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A Second Take
More of the RED Staff's Best Movies of 2004

by Brent Sallay and Chris Bellamy

Brent Sallay's Top 15

Nothing against Jeremy's list.
While I don't love some of the movies on it as much as he does, I can still respect his choices, and, admittedly, there are a few films on his list that I wasn't able to see. My list isn't necessarily any better, just another look at the year from a slightly different viewpoint. But as for the films that appear on both lists, well, we've told you twice now, so no excuses.

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
The only mediocre movie Charlie Kaufman ever put his name on was his other collaboration with Michel Gondry, 2000's ”Human Nature.” But this film proves that that one was just a fluke. All of Kaufman's movies beautifully tweak the bounds of normalcy to explore the most key elements of being human--our individuality, our ability to change, and now, the importance of our memories. This time, Gondry's direction compliments the script wonderfully. And Jim Carrey gives another one of his superb “serious” performances.

2. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

I'm a little disheartened at the mixed reviews this film has gotten. Perhaps Wes Anderson, me, and only about 10% of the rest of the population are on the right wavelength to appreciate this, but from where I'm standing, there isn't a flaw to be found here. “The Life Aquatic” has a sense of wonder to it that's rare in films today. Indeed, compared to Anderson's other work, it feels most like the small plays put on by the Max Fischer players in “Rushmore” (IMHO the best movie ever). Bill Murray is endearingly unlikable, and Seu Jorge (from last year's incredible “City of God”) adds a rich dimension to the film with his Portugese covers of David Bowie songs.

3. Primer
This is a great, quiet film that should appeal to fans of “Pi” or “ Memento.” But whereas those films used visual or linear trickery to sink their claws in, this one can't afford to. Filmed on a mere $7,500 budget, “Primer” has nothing but a encyclopedic knowledge of the science of time travel and an insanely intricate plot at its disposal. Plus, it's really subtle. So it may take three or four viewings to wrap your head around it, but, well, by then you may just find you have all the time in the world... Um, you know, not literally though. Like maybe your schedule will have freed up or something, I don't know. Jeez, I mean, it's just a movie.

4. I Heart Huckabees

The first time I saw this I didn't really know what to make of it. A lot of it was interesting and entertaining, but I got lost in its philosophy. The second time I saw it, I was still lost but I didn't care. This is one of the most fun and original films to have come out in some time, and in its own absurd little way, one of the funniest. It's got a couple other things going for it too: Mark Wahlberg and Naomi Watts in the best performances of the year.

5. Kill Bill, Vol. 2
A completely different movie from Volume 1, and a lot more Tarantino-esque. I still don't know how he does it, but Tarantino intills such a sense of urgency into every scene that even when Uma Thurman and David Carradine are merely having a conversation, it's just as riveting as when they're engaged in battle.

6. Sideways
It's kind of odd how virtually unanimous the praise was for this movie amongst critics. And while we shouldn't make more of it than it is, “Sideways” is still another great movie from Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, who, after “Election,” “About Schmidt,” and now this, seem as if they can do no wrong.

7. Garden State

This one just goes from one inspired scene to the next, so the biggest question left in the end is whether or not they all add up to one great film. The answer is of course, maybe, but even if they don't, it's still worth the ride. Granted, the movie eventually degenerates from quirky and unpredictable to somewhat formulaic, but as endearing as Zach Braff and Natalie Portman are as the leads, I'm willing to let that slide.

8. The Incredibles
Well, this movie is just plain cool. But what separates it from any other old computer animated movie is that a) its action sequences are actually clever instead of just flashy, and b) its humor will still stand up in twenty or thirty years.

9. Maria Full of Grace
This was the film that had me most on the edge of my seat throughout its runtime. It's a simple story really. Girl meets boy. Boy gets girl job as drug mule. Girl gets in over her head. Girl has to make big important life decisions really quick. But it's all the religious symbolism that really elevates this film to be as redemptive an experience as it is.

10. Before Sunset
Jeremy's right. This is one of the most unexpectedly great sequels ever. Though it's hardly fair to compare more traditional movies to this. Indeed, without a single spatial break over its 80 minute runtime, this is more like a snapshot of a distant memory than a movie. And surprisingly, for a movie that's just two people walking around Paris talking all the time, the last 20 minutes are like a nailbiting thriller. Ah, the sexual tension!

11. Mean Girls

Yeah, I know. Lindsay Lohan's behavior in the past few months should have disqualified this film automatically. But not even Paris Hilton could have sunk ”Mean Girls.” Tina Fey's script is bitingly observant and funnier than SNL has been in ten years. And Tim Meadows gives in a minor role what is possibly the most memorable performance as a high school principal since Jeffrey Jones in “Ferris Bueller's Day Off.”

12. The Saddest Music in the World

My wife has instructed me to state that this film is “not for everyone” (i.e. her). However, for those for which it is for (i.e. people who like to watch movies from the '30s while high), this is everything you could ask for. Mark McKinney rises high above his Kids in the Hall stature, and Isabella Rossellini sports those crazy beer-filled glass legs like a champ.

13. Napoleon Dynamite

I fought with Jeremy about this one via e-mail for about a month, but when it comes down to it, you either find this hilarious or you don't. Maybe I drew too many ligers in high school, or maybe I ate too many tots, but I count myself amongst those who do. Yeah, it's not “Freaks and Geeks,” and it's not “Rushmore,” but then, it's not really trying to be. And c'mon, “SLC Punk” not withstanding, it's about time the Upper Midwest got its due.

14. The Motorcycle Diaries

This could have been just another movie about some famous guy that reenacts all the stuff you would read about him in a history book. Instead, “The Motorcycle Diaries” takes a look at an earlier time in Ernesto “Ché” Guevara's life, a time when he was still young and observing the world. And by avoiding his later years, the film allows us to look past his politics and identify with the basic human injustices that were prevalent in his day. Shot beautifully all over South America.

15. Coffee and Cigarettes

Sort of more like a pop album than a movie. Not all of the segments work, but the ones that do, like the ones pairing Alfred Molina (i.e. Doc Ock) with Steve Coogan (from “24 Hour Party People”), or Bill ”Ghostbustin' Ass” Murray with the GZA and the RZA from the Wu-Tang Clan, are worth all the wait.

- Brent Sallay



Chris Bellamy's Top Films

It was a great year for movies,
and it was a bad year for movies. More specifically, it was a great year for small films, and a not-so-great one for highly-anticipated blockbusters. 2004 saw massively disappointing efforts f rom some of the best filmmakers around: the likes of Oliver Stone, Spike Lee, Alex Proyas, M. Night Shyamalan, Wolfgang Petersen, Robert Zemeckis, Steven Soderbergh, and Lars von Trier. Even Spielberg and the Coen Brothers were in subpar form. However, at year’s end, I still find it difficult to narrow down the year’s best to a list of 10. But I’ll give it a shot...I mean, since Jeremy got five of 10 right on his list, my work’s already half-done.

1. Sideways
This movie has garnered so much awards season buzz, it’s already a cliche to put it at the top of the list. I almost feel guilty – but I can’t help it. How often can it be said that one movie is both the year’s best drama and its best comedy? Writer/director Alexander Payne has made four good movies to start his career, and this is his best yet. Paul Giamatti is rapidly becoming one of the best actors in the business, and his work here might be the finest performance of the year. "Sideways" has four great performances, it’s laugh-out-loud funny, it’s honest, it’s moving – and it’s the best film of the year.

2. Kill Bill Vol. 2
The first volume of Quentin Tarantino’s revenge epic was an exhilarating action extravaganza, if a bit light on story. The second half of the four-hour saga has its violent moments, but is much more focused on the story and – rare for this kind of movie – its characters. Obviously, the plot itself is as silly as it gets, but that’s what makes Tarantino’s balancing act even more remarkable. The film pays homage to its campy roots, all the while creating a hero we actually care about, and a suspenseful story that is about as exciting as movies get. This is Tarantino’s most visually ambitious project to date, and it cements his place among the best filmmakers in the world.

3. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
It’s official: Charlie Kaufman should be his own genre. After setting a new bar with "Being John Malkovich" and "Adaptation.," Kaufman followed those up in style with yet another brilliant screenplay in "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind." The script is typically complex, but Kaufman always makes us feel like we’re in good hands. This film is a beautiful love story and, thanks to director Michel Gondry, a visual feast as well.

4. Million Dollar Baby
Like most everyone else, I knew virtually nothing about this movie until around December. And like just about everyone – except Rush Limbaugh and his spoiler-happy right-wing cohorts – I fell in love with it. Like all the best sports movies, "Million Dollar Baby" is about its characters first, the sport second. That said, it’s still probably the best sports drama since "Field of Dreams," and it may be the best film of Clint Eastwood’s career – and considering "Mystic River" is still fresh in my memory, that’s saying something.

5. The Aviator
The best director in the world, Martin Scorsese, will probably lose the Oscar yet again later this month, but at least he can feel comfortable in the fact that he’s made another great movie. The best of this year’s barrage of biopics, the Howard Hughes biography is one of the most purely entertaining films of Scorsese’s career, and much, much more. In typical Scorsese fashion, "The Aviator" is a phenomenal visual experience as well.

6. The Passion of the Christ
Sixteen years after Scorsese’s great "The Last Temptation of Christ" came another great and spiritual film about Christ. Mel Gibson’s much-hyped "The Passion" is an absolute epic in every sense – and, contrary to popular belief, it’s not just for evangelical Christians. While I do have a religious background, I went to this movie with a good Jewish friend of mine who happens to be an atheist, and he loved it as much as I did. "The Passion" features some of the most stunning cinematography and most powerful imagery of this year. And no – it’s not anti-Semitic.

7. Maria Full of Grace
The best of last year’s Sundance entries, "Maria Full of Grace" is a career-making film for both writer/director Joshua Marston and the star, Catalina Sandino Moreno. The story of a poor (and newly-pregnant) Colombian teenager who becomes a drug mule, "Maria Full of Grace" is a pitch-perfect quasi-thriller and character study – a film that is at once depressing and extremely uplifting.

8. Primer
Well, what do you know – three top-10 lists on RED Mag, and all three feature "Primer." We could teach those big-city papers a thing or two. Anyway, Shane Carruth’s $7,000 modern sci-fi thriller goes right over your head upon first sitting – and that’s not a bad thing. This is one of the most thought-provoking films to come around in a long time. I was confused, I was fascinated, I was mesmerized – whatever the feeling, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

9. I’m Not Scared
Based on a true story, this story of a young boy who discovers an ominous "something" in a cave out in the middle of nowhere (I don’t want to give away too much) is a haunting and beautiful study of betrayal, sacrifice, and love. Director Gabriele Salvatores and writer Niccolo Ammaniti find a powerful dynamic between the boy and his parents, which provides the heart of the story, and some of the best scenes of the film.

10. Spartan
There may be other movies equally or perhaps more deserving of the list, but this one was so overlooked, I couldn’t resist. Another great film from David Mamet, this suspense thriller tracks Val Kilmer (in an excellent performance) as a government agent trying to track down the kidnapped daughter of a high-ranking government official. Mamet’s brilliant script keeps you guessing without resorting to cheating, which is an all-too-common trend among many Hollywood thrillers. In a year when "Alien vs. Predator" made $80 million, it’s a pity a movie like this didn’t get a bit more recognition.


Of course, I can’t leave it at just 10 movies. More of the year’s best:

Michael Mann, one of the best and yet most underrated directors we have, provided one of the best action movies in years in "Collateral," which featured some of the most exciting and suspenseful scenes at the movies all year. Speaking of underrated, Christian Bale continued to solidify himself as one of the best young actors around with a great performance in Brad Anderson’s "The Machinist." Anderson’s psychological thriller is eerie and brilliantly atmospheric, and to my surprise, I found myself quite moved once the pieces got put together at the end.

David Gordon Green’s third film, "Undertow," didn’t quite reach the greatness of his first two, but it’s pretty damn good anyway. The film studies the relationships between two sets of brothers (a father and his ex-con brother; the father’s two sons) in a wonderful character-driven thriller reminiscent of "The Night of the Hunter."

Jacob Aaron Estes’ great debut feature, "Mean Creek," also deals with brotherly love, which in this case has tragic consequences. Estes’ film doesn’t deal with the tragedy the way most films would, though, which is what sets "Mean Creek" apart from most films of this nature. There are also very good performances from the child actors, in particular Josh Peck as the sympathetic bully.

Imelda Staunton gives the most heartbreaking performance of the year in "Vera Drake," another powerful film from Mike Leigh. I greatly admired both of Zhang Yimou’s films, "Hero" and "House of Flying Daggers." Both are so visually stunning, I can’t decide which I like best.

Terry George’s film "Hotel Rwanda" is an important film that finally sheds some light on the genocides that plagued Rwanda in 1994. The underrated Don Cheadle is unforgettable as the hotel manager who protects his family and other refugees in his hotel during the massacres.

While I enjoyed the first Spider-Man movie, it’s this year’s "Spider-Man 2" that really put all of the pieces of the story together, as Sam Raimi created one of the best comic-book movies ever done.

Richard Linklater’s "Before Sunset" picks up nine years after "Before Sunrise" left off – but Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy still have the same chemistry they did the first time around. This sequel may be even better than the original.

I agree with Jeremy, that Brad Bird’s "The Iron Giant" is one of the best animated films in years, and while "The Incredibles" isn’t quite as good, it’s still one of the most inventive and entertaining movies of the year.

Another action movie that stood out in my mind was "The Bourne Supremacy," which I thought significantly outdid the first of the series. Paul Greengrass (who directed the great "Bloody Sunday" in 2002) overdid the handheld camerawork just a bit in this sequel, but it was his visual energy that made "Supremacy" vastly superior to the original.

Mike Nichols’ "Closer" is that rarest of things these days – I dialogue-driven movie. The dialogue is often brilliant, and the film has two of the best performances of the year by Clive Owen and Natalie Portman.

Guy Maddin’s "The Saddest Music in the World" is a film that can’t be accurately described in a one-paragraph description, so I won’t even try. I can say that I loved it, and that I’ve never seen anything else like it.

And finally, Patrice Leconte’s "Intimate Strangers," a story about a woman who accidentally (or perhaps not) wanders into a tax accountant’s office, mistakes him for her new psychiatrist and proceeds to tell him her deep, dark secrets. Fabrice Luchini is wonderful as William, who doesn’t have the heart to interrupt and tell his new "client" that she’s made a mistake. Confusion and discomfort ensue in this excellent and seductive romantic drama.

- Chris Bellamy

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RED Magazine is a web-only Arts & Entertainment publication in Salt Lake City, Utah. It can always be found here, online. Copyrighted material remains the property of the original owner. Web Site Copyright 2004.

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