Our favorites of 2004

Eternal Sunshine of the
Spotless Mind

Shaun of the Dead

The Aviator

CineScene's Top 10 Films of 2004

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry) [186]
2. The Incredibles (Brad Bird) [123]
3. Shaun of the Dead
(Edgar Wright) [101]
4-5. The Aviator
(Martin Scorsese) [77]
Before Sunset
(Richard Linklater) [77]
6 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
(Alfonso Cuarón) [66]
7. Kill Bill, Vol. 2
(Quentin Tarantino) [60]
8. Fahrenheit 9/11
(Michael Moore) [57]
9. Million Dollar Baby
(Clint Eastwood) [56]
10. The Corporation
(Mark Achbar &
Jennifer Abbott) [55]

The Incredibles

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind crushed the competition this year, appearing on 16 of our 24 contributors' top-10 lists, often ranked
at or near the top.
This year's Pixar hit, The Incredibles, was the only
other film that came close. Shaun of the Dead, a sleeper British zombie comedy, finished a surprisingly strong third.
Ranked entries were awarded points on a 5-15 scale for the first ten titles. Unranked entries were awarded 10 points each for the first ten titles.
-- The Editor

Contributors: Kristen Ashley, Mark Ashley, Michael Buck,
Christopher Campbell
, Alex Ellermann, Anne Gilbert, Robert S. Jersak,
Haraldur Jóhannsson
, Chris Knipp, Lisa Larkin, Don Larsson, Kevin Lee,
Ron Leming
, Scott McGee, Mark Netter, Ed Owens, Shari L. Rosenblum, Howard Schumann, Mark Sells, James Snapko, Greg Sorenson,
Josh Timmermann
, and kc watt
Shari L. Rosenblum
So many of the films most praised this year have struck me as ordinary -- overrated and unremarkable. Things we've seen over and over again, perhaps in fewer shadows or with less California wine. I opted instead for the films that have lingered -- stayed with me. I opted for films about spirit -- love, faith, fantasy, soul and the artistic process. It wasn't a year that blew me away, but it was a year that made me believe.
1. Before Sunset (Richard Linklater).
Linklater's sequel to 1995's Before Sunrise, a romantic interlude between a man and a woman at the cusp of adulthood, finds the same two people nine years later, at the brink of a second chance. Paced with real-world limitations and emotional urgencies, Before Sunset captures the space of years passed in the fleeting real-time span of its 80-minute run. From the awkward dance around regret to the slow jazz promise of possibility, Jesse and Celine reconnect with a natural narrative rhythm that recreates the essence of romance -- ineffable, but unmistakable.
2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry).
A cinematic tribute to the forget-me-not. Michel Gondry directs a most original investigation into the way lovers invade each other's consciousness and makes concrete images out of the mindgames we play when love proves itself imperfect. Subtler than its flash would suggest, it softly asserts a romantic tenacity: retracing steps, reliving moments, giving new light to faded reveries. The acting explodes with understatement. Charlie Kaufman's screenplay masters the ending with a resigned hopefulness, acknowledging the dominance of heart over head, and making of memory a tribute to the power of love.
Runner-up: Wong Kar-Wai's 1991 Days of Being Wild -- newly released in the U.S.; a wildly wistful contemplation of romance and nostalgia: the force of the minute remembered.
3. Love Me If You Dare (Yann Samuell).
A small film from France that envisions love as a child's game of challenge and commitment: more intense and less penetrable than a mere coming together of woman and man. Taking romantic rhetoric to its most twisted conclusions, it dares to celebrate the darkness of love's shared obsessions and leaves us with a compelling idea, or two, of what it means to love deeply unto death and beyond.
4. Closer (Mike Nichols).
More about relationships than love itself, appearances rather than depths, Closer focuses on beginnings and endings, the lies we tell at the first tingles of excitement and the truths we cannot avoid in the final crushing blows. It carves out destiny from the romantic myth, and shows us only the moments of choice: when we say yes or no, fight or give in, hold on or move on. And in the background you can half imagine a deep, sardonic, laugh.
Runner-up: We Don't Live Here Anymore
(John Curran)
5. Finding Neverland (Marc Forster).
Johnny Depp's sweet but never saccharine J.M. Barrie catches the wonderment of children in the wonders of the imagination, and creates magic for child and adult alike, borrowing from the original lost boys for the dream of Peter Pan. Neverland is a stage set that can serve as promised haven, and realism is overpowered by the strength of faith in fairies. We do believe, we do believe, and we do clap our hands...tears welling in our eyes...
6. Garden State (Zach Braff).
With emotional truths and organic humor, Braff's lyrical take on one man's coming of age frames self-discovery as a literal choice to emerge from the fog of youth -- to break with the guilt and the expectations life imposes -- and to acknowledge the abyss on the other side that keeps us all on the fine line. Clarity comes from taking stock, and the film, like its hero, finds its strength in love's quirky blush. Runner-up: Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself (Lone Scherfig).
7. The Five Obstructions (Lars von Trier & Jørgen Leth).
Runners-up: Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (Joe Berlinger & Bruce Sinofsky) and
This So-Called Disaster (Michael Almereyda).
Three films about artists and the artistic process: Some Kind of Monster shows the adult side of the metal musicians in their art, validating the music and the players in ways no concert footage could, while This So-Called Disaster steals a fascinating glimpse at a filmmaker, playwright and cast reverberating myths and masculinity through art, scripted and unscripted, but The Five Obstructions is perhaps the most interesting of the three because of its conceits: filmmaker against filmmaker, one pushing the envelope of the other's possibilities, and the other meeting the task. That the underlying film is The Perfect Human seems to perfectly frame the film's ambition.
8. The Incredibles (Brad Bird).
Stunning animation, intelligent writing, and an incisive worldview -- Brad Bird's genre-twist dystopia where superheroes turn outcast manages politicism without the self-congratulatory smirk. Its humor is light, but meaningful, its vision sophisticated, and the whole of it engaging for anyone of any age.
9. Osama (Siddiq Barmak).
A quiet film that follows a little girl who disguises herself as a boy under the watchful eye of the Taliban, Osama stands as a reminder to those who preach tolerance that there are some things that are never to be tolerated. It brings the sexual politics of fundamentalist Islam into devastating relief. Runners up: Vera Drake (Mike Leigh) and Maria Full of Grace (Joshua Marston).
10. The Motorcycle Diaries (Walter Salles).
Gael García Bernal's sweet-faced Che reveals nothing of the bloody revolutionary that history cannot deny -- but poetry and the political sensibility of idealistic youth raise Salles' hagiography from mere cleaned-up socialist tract to a reminder of what the world looks like when you still believe you might be able to fix it.
Honorable mentions: The Woodsman; Japanese Story; Spring, Summer, Winter, Fall . . . and Spring; Primer; I, Robot; Bad Education; Broken Wings; The Brown Bunny; How to Draw a Bunny; Crimson Gold; Dogville; Team America: World Police.
Howard Schumann
1. Broken Wings (Nir Bergman).
Each member of the Ulman family suffers the trauma of having lost their father/husband to a senseless accident nine months ago. Conflicts and resentments arise, underscored by a quiet guilt that each one feels for the father's death. The film could be a metaphor for the condition Israel finds itself in since the murder of Yitzhak Rabin, but it is not a political film. It is told in the language of personal emotion, of the struggle of a family growing together through a mutually shared loss. In the honest way the characters interact to support each other, Broken Wings is a deeply moving and unforgettable experience.
2. Maria Full of Grace (Joshua Marston).
A headstrong Colombian girl of seventeen (Catalina Sandino Moreno) seizes an opportunity to earn $5000 by ingesting and transporting illegal drugs to New York, at considerable risk to herself and her unborn child. First-time director Marston has escaped the clichés of social realist films to offer a riveting human odyssey that transcends simplistic messages of good and evil. It is not only a hard-hitting jab at a global economic system that allows exploitation of the poor to satisfy the pleasure of the rich, but a richly nuanced coming-of-age story that delivers its hard-edged message with understanding and compassion.
3. Good Bye, Lenin! (Wolfgang Becker).
A stinging political satire that shows the impact on a close-knit East German family of the events that shook Germany to its foundations in 1989. The film strikes a light-hearted balance in its portrayal of East and West, showing both the freedom of the West along with its crass consumerism, and the social awareness of the East along with its rigid bureaucracy in which idealism is a dirty word. Interweaving comedy, political drama, and the story of a boy's love for his mother, the film won me over with its overriding sincerity and humanity.
4. The Return (Andrei Zvyagintsev).
Winner of the grand prize at the Venice Film Festival, The Return is a film of rare beauty and authenticity about the complex bonds between a father and his two sons and the need to discover one's self. First time director Zvyaginstev leaves much unexplained, and the film contains suggestions of Greek mythology, political allegory, and religious parable. Whatever the explanation, the film taps into the universal need to love and be cared for, and the hurt that results when the need to be sustained and protected is thwarted. Often painful to watch yet deeply moving, The Return is a haunting experience.
5. Fahrenheit 9/11 (Michael Moore).
A sprawling but focused documentary that makes its points effectively without being overbearing and is guaranteed to make you think. It is a powerful and moving cinematic experience that is also highly entertaining and filled with comic touches and genuine human emotions that may make you laugh one minute and cry the next. The film is a powerful reminder that fundamental change is needed to end the military mentality and corporate elitism that has dominated our government, a change that goes even beyond politics toward a reinvigoration of the human imagination and consciousness.
6. A Very Long Engagement
(Jean-Pierre Jeunet).
Mathilde (Audrey Tautou), a polio victim since childhood, maintains faith that she will one day be reunited with her fiancé Manech, a conscript in World War I, who is reported to be dead. Based on the 1991 novel by Sébastien Japrisot, the film is a dreamlike exploration of two sides of human nature: the darkness that leads to the horror of war and the lightness that embodies the power of love. Jeunet is a master of cinematic tricks, and there is plenty to keep us dazzled: flashbacks, fast edits, and colorful imagery, but the film is not about cinematic showmanship. It is about a relationship that is more than physical, one in which two people have the capacity to communicate with each other on a physical, mental, and spiritual level.
7. Blind Shaft (Li Yang).
This suspenseful, savagely humorous first feature by Li Yang dramatizes conditions in China's mines, making a direct attack on China's headlong dash to capitalism, where greed seems more important than human life. Itinerant coalminers devise a scheme to extort money from corrupt mine owners by convincing a fellow worker to pose as their relative. When they kill him and fake an industrial accident, they collect the compensation owed to a relative from the willing owner, eager to prevent an investigation into his mine's deteriorating condition. Banned in China, Blind Shaft combines gritty realism with nerve-jangling tension and uncompromising social commentary.
8. Café Lumiére (Hou Hsiao-hsien).
Acutely observed and exquisitely realized, Hou's sixteenth film is a loving tribute to the great Japanese filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu on the centenary of his birth. The first film by Hou to be shot in a foreign location, it pays homage to Ozu by depicting themes repeated in many of his films: relationships between aging parents, the marriage plans of a grown child, the coming and going on trains, and the quiet contemplation of everyday life. Beautifully shot by Lee Ping-ping, the film allows us to view the world the characters inhabit, providing extraordinary details of Tokyo life.
9. Travellers and Magicians (Khyentse Norbu).
Travellers and Magicians spins two parallel stories that deliver one message -- happiness can be discovered simply by being in the present moment. In the first story, a young university graduate in Bhutan longs for a more exciting life in America but discovers the quiet places in his mind when he misses the bus to his first destination. The second tale is about a young student of magic who must confront passion and jealousy when he loses his way in a forest. Filled with gentle humor, gorgeous scenery and music, and astute observations of the foibles of human nature, the film has a natural beauty and charm.
10. Oldboy (Chan-wook Park).
Oldboy is a wildly exhilarating experience that has plenty of action, state of the art effects, dark humor, and an existential mystery that will linger in your mind long after the final credits have rolled. Based on a manga by Tsuchiya Garon, it is a complex film about love and the price we must pay to save it. Park does not stand in judgment of his characters but allows us to see them as flawed human beings looking to salvage what remains of their dignity. Oldboy is excessively violent at times, but it has humanity, and the characters' pitiful sadness reminds us of our own vulnerability.
11. Undertow (David Gordon Green).
two young brothers, Tim and Chris (Devon Allen and Jamie Bell), flee the violence of their rural home in Georgia. On the run, they undertake a nightmarish journey through forests and swamps, on freight cars and foot, spending time with people living on the margins. As their murderous uncle (Josh Lucas) closes in, the film becomes less about the chase and more about the characters and the relationship between the brothers. Undertow has aspects of a conventional thriller but it bears Green's unmistakable languid, dreamy style. Utilizing a haunting score by Philip Glass, the film gradually builds its low-key tension to a power that becomes riveting.
12. I'm Not Scared (Gabriele Salvatores).
Set in southern Italy, I'm Not Scared is a coming-of-age story about a ten-year old boy's awakening of conscience. While Michele and his friends play in the vast golden wheat fields during summer, he discovers a small lad hidden in a cavernous hole near an abandoned farmhouse and acts with courage and compassion to "do the right thing". The film embodies an artistic sensibility that expressively captures the world of a child in its wonder, innocence, and beauty. I'm Not Scared has a strange otherworldly and mythical quality to it, like a cinematic dream, and the result is not vacuously uplifting but powerfully moving.
Others: Oasis, Machuca, Take Care of My Cat, Bus 174, Kitchen Stories, The Terminal, Vera Drake

Ed Owens
This year was particularly hard, as very few movies managed to have a lasting impact. So, while some of those listed below did indeed qualify unequivocally, some managed to sneak in based on other criteria. They are presented in alphabetical order.

The Aviator (Martin Scorsese).
Scorsese's Howard Hughes biopic flies high, thanks to some solid performances, technical mastery, and a jazzy swing soundtrack that provides the perfect accompaniment. Though not as emotionally engaging as it should have been, The Aviator is still a fascinating though flawed look at a fascinating though flawed individual.
Collateral (Michael Mann).
Though Jamie Foxx and Tom Cruise are both very strong, the main character is the lovingly photographed city around them. Mann's high contrast and deep shadows make L.A. live and breathe in ways that stay sharp in memory long after the film's final disappointing turn.
Dawn of the Dead (Zack Snyder).
Even before the opening credits roll, it's clear we're not in Kansas anymore--Snyder opens his update of George Romero's classic horror/satire with a bravura sequence filled with visceral visuals and a wicked wit that he somehow manages to maintain for most of the 90 minutes which follow. Though there are missteps, Snyder and company show one thing strangely absent from many movies this year--commitment. Dawn of the Dead is a balls to the wall horror film with a morbid sense of humor, rekindling my hopes for the future of the genre.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry).
Unique without being smug, Charlie Kaufman's latest twisty tale finds love and loss in the labyrinth, making its narrative turns incisive explorations rather than shallow gimmicks. The dynamic between Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet is achingly beautiful, and the film's final moments bring not quite resolution, but an open invitation to ponder your own relationships.
Garden State (Zach Braff).
Braff's debut remains remarkably grounded while still achieving a poignantly ethereal quality, thanks in large part to strong performances (particularly the scene-stealing Peter Sarsgaard and the surprisingly nuanced Natalie Portman) and a quirky screenplay that neatly sidesteps (for the most part) the pitfalls of contrivance and cliché.
The Incredibles (Brad Bird).
Jaw-droppingly gorgeous animation coupled with some of the sharpest writing of any film provide the basis for Bird's remarkably nuanced film. The film resonates on numerous levels, making it eminently rewatchable, and sets a new standard for composition in animated film (even some live action directors could take a lesson from The Incredibles use of depth of field).
Maria Full of Grace (Joshua Marston).
What begins as a "simple" drug mule story quickly takes on archetypal resonance in Marston's second film. Carrying the torch is Catalina Sandina Moreno as the titular heroine (both literal and symbolic) who transcends only through debasement.
Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (Joe Berlinger & Bruce Sinofsky).
What began as a promotional film in support of Metallica's first studio album in five years wound up as a probing look into the minds and manias of metal's premiere maestros. Without an axe to grind or a point to prove, Berlinger and Sinofsky instead let the cameras roll, documenting every aspect of the band's struggle with its inner demons, crafting the finished footage into a compelling experience for fans and non-fans alike.
Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright).
A movie that manages to pull off that rarest of combos--parodying a genre at the same time that you function pretty much within it. The jokes come fast and furious, rarely at the expense of development or pacing, and the picture manages more than a few references to a diverse array of films, though most notably the George Romero series that serves as a benchmark for the zombie film.
Team America: World Police (Trey Parker).
In a year rife with films that raged on both sides of the political spectrum, few could match the incisiveness of Matt Stone & Trey Parker's savagely pointed satire. With surgical precision, the South Park duo cut into the absurdities of the political process, showing no mercy to either side. The soundtrack alone is enough to induce tears of laughter, and the film's now infamous brush with the MPAA is sure to be the stuff of legend (who wants to bet the DVD release is the unrated director's cut?).

Mark Sells
(Top 10 listed in ascending order)
10. Spider-Man 2 (Sam Raimi).
One of the most essential, memorable superhero movies of all time. And it's due in large part to a story that never strays far from humanity. Here, supervillain Doctor Octopus is as sympathetic as Peter Parker is himself. And that effectively turns the situations and ensuing action sequences into a compelling, compassionate, and complex web of wondrous delight.
9. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Alfonso Cuarón).
Much more mature and sophisticated, Azkaban is the finest film in the series. And it's also one of the finest films of the year. The reason? Direction - both from Cuarón, who experiments with delightful detail; and from author J.K. Rowling, who comes out on all four cylinders, with a remarkably wicked story of adolescence, vulnerability, and adventure.
8. Closer (Mike Nichols).
A cold, harsh look at relationships gone sour, from the chance encounters to the initial attractions and ultimately the bitter betrayals. This is a gripping, thought provoking piece, with four great performances by Jude Law, Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, and Natalie Portman. Patrick Marber's dialogue is "the best" in class.

7. Ray (Taylor Hackford).
Features the most outstanding male performance of the year in Jamie Foxx, who embodies the spirit of Ray Charles' heart and soul. And with an expertly crafted musical narrative by Hackford, the film stands out as a vibrant, compassionate, and honest reflection of the Ray we never knew.
6. Collateral (Michael Mann).
From a directorial standpoint, this is the best film of the year. It's moody, it's gritty, and it's sensational. Michael Mann uses groundbreaking cinematography and terrific dialogue to elevate a generic story into a real time thriller. And his sense of pacing, balancing heart pulsing action with heart felt drama, is perfection. Add to that two understated performances by Jamie Foxx and Tom Cruise and you have one of the year's underrated gems.
5. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
(Michel Gondry).
Charlie Kaufman is a delusional genius. And his latest work, about relationships and the meaning of memories, is a masterpiece. Ironically, it's one of those films that gets even better the more you think about it -- what brilliance! Featuring another outstanding serious role for Jim Carrey, accompanied by a touching performance from Kate Winslet, this is one of the most original love stories you'll ever see.

4. The Incredibles (Brad Bird).
The most sophisticated animated motion picture ever made. It's great looking, has great characters, and great action and humor in between. Additionally, it has a story that deals with modern family issues and individuals you can relate to, despite the appearance of super powers. And most importantly, it's incredibly fun!
3. Finding Neverland (Marc Forster).
Adapted from the brilliant Allan Knee play, Neverland features another award-worthy performance from Johnny Depp. And it's as inspirational and magical as anything you will see. Additionally, it features yet another great supporting performance from Kate Winslet. Although more conventional than Eternal Sunshine, it is highly creative in the way it flirts between fiction and non-fiction. And in the end, you'll find it a tearful and joyous tribute to the man and the boy who refused to grow up.
2. Hotel Rwanda (Terry George).
The most powerful and significant picture of the year. And regretfully, few will bother to see it. Were it not for Jamie Foxx's role of a lifetime, Don Cheadle would sweep the best actor awards. Depicting the true-life story of Paul Rusesabagina, Cheadle is phenomenal in the leading role -- the epitomy of grace under horrific pressure. And with the support of outstanding newcomer, Sophie Okonedo, this film achieves a frightening realism unmatched by any other in 2004.
1. Million Dollar Baby (Clint Eastwod).
Not just the finest film of 2004. It's one of the finest character dramas ever made. And it has less to do with boxing than you might think. Depicting the relationship between three complex characters, the film deeply explores issues of family, friendship, and responsibility. It's Clint Eastwood's finest film, one that benefits from a remarkable adaptation from Paul Haggis, a careful use of light and shadow, and three out-of-this-world performances.
Chris Knipp
This was an excellent year overall. These are in alphabetical order: they're equal in my eyes within categories. There are other good ones I wish I'd seen or may not even know about.

Ten Best U.S.

The Aviator (Martin Scorsese).
A dashing portrait of a playboy speeding toward fame and madness. In the flawed grandeur of this film Scorsese has never been more ambitious or more fun.
Before Sunset (Richard Linklater).
Simple romantic perfection, revisiting a love story nine years on; a new kind of movie in which the actors age in real time for a sequel. Collateral (Michael Mann)
Mann returns to old form in a noirish actioner in which Los Angeles plays itself beautifully and irresistibly,Tom Cruise plays against type, and Jamie Foxx moves toward A List status. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry).
A triumph of direction, screenwriting, and acting -- perhaps the only American movie to hit all the bases so firmly last year. An American In Search of Lost Time full of witty modern twists.
Kill Bill, Vol. 2 (Quentin Tarantino).
Nothing more cinematic or so richly fun came out last year. With the two Kill Bills, Tarantino has proven in spades that Pulp Fiction wasn't a flash in the pan.
The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou
(Wes Anderson).
A genial, forgiving comic portrait of a grandiose American loser. Bill Murray was born to play this role. Packed with choice moments.
Million Dollar Baby
(Clint Eastwood).
Simple and pure, with a good, surprising story about a hungry girl boxer that gets more complicated as it goes along. As you get older you pare down, and you know what you're doing. That's Clint here, working with three of our finest screen actors, one of whom is himself.
Napoleon Dynamite (Jared Hess).
Depicting another quirky set of young midwesterners, this first-timer struck new notes and made a little classic full of genial detachment.
Sideways (Alexander Payne).
Despite being ridiculously overhyped, this wine country sitcom of contrasting midlife crises contains fine acting and precise social observation. Importantly, this time Payne cares enough to linger and make us accept his loser anti-hero.
Undertow (David Gordon Green).
Green this time tries plot, without losing his sense of place or his ability to make time stop while he observes his South in all its sweet grime and poetry.

Ten Best Foreign

Adieu (Arnaud des Pallières).
A brooding epic on hospitality, death, good and evil in a complex, challenging format; one of the year's most unique and memorable films.
The Dreamers (Bernardo Bertolucci).
A voluptuous portrait of spoiled youth on the edge of the revolutionary moment -- cinema buffs, lovers, escape artists in Paris, June 1968. Wishful thinking? Perhaps, but irresistible nonetheless.
Father and Son (Aleksandr Sokurov).
A haunting visual poem of male bonding and parenthood.
Good Bye, Lenin! (Wolfgang Becker).
Nostalgia for the security of communism seen through a boy's love of his mother.
Head On (Fatih Akin).
A splashy, turbulent Turko-German star-crossed lover saga with a charismatic lead.
House of Flying Daggers (Zhang Yimou). Gorgeoous martial arts epic love triangle, ridiculous, yet sublime, with breathtaking action sequences and vivid characters: can Zhang top this and Hero? He's brought the genre to new heights.
The House Keys (Gianni Amelio).
A man reunited for the first time with his 15-year-old handicapped son, played by a real handicapped boy whose complexity the director touchingly captures.
The Return (Andrei Zvyagintsev).
A new Russian master storyteller with a haunting tale of parenthood and childhood at odds with each other on a mysterious journey.
Strayed (André Téchiné).
Téchiné revisits WWII with a feral boy and a strange makeshift family in a brief interlude that vividly captures the chaos of wartime.
Vera Drake (Mike Leigh)
Small but perfect, this film shows Leigh's methods in top form as it depicts a naïve woman abortionist in Fifties London. The acting and sense of period couldn't be better.

There were also many excellent documentaries, including: Born Into Brothels (Zana Briski & Ross Kauffman), Bukowski: Born Into This (John Dullaghan), Control Room (Jehane Noujaim), The Corporation (Mark Achbar &
Jennifer Abbott), Fahrenheit 9/11 (Michael Moore), Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism (Robert Greenwald), Riding Giants (Stacy Peralta), Tarnation (Jonathan Caouette), and Touching the Void (Kevin Macdonald).

In a class apart are: Ripley's Game (Liliana Cavani) -- which absurdly went straight to DVD in the U.S., despite a brilliant, classic performance by John Malkovich; the rather sweet and thoroughly genuine succès de scandele, The Brown Bunny (Vincent Gallo), the campy, wonderful-to-talk-about The Butterfly Effect (Erice Bress & J. Mackye Gruber), in which Ashton Kutcher astonishes by almost acting in a serious role; and the splendid revival of a classic, The Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo, 1965).

Alex Ellermann
Kill Bill Vol. 2 (Quentin Tarantino).
Stylish, inventive, & fun to watch. I enjoyed the heck out of this movie.
Miracle (Gavin O'Connor).
This movie invested me in a game played over 20 years ago. It’s formula, but it’s a winning formula.
Shrek 2 (Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury & Conrad Vernon).
I laughed all the way through this one.
Spider-Man 2 (Sam Raimi).
Not quite as much fun as the first, but a good time, nonetheless.
The Bourne Supremacy (Paul Greengrass).
Matt Damon has a winning franchise here. May it go on for a very long time.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Alfonso Cuarón).
A-List Hollywood moviemaking at its finest. Visually appealing, with an engaging cast.
Laws of Attraction (Peter Howitt).
It’s nice to watch a movie about people with vocabularies for a change.
Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright).
Zombies. Cricket bats. I can’t believe no one thought of this before.
Troy (Wolfgang Petersen).
Eric Bana & Bratt Pitt were perfect casting choices. I had some problems with this picture, but I thought it did a fine job of bringing The Iliad to life.
Broken Lizard's Club Dread (Jay Chandrasekhar).
Hey, I like these guys.
Kristen Ashley
In no certain order:
Girl With a Pearl Earring
(Peter Webber).
I watched it, enthralled and left the theater in a state of arousal. Wish I owned it.
Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright).
Hilarious. Just an all-around fun time at the movies. I own it already (extras are FAB-YOU-LAS).
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry).
I haven't seen a more beautiful love story in a long time. Own it.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Alfonso Cuarón).
Genuinely good movie that stands far and above the first two in the series. If it keeps getting better like this, I can't wait for the next! Own it.
Fahrenheit 9/11 (Michael Moore).
I cried for half the movie, mainly because I'm so frustrated at the criminals that have taken over my country. I don't buy into all of Michael Moore's tricks but at least he's got the guts to put it out there. Don't own it, never want to see it again.

Spiderman 2 (Sam Raimi).
Sequel Number Two on my list. I loved it. When the folks on the train lifted up Spidey...oh my. It took chances and broke rules and it worked. Would see it again, definitely.
The Bourne Supremacy (Paul Greengrass).
(Sequel Number Three on my list. Must admit at this point that I probably saw a fraction of the movies I normally see, but still think some of this list would hold up as a top 10). A great balls-to-the-wall adventure thriller. Would see it again too.
Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story
(Rawson Marshall Thurber).
Funny stupid/Stupid funny. I don't care what they say, I laughed out loud. A movie about dodgeball? Crazy brilliance! (Okay, maybe that's going a bit too far) But then, I only saw twice the number of movies on this list for the whole year so I don't have a huge list to choose from. Still, I'd see Dodgeball, maybe (at least I didn't put Starsky and Hutch on the list -- now that was crap).

Looking forward to: Er, what's out there?

Michael Buck
1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
(Michel Gondry).
A welcome return of the Charlie Kaufman quirk, this time with added heart.
2. Kill Bill, Vol. 2 (Quentin Tarantino).
Not as wildly wry as its first half, but still loads of fun.
3. The Corporation (Mark Achbar & Jennifer Abbott).
In a year of documentaries decried for their single point of view, this one excels by smartly using members of the corporate community to bring the points home.
4. Control Room (Jehane Noujaim).
A fascinating, if understructured, view of how we look from Over There.
5. Kinsey (Bill Condon).
Liam Neeson's strong performance carries this B+ biopic, but any film that gets the sexual freedom haters brigade out in force to protest a film they haven't actually seen gets extra marks.
6. The Aviator (Martin Scorsese).
Fine performances, particularly from Leonardo DiCaprio and Cate Blanchett, keep Scorsese's lengthy biopic intriguing from start to finish.
7. The Dreamers (Bernardo Bertolucci).
Bertolucci's return absolutely takes you to Paris and to the state of mind of its three young theater-lusty subjects. See above comments, also, about protesting prudes.
8. Finding Neverland (Marc Forster).
Johnny Depp delivers another brilliant performance in a touchingly different Peter Pan story.
9. Hero (Zhang Yimou).
Why on earth did this take two years to get to the U.S.? This elegant and graceful film renders memories of Crouching Tiger moot.
10. Fahrenheit 9/11 (Michael Moore).
The strength of Bowling for Columbine was that it didn't quite hit you in the face the way you'd have expected. This one does, over and over again, and is thus weaker by comparison. Still, it was an ambitious attempt by one man to break through the pre-strung campaign media play. Props, Mike.
Lisa Larkin
A Tale of Two Sisters (Kim Ji-woon).
I kept trying to tell people to see this during its brief run and they all responded by asking about The Grudge with Sarah Michelle Geller. I didn't see The Grudge with Sarah Michelle Geller. I didn't see The Grudge without Sarah Michelle Geller either [aka Ju-on] and the more time that goes by, the less interest I have in seeing either. But I really want to see A Tale of Two Sisters again. It is a horror movie but it is also a heartbreaking story about a family falling apart. Perhaps all the plot inversions will have little impact on a second viewing, but for now, it's in my top ten for 2004.
Josee, the Tiger and the Fish
(Isshin Inudo).
This was the other nice discovery at the San Diego Asian Film Festival, a Japanese film about a disabled girl who accepts pity from no one. A college boy becomes intrigued by her, helps make her life a little easier and then falls in love. On paper, it sounds like the typical disease of the week story, but it really isn't.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

(Michel Gondry).
As fun as Charlie Kaufman's stories are, they all seem to exist in a world filled with artificial people. The characters in Eternal Sunshine felt real. Jim Carrey dials it down a notch and Kate Winslet is, as ever, terrific. I love the concept of memory erasure no matter how many times it's been done. (See the South Korean film Nabi for a different but similar take on the theme.)
The Incredibles (Brad Bird).
The best James Bond movie since Diamonds Are Forever. Seriously. And also a nice story about a family pulling together when the chips are down. I can't wait to see what Pixar pulls out of their hat next -- after the contractually-obligated Cars, which looked terrible based on the teaser before The Incredibles.
(Zhang Yimou).
A year and a half after the Oscar buzz had died, Miramax finally decided to release this film. It's a beautifully sho Rashomon-like tale of a repressive emperor and his would-be assassins.
Wilbur Wants To Kill Himself
(Lone Scherfig).
A sweet slice-of-life movie about two brothers: one a responsible bookstore owner, the other the suicidal Wilbur. A desperate single mother comes into their lives and changes them both forever. Nice work by all the leads, including the little girl.
Zatôichi (Takeshi Kitano).
Blind swordsman, check. Cartoon gore, check. Clog dance number, check. What's not to like?
Hellboy (Guillermo del Toro).
There wasn't a lot of love for Hellboy, but I liked it. It did a very good job of capturing the essence of the comic book and it had a nice visual style.
(Brian Dannelly).
A basically good-hearted satire of a Christian high school.
Dawn of the Dead (Zack Snyder).
A pleasant surprise, if you can call a flesh-eating zombie movie pleasant. A visceral little thriller that neither tries to slavishly imitate the original nor smugly ridicule it.
Haraldur Jóhannsson
1. Oldboy
(Chan-wook Park).
2. Kill Bill Vol. 2
(Quentin Tarantino).
3. Shaun of the Dead
(Edgar Wright).
4. Ray (Taylor Hackford).
5. Touching The Void
(Kevin Macdonald).
6. Monster (Patty Jenkins)
7. The Aviator
(Martin Scorsese).
8. Kinsey (Bill Condon).
9. Fahrenheit 9/11
(Michael Moore).
10. Tie:
Being Julia (István Szabó).
(Adam McKay).
Greg Sorenson
(Ascending order)
10. Before Sunset
(Richard Linklater).
9. Dawn of the Dead
(Zack Snyder).
8. The Corporation
(Mark Achbar &
Jennifer Abbott).
7. Anchorman
(Adam McKay).
6. Saved! (Brian Dannelly).
5. Zatôichi (Takeshi Kitano).
4. House of Flying Daggers (Zhang Yimou).
3. Shaun of the Dead
(Edgar Wright).
2. The Incredibles
(Brad Bird).
1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
(Michel Gondry).

Kevin Lee
1. Hero (Zhang Yimou).
2. The Big Red One
(Samuel Fuller, 1980: restoration).
3. Before Sunset
(Richard Linklater).
4. Million Dollar Baby
(Clint Eastwood).
5. Vibrator (Ryuichi Hiroki).
6. Los Angeles Plays Itself (Thom Andersen).
7. Café Lumiére
(Hou Hsiao-hsien).
8. Moolaadé
(Ousmane Sembene).
9. Bad Education
(Pedro Almodóvar).
10. The Five Obstructions (Lars von Trier &
Jørgen Leth).

©2005 CineScene