The Michigan Daily discovered in April 2005 that several articles written by arts editor Marshall W. Lee did not meet the newspaper’s standard of ethical journalism. Parts of these stories had been plagiarized from other news sources. Although the article below has not been found to contain plagiarism, the Daily no longer stands by its content. The co-authors had no knowledge of the plagiarism.

Film Reviews
KILL BILL!
(Photo courtesy of Miramax.)

 

In 2004, big filmmakers were supposed to make a big splash: delivering highly anticipated sequels, reveling in the true-life troubles of American icons and shaking up the November election with caustic documentaries. While many of the big-name efforts fell flat — Steven Soderbergh’s “Ocean’s Twelve,” Oliver Stone’s “Alexander” and James L. Brooks’s “Spanglish” spring to mind –— the year was filled with delightful surprises and pleasant performances. From the off-kilter absurdism of “I Heart Huckabees” to the blockbuster sensibilities of “The Incredibles,” 2004 featured an eclectic collection of original films. Despite the lack of a cohesive direction, a few films — “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Sideways” and “Kill Bill Vol. 2” — emerged as near-consensus favorites of the Daily’s critics.

— Marshall Lee and Zac Peskowitz

 

Marshall W. Lee

1-Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind — The most satisfying film experience this year. Charlie Kaufman’s hectic meditation on love, longing and memory explodes with wit and grace. Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet turn out the best performances of their respective careers.

 

2-Kill Bill: Vol. 2 — Quentin Tarantino’s two biggest strengths — gaudy dialogue and gaudy violence — have never blended so seemlessly or with such delirious enthusiasm. Uma’s performance, RZA’s soundtrack — everything about Tarantino’s epic is simply pitch-perfect.

 

3-Closer — Everything that you’ve heard about this movie is true. It’s pretentious. It’s plodding. It’s difficult. It’s also cinema’s bravest and most exciting leap toward the candor and complexity of literature in years. All four leads give subdued and stellar performances.

 

4-Sideways — Set against the stark beauty of California’s wine country, Alexander Payne’s fourth film is by far his most generous. A simple tale of two frustrated middle-aged nobodies on a last-ditch effort to live like young men, the movie speaks volumes about loyalty, failure and love. Paul Giamatti deserves the Oscar.

 

5-Motorcycle Diaries — A historically inaccurate biopic that wears its heart on its sleeve, the story of Che Guevara’s 5,000 kilometer motorcycle trek through South America is beautifully shot, smartly written and well acted. Gael Garcia Bernal cements his status as international cinema’s rising young star.

 

6-Open Water — 2004’s most original and disturbing thriller was unfairly maligned for low production value and a nearly non existent plot. Regardless, this story of an embattled young couple abandoned at sea may be the most disturbing film in years. The ending will haunt you for days.

 

7-The Incredibles — Pixar’s most joyous and enjoyable movie since the original “Toy Story,” Brad Bird’s slap-happy action extravaganza is at turns wacky, warm and philosophical. Disney’s best animation to date beautifully masks this raging diatribe against complacent mediocrity.

 

8-The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou — Until Wes Anderson abandons ensemble nonsense and returns to the subdued, simple roots of his first two films, we’ll just have to make due with this incoherent — albeit hilarious — rambler.

 

9-Collateral — America’s poet laureate of masculinity, Michael Mann, accomplishes the seemingly impossible in this noir thriller: He forces Tom Cruise’s obnoxious antics into the background and allows Jamie Foxx and nocturnal L.A. to steal the show.

 

10-I Heart Huckabees — Like watching soemone else’s crazy, convoluted dream, this film shines and dazzles from a distance. Naomi Watts as a quaker; Dustin Hoffman with a mop-top; Jude Law breastfeeding Jason Schwartzman. What’s not to love?

 

Zac Peskowitz

1-Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind — Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman finally delivers the complete script we all knew he was capable of while Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet serve up performances that I never believed were within their ambit of ability.

 

2-Sideways — The pastoral setting of Northern California is the perfect backdrop to the understated brilliance of Paul Giamatti. The film’s deliciously clever dialogue and the steady hand of director Alexander Payne transform a simple love story into a masterpiece about middle-aged boredom.

 

3-Kill Bill: Vol. 2 — Quentin Tarantino threw a change-up with the concluding volume to his revenge saga. The year’s strongest score and another incredible performance from Uma Thurman illuminate the bleak world of desert and carnage that only a mind as diabolically twisted as Tarantino’s could create.

 

4-The Incredibles — A straightforward action flick that asks all kinds of philosophical questions that a Hollywood blockbuster targeted to pre teens typically avoids. Pixar’s finest animation to date makes the film a treat for the eye, while its surprisingly sophisticated writing provides sustenance for the mind.

 

5-Collateral — With its dark depictions of a lonely and balkanized Los Angeles, the initial two thirds of “Collateral” challenges “Chinatown” for the honor of greatest film ever made about L.A. Director Michael Mann then proceeds to blow it by inserting a cheap love interest into this noir thriller.

 

6-Hotel Rwanda — Don Cheadle gives a stunning portrayal of a Rwandan hotel manager who evolves from a Hobbesian man, only looking out for the interests of his family to a human rights hero. Despite director Terry George’s mawkish style and his attempts to turn this compelling human drama into a tawdry action film, “Hotel Rwanda” rises above these limitations on the strength of Cheadle.

 

7-Control Room — This documentary about the Al-Jazeera satellite network during the opening days of the war in Iraq has taken a good deal of flak, much of it legitimate, for its tendentious take on the station. But these criticisms miss the point. In the future, this incisive look at the role of media in warfare will be studied as the “Battle of Algiers” for the satellite era of combat.

 

8-Kinsey — In the rare biography that refuses to idolize its subject, supporting players Laura Linney and Peter Saarsgard outduel Liam Neeson with their electric acting. Unfortunately, the film’s rushed second half detracts from these strong efforts and leaves the movie feeling incomplete and unresolved.

 

9-Hero — This 2002 Chinese release finally hit stateside in 2004 and was worth the wait. With some of the year’s most awe-inspiring cinematography and a set of dignified performances led by Jet Li, the lack of plot and vexing repetition is forgiven.

 

10-The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou — Even with its hollow plot and disappointing dialogue, “The Life Aquatic’s” stunning sets, costumes and score once again showcase the vivid imagination of director Wes Anderson. You’ll never have so much fun watching such an incoherent film.

 

Adam Rottenberg

1-Sideways — No film this year had more complex characters, bigger laughs or worse heartache than Alexander Payne’s fourth effort. From Paul Giamatti’s brilliant portrayal of misanthrope Miles to Thomas Hayden Church as the over-enthused, middle-aged frat boy Jack, everything felt just right.

 

2-The Incredibles — The perfect combination of action, humor and heart, “The Incredibles” was simply as good as its title suggests. Pixar’s animation reached new heights, especially with visually stunning action sequences. It’s the best comic book movie of the year, and it wasn’t even based on a comic book.

 

3-Spider-man 2 — While “Spider-man” told a necessary origin story, it didn’t work out exactly as designed. Its sequel, however, added character depth rarely found in comic films, created formidable and tangible obstacles for Peter Parker and stayed true to the spirit of its source material. “Spidey 2” is the rare sequel that surpasses the original.

 

4-I Heart Huckabees — David O. Russel’s quirky rumination on existentialism divided critics and audiences, but “Huckabees” is hilarious and thought-provoking all at once. Marky Mark of Funky Bunch fame somehow manages to steal a movie from Jude Law, Naomi Watts and Dustin Hoffman.

 

5-Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind — Charlie Kaufman’s most complete work to date humorously and depressingly takes Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet through a tragic romance again and again. Though the confusing and muddled flick gets caught up in its pretentious memory erasing concept, the engaging script and Michel Gondry’s directorial skill make up for it.

 

6-The Aviator — Leonardo DiCaprio has done the unthinkable: successfully replaced Robert DeNiro as Marty Scorsese’s actor of choice. The aging auteur has reasserted his position as the filmmaker’s filmmaker. This biopic is light on fully formed characters, but DiCaprio’s performance admirably captivates the audience.

 

7-Kill Bill: Vol. 2 — Quentin Tarantino’s blood and guts opus ended in grand fashion. Uma’s Bride did kill David Carradine’s charismatic Bill, but only after he delivered a riveting monologue on Superman and his secret identity. Though Bill’s went out with more of a whimper than a bang, Tarantino’s grind-house romp soared.

 

8-Kinsey — In the year of the biopic, Bill Condon’s ode to the man who started a sexual revolution finishes second. Liam Neeson turns in his best performance since “Schindler’s List” as the controversial doctor.

 

9-Collateral — “Collateral” was great — well the first two-thirds of it. Jamie Foxx was a revelation (remember, this came out before “Ray”) and Tom Cruise was trying his hardest not to play Tom Cruise. Unfortunately, the film veered dangerously off-course when Foxx’s taxi flipped over and he became a superhero, leaving the final act absurd, and the audience disappointed.

 

10-Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow — “Sky Captain” had robots … lots of robots. Throw in Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law, and you have one of the best popcorn flicks of the year. Kerry Conran’s blue-screen experiment wowed audiences and harkened back to the days of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

 

Jeffrey Bloomer

1-Kill Bill: Vol. 2 — Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece is his best film since “Pulp Fiction.” It is a joyous experience, made possible by Tarantino’s ability to create both interesting characters and offbeat dialogue to bring them to life. The Bride’s final encounter with Bill is the most rewarding film climax in recent memory.

 

2-Million Dollar Baby — Clint Eastwood’s 25th film as a director showcases his singular ability to craft graceful, heartbreaking films. It follows a great but fading boxing trainer (Eastwood) and his first woman trainee (Hillary Swank) but don’t mistake it for a sports picture. It is a human drama that commits to its characters and stands by them through their greatest successes and tragedies. The film is in no hurry to get anywhere—just to observe everything through to the very end.

 

3-Hotel Rwanda — A film that has been rendering audiences speechless since September’s Toronto Film Festival, “Hotel Rwanda” is set during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. It is the true story of a hotel manager (Don Cheadle, in his best performance to date) who saved more than 1,000 lives during the atrocities. The film packs a greater emotional punch than any other film this year.

 

4-The Aviator — A sumptuous biopic of Howard Hughes, marked by Leonardo DiCaprio’s deeply heartfelt performance as the title character and the masterful direction of Martin Scorcese. The stunning final scene brilliantly captures the madness that Hughes, no matter his life’s triumphs, was ultimately never able to overcome.

 

5-Closer — Some of Hollywood’s most beautiful people and its nastiest, most reprehensible characters make for a brilliant mix. Rich, edgy dialogue and wonderful turns from its cast bring to life this story of passion, sex and betrayal between couples.

 

6-Maria Full of Grace — A powerhouse of suspense, emotional resonance and eventually triumph, the film follows a young Colombian woman (the exquisite Catalina Sandino Moreno) whose drive for a better life leads her to the drug trade. It’s a fictional film so in touch with reality that it could easily pass for a documentary.

 

7-Kinsey — Sensational performances from its cast enhance this real-life drama about the man who many believe was a catalyst for the sexual revolution of the ’60s. Writer-director Bill Condon obviously admires his subject but explores both his trials and triumphs; a well-told and uncommonly effective biopic.

 

8-We Don’t Live Here Anymore — A highly literate and beautifully photographed film that is highlighted by standout performances from its four leads. It is an unconventional exploration of two couples and their adulterous shenanigans in a New England college town. The film sticks around to observe the consequences — which are not what one might expect.

 

9-The Dreamers — Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci’s sexually charged film is an evocative portrait of 1968 Paris amid student riots. It is an affectionate nod toward classic cinema and a small-scale but engrossing story of sex and love between two French siblings and a na�ve American.

 

10-Garden State — Zach Braff bursts onto the filmmaking scene as writer, director and star of this intimate, heartfelt and disarmingly funny meditation on twenty-something disillusionment. It tells the story of an emotionally comatose man who returns to New Jersey and begins to reconnect with his past life.

 

Zach Borden

1-Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind — One of the most original and heartfelt movies ever brought to the screen, brilliant screenwriter Charlie Kaufman somehow tops his previous gems with a story about memory’s importance to personal identity. With the help of visionary director Michel Gondry and a fabulous ensemble, this film is impossible to forget.

 

2-The Incredibles — Pixar keeps up its flawless track record with one of the most inventive, funny and mature animated films of all time. Writer-director Brad Bird finally getting his due, honing in on the importance of family and society’s growing obsession with lauding mediocrity.

 

3-Million Dollar Baby — As an even more powerful follow-up to last year’s “Mystic River,” Clint Eastwood scores a trifecta as director, actor and composer with this gut-wrenching character drama. More than a boxing movie, Eastwood masterfully shows how extraordinary life can be, and just how fragile it really is.

 

4-House Of Flying Daggers — Filmmaker Yimou Zhang had two successes in the United States this year: “Hero” and this superior effort, complete with the best action sequences of the year. Yet beneath all the breathtaking martial arts and beautiful scenery lays an engrossing romantic triangle.

 

5-Sideways — A great throwback to the character-driven films of the 1970s, Alexander Payne’s comedy of wine and heartache features its fair share of depressing moments, but is also spectacularly life-affirming. And who knew that Lolwell from “Wings” was this good of an actor?

 

6-Collateral — One of the most clever thrillers in years, leave it to Michael Mann to make the characters more exciting than the action, and flawlessly bring alive L.A.’s nightlife. Tom Cruise has what it takes to be a villain, and don’t forget — this was Jamie Foxx’s first great performance of the year.

 

7-Before Sunset — What could have been a disastrous sequel to one of the most romantic and thoughtful movies ever made, Richard Linklater — along with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy — brings forth an organic continuation to the saga of Jesse and Celine. It’s 80 minutes of conversational bliss.

 

8-The Door In The Floor — A partial adaptation of John Irving’s “A Widow For One Year,” Tod Williams’s stirring portrait of a collapsing marriage showcases Jeff Bridges in another meaty role that’s Oscar-worthy and Kim Basinger in her best performance since “L.A. Confidential.”

 

9-Shaun Of The Dead — Much more than a zombie flick, Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg (from the cult British TV series “Spaced”) have made a relatable comedy about failed relationships, family, friends, the importance of pubs and the crappiness of the “Batman” soundtrack. It became an instant cult classic.

 

10-Garden State — Despite everyone buying the soundtrack and a majority of teenagers claiming the movie was based on their lives, “Garden State” still remains an impressive filmmaking debut from Zach Braff with winning characters, a great supporting cast and quirky humor. While it’s too early to tell whether this movie is going to be “The Graduate” of the 21st century, Braff certainly has a knack for working behind the camera.

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