Laurence Station's Best Films of 2004
Before Sunset (Richard Linklater, USA)
characters from 1995's unassuming masterpiece Before Sunrise a
second chance at making, if not a life together, at least something more
substantive than a Venice one night stand. The refreshingly
improvisational dialogue and comfortably uncomplicated narrative,
unfolding in real time, provide an effortless verisimilitude, that rare
instance where the camera doesnít so much capture scenes as it grants us
a window into a world inhabited by individuals who couldnít care less
whether we watched them or not.
Maddin plays by his own brilliantly idiosyncratic rules, artfully
managing to fuse a serious affectation for silent film, romantic
melodrama and shapely beer-filled glass legs into a fever dream
concoction set in snowy, Depression-era Winnipeg. The quirks guarantee a
narrow audience, but for those in tune with Maddinís curiously
life-affirming gallows humor, Saddest Music hits all the right
about watching people watching a film could turn into a cheeky
metaphysical exercise in self-fellating art. But Tsai Ming-Liang has
larger concerns on his mind -- particularly, how easy it is for the
modern person to be utterly alone even in the most public of places.
Fascinating look at the world of drug mules and the often-desperate
circumstances that drive people to put their bodies at risk ferrying
ingested narcotics into America. Catalina Sandino Moreno's debut performance
as pregnant, questing Maria is startlingly assured and single-handedly
justifies the filmís existence.
The Aviator (Martin Scorsese, USA)
smartly focuses on the most glamorous period of famed recluse and
billionaire Howard Hughesí life (young Hollywood playboy and
record-setting but dangerously reckless pilot), and that makes for
exciting cinema. Itís when the downfall begins during the final third
that The Aviator loses altitude.
Sideways (Alexander Payne, USA)
Before Sunset, Sideways caves into plot contrivances that
detract from the overall story. But in its examination of friendship,
doubt, and the ever-appealing notion of hope when all seems lost, the
film exhibits a depth and insight uncommon to the well-traveled
Incredibles has to say about society suppressing individual
expression, itís ultimately a family values movie, more concerned with
relationships than rayguns. As far as characters go, superhero costume
designer extraordinaire Edna Mole steals the show.
Hotel Rwanda (Terry George, South Africa / USA)
A devastatingly tragic story told in a
frustratingly pedestrian manner, Rwanda still resonates due to
the sheer magnitude of the atrocities committed while the rest of the
world turned a blind eye. Don Cheadleís performance as a man walking a
dangerous tightrope between murderous Hutus and victimized Tutsis is a
sterling example of desperate resolve masked behind a polite smile and
the carefully chosen flattering remark.
Considering the talent involved, Eternal Sunshine should have
been more mind-bending than it actually is. Still, the film admirably
deals with issues of memory, vindictiveness and identity, and skillfully
manages to work them into what is essentially a classic Hitchcockian
race against the clock.
A stock gangster flick that puts more emphasis on alienation than
acrobatic gunplay, Last Life chooses to follow the
non-action-oriented characters instead of the typical rough and tumble
anti-hero types, and that makes for a surprisingly engrossing detour.
Notable near misses (Alphabetically Listed):
BAADASSSSS! (Mario Van Peebles, USA)
This is street-smart filmmaking courtesy, not of Spike Lee, but
Melvin Van Peebles. Taking a true "by any means necessary" approach
to getting his cinematic vision in the can, Peebles literally puts
everything on the line (family included) -- and just when it looks
like heís rolled snake-eyes, manages a "hard to believe if it
weren't true" lucky seven.
Infernal Affairs (Andrew Lau, Alan Mak, Hong Kong)
Involving cat-and-mouse crime drama that has just enough twists,
turns and character development to rise above its formulaic
The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (Wes Anderson, USA)
This charming failure from Wes Anderson has a pickup-stick narrative
approach, steadfastly refusing to commit to a single type of movie
and consequently failing to achieve a coherent synthesis of its many
ideas. But itís still a loopy, engaging, and sometimes shocking
Talaye Sorkh (Crimson Gold) (Jafar Panahi, Iran)
A Tehran pizza deliveryman views a wide spectrum of social classes
and decides respect is overdue for the less fortunate. Crimson
Gold is a film that offers no easy answers regarding hope for
the downtrodden or an unsolicited dose of compassion from the gilded
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