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The Best and Worst of 2004 (again)
by David Cornelius

Better late than never, I add my selections for 2004’s best and worst films into the large supply of best-of articles already posted on HBS/eFC. I offer little introduction, other than to say that since there’s always the chance of a five-star beauty or one-star monster showing up on my radar later on, I, as always, reserve the right to update and modify whenever the mood strikes.

That said, ramblers, let’s get ramblin’. With links to reviews, where applicable.

The Best of 2004.

1. “Million Dollar Baby.” Was there any doubt? Eastwood’s emotional behemoth is a story that refuses to dissolve from memory, a masterpiece for the ages. Loaded to the brim with exceptional acting, intelligent writing, and knowing direction, “Baby” is a work that demands repeat viewings - it even manages to improve on those return visits. A glorious work all around, one that will be remembered and loved as a towering achievement in cinema history. (That enough gushing for you?)

2. “Hero.” I feel slightly awful bumping this out of my top spot, as until Clint came along, Zhang Yimou’s swordplay epic was unquestionably not only the finest of the year, but the finest martial arts picture ever crafted. Lavish in its production, inventive in its storytelling, “Hero” is a feast for the eyes and the mind.

3. “Collateral.” Leave it to Michael Mann to turn out a moody, mesmerizing crime thriller about night and the city that leaves the viewer floored. Mann’s world is a dreamscape of cops, criminals, and patsies, and the dream is capped off by two top notch performances: Tom Cruise as the cold, calculated hit man, and Jaime Foxx - in a lead, not supporting, role - as the nervous cabbie. Looks amazing, plays even better.

4. “The Aviator.” More than just a standard biopic, “The Aviator” becomes, thanks to the natural filmmaking know-how of Martin Scorsese, a marvel of cinema. The legendary director uses every trick in his book to help elevate his film into something far more fulfilling than a typical biography. A most impressive cast doesn’t hurt, either.

5. “Broken Wings.” An import that went far too overlooked in the States, this drama from filmmaker Nir Bergman follows the sorrows of a family still reeling over the death of the father. A striking cast - most notable are Maya Maron and Orly Silbersatz Banai in the leads as daughter and mother - brings us a harsh dose of reality, while Bergman’s script lands plenty of well-placed sucker punches.

6. “Kill Bill: Vol. 2.” After years of not really liking Quentin Tarantino, I found myself pleasantly surprised by the giddy fun and movie winkingness of “Kill Bill: Vol. 1.” When “Vol. 2” wound up being even better, I found myself eager to apologize for anything and everything bad I ever said about the director. This second half supplies all the fun of the first chapter, only it adds an unexpected depth of character. David Carradine’s final scenes as Bill are hypnotic, with credit owed to both the actor and the script. Welcome back, QT.

7. “Fahrenheit 9/11.” So yeah, Michael Moore’s anti-Bush rant turned out to be about as effective as a bumper sticker on a hippie’s hatchback, but that doesn’t diminish the power of the film, nor does it negate its quality. Here’s a film - a documentary that’s more like an opinion piece, or some kind of political performance art - that mixes in brutally funny comic satire with painful examinations of the effects of a pointless war. Whether or not you agree with Moore’s politics, there’s no avoiding the fact that this is an excellent work of cinema.

8. “Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War.” The best war movie since “Saving Private Ryan,” “Tae Guk Gi” adopts all of Hollywood’s mannerisms and improves on them, creating a mammoth war epic about the Korean War as told from the inside. And if it’s loaded with war movie clichés, who cares? It still comes off like gangbusters. Heartbreaking performances and assured direction leave the viewer stunned by the tragedies and horrors of war, proving that some experiences are quite universal.

9. “Super Size Me.” With 2004 continuing the documentary renaissance that movie buffs have been enjoying for a while now, it’s no surprise that two such films would land in the top ten. Morgan Spurlock’s assault on our fast food world implements the same techniques as Moore’s flick: winking comedy that underscores a deadly important message. Spurlock is every bit as entertaining as Moore (and without the ego, too), making his revelations on the state of American health quite easy to swallow, no pun intended.

10. “Hidalgo.” Yee-haw! Few critics went along for ride on Joe Johnston’s cowboy epic, but it really brought out the Western lover in me. Viggo Mortensen, fresh off his run as the King of Gondor, proves himself to be a complete natural as a cowpoke. Director Johnston keeps the adventure cracking along at whip speed, leaving the whole thing to play like an old fashioned action marvel. Ignore the naysayers - this one’s a tower of fun.

Runners-up: “The Bourne Supremacy;” “Dawn of the Dead;” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind;” “Garden State;” “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban;” “House of Flying Daggers;” “The Incredibles;” “Lightning In a Bottle;” “The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra;” “Team America: World Police;” and “Warriors of Heaven and Earth.”

The best movie you (probably) didn’t see: “Stark Raving Mad.” Given a brief theatrical run overseas and dismissed as a direct-to-video release in the States, this quirky action-comedy offers up plenty of fun on the cheap, thanks mainly to a crisp screenplay and a sarcastic performance from Seann William Scott. It’s not brilliant filmmaking, but it is brilliant fun, making it a prime example of how some direct-to-video efforts can really make an evening’s entertainment.

DVD honorable mention: “Memories.” Released ever so briefly in the mid-1990s, this anime compilation of three short stories, spearheaded by Katsuhiro Otomo (“Akira”), finally snuck onto North American home video this year with little fanfare. Which means that’s twice now it’s been overlooked by audiences, who are missing a phenomenal work of animation. A sci-fi ghost story, a wild comic adventure, and an unshakable vision of a world obsessed with war come together to form one of the best anime features yet made. Even if you’re not crazy about the genre, you’ll still find plenty to like here.

The Worst of 2004.

1. “Benji Off the Leash!” First things first: that there were four movies released last year that were actually worse than “White Chicks” is a criminal offense. That one of them was even worse than “Superbabies” makes my brain bleed. But yes, here we have a new “Benji” movie, one so obscene in its idiocy that the fact that it even got made makes me weep for humanity. It is an unwatchable mess, a confused heap of junk pasted together from too many diverse story lines and too many pointless clichés. It even objects to battered wives leaving their abusive husbands! This vile, disturbing, rambling disaster is by far not only the worst movie of the year, but one of the single worst “family movies” ever made.

2. “Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2.” Close behind “Benji” on that worst-ever list must be “Superbabies,” the movie nobody wanted made. So much has already been said on a movie that pairs Scott Baio as a negligent day care proprietor with Jon Voight as a bumbling Nazi, so what could I possibly add here? Nothing.

3. “Highwaymen.” Egads. Taking the top prize for most unintentionally funny flick of the year (and believe you me, there were plenty of contenders) is this beauty in which an obsessed Jim “Jesus H.” Caveziel drives cross country looking for the hit-and-run killer who murdered his wife. It truly must be seen to be believed, with plot holes, goofy dialogue, and hammy performances that push the notion of hilariously terrible to its limits.

4. “Torque.” OK, so if “Highwaymen” doesn’t satisfy your hunger for dumbass vehicle thrillers, then check out this preposterous “2 Fast 2 Furious” wannabe. Not a single moment makes a lick of sense, while the action’s so clumsily handled that one can’t even watch it for cheap thrills. It’s impossible to resist a Bad Movie where the lead character declares, “I live my life a quarter mile at a time.” Whatever the frick that means.

5. “White Chicks.” The sad reality of things is that there are people out there who apparently thought this was funny. We need to start up a fund to build a home for them. It’s obvious that they need special treatment, and besides, we need to get them off the street, fast - before the next Wayans movie opens.

6. “Saw.” The great “Saw” debate continues. Some critics - including several who work here - found this to be top notch horror entertainment. Others - including yours truly - found it to be the single dumbest thing Cary Elwes has ever done, and remember, he was in both “Kiss the Girls” and “Ella Enchanted.” Completely ridiculous from start to finish, this movie is nothing more than Amateur Night for some numbnut who’s watched “Seven” too many times. But at least it was funny. Hot damn, was it funny. Not as funny as “Highwaymen,” but funnier than “Torque,” that’s for sure.

7. “My Baby’s Daddy.” When we’re done banning the Wayans from ever making another film, perhaps we should move on to Eddie Griffin. Granted, he’s not the only wrong thing about this grossly unfunny, embarrassingly objectionable work, but he’s done so much crap throughout his career that it comes off like a reflex to blame him anyway. If it’s possible for this movie to be even worse than it looks, it is.

8. “Napoleon Dynamite.” Here’s a movie that seems to be straining to become a cult classic, and yet all it truly succeeds in doing is irritating. The conceit of the film - that we’re supposed to find this guy hilariously unlikable until suddenly we’re supposed to like him - shows a wild incompetence on the part of the filmmakers. The mind numbingly slow pace and the forced comic set-ups are annoying enough; that we already have prefab “Vote For Pedro” t-shirts available for $18.95 from Hot Topic is even worse.

9. “Van Helsing.” Or, “How To Put History’s Coolest Movie Monsters In One Film and Still Manage To Make It Suck Ass.” From Steven Sommers, who made those pointless “Mummy” movies, now comes an adventure that seems eager to drain the energy from its premise before it even gets going. But the tedious, incoherent plotting and limp action sequences aren’t enough: we also get dopey accents, bad special effects, and, for some inexplicable reason, Dracula’s midget alien minions. Huh?

10. “Catwoman.” A companion piece of sorts to “Van Helsing,” as both were intended as summer popcorn blockbusters but wound up as colossal disasters. Halle Berry’s ridiculous costume was our first warning; the phrase “directed by Pitof,” whatever the hell that means, was our second. Ms. Berry, you either need to make a public apology or return a recently received golden statuette, pronto.

Runners-up: “Christmas With the Kranks;” “Ella Enchanted;” “Garfield;” “Johnson Family Vacation;” “Ned Kelly;” “Never Die Alone;” “New York Minute;” “The Notebook;” “Resident Evil: Apocalypse;” “Surviving Christmas;” “Taxi;” “The Village;” and “You Got Served.”

The worst movie you (hopefully) didn’t see: “Dracula 3000.” Holy fudge buckets. Casper Van Dien, Erika Eleniak, Tiny Lister, Udo Kier, and Coolio, all in one movie. I doubt the film could be any good even if it tried. But, of course, it’s not even trying, leaving it to devolve into a trainwreck like none other. Get ready for deep hurting.

DVD dishonorable mention: “DC 9/11: Time of Crisis.” Produced for Showtime in September 2003 and released on video in 2004 just in time for Bush’s re-election campaign, this slobbering attempt to lionize the president comes off as a disaster of extreme proportions. Not only is it an embarrassing parade of exaggerations, excuses, and downright lies, it’s also - and this is the more important part - hilariously bad. Even if you’re a diehard red stater, you’ll be laughing uncontrollably at the film’s countless directorial bungles. The final nail, though: Bush is portrayed by Timothy Bottoms, who also played the character as a bumbling sitcom moron on “That’s My Bush!” Go figure.

That’s it from me. For more best/worst of 2004 lists, check out the following HBS/eFC articles:

“The Good, the Bad and the...actually, just the Good. The Top 20 Films of 2004” by Matt Bartley
“Letting Go Of 2004: Something To Remember (The Year's Best & Worst)” by Erik Childress
“Friday Night Openers: The Best and Worst of 2004” by Collin Souter
“Ten Best Films of 2004” by Peter Sobczynski
“Ten Worst Films (and many more) of 2004” by Peter Sobczynski
“112 Movie Critics Can't Be Wrong: The Scientifically-Proven WORST Movies of 2004!” by Scott Weinberg
“The Angry Jew's 25 Favorite DVDs of 2004” by Scott Weinberg
“The Best Unbought, Unseen and Annoyingly Undistributed Films of 2004” by Weinberg, Childress, Souter, Snider & Whyte
“The Year of 2004 In Film, The Good And The Bad -- Just One Guy's Opinion” by Jason Whyte

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originally posted: 02/28/05 05:40:10
last updated: 03/05/05 09:57:26
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