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Friday, July 31, 2009

Top 10 Retrospective: 2004

Runners-Up: Hotel Rwanda, The Incredibles, Super Size Me

10. Dogville: Nicole Kidman stars (wonderfully) as Grace, a woman on the run who attempts to take refuge in a small Colorado town. Provocative director Lars Von Trier creates a sadistic inversion of Our Town, and it contains many chilling scenes, including an ending that I think is probably a bit over-the-top. Nevertheless, a terrific cast and a lot to think about and debate in this movie.

9. The Aviator: Martin Scorsese's biopic of Howard Hawks has great cinematography and art direction to evoke old Hollywood. Maybe a little overlong, but it's saved by a fascinating lead character, a good performance by Leonardo Dicaprio and a great one by Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn.

8. Closer: Obviously a filmed play, but a gripping one. The central foursome is great (especially Clive Owen and Natalie Portman), in this bitter movie about love gone wrong.

7. Finding Neverland: A poignant movie about J.M. Barrie and his creation of Peter Pan. Old-fashioned in a good sense, with lots of uplift and tears.

6. Kinsey: Like The Aviator and Finding Neverland, another biopic about an interesting man, this time the groundbreaking sex researcher (played by Liam Neeson), his research, and his relationships with his wife (the great Laura Linney) and staff. Evokes the time of the 1940s and 1950s perfectly, and contains plenty of contemporary relevance.

5. Sideways: A movie about relationships, wine, and finding something that has meaning in your life. Wonderfully written and directed by Alexander Payne. After Election, About Schmidt, and Sideways, I can't think of another American director with three such strong movies in a row.

4. Million Dollar Baby: Clint Eastwood's mournful drama about boxing and relationships. For me, this movie actually improved on a second viewing. Great storytelling and a strong directorial vision keep this movie gripping until the final emotionally overwhelming moments.

3. Maria Full of Grace: A naturalistic, humanistic, and nail-biting suspenseful movie about Maria, a Colombian woman who becomes a drug mule to the United States. Catalina Sandina Moreno earned an Oscar nomination for pitch-perfect performance.

2. Before Sunset: Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy reprise their roles from the great Before Sunrise and make a movie that adds notes of maturity and regret to the original movie. If you haven't seen Before Sunrise, see that first and then see this. I guarantee you'll be itching for the next installment (2014??).

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Movie of the decade? Definitely one of my favorite movies. I've seen it multiple times and I love it more every time. Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet are perfect, the script is absolutely brilliant, and there isn't a scene I would cut or change. I love it.

Summing Up: Aside from my top few spots, I think this was a pretty weak year in the movies. While I enjoyed all the movies, I can point to significant flaws for every movie beyond my Top 3.

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