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2004 At The Movies

January 3rd, 2005

Last week, my friend Dave Lartigue sent me a list of the flicks he’d seen last year. Now, if you know Dave (and if you don’t, it’s your loss), you know that he does not, in general, like movies. So, it was perhaps no surprise that he’d only watched 11 films.

Inspired by his action, I compiled my own list, and found that I–someone who professes to love movies and who personally owns a ridiculous number of DVDs–had seen a mere 17 2004 releases. (Films which were initially released prior to 2004 aren’t represented on this list.) Here they are, in the order that they were issued:

  • The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (viewed on DVD)
  • Dawn of the Dead
  • 13 Going on 30 (viewed on DVD)
  • Hellboy
  • Mean Girls
  • Shrek 2
  • Dodgeball
  • Fahrenheit 9/11
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  • Spider-Man 2
  • Anchorman
  • Alien vs. Predator
  • Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
  • Ray
  • Team America: World Police
  • The Incredibles
  • Ocean’s Twelve

There was a time when I would have to defend myself for having gone to movies that  I strongly suspected would not be very good. In some cases, I did so with hope that the critics would be "wrong." (For example, I firmly believe that Starship Troopers was grossly misunderstood.) In other cases, it was simply to stay informed of what passed for sci-fi/fantasy at the multiplex. (Could I really discuss my loathing for Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes without having suffered it first hand?)

Apparently, the mocking of my peers has had some effect, as has the general deterioration of the filmgoing experience. Shoddy framing, poor focus and talkative audience members have all dimmed my enthusiasm for shelling out eight bucks to sit in a darkened room, especially now that I have a decent surround sound system at home. Hence, my list is much smaller than it has been in years past.

With the obvious exception of Alien vs. Predator, I seem to have broken the habit of knowingly subjecting myself to lousy flicks. Since I was choosier than usual this year, there’s really nothing on this list that I can truly say disappointed me. (I knew what I was getting with Shrek 2, 13 Going on 30 and Ocean’s Twelve. All of them had their charms, at least.)

Sky Captain, predictably, was my favorite film of the year. It’s as if someone drilled into my head, sucked out the contents, and loaded them into a projector. I got to see it again on the big screen a couple of weeks ago, at the Virginia in downtown Champaign. It’s a big, old movie house that had gone into disrepair until being rescued by the local park district, and it’s the sort of theatre in which Sky Captain would have played if it really had been released in 1938. I absolutely love every moment of this flick. It captures all of the awe and wonder I can still occasionally feel in front of the silver screen, with a pulp sensibility that I adore. I fail to understand the hatred that it’s encountered amongst some members of the geek community.

As for the others, Spider-Man 2 finally unseated the first two Christopher Reeve Superman adventures as the best superhero film ever, and the third Harry Potter was the first in that series that I could truly consider really good, as opposed to competent. Hellboy wasn’t quite as good as it could’ve been, but it laid a firm foundation for what I hope to be a superior sequel.

I enjoyed The Incredibles, though it’ll take a second viewing before I can properly assign it a place within the Pixar hierarchy. (I suspect that it will fall somewhere in the middle.) I’d already been exposed to a lot of deconstructionist superhero stories, so some of the humor wasn’t as fresh as it probably was for the mainstream audience. That said, it did show a refreshing amount of depth, including some interesting points about conformity vs. superiority. Does treating everyone as "special" do society a disservice? Buddy/Syndrome was a surprisingly complex and evil character: his gadgets could have allowed him to become a  legitimate superhero, yet he went on a murderous spree with the goal of pretending to be heroic. Elastigirl, rather than Mr. Incredible, was in my view the real star of the film, though that may be a Holly Hunter thing. Her cool in the face of danger (and sliding doors) was fun to watch!

A few decent comedies came out last year. Mean Girls was definitely a Tina Fey thing for me, but it had a good message and plenty of laughs. However, Dodgeball and especially Anchorman were outrageously stupid and thoroughly enjoyable. Anchorman‘s street
rumble between rival news teams is the most delirious, hilarious scene I’ve witnessed in a long time. (Steve Carell wielding a trident is an image that will stick with me!)

I’m not sure how to feel about Fahrenheit and Team America. I laughed a lot at the latter, but in hindsight feel that I may have missed the point. I initially viewed it as a parody of conservative wish-fulfillment, especially in way that Hollywood liberals were portrayed as quite literally conspiring to undermine America. However, later interviews with the filmmakers suggest that I may have misinterpreted their intentions. (Whether the film they made was the film they thought they made may still be up for debate.) Fahrenheit was effective, yet I wish that Moore could be a bit less of a self-promoter and a bit more honest with his work. Knowing that his enemies would pick apart every single word, he should’ve avoided the manipulative and misleading elements of his case. There’s plenty of real evidence of White House corruption without making any up.

So, that’s 2004. 2005 is looking promising. I hope to see at least 18 films this year!

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