1. Before Sunset (Richard Linklater, 2004)
2. Dogville (170 minute version) (Lars von Trier, 2003)
3. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)
4. Twentynine Palms (Bruno Dumont, 2003)
5. The Dreamers (Bernardo Bertolucci, 2003)
6. The Assassination of Richard Nixon (Niels Mueller, 2004)
7. Last Life in the Universe (Pen-ek Ratanaruang, 2003)
8. Elephant (Gus Van Sant, 2003)
9. Kinsey (Bill Condon, 2004)
10. The Holy Girl (Lucrecia Martel, 2004)
George Papadopoulos is the General Manager of Melbourne-based independent film distributor, Accent Film Entertainment.
Of the new UK releases I saw in 2004, the five best were:
1. The Return (Andrei Zvyagintsev, 2003)
A true masterpiece, and the best new film I’ve seen since Yi Yi in 2001.
2. Touching the Void (Kevin MacDonald, 2003)
3. The Twilight Samurai (Yoji Yamada, 2002)
4. Triple Agent (Eric Rohmer, 2004)
5. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Biggest disappointment, compared with its critical acclaim: Uzak (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2003) (perhaps I was missing something). Best film I saw at the London Film Festival: The House Keys (Gianni Amelio, 2004), due for UK release in 2005.
Alan Pavelin has been interested in international cinema since the 1960s, and has been writing about it since the 1980s. He has a particular interest in the portrayal of religious themes in film, and wrote a small self-published book, Fifty Religious Films (UK, 1990).
10th District Court: Moments of Trial (Raymond Depardon, 2004)
2046 (Wong Kar-wai, 2004)
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (Adam McKay, 2004)
L’esquive (Abdel Kechiche, 2004)
Mondovino (Jonathan Nossiter, 2004)
Moolaadé (Ousmane Sembene, 2004)
Los Muertos (Lisandro Alonso, 2004)
The Time We Killed (Jennifer Reeves, 2004)
Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2004)
Mark Peranson is editor/publisher of CinemaScope and a programmer at the Vancouver International Film Festival.
Favourite feature-length films:
1. Birth of the Seanema (Sasithorn Ariyavicha, 2004)
This is my favourite Thai film ever. I think Sasithorn deserves to be ranked alongside Maya Deren, Marguerite Duras, Chantal Akerman, and Su Friedrich as one of the most talented and uncompromising female filmmakers.
2. Zmej (Aleksei Muradov, 2002)
3. Free Radicals (Barbara Albert, 2003)
4. Un homme, un vrai (Arnaud Larrieu and Jean-Marie Larrieu, 2003)
5. Seven Days, Seven Nights (Joel Cano, 2003)
6. School Trip (Henner Winckler, 2002)
7. O Rapaz do Trapezio Voador (Fernando Matos Silva, 2002)
8. The Policewoman (Joaquim Sapinho, 2003)
9. The Barbecue People (Yossi Madmoni and David Ofek, 2003)
10. Uninvited (Lee Su-yeon, 2003)
11. Ludwig – Requiem for a Virgin King (Hans-Jurgen Syberberg, 1972)
12. Little Men (Nariman Turebayev, 2003)
13. Tatort – Ausgeklinkt (Sylvia Hoffmann, 1988)
14. Everything’s Fine, We’re Leaving (Claude Mourieras, 2000)
15. Science Fiction (Franz Mueller, 2003)
16. El Evangelio de las Maravillas (Arturo Ripstein, 1998)
17. The Hours and Times (Christopher Munch, 1991)
18. A Thousand Months (Faouzi Bensaidi, 2003)
19. Seawards Journey (Guillermo Casanova, 2003)
20. Koma (Law Chi-leung, 2004)
Favourite short films:
1. Kickflipper: Fragments Edit (Shaun Gladwell, 2000–2003)
2. Mixed Up (Nadia Farès, 1999) – a segment of the omnibus film ID Swiss.
3. For You (Heidi Kocevar, 2000)
4. Totem (Maider Fortune, 2001)
5. Isle of Flowers (Jorge Furtado, 1989)
6. L’Heure de pointe (Antonin Peretjatko, 2002)
7. Other People’s Dreams of Me (James Lynch, 2003)
8. Granny (Tatu Pohjavirta and Mark Stahle, 2003)
9. The Possibility of Utopia (Julio Soto, 2003)
10. Let’s Talk About It…Harriet (Carol Duffy Clay, 2003)
Four favourite cinematic trends:
1. The Marvel of Thai Cinema
Five great Thai films of 2004 have one thing in common: they are all concerned with homosexuality. Fortunately, they come in different genres. Tropical Malady sits in an indefinable area between realism and surrealism. The Adventures of Iron Pussy (Michael Shaowanasai and Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2003), which features a gay secret agent, is a musical comedy that parodies the Thai films of yesteryear. Bus-Stop (Tosaporn Mongkol, 2004), which presents the tortuous life of a male prostitute, is as darkly beautiful, puzzling, and esoteric as the second half of Tropical Malady. At first glance, Down the River (Anucha Boonyawatana, 2004) might look like an ordinary romantic gay movie, but the calmness and the religious beliefs infused into this film make it truly outstanding and “enlightening”.
The last of the five is My First Boyfriend (Issara Maneewat, 2004), a romance/comedy/tragedy/personal documentary made by a director who had never had a boyfriend before. He attempts to overcome this by placing an ad. The film then frankly reveals how the first date between the director and a handsome young man who has responded to the ad, which takes place on a resort island, turns into a disaster. While most documentaries deal with or are inspired by events which have occurred prior to filming, My First Boyfriend is the reverse. The romantic relationship in the film would never have existed before or without the filming. I believe that My First Boyfriend along with the personal documentaries directed by Thunska Pansittivorakul are a milestone in the history of Thai documentary. Moreover, both My First Boyfriend and Czech Dream (Vit Klusák and Filip Remunda, 2004), another documentary which reverses the usual process, raise some curious questions regarding the ethics of documentarians.
Apart from the five films above, ten other Thai films helped make 2004 my most enjoyable year of watching Thai cinema. These are: Haunted Houses (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2001); Malady Diary (Teekhadet Vucharadhanin, 2004); Bangkok Loco (Pornchai Hongrattanaporn, 2004); Sooth: His Pure Story (Patana Chirawong, 2003); To Infinity and Beyond (Sompot Chidgasonrnponges, 2004); Hualampong (Chulayarnnon Siriphol, 2004); A Short Journey (Tanon Sattarujawong, 2003); The Overture (Ittisoontorn Vichailak, 2004); The Siam Renaissance (Surapong Pinijkhar, 2004); and The Judgement (Pantham Thongsangl, 2004).
2. The Excellence of Argentine Cinema
There’s been much hype surrounding Argentine cinema. Surprisingly, five films have proved to me that the hype was not overblown at all. They are: Lo Nuestro no funciona (Iván Wolovik, Nicolás Álvarez, 2003); Que lo pague la noche (Néstor Mazzini, 2004); The Magic Gloves (Martín Rejtman, 2003); Live-in Maid (Jorge Gaggero, 2004); and Whisky, Romeo, Zulu (Enrique Pineyro, 2004).
3. The Success of Documentaries
The greatest documentaries shown in Bangkok in 2004 are Alexei and the Spring (Motohashi Seiichi, 2002); Peterka: Year of Decision (Vlado Skafar, 2003); Dutch Light (Pieter-Rim de Kroon, 2003); The Orphans of Nkandla (Brian Woods, 2004); and Ford Transit (Hany Abu-Assad, 2002).
4. The Most Promising Female Directors
I am very impressed with ten films made by up-and-coming female directors, and I hope they will turn into some of the greatest filmmakers of the near future. Some of these films are unflinching, unrelenting feel-bad movies about women: In My Skin (Marina de Van, 2002); Or (My Treasure) (Keren Yedaya, 2004); Monster (Patty Jenkins, 2003). Some are beguiling, sweet, and romantic: Love That Boy (Andrea Dorfman, 2003); Easy (Jane Weinstock, 2003). Some are powerful and realistic: Some Secrets (Alice Nellis, 2002); Jealousy Is My Middle Name (Park Chan-ok, 2002). Some are poetic and enigmatic: Kiss of Life (Emily Young, 2003); Lineage of the Divine (Monika Tichacek, 2002). And one of them is a great documentary about women: Love and Diane (Jennifer Dworkin, 2002).
I love films which have strong, determined, indestructible female characters fighting cruel male villains: Bedlam (Mark Robson, 1946); Gothika (Mathieu Kassovitz, 2003); Mindhunters (Renny Harlin, 2004); Toolbox Murders (Tobe Hooper, 2003); and The Fifth Reaction (Tahmineh Milani, 2003).
Jit Phokaew is a Bangkok-based cinephile.
Favourite short films (out of 2,700 seen during the year):
Berocca (Martin Taylor, 2004)
Buildings and Grounds (Ken Kobland, 2003)
The Children of Leningradsky (Hanna Polak and Andrzej Celinski, 2004)
Diary (Oksana Buraja, 2003)
The Five Obstructions (Lars von Trier and Jørgen Leth, 2003)
Forest Grove (deep website by Maya Churi)
Marsa Abu Galawa (Gerard Holthuis, 2004)
The Meaning of Life (Don Hertzfeldt, 2005)
Towlines (Matt McCormick, 2004)
Visible and Invisible Drawings (Ira Glass and Chris Ware, 2004)
Mike Plante is a short film programmer for the Sundance Film Festival, a programmer for CineVegas, and publisher of Cinemad Magazine.
Last year I found myself rapturously enthusing over Apichatpong (“Joe”) Weerasethakul’s Blissfully Yours (2002). This year saw not only the theatrical release (finally) of that film (which, on a second viewing, I found every bit as sublime and breathtakingly beautiful), but the appearance, in the New York Film Festival, of his equally unique and perhaps even more un-categorisable follow-up, Tropical Malady, a movie truly unlike any other. This alone would’ve made for a remarkable cinematic year, but there was much, much more: with releases of Ousmane Sembene’s Moolaadé, Manoel de Oliveira’s A Talking Picture (2003), Thom Andersen’s Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003), and Tsai Ming-liang’s Goodbye, Dragon Inn (2003), along with screenings of Raymond Depardon’s 10th District Court: Moments of Trial, Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Café Lumière (2003), Jia Zhangke’s The World (2004), Arnaud Desplechin’s Kings and Queen (2004), Eric Rohmer’s Triple Agent, Jacques Rivette’s Story of Marie and Julien (2003), and, perhaps most memorable of all, the late João César Monteiro’s final film, the deeply private, baffling, but overwhelming Come and Go (2003), 2004 could only be described as an embarrassment of riches. Almost any one of these films would’ve redeemed a mediocre season of releases, but taken all together their reflected glory cast a shadow which threatened to obscure a further dozen or so movies, works like Michael Haneke’s The Time of the Wolf (2003), Lucrecia Martel’s Holy Girl, and Desplechin’s own Playing “In the Company of Men” (2003), which in a less bountiful year would’ve stood out as exceptional.
And entirely apart from these new releases, 2004 was the year I became familiar with the films of Joseph Losey (I found The Prowler , M , These are the Damned , and Mr. Klein  especially remarkable), Anthony Mann, and, most importantly for me, the towering Maurice Pialat, a filmmaker I found myself profoundly drawn to, and whose first and last films, in particular – L’Enfance nue (1968) and Le Garçu (1995) – moved me like few other works of art I’ve encountered.
Best new releases in 2004 (in roughly descending order):
Goodbye, Dragon Inn
Los Angeles Plays Itself
A Talking Picture
Notre Musique (Jean-Luc Godard, 2004)
California Trilogy (James Benning, 1999–2001)
Dogville (Lars von Trier, 2003)
Springtime in a Small Town (Tian Zhuangzhuang, 2002)
Blind Shaft (Li Yang, 2003)
The Time of the Wolf
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Crimson Gold (Jafar Panahi, 2003)
Bright Leaves (Ross McElwee, 2003)
The Take (Avi Lewis, 2004)
Sex is Comedy (Catherine Breillat, 2002)
Bright Future (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2003)
Fahrenheit 9/11 (Michael Moore, 2004)
I Heart Huckabees (David O. Russell, 2004)
Not yet distributed (roughly descending):
Come and Go
Kings and Queen
10th District Court: Moments of Trial
Story of Marie and Julien
Woman is the Future of Man (Hong Sang-soo, 2004)
Playing “In the Company of Men”
A Social Genocide (Fernando Solanas, 2003)
No Rest for the Brave (Alain Guiraudie, 2003)
Truth and Poetry (Peter Kubelka, 2003)
Newly encountered in 2004:
Thérèse (Alain Cavalier, 1986)
Mikio Naruse’s Repast (1951) and When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (1960)
The Big Red One (Samuel Fuller, 1980)
Witchfinder General (Michael Reeves, 1968)
La Guerre sans nom (Bertrand Tavernier, 1992)
Peter Watkins (esp. Culloden ; Edvard Munch )
Vámonos con Pancho Villa (Fernando de Fuentes, 1936)
Hollis Frampton’s Hapax Legomena (1971–72)
Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet
Conversation Piece (Luchino Visconti, 1974)
The Entity (Sidney J. Furie, 1981)
Days of Being Wild (Wong Kar-wai, 1991)
Jared Rapfogel is a New York-based film critic and a regular contributor to both Senses of Cinema and CinemaScope.
In no particular order:
1. Notre Musique
Because it’s the most contemporary film of the year. At the same time it’s by an old man, presenting himself as a progenitor or precursor, if for no other reason than to give hope to those who aren’t content to simply survive, but to struggle. His fatigued stare is answered by a dialectic: thought (Olga’s video “Notre musique” made with a “little digital camera”) plus action (Olga’s call to die for peace). Also because it echoes nearly every other Godard/Mièville) film naturally, effortlessly.
2. Chain (Jem Cohen, 2004)
An impressive feat of international location shooting, of hard looking, mixed with and connected to two otherwise unjoined narratives. Its everything-is-narrative concentration on passers-by and place amidst the indistinguishability of shopping malls brings it far above any number of documentaries on what’s called globalisation. Cohen takes the usual disregard for place and spending of images in most documentaries and stands it on its head for political purposes; malls of the world and what they do to humans, cogs or not, trying to achieve true experience amidst the consequences of corporate manifestos.
3. Los Muertos
The first humanist film. Maybe the first non-bourgeois narrative film.
4. Glider (Ernie Gehr, 2001)
Pure concrete mystery in digital. Like the origins of cinema. Like Lucretius’ “On the Nature of the Universe”.
5. Tres Tristes Tigres (Raúl Ruiz, 1968)
For its political blast of permeated style around dry as toast bourgeoisie. See also #6.
6. Blackboards (Samira Makhmalbaf, 2000)
For its venomous indirect and potent attack on ideology. A majority of movies try for this naturalistic-metaphor approach, never has it been so forcefully held forth.
7. Café Lumière
Perhaps because its circumstances are so specific. Purely a cinema film: actual sound, actual image, gestures, light and dark, emotions that change with the emulsion on the film. Plus it’s Hou’s warmest film and one that enriches both Hou and Ozu.
8. Merchant of Venice with Shylock Fragments (Orson Welles, 1969)
Part of Munich Filmmuseum/American Cinémathèque’s marvellous Welles rarities program. For the patterned dynamism of the completed footage and the power of Welles’ errant attempt at filming the Shylock speech in the desert under the worst conditions. All contents are visible in these fragments: lights, clappers, mics, Shakespeare’s poetry, Welles’ soul, heart and mind…
9. Sud (Chantal Akerman, 1999)
Part of CalArts and Bérénice Reynaud’s fantastic effort toward a complete Akerman retrospective in LA. With De l’autre côté (2002) and D’est (1993), at last an alternative form for the non-essayistic documentary. I wish television looked like this. The work was probably started for literary reasons of “the south” but despite this Akerman’s portrait is extraordinarily present and enormously USEFUL as an inquiry into a place where lynching still takes place, Jasper, Texas.
10. Murda Muzik (Lawrence Page, 2004)
The most singular film to come out of the US, and within genre. A straight-to-DVD movie written by rapper Prodigy, of Mobb Deep. A “rise and fall” thug story without dramatic rise and fall. In Queensbridge, NY “there’s a war going on no man is safe from” – a black man could be slaughtered at any minute. A reality that cannot not effect the form of the film. Like Paisà (1946). Unlike Rossellini, director Page was shot during the making of the film.
2004 was cinema’s year to show what some of the world looks like, like journalism. What it’s like in Sarajevo after the war, in the Queensbridge ghetto during a war, in a western mall during any war, in Tehran with a pizza man (Crimson Gold), simply on a train or in a cafe in Tokyo.
There were, for me, several formative retrospectives: the above mentioned Akerman and Welles, Gehr, LACMA’s Murnau, Viennale’s Ford + Straub/Huillet, UCLA’s Bush Mama (Haile Gerima, 1978), the Ozu Centennial at UCLA/LACMA.
1. The park scene in A Taste of Murder (Raúl Ruiz, 2004).
2. Ozu’s shot of an empty runway after a plane has taken off in Flavor Of Green Tea Over Rice (1952).
3. Jean-Marie Straub leaning against a movie screen in front of a full house, looking down reciting his will (Holderlin) in flat block-like enunciation at the Viennale Filmmuseum.
4. The whole of Trona (David Fenster, 2004).
5. The shots of the Louvre and the Seine x 2 in A Visit to the Louvre (Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, 2004).
Andy Rector was one half of FIPRESCI’s Talent Press 2004 at Viennale. He is a filmmaker living in Los Angeles regardless.
Fifty best films of 2004 (in alphabetical order):
1. 20 Fingers (Mania Akbari, 2004)
2. Alexandrie… New York (Youssef Chahine, 2004)
3. Anonymous (Todd Verow, 2004)
4. À tout de suite (Benoît Jacquot, 2004)
5. Bad Education (Pedro Almodóvar, 2004)
6. The Big Durian (Amir Muhammad, 2003)
7. Breaking News (Johnny To, 2004)
8. Bright Leaves
9. Café Lumière
11. Clean (Olivier Assayas, 2004)
12. Crimson Gold
13. Delamu (Tian Zhuangzhuang, 2004)
14. Goddess of Mercy (Ann Hui, 2004)
15. Goodbye, Dragon Inn
16. Incense (Ning Hao, 2004)
17. Kill Bill Vol. 2 (Quentin Tarantino, 2004)
18. Letter from an Unknown Woman (Xu Jinglei, 2004)
19. Los Angeles Plays Itself
20. Los Muertos
21. Notre Musique
22. Machuca (Andrés Wood, 2004)
23. McDull, Prince de la Bun (Toe Yuen, 2004)
24. Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, 2003)
26. Mysterious Skin (Gregg Araki, 2004)
27. Nobody Knows (Koreeda Hirokazu, 2004)
28. Not on the Mouth (Alain Resnais, 2003)
29. Oh, uomo (Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi, 2004)
30. Ong-Bak: Thai Warrior (Prachya Pinkaew, 2003)
31. Or (My Treasure) (Keren Yedaya, 2004)
32. Overnight (Mark Brian Smith and Tony Montana, 2003)
33. Peggy and Fred in Hell – Beginning, Middle and End (Leslie Thornton, 2004)
34. The Raspberry Reich (Bruce LaBruce, 2004)
35. Repatriation (Kim Dong-Won, 2003)
36. S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine (Rithy Panh, 2003)
37. Seven Intellectuals in Bamboo Garden (Yang Fudong, 2003)
38. Since Otar Left (Julie Bertucelli, 2003)
39. South of the Clouds (Zhu Wen, 2003)
40. The Story of the Weeping Camel (Byambasuren Davas and Luigi Falorni, 2003)
41. Tang Poetry (Zhang Lu, 2003)
42. Tarnation (Jonathan Caouette, 2003)
43. The Time We Killed (Jennifer Reeves, 2004)
44. Tropical Malady
45. A Voice in the Desert (Chantal Akerman, 2003)
46. Wild Side (Sébastien Lifshitz, 2004)
47. Woman Is the Future of Man
48. The World
49. Yesterday (Darrell James Roodt, 2004)
50. The Ladies’ (Mahnaz Afzali, 2003)
Bérénice Reynaud is the author of Nouvelles Chines, nouveaux cinémas (Paris, 1999) and A City of Sadness (London, 2002). Her work has been published in Cahiers du cinéma, Libération, Sight and Sound, Screen, Film Comment, Senses of Cinema, CinemaScope, and Cinemaya, the Asian Film Quarterly, among others. She teaches at the California Institute of the Arts, and is one of the curators of “Film at REDCAT”.
1. Coffee and Cigarettes (Jim Jarmusch, 2003)
3. Performance (Nicolas Roeg, re-release, original 1970)
4. Capturing the Friedmans (Andrew Jarecki, 2002)
5. Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright, 2004)
6. Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind
7. Kill Bill Vol. 2
8. Man on Fire (Tony Scott, 2004)
9. The Motorcycle Diaries (Walter Salles, 2004)
10. I, Robot (Alex Proyas, 2004)
All ten of these films reacquainted me with different aspects of cinema and/or culture whether they were sequels, re-releases, returns to form, or even parodies. In particular, I was please to find Andrew Jarecki’s Capturing the Friedmans proving that, despite the best efforts of Michael Moore, the cinema documentary has not yet become television simply projected onto a bigger screen. Finally, Alex Proyas’ I, Robot successfully showed that a big-budget film can make philosophical questions and political issues accessible to kids without bashing them over the head with easy answers.
Mark Richardson is an undergraduate in philosophy at the University of Dundee, Scotland.
The Year in Review (from Montreal)
It is really good to get the opportunity to provide and discuss a “global” rather than local “best films of the year” list. But, there are still a couple of problems doing it this way. Firstly, none of us can possibly see everything of significance, and secondly, after selectively viewing some 300 new films (including retrospectives) in a year, it is impossible to make a list of just ten of them. Perhaps we are at the stage where we should list the ten most interesting countries or regions of filmmaking in a given year. South Korea would have been my choice for 2002 (followed by mainland China) and French films (including those from Quebec) really stood out in 2003, with South Korea again doing well. For 2004, I would have to choose Argentina, where so many young directors are emerging and making films in the realist and/or minimalist modes. Unfortunately I had to travel far from Montreal to see these films: There was a wonderful mini-retrospective of New Argentine Cinema at the Hong Kong International Film Festival where I saw first features by Celina Murga (Ana and the Others ), Lucrecia Martel and Lisandro Alonso. I travelled to Toronto to see Alonso’s second feature, (Los Muertos ) and most recently to Havana where I viewed Martel’s magnificent second intimate feature, The Holy Girl, two other excellent Argentinean films, Whisky, Romeo, Zulu by first time director, Enrique Piñero, and Pablo Trapero’s third feature, Rolling Family (2004), and good new works by slightly older generation directors, Carlos Sorin (Bonbon, el perro ) and Daniel Burman (Lost Embrace ). In Montreal, I was impressed by the cinemascope, yet minimalist exploration of the cramped working conditions of a young bowling alley “pin boy”, Parapolos (2004) by yet another first-time female director, Ana Poliak and angry veteran Fernando Solanas’ documentary analysis of his country’s social genocide, A Social Genocide. How so many new filmmakers have been able to thrive in Argentina after the economic meltdown is a real wonder!
My “film of the year” would have to be Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Ozu tribute, Café Lumière produced by Shochiku in Japan. No one has ever filmed trains so lovingly as HHH, and here he shows us a contemporary Tokyo I’ve never seen on film in a way that combines his earliest, long lens, long take, widescreen style with late-Ozu. Hou’s version of a middle class father-daughter relationship, expressed in almost total silence, seems like a natural update of Ozu’s final shomingekis. Sadly, this brilliant, beautifully understated film will probably never be released anywhere but Japan and France. Also on the “quiet” side of Japanese film, I liked Yoichi Higashi’s Fuon (2004) (see http://www.horschamp.qc.ca/new_offscreen/higashi_interview.html) and found Naomi Kawase’s Shara (2003) to be an exemplary work of “insider” ethnography. The major event of 2004 was the Hiroshi Shimizu retrospective which I was lucky to catch in Hong Kong. Years ago, I had seen Shimizu’s Ornamental Hairpin (1941), and was so moved by its unusually episodic narrative structure and long take style. Now that I’ve seen more of his films, I’m ready to declare that Shimizu was arguably the equal of Mizoguchi and Ozu until he was demoted by his studio, Shochiku, following World War II. On the “wild” side of Japanese film, I was struck by Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004) and even more so by an early anime feature of his, Tenshi no Tamago (1985), which received a retrospective digital screening at Montreal’s Fantasia Festival. At the same Festival we were graced with the international premiere of another first feature The Bottled Fool (2004), by Hiroki Yamaguchi (see http://www.horschamp.qc.ca/new_offscreen/bottled_interview.html) and it is worth noting that on the “extreme” edge, Takashi Miike is (thankfully) concentrating more on comedy these days, while continuing to invent with Gozu (2003) and Zebraman (2004).
The best film to be shown in Montreal for the first time in 2004 was, without a doubt, Wang Bing’s nine-hour epic documentary Tiexi District: West of the Tracks (2002), which, amazingly, was also released in France, to great acclaim, I might add! It was another good year for the cinema of mainland China, with a number of films worthy of inclusion on a “best” list including yet another first feature, the underrated Cannes winner, Lu Cheng (2004) directed by Yang Chao, South of the Clouds by Zhu Wen, and, Jia Zhangke’s fourth feature (and his first officially sanctioned film) The World, although this widescreen digital effort is not quite up to the extremely high standard set by his earlier work. Together with this film, Liu Fen Dou’s first feature, The Green Hat (2004), Li Shaohong’s Baober in Love (2004), Feng Xiaogang’s Cell Phone (2004) and others, we find a surprisingly frank and sometimes nasty depiction of sexuality in Chinese films this year. Also on the side of entertainment, the “ugly” Miramax finally released Zhang Yimou’s Hero (2002) (now called “Jet Li’s Hero, presented by Quentin Tarantino”) in North America in 2004 and the “good” Sony have also just released Zhang’s House of Flying Daggers (2004). So, in this sense, I would have to nominate Zhang Yimou as the “director of the year”. I realise that a lot of people have problems with the guy for copping out politically and commercially, but, give him his due, he CAN direct.
French cinema remained on a high in 2004, with Catherine Breillat’s most controlled effort, Anatomy of Hell (2004) and Benoît Jacquot’s latest À tout de suite appearing in festivals, while Julie Bertucelli’s terrific Since Otar Left was theatrically released in Montreal. (I missed Godard’s and Denis’ most recent films, unfortunately.) French companies continue to be involved in the best international co-productions, and I would mention Maarek Hob (2004), by Lebanese-born Danielle Arbid, which deals with the war inside a patriarchal upper-middle class family rather than that on the streets of Beirut.
Once again, the films of the United States of America were collectively the most overrated of the year, especially documentaries. It is a “golden age” for the form, but not necessarily in the US, where so many non-fiction films are getting theatrical releases because no television network is willing to show anything that will rock the status quo, and hence tell the truth about what is really going on in the world. I loved Before Sunset (except for the very end) which was even better than Before Sunrise (1995), and, if there’s any justice, Julie Delpy should get an Oscar nomination. (There isn’t) And with Closer (2004), Mike Nichols makes a claim for being the greatest working US narrative feature film director – I still can’t get over how good Angels in America (2003) is!!
A Top Ten (in no particular order, after the first three):
Tiexi District: West of the Tracks (Wang Bing, 1999–2003)
The films of Hiroshi Shimizu (Japan) from, approximately, 1933 to 1948
The Holy Girl
Anatomy of Hell
Dogville (for correctly assessing the mood of middle America)
Breaking News (the best action genre film of the year)
Goodbye, Dragon Inn
Vera Drake (Mike Leigh, 2004) (a sentimental choice)
Peter Rist, who is a Professor in Film Studies at Concordia University in Montreal, has edited books on Canadian and South American cinema, and written numerous articles on Asian cinema.
General consensus, at least where I hang out: 2004 was the best year for movies (American in particular) in a while. Candidates for greatness on other lists (ones that I don’t necessarily agree on) include Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Dogville most commonly, but pretty much everyone could find something to champion. Even more remarkably, most of the films I list here actually were seen in the world and the US at the same time, as opposed to 2003-festival-circuit works that had only now just straggled into American view.
1. I Heart Huckabees
Screwball comedy with a quasi-philosophical bent – keen on big if vague ideas, though somewhat hell-bent on embracing them for pragmatic purposes. The torrent of dialogue can eclipse how enormously accomplished the technique is. People may disagree on how deep/shallow it really is, but the scintillating buzz is pretty undeniable. The most purely exhilarating film in years.
2. Kill Bill Vol. 2
The missing half of the empty tonal exercise that was Vol. 1. Tarantino loses perfect control for the first time ever, floundering to find his focus; the results, oddly, are exhilarating rather than frustrating. From its gorgeous black-and-white Western-meets-video-store-conversation opening onwards, this is the purest mythmaking.
3. DIG! (Ondi Timoner, 2004)
Will probably become the definitive document on the perils of the music industry in the ’90s (both for the extreme indie and commercial ends of things), but also a lesson in the seemingly forgotten art of verite documentaries: winnowed down from 500 hours of footage to just the highs, fights and really cool bits. Word has it that bootleg copies were a hot commodity for touring bands summer of ’04, which only confirms the film’s reportorial (or, more cynically, self-mythologising) value.
4. Before Sunset
It’s frustrating that Linklater trusts his visual instincts so little, because when his people actually shut the hell up it can be sublime. Still, for better or worse, he has constructed a film in which the opening hour of shallow and obfuscatory talk is an accurate portrayal of how emotionally vulnerable people circle each other, making the final 20 minutes even more compelling. The results can be cinematically frustrating, but emotionally they’re dead-on. Not the best film of the year, but the one that’s the most haunting.
5. Crimson Gold
Jafar Panahi is one of the best filmmakers currently working. Another solid portrait of urban Iranian life. Formally impeccable, leaving one with little to say; it says it all perfectly.
6. 10th District Court: Moments Of Trial
Some people had problems with Depardon’s incredible striving for objectivity, which they felt made it impossible to read the film with any kind of meaning. But the film works as a cross-section of Parisian society under duress, and also has one of the year’s best scenes when a lawyer, pleading for his obsessive male client, suddenly goes off and talks about his difficulties with women instead.
7. Aileen: Life And Death of a Serial Killer (Nick Broomfield, 2003)
Somewhat sleazy, to be sure, but Broomfield has an expert eye for America’s weird, out-of-the-way places and nails the local colour. Far more fun than any movie ostensibly protesting a corrupt legal system and unjust execution has any right to be.
Unnecessarily hedged by a descriptor as an “issue movie”, this isn’t just about the horrors of female circumcision, but an ambling-like paced movie that is alternately tragic and triumphant before you have a chance to notice it sneak up on anything momentous.
9. The Manchurian Candidate (Jonathan Demme, 2004)
An exercise in directorial craft, with the added bonus of a time-capsule approach to millennial concerns and a very, very cool soundtrack.
10. Kitchen Stories (Bent Hamer, 2003)
This year’s ersatz-Kaurismäki/Jarmusch film, albeit more slight and sentimental and far more talkative; the very definition of a minor pleasure.
The next five (in alphabetical order): Blind Shaft, Dawn Of The Dead, House Of Flying Daggers, Spiderman 2 and Undertow (David Gordon Green, 2004)
Vadim Rizov would appreciate your patronage at http://www.geocities.com/edwartell. And a real job.
Fantasy and Horror 2004
2004 has been a varied year for Fantasy and Horror cinema: two trilogies finally came to an end (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and The Matrix Revolutions) whilst the second Hollywood grudge match took place (Aliens vs. Predator [Paul W.S. Anderson, 2004]), predictable sequels and prequels appeared (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, The Chronicles of Riddick and The Exorcist: The Beginning) as well as graphic depictions of violence controversially entering into mainstream cinema (The Passion of The Christ and Monster).
In what has been as a typical cinematic year, the majority of the 2004 UK releases seem to indicate a general stasis within the genre but, amongst this predictable cinema lay a number of transitional moments: the hand-held terror of Open Water and the raw depictions of Monster proved that Horror is at its very best when not actually dealing with the traditional genre narratives but when dealing with the (very) real. Both films suggest that the genre can be more than just an array of complex digital imagery, opting instead to use real life events to combine the horrific with complex issues and situations. Given this, Open Water and Monster indicate what Horror and Fantasy cinema can be or, at least, move towards: a parallel, a metaphor, and a spectacle that moves beyond entertainment and quietly reflects upon our current situation, a critique of our increasingly dangerous times.
Similarly, two strongly generic films – Spiderman 2 and Hellboy – attempted to combine the spectacle of CGI with these possibilities. Sam Raimi’s Spiderman 2 not only demonstrated the director’s developing maturity as a filmmaker but also proved that genre cinema can coherently deal with issues relevant to their core audience and communicate them without drowning them under a tidal wave of CGI: as slick and as breathtaking as Spiderman’s confrontations with Dr Octavius are, it is his confrontations with himself that dominate the film. Similarly Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy is more interested in the protagonist’s inability to deal with unresolved emotional states – Ron Pearlman’s depiction of Hellboy is more a moody teenager than an adept superhero, concerned more with himself than those he is charged to protect. As such Hellboy and Spiderman 2 manage to resolve the issues Ang Lee bravely attempted to articulate a year ago in The Hulk, all indicating a possible transition for this genre, one that will hopefully see fruition in Christopher Nolan’s forthcoming Batman Begins.
So for better or for worse and in alphabetical order, my top genre releases of 2004 are…
1. Dawn of the Dead (Zack Snyder, 2004)
2. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Alfonso Cuarón, 2004)
3. Hellboy (Guillermo del Toro, 2004)
4. I, Robot
5. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Peter Jackson, 2003)
6. The Matrix Revolutions (Andy and Larry Wachowski, 2003)
7. Monster (Patty Jenkins, 2003)
8. Northfork (Michael Polish, 2003)
9. Open Water (Chris Kentis, 2003)
10. Spiderman 2 (Sam Raimi, 2004)
Based in the UK, James Rose is a freelance writer specialising in contemporary science fiction and horror cinema.
Best of 2004:
1. Broken Wings (Nir Bergman, 2002)
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 their father’s death. The film could be a metaphor for the condition Israel finds itself in without 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, 2003)
A headstrong Colombian girl of 17 (Catalina Sandino Moreno) seizes an opportunity to earn $5,000 by ingesting and transporting illegal drugs to New York. Marston offers 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 pleasures of the rich, but a richly nuanced coming-of-age story that delivers its hard-edged message with understanding and compassion
3. Fahrenheit 9/11
A sprawling but focused documentary that makes its points effectively without being overbearing and is guaranteed to make you think. It is a moving cinematic experience that is also filled with comic touches and genuine human emotions. The film is a powerful reminder that fundamental change is needed in our society, a change that goes even beyond politics toward a reinvigoration of the human imagination and consciousness.
4. Good Bye, Lenin! (Wolfgang Becker, 2002)
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. Interweaving comedy, political drama, and the story of a boy’s love for his mother, the film won me over with its sincerity and humanity.
5. The Return
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 but whatever the explanation, the film taps into the universal need to love and be cared for, and the hurt that results when that need is thwarted. Often painful to watch yet deeply moving, The Return is a haunting experience.
6. Café Lumière
Acutely observed and exquisitely realised, Hou Hsiao-hsien’s 16th film, Café Lumière, 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.
7. Old Boy (Park Chan-wook, 2003)
A wildly exhilarating experience that has plenty of action, state of the art effects, dark humour, and an existential mystery that will linger in your mind long after the final credits have rolled. 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 can be excessively violent but it has humanity and the characters’ pitiful sadness reminds us of our own vulnerability.
8. Blind Shaft
The suspenseful, savagely humorous first feature by Li Yang, Blind Shaft dramatises conditions in China’s mines, making a direct attack on China’s headlong dash to capitalism where greed seems more important than human life. Banned in China, Blind Shaft combines gritty realism with nerve-jangling tension and uncompromising social commentary.
9. Travellers and Magicians (Khyentse Norbu, 2003)
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 discovers the quiet places in his mind when he misses the bus to his 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 humour, gorgeous scenery and music, and astute observations of the foibles of human nature, the film has a natural beauty and charm.
10. Oasis (Lee Chang-dong, 2002) (Tie)
Oasis stretches our comfort zone to the limit with a boldly unconventional portrait of the love of a mentally disturbed young man for a woman suffering with cerebral palsy. The film depicts the joy that the relationship brings to the lovers, but also shows the unease of the families about the fitness of a man who has demonstrated emotional instability. Out of his willingness to have his characters confront the truth of a world that will be forever hostile, Lee Chang-dong offers a compelling vision of what love truly means and allows us to experience the oneness that defies reason and logic.
10. Machuca (Tie)
Andrés Woods’ Machuca is the powerful story of the friendship between two pre-adolescent boys from different sides of the social spectrum set against the background of the political instability in Chile in 1973 that led to the overthrow of President Salvador Allende. Woods lets the facts speak for themselves and Machuca makes its points with an emotional resonance unencumbered by bias or simplistic messages. The children are portrayed as simply children without the false glow of larger-than-life heroism and its theme of young people caught in the swirl of events beyond their understanding is universal.
Others: I’m Not Scared (Gabriele Salvatores, 2003), Bus 174 (Jose Padilha and Felipe Lacerda, 2002), Undertow, Kitchen Stories, In This World (Michael Winterbottom, 2002), Take Care of My Cat (Jeong Jae-eun, 2001).
Howard Schumann is a movie critic for CineScene.com.
Best of the Year:
2. Sideways (Alexander Payne, 2004)
3. Before Sunset
4. Million Dollar Baby (Clint Eastwood, 2004)
5. Zatôichi (Takeshi Kitano, 2003)
6. Kill Bill Vol. 2
7. Springtime in a Small Town
8. Vera Drake
9. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
11. The Five Obstructions
12. A Fine State This Is (Jessica Chandler, 2003)
13. Goodbye, Dragon Inn
14. The Incredibles (Brad Bird, 2004)
15. Bad Education
16. Osama (Siddiq Barmak, 2003)
17. Dawn of the Dead
18. Collateral (Michael Mann, 2004)
19. The Same River Twice (Robb Moss, 2003)
20. The Aviator (Martin Scorsese, 2004)
Runners Up: House of Flying Daggers; The Saddest Music in the World (Guy Maddin, 2003); Kinsey; DIG!; Spiderman 2; Maria Full of Grace; Fahrenheit 9/11.
Best Credits: Bad Education (runners up: Dawn of the Dead; Fahrenheit 9/11).
The Vincente Minnelli-Nicholas Ray Award for Best Use of Colour and Widescreen: Collateral (runners up: The House of Flying Daggers; Kill Bill Vol. 2).
Best Original Song: “A Waltz for a Night” written and performed by Julie Delpy in Before Sunset.
Best Comeback: Laura Dern (runner up: Virginia Madsen).
Best Film(s) Within a Film: The Five Obstructions (runner up: Bad Education).
Best Ending: Before Sunset.
Strangest Ending: Zatôichi.
Worst Final Shot in an Otherwise Very Good Film: A Talking Picture.
Best Soundtrack: Tarnation (runner up: Kill Bill Vol. 2).
The James Cameron Hubris Award for the Biggest Egoist: Mel Gibson.
Best Ensemble: Vera Drake (runners up: Sideways; Springtime in a Small Town; Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind).
Best Film That Almost Made Me Like Jim Carrey: Eternal Sunshine on the Spotless Mind.
Best Little-Seen Film without Distribution: A Fine State This Is.
Best Little-Seen Film with Distribution: The Same River Twice.
Best Remake: Dawn of the Dead.
Best Pre-Credit Sequence: Dawn of the Dead.
Best Line of Dialogue: “If you’re sad, and like beer, I’m your lady” (The Saddest Music in the World).
The Tyrone Power Award for Best Matinee Idol: Takeshi Kaneshiro (as Jin in House of Flying Daggers).
The Most Fun I Had at the Movies All Year: (three-way tie) Zatôichi – Kill Bill Vol. 2 – Dawn of the Dead.
Giving Sequels a Good Name: Spiderman 2 and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
Most Well-Reviewed Film That I Was Bored Out of My Skull By: Primer (Shane Carruth, 2004).
Yikes! (The Worst of the Year): The Passion of the Christ (Mel Gibson, 2004); Spanglish (James L. Brooks, 2004); Primer; The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Marcus Nispel, 2003); Bon voyage (Jean-Paul Rappeneau, 2003); Van Helsing (Stephen Sommers, 2004); Samaritan Girl (Kim Ki-duk, 2004).
Matt Severson is a film reviewer for Outword, and a photograph archivist for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Margaret Herrick Library in Los Angeles.
A “Top Ten” for 2004 is tough, so I’ve come up with a top ten of best viewing experiences, some being retros seen again or for the first time – no real order.
Playtime (Jacques Tati, 1967, 70mm print)
The Big Red One (reconstructed)
Los Angeles Plays Itself
Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (Todd Haynes, 1987)
Bucking Broadway (1917) plus Flashing Spikes (1962) – John Ford retrospective
Late Autumn (Yasujiro Ozu, 1960)
Garden State (Zach Braff, 2004)
Bad Santa (Terry Zwigoff, 2003)
Other highlights seen at festivals:
A Common Thread (Éléonore Faucher, 2004)
Ong-Bak: Thai Warrior
Exiles (Tony Gatlif, 2004)
Vibrator (Ryuichi Hiroki, 2003)
The Consequences of Love (Paolo Sorrentino, 2004)
Mark Spratt has a long working background in exhibition, cinema management, programming and freelance reviewing. The director of Potential Films, he has now been a distributor for over ten years.
Top Ten 2004
The Mirror (Jafar Panahi, 1997)
Bucking Broadway (John Ford, 1917)
Coming Apart (Milton Moses Ginsberg, 1969)
Silent Waters (Sabiha Sumar, 2003)
The Invaders (Thomas H. Ince And/Or Francis Ford, 1912)
Morvern Callar (Lynne Ramsay, 2001)
The Secret Lives Of Dentists (Alan Rudolph, 2003)
La Vie nouvelle (Philippe Grandrieux, 2002)
Werckmeister Harmonies (Béla Tarr, 2000)
Honourable mention: Mystic River (Clint Eastwood, 2003), No Room For The Groom (Douglas Sirk, 1952), Getting Any? (Director’s Cut – Takeshi Kitano, 1994), The Big Bounce (George Armitage, 2004), 21 Grams (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2003), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Kill Bill (Quentin Tarantino, 2003–04), The Dreamers (Bernardo Bertolucci, 2003), It’s All About Love (Thomas Vinterberg, 2002), Tanner On Tanner (Robert Altman, 2004), Elephant, Chats perches (Chris Marker, 2004).
Brad Stevens is the author of Monte Hellman: His Life and Films and Abel Ferrara: The Moral Vision.
In preferential order:
1. Springtime in a Small Town
2. Saraband (Ingmar Bergman, 2003)
3. The World
4. Goodbye, Dragon Inn
5. Notre Musique
6. Before Sunset
7. Café Lumière
10. The Time of the Wolf
Runner’s up: Crimson Gold; Million Dollar Baby; The Aviator; The Saddest Music in the World; Dogville; Father and Son (Alexander Sokurov, 2003); A Talking Picture; Vera Drake; Collateral; Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (Wes Anderson, 2004).
Most underrated: Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence; I Heart Huckabees; Strayed (André Téchiné, 2003); Cowards Bend the Knee (Guy Maddin, 2003); Birth (Jonathan Glazer, 2004); Spartan (David Mamet, 2004).
My rules were simple: any film seen in a first-run theatre or at a film festival during the past year (mostly in New York and Tokyo). All in all, 2004 was a terrific year for serious cinema, full of formally and thematically sophisticated masterpieces from across the globe, although few of them received the commercial releases they deserved and none of them received as much media attention as ideologically-charged white elephants like The Passion of the Christ and Fahrenheit 9/11. In that sense, it was business as usual, but 2004 was also a year of surprises: a remake of a Chinese classic that expands the emotional and stylistic range of the director (Springtime in a Small Town), the near-perfect sequel to a romantic comedy (Before Sunset), and Godard’s most lucid film in a decade. The most pleasant, and moving, surprise of all, though, was Saraband. The (probably) final testament of one of the cinema’s great modernists, Ingmar Bergman’s sequel to Scenes from a Marriage (1973) is an astonishingly vital, brittle swan song that features some of the most painfully honest moments I saw on a movie screen last year. All of which is to say that, as much as anything else, it was a year of gems that slipped through the cracks of an increasingly homogenised media culture, but still managed to offer glimmers of hope.
Richard Suchenski is a film student and scholar based in Princeton, New Jersey.
Imagine ordering a pizza and discovering it to be old leftovers, and if you are really lucky, some pieces still have cheese on them. Now imagine doing it for a year. That was pretty much 2004 in terms of cinema for me.
This may well have been the worst year ever for American cinema. With the exception of a handful of films, every American film I saw this year was a huge disappointment. Not one decent summer blockbuster and all those long awaited titles, like Aliens vs. Predator, turned out to be crappier than expected. Worse, even directors who never have let me down were a disappointment, like Michael Mann’s Collateral and Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s 12 (2004). And while I am yet to see Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator (2004), I’m not holding my breath.
Can I sue Hollywood for emotional discomfort?
It was therefore surprisingly easy to make my top ten list this year. So easy, that eight of the ten films already were on my list in January, and only The Incredibles was not seen at a festival.
As I don’t have the space to go into detail on each film, let me just say that each film, for me, represents a great story that dares to attack conventions and expand the boundaries of cinema.
Best of 2004
1. The Return
2. American Splendor (Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, 2003)
3. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter … and Spring (Kim Ki-Duk, 2003)
4. Silence Between Two Thoughts (Babak Payami, 2003)
5. The Five Obstructions
7. The Incredibles
9. Anatomy of Hell
10. House of Flying Daggers
Worst of 2004
1. Troy (Wolfgang Petersen, 2004)
2. The Last Samurai (Edward Zwick, 2003)
3. Brown Bunny (Vincent Gallo, 2003)
4. Kill Bill Vol. 2
5. Cold Creek Manor (Mike Figgis, 2003)
Henrik Sylow is a film critic based in Denmark. He runs a website devoted to Takeshi Kitano.
2004 Top Ten
As cinematic borders fade away and DVDs travel faster, these kinds of lists become all the more tricky. Some of the works listed here were viewed at home on video, others on the big screen in commercial cinemas. Altogether they comprise the best and most powerful works I saw for the first time in 2004.
1. Ebolusyon ng Isang Pamilayang Pilipino (Evolution of a Filipino Family) (Lav Diaz, 2004)
Lav Diaz’s follow up to his five-hour masterpiece Batang West Side (2002) is more than twice as long (almost 11 hours), and is the singular, most extraordinary cinematic experience I’ve had in a number of years. Ebolusyon is set during the years 1971–1987, spanning one of the most turbulent points in Philippine history – martial law and the complicated period that followed it; but the film looks at the micro rather than the macro and examines the effects of a changing society on a single rural family and its members. Filmed over an 11-year period, we see not only the evolution of the story and the actors in the film, but also Diaz’s aesthetic, and the very medium of cinema itself.
2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry and Charlie Kauffman)
I list both Gondry and Kauffman in the credits because both, arguably, could be called auteurs. With only five produced scripts, Kauffman has established himself as a unique literary and narrative voice, often overshadowing already interesting directors. With Eternal Sunshine, Kauffman’s script has met its match in Gondry’s style, and the marriage is nothing less than a holy, beautiful, touching cinematic experience.
3. Blissfully Yours
While his more recent Tropical Malady populates the lists of many cinephiles and critics, I was introduced to the work of Apichatpong “Joe” Weerasethakul through his earlier film Blissfully Yours. Violent initial reactions not withstanding, this work will get better and better as hours, days, and weeks pass after initial viewing.
4. Before Sunset
During 80 real-time minutes spent in France, we are re-introduced to two characters who are re-introduced to each other – we and they get reacquainted, frustrated, and start to fall again – before being jilted by one of the best and most thought-provoking endings in a romantic movie ever.
5. Surplus: Terrorized into Being Consumers (Erik Gandini and Johan Söderberg, 2003)
What DJs do with records, Gandini and his editor Söderberg do with sounds and images. Beautiful if not thought provoking, and with a style that suits its subject.
6. Bunso (The Youngest) (Ditsi Carolino, 2004)
Ditsi Carolino and co-director Nana Buxani follow up their last film Riles (2003) with another humanist documentary that puts souls where once we only saw faces.
7. Sanctuary (Ho Yuhang, 2004)
A slow burn DV-feature from engineer turned filmmaker Ho Yuhang that, like Apichatpong’s Blissfully Yours stayed with me long after initial viewing. A remarkable work that shows its influences but is decidedly original.
8. Last Life in the Universe (Pen-ek Ratanaruang, Thailand)
A powerful amalgamation of talents from around the globe – featuring one of Thailand’s leading filmmakers (Ratanaruang); Japan’s leading leading-man (Asano); and the world’s most famous cinematographer (Chris Doyle) – all reigned in by the script of Thai born American educated Prabda Yoon. Is what Lost in Translation defenders wished that film was.
9. Samaritan Girl
A shockingly melancholic chamber-piece on youth prostitution in Korea, paternal love, excising guilt, and ultimately, the desperate need for redemption.
Years in the making, and years in the waiting, there is no way 2046 could have lived up to initial expectations. Disappointment on initial viewing turned into appreciation on the second. 2046 is the reflexive work of a master revisiting and reconciling old themes and old characters. If looked at in the right light, it may be seen as an 8½ for its maker, with Leung playing Mastroianni to Wong’s Fellini.
1. Utama: Every Name in History Is I (Ho Tzu Nyen, 2003) In form, script, and content, an altogether original work exploring the myths of the origin of Singapore.
2. Apple (Sherad Anthony Sanchez, 2004) Starting and ending with a prayer, Apple is an elegiac requiem for the loss of innocence. A haunting, poetic film. Even more so with the knowledge that the director is only a junior in College.
3. Goodbye To Love (James Lee, 2004) An experimental dialogue-free short from the leading figure in Malaysia’s digital revolution. Simply exquisite.
2004 Top Ten
Most of the films in my list I saw at festivals or in Paris, but not in German cinemas. What German cinemas offer as releases is almost uninteresting for me and would give a misleading image of the state of world cinema.
1. Café Lumière
2. Le Bonheur c’est une chanson triste (François Delisle, 2004)
3. Country of My Skull (John Boorman, 2004)
5. Frau Fährt, Mann Schläft (Rudolf Thome, 2004)
6. Marseille (Angela Schanelec, 2004)
7. Nobody Knows
8. Baober In Love
9. Barefoot Chicken (Azuma Morisaki, 2003)
10. Shangkholad (Abu Sayeed, 2004)
For me, it is clear that Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Café Lumière is the film of the year and I am deeply ashamed that this film won’t find its way into German cinemas. This film is a homage from one of the greatest living filmmakers to one of the greatest masters of the history of cinema.
From my Top Ten I would like to mention two lesser-known films, which I greatly appreciated. The first is Delisle’s Le Bonheur c’est une chanson triste (Happiness is a Sad Song), the second film by one of the greatest young talents in French-Canadian cinema. Made on digital video and transferred to 35 mm, it seems to realise the dream of “camera stylo”. The second is Boorman’s Country of My Skull which I saw at the Berlin Film Festival, where it was not well received. I don’t understand why. Perhaps people didn’t like the love story or the mixture between documentary and fictional elements. I guess this film is a victim of the same misunderstanding that was directed at Renoir’s masterpiece The River (1951). Boorman’s film is obviously an outsider’s view of the history of South Africa, which the film never makes a secret of. Like a lot of recent Boorman films, this one is humanist without being clichéd.
Another big event I’d like to mention is the rediscovery of one of the greatest Japanese directors, Shimizu Hiroshi (1903–1966). A retrospective in Berlin proved that Shimizu was an outstanding director who can be only compared with Ozu; it also proved that Japanese cinema of the ’30s must have been one of the greatest periods in the history of cinema. Shimizu’s films haven’t lost any of their modernity and freshness.
A wish for 2005: that Hou Hsiao-hsien be honoured as one of the directors to enrich world cinema over the last 20 years, thanks to masterpieces like A City of Sadness, The Puppetmaster, Good Men, Good Women, Flowers of Shanghai and last but not least Café Lumière. I wish Hou Hsiao-hsien will get a big prize in 2005 for his life achievement!
Rüdiger Tomczak is editor of the film magazine shomingeki.
Favourite “new films” released in the US in 2004:
1. Before Sunset
2. Million Dollar Baby
3. A Talking Picture
4. The Terminal (Steven Spielberg, 2004)
5. Hustle (Peter Bogdanovich, 2004)
6. The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou
7. The Mystery of Natalie Wood (Peter Bogdanovich, 2004)
8. The Village (M. Night Shyamalan, 2004)
11. Conversation with Fritz Lang (William Friedkin, 2003)
12. Coffee and Cigarettes
Favourite scene of 2004: Celine singing “A Waltz For A Night” to Jesse at the conclusion of Before Sunset.
Favourite shot of 2004: The camera following Viktor’s cab into Times Square and panning up to the sky at the end of The Terminal.
Some favourite “old films” seen for the first time in 2004:
Breathless (Jim McBride, 1983)
Buddy, Buddy (Billy Wilder, 1981)
The Carey Treatment (Blake Edwards, 1973)
Chesty: Tribute to a Legend (John Ford, 1976)
Darling Lili (Blake Edwards, 1970)
Dementia (John Parker, 1953)
The Honey Pot (Joseph L. Mankieweicz, 1967)
The Ladies’ Man (Jerry Lewis, 1961)
My Kingdom For… (Budd Boetticher, 1985)
The Nickel Ride (Robert Mulligan, 1974)
Pushover (Richard Quine, 1954)
Stay Hungry (Bob Rafelson, 1976)
The Sun Shines Bright (John Ford, 1953)
Voyage in Italy (Roberto Rossellini, 1953)
Wagon Master (John Ford, 1950)
Some favourite criticism: Fred Camper’s “Depth Perception” (Chicago Reader); Tag Gallagher’s DVD analysis of Otto Preminger’s Angel Face; Henry Sheehan’s review of The Terminal.
Peter Tonguette, 21, is staff critic at The Film Journal. His writing on film has also appeared in 24fps Magazine, Bright Lights Film Journal and Senses of Cinema. His article on Orson Welles’ unfinished film The Dreamers, which first appeared in Senses of Cinema, was translated to Portuguese for publication in the Brazilian film magazine, Contracampo and was also included in the book The Unknown Orson Welles, edited by Stefan Droessler (Belleville/Filmmuseum Munchen, 2004).
My 2004 in Film
In a year book-ended by a continuing human-made tragedy in Iraq at one end, and by a natural disaster of immeasurable consequence in south-east Asia at the other, it seems self-indulgent to even attempt to put together something as insignificant as a “best of” list. Nevertheless, the editors of Senses of Cinema have asked for one and I have to admit to a certain geek guilty pleasure in compiling such a list. I, of course, stand by the following statements and opinions, but the Achilles’ heel of any such list is that it forecloses any real opportunity for criticism, for an elucidation of why some of the following works meant so much (or so little to me). I’d love to write more on Notre Musique, The Company (Robert Altman, 2003), Elephant and The Five Obstructions to fully explain why I think they are important works. Or to explain more thoroughly why I think The Dreamers was sadly neglected. The best one can hope from such a list is to indicate that 2004 – despite all the evidence against it – was not a completely crap year for film and, that indeed, going to the cinema continues to be both a discovery and a pleasure.
It seems apt that, in a year in which cinema offered precious little inspiration, it was the septuagenarian Jean-Luc Godard who gave us the year’s most complex and interesting film in Notre Musique. The film is a melancholy and brave investigation into the relationship between the image, statehood and war. I call the film brave because Godard did not shy away from placing the relationship between the Israeli citizen and the Palestinian non-citizen at the centre of the film’s exploration of war’s consequence on language and identity. Watching Notre Musique, as with the best of Godard, I was constantly alive to the possibilities of sound and music and image. But as always with the best of his work, I was also encouraged to examine the meanings constructed by the play of sound and image and to be suspicious of my seduction by the moving image.
Undeniably, there were aspects of the film that were obtuse and arch. And while the use of Native Americans in full battle-dress to represent some sort of prosecuting spirits against Hollywood (and USA) imperialism might have been metaphorically apt, the symbolism teetered from pretentiousness right over into silliness. But, in the end, what matters is what remains with me months after seeing the film: the reconstructing of the bridge in Sarajevo; Godard’s lecture to the students; the difficult, passionate and resonant conversation between Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish, and the Israeli woman, both seeking a dialogue that can honour the authenticity and legitimacy of their shared tragic histories; and there’s the whole of the film’s opening sequence, where we see 20th century war mediated through film and video. Our music. Our representation of Hell. A great movie.
Also great, I think, were Robert Altman’s The Company and Gus Van Sant’s Elephant. The former was this year’s most pleasurable experience in a cinema. The Company has the slimmest of narratives. What the film does is document the workings of a Chicago ballet company and what it offers is a celebration of the body and movement. I don’t know anything about ballet but this film made me want to explore the art. Altman’s style is now so recognisable, and he has been working in cinema for so long, that you watch the camera glide in The Company, listen to the multi-layered soundtrack, and think, of course, “That is so Altman”. But while viewing the film, everything feels so organic and unforced that it is only later, replaying the film in your head, that you are fully conscious of what makes the film “Altmanesque”. He has reached that rare, wonderful space in an artist’s life where, while working freely and without constraints, as I think he was with The Company, there is nothing artificial about his artifice, nothing “stylised” about his style. This is his language; this is how he speaks to us. I also thought the performances by Neve Campbell, James Franco and Malcolm McDowell were particularly fine.
Since Good Will Hunting (1997), Van Sant has seemed to be artistically constricted as a filmmaker. The Psycho (1998) remake and Finding Forrester (2000) seemed deliberately forced, perversely commercial works by a director who had lost sight of where his real skills and passions lay. He seemed determined to prove he could be a reliable Hollywood hack. Elephant is a triumphant return to form. It’s also pure cinema, a film whose meanings are elucidated through the editing and mise en scène. This haunting requiem for both those murdered in a high school massacre, and for the killers themselves, is blessedly free of ironic distance or cheap stereotyping of adolescence. Van Sant makes us experience the tragic resonances of a story which so much tabloid journalism and simplistic editorial moralising had seemingly made us immune to. Walking out of the cinema after watching Elephant into the commercial heart of Melbourne in the light of day, I felt terror and I felt the profound realities of accident and fate. There’s no need for Gus Van Sant to slavishly ape Hitchcock to be a great filmmaker.
2004 also saw Todd Hayne’s Safe (1995) and Gasper Noé’s Irréversible (2002) released in Australian cinemas. Seeing them again on the big screen convinced me that they are indeed stunning and important works. Irréversible, nihilistic and brutal, can claim to be, symbolically, the first film of this new century. It mocks and nullifies the optimism and promise of the final coda in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Safe might just be the finest English language work of the 1990s. I was staggered by it when I first saw it. My admiration for it as a work of art increases every time I see it.
I thought Bertolucci’s sexy and dark The Dreamers, while not always convincing, was an important and under-valued work. Some of the criticism aimed at the director seemed both puerile and puritan. It seems self-evident that for Bertolucci, one of cinema’s greatest eroticists, the beauty of the human body, male and female, will always inform his work. It does not make one a paedophile to understand that this beauty finds its apotheosis in the adolescent body: even the figures painted on the Sistine Chapel speak to us of this truth. I was hoping for an ambitious summation of 1968 and its consequences when I first started to view The Dreamers. Very quickly I realised that this was not what the film intended to be (and is that even possible in a fiction film?). Instead, as an homage to cinema, and a celebration of that moment in youth where love of film and engagement in politics and ideas and the awakening to sex all seem to occur in the one resplendent, difficult, breathless moment, I thought The Dreamers was an achingly sad delight. Bertolucci is aware of the narcissistic self-absorption of its three central characters, its dreamers: the jarring, final shot of the movie makes this abundantly clear. These precocious bourgeois film brats will have to awaken to the reality of guns and blood. Wasn’t that the lesson filmmakers learnt after ’68? You stop dreaming; or, rather, your dreams have to change.
Other highlights in 2004, roughly in order of preference where: The Five Obstructions, Woman is the Future of Man, Old Boy, Tintin and I (Anders Østergaard, 2003), I Heart Huckabees, Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… and Spring, Capturing the Friedmans, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, A Cold Summer (Paul Middleditch, 2003) and 21 Grams. Through my local video store I borrowed Michael Polish’s Northfolk which did not always succeed in its ambitions but which was beautifully made and features excellent performances by Nick Nolte, James Wood, Peter Coyote and a young boy called Duel Farnes. Jill Sprecher’s Thirteen Conversations about One Thing, made in 2001, was moving and well-crafted as well as being unsentimental in its humanism. It stayed with me, as did the performances by a terrific ensemble cast, including Clea DuVall, Matthew McConaughey, John Turturro and Amy Irving. I thought the remake of The Manchurian Candidate was ridiculously over-rated. The original was sly and kinetic. The new version was earnest and turgid. I also thought the critical hosannas to My Life Without Me (Isabel Coixet, 2003) were undeserved. Sarah Polley is a wonderful actor, and she is good in some of the early scenes with her children, but she becomes more monotonously saintly as the film goes on. All in all, I prefer Beaches.
Worst films of 2004? Top honour has to go to the cynical and vile The Cat in the Hat (Bo Welch, 2003). Followed closely by the mind-numbingly stupid The Passion of the Christ. Bereft of any spiritual authority or ecstasy (except for, appropriately enough, the character of Satan who seems the only one aware that it is not only through the body that Christ suffers his Passion), the film is both ludicrous and shoddy.
Also execrable were Raising Helen (Garry Marshall, 2004), One Perfect Day (Paul Currie, 2004) and Shark’s Tale (Bibo Bergeron, Vicky Jenson, Rob Letterman, 2004). Mike Hodges’ I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead (2003), disappointingly, was also terrible. I did not see Van Helsing, Gothika, The Day After Tomorrow (Roland Emmerich, 2004) or Catwoman (Pitof, 2004). I know that must mean I am terribly elitist but I’m glad that Hollywood did not steal the hours from me.
Christos Tsiolkas is the author of the novels Loaded (filmed as Head On) and The Jesus Man. He is the co-author, with Sasha Soldatow, of the dialogue Jump Cuts: An Autobiography, and the writer of a monograph on the Australian film The Devil’s Playground. He is also a playwright (Who’s Afraid of the Working Class?, Fever, Viewing Blue Poles, Dead Caucasians) and a script writer (Thug, Saturn’s Return). 2005 will see the release of his third novel, Dead Europe, and of the play Non Parlo di Salo co-written by Spiro Economopoulos.
Easily the best new film I saw this year (it came out in 2003 but only got to me recently) was Manoel de Oliveira’s A Talking Picture: it reflects our historical moment with delicacy and force, finding symbolic weight in the quotidian without having to strain for it, inviting and rewarding thought. (For a more detailed exposition, I can’t surpass Yaniv Eyny and A. Zubatov’s essay in the previous Senses of Cinema.) On a rather different level, I enjoyed the new Harry Potter movie much more than the first two: although it was also marred by the overcrowding of incident typical in translations from adventure novel to film, it was more ingenious and atmospheric than its predecessors, and its closing credits were the first that I’ve enjoyed sitting through in a long while, probably – again to shift levels – since Skidoo (Otto Preminger, 1968). I have not yet had the opportunity to see Godard’s Notre Musique, Straub and Huillet’s A Visit to the Louvre, Rivette’s Story of Marie and Julien.
I have seen for the first time this year many notable older films, of which Make Way for Tomorrow (Leo McCarey, 1937) and Deep End (Jerzy Skolimowski, 1970) stand out as especially moving. Neither is commercially available on DVD; let’s hope the coming year remedies this, as with any number of other crucial and inaccessible masterpieces.
Farewells, too, to Jean Rouch, Marlon Brando, Mercedes McCambridge, Janet Leigh, and Russ Meyer, among other worthies – perhaps best made by re-viewing Les Maîtres fous, The Chase, Touch of Evil, and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, although, one imagines, not in the same evening. And, with more complex emotions, to Ronald Reagan, in whose career only one film dress rehearses not just his press conferences but his essential political meaning: The Killers (Don Siegel, 1964), crystal ball and X-ray, finding in “Jack Browning” American capitalism embodied in all its mendacity and concealed violence.
Erik Ulman is a composer and writer currently teaching music at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
Cremaster 3 (Matthew Barney, 2002)
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (Sergio Leone, 1966)
Black Ceasar (Larry Cohen, 1974)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan (Yuen Chor, 1972)
Team America: World Police (Trey Parker, 2004)
A pretty quiet year for film, though the Cremaster cycle was incredible and the re-releases of Intimate Confessions, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Safe were fantastic. Black Ceasar, which screened at the Cinémathèque, is one of the best films I saw in 2004. I was hoping to put 2046 on the list but it seems I’ll be 50 by the time it gets released.
Paul Verhoeven is a writer, honours student in film at the University of NSW and an occasional vigilante.
1. Notre Musique
2. I Heart Huckabees
3. Los Angeles Plays Itself
4. Before Sunset
5. Spiderman 2
6. Head-On (Fatih Akin, 2004)
7. An Injury to One (Travis Wilkerson, 2002)
8. Vendredi Soir (Claire Denis, 2002)
9. The Ister (David Barison and Daniel Ross, 2004)
10. Good Morning, Night (Marco Bellocchio, 2003)
Fiona Villella is co-editor of Senses of Cinema.
Day and Night (Wang Chao, 2004)
Turtles Can Fly (Bahman Ghobadi, 2004)
3-Iron (Kim Ki-duk, 2004)
20:30:40 (Sylvia Chang, 2004)
Abjad (The First Letter) (Abolfazi Jalili, 2003)
Mike Walsh teaches in the Screen Studies Department at Flinders University in Adelaide.
I enjoyed just about every sizeable film that had even a smattering of artfulness to it. However, looking back I see all the films I missed and wonder how different my list would have been had I been able to get out more or attend festivals. (My day job is cutting into my movie watching pretty drastically.) All in all, there were bright moments, but I was left feeling slightly unfulfilled last year. None of the films seemed to be addressing the rampant cultural chaos and despair I felt around me in 2004 (by this I mean beyond the bluntly topical reflection seen in The Passion of the Christ and Fahrenheit 9/11, somehow I was looking for a deeper emotional root to be dug out in a piece of film. It’s still down there somewhere.)
My favourites from 2004:
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou
Kill Bill Vol. 2
Team America: World Police
Wiley Wiggins is an actor and blogger in Austin, Texas.
Ten films I thought were really interesting that I saw for the first time in 2004:
Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter … and Spring
In This World
Skyscaper (Shirley Clarke, 1958)
Lost, Lost, Lost (Jonas Mekas, 1976)
The Flicker (Tony Conrad, 1965)
The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (Errol Morris, 2004)
Walk Into Paradise (Lee Robinson, 1957)
Deane Williams teaches in the School of Literary, Visual and Performance Studies at Monash University, Melbourne. He is currently working on a bunch of projects involving the study of post-war Australian film culture.
1. Story of Marie and Julien
2. Triple Agent
3. I Heart Huckabees
4. Woman is the Future of Man
5. Five (Abbas Kiarostami, 2004)
6. Stuck on You (Bobby and Peter Farrelly, 2003)
7. Anatomy of Hell
8. Raja (Jacques Doillon, 2003)
9. The Holy Girl
10. Before Sunset
Jake Wilson is a former co-editor of Senses of Cinema, and hopes to reappear as a contributor.
My top ten is drawn from new films which I saw in any theatre, including film festivals, throughout 2004. I did not include films that were officially released in 2004 in the US but that I actually saw the previous year, such as Father and Son, which otherwise would have made the list:
Playing “In the Company of Men”
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
Kings and Queen
A Talking Picture7
Story of Marie and Julien
In collaboration with Yaniv Eyny, Alex Zubatov has written on cinema for Bright Lights Film Journal and Senses of Cinema.