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Adam Campbell

A good list but I can't get my head around the popularity that 'Last Life In The Universe' is being met with in some quarters, a mini blog-based 'Million Dollar Baby' phenomenon! For darkening the door, I'd refer partly to the Sight and Sound review here https://www.bfi.org.uk/sightandsound/2004_08/lastlife.php but in general, it just struck me as pretentious, throughly guilty of trying too hard without anything to back it up.


Some of these aren't 2004, but I saw them this year. I should also point out that I haven't had the chance to see many U.S. titles that were released last fall. Although I'm most eagerly looking forward to seeing films that have received mixed reviews (Life Aquatic, Huckabees, Palindromes) than the praised Oscar-dramas.

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (USA, Michel Gondry)
2. 15 (Singapore, Royston Tan)
3. Gozu (Japan, Takashi Miike)
4. The Tulse Luper Suitcases (UK, Peter Greenaway)
5. Before Sunset (USA, Richard Linklater)
6. Kill Bill Vol. 2 (USA, Quentin Tarantino)
7. Temporada de patos (Mexico, Fernando Eimbcke)
8. 2046 (Hong Kong, Wong Kar Wai)
9. Notre Musique (France, Jean-Luc Godard)
10. Aaltra (Belgium, Benoît Delépine)
11. The Heart is Deceitful, Above All Things (USA, Asia Argento)

Bubbling under:
Somersault (Australia, Cate Shortland)
Samaria (Korea, Kim Ki Duk)

Most disappointing of the year: La Mala educacion (Spain, Pedro Almodovar)
Most annoying film of the year: Oldboy (thought the twist ending was ridiculous and made the film far too long)


Good list, like the thematic focus. But I wish you, and a good number of other critics, would limit their lists to films commercially released in their country of residence. It simply doesn't mean anything to me as a critic living in the States that you have "2046" on your list (seen on video) or "Cafe Lumiere" (see at a festival) because I have been (theoretically) unable to see those films and see how they relate to the rest of your list and to what I've seen. For example, I found both "Dogville" and "Goodbye, Dragon Inn" to be two of the best films this year; however, since you saw them at NYFF in 2003 and put them on that year's list, I have no idea how you would compare these films to others released alongside them in 2004.


Adam --

I enjoyed the S&S review, and he is certainly correct about Doyle's "influence". (If you look at my original review, there is a lengthy discussion in the comments section about this.)

However, I don't have a problem with the combining of genres -- that's part of what made the film so special. The bookends, which are quite different, enhance the middle section that much more.


Phyrephox -- That's something I wrestle with each year, and this year was no exception. Given that people from several countries look at this blog, I decided to "think globally" when putting together this list.

However, by your rules, Dogville would easily be at the top of my list this year.

Adam Hartzell

Phyrephox and Filmbrain,

I think there are pros/cons to both. As you point out, Phryephox, you can't really have a 'best of' in that year if you bring in films that haven't been released in ones country in that year. So there's a value to that limit.

However, particularly with U.S. critics, it's important to challenge those who control what is and is not released in the U.S. by stepping beyond U.S. insularity and factoring in films released in other countries or only making the festival circuit that one saw that year. Presently, I lead towards the latter to do what I can to expand on what eventually becomes available in the U.S.. Although neither are films I found to be 'best of' quality, it can be argued that HERO and THE HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS eventually got their release in the States because of those critics who included it in their Top Tens in 2002/2003. As much as I want it to, WOMAN IS THE FUTURE OF MAN will not get a U.S. release, so I'm personally not going to let U.S. distributors/production-houses limit its impact by excluding it from my Top Ten, as Filmbrain has included it in his as well.

However, please don't take this as my claiming you're wrong Phryephox. I definitely feel there is a benefit to both methods and happy to see some critics choose the one and other critics choose the other, and I'm sure there are some critics who do both. I think both parameters have their value and its up to each critic to decide which direction they take.


Personally, while I haven't seen that many films which didn't at least receive a theatrical release here in New York, I will be limiting myself to ones that did. For example, while "The Green Hat" might make my list or at least get an honorable mention as might "Palindromes," neither will be listed because the former still doesn't have a distributor and the latter will come out in 2005.

Other than that, the most fascinating thing to me about your list, Filmbrain, is that our tastes really are different overall, even though your number 2 movie is my number 1. (Not that that's necessarily new news). While I still have yet to write about it, and while I don't believe "Million Dollar Baby" is the best film of the year, it might hit the bottom of the top 10, and I think it's far from the worst film of the year -- granted, you've probably deliberately avoided most of the truly "worst" films while I am a Razzie voter! :-)

Also, personally, I think "Collateral" (along with "Ray") is one of the absolutely most overrated (and strangely forgiven for its flaws) films of the year -- what an awful, awful, AWFUL script. The "MDB" manipulations bothered you but Foxx's cell phone battery conveniently dying didn't? Or the police getting a call to another crime right before they can check the trunk and find a body? I don't care how phenomenal it was visually or how great Foxx's performance was. I also had major problems with "We Don't Live Here Anymore," (a terribly overdirected film with an obnoxious overuse of musical score that detracted from its brilliant cast) and fewer problems (but still plenty of issues) with "Closer."

And then, we don't really need to get into "Brown Bunny," do we? ;-)

Unfortunately, I still haven't seen much of the rest of your list. But hey, each his own. You'll get a chance to bash my list sometime next week.


Adam, I agree with you completely. Perhaps the solution is having two lists, one for currently unreleased/undistributed films?

Aaron, I am of a strange camp that finds most of the script of "Collateral" pure contrived garbage, but also found that Mann's supreme control over the trajectory of the plot and its alignment with a potent visual aesthetic said much more than the pat dialog and eye-popping coincidences.


On Collateral -- all I said is that it was far better than I expected. There's was never a chance of it making my top ten. But I like some of the points you bring up, Aaron. Is it possible to have a film of that sort without conveniences/unlikely occurrences? (Might have to do a separate post about that.) What grabbed me about the film was 1) the look, which simply floored me. I'm angry I avoided it in the theaters, 2) Tom Cruise was better than I imagined he would be as a baddie, and 3) the interplay between him and Fox worked. The final third of the film was, for the most part, throwaway.

I can't imagine how it is you think We Don't Live Here Anymore is overdirected. It's probably the one film on my list where I didn't even notice the direction -- the interplay between the actors was that great. Same thing for the music -- if it was there, it didn't register.

As for bad films -- I pride myself in being able to avoid, for the most part, bad films. (Stepford Wives was viewed on an airplane.) MDB is, to me, EVERYTHING that is wrong with contemporary Hollywood. It's as if, from the get go, it was constructed via a manual -- "How to manipulate audiences and critics to win Oscars" -- there's no passion, no art, no genuine feeling for fuck's sake! The whole idea of the poor white trash "girly" who is nothing without the tough-as-nails old guy is like taking a step back fifty years. The third act is shameful, and I'm still looking for somebody to defend it. And as George pointed out, that the "villain" is a black prostitute from East Berlin -- do we even need to discuss how asinine that is? (When did the wall come down again?)

Greg Samsa

Mikko, I see you have 15 as number 2! I really wanted to see this film but it’s only screening was scheduled at the American Cinematheque the same night as Tropical Malady at UCLA with Apichatpong speaking afterward so unfortunately I couldn’t make it. I posted my top ten list in the other thread, so here is a new list of the films I most look forward to seeing in 2005.

1. Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith (George Lucas)
Maybe this isn’t a popular choice around here, but I’ve been dying to see the stuff in this film since I was like 12.

2.The New World (Terrence Malick)
Jesus that trailer is gorgeous. Feel very excited to have a new Malick film so soon.

3. Five (Abbas Kiarostami)
I have read many excellent things about this.

4. Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (Chan Wook Park)
After Sympathy for Mr Vengeance and Oldboy, this has me very interested.

5. Manderlay (Lars Von Trier)
The continuing saga of Grace.

6. A History of Violence (David Cronenberg)
All the Cronenberg crew returns: Peter Suschitzky, Howard Shore, Ronald Sanders, Carol Spier. How can this not be good?

7.Cache (Michael Haneke)
New Haenke film starring Juliette Binoche.

Japanese themed:
8. Vital (Shinya Tsukamoto)
9. Blood and Bones (Yoishi Sai)
10. Maiden of Death (Kiyoshi Kurosawa)
11. Nobody Knows (Hirokazu Koreeda)
12. Café Lumiere (Hou Hsiao-hsien)

And anthologies: Eros, Paris je’taime.
Guilty pleasures: Batman Begins, War of the Worlds.


Greg -- I couldn't agree more with your list (with the exception of Star Wars, which I'm afraid is going to be a disappointment. But like all guys my age, I'm going to see it anyway.)

My excitement for Manderlay would be higher if Nicole were still involved. (At least Meg Ryan fell through, but Bryce Dallas Howard has some tough shoes to fill.)

Greg Samsa

Well there is a very prominent article on the Star Wars website about the new 'dialouge coach' (a first for the prequels) working on this film. Apparently he is a Coppola family friend who also worked on the Virgin Suicides in that capacity. I have to give Lucas the benefit of the doubt, THX-1138's welcome return this year restored my faith a little.

On Manderlay, I thought Bryce Dallas Howard was quite good in The Village. I am aroused at the thought of the sadistic abuse Lars is going to put that sweet girl through :)

A few things I forgot to add to my list: Hannah and Alice (my R3 disc is on the way) and Tulse Luper 2 and 3 by Greenaway. I have the Spanish DVD of the first film, maybe we can get a set of all three R1. Also I hear Godard has made a feature length version of Histiores Du Cinema with new material?

Syriana (Stephen Gaghan)
Traffic srcibe takes on the CIA and post cold war failures.

Lord of War (Andrew Niccol)
A new thriller from the director of Gattaca? Hmm.

Where the Wild Things Are (Spike Jonze)
No comment necessary.

Untitled (David Lynch)
Rumors hes working on a new film - can it make it for 05?


I can confirm that Lynch is working on a new film, shot at least partially on DV, but other than that I know nothing.

Aside from those already mentioned, I'm particularly looking forward to Denis' "The Intruder" and Miike's "Izo" with Beat Takeshi.


Filmbrain -- Here's the thing with "Collateral" and me -- I wanted to like that film sooooo much. No, I'm not generally a Michael Mann fan -- I think he's, to use a cliche, all style and no substance -- but the look of the film was brilliant and Foxx blew me away. (In fact, I think Foxx gave two of the best performances of the year in two terrible wastes of potentially great films.) But "Collateral" just kept daring me to like it until it became too much. Everytime I would say to myself, "OK, I'll let that slide," it would come back with another completely absurd and annoying moment and piss me off. "Oh yeah, you want to like me Aaron," the film would say. "Well, fuck you. Like me when I treat you like a total idiot!"

I have a very simple way of judging direction of a film: did it seem to make the script better? Obviously, this isn't always judgable without actually reading the script, but it usually is. Great directors make every film better than the material. (Scorsese and "The Aviator" is a very good example, in fact. The script was too much and overall lacked focus, underwriting just about every supporting character, yet the movie is still far more than watchable even if it isn't great Scorsese.) In "Collateral," Mann just didn't care. Because he never cares about his script. All his movies look good and have one or two brilliant sequences, but they could care less about telling their story. If they write themselves into a corner, who the hell cares?

Sorry for the rant -- as far as MDB, we just disagree. The East German boxer bugged me too, as did the extra unnecessary scene at the end with her family (seeing them be bastards once was enough), but overall I guess I fall on the side of the critics that see it as a masterful work of direction. It also isn't a great script, but the resulting movie in tone and look was, to me, somewhat powerful. All movies are manipulative (that's the nature of the art form), it just depends on whether or not that manipulation is noticable and annoys you. I know George seemed to indicate that it would be a crime if MDB beat (among others) "Finding Neverland." I really liked "Neverland," but talk about a manipulative tearjerker, and Marc Forster doesn't handle the material as well as I felt Eastwood did in MDB. I don't think it's his best movie, but when the whole audience around you is crying, it doesn mean that it's affecting people, obviously. I'm not saying an audience determines my judgment of a film -- I wasn't crying, but the film struck me too -- but I do understand why people were moved by it.

And as far as examples of Hollywood's worst, I think MDB is far less a culprit than "Ocean's Twelve" and "Meet the Fockers," which I'm sure you didn't see, but are both obvious slapped together screenplays of thought-to-be-funny bits to show off their big name casts, and while they each have their few laughs, the movies are just awful. I sincerely doubt MDB was created for the potential box office whereas those two were. And I don't even consider either of them to be on my "worst" list.

Damn ... succinct Aaron, succinct. Guess it's just not gonna happen. ;-)


An example of Hollywood's worst that serves as far better a contrast to MDB is 'A Love Song For Bobby Long,' which is just atrocious. Imagine how bad MDB would have been if Hilary Swank had turned out to be Clint Eastwood's daughter at the end, and you've got an idea of the depths to which this film sinks.

MDB held true to cliches, but it did so with a simplicity and veracity that (I felt) both downplayed and justified them; whenever I see cliches that work, I'm reminded that there's a reason they became cliches in the first place, and there's no reason to ignore them, when done well, just becase they've been done before. I watched the film again this evening, and while its flaws were slightly more apparent this time, I liked it just as much (enough to call iti a masterpiece).

'Oldboy,' on the other hand, I found to have a brilliant opening act leading up to a ridiculous, overplotted and downright dumb second act. Park's contribution to 'Three: Extremes' turned me off to him even further; if the rumors are true and Sam Raimi wants to hire him to remake 'Evil Dead,' then I'm shuddering already (Miike should get to have that honor, if remaking a perfect film could be considered an honor at all).


When'd you get to see 2046, just out of curiosity? And twentyninepalms? I'm very curious about that call ...

... and, of course, I have Time of the Wolf and Last Life in the Universe sitting on a shelf, unseen, no more than 3 feet away from me right now. Sigh.

Lists like yours always make me feel like I should have a drool guard under my chin. Until, of course, I locate one of the many other Top Ten end-of-year lists that makes me feel all's well with myself in a P.G. Wodehouse kind of way. But no names.

Top and Bottom Ten:

The Top Ten Films of 2004

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Maria Full of Grace
The Control Room
The Incredibles
The Aviator
Hotel Rwanda
(tie) DiG! /Metallica: Some Kind of Monster
Finding Neverland

The Ten Worst Films of 2004 (amended 12/16) :

Million Dollar Baby
Van Helsing
twentynine Palms
Shark Tale
The Ladykillers
The Hunting of the President
I, Robot
The Phantom of the Opera
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou



1. Greg, yes I found 15 to be highly succesful film in its original take on early WKWish style. This film most certainly is not for everyone as it provoked more walk outs (about 1/5 of the small theater) than I saw people leaving from Blissfully Yours (in your place I would have gone to see Tropical Malady as well!).

15 has some of the bleakest humour I've seen. Like it's subject, it is at times incredibly irresponsible, wicked, violent, funny, but also geniunely depressed, sweet and vulnerable. I think I would compare it to Fallen Angels, only that it has a bigger range of sweetness, dark comedy and roughness, and its subject matter making it a rather original work.

2. I wouldn't hold my breath about the new Lynch project as it easily could be another (crappy) one for his website, especially considering that DV is mentioned.

I'm also looking forward to Malick's new film and the Miike-Beat project sounds great.

3. I thought Haneke's Time of the Wolf was a rather unimaginative rip off of Tarkovskian themes smashed in with some uninteresting observations about today's world. However I'm still looking forward to see his next.

4. I share David Lowery's take on Oldboy completely.


James -- So nice to hear from you. I was thrilled when I read your review of MDB earlier this week -- it was spot on.

I saw 2046 on DVD, but need to see it on the big screen.

It's a shame Last Life in the Universe didn't get a wider theatrical release. Having seen it both in the theater and on DVD, much is lost on the small screen.

I've liked all of Bruno Dumont's films, and though Twentynine Palms isn't as good as his previous two, I still feel it has its merits.


First, I just want to say how much I've enjoyed reading this site since coming across it a month or two ago.

Here's my top 10 list. A couple of these were 2003 releases, I know, but they didnt make their way to the city I was living in until 2004...the first 8 months of the year I was in a pretty small city, meaning I missed a fair amount of films, so keep that in mind.

I withheld "tropical malady" since it's a 2005 release and the director already had one movie on here so I didnt feel like fitting in another. It might have been #1 instead if I had included it, I'm not sure.

1. blissfully yours
2. dogville
3. eternal sunshine of the spotless mind
4. lilya-4-ever
5. undertow
6. the life aquatic
7. elephant
8. before sunset
9. spartan
10. i heart huckabees


I guess I'll post mine too:

Before Sunset (dir. Richard Linklater)
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring (dir. Kim Ki Duk)
Eternal Sunshine Of A Spotless Mind (dir. Michel Gondry)
Undertow (dir. David Gordon Greene)
Tarnation (dir. Jonathan Caouette)
Time Of The Wolf (dir. Michael Haneke)
Million Dollar Baby (dir. Clint Eastwood)
Birth (dir. Jonathan Glazer)
Spiderman 2 (dir. Sam Raimi)
Oasis (dir. Leee Chang Dong)
The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (dir. Wes Anderson)

If I hadn't seen Dogville last year, and hadn't been unsure whether or not Crimson Gold constitues a 2003 or 2004 release, both of those would be on here in a very high spot.

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