Holiday Specials


By • Dec 30th, 2004 •

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For tax purposes I had to keep count: In 2004 I saw 225 movies. This number does not include DVD rentals or indicate the number of movies I saw twice. While I could easily condemn more than 10 as the worst films I have seen in 2004, here is my brief rundown of the top films of the year. But first, didn’t you cringe at THE CINDERELLA MAN trailer? What crass sentimentality dumped on us to stimulate patriotism for punching somebody senseless in a boxing ring. However, I really liked the SIN CITY and ELEKTRA trailers. And that BATMAN RETURNS poster? I get the message: Batman is kinky, virile, and brooding.

1. THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST: I read the book. I’ve done extensive research on crucifixion. Gibson did a faithful rendering of a widespread practice that was horrifically violent. Crucifixion was an immensely effective form of cruelty for a thousand years. I do not want a sanitized version of what happened to Jesus. The Catholic Church has been setting aside its founder in favor of His mother. Single-handedly, Gibson put Christ back in Christianity. THE PASSION was beautifully executed and a stunning recreation of the Biblical era. More significantly, it was emotionally riveting. To ignore THE PASSION is to snub all the people Gibson brought into theaters – for the first time in years.

2. LEMONY SNICKET’S SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS: Genius! Everything I want from a children’s fairy tale. The essential elements are all here: dread, evil, hardship, fear of adults, and a sublime villain. It is gorgeous to look at and drenched with extravagant characters, a dark mood, and an eerie menace. I think Jim Carrey hits his stride and creates a unique iconic villain. I saw it twice in one week.

3. THE MACHINIST: This year’s MEMENTO. Christian Bale is electrifying as a tortured man unable to sleep. It is not the weight loss that merits this one of the best performances of the year, it is that Bale committed himself to expressing the character’s deteriorating sate of mind so effectively. He never compromised. With so many movie stars giving up acting, Bale dives in the deep end of the artistic pool.

4. KILL BILL VOL. 2: Seen twice. We were wondering if Quentin Tarantino had left filmmaking; the KILL BILL movies put us all back in our seats. Tarantino has the unique ability to write fascinating characters so memorable that he has once again given other filmmakers something to sack and pillage. Tarantino makes The Bride an iconic figure and resurrects the careers of Daryl Hannah and David Carradine. If only Tarantino would admit he was joking when he said he would consider using Madonna in a film – if the role suited her. Quentin, no role suits Madonna.

5. THE AVIATOR: They left out Hughes’s well known homosexuality but kept in the sexless romanticism. Regardless of the politically correct considerations that have to sanitize “heroes” to insure a blockbuster (too many great homosexual men have been whitewashed by Hollywood in biopics. Why hasn’t the gay community complained?), Leonardo DiCaprio was able to suggest the selfish, nasty man buried beneath the enigma. It is a beautifully crafted movie though without Scorsese’s brutal mischief. Because of DiCaprio’s terrific performance and Scorsese’s extravagant filmmaking, I saw it twice in one week.

6. SAW: Nasty, cruel and cheaply done. Cleverness-over-money ruled the production and it shows. Isn’t this exactly what we want from a horror thriller? It has a very tight story and answers my question: Where are the original stories told with style and a definite point of view? There will be a SAW2 but lets hope they don’t add special effects and animation or a little kid with big eyes.

7. TOUCHING THE VOID: Still thinking about it makes me cringe. Would you cut the rope? And if you fell into a pit-less abyss, would you ever have the courage to claw your way out and then crawl around in the snow for days? This true story made me shiver. Regardless of the sincerity of the actual men involved, you, like I did, will come to your own conclusion.

8. OPEN WATER: Ha! Thank God, I don’t know how to swim! This based-on-a- true-story film is so tough and, since there was only one possible outcome, it is chilling and effective. Anyone can make an OCEAN’S TWELVE, but as Steven Soderbergh found out (FULL FRONTAL) not everyone can make a low, low budget movie (even with your mega-star friends as co-conspirators) and make it work. OPEN WATER, with two cast members, triumphed with creativity over budget.

9. THE ASSASSINATION OF RICHARD NIXON: I saw all the big budgeted films and I’m not naming any of them (except THE AVIATOR) on this list because most of them were awful, not because I am an elitist and need to praise small, obviously destined to be little-seen films. I hate those lists naming some Iranian film about a peasant who raises a chicken that absolutely no one sees. However, ASSASSINATION is on my list because Sean Penn gives a fascinating performance. How in the world does a famous movie star give a performance about a guy who is a lonely loser trapped as an office furniture salesman and make us believe him?

10. HERO: Because I couldn’t name BATTLE ROYALE which I only saw this year. BATTLE ROYALE is the only blockbuster Hollywood will never remake and if they ever do, we will all be emailing from Hell. HERO is gorgeous to look at and should inform Hollywood that we appreciate hypnotic visuals and a stylish storyline we have to pay attention to. We will be seeing for years to come how Hollywood translates the beauty of HERO into their action movies. I saw HERO twice.

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