Some very nice features (seen this year):
I Was Born But… (Roddy Bogawa, 2004)
The Time We Killed (Jennifer Reeves, 2004)
Chain (Jem Cohen, 2004)
Los Angeles Plays Itself (Thom Anderson, 2003)
The Manson Family (Jim Van Bebber, 2003)
War at a Distance (Harun Farocki, 2003)
Jesus You Know (Ulrich Seidl, 2003)
Five (Abbas Kiarostami, 2004)
Esophagus (James Fotopoulos, 2004)
Los Muertos (Lisandro Alonso, 2004)
Scumrock (Jon Moritsugu, 2004)
Doppelganger (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2003)
Turtles Can Fly (Bahman Ghobadi, 2004)
10th District Court (Raymond Depardon, 2004)
Star Spangled to Death (Ken Jacobs, 1957–2003)
Also nice – some short films and videos (seen this year):
private_eyez.mid (Cory Arcangel and Frankie Martin, 2004)
Living A Beautiful Life (Corinna Schnitt, 2003)
Cone Eater (Takeshi Murata, 2004)
P.Y.T. (Tara Matiek)
Rejected or Unused Clips Arranged in Order (Seth Price, 2003)
Mala Leche (Naomi Uman, 2003)
Truth and Poetry (Peter Kubelka, 2003)
Decision 80 (Jim Finn, 2003)
Tedious Limbs (Devin Flynn, 2004)
Combat (Treewave/Paul Slocum, 2003)
Strategic Cyber Defense (Dara Greenwald, 2003)
Harmony (Jim Trainor, 2004)
Jennet Thomas Retrospective at Anthology Film Archives; From Tugboats to Polar Bears (Matt McCormick, 2004) (touring US and DVD); JPEX: Japanese Experimental Film & Video, 1955–Now (touring US)
Ed Halter is a film critic for the Village Voice and has written for Filmmaker, Indiewire, CinemaScope and other fine publications.
Ten best films released in Japan in 2004 (in alphabetic order):
Café Lumière (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 2004)
The Cat Leaves Home (Nami Iguchi, 2004)
Domestic Violence 2 (Frederick Wiseman, 2002)
In Vanda’s Room (Pedro Costa, 2000)
Kill Bill Vol. 2 (Quentin Tarantino, 2004)
Looney Tunes: Back in Action (Joe Dante, 2003)
Take Care of My Cat (Jeong Jae-eun, 2001)
A Talking Picture (Manoel de Oliveira, 2003)
Notre Musique (Jean-Luc Godard, 2004)
The year 2004 in Japan was marked by the surprising appearance of talented female directors from East Asia – Nami Iguchi (The Cat Leaves Home), Jeong Jae-eun (Take Care of My Cat), etc., in addition to Naomi Kawase (Shara, 2003), already acclaimed in Cannes for her first feature (Suzaku – winner of the Camera d’Or 1997). The quality of their mise en scène is undoubtedly superior to Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation (2003).
Best DVD: Bucking Broadway (John Ford, 1917) in supplement to the French semestrial review Cinéma 08 (Editions Léo Scheer, 2004).
Shigehiko Hasumi is a film critic and Professor at the University of Tokyo.
Elephant (Gus Van Sant, 2003)
Goodbye, Dragon Inn (Tsai Ming-liang, 2003)
Uzak (also known as Distant) (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2002)
Uniform (Diao Yinan, 2003)
Before Sunset (Richard Linklater, 2004)
Donnie Darko (Director’s Cut) (Richard Kelly, 2004)
Good Morning, Night (Marco Bellochio, 2004)
In My Father’s Den (Brad McGann, 2004)
The Return (Andrei Zvyagintsev, 2004)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)
Australian feature: Dreams for Life (Anna Kannava, 2004)
Documentaries: Bright Leaves (Ross McElwee, 2003), James Benning: Circling the Image (Reinhard Wulf, 2003)
Retrospective: Playtime (Jacques Tati, 1967), Four Corners (James Benning, 1997), Notes of an Intinerant Performer (Hiroshi Shimizu, 1941)
Print: Colin MacCabe, Godard: A Portrait of the Artist at Seventy; Jim Kitses, Horizons West: The Western from John Ford to Clint Eastwood, new edition
The deployment of computer-generated images produced visually stunning but conceptually empty overload in Hero (Zhang Yimou, 2002) in contrast to the rich narrative sparseness of Elephant, Uzak, Goodbye, Dragon Inn and Uniform. At the other end of the narrative spectrum, the surrealist imagination flickered brightly and mysteriously on cinema screens in Eternal Sunshine…, Love Me If You Dare (Yann Samuell, 2003), I Heart Huckabees (David O. Russell, 2004) and the release of Richard Kelly’s cut of Donnie Darko.
Bruce Hodsdon curates the program of public film screenings at the State Library of Queensland.
12 best (feature-length) films of 2004, alphabetical by filmmaker:
Ten Skies (James Benning, 2004)
Hellboy (Guillermo Del Toro, 2004)
The Intruder (Claire Denis, 2004)
10th District Court
Kings and Queen (Arnaud Desplechin, 2004)
The Bourne Supremacy (Paul Greengrass, 2004)
The World (Jia Zhangke, 2004)
The Holy Girl (Lucrecia Martel, 2004)
Moolaadé (Ousmane Sembene, 2004)
Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2004)
Alexander Horwath is a film critic, curator and Director of the Austrian Film Museum.
My 2004 was split evenly between San Francisco, Taipei and Los Angeles, and my travels illuminated for me the factors – be they economic, ideological, or practical – that shape not only what films one can see but also when and how one can see them. Out of these limitations come my favourite films of the year:
1. Crimson Gold (Jafar Panahi, 2003)
2. Undertow (David Gordon Green, 2004)
3. Goodbye, Dragon Inn
4. Goodbye Lenin! (Wolfgang Becker, 2003)
5. Balseros (Carlos Bosch & José Maria Doménech, 2002)
6. Save the Green Planet! (Jang Jun-hwan, 2003)
7. Bright Future (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2003)
8. Tropical Malady
9. Garden State (Zach Braff, 2004)
10. 15 (Royston Tan, 2003)
Other standouts include: Yutaka Tsuchiya’s Peep “TV” Show (2004), Jean-François Amiguet’s South of the Clouds (2003), Notre Musique, Martín Rejtman’s Magic Gloves (2003), and Brad Bird’s The Incredibles (2004).
DVD continues to be the most significant force in transforming everything from the definition of “final release print” to our relationship with widescreen images in daily life. I was most struck however with three DVDs that used the format to articulate messages in nuanced, intelligent ways, giving voice to a multiplicity of subjectivities rather than serve as publicity for a single studio, as most DVD special features tend to do. The Criterion Collection’s marvellous Battle of Algiers (1965) release included seven mini-documentaries that put into perspective the relationships between film and history, filmmaker and politics, and history and memory. Robert Greenwald’s Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism (2004) was primarily a DVD and internet phenomenon, surprisingly becoming one of Amazon’s big sellers of 2004 and somehow showing how three new technologies (DVD, video compression and file sharing) can reach populations outside of the obvious cosmopolitan cities. While Greenwald’s film was fascinating and eye-opening, it felt somewhat incomplete to me; the DVD for Jehane Noujaim’s Control Room (2004) found a way to transcend the 90-minute standard for documentaries by including over an hour of deleted scenes (including Al-Jazeera producer Samir Khader’s first trip to America which is as fascinating and moving as any in the entire film) and three audio commentaries, the most interesting to me being that of US military press officer Josh Rushing, whose comments reflect an intelligence and compassion unobservable during his propagandistic dispatches to international reporters documented in the film. As the film is basically a fascinating talking-heads documentary, the inclusion of ever more commentaries, especially that of Rushing who in a lesser film would simply be the film’s villain, further exposes the contradictions of war journalism as well as DVD’s power to map out such complexities.
Brian Hu is a critical studies student at the UCLA School of Theater, Film & Television. His interests include Taiwanese cinemas and popular music in film.
12 x 2004 (all in alphabetical order):
Running On Karma (Johnnie To & Wai Ka-fai, 2003)
Dumplings (long version) (Fruit Chan, 2004)
Greendale (Bernard Shakey, 2003)
Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle (Danny Leiner, 2004)
Howl’s Moving Castle (Hayao Miyazaki, 2004)
The Intruder (Claires Denis, 2004)
Izo (Takashi Miike, 2004)
Jazzclub – Der frühe Vogel fängt den Wurm (Helge Schneider, 2004)
Love Battlefield (Cheang Pou-soi, 2004)
McDull, Prince de la Bun (Toe Yuen, 2004)
Le Pont des Arts (Eugène Green, 2004)
Vento di terra (Vincenzo Marra, 2004)
Canciones para despues de una guerra (Basilio Martin Patino, 1971)
Estratto degli archivi segreti della polizia di una capitale europea (Riccardo Freda, 1972)
La guerra di Troia (Giorgio Ferroni, 1961)
Out of the Dark (Jeff Lau, 1995)
I fratelli dinamite (Nino & Toni Pagot, 1949)
Manila in the Claws of Neon (Lino Brocka, 1975)
Manon: Finestra 2 (Ermanno Olmi, 1956)
Saturday Morning (Kent MacKenzie, 1971)
Sonnenstrahl (Paul Fejos, 1933)
Winstanley (Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo, 1975)
The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (Lau Kar Leung, 1983)
Spring in a Small Town (Fei Mu, 1948)
Christoph Huber is the main film critic for Die Presse (Vienna). He has published on cinema and pop music for various film magazines, newspapers and websites and writes the program notes for Vienna’s Cinémathèque.
1. Last Life in the Universe (Pen-ek Ratanaruang, 2003)
2. House of Sand and Fog (Vadim Perelman, 2003)
3. The Taste of Tea (Katsuhito Ishii, 2004)
4. In America (Jim Sheridan, 2002)
5. Before Sunrise
6. House of Flying Daggers (Zhang Yimou, 2004)
7. The Edukators (Hans Weingartner, 2004)
8. The Machinist (Brad Anderson, 2004)
9. Cold Mountain (Anthony Mingella, 2004)
10. Spartan (David Mamet, 2004)
11. Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)
12. Old Boy (Park Chan-wook, 2003)
13. Tropical Malady
14. Grimm (Alex van Varmerdam, 2003)
15. A Very Long Engagement (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2004)
2004 was a successful year for American indie projects; the new works of Linklater, Gondry, Anderson may well be their best efforts and the stunning, controversial debut of Vadim Perelman is the most remarkable breakthrough in the US for the last few years. Another noticeable progression has been the widening popularity of Asian cinema, most importantly that of Thailand and South Korea; there was not a major festival in 2004 without two or three film from these two countries in the official program. Unfortunately, the crisis of art cinema is Europe became even deeper in 2004. Apart from the work of a promising German anarchist Hans Weingartner with his bittersweet satirical The Edukators and the admittedly not-best-to-date work of Alex van Varmerdam, the great depression of European cinema is evident, as I found much screen time at the local cinemas to be full of pretentious soft porn and cheesy gore, such as (François Ozon collaborator) Marina De Van’s pseudo-Freudian In My Skin (2002) and Pedro Almodovar’s disappointing gay noir Bad Education (2004). In general, this year was better for significant works of art and even mainstream movies become more profound so we should keep our hopes alive for 2005 to be even better.
Anton Ivin studies Japanese culture at the State University of Saint-Petersburg, Russia.
A simple top ten look at what seemed to be a very lean year in interesting cinema, but that which was good….
1. Twentynine Palms (Bruno Dumont, 2003)
2. Bright Leaves (Ross McElwee, 2003)
3. Sideways (Alexander Payne, 2004)
4. Woman is the Future of Man (Hong Sang-soo, 2004)
5. Brown Bunny (Vincent Gallo, 2003)
6. Foo Foo Dust (Eric Johnson and Gina Levy, 2003) – incredible short documentary
7. Tarnation (Jonathan Caouette, 2003)
8. Bad Education
9. Birth (Jonathan Glazer, 2004)
10. Dawn of the Dead (Zack Snyder, 2004)
(special 11th): Goodbye, Dragon Inn
Elric Kane is a Wellington-based filmmaker, studying in Savannah, Georgia, USA, towards his MFA in Film.
1. Tomorrow We Move (Chantal Akerman, 2004)
2. Tropical Malady
3. I Heart Huckabees
4. Kings and Queen
5. I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead (Mike Hodges, 2003)
6. Vera Drake (Mike Leigh, 2004)
7. Primer (Shane Carruth, 2004)
8. Raja (Jacques Doillon, 2004)
10. The Return
Next in line: Before Sunset, Bitter Dream (Mohsen Amiryoussefi, 2004), The Corporation (Jennifer Abbott and Mark Achbar, 2003), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Incredibles (Brad Bird, 2004), Moolaadé, Notre Musique, The Saddest Music in the World (Guy Maddin, 2003), Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright, 2004), Stray Dogs (Marzieh Meshkini, 2004), Twentynine Palms.
Not in line: Tarnation
Personal revelations: F.W. Murnau’s Die Finanzen des Großherzogs (1924), Boris Barnet’s Alyonka (1961), Playtime in 70 mm.
DVDs to celebrate: the Masters of Cinema series of Dreyer and Bresson.
Robert Keser teaches Film in the Fine Arts department at National-Louis University in Chicago. His writing appears in Bright Lights, 24fps, The Film Journal and Senses of Cinema.
Jonas Varsted Kirkegaard
Not Dark Yet
When an American love story levels with you, there is hope still. Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset – a sequel to his Before Sunrise (1995), also starring Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke – was my favourite film of 2004.
Matters-of-the-heart movies of the mainstream (several of which Meg Ryan has auto-pouted her way through) rarely dare to step out of their rosy wonderland of timid virtue. With Before Sunset, mature romantics feeling cerebrally short-changed have been given their due. But before arriving at the core of its merits, permit me please a brief detour.
In one particularly memorable episode of The Simpsons, the eponymous family goes to New York. Upon arriving in its most famous borough, they are greeted by a sign reading “Welcome to Manhattan, home of the world-weary poseur”. In that same episode, we catch a fleeting glimpse of ur-Manhattanite and seasoned observer of existential woe, Woody Allen. While Allen has always been too busy fretting about his mortality to really commit to a jaded view of existence, I think it is within the realm of reasonability to argue that, say, angst and anxiety à la Allen is a bit of a pose, too. But there is nothing odious about this insincerity of his, as it springs from a life-long, if not tempestuous, love affair with the poetry of pain. Allen is only happy, or least anxious, when it rains and, as any Dylan fan will tell you, there is no success like failure. The hardship experienced by Allen’s protagonists seems integral to existence, and hence inescapable. No amount of talk, therapy or talk therapy will make a whit of difference. And that is probably all for the best. That tenacious Upper East Side Elegy has a strangely reassuring echo to it.
It is by virtue of brutal honesty that Before Sunset reaches parts even Allen’s finest work does not. Linklater has the courage to bring it all back home and way too close for comfort. The Weltschmerz of Jesse and Celine lacks sugar-coating of any kind; it is one they can virtually reach out and touch. Their misery springs from bad decisions, wrong turns and loss of nerve. Celine is particularly messed up, perhaps even irredeemably so. But the fact that it is a mess of her own making lends the film its urgency and disturbing quality of “it could happen to you” (especially, perhaps, for someone five to six years younger than the protagonists) instead of Allen’s abstract “it has already happened / will inevitably happen to you”. The impact is all the stronger for Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke’s crushingly convincing performances, complete with everyday foibles, like searching for the right word and slight slips of attention.
Linklater allows his characters to explore, but never wallow in, their melancholy. The prevailing tone of darkness and despair is punctuated by flashes of levity, yet Linklater never makes the mistake of confusing comic relief with cop-out strategy: as left-leaning Celine carps about the trespasses of imperialistic powers, American Jesse politely enquires; “Any imperialistic power in particular you’re thinking about there, Frenchie?” While this joke obviously hints at the dismal diplomatic relationship between USA and France, it also seems to signify an element of stand-off on a personal level; at least initially, Yankee and Frenchie are both eager to come across as successful and self-reliant people and thus convey the impression, as well as convince themselves, that the other person holds no sway over them. They only apprehensively approach one of the great leaps of love; the acknowledgement that the loved one truly does possess a mighty power over you.
What makes Before Sunset stand out, as well as outstanding, is its warts-and-all approach to the romantic lives of ordinary people (which is just what Delpy and Hawke, despite their photogenic exteriors, emerge as). It’s that rare sight in American cinema; two truly troubled individuals, no longer all that fresh-faced, in a psychological striptease as full as it is hesitant. It’s not pretty, and it certainly is never cute, but mesmerising in its own judicious manner. Linklater turns up the dramatic intensity ever so slowly, and for the better part of the picture leaves it up to the viewer to decide which part of their somewhat meandering, but incessantly interesting, conversation to regard with greater significance. If the cinematic year of 2004 has taught us anything, it is that great drama may reside in small gestures, the ultimate case in point being David Mackenzie’s claustrophobic and compelling tale of souls turned sour, Young Adam (2003).
The final scene has Celine finally offering to Jesse what she now knows he has craved for all those years (Jesse earlier divulged the dire details of his dispassionate domestic situation with something resembling relief), but significantly she does so as an extension of a parody she is performing to amuse the object of her desire. It is a subtle and restrained, yet marvellously intense scene. Only viewed in its entirety does it reveal just how charged it is, but it electrifies by virtue of something infinitely more intriguing than the coarse brand of mainstream movie magic that causes everything to click and climax “happy-ever-after, goes without saying”-style. Linklater reserves the reunion for the reunited. The sunset of the title assumes the shape of a fade that gently enshrouds the star-crossed lovers, a Shakespearean night’s cloak to hide them from the eyes of cheesy commercialism.
[I am indebted to Geoffrey Macnab's insightful reading of Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), printed in Time Out Film Guide, Twelfth Edition (2003).]
The rest of my personal top five would look like this:
3. Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola, 2003) – yet another brilliant low-key drama
4. Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, 2004) – best anti-low key / downright noisy movie of 2004
5. Head-On (Fatih Akin, 2004) – flawed, but fascinating, and with sensational leading performances (and oddly cool-sounding German street lingo to boot)
Jonas Varsted Kirkegaard holds a BA in Film and Media Studies from University of Copenhagen, where he is currently writing his dissertation at Department of Cultural Studies and the Arts.
I submit this list knowing and fearing Olaf Möller
L’esquive (Abdel Kechiche, 2004)
The Sign of Chaos (Rogério Sganzerla, 2003)
Samaritan Girl (Kim Ki-duk, 2004)
Los Muertos (Lisandro Alonso, 2004)
Saraband (Ingmar Bergman, 2003)
Unfinished (Sophie Calle with Fabio Balducci)
Triple Agent (Eric Rohmer, 2004)
Ydessa, les ours et etc. (Agnès Varda, 2004) + Varda shorts I saw for the first time: L’opéra Mouffe (1958), Salut les cubains (1963), Oncle Yanco (1967), Ulysse (1982), Viennale trailer (2004)
Repatriation (Kim Dong-won, 2003)
Million Dollar Baby (Clint Eastwood, 2004)
Harmony (Jim Trainor, 2004)
Two Minutes to Zero (Lewis Klahr, 2003–2004)
Kung Fu Hustle (Stephen Chow, 2004)
Chain (Jem Cohen, 2004)
10th District Court
The Intruder (Claire Denis, 2004)
Spider-Man 2 (Sam Raimi, 2004)
Ocean’s 12 (Steven Soderbergh, 2004)
Oficina de notificaciones (Blas Eloy Martínez, 2004)
Playing “In the Company of Men” (Arnaud Desplechin, 2003)
The People of Angkor (Rithy Panh, 2004)
A Idade da Terra (Glauber Rocha, 1980)
Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan (Chor Yuen, 1972)
La Mémoire courte (Eduardo de Gregorio, 1982)
Sullivan’s Banks (Heinz Emigholz, 1993–2000)
Seven Women (John Ford, 1966)
Wanda (Barbara Loden, 1971)
The End (Alfonso Sanchez, Jr., 1967)
Menilmontant (Dimitri Kirsanoff, 1926)
Coup d’état (Kiju Yoshida, 1973)
(and too many others to name…)
In January the marginal Brazilian filmmaker Rogério Sganzerla died, tragically, at age 57 of a brain tumour. He has left behind one last work of remarkable control and beauty: Sign of Chaos (O signo do caos) (2003), which hasn’t been shown at nearly as many places as it should.
In April I attended the Buenos Aires Festival of Independent Cinema – one of the most exciting events for movies anywhere in the world – for the first time, and boy do I feel lucky I did. The event was the last to be directed by the venerable duo of Quintín and Flavia de la Fuente, who were removed as director and programmer, respectively, just a couple months ago. Their mark will not be forgotten.
Gabe Klinger is a film writer living in Chicago.
My list is drawn from the 53 films I paid to see on big screens in Austin, Texas in 2004. I chose to see most of these films because of personal biases (enthusiasm for a director’s previous work, interest in the subject matter, recommendations from critics I admire). Considering my reasons for seeing the movies I see and also taking into account how many films I chose not to watch and the films I may have seen if they had been given proper distribution, making a list of the best films of the year seems like a futile exercise. However, I do think making this list is worthwhile, if only as a means to consider what I value in movies that make up my personal canon and especially if it leads anyone to see one or more of the films on it. I’ll begin with my favourite new movies, then reissues and film society screenings, and finish with the worst film of the year. Once again, I’m worried by the dominance of American films on my lists, which can be blamed on poor distribution of non-English-speaking films and my own reluctance to give unknown directors a try.
Favourite films of the year (first two are tied for first place, the others are in no particular order):
Los Angeles Plays Itself
Andersen’s three-hour essay film about the city he grew up in and its portrayal on film is accessible, funny, engaging, and the most thought-provoking film of the year. If you’ve spent any time thinking about film, architecture, Los Angeles, Hollywood, memory and nostalgia, a city’s gradually changing landscape, and the disparity of wealth between classes in the United States and the effect our class status has on the choices we’re given, this movie can challenge the way you think and the way you watch movies.
Another great film about class affecting choice, from a story by Abbas Kiarostami, Crimson Gold follows a passive, inarticulate pizza delivery driver on his rounds through the streets and into the homes of a cross-section of Iranian lives and shows how his seemingly unmotivated descent into violent crime was, in part, provoked by his need to lash out at the immovable forces keeping him trapped.
Dogville (Lars von Trier, 2003) and Kill Bill Vol. 2
These two films took a critical drubbing from some of the more thoughtful critics, but I think they have been undervalued. Nicole Kidman’s and Uma Thurman’s characters, respectively, were possibly the most interesting female leads in English-speaking cinema this year, and both films had a lot to say about the value the United States places on revenge (possibly unintentionally in Tarantino’s case).
The Saddest Music in the World
A hilarious and melancholy satire of US imperialism and Canadian identity with a visual style assembled from the spare parts of the first 30 years of cinema.
A lovely sequel that’s deeper and more ambiguous than its predecessor, partly because the characters are smarter and less smug, partly because there seems to be more at stake. And what an ending.
Coffee and Cigarettes (Jim Jarmusch, 2003)
I could have done without the White Stripes’ segment, but Jarmusch’s anthology film is surprisingly more resonant as a whole than any of the pieces are individually.
Zatôichi (Takeshi Kitano, 2003)
An unexpected mixture of kung fu, musical, Kurosawa, Eastwood, and Chaplin that takes the samurai genre into strange new places.
The Brown Bunny
Notorious for a scene of unsimulated oral sex and Gallo’s feud with Roger Ebert, The Brown Bunny deserves better, even if Gallo milked these controversies for all they were worth. The film is mostly a subtle, haunting travelogue across the United States, getting closer to how the country really looks than most films even care to try.
End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones (Michael Gramaglia and Jim Fields, 2003)
A rock documentary that avoids cliché thanks to its subjects. The four original Ramones (three of whom are now dead) are incapable of spinning the band’s history and their own behaviour, instead giving brutally honest insights that elevate this film above similar projects.
An experimental essay about growing up with a deeply mentally disturbed mother, Caouette’s debut feature gets closer to externalising internal human life than most films I’ve seen.
A warm, funny comedy about friendship and uncontrollable appetites that breaks little new ground for Payne but may be his best film anyway.
Instead of hacking away at his own weird path, Green follows a strong narrative for the first time. As a result, Undertow lacks some of the skewed invention of Green’s first two films, but is full of enough offbeat plot digressions and unusual acting choices to make it one of the year’s best.
Favourite re-issues and film society screenings of the year:
Stromboli (Roberto Rossellini, 1949)
Il posto (Ermanno Olmi, 1961)
Touchez pas au grisbi (Jacques Becker)
Taste of Cherry (Abbas Kiarostami, 1997)
The Circle (Jafar Panahi, 2001)
Bringing Up Baby and Only Angels Have Wings (Howard Hawks, 1938 and 1939, respectively)
Pickup on South Street (Samuel Fuller, 1953)
Le Cercle rouge (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1970)
Happy Together (Wong Kar-wai, 1997)
Lovers of the Arctic Circle (Julio Medem, 1998)
Worst film of the year:
The Dreamers (Bernardo Bertolucci, 2003)
A colossal misfire from a major director, Bertolucci’s film is a hollow, stupid ghost of his and other directors’ past glories, filtered through a trio of uninvolving performances and a script full of surface platitudes. The performers of Bertolucci’s love triangle look great with their sensual lips and ripe bodies, but the impression they are reciting lines they neither feel nor understand is hard to shake. And the use of the Bresson clip is one of the most inappropriate moments I’ve seen in a movie.
Josh Krauter loves movies and lives in Austin, Texas.
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (Wes Anderson, 2004)
I Heart Huckabees and Soldiers Pay (both David O. Russell, 2004)
Le Moindre geste (Jean-Pierre Daniel, Fernand Deligny and Josée Manenti, 1971)
The Sign of Chaos
The Aviator (Martin Scorsese, 2004)
Bill Krohn is the author of Hitchcock au travail (1999), available in English as Hitchcock at Work (Phaidon Press, 2000). He has also been the Hollywood correspondent for Cahiers du Cinéma since 1978.
After years in the commercial wilderness of Hollywood, Gus Van Sant makes his most experimental film since My Own Private Idaho. Tracking the ghosts of the hallways of Watt High, he addresses the Columbine massacre in abstract and implacable terms, confounding both chronology and “truth”.
2. Crimson Gold
A lonely, frustrated pizza delivery driver commits revenge against the society that rejects him: written by Abbas Kiarostami, directed by Jafar Panahi, with a superb, novelistic use of the mobile camera, Crimson Gold is essentially a movie of long silences.
Speaking of long silences, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s beautifully observed comedy of manners is a study of the long, tedious passage of time and urban loneliness. Essentially a series of deadpan visual gags, Uzak is predicated on a sense of lives that seemingly converge but never connect.
4. Notre Musique
Taking his inspiration from Dante’s Divine Comedy, Jean-Luc Godard remains the cinema’s foremost revolutionary, straddling the line between fact and fiction, story and history, heaven and hell. Taking his cue from several centuries of global terrorism, this film is nothing if not timely.
5. Cowards Bend the Knee (Guy Maddin, 2003)
Guy Maddin’s best film – along with his six-minute The Heart of the World – is yet another dazzling display of silent film pyrotechnics, peepshow melodramatics, Vampire serials, absurd plot devices and a hilariously discombobulated mise en scène.
6. Goodbye, Dragon Inn
Not merely an elegy for a vanished cinema, Tsai Ming-liang’s meditation on the nature of “watching” is at once obsessive and distanced. Suggesting the lost world of silent films, Tsai destroys all sense of “populist” cinema – like Elephant, it calls into play a series of empty spaces.
7. The Triplets of Belleville (Sylvain Chomet, 2003)
A bicycle racer, his mother, his dog, and three wildly eccentric nightclub singers. Result: the best animated film since the days of Jan Lenica. Sylvain Chomet’s hilariously surreal feature doesn’t sit still for every one of its 82 minutes.
8. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Yet another alternate universe created by Charlie Kaufman, this mind-bender about a man attempting to have his memory erased evokes Resnais as well as the Head Comix of the late ’60s.
9. Los Angeles Plays Itself
Crediting himself with “research/text/production”, Thom Andersen’s documentary on the imagistic notion of LA – is the city merely a series of scenes from the movies? – enters into a complex discourse on the city’s imaginary secret history.
10. That Day (Raul Ruiz, 2003)
People may wander into this film and swear it was a lost work of Bunuel’s. It isn’t – it’s one of Raul Ruiz’s latest, complete with an impossible-to-describe plot. Implacable, impenetrable, it may take five viewings to understand this movie, but it’s time well spent.
Second ten, in alphabetical order: Bad Santa (Terry Zwigoff, 2003), Bus 174 (Jose Padilha, 2002), Fahrenheit 9/11 (Michael Moore, 2004), The Five Obstructions (Lars von Trier and Jørgen Leth, 2003), The Fog of War (Errol Morris, 2003), Infernal Affairs (Andy Lau and Alan Mak, 2003), Kill Bill Vol. 2, Napoleon Dynamite (Jared Hess, 2004), No Rest For the Brave (Alain Guiraudie, 2003), The Saddest Music in the World.
Marc Lauria is a F.C. (Freelance Cinephile) whose other obsession is writing.
Top ten movies released in 2004 (to the best of my knowledge) in the US:
1. Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter…and Spring (Kim Ki-duk, 2003)
A perfect gem of a movie – one of the most spiritual films ever made.
2. The Corporation
The best “biopic” of a psychopath ever made.
3. Oasis (Lee Chang-dong, 2002)
Unlike last year’s unfathomable super-hit Lost In Translation, Lee’s film is a devastating love story of two actual socially alienated lovers in Asia who no one understands (in contrast to Sofia Coppola’s “nobody-appreciates-my-genius” lovers/losers who are self-imposed prisoners in a luxury hotel. Compare the two movies’ karaoke scenes and see just how great Lee’s film is.)
4. The Saddest Music in the World
A hilarious send-up of film festivals and nationalism.
5. Blind Shaft (Li Yang, 2003)
While Zhang Yimou continues to make fantasy pieces that coyly play up to Western critics’ insatiable appetite for reading every non-Western film as political allegory, Li Yang joins such young talents as Jia Zhangke in making true-to-life films that show social change and its consequences in China – with tacit criticism much less directed at “The Party” and more directed at society and human nature. Refreshingly close to the May 4th/Lu Xun legacy of realism that has made twentieth century Chinese culture so awe-inspiring.
Coming from an X-generationer, this disturbing documentary speaks to how our entire lives are now made to go directly to video.
A touching piece on gang youth – some growing together, some apart.
8. Born Into Brothels (Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman, 2004)
An inspiring film on how images can change people’s lives.
9. Bad Education
Probably not his best, but it’s heartening to see Almodovar get closer to making a gay classic.
10. The Incredibles and The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
To think that even in Hollywood, smart, funny and moving films still have a chance!
Honourable mentions for doing their part in trying to reveal the mendacity of the Bush administration and its supporters:
Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War Against Journalism
And especially the re-release of Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers, which did more to explain the contemporary situation in the world than any other film released this year.
Most overrated: Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle: lauded for breaking racial stereotypes, this stupid stoner film reeks of homophobia. In a year where a right-wing fascist government maintained power by playing up to (or down to) queer stereotypes, we don’t need offensive stuff like this film getting any attention.
Kevin Lawrence is a former University of Chicago PhD student in East Asian Languages and Civilizations, who now lives, works and (obsessively) watches movies in New York City.
1. Fahrenheit 9/11
2. Ana and the Others (Celina Murga, 2002)
3. Los Angeles Plays Itself
4. Daylight Moon (A Quartet) (Lewis Klahr, 2002–04)
5. Two Minutes to Zero trilogy
6. Los Muertos
7. Distance (Hirokazu Kore-eda, 2001)
8. Dawn of the Dead
9. Collateral (Michael Mann, 2004)
10. Down to the Bone (Debra Granik, 2004)
Charles Leary is a PhD candidate in Cinema Studies at New York University, writing a dissertation on John Cassavetes.
Maximilian Le Cain
Once again, all of the many very promising new films that I haven’t yet had the opportunity to see – from A Talking Picture to Bad Santa, Story of Marie and Julien to The Brown Bunny, Notre Musique to Gozu (Takashi Miike, 2003), 2046 (Wong Kar-wai, 2004) to Tropical Malady – forbid me from twisting the following lists into any semblance of a comprehensive overview of cinema in ’04. All I can say is that in my disorganised scramble not to miss anything good that came my way, I saw more outstanding films this year than I did in ’03.
These ones were great:
Shara (Naomi Kawase, 2003)
Harry’s Passion (James Fotopoulos)
Good Morning, Night (Marco Bellocchio, 2003)
EKG Expositus (Michael Bryntrupp, 2003)
99 Years of My Life (Marja Mikkonen, 2003)
The Company (Robert Altman, 2003) the first new Altman to have excited me in more years than I dare to admit…
I also really liked:
Abjad (The First Letter) (Abolfazl Jalili, 2003)
Women in the Mirror (Kiju Yoshida, 2002)
The Five Obstructions
Coffee and Cigarettes
Kill Bill Vol. 2
And a special mention of two astonishing, comparatively unknown short Irish films from the early ’70s that I saw at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh, both by Joe Comerford: Emptigon and Withdrawal. These brilliant, hugely atmospheric works’ successful marriage of hauntingly seedy social realism and startlingly imaginative formal experimentation make them very possibly the finest movies Ireland has yet produced; I’ve certainly never seen their equal. Withdrawal, in particular, contains scenes and images worthy of Ferrara at his best.
Maximilian Le Cain is a filmmaker and cinephile living in Cork City, Ireland.
I managed to catch only five new movies in 2004, The Dreamers, Troy (Wolfgang Petersen, 2004), Hero, Alexander (Oliver Stone, 2004), and House of Flying Daggers, so I can’t really comment on the best movies of the year, but I feel that some of these movies are really good, and have been unfairly treated, to varying degrees. I’m writing this to say how they may have been misinterpreted, how I felt, etc.
1. Bertolucci has said that the actions of the characters in The Dreamers have a political point, and the film is indeed utterly trivial if seen that way. But I think you should trust the tale, not the teller, and the characters in the film are very much recognisable from the director’s past films, namely, privileged, solipsistic individuals who are very much cloistered from the realities of the outside world. Bertolucci’s characters tend to just flirt with politics for personal reasons, such as their parents, psychological hang-ups, etc. and they are inevitably disillusioned by it. The characters in this film think they are politically enlightened aesthetes, but are in fact pretentious, obnoxious kids who just want contact with the outside world. The film is lighthearted because it is rather affectionate towards its characters, but I think it is more truthful about a lot of things than most people, or at least I, would want to admit.
2. I agree with most people that Hero‘s visuals are staggering, but all I can say is that the film left me cold. The film is just not as rich, or ambiguous as it wants to be, and I never got the feeling that the people who made this movie really believed in it.
3. As much as I was indifferent towards Hero, I found House of Flying Daggers moving. I think all the (increasingly implausible) plot revelations, false identities, and role reversals are meant to be implausible, and ultimately, unimportant, because the film’s “point” is that such things matter not at all in the end, and the only thing that one can’t put a charade on is one’s feelings towards another person. And I strongly disagree with those who felt that the ending of the movie is laughable, with the false death and all. If the movie just ends with the three people killing one another in some manner, it would be an artificially “tragic” ending. The feeling evoked by the actual ending is a far more complex and refined one, because when you ponder the meaning of the characters’ actions at the end of the movie, you realise that they are not trying to kill one another but all three are in fact seeking their own deaths. The characters’ eventual choices “prove” to the audience why things cannot end happily for any one of them. I found it a beautiful ending.
4. I’m confounded by all the hostility towards Alexander, because it is one of the most ambitious movies I’ve seen in some while; we’ve never seen antiquity recreated in movies with the scale and the detail shown here, and even a cursory reading on the subject would convince you that Stone is trying to present a responsible and balanced portrait (in fact, you will be convinced more of the film’s attempt at impartiality the more you read about the subject). It is very easy, not difficult, to envision a character as either a hero or a villain. The film presents a genuinely contradictory and ultimately, tragic, figure: a tyrant who’s more tormented than driven; a conqueror who’s magnanimous towards the conquered; and a mortal who wants to be a god for very human reasons. If the film sees Alexander as an exemplar of Homeric values, it stresses the ambiguous nature of such values, by showing the horrific aftermath of a war, and by revealing that his empire was ultimately ephemeral. The film insists that a feat such as Alexander’s is not achieved in temperance or sanity, and that civilisations are built more on individuals’ blind ambitions than on ideals and principles.
5. As for Troy, though, the less said about it the better.
Hwanhee Lee wrote the Terrence Malick entry in Senses of Cinema‘s Great Directors critical database.
The following movies are not necessarily the best or my favourite new films seen in 2004, but they are the ones that had the most influence on shaping my thoughts and sensibilities over the course of the year.
First, these four movies pushed me more than the rest to define a clear set of aesthetic principles by which to evaluate them. In each case I felt compelled to challenge what I saw as a consensus herd mentality that threatened to overdetermine what significance these films had, while overlooking certain aesthetic or sociopolitical factors that made them vital sites of dispute concerning the state of our world and our cinema:
The Corporation and The World, however unassailable in their intentions, demonstrated how easy it is to pay lipservice to audience’s leftist leanings by offering a laundry list of problems, without breaking new ground in insights, ideas or aesthetics.
Four films that took the legacies of people’s personal or cinematic histories (or both) to contend with the past while charting paths towards the future:
Four bellwethers for the emerging generation of do-it-yourself, microbudget, handheld digital auteurs:
The creative energy and eagerness to both challenge and entertain viewers among Asian filmmakers is unmatched in the world. Vibrator (Hiroki Ryuichi, 2003) and Running on Karma (Johnny To and Wai Ka Fai, 2003) stood out for me, because they excelled at harnessing their visual wit and startling rhythms to genuine human problems and feelings (outside of Asia, only Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind could compete).
I can’t think of another film I saw last year that had as much patience, attentiveness and openness to contemporary life as Café Lumière.
Here are three more movies that didn’t influence me in a manner to be easily categorised or explained; they just kind of left me in a general state of breathless awe:
The Big Red One (the reconstruction) (Sam Fuller, 1980)
Million Dollar Baby
In each of these, there’s clearly a lifetime of personal observation, reflection and emotion invested in the world depicted – every great filmmaker should aspire to this level of expression.
Image that haunts me the most: Roddy Bogawa flipping through pages of BAM magazine in I Was Born, But… – because it’s an image from my own life that I had forgotten, and the fact of almost forgetting shakes me to the core.
Moment that moved me the most: Nathaniel Kahn being told by a random Bangladeshi architect that his estranged father Louis was a great father in My Architect.
Runners up: The boat ride on the clouds in South of the Clouds (Zhu Wen, 2003), the dance numbers in 15, the intertitles in Vibrator, a mob of teenage Brazilian fans swarming the Ramones in End of the Century, Andy Lau’s karmic visions in Running on Karma (Johnny To), Eastwood and Swank’s night time drive (the greatest night time drive scene ever filmed, with lighting that even outshines Godard’s Pierrot le fou) in Million Dollar Baby.
Best performances: Moon So-ri in A Good Lawyer’s Wife, Julia Dufvenius in Saraband, Lila Lipscomb in Fahrenheit 9/11, Terajima Shinobu in Vibrator, Fatoumata Coulibaly in Moolaadé, Gael Garcia Bernal in Bad Education, Li Xuejian in South of the Clouds, Tony Leung and Andy Lau in Infernal Affairs I and III, Melvin van Peebles in Baadasssss! (Maro van Peebles, 2003).
Favourite experience at the theatre: El Autmovil Gris (1919), a landmark Mexical silent serial, screened at El Museo del Barrio in Manhattan, with live accompaniment by three benshi narrators – one in English, one in Spanish, and one in Japanese.
Kevin Lee is a filmmaker and writer based in New York City. His website is www.alsolikelife.com.
2. Before Sunset
3. Cowards Bend the Knee
4. Goodbye, Dragon Inn
5. Los Angeles Plays Itself
Adam Sandler in Spanglish (James L. Brooks, 2004),
Julie Delpy in Before Sunset
Ron Leibman Garden State
Nina Simone, just in time: Before Sunset
Bare feet, hovering above the floor: Spanglish
The vast, empty movie palace at closing time, waiting and waiting for something to happen: Goodbye, Dragon Inn
Anybody got a band-aid?…: The World
A piece of driftwood makes its triumphant return: Five
Ducks, ducks, and more ducks, in the year’s funniest scene: Five
“Hell” in a montage: Notre Musique
Favourite TV show: “The Wire”
General thoughts: Kiarostami continues to push the boundaries, with exhilarating results. The reconstructed version of Sam Fuller’s The Big Red One was one of the year’s most rewarding experiences. “The Wire” continues to amaze; nothing else on television or in the cinema speaks so well to the way we live in the world today.
Greg Leitman is Writer/Associate Editor of MAD Magazine (USA).
My real enthusiasm is confined to the first five, all reminders that a few people out there are making films for intelligent audiences. The list is based on what has been shown in Singapore in 2004.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Barbarian Invasions (Denys Arcand, 2003)
Look at Me (Agnès Jaoui, 2004)
Goodbye, Dragon Inn
House of Flying Daggers
Arthur Lindley teaches literature and film studies at the National University of Singapore, where he founded the film program. He is on the Editorial Board of Screening the Past.
1. Vera Drake
2. Triple Agent
3. The Holy Girl (Lucrecia Martel, 2004)
4. The World
6. Spider Man 2
9. Before Sunset
10. Or (My Treasure) (Keren Yedaya, 2003)
11. Café Lumière
12. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
13. Notre Musique
15. The Gate of the Sun (Yousri Nasrallah, 2004)
Phillip Lopate is an essayist and author of many books.
I began my year sitting in a Warner Multiplex in Naples with a thousand Italian teenagers throwing popcorn and mobile phones at each other whilst watching Dario Argento’s new film The Card Player (2004). Perhaps contentiously I think I prefer these youths to the deluge of pedagogic Argento “experts” and “commentators” (all male) one is usually subjected to at horror festivals. While it may seem gallingly predictable to claim the auteur’s new films are disappointingly devoid of the deliria evoking affects of Deep Red or Suspiria this film was an authentic anticlimax. Strangely The Card Player is a giallo with no confounding final convolution or real revelation. I was exceedingly engaged with the infantile farmyard perversions and Argento’s manipulation of Max von Sydow in his previous film Sleepless (2001) so your gall is not entirely contingent on my nostalgia. One thing both films do share with the earlier films is the consistently magnificent hymns to the transubstantiation of prog-rock to visceral violent writhings that is Goblin’s music.
A delicious treat available for the onanistic Argentophile who prefers to enjoy the gialli without Neapolitan teenagers was the late 2003 release of the 2-DVD pack from Germany of Door into Darkness. These are the four one hour telemovies produced (and some co-written) by Argento in 1973. They are all quivering with the almost painfully quiet tension a great giallo weaves, textured by an incidental yet hypnotic vision of early ’70s Rome, where you wanted to be a victim if it meant being associated with this amazingly cool world. Each episode is introduced by a 31 year-old Argento and the DVD extras are modern introductions to each segment from Luigi Cozzi.
Things that didn’t happen for which to be thankful
Argento’s kibosh on two young Americans’ attempts to remake Suspiria.
Dimension delaying, and delaying, and delaying, and then selling off, Hellraiser 7 and 8 (if only they’d done the same for Hellraiser 3–6).
Things that did happen for which to be thankful
The London NFT horror festival entitled “A History of the Horror Film”. A really elaborate, ophidian mix, both geographically and temporally, of horror films. A highlight for me was Charles Ogle in the first ever Frankenstein (1910). But my truly baroque ecstasy came with being spectatorially situated at gurney level beneath the effulgent, gall bladder frottaging Udo Kier as Baron Frankenstein in Flesh for Frankenstein, shown in 3-D. I first saw this film at that deco cathedral of cinema, the Westgarth (then known as the Valhalla) in Melbourne when I was 15, not knowing anything of it. I went back every night for both showings. Since then I have seen the film an unnatural amount of times, but not in 3-D for many years. I wept. Gentle reader, while the oh-so-ironic NFT art film crowd positioned themselves as postmodern wits, condescendingly laughing at the film’s excesses, my cheeks smeared with the blood of the cinesexual remembering my deflowering. Yes I am pathetic. Yes my reality is not only cinematic but weird, necro, surgico cinematic. However this film is so freaking good. Watch it. Now. In 3-D if at all possible. (Being greedy I longed for the days when that other deco-decorum, the Astor, would follow the film with its partner film, Blood for Dracula.)
The Redemption Renaissance. Redemption films was one of the first companies to release obscure, banned or hard to source European horror films. After some years of quiet Redemption have risen from the grave with an enormous catalogue of Jean Rollin, Jess Franco, Italian nunsploitation and women in prison, and some lesser-known gialli (Redemption are working on nazisploitation titles, but the British censors are least sympathetic to this genre). The prints are immaculate (in both senses of the word). The generic covers and menus are disappointing, but the sweetbreads within are the point, and they make for succulent cinematic occasions. Redemption has also taken over Rule Satannia magazine, and it is now so glossy it is viscous. The first issue included interviews with Rollin, with feminist, Marxist punk porn star and director Ovidie, and in a regular feature about people’s secret habits, Doug Bradley excavating lyrical on nose and scab picking.
The release of Alternative Europe, edited by Xavier Mendik and Ernest Mathijs. I shan’t sing tantalising praises because I have two chapters in it, but the book addresses genres and actors which have received little attention and it is pretty cool. Actually tangentially Mendik’s essay on Buio Omega (1979) in the Senses of Cinema special issue on Perversion of 2004 led me to rewatch the film, like Flesh for Frankenstein, it’s the story of a tender (and rather attractive) necrophile. Over and over (seeing an obsessive pattern here?). Which led me to seek out other films in which the actors appear. Franca Stoppi had enamoured me since Mattei’s The Other Hell (1980). She is so authentically, weirdly fascinating, the spawn of an aristocrat and a demon. But following up Buio‘s main actor, Kieran Canter, led me to my genre discovery of 2004 – 1970s Italian hardcore porn. Brilliant! Porn seems so much more elegant in fifth generation dub, set in a castle, with a man I have only seen playing a necrophiliac. Ghosts, cemeteries, and (Italian) French maids in films which are hyperactive, soft in spite of their hardness, funny and very endearing.
One thing I really like about living in England is an apparently Northern hemisphere phenomenon. The movie collectables fair which includes “stars” (only if you are a genre fan) who sit all day at picnic tables signing pictures and making small talk. I went to my first in 2004. Considering hardly anyone has heard of most of the actors and actresses I love, going to a place where I can meet actors from horror films is marvellous. Yes it sounds geeky. But we are within a cinematic phase where instead of kids renting an old movie, some big studio has to remake every film in a diluted, insipid way extravasated of everything which gave the originals the phylic texture that made them what they are. Where passion is considered fanboy behaviour, yet we accept apathy, ironic reflexivity and laughing at the way films fail rather than indulging in their perversions. Thus, in spite of feeling really awkward, a university Professor shaking in front of a horror actor feeling 12 years old, these events are glorious. Hammer girls, Cenobites, Romero zombies and their hunters, Rocky Horrors, all sitting patiently waiting to watch you make a fool of yourself. Sadly in my experience no one thinks the Italian horror actor/writer/director is worthy of an invite. Yet.
On October 9, French post-structuralist philosopher Jacques Derrida died. After the trauma of the final silence of Maurice Blanchot in 2003, this news evoked despair. Michel Serres is now the last remaining of the great French poststructuralists, (not including Luce Irigaray, who would hate being associated with these men but who is equally great). While hope for ethically resolving the volatility of the era rests on pragmatic political philosophers such as Antonio Negri, Derrida and the senate of philosophy to which he belonged were not afraid to value abstraction for its own sake. Their philosophies aspired to taking ethics to a higher plane, avoiding paradigmatic structures annexed to immediately apparent practical relevance for the vertiginous notion (and responsibility) of explorations of the otherwise, and the elucidation of possibilities of alterity in all trajectories of thought, act, desire.
Derrida’s The Gift of Death and Demeure are works I have explored in film philosophy. The cinema is the plateau which is able to gaze devoid of that which gazes, in order to involute the spectator into an encounter of the other within. Cinema is not object of but catalyst for desire, opening impossible worlds in order to reconfigure, reterritorialise and revolutionise subjectivity. The impossible gaze for the impossible object, the invisibility within the visible that makes us encounter the unthought (and unthinkable) within thought. Image is neither revelation of meaning nor reflection of reality but the pleat between cinesexuality and self, which opens and teases the fissures within the phantasy of hermeneutic subjectivity. Cinema leaves us trembling…
And desire, like curiosity, like all those movements that take secrecy beyond the secret necessarily come into play only within these limits ascribed to the invisible: The invisible as concealed visible, the encrypted visible or the non-visible as that which is other than visible…In the first place allusion describes a relation to the wholly other, hence an absolute dissymmetry. It is all that suffices to provoke the mysterium tremendum, inscribing itself with the order of the gaze.
– Derrida, The Gift of Death
Patricia MacCormack is lecturer in Communication at Anglia Polytechnic University, Cambridge. She has published mainly on Italian horror, sexuality, feminism and the work of Deleuze and Guattari.
Tiexi District: West of the Tracks (Wang Bing, 2002) – A nine hour documentary in four parts on the industrial complex of Tiexi, built in the 1930s by the Japanese in Shenyang
Seisaku’s Wife (Yasuzo Masumura, 1965) – Made in the 1960s and released in France in 2004.
A Talking Picture
House of Flying Daggers
Million Dollar Baby
The Motorcycles Diaries (Walter Salles, 2004)
Untold Scandal (E J-yong, 2003) – A Korean adaptation of Dangerous Liaisons
Milchwald (Christoph Hochhauser, 2004)
The Story of the Weeping Camel (Byambasuren Davaa and Luigi Falorni, 2003)
The best films I saw in 2004 were seen in France (when I was in Paris for about four months). Altogether American films were insipid or brilliantly empty (e.g. Scorsese’s The Aviator) with the exception for Clint Eastwood’s brilliant Million Dollar Baby and I wish I had seen more Korean and Chinese films.
Babette Mangolte is a French filmmaker and writer, currently based in the USA.
Releasing “policies” become more uniformly global but poorer and narrower each year, while other alternatives to theatre-going take increasing prominence (including internet orders and private exchange of tapes and DVDs), I’d rather try to list the best films I have seen during 2004, regardless of where or in what support.
Relatively recent films so far unreleased in Spain:
1. Saraband – probably the best film I have seen this year
2. Platform (Jia Zhangke, 2000)
3. Mysterious Object at Noon (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2000)
4. Story of Marie and Julien (Jacques Rivette, 2003)
5. Gerry (Gus Van Sant, 2002)
6. Cantando dietro i paraventi (Ermanno Olmi, 2003)
7. Blissfully Yours (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2002)
8. Notre Musique
9. H Story (Suwa Nobuhirô, 2001)
10. 10 on Ten (Abbas Kiarostami, 2004)
11. El cielo gira (Mercedes Álvarez, 2004)
12. S21, The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine (Rithy Panh, 2003)
13. The Scar (Pablo Llorca, 2004)
14. All the Real Girls (David Gordon Green, 2002)
15. Trois Ponts sur la rivière (Jean-Claude Biette, 1998)
16. Sobibor, 14 octobre 1943, 16 heures (Claude Lanzmann, 2001)
17. Snow White (João César Monteiro, 1999)
18. Les Blessures assassines (Jean-Pierre Denis, 2000)
19. Playing “In the Company of Men”
20. What Time is it There? (Tsai Ming-liang, 2001)
21. Love Will Tear Us Apart (Yu Lik-wai, 1999)
22. Pin Boy (Ana Poliak, 2004)
23. Suzhou River (Lou Ye, 2000)
24. Tosca (Benoît Jacquot, 2001)
25. De niños (Joaquim Jordá, 2003)
26. Los Muertos
Which is, I think, quite a lot: maybe the cinema is not in such a bad shape, after all. Only the American cinema, the only one widely seen and commented, seems lost deep in a hole, hardly able to reach the modest figure of five good films per year.
You can see that even within the films released in Madrid – a market cornered by the U.S. companies – in 2004:
1. Tiovivo c.1950 (José Luis Garci, 2004)
2. Profession of Arms (Ermanno Olmi, 2001)
3. A Talking Picture
4. Triple Agent
5. Russian Ark (Alexander Sokurov, 2002)
6. Être et avoir (Nicolas Philibert, 2002)
7. Before Sunset
8. Come and Go (João César Monteiro, 2003)
9. The Village (M. Night Shyamalan, 2004)
10. The Gleaners and I: Two Years Later (Agnès Varda, 2002)
11. The Holy Girl
12. The Story of the Weeping Camel
13. The Return
14. Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter…and Spring
15. Big Fish (Tim Burton, 2003)
I do not think Russian Ark is such a great movie as some people do, but I believe that it poses a lot of very basic questions and therefore I expected a lot of discussion about it. That I did not find it anywhere seems further evidence of a disquieting revulsion – even among critics and filmmakers – towards theoretical or aesthetic issues, which may explain why so many of today’s movies lack style or are “stylish” but meaninglessly so, empty.
2004 has also been a year of disappointments: the worst Kitano (Zatôichi), Wong (2046) and Sayles (Silver City), the least interesting Straub and Huillet (A Visit to the Louvre), Bellocchio (Good Morning, Night) and Almodovar (Bad Education) in years¼ On the other hand, there were less detestable films amongst those which won awards and met box office success, or I was more able at spotting and avoiding them when I could. Most of the films critically hailed as “the year’s great events” were non-entities deserving instant forgetfulness rather than hate or even contempt, from that acme of “political correction” and advertising aestheticism called The Sea Inside (Alejandro Amenabar, 2004) to Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, or so laughable, stagey, preachy and dusty as Dogville. The imitative European Academy shows an amazing knack for selecting and rewarding the most boring and discouragingly academic films. I wonder how old may be the voters, being already old enough myself (57).
Fortunately, I’ve seen or re-encountered many old great movies, mainly through Spanish Film Archive retrospectives , and also thanks to friends or festivals or DVD editions. Therefore, in 2004 I have discovered wonders such as Victor Sjöström’s Mästerman (1920), Dödskyssen (1916) and Havsgamar (1915), Philippe Garrel’s Liberté, la nuit (1983), Rue Fontaine (1984), Elle a passé tant d’heures sous les sunlights (1984) and L’Enfant secret (1982), D.W. Griffith’s The White Rose (1923), Monta Bell’s Upstage (1926) and After Midnight (1927), Marlen Jsiev’s I Am Twenty (1962) – which could have been a sort of Russian Adieu Philippine – Forugh Farrokhzad’s The House is Black (1962), Jean Grémillon’s Maldone (1927), Jean Epstein’s Le Tempestaire (1947) and Cœur fidèle (1923), Yevgeni Bauer’s The Dying Swan (1917), After Death (1915) and Twilight of a Woman’s Soul (1913), Billy Bitzer’s forerunning “crane shot” in Westinghouse Works series 1, Iulií Raízman’s The Train Goes East (1948), Jonas Mekas’ Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania (1972), Luciano Emmer’s Camilla (1954), Ivan Pyríev’s Partiínií bilet (1936), Emile De Antonio’s America Is Hard To See (1968/70), Alan Clarke’s Elephant (1989), Bernard Vorhaus’ Three Faces East (1940), Arthur Ripley’s The Chase (1946), Roy William Neill’s The Scarlet Claw (1942), or rediscovered Anthony Mann’s The Naked Spur (1952), The Last Frontier (1955) or God’s Little Acre (1958), Richard Fleischer’s The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing, Violent Saturday (both 1955) and Between Heaven and Hell (1956), Ernst Lubitsch’s Lady Windermere’s Fan (1925), John Sturges’ The Law and Jake Wade (1958) and Robert Rossen’s Island in the Sun (1957). I liked also Kent MacKenzie’s The Exiles (1960), E.A. Dupont’s Piccadilly (1929), Charles Vanel’s Dans la nuit (1929) and Zora Neale Hurston’s Fieldwork footage (1928).
The year gave the opportunity to welcome back into our everyday life, thanks to DVD, the work of Mizoguchi, Ozu, Naruse, Preminger and Jerry Lewis.
Miguel Marías, 55, has been a film critic since 1966, a former director of the Spanish Film Archive and the author of books on Manuel Mur Oti and Leo McCarey.
A cinematic line in the sand if there ever was one. Rarely have the middle-class insecurities of so many film critics been so thoroughly exposed than in their stuffy incomprehension (and, in some cases, outright disdain) of von Trier’s indisputable masterpiece. Kudos to J. Hoberman, Mike D’Angelo and all others who championed it.
2. Before Sunset
The most effortlessly meta-movie experience of 2004, Sunset‘s real charge came from the impossibly rich relationship between filmmaker, actors, and audience. The technical and formal achievements almost seem like an afterthought.
3. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
The best sci-fi thriller since Donnie Darko was a no-budget brain-puzzler whose 76 minutes contained virtually no special effects. Respect.
6. I Heart Huckabees
Baffling. Meandering. Infuriatingly digressive. Often totally shallow. Why, then, was this film so irresistible?
7. Vera Drake
8. Kill Bill Vol. 2
9. Story of Marie and Julien
Man, pets are good at smashing down that fourth wall.
10. The Saddest Music in the World and Cowards Bend the Knee
Performances: Nicole Kidman, Julie Delpy, Thomas Haden Church, Mark Wahlberg, Imelda Staunton, David Carradine.
James May lives in New York City and is beginning to wonder if there will ever be a screening of Two or Three Things I Know About Her in his lifetime.
Three categories this time around: first, current films of (circa) 2004, then classics seen for the first time in 2004, and finally a selection of 2004′s disasters and disappointments.
No comments needed with regards to the recent stuff – except: there were quite a few other great films around.
Team Manager (film of the year): Izo (Miike Takashi, 2004)
Eleven friends (top 11):
Cantando dietro i paraventi
Frau Fährt, mann schläft (Rudolf Thome, 2004)
Land of Annihilation (Romuald Karmakar, 2003)
Nightsongs (Romuald Karmakar, 2004)
Nine Songs (Michael Winterbottom, 2004)
The Last Train (Alexei A. German, Jr, 2003)
Kings and Queen
Substitutes (three top 11-worthy films I saw only on VHS):
Levelland (Clark Lee Walker, 2003)
La Presenza (James Herbert, 2004)
Träum’ weiter, Julia (Klaus Lemke, 2004)
And now for the classics:
It seems important to mention that the element of surprise played an essential part in composing this list – I mean, I saw, for example, Omar Amiralay’s An Thawra (1978) for the first time but what do you expect except greatness from one of contemporary cinema’s finest documentary auteurs?, or from über-sensei Hiroshi Shimizu (The Masseurs and a Woman , Ornamental Hairpin , A Mother’s Love , The Shinomi School : genius, pure and simple)?, and let’s not start with John Ford (When Willy Comes Marching Home : whoaaaaaaaaaa); but: Giorgio Ferroni? Anton Kutter? Walter Felsenstein? Rudolf Bamberger? Brunello Rondi? a film by maestro Riccardo Freda that isn’t even mentioned in most filmographies? And what about the sole (officially unfinished!) work in cinema of one of modern theatre’s greatest icons, Bernard-Marie Koltès, shown at night in a quasi-unannounced screening in Llubljana?
Equally important was my desire for certain crypto-classics: Canciones para después de una guerra and Winstanley are films I have been fantasising about for ages, so being able to finally see them and having the satisfaction that they’re far superior to anything I could imagine is certainly… well, great.
Of course, I saw all of these films regularly projected in a theatre. Meaning, everything I saw in the wrong way had absolutely no chance of ending up in the list: everything I saw at home or abroad on video (like: Wolfgang Schmidt’s sublime masterpiece Navy Cut, or Ratana Pestonji’s mesmerising Prae Dum (1961) – ferroni’an thanks, comrade Christoph! – Mika Taanila’s exquisite Tulevaisuus ei ole entisensä (2002), or Franci Slak’s breezy Daily News – thanks, Jurij! – or Amar Kanwar’s awe-inspiring A Season Outside (1998), A Night of Prophecy (2002) and To Remember (2003) – thanks, Angela! – and everything I saw in a cinema beamed from some tape that wasn’t meant to be shown/seen this way (the main reason for the absence of cine-shifu Chor Yuen to whom the Far East Film Festival in Udine devoted a tribute which was mainly done with betas of some kind: several great films – Hak mau, Longzi… – but all of them shown in this most disgraceful fashion). Just call me principled.
And finally: I would have loved to include the extraordinary Dislocated Third Eye Series – Bismillah shown to my friend Jurij and I by its master spirit Slobodan Valentincic in the most private performance possible – but which auteur–persona is responsible for this exquisite super-8 gesture?
15 essentials 2004:
Bianchi pascoli (Luciano Emmer, 1948)
Canciones para después de una guerra (Basilio Martín Patin, 1971)
The Demons (Brunello Rondi, 1963)
Fidelio (Walter Felsenstein, 1955)
Estratto degli archivi segreti della polizia di una capitale Europea (Riccardo Freda, 1972)
La guerra di troia (Giorgio Ferroni, 1961)
Hunde mit der meldekapsel (Anton Kutter, 1942)
Le Mystère des roches de Kador (Léonce Perret, 1912)
La Nuit perdue (Bernard-Marie Koltès)
River Yar (William Raban and Chris Welsby, 1971–72)
Seesterne (Johannes Alexander Hübler-Kahla, 1952)
Über uns der dom (Rudolf Bamberger)
Winstanley (Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo, 1975)
Wunder der schöpfung (Hanns Walter Kornblum, Johannes Meyer and Rudolf Biebrach, 1925)
Yugant (Aparna Sen, 1995)
And now for the bad boys:
Well, just a small selection as I’m prone to utterly irrational fits of optimism – consciously not done as a list, as being featured in one is a cinephile honour these films are not worthy of, bei giorgio! and remember: this is not simply about bad films but about “cine-offences”; therefore I deem it necessary to say a few things about them. Ferroni’an ferocity was needed for this dirtiest of all jobs.
Fahrenheit 9/11 and Downfall (Oliver Hirschbiegel, 2004), with The Edukators (Hans Weingartner, 2004) close on their heels: three sickening exercises in ass-kissing and political indifference made for the entertainment of the prosecco-set. Sickos of the year who give the whole idea of populism a very, very bad name.
Cold Mountain and A Very Long Engagement: when we were white…
The Terminal (Steven Spielberg, 2004) and Land of Plenty (Wim Wenders, 2004): ecumenical huggy-huggy humanism of the most offensive kind.
Dawn of the Dead and Flight of the Phoenix (John Moore, 2004): in and of themselves already bad; compared with the works of Romero and Aldrich something like a humanitarian catastrophe.
2046: Wong just didn’t care.
Olaf Möller is a writer, translator and curator based in Cologne.
A year which felt somewhat disappointing to me, with many great directors (such as Hong, Kiarostami, Rohmer, Tsai) releasing works that were clearly lesser than their earlier films. I thought it was a fine year for Australian cinema, however – there were
stinkers like Love’s Brother (Jan Sardi, 2004), Josh Jarman (Pip Mushin, 2004) and Watermark (Georgina Willis, 2003), but there were many fine films such as Hamlet X (James Clayden, 2003), Orange Love Story (Tom Cowan, 2003), Somersault (Cate Shortland, 2004), Tom White (Alkinos Tsilimodos, 2004), The Widower (Kevin Lucas, 2004) and A Cold Summer (Paul Middleditch, 2003). And, unbelievably, no less than five Australian films (if we count the Brophy update of Garrel’s film) have made my Top Ten of the year. These ten films truly thrilled or fascinated me – they had me on the edge of my seat.
1. Twentynine Palms
2. Kill Bill Vol. 2
3. Aurévélateur (Philippe Garrel with score by Philip Brophy, 1968/2004)
4. Ice-Cream Hands (Gavin Young, 2004) Australian short
5. Samaritan Girl
6. Notre Musique
7. Dreams for Life
8. “I Thought I Wasn’t” (Kim Miles, 2004) Australian short
9. Dead Time (Maximilian Le Cain, 2004) Irish short
10. The Captives (Mark La Rosa, 2004) Australian short
Bill Mousoulis is an independent filmmaker based in Melbourne, and founding editor of Senses of Cinema.
My grasp of the year that has been is severely limited, seeing as I have only seen about 10–15 movies from the calendar year of 2004. Since the majority of films I see are rented on DVD, there are still many titles on my list of “must see” that have either not been released on DVD or have not even been released in theatres.
So, having made it clear that I have really not seen many of the well-received films of 2004, here is my list of the top films I have seen. Normally, I compile a Top Ten list, but so far I have only seen seven titles that deserve mention on this list:
1. Fahrenheit 9/11
Flawed, but a great, emotionally overwhelming documentary.
2. Kill Bill Vol. 2
The conclusion to Tarantino’s shallow but entertaining opus.
3. Before Sunset
Not as sublime as its predecessor, but still effortlessly charming.
4. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Finally, Kaufman shows some heart.
5. Super Size Me (Morgan Spurlock, 2003)
An amusing documentary about the perils of fast food.
6. The Ladykillers*
A cartoon not worthy of the 1955 original, but still hilarious.
7. Touching the Void*
The first two-thirds are captivating, but the last act less so.
* I do not expect these titles to remain on my Top Ten list for very long
Decent Films: Baadassss!, Control Room, The Terminal, The Corporation
Disappointing Film: Spartan
Terrible Film: The Passion of the Christ
Alex Murillo lives in Dundas, Ontario, Canada and is a student hoping to become a professional screenwriter.
At the Melbourne International Film Festival:
Story of Marie and Julien
New releases in Melbourne cinemas:
Paycheck (John Woo, 2003)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
I Heart Huckabees
Donnie Darko – director’s cut
Older films first seen in Melbourne in 2004:
La Captive (Chantal Akerman, 2000)
Peter Nagels lives in Melbourne.
1. The Return
2. Kill Bill Vol. 2
3. What Time is it There?
4. 21 Grams (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2003)
6. In America
7. Notre Musique
9. The Sea Inside
10. A Social Genocide (Fernando Solanas, 2003)
Honourable mentions: Vera Drake, Maria Full of Grace (Joshua Marston, 2004)
Best actor: Javier Bardem (The Sea Inside)
Best actress: Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake)
Great disappointment: Bad Education
Mario Naito is a specialist in American and European Cinema at Cinemateca de Cuba who has published movie articles and reviews in Cuban magazines and has collaborated weekly in a radio program about movies since 1991.
Here’s a short list of memorable movies that I know were seen by me in 2004:
1. The Saddest Music in the World
2. Since Otar Left (Julie Bertucelli, 2003)
3. Young Adam
4. Maria Full of Grace
5. Fahrenheit 9/11
6. Million Dollar Baby
To these I would add the following revivals that played in the US this year:
7. The Battle of Algiers (Gillio Pontecorvo, 1965)
8. Let’s Go with Pancho Villa (Fernando de Fuentes, 1936)
9. Two Arabian Knights (Lewis Milestone, 1927) shown in the US on cable television by Turner Classic Movies
Plus my pick for the most fun mindless entertainment from Hollywood:
10. The Bourne Supremacy
Although I’ve listed only Michael Moore’s film, this was a great year for theatrical documentary (see also The Corporation). It strikes me also that at least two of the films I liked this year had to do with the uprooted cultures and lives of people affected by global capitalism – people who make a decision to go to a new country or stay at home (Since Otar Left and Maria Full of Grace). I should also say that I feel increasingly alienated from mainstream Hollywood and from the US. The recent elections here in the states were not just depressing – they made me aware that I live mentally in an entirely different country than most of my fellow citizens, and that the movies that interest me probably wouldn’t be enjoyed by most Americans even if they were able to see them. From a social point of view, the most significant cinematic event of the year was arguably Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, which I can’t bring myself to see.
James Naremore is the author of several books on film, including More Than Night: Film Noir in its Contexts (1998).
1. Tropical Malady
2. Come and Go
3. Crimson Gold
4. Bad Education
5. The Village
6. Goodbye, Dragon Inn
7. Nobody Knows
8. Good Morning, Night
9. Triple Agent
10. The Dreamers
Most Overrated Film of the Year: Fahrenheit 9/11
Carlos Nogueira is Portuguese, working in Brussels, and a former film reviewer and film programmer, and currently just a plain film lover.
This year in the UK saw three outstanding films that will no doubt not get their full due. The first is Jacques Rivette’s Story of Marie and Julien, a complex yet haunting ghost story that is Rivette’s best since La Belle Noiseuse (1991), and best French film of the new century. Number two is Lou Ye’s Purple Butterfly (2003), a spy thriller set in 1930s Shanghai (style-wise a cross between Dogma and Blade Runner) featuring l’amour fou between a Japanese agent and a Chinese revolutionary played by Zhang Ziyi. Seen at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, sadly no UK release has been posted. The third of the trio is Andrei Zvyagintsev’s The Return, a powerful new take of the Russian father/son relationship that far outshines Sokkurov’s new film on the same theme. Its use of Northern Russian landscapes and seascapes gives it an unforgettable look.
The other notable films are more predictable. House of Flying Daggers pips Hero for its even more daring use of spectacle and its murkier politics. Gus Van Sant’s Elephant started things back in January with a brilliantly filmed and disturbing antidote on school massacre to Michael Moore’s self-regarding drama-doc of the previous year. Two great low-budget British films emerged, focussing on doomed young romance with an acute documentary eye – Pawel Pawlikowski’s My Summer of Love (2004) and Ken Loach’s Ae Fond Kiss (2003). Cedric Kahn had made his best film yet with a taut adaptation of Simenon in Red Lights (2004) while Almodovar, even while not at his best, makes the top ten for the bold invention of Bad Education.
The year’s most overrated films were Old Boy – ketchup kitsch – and Lost in Translation – sloppy racist nonsense.
John Orr lives in Edinburgh and teaches film at Edinburgh University. He is author of Cinema and Modernity, Contemporary Cinema, and The Art and Politics of Film.