1 – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Charlie Kauffman does it again. With Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, viewers see a human relationship like they’ve never seen it before. Kauffman delivers his most humane script, complimented by Michel Gondry’s visuals. Jim Carrey is amazing in his best role to date. Joel (Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet) are desperate for a way to erase their relationship. Enter Lacuna Inc., with its radical new procedure for safe memory erasure. Eternal Sunshine‘s strongest visuals come when Joel’s memories are beginning to be erased but he becomes frantic to keep them alive. A bed in the middle of a deserted beach and a house that begins to fill with water are the abstract images you’ll see in this work of art. Eternal Sunshine outshines the rest for its sheer originality, direction and standout performances.
2 – Kinsey
For the most part biopics are normally nothing more than hero-worship, rather than accurate portrayals of the persons life. Kinsey shows a man with incredible qualities but damaging flaws. Dr. Alfred Kinsey (Liam Neeson) conducts surveys into male sexuality to disprove conservative beliefs about sex. His findings made him the center of controversy and the father of the sexual revolution. Kinsey is a triumph in storytelling with knock out performances from Neeson and Laura Linney.
3 – Garden State
With Garden State, Zach Braff proves he’s a one-man show by writing, starring in and directing the indie hit. The movie introduces audiences to a jaded hero who discovers love and redemption when he returns home to New Jersey. Natalie Portman takes a potentially annoying character and gives her charisma. Garden State speaks to a generation of people looking for a home and finding it in the most unlikely places.
4 – Before Sunset
What makes Before Sunset an irresistible film is the undeniable chemistry between Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. Taking place nine years after Before Sunrise, the film finds the two at very different places in their lives and reminiscing on what could have been. There’s one scene where the movie hits a turning point from chatty romance to a full-fledged masterpiece. Moments before he is set to leave, she snaps and unleashes an emotional rant that catches viewers totally off guard. Beside two great lead performances, Before Sunset has one of the most refreshingly genuine scripts to come out of Hollywood.
5 – Dogville
Some critics were unable to get past the surface of Dogville to notice its brilliance. Quickly labeled as anti-American due to the town’s location south of Georgetown and because of Lars von Trier’s own personal opinions on the American way of life, Dogville is the story of a woman looking to escape and a town that slowly abuses her generosity. Nicole Kidman may have landed two duds this year with The Stepford Wives and Birth, she is riveting and redeems herself in Dogville. It’s a shame that a movie with such a strong message as Dogville went completely unnoticed.
6 – Sideways
A masterful blend of comedy, heart and intelligence: Sideways captured the hearts of critics across the country. A simple storyline involving a cross-country road trip comes alive with pure emotion and clever dialogue. The comedy has already been named Best Picture by numerous publications and has raked up a slew of award nominations. All this hype is well-earned; Sideways is a rarity in the modern movie landscape.
7 – Maria Full of Grace
With Spanish dialogue, Maria Full of Grace is a revelation, perfectly capturing a personal struggle to escape poverty. The film is steadily paced with a sharp focus on her trials and error in judgment. Maria Full of Grace is the most powerful new entry in the drug film genre without becoming a cliche or a drawn-out sleeper.
8 – Finding Neverland
A fictional take on the life of J.M. Barris and the inspiration behind Peter Pan, Finding Neverland is a charming drama carried by noteworthy performances. Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet and Freddie Highmore are stellar, guided by Marc Foster’s endearing direction that helps draw audiences into the story. Finding Neverland is a journey of self-discovery that will stay with the audience even after departing the mulitplex.
9 – Team America: World Police
Easily one of the year’s funniest films and one of its most offensive, Team America: World Police comes straight from the mind of South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. In a year overrun by politics, Team America dared to take shots at both sides and some of the most prominent figures, from Tim Robbins to Michael Moore to Susan Sarandon. Team America was the best source for witty satire and rather graphic sequences of puppet love at theaters.
10 – The Incredibles
Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Finding Nemo and now The Incredibles; Pixar has a very impressive winning streak. Forget Shrek, The Incredibles was much more imaginative and the script was wonderfully written. Offering more than the typical family film, The Incredibles furthers the already successful Pixar catalog. A family of superheroes struggle to lead a normal life until one bad choice leads them into dangers clutches. The Incredibles is 2004’s best animated film.
11 – Closer
This film is absolutely shocking and breathtaking at the same time. Closer boasts one of the most impressive casts including Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman and Clive Owen. Director Mike Nichols has made a career dissecting modern relationships, and just as his previous works (The Graduate and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe), Closer is brutally honest and vividly graphic. Supporting players Portman and Owen stand out as the film’s two strongest performances, overshadowing their esteemed peers. Closer is a shining example of a compelling relationship drama.
12 – Collateral
Collateral has it all, with Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx at the top of their game, a clever concept and Michael Mann’s brilliant direction. Though Cruise has top billing, costar Foxx steals the show with a memorable performance that keeps audiences buzzing until the fall release of Ray. After poor performances in Mission: Impossible II and The Last Samurai, Cruise sinks his teeth into the cunning, sly Vincent with memorable results. Collateral is more than the typical caper with a clear-cut hero and villain, but also a mold of what these films should strive to be.
13 – Shaun of the Dead
Shaun of the Dead successfully mixes satire and romance without the end product becoming a cheesy Hollywood flick. Unlike other more popular spoofs such as Scary Movie or Broken Lizard’s Club Dread, Shaun of the Dead never relies on slapstick humor. The film is driven by a strong script, noteworthy performances and a keen sense of direction. Shaun of the Dead is the antidote to a market that has become overrun with zombie flicks, from the decent Dawn of the Dead remake to the dreadful Resident Evil franchise.