#1 MILLION DOLLAR BABY
Hilary Swank and Clint Eastwood delivered a one-two punch as a determined fighter and her twilight-years trainer in this old-school Hollywood classic. What began as a garden-variety ode to the sport of boxing blossomed into an uncompromising and darkly intimate portrayal of risk, resolution and dark, dark places. A brilliant blindsider of a film that was the prize-winning knockout of the year.
It took me three tries to truly appreciate the twisted subtleties of this searing
roundelay of bitter emotion and bathetic betrayal. Deliciously perverse and oozing with immorality, Closer walked and talked a razor-thin line between love and hate.
Adjectives flow fast and furious when attempting to describe this pretentious and audacious piece of filmmaking. Bold, misogynistic, and provocative, Dogville’s claustrophobic and anti-American ode to small-town living shocked, galvanized, and exhilarated.
Turns out Zhang Yimou knows a thing or two about martial-arts too. The master of subtle Chinese emotion exploded onto the action-adventure scene with this breathtaking valentine to love, loyalty and swordplay and in the process raised the bar of the genre for good.
METALLICA: SOME KIND OF MONSTER
A burgeoning hornet’s nest of issues tested classic rockers getting in touch with their inner heavy-metalists in this smart rock-and-roll doc that saw Metallica hire a performance enhancement coach to cope with their skittish transitional period. Precious psycho-babble and psychological warts galore made for a rollicking and rawly satisfying film experience.
The generation gap narrowed to a delicate cleft in this evocative and well-observed portrait of aging. The unpredictably torrid affair between a dowdy suburban granny and a sexually active contractor was fraught with fissures of complication and queasy disquiet that rendered this quiet indie a provocative, conflicted, and unforgettable adult drama.
The dark and skewered tones of this brilliant exploration of life, longing and second chances turned the ordinary into the prodigiously extraordinary. Fluent pace and resonant storyline glowed with intelligence; Virginia Madsen’s expressive soliloquy on her innate connecting to the living and breathing life of wine was the year’s most powerful movie moment.
SPRING, SUMMER, FALL, WINTER…AND SPRING
Sophisticated serenity was the hallmark of this lush and succinct Korean mood piece that stayed with me throughout the year. Nature’s truculent twists and turns and man’s evident shortcomings unfolded with languorous pacing and spare dialogue that’s simple melodrama and tranquil elegance was unforgettable.
TOUCHING THE VOID
One push to the top of the Peruvian Andes’ Siula Grande with no line of retreat and no room for error. A perilous climb under volatile conditions, borne of excess bravado that nearly cost two men their lives. Rife with tension, emotion, and pathos, this nerve-wracking documentary gave stressful fresh meaning. A powerful life-force in the guise of a cinematic adventure package.
A transcendent performance by apple-cheeked Imelda Staunton carried this middle-class Brit melodrama over the finish line with a victorious air of facile style and content. The juicy stench of scandal and the ambiguities of mid-20th Century English morality were packaged with contrasting and heartbreaking shades of innocence and reality.
Bernardo Bertolucci presents pretentious quasi-erotic crap in the guise of art.
I Heart Huckabees
Biggest disappointment of 2004 from a first-class director, A-list scribe and star-studded cast.
Truckloads of angry mail objecting to my one-star review did nothing to endear me to this satiric cult favorite.
Passion of the Christ
Mel Gibson splayed his megalomaniacal faith onscreen by means of this merciless and calculating carnage-soaked massacre; at which point Mel and I parted ways for good.
She Hate Me
And I hated her back. Spike Lee’s slimy amalgam of sex, infidelity, politics and homophobia – ugh.