Here are my ‘honourable mentions’ of 2004. They are the films that impressed me but just fell short of making the final ‘films of the year’ list.
Collateral: Michael Mann’s latest was slick and stylish though not quite up to the standard of his best work.
Dogville: Lars Von Trier often seems to revel in infuriating his critics and some US reviewers fell right into his trap by taking his ideas and aesthetic way too seriously. Despite a ponderous middle hour this contained some of the year’s funniest moments on film.
Fahrenheit 9/11: The hype and carefully constructed publicity campaign overshadowed the final film, yet despite it’s faults it was still a breath of fresh air to see current affairs make it into the multiplexes this summer.
Garden State: This accomplished debut from writer/director and star Zach Braff featured one of the year’s best soundtracks and contained some wonderful touches in it’s tale of an actor return home to his New Jersey hometown.
Girl With A Pearl Earring: Some literary adaptations can be stodgy affairs but Peter Webber’s take on Tracy Chevalier’s best seller contained a satisfying degree of passion in telling the story of Vermeer and his mysterious muse. Eduardo Serra’s cinematography more than did justice to the Dutch artist’s use of colour and light.
House of Flying Daggers: Zhang Yimou’s second film out this year was not quite as good as Hero but it was still a feast for the eyes. Whilst it lacked the style and beauty of Yimou’s other film it still contained some of the years best action scenes.
Man On Fire: Some US critics detested this thriller starring Denzel Washington as a bodyguard on a mission of revenge in Mexico City. Whilst the style trumps the content, I thought it was one of the more gripping and technically impressive films of the year. Despite the well worn revenge premise and some corny lines, Tony Scott’s visual style and the sound editing made it an engrossing experience.
Metallica – Some Kind of Monster: I must confess some scepticism when I first heard about this Metallica documentary but it was one of the most gripping and surprising film experiences of the year. Charting the near break up of the band, their struggles to make an album and their relationship with a therapist it is engrossing – even for those who are unfamiliar with their music.
Monster: Charlize Theron deservedly won an Oscar for her stunning turn as serial killer Aileen Wournos. Whilst the film occasionally betrayed its low budget it was notable for its even handed approach to a difficult real life subject.
Napoleon Dynamite: Similar in tone to the films of Alexander Payne this low budget gem featured a wonderful gallery of eccentrics and nicely subverted the usual high school teen movie by bringing the geek centre stage. The climactic scene gets funnier the more I think about it.
Shattered Glass: Originally intended for HBO this drama about the US journalist Stephen Glass proved that seemingly dry subjects still can make gripping cinema. Glass was a writer at Washington’s New Republic magazine who spun an ever more elaborate web of lies in order to cover his bogus stories. First time writer/director Billy Ray brought the story brilliantly to life and the performances from Hayden Christensen as Glass and Peter Sarsgaard as his editor were first rate.
Spider-Man 2: Without doubt the best blockbuster of the year. Whilst the first film got the origin just right it was lacking in the action department and the Goblin outfit just looked silly. But the sequel hit all the marks – terrific action scenes, a cool and menacing villain in Doc Ock plus a clever set-up for the third film.
The Bourne Supremacy: Another big budget summer sequel and another pleasant surprise. Doug Liman’s first film was an efficient an entertaining spy thriller but new director Paul Greengrass took the franchise into new and intriguing areas. His use of hand-held cameras and grainier film stocks created a bleaker but more rewarding tone, a world away from the jokey cartoon world of the recent Bond films.
The Cooler: William H Macy has been one of America’s finest actors for quite some time now and it was a pleasure to see him in a lead role. Here he played a ‘cooler’ – someone employed by a casino to spread his natural bad luck to those winning at the tables. Ably supported by Maria Bello and Alec Baldwin this was a small but charming film.
The Merchant of Venice: Since the late 90’s craze for Shakespeare adaptations the Bard has fallen out of fashion so it was doubly intriguing to see one of his lesser filmed works make it to the big screen with Al Pacino as Shylock. Unlike a lot of adaptations it stripped away the gloss to excellent effect although the bit at the end with the rings still seems unnecessary.
The Passion of the Christ: Like Fahrenheit 9/11 this whipped up a storm of controversy – or rather a storm of controversy was whipped up around it. Despite the misguided (and inaccurate) accusations of anti-Semitism, Mel Gibson’s film was the most powerful telling of Christ’s crucifixion I’ve ever seen put on film. There are some mistakes where he openly pandered to the Christian base that made it such a hit, but that aside the film was an impressive technical achievement.
The Station Agent: This Sundance favourite from 2003 was one of the great unsung films of the year. Beautifully written and paced by Tom McCarthy it featured a trio of fine performances from Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson and Bobby Cannavale as three social misfits who all form an unlikely bond.