Day three of the 4-day Year in review (plus 30 years ago, 20 years ago, and today’s 10-years ago reviews). I don’t know about you, but 1994 was a weird year. There weren’t a lot of good candidates for the top ten films of the year, but the top three were as strong of contenders for best movie of the decade as you’re likely to find. 2004, as it turns out, was similar, but not. I instantly found 8 movies that I would immediately put on a top ten list… and about 20 movies that were… good, but not great. So numbers 9 and 10 on this list get put there on account of their box office appeal, and no other reason. Clearly somebody liked them, even if that somebody wasn’t me.
Let’s get it on.
10. Shrek 2
I don’t like Shrek, and Shrek 2 was just more of the same stuff. But lots and lots and lots of other people do, so it makes the list. Unfunny Mike Myers as a big green ogre making anachronistic jokes, unfunny Eddie Murphy pretending he’s a funny donkey, and a cast of annoying fairy-tale-inspired characters.. That’s the Shrek movies in a nutshell. Anotnio Banderas’ Puss in Boots is the only bright shining star in this franchise, but even he can’t bring the highest grossing movie of the year higher than #10 on the list of best films of 1994.
9. The Incredibles
To wash the bad taste of Shrek 2 out of our mouths, let’s go with the best cartoon of the year, The Incredibles. While this movie isn’t the best of the Pixar lot, The Incredibles is possibly the best original (non-comic-book-based) superhero move ever. Like many Pixar movies, they lift the premise heavily from another source… you may find next year’s Avengers 2: The Age of Ultron very similar to the Incredibles. They both use the “self-healing, self-improving robot” as their bad guy. In spite of this, the family dynamics, the tension and action, and the comedic elements all work exactly like you’d expect from Pixar. A worthy film for any film library, adult or kid’s.
8. Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle
I have to be honest, I usually hate stoner movies. I didn’t like Fast Times at Ridgemont High. I was never a fan of Dazed and Confused. Don’t even get me started on Cheech and Chong. But Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle managed to somehow transcend this hatred. Smart, witty script, talented actors, and Neil Fucking Patrick Harris. With one fell, mind-blowingly awesome swoop, Harris shed the Doogie Howser skin and became something transcendent. Bonus footage: put the DVD in and let it sit on the main menu for a while. There’s like… 30 minutes of dialogue as Harold and Kumar wait for you to hit play. Win/Win.
7. The Passion of the Christ
Mel Gibson won Academy Awards with Braveheart. He won box office acclaim with the Lethal Weapon movies. He won international derision with a drunken rant in Malibu. But he won the award for goriest, hardest-core Bible movie of all time with The Passion of the Christ. Christian audiences flocked to this movie like no other. If you don’t include the three Narnia movies (which hold spots 2, 3 and 4 on the all-time chart), Passion of the Christ outsold the fifth-through-twelfth all-time box-office-leading Christian films…. combined.
6. Team America: World Police
It would be difficult to imagine a situation where someone could say “a raunchy rated-R parody of America, Americanism, 90s action movies and the War on Terrorism was one of the best movies I saw this year.” But with Team America: World Police, 2004 was that year. The brainchild of South Park masterminds Trey Parker and Matt Stone, Team America featured extraordinarily catchy parody songs, silly characters engaged in serious romance and action, and just the most rated-X sex you’re likely ever to find puppets doing.
Double bonus extra points for the “Dicks, Pussies and Assholes” monologue at the film’s climax. That is possibly one of the most brilliant pieces of double-entendre dialogue ever penned.
5. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkhaban
Episode three of the eight-part Harry Potter saga introduces us to my favorite secondary character, Professor Lupine, who ends up playing equal parts protagonist and antagonist in the film. The kids are all grown up now, in their middle-to-late adolescence, which means Emma Watson has started moving rapidly from “cute and precocious” to “extraordinarily attractive,” so there’s that, too.
Seriously, though. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkhaban immediately leaves the happy-go-lucky first two Harry Potter films behind, and heads toward darker, more dangerous waters. There’s a serial killer on the loose, Voldemort is trying to come back, and the only thing they seem to have in common is an intense focus on young Harry. Daniel Radcliffe gets his his first chance to really emote, as feelings of rage, fear, and exhilaration are in ample display here. The movie easily works its way into the top 5 films of the year.
“If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball!”
You all know by now that one of my favorite story memes is “plucky underdog wins against superior forces.” Dodgeball has that in spades. It also has Alan Tudyk in a fantastic character bit, Vince Vaughn doing exactly what he does in every movie to perfection: playing the unflappable everyman, and Justin Bateman as an unforgettable color commentator for ESPN 8 (The Ocho). Casting is perfect, slapstick is perfect, film is perfect. I’ve noticed that of my top 10 films of 2004, seven of them are cartoons or comedies. Huh.
3. Mean Girls
Mean Girls managed to pull off the seemingly impossible: it combined chick-flick with coming-of-age teen comedy and merged them brilliantly. Lindsay Lohan, Rachel McAdams and Tina Fey all bring a perfect sense of comedic timing, and the film is spot-on accurate in nailing how the cliques we discovered in John Hughes movies in the 80s have evolved into today. If Lindsay can’t pull off a Drew Barrymore and turn her life around, Mean Girls will not only be the 3rd best movie of 2004, but also the best film of her career.
2. 50 First Dates
Speaking of Drew Barrymore!
Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore have undeniable screen chemistry, but it has never been so wonderfully displayed as in 50 First Dates. an imminently charming romantic comedy about a marine biologist living in Hawaii who falls in love with a girl with unusual amnesia: every day she wakes up believing it’s the day before a big accident she had several years in the past. Her family (including Sean Astin in a hilarious bit role as her ‘roid-popping brother) and friends have been meticulously arranging their lives to make her feel like it’s still that day in the past. Made well before Sandler began treading the Eddie Murphy path of fading comics, 50 First Dates is fresh, funny, sweet and heart-warming. Great date movie. Great movie, period.
1. Spider-Man 2
The absolute best of the five Spider-Man movies made in 21st century, Spider-Man 2 pits Peter Parker against his worst enemy yet: his own insecurities. At the time this movie came out, I was dealing with an identity crisis involving responsibility. I had been given a task that was not quite beyond my ability to handle, but absolutely required that if I were to tackle it, it would be at the expense of everything else I’d wanted to do with my life.
So the movie hit me pretty hard when Peter had to face that exact same dilemma, albeit it with a crisis of super-hero identity. To see him come to grips with his inner demons, find the focus he needed, and save the day found strong resonance with me, and with audiences around the world The #2 movie at the box-office in 2004 turns out to be the best film of the year.
And that’s my list for 2004. We looked at 1984 on Friday, 1994 yesterday, and 2004 today. Tomorrow we will close out the year in review with the actual year in review: the best movies of 2014. What do you think? Did I nail them? Did I utterly blow it? Dis I miss something? Let me know! Comment below or knock me out on Twitter (@gawainthestout).
See you tomorrow!