BY BERT EHRMANN
Well, it's the end of the year and what kind of a man
would I be if I didn't list the movies I felt were the best in 2004!?
(Answer: A better one.) But still, I must press on like every other
critic in the country at the end of the year and release my "list."
In my opinion, the best film of 2004 was director Michael Mann's Collateral. In Collateral, Tom Cruise plays Vincent, an assassin assigned to kill the prosecutor and witnesses of a major case set to go against a crime family in modern day Los Angeles. Jamie Fox plays Max, an unlucky cab driver that just happens to pick up Vincent as a fare but is wrangled into driving him around all night as he goes from hit to hit.
What really drove Collateral home for me was that most of the hits Cruise does during the movie take place off screen - a daring move on Mann's part to shift this action to the side-lines rather than having it front and center.
Shot on digital video, Collateral gives L.A. an almost nightmarish quality. Eyes glow from ambient light and the night sky burns a putrid orange from the light pollution below. The movie is almost perfect, with a few minor nit-picky slips along the way. (The best bit of the movie is when two coyotes to cross the street in front of Max's cab. It's sheer movie genius.)
The rest of the "darn good" movies of 2004, in alphabetical order, are:
The Alamo - I only know of one other person who liked, let alone loved, The Alamo as I did. The Alamo received almost all negative ratings from reviewers and scathing comments from those who actually saw it in theaters. I thought it was a unique look at the Alamo siege while, at the same time, providing an interesting perspective on the defenders such as David (don't call him Davy) Crocket. I felt that The Alamo did one thing that the multitude of Alamo movies and specials have failed to do; humanize the characters.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - (Or, are we little more than a collection of memories?) When I describe this movie to those who haven't seen it, I say that Eternal Sunshine is what Total Recall would have been if it were written by Charley Kaufman (Being John Malkovich). In Eternal Sunshine, Jim Carrey (Yes, that Jim Carrey) plays a depressed man who slowly learns that just a few days prior he had his memory erased in order to forget a lost love. The movie unfolds in a seemingly jumbled manner, with events from the past being intermingled with current and future events, but it somehow all works in the end, and on second viewing all makes perfect sense.
Garden State - It's hard to say just how much Garden State hit home with me when I first saw it. Many of the details in the movie seemed to mirror my own life; from a death in my immediate family, growing older and even meeting friends from high school after not seeing them for nearly a decade. It is once in a rare while that a movie strikes me in such a way.
Napoleon Dynamite - It's wild and wacky. The kids and teens of today will be watching Dynamite on TBS twenty years from now reliving old memories.
Spartan - I must admit that if this list were written before I had seen Collateral, Spartan would have been at the top. Spartan follows a government agent known only as "Scott" who is tasked with rescuing the President's daughter when she's kidnapped and sold into slavery - they don't know of her political connections. Let's just say that killing is one of the less violent options in Scott's pallet of persuasion.
It sounds like the generic spy-drama that has been made a million times before, but what really draws me to the movie again and again is the way the story unfolds in an extremely realistic manner. The characters don't spell out the plot points for the audience, major characters die when the audience least expects it, and, like in life, the plot is a bit messy. At one point, Scott makes detailed plans about rescuing the girl, only to see his plans go up in smoke when he has to think on his feet or lose her.
The real power of Spartan is that it's just about impossible to see what's going to happen next. In any other movie the plot unfolds in the "normal" manner - characters go from A to B to C. In Spartan the characters take this same trip, just down a road that the audience has never been down before.