Top 10 films of 2004
1. Hero, Zhang Yimou, China The simplest, most complex and most beautiful
movie of the year, reimagining Chinese history as a series of showdowns and betrayals. Condemned
in some quarters for being preoccupied with endorsing fascism, it’s actually a mythic illustration
of charisma and treachery’s central role in leadership.
2. The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson, USA Gibson’s uncompromisingly
personal interpretation of Christ’s murder illustrated the worst all-or-nothing tendencies
of modern movie criticism, which myopically insists that a movie’s problematic aspects negate
its esthetic virtues.
3. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Wes Anderson, USA Discussions
of Anderson’s maritime dream tend to fixate on the obvious cinematic references while ignoring
the clearest source of Anderson’s peculiar magic: “Peanuts.”Aquatic asks what happens
when pop simplicity is complicated by real-world darkness and pain.
4. The Incredibles, Brad Bird, USA A straight-up fantasy adventure
plus loving spoof of James Bond, Star Wars, Kubrick and others, The Incredibles is also an inquiry into the need for heroes and myths and the plight of exceptional people in a society
that prizes mediocrity.
5. Son Frère, Patrice Chereau, France This time-shifting
tale of two estranged siblings (one with a blood disorder) is the year’s rawest and most intimate
drama. Probably the greatest gay-themed film in the last 10 years, and the most boldly romantic
since Cyril Collard’s Savage Nights.
6. The Terminal, Steven Spielberg, USA The master’s large-scale,
politically complex, sociologically exact comedy-drama about a stateless Eastern European
man trapped in an airport was underappreciated by audiences and critics alike. Sweet-souled films
7. Osama, Siddiq Barmak, Afghanistan Barmak’s movie about a girl posing
as a boy in Islamic fundamentalist-dominated, male-centered Afghanistan was a little masterwork
of melodrama, agitprop and formal precision.
8. Bright Leaves, Ross McElwee, USA Another laid-back masterwork
from North Carolina filmmaker Ross McElwee, who perfected the first-person, ruminative format
later corrupted by the likes of Michael Moore, Morgan Spurlock, Nick Broomfield and other showboaters.
9. Gozu, Takashi Miike, Japan As demented as any Miike film, and perhaps
sillier than most, this tale of a gangster who mysteriously loses his boss in a small town unfolds
with the dark logic of a nightmare. Just when you think it can’t get any more perverse, it does.
10. Primer, Shane Carruth, USA Carruth’s microbudget sci-fi picture
about a young scientist building a time machine received respectful, sometimes dazzled, but usually
puzzled reviews, along with pans from people who couldn’t make heads or tails of it or who thought
it was pretentious, incoherent and cold. Kubrick’s movies got the same reception.