One thing we at Place to Be Nation like to celebrate is the subjectivity inherent in entertainment — be it in wrestling, comics, music, television or, indeed, film. With that in mind, ten members of the PTBN staff will be picking the movies of the PTB generation. In this series, panel members will collect their five favorite films of each year, beginning with the year in which the oldest writer was born — 1976. The only rule given to each contributor was to provide his or her own criteria. Some writers may go with the most artistic films, while others might side with the most iconic blockbusters. We welcome your lists on Facebook and Twitter. Each staff member has submitted a list of five movies from 2004 ranked 1 through 5. A first-place vote is worth five points, a second-place vote worth four points, and so on. Using that point system, we have identified the top 5 movies of 2004.
2004 featured a close battle between one of the all-time great superhero sequels and a fantastic dramatic performance by Jim Carrey. But before we reveal the top 5, let’s see the movies that received votes, but fell short of making our final list.
Kill Bill, Volume 2 — 7 points
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban — 6 points
The Phantom of the Opera — 5 points
Shrek 2 — 5 points
Ray — 4 points
Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story — 4 points
Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle — 4 points
Sideways — 3 points
Team America: World Police — 3 points
Napoleon Dynamite — 3 points
The Notebook — 3 points
Troy — 3 points
Hotel Rwanda — 2 points
Mean Girls — 2 points
Secret Window — 2 points
The Terminal — 2 points
House of Flying Daggers — 1 point
Man on Fire — 1 point
The Punisher — 1 point
A Very Long Engagement — 1 point
And now, let’s see the top 5 (technically 6) movies of 2004, as voted by the Place to Be Nation staff.
5 (tie). The Incredibles
8 points, ranked by 3 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Russell Sellers at No. 2
Russell Sellers: There are a few movies that kids and adults should be able to agree on, but at the top of that short list is The Incredibles from writer/director Brad Bird. This Disney/Pixar gem almost-seamlessly blends the superhero, espionage and comedy genres into one hugely entertaining movie experience.
It’s a movie that has just about everything from fun action, hilarious jokes, self-aware silliness, tense thrills and even a hint of romance. The story follows Mr. Incredible in his post-superhero life after a series of incidents lead to the government outlawing superheroes and all of them going into a kind of witness protection program. Incredible and his wife, the former Elastigirl, and their three kids live a “normal” suburban life as he works as an insurance adjuster for a horrible company and the most uptight boss ever. But when he loses his job and is given an opportunity to get back to what he loves most (being a superhero) he jumps at the chance without much hesitation. He does it all in secret, telling his wife that all his traveling is for work and that all the extra money is from a promotion, but she soon learns the truth and she and their super-powered kids (one with the power of invisibility and the other super speed while the third doesn’t seem to have any) are pulled into the situation. Of course, the whole thing was a setup from the beginning as a new villain is revealed to be behind not only Mr. Incredible’s new gig, but the one responsible for a series of former superhero disappearances.
The voice cast of Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Jason Lee and Samuel L. Jackson are spot-on in their performances, never once feeling like they’re just reading off of a cue card. It feels as if they’re actually there playing the roles themselves. While Toy Story remains the biggest success in the Pixar library, this near-perfect film should never be overlooked. It’s incredibly (pun) sad there hasn’t been a sequel. If ever there was a film that was tailor-made for a franchise, it’s The Incredibles. Disney/Pixar would do well to revisit this as soon as possible, so long as Brad Bird is back in the writer/director chair, too.
5 (tie). Million Dollar Baby
8 points, ranked by 2 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Greg Phillips at No. 1
Greg Phillips: There aren’t many Hollywood figures who have carved out critically acclaimed legacies as both actors and directors. Clint Eastwood is most assuredly one of them, however, and one of the finest. It’s curious that Clint built his acting legacy on a hardness, a stoic cynicism that allowed him to play characters masking severe vulnerabilities; whereas he built his directorial legacy on a hands-off approach that allows his actors to breathe and his scenes to play out naturally. In Million Dollar Baby, Eastwood crafts a tale that challenges one’s personal ethics while never losing sight of its narrative focus.
Eastwood knows how to draw the best out of his actors. Hilary Swank has never been better than here, as she delivers a brutally honest portrayal of a person seeking to make her mark on the world and escape the hopelessness of her family. Morgan Freeman is typically great as Eastwood’s sage old friend. And Clint himself uses his acting legacy to its fullest potential, playing a tired old boxer who might just as well be a retired Man With No Name. Not to be overlooked, Jay Baruchel and Margo Martindale turn in show-stealing performances as the film’s comic (though actually tragic) relief. The film stands as another triumph in Eastwood’s impressive career, joining the likes of Unforgiven and A Perfect World.
4. Shaun of the Dead
10 points, ranked by 3 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Anthony Estrada at No. 1
Anthony Estrada: Shaun of the Dead is my favorite zombie movie. It doubles as one of my favorite comedies. It also happens to be an excellent social commentary, romantic comedy and film about friends and family. Considering the plot – slacker’s dead-end existence is disrupted by the zombie apocalypse – it’s easy to dismiss this film as a trifle, something to have on in the background while you do chores or get high. However, to do so is to miss out on the subtle joys and wisdom of a movie that is, pound for pound, one of the best of this or any year.
SotD covers two days in the life of Shaun, a sort-of young man whose age has outgrown his frivolous lifestyle. He’s a low-level supervisor whose subordinates don’t respect him. He has a girlfriend he adores and casually neglects, and a stepfather with whom he’s been having the same fights for twenty years. Shaun shares his life, his apartment and his pints with Ed, a lifelong friend even more childish and stunted than he is. They spend every night getting drunk at The Winchester, a local pub they’ve gone to for years. Shaun’s life is in a rut. Now enter the zombies.
This description is unexceptional – Shaun and Ed are variations of characters you’ve seen in tons of movies. The film’s themes are well traveled. But trust me, this movie is magic. The scenes are tightly shot, always providing new information and/or advancing the plot. The characters transcend their descriptions. Shaun’s not just a lovable loser – with his slumped shoulders, sad eyes and pitiful short sleeved/neck-tie combination, he’s a damned tragedy. The film’s creators clearly loved and studied zombie movies, which are referenced throughout with a wink and affectionate nod. It’s homage and shining example all at the same time.
In my world, this movie serves as a kind of secret handshake. I’m not saying that if you love it we’ll definitely be friends. But I’d like to buy you a pint at the local pub to find out.
3. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
13 points, ranked by 3 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Nick Duke and Aaron George at No. 1
Nick Duke: This mini-review/retrospective may be one of the hardest I’ve had to write for this project, mainly because it’s hard to put into words exactly what it is about Anchorman that makes me love it so damn much. It’s endlessly entertaining, but why? What elevates the absolutely ridiculous premise, characters and dialogue enough to earn the nod from me as 2004’s best film?
It’s hard to say for sure, but I think the answer lies somewhere in the undeniable energy and charisma of the cast. David Koechner, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd and Christina Applegate all throw themselves into their roles with such enthusiasm it’s hard not to completely buy that these incredibly self-centered people actually existed in the 1970s. That’s to say nothing of course of Will Ferrell as the eponymous Ron Burgundy, who has quickly become one of my favorite characters in comedy history.
The film might be the most quotable movie of the last decade, with each quote increasingly more absurd than the last. It’s a film that I honestly enjoy more on DVD than I ever did in the theater, mainly because I seem to catch a different line each time and laugh uproariously. Even lines such as ” A La Jolla man clings to life after being viciously attacked by a pack of wild dogs in an abandoned pool,” or “That squirrel can water ski,” become comedic gold by the 20th viewing. And make no mistake, Anchorman is a film I can revisit time and time again. There aren’t jokes per se, but rather a series of absurdities, with each one appealing to me in a different way depending on my mood. One day it may be “I’m in a glass case of emotion!” that sets me into fits of painful laughter, the next it may be the glorious News Team battle on the streets of San Diego, which of course in German means “a whale’s vagina.”
Anchorman may not be the most clever or well-written comedy ever made, but it’s one of the most unpredictable and most fun times you’ll ever have with a cast of characters.
2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
21 points, ranked by 5 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Andrew Riche at No. 1
Andrew Riche: How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d;
These are the words of 18th century poet Alexander Pope from one of his most notable works, Eloisa to Abelard. The poem tells the sad story of an illicit love affair that causes the female so much anguish that she begs for forgetfulness. These lines were recited by Mary Svevo (played by Kirsten Dunst) during a pivotal scene in the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Svevo is actually an employee for Lacuna, Inc., a company that involves the medical practice of erasing specific memories from the brains of patients at their wish. The story of this film shares the same premise as Alexander Pope’s poem in the aftermath of a tumultuous relationship between the cleverly withdrawn Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) and the the outlandishly emotional Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet). After a bitter break-up, Joel finds out that Clementine has already instructed Lacuna to successfully erase any memory of him from her mind. Crushed by the revelation, Joel goes to Lacuna and asks Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson) to do the same for him so that they can both move on without any knowledge of their previous relationship.
The prayer is accepted, but the wish being resigned turns out to be a tougher task than even the Lacuna scientists expected as they try to eradicate Joel’s memories of Clementine in a nightlong session. Despite his fits of anger over her actions, Joel comes to some strange and nearly spiritual realizations as he ventures through his own memories as Stan Fink (Mark Ruffalo) and Patrick (Elijah Wood) try to make them disappear one by one. As those thoughts burst like bubbles around him, Joel has second thoughts and ventures to save any lasting memory of Clementine from the erasers in a wild narrative-skipping adventure with a perfect mix of romance and strangeness. The race is on between Lacuna and Joel’s memories of a relationship he subconsciously decides to keep rather than get rid of, even into the deepest recesses of Joel’s childhood and the bittersweet first time that the two ever met. There are other subplots involving Dr. Mierzwiak revealing a previous affair with Mary that had been erased before, causing irredeemable consequences by film’s end, and a deceptive courtship by the conniving Patrick to bed the post-erasure Clementine deliberately using Joel’s tokens and memories.
But while the mind of this film belongs to Joel, the heart and soul of the film lies within the relationship, aware or unaware, between Joel and Clementine. Carrey and Winslet pull a neat role reversal or sorts as Carrey plays one of his most calming, subdued parts while the classy Brit Winslet is a loud, unhinged American girl whose mood changes more often than her hair color does. The supporting players like Ruffalo, Wilkinson, Wood, and Dunst are all wonderful as Lacuna employees who turn out to be pawn in a highly complex mind game. I have always been a fan of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, whose previous works included subversive mind benders like Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, but this is definitely his scripting masterpiece and it won him an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Equal praise should be given to Michel Gondry, an innovative French music video director whose passion for theater of the absurd is complimented by his ability to pry some great individual performances out of a movie that could have easily become incompatible in lesser hands. Surpassing even the neatest of mind tricks that Christopher Nolan pulls off in two of his most memorable works Memento and Inception, Gondry and Kaufman are able to (just as Dr. Mierzwiak explains to Joel before the procedure) find the core of the film’s best values and go backwards all the way to the beginning of this relationship that shares a lot of pains and bad moments to go with the blissful, unforgettable ones. What we wind up with is the scientific art of forgetfulness being overcome by the invaluable power of love, and a movie I will never forget.
1. Spider-Man 2
27 points, ranked by 7 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Russell Sellers and Andrew Woltman at No. 1
Andrew Woltman: Growing up, I have had many interests. But none so prevalent as Spider-Man. Talk to my uncle about my favorite “palloween” costume or the Spider-Man song that I wrote involving a mere repetition of the name. That being said, I was surprised that it had taken until 2002 for the release of a live action Spider-Man movie. Then, when the sequel came out, my love continued, and it was incredible. However, as with the Pirates of the Caribbean series, the films limboed underneath the bar of quality set by one absolute spectacle. Thus, the last good Spider-Man adaptation would undoubtedly be 2004’s Spider-Man 2.
Based on The Amazing Spider-Man #50, we pick up with our hero exhausted with juggling the responsibilities of work, family, relationships, school, and being “the most dashing hero on two legs.” He can’t keep up with it all, and goes through a mental block which causes him to lose his powers. What separates Spider-Man from the ranks of the billionaire vigilantes or the all powerful blue boy scouts is that Spider-Man (and thus Peter Parker) is a deeply flawed individual without numerous resources, great stability, invincibility, or a way to rein in his problems and solve them perfectly. Out of every superhero out there, he is thusly the most relatable of them all. Those issues come to a breaking point here when it’s just so far out of Peter’s hands, that he suffers one of the greatest existentialistic experiences one could have. He can’t have it all, and he needs to accept it.
That does it for 2004. To see the full breakdown of all 10 ballots, click here. Check back soon to see the staff’s top 5 movies of 2005!