different. They brought in Paul Greengrass to replace Doug Liman, and it became Greengrass’s franchise from here on. Greengrass infused the franchise with a frenetic action that has been often imitated but never recreated. They also smartly took the material in its own direction, not following the books and doing their own thing. At its heart, the trilogy is basically three questions: “Who am I?”, “What have I done?”, “Who made me this way?” This one is Bourne, having settled down, trying to live a normal life when he is framed for a murder and has to go on the run again. And it’s great. Identity, Supremacy and Ultimatum are three of the best action movies you’ll ever see.

Howl’s Moving Castle — Miyazaki. The man who hasn’t made a movie less than very good, and honestly, once you get into the Ghibli stuff, there’s nothing less than great. It’s about a young girl who gets transformed into an old witch and her only way of being turned back lies with a wizard who lives on a castle that travels on legs throughout the countryside. It’s, as all Miyazaki films are, magical.

The Incredibles — Pixar. One of their great concepts — what do superheroes do when they’re not saving the world? Well, they have secret identities, and families, and jobs. That’s the setup of this movie. And it’s fun as hell. I was never as in love with this movie as other people are, but it’s still a fantastic film. One of the most original of the Pixar films.

Man on Fire — This is great Denzel. Everybody loves this movie. Tony Scott and Denzel made five movies together (Crimson Tide, this, Deja Vu, Taking of Pelham and Unstoppable), and this might be their best. He plays a bodyguard for a rich family whose daughter gets kidnapped in Mexico. And he goes all out to get her back. It’s badass as all hell. This movie rules.

Million Dollar Baby — Your Best Picture winner for this year. It’s a really affecting drama. Clint Eastwood stars as a grizzled boxing trainer who owns a run-down gym. Hilary Swank is a woman who wants become a boxer and wants Eastwood to train her. And he refuses to do so until he sees how determined she is to do it. So he becomes her trainer, and pretty soon she’s on her way to doing just that. It’s… it’s one of those movies that’ll get you. It’s a lot of things in one, and as much as people want to say negative things about it, you really feel that third act. It’s terrific. Swank and Morgan Freeman both won Oscar for it, as did Eastwood who won for directing it. It’s a beautiful film.

Ocean’s Twelve — The sequel that gets too smart for its own good, and that’s what I love about it. The script here is so convoluted that it’s almost trying to obscure the fact that they only made this movie so these guys could hang out in Italy for a couple months together. That’s all this movie is. It’s one giant inside joke. And some people hate that, but I think it’s absolutely wonderful. At one point Julia Roberts is playing a character pretending to be Julia Roberts. They’re barely pretending like there’s a film being made here, and that’s the charm of it.

Team America: World Police — Trey Parker and Matt Stone. My god. What a movie. South Park was already something that could forever cement their career. But this (and then the subsequent Book of Mormon)… jesus. It’s a satire told entirely with puppets about an American paramilitary force that’s gotta stop Kim Jong-Il tries to destroy the world. It’s so insane, and so goddamn funny. It also features the greatest puppet sex scene you will ever see.

The Passion of the Christ — Mel Gibson’s movie about Jesus’s last days. This was controversial upon release and made a ton of money. I didn’t really feel one way or another about the issues other people had with it, I just thought it was a really well-put together movie that was aided by the fact that he shot it in Aramaic and tried to be as authentic as possible. This isn’t the kind of movie that would normally appeal to me at all, but I thought Mel did a fantastic job directing this one.

Ray — Biopic of Ray Charles, featuring a tremendous lead performance by Jamie Foxx. When music biopics are done right, they’re endlessly watchable, and this one’s endlessly watchable. The music is great, Foxx is great, and this is just plainly one of the best movies of this year.

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Tier two:

  • Along Came Polly
  • Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
  • District B13
  • Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story
  • Finding Neverland
  • The Girl Next Door
  • Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle
  • Hotel Rwanda
  • House of Flying Daggers
  • Jersey Girl
  • Kinsey
  • The Ladykillers
  • Layer Cake
  • The Machinist
  • Miracle
  • National Treasure
  • The Notebook
  • Spider-Man 2
  • The Terminal
  • A Very Long Engagement

Along Came Polly is a movie that I have a very specific history with. I first saw it on a cruise ship with my family in the summer of 2004. My sister and I were sharing a room and the TV in the room had only a few channels, but some of them were movie channels that basically (like the old days of Pay Per View) played the same movie over and over all day. So, for a week, since all the other movies didn’t interest us, this movie was on TV whenever we were in the room. And we saw this over and over and over. And, like Stockholm Syndrome, we went from just sort of watching it and not really caring to it becoming the funniest thing we had ever seen in our entire lives. The movie is a Ben Stiller/Jennifer Aniston rom com where he plays a perpetually nervous risk analyst for an insurance company and she plays a woman who goes against every instinct he has. So naturally they fall in love. The highlight of the movie is Philip Seymour Hoffman, who plays Stiller’s best friend, a former child actor who refuses to admit his career is long gone. And oh my god, is it one of the great comedic performances you’ll ever see that will never get the attention it deserves. Everyone remembers the basketball scene (“Raindance!”), but for me, the scene at the end when he gives his presentation is still absolutely hysterical to me. Every time that scene would come on during that week, when Hoffman would start coughing and clear his throat over and over, my sister and I would cry with laughter, it was so great. So I will forever have a special affinity for this movie because of that.

Layer Cake is Matthew Vaughn’s first film, after his work with Guy Ritchie on his first couple of films. It still holds up as a great piece of work and might even still be his best movie. It stars Daniel Craig as a drug dealer trying to retire but of course has to pull “one last job.” It’s so awesome. Pretty sure this is the movie that got Craig Bond. Also, it’s got Tom Hardy, Sally Hawkins, Colm Meaney, George Harris, Dexter Fletcher, Ben Whishaw, Sienna Miller, Jason Flemyng and Michael Gambon. If you like Guy Ritchie’s movies, you’re gonna like this. Simple as that. Some movies are just cool. Dodgeball is a great comedy built on one of the craziest premises ever: a bunch of misfits join a volleyball tournament to save their gym from being bought out by a giant fitness chain. Makes no sense at all and yet… somehow works. Ben Stiller is in pure douchebag mode, Vince Vaughn is doing his usual thing, which always works. You have one character that just things he’s a pirate for like, no reason. Justin Long is… basically the same character he is in everything. Then there’s Rip Torn, whose performance alone is worth watching the movie. He plays famed dodgeball coach Patches O’Houlihan. And he is fucking tremendous. Also huge shout out to Gary Cole and Jason Bateman as the announcers at the end of the movie… they’re also absolutely tremendous in this. This is one of those movies people don’t always remember how influential it is. Everything with Rip Torn all the way down to “ESPN 8: The Ocho”… this movie is one of the most quoted films of this decade. And still, my favorite joke is that throwaway “Mona Lisa Smile” joke at the beginning.

The Terminal is Steven Spielberg doing a light comedy with Tom Hanks as a man who, while traveling, sees his country become unstable and, due to a quirk in his immigration status, can’t legally leave the airport. So he just starts living in the airport and befriending the people who work there. It’s a lovely little movie. It’ll never be listed among Spielberg’s best, but the key to a great filmmaker is when they can have these kind of gems in their filmography that aren’t simply just throwaway movies and are actually quite good in their own right. Finding Neverland is a biopic of J.M. Barrie and the writing of Peter Pan. Johnny Depp plays Barrie and Kate Winslet plays the woman he lives with as he writes it and Freddie Highmore plays her son, who becomes his big influence on the play. It’s a lovely movie. Kinsey is a biopic about the pioneer of the study of sex. It’s a terrific movie. Bill Condon directs, Liam Neeson and Laura Linney star, and you’ve also got Peter Sarsgaard, Chris O’Donnell, Timothy Hutton, Tim Curry, John Lithgow and Oliver Platt. It’s very good, and is routinely mentioned among the best films of this year. Spider-Man 2 is the sequel. It gets more into what it means to be a superhero, and has Doc Ock as the villain. It’s a really solid second film. I personally like the first one better, but most people proclaim this as one of the great superhero films of all time. to each his own. It’s still awesome.

The Machinist is the movie that put Christian Bale on everyone’s radar as a “holy shit” guy. The kind of guy that gives such a dedicated performance that you’re both amazed and horrified at the same time. He lost an insane amount of weight for this movie and looks like a skeleton. It’s scary what he did to himself for this movie. To the point where people don’t even really remember what this is about because it’s just all about what he did for it. He plays a guy who works in a factory who hasn’t slept in over a year and whose body is basically wasting away. And the film is about him starting to wonder if he’s losing his sanity. That’s really all you need to know. The performance in the thing here, and Bale is astoundingly good in this movie, which is one of those nice little gems of the year. Anchorman is one of those movies… people around my age love this. I somehow missed the boat on it and never quite understood why it was so funny. To me, it’s like Spinal Tap… I don’t really love the movie, but I like being able to quote parts of the movie. It’s a very quotable movie. The Notebook is probably the defining romance movie of my generation. All the girls my age loved this movie. (Second place goes to A Walk to Remember.) I saw parts of this at the time and didn’t think much of it, but I saw it again properly a few years ago and saw that it’s a really solid movie. Largely it works because of the performances of Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams. The chemistry between them is really what makes this work. It’s also one of those movies that tests your ability to have emotions. Because even if it can feel a bit manipulative, there’s no denying how sweet that ending is.

Jersey Girl is Kevin Smith attempting to make something a little more serious for a change, and he ended up getting savaged for it. Mostly because, in a post-Gigli era, the beginning of the film has Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez in it (though Lopez is literally only in it for about five minutes), so I think everyone just piled on and was ready to shit all over it and declare it dead on arrival. And since it’s not the kind of movie he normally made, his fan base also kind of disowned it. But it’s a cute movie. Affleck stars as a widowed single father who was once a publicist but got fired and now works construction with his father (a fantastic George Carlin in one of the few dramatic roles of his career). And the film is him trying to be a good father and trying to get his career back while his daughter tries to get him together with the nice lady at the video store (Liv Tyler). It’s a really nice movie. I’ve always loved it. I don’t understand the vitriol people had toward this. It’s sweet. Hotel Rwanda is an incredible movie based on a true story of an African hotel manager who helped hide a thousand refugees from the soldiers who were out to kill them. Don Cheadle is incredible here, and it’s one of the absolute best movies of the year. This is one of those… it may not be your favorite movie of this year, but there’s no one who would deny how good this movie is. Miracle is a sports movie about the 1980 Men’s U.S. Hockey Team, famous for the “Miracle on Ice” defeat of the Soviet Union in the Olympics in Lake Placid. It’s one of the single most famous sports events in the history of the world. And the movie does it justice. It’s a really likable movie that is really impossible to dislike.

A Very Long Engagement is Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s followup to Amélie. It’s about five soldiers who maimed themselves in order to get out of battle in World War II and were sent out into No Man’s Land as a form of death sentence. All five disappeared and are presumed dead. Only one of the men’s fiancées (played by Audrey Tautou) is not satisfied with this and sets out to figure out just what happened. It’s great. It’s really great. Marion Cotillard also won the French equivalent of an Oscar for her great supporting turn here, and the cinematography of this movie is excellent as well. Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle is one of the great stoner comedies of the 2000s. It’s the simplest movie premise ever — two guys get high and really want to go to White Castle. And they get thwarted at every attempted and all sorts of chaos ensues. It’s a lot of fun. And the movie helped bring back Neil Patrick Harris. One could argue the cameo he had in this movie is the thing that helped get him to the point he’s at now. House of Flying Daggers is Zhang Yimou’s followup to Hero, keeping with the same visual style and action choreography. It’s about a police officer who follows a blind woman with ties to a secret organization that he hopes to take down. It’s, awesome. If you liked Hero, you’re gonna like this.

The Ladykillers is the Coen brothers remake of the classic British comedy. Tom Hanks stars here as a charming southern professor who moves into a boarding house with his team as they plan to rob a casino. Only their landlady begins to suspect something’s up, and, well… they gotta bump the old woman off. Only it’s not as easy as you’d think. It’s… a weird choice for the Coens, and might be their weakest film. Though weak for them just means it’s simply very good and not all-time great. District B13 is one of the great action premises of the past 20 years. It takes place in a French suburb in the near-future where… well, it’s kind of like Escape from New York. Crime has gotten out of hand, and rather than deal with it, the cops just put a giant wall around the area to keep people in. The plot deals with a gang leader who brings a neutron bomb into the neighborhood and the cop who has to go undercover to disarm it. So it’s the cop and a guy whose sister has been kidnapped by the gang who have to go do it. And… well, there’s a lot of parkour. But also, there’s some awesome action sequences going on, and the movie was so popular it spawned a sequel and an American remake with Paul Walker and the same parkour dude playing the exact same role he did in the original (and is clearly dubbed by Vin Diesel in it as well, which is hilarious). But yeah, this original is awesome. One of the most fun action movies of the decade. The Girl Next Door is one of those great-premise movies about a high school kid who finds out that a porn star moved in next door. And after that it becomes a sweet romantic comedy with the kid and the porn star. It’s fun. There’s a sweetness to this that still holds up.

National Treasure is Nicolas Cage doing The Da Vinci Code before The Da Vinci Code movie came out. But also, this franchise is better than that one. He plays treasure hunter Benjamin Franklin Gates, who, as we all know–

But what he doesn’t know, is that he’s also going to steal our hearts.

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Tier three:

  • 13 Going on 30
  • 2046
  • Around the Bend
  • Beyond the Sea
  • Birth
  • Closer
  • Dawn of the Dead
  • The Day After Tomorrow
  • Duck Season
  • Friday Night Lights
  • Maria Full of Grace
  • The Phantom of the Opera
  • Saw
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events
  • Sideways
  • Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
  • Troy
  • Welcome to Mooseport
  • White Chicks
  • The Woodsman

Duck Season is a movie I saw in college as part of my film series. I think I saw that Alfonso Cuaron was involved and wanted to see it. I’m not sure where I saw that Cuaron was involved, since he wasn’t. So I can only imagine that it was something he “presented” to help spread the word for it when they released it. But I’m glad I went to see it. Otherwise I’d still not know this existed. It takes place over the course of a day and is shot entirely in black and white. It’s about two teenagers home alone for the afternoon. And their plan is to play video games and eat junk food. But then their neighbor comes over to use their oven, and then the power goes out, and pretty soon their day starts going all to hell. It’s a sweet little coming of age movie that just feels like a bunch of teenagers hanging out. I really liked it a lot. I have not watched it in years, but I suspect that when I do, it’ll probably go higher on this list than it is now. Friday Night Lights. It’s funny to me that there are some people who don’t even know this as a movie and only know it as a show. But the show spun off from this movie. I don’t know how similar one is to the other, but I do remember this being a very solid football movie when it came out. Peter Berg directed it, and it was just a solid look at high school football in Texas. It was never a movie I adored, but I always thought of it as a fine piece of work. 13 Going on 30 is female Big. That’s it. That’s the movie. Girl gets a prank played on her at a birthday party and wishes she were older, so she wakes up at 30. Nothing different at all from Big, except that this is played purely as a rom com. You get Jennifer Garner and Mark Ruffalo and a really fun, sweet comedy. This is one that just totally works and is everything you’d want it to be.

Fahrenheit 9/11 is Michael Moore’s documentary about 9/11. It’s really good. He’s one of those love him or hate him kind of filmmakers, which I get. This one, though… this is his signature documentary. Bowling for Columbine is my favorite, but this might be the one he’s best known for. It’s… actually kind of a ballsy film, in that he’s saying things that no one else would say at the time. It’s… honestly at this point it seems kind of quaint, since we know so much more now than the documentary portrayed at the time. But yeah, it’s a really strong film and one of the single most important films of this year and the decade. Closer is Mike Nichols directing an adaptation of a play. The film is a four-hander, between Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Clive Owen and Natalie Portman. They’re basically the only people on screen for the entire film. There are more people, but essentially the film is the four of them. It’s about the relationships between two couples, and the interconnectivity between them. I’ll leave it at that, because it’s better to just experience it for yourself. Because it’s based on a play, all the actors get juicy roles. Both Portman and Owen were nominated for Oscars for their performances, and all four actors do a great job here. It’s one of those movies that is more about the performances than anything else. I don’t really love the film as much as I love watching the actors in it. It’s one of those. Troy is an epic movie about the Trojan War. It’s big and epic and it’s got Brad Pit as Achilles. I feel like most people have seen this and know how awesome it is. Because it is awesome. The cast is great, the movie is fun (directed by Wolfgang Petersen), what more can you want?

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is kind of a landmark film. It’s all but forgotten now and is nothing more than a footnote, but really, I think this is the first major Hollywood production to be shot entirely on green screen. Sin City was the big one that got all the notice, but this is the first one. And, by the way — pretty great. It’s meant to look like a 40s movie, one of those serials. To the point where the actual villain of the film is old footage of Laurence Olivier, manipulated to look like he was in the film. It’s great. Jude Law plays an ace pilot and Gwyneth Paltrow plays a reporter as they try to figure out why the city is being attacked by giant flying robots. It’s also got Angelina Jolie too. I really enjoy the hell out of this movie and think everyone needs to see it, especially if they’re interested at all in any kind of film history or seeing the movies that “tell the story” of Hollywood. This is the kind of movie that should have a whole chapter dedicated to it when it comes to telling the history of film special effects. Birth is Jonathan Glazer’s second film, after Sexy Beast. For those expecting more of that, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. This is not that movie, but it is in that vein of being weird and niche and difficult for those expecting a normal narrative. It’s about a young boy who comes into a woman’s life and says he’s the reincarnation of her dead husband. And the film is a mix of her and the people around her dealing with this revelation, wondering if it’s actually true or if the boy’s manipulating her, and the effects it has on her life, making her question the decisions she’s made. Like I said, it’s a difficult film. But it is very rewarding. Glazer is a filmmaker whose films are hugely rewarding if you can get through them (see: Under the Skin). But they’re not all gonna be for everyone. That’s just how it goes.

Welcome to Mooseport is just a masterpiece of filmmaking. And also, the perfect title to use as a punchline for an automatic laugh. I saw this movie in theaters. I enjoyed this movie. I still enjoy this movie. Gene Hackman plays a former president who retires to the small town of Mooseport. The townsfolk ask him to run for mayor, which he agrees to do (mostly to avoid giving up his vacation home as part of a divorce settlement). However, Ray Romano, a handyman in town, decides to run too, mostly to save his failing marriage (and after Hackman makes a pass at his wife). So it turns into a pretty heated race that turns into a rivalry and makes national news. And both become obsessed with winning this (seemingly meaningless) race. It’s fun. I don’t expect anyone to actually like it, but it’s not gonna stop me from doing so. Maria Full of Grace is a great little thriller that earned Catalina Sandino Moreno an Oscar nomination. She plays a pregnant woman who needs money so badly that she agrees to become a drug mule, which involves swallowing a bunch of bags of heroin and going across the border into the United States. It’s a really tense films with a fantastic performance by Moreno. I definitely recommend this one. Beyond the Sea is a biopic of Bobby Darin starring, directed by and co-written by Kevin Spacey. He really wanted to make this movie. And even though Spacey was eight years older than Darin when he died, he does a good job with it. It’s a fun movie. The Day After Tomorrow is a Roland Emmerich disaster movie. Independence Day will always be his best, but this one has its moments. Essentially – the planet is sent into a new Ice Age, and a man has to travel from D.C. to New York to rescue his son. Pure disaster movie stuff, with no trope left unturned. It’s all about the special effects, and it’s just popcorn entertainment. Like I said, it has its moments. If you like disaster movies, you should be just fine with this one.

2046 is Wong Kar-Wai’s spiritual sequel to In the Mood for Love and Days of Being Wild, all of which are part of a general continuous story, though can be taken on their own. This film has a bunch of different narratives going on, and a couple of different timelines, and it’s too difficult to try to get into it. Just see the movie. You should know how good In the Mood for Love is, and how good Wong Kar-Wai is as a filmmaker, so just watch the damn thing. It’s really good. Saw is the movie that started a franchise. The rest of them get too much into torture porn, but this first one still pretty much holds up. It’s about a dude who wakes up in a shitty bathroom, chained to a pipe, across from another guy, also chained, with a dead body in between them. All they have — two saws and a note given to each of them. And we slowly start to unravel over the course of the film just exactly what is going on. It’s good. It’s a really solid horror movie that clearly was very good because they’ve made like eight or nine films from it. Dawn of the Dead is Zack Snyder’s remake of the 1978 version (written by James Gunn). It’s different from the original, but still maintains a level of fun. They basically made a version for 2004 audiences. And it works. In a lot of ways, I prefer the original, but this one is a good piece of entertainment.

Around the Bend is an indie movie I saw because Christopher Walken was in it. And I really loved it when I saw it, and then lost touch with it for a lot of years. I don’t think anyone remembers this movie at all or thinks of it fondly if they do. The director is Jordan Roberts (who later made 3, 2, 1… Frankie Go Boom, which I quite liked, and Burn Your Maps, which is admittedly a strange movie), who based the film on his relationship with his own father. It’s about a man (Josh Lucas) who, after getting divorced, is coerced by his grandfather (Michael Caine) to go on a road trip with his son (Jonah Bobo). Only his father (Christopher Walken) suddenly reappears after being gone for several years, which leads to all four men going on the road trip together. It’s very indie, admittedly, but it’s nice to see. And I think the fact that it’s based on the director’s real life helps give it a certain level of authenticity that’s always stuck with me. The Phantom of the Opera is an adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Weber musical. This was the first year I started treating the Oscars as something you paid attention to months before, and this movie was assumed to be a monster contender. And then… nothing. Looking back, kind of weird, the choices they made. Joel Schumacher directs. And he’s a fine director, but also… they guy who made Batman & Robin is directing Phantom of the Opera the musical. But it’s fine. It’s big and romantic and the singing is good and it’s just a totally watchable movie. Though honestly, for me, give me the Lon Chaney version any day.

Sideways is Alexander Payne. This movie, I will admit, I hated for years. I saw it at the time, and because I was 16 and had strong opinions and was rooting for other movies to win at the Oscars, I grew to despise this movie and carried that hatred for about a decade. And then I was able to watch this again with a clear conscience. Still don’t really love it, but I am at least able to appreciate it as a fun movie. This, to me, falls in line with something like Nebraska on the Alexander Payne scale. Solid, liked it, but it’s not my favorite. I’m much more of an About Schmidt, Descendants, Election person. The Woodsman is a hidden gem of a movie, and it’s one that by default has to be. Because it’s hard to have a movie where your main character is a pedophile and have that movie be a big hit. Kevin Bacon plays a child molester who returns to his hometown after over a decade in prison. And the film is about him trying to readjust to life while also dealing with his… urges. It’s basically one of those ‘ex-con tries to go straight’ movies. And Bacon is terrific in it. It’s a difficult movie in terms of subject matter, but Bacon is absolutely terrific and it’s one of those movies that’s well worth your time. A Series of Unfortunate Events is based on the Lemony Snicket books about three orphans who, after their parents are killed in a fire, go to live with their distant relative, Count Olaf, who is secretly plotting to murder the kids and steal their parents’ money. Jim Carrey plays Olaf in a fantastic bit of casting. The film also features terrific production design and costumes and a great score. It is a very, very delightful movie that plays almost like a Tim Burton movie or like the 90s Addams Family movies. It fits right in that realm, which is a nice realm for a film to be in.

– – – – – – – – – –

Tier four:

  • 50 First Dates
  • Alexander
  • Alien vs. Predator
  • The Chronicles of Riddick
  • Coffee and Cigarettes
  • Hellboy
  • Hidalgo
  • Home on the Range
  • I, Robot
  • Kung Fu Hustle
  • Mean Girls
  • Mr. 3000
  • The Polar Express
  • The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement
  • Shrek 2
  • The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie
  • Starsky & Hutch
  • Vera Drake
  • The Village
  • White Chicks

The Polar Express is the first of Robert Zemeckis’ creepy, uncanny valley CG animated movies using mo-cap performances. He tried to make this work for like, a decade (kind of like how Ang Lee tried to make that frame rate thing work). This is the creepiest of all. Beowulf is a step better, and A Christmas Carol is the one that comes closest to actually working. This one is just unsettling the way everyone looks. It’s also based on a book I never read growing up that seemingly is kinda plotless and may have been better served as a short. Basically, a kid wakes up on Christmas Eve and gets on a train bound for the North Pole. Honestly, for half the movie, I thought sex trafficking too. But no, it’s supposed to be this magical thing. I like it as an oddity. It’s a fun little movie that gives you an idea of where special effects were at the time. Hellboy is Guillermo Del Toro’s superhero movie about a demon from hell who a prophecy says will eventually destroy the earth, but currently helps defend it against evil forces. It’s fun. Very Guillermo in tone and look. It was never fully my thing, but it’s a fun movie, nevertheless. Coffee and Cigarettes is interesting. It’s Jim Jarmusch. He made three short films with the title in the late 80s and early 90s, and then here, he expanded it by filming more segments and releasing it as an anthology film. It’s basically just people smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee and just shooting the shit. All of them are humorous in tone, and it’s just a fun little movie. The cast is very eclectic and it’s the kind of movie that will either work for you or will very much not work for you at all.

Alexander is Oliver Stone’s epic about Alexander the Great. This has been through so many different cuts over the years I don’t even know which one to recommend to you. None of them truly work. It’s not like Kingdom of Heaven, where clearly you watch the Director’s Cut because they made him cut it for theatrical and it just mangled the finished product. This one just doesn’t fully come together no matter how you view it. It’s worthwhile to see, but it’s definitely not something I would put expectations on. Of the four cuts… the theatrical is just under 3 hours, the Director’s Cut is actually about ten minutes shorter. Then there’s the “Final” cut, which is the “Ten Commandments” version, where the kitchen sink was thrown in and it’s three-and-a-half hours long. Then there’s the “Ultimate” cut, which is Stone realizing, “Maybe I put too much in there” and going back to take a bunch out. That runs about 3 hrs 25 minutes. So yeah. You’re in for a long haul no matter which version you choose. Best guess from me is to either go with the last cut Stone put out, since that’s seemingly the one he wants you to see, or just watch the theatrical and see what you would have seen going to a theater in 2004. White Chicks is the Wayans brothers. Completely ridiculous premise — they’re undercover cops who have to pretend to be two rich Beverly Hills white girls (basically a take on Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie) in order to stop a kidnapping plot. I cannot explain why I enjoy this movie, but I do. It’s so dumb that it made me laugh. And, this is the movie that helped properly introduce the world to the genius that is Terry Crews.

Home on the Range is Disney, and it’s Disney right at their creative nadir. They’d bottom out the year after this with Chicken Little. This is almost them going there, but even here, you can see a glint of a spark at times. It’s a movie about cows that have to go on an adventure to take down a famous rustler so their farm can survive. It’s admittedly nuts. But it is hand-drawn, and it’s got some cool things going on with the colors. Plus it’s a western, so there’s some nice western landscapes. And I know there’s a scene where they change aspect ratio, which is kind of cool. Otherwise this is a very forgettable movie that isn’t very good and ranks among the bottom of the Disney animated films. Still, though, there is some stuff here that makes it feel worthwhile to me. I think even the worst of the Disney movies are still better than like 85% of all other animated fare that gets released. The Chronicles of Riddick is the sequel to Pitch Black that focuses entirely on Riddick. For my money, it gets a bit too hardcore sci-fi, building out the world too much. The beauty of the first movie is that it was a twist on Alien and it kept the Riddick character as a small part until the end, when he became the hero. He still works as a protagonist, but I’m not sure this movie fully gave him the proper material to work with. It’s still fun, but it definitely doesn’t have that immediate charm that something like Pitch Black does. Shrek 2 is the sequel that a lot of people think is as good as the first one. I never felt that, and I kind of got fatigued on this one by the time this second one rolled around. The first one was surprising and fun and funny, but this one just kind of made me go, “Okay, I’m done.” It still has its moments though.

Mr. 3000 is Bernie Mac. Not a great movie, but I enjoy it. He’s a selfish baseball player who retired immediately after getting 3,000 hits. And he uses that nickname to dine out for the next several years. Only, it’s discovered that because of an error in stat calculation, he’s really 3 hits shy of 3,000. So now, almost 50 years old, he comes out of retirement just to get 3 hits. It’s fun. Mostly it reminds you of how great Bernie Mac is. The Village is M. Night Shyamalan’s first misstep. Not a huge one, but the first time people saw one of his movies and went, “Really? That’s the thing?” But of course, when you’re him, people are looking for a twist in everything and are judging his movie based on that twist. So it makes sense that this would end up having the reception it had. It takes place in colonial times, in a village where the children are not let out at night because they are told monsters exist just outside in the woods of their town. And, like Signs, the movie is a series of scenes that make you wonder what’s actually going on. There, it’s about whether it’s really aliens or if everyone’s just paranoid. Here, it’s, “Are there monsters or is there some conspiracy going on?” It’s decent. Parts of this movie are good, though I can’t say I like it as much as I like Signs or even The Sixth Sense. Though it’s not as atrocious as some of his later stuff. So at least there’s that. Kung Fu Hustle is a Stephen Chow movie that is impossible to explain. But it’s fun as hell. Honestly, I’m just gonna do this — here’s the trailer, and you can decide whether or not this sounds like something that appeals to you (assuming you haven’t seen it).

Vera Drake is Mike Leigh. If you’re familiar with his films, that should let you know immediately what this is. For those who don’t — he makes character based films that are largely borne out of his rehearsals with the actors. Most of the time he’ll have a general idea of what he wants to do and let the films develop themselves as the actors get into the space and prepare to make it. This one stars Imelda Staunton as a housewife in the 50s who secretly performs abortions for women in need (which is very illegal at that time). She gives a tremendous performance here and was rightly nominated for her work. Mike Leigh tends to make very solid films, but he’s also the kind of filmmaker whose style can be hit and miss for some people. The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie is the movie. I love SpongeBob. I was too old for it when it premiered, but my sister was the right age, so I got a lot of the show through her watching it, and it was one of the few things she watched where I went, “I’m cool with this, this is good.” So I appreciate this movie since it’s just more SpongeBob. Starsky & Hutch is Todd Phillips’ followup to Old School. He decided to remake the 70s TV show as a comedy with Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson. This one didn’t quite work as well for me as Old School did, but it has its moments. I, Robot is an Isaac Asimov story turned into a Will Smith action movie. This one never really appealed to me, though, as a Will Smith movie, it has a baseline level of entertainment value that still makes it worth seeing. Personally, I’d rather see his other stuff than this, but it’s still a decently fun piece of entertainment. The Princess Diaries 2 is the sequel, where, naturally, in order to remain princess, Anne Hathaway has to get a prince. That’s the progression — become royalty, get married, the baby. They never made the baby one, but you knew that was gonna be the third one if it ever got made. It’s fun. It’s not the first one, but it maintains a lot of what made the first one work. Hathaway is still a star and Julie Andrews and Hector Elizondo are still the best.

Mean Girls is one of those comedies that everyone my age (and even younger) just loves. Apparently this is a big deal. What’s funny is that I completely missed this when it came out. I was aware of it, but it looked stupid so I never watched it. And then I heard people for years referencing this like it was some masterpiece. So it took me a long time before I could go back and watch this for the first time in any objective way. And I finally did pretty recently. And it’s fun. I expected to not like it, but there are parts of it I enjoyed. It’s definitely not something that’s for me that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fully embrace the way everyone else does, but I liked it enough to put it on this list. Which is not something I’d have said ten years ago. Alien vs. Predator is a mashup of two franchises and part of a long tradition of monster vs. monster movies. This one throws humans into the mix, which I guess it sort of had to. I remember having seen parts of the sequel years ago and thinking, “Well this is stupid,” and then I just ignored it for a while. And then I went back and watched this one as I was looking for stuff for these lists and I thought, “Well damn, this is actually kind of fun.” Because what else do you want out of a movie? The title tells you what you’re getting, and it entertains you for 100 minutes. That’s all you need. 50 First Dates is one of the last watchable Adam Sandler movies. This is his second movie with Drew Barrymore after The Wedding Singer, and stars Sandler as a man who meets the woman of his dreams… only to discover she has short-term memory loss and that he has to keep wooing her over and over and over again. It’s more rom com and comedy, but it does have some sweet moments in it. Hidalgo is one of those movies Disney puts out that are just nice family movies. It’s about a cowboy and his horse who go to Arabia to compete in a long distance race. It stars Viggo Mortensen, and it’s just a fun, likable movie. It’s not anything groundbreaking, but it’s just a good piece of entertainment.

– – – – – – – – – –

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