Remembering a Decade…2004

(prologue) As we can begin to hear the death rattle of the oughts, we in the third row decided to start on this continuing series throughout 2009 that will look back at our favorite films of each of the past ten years (2000-2009). This will ultimately culminate in a “ten best/favorites of the oughts” piece sometime in early 2010.

It’s a landslide! I mean this wasn’t even close. The top spot for 2004 was a clear choice for all of the admins and affiliate voters this round. After that it dropped off pretty quickly in terms of voting numbers. This can be attributed to the fact that 2004 was probably the best year for film that we’ve encountered so far as we continue our trek through the decade. We all pretty much agreed that it was nearly impossible to whittle the year’s titles down to just five. A top ten was hard enough! So without further ado, we give you the consensus of our favorite films from 2004…

How we came up with these lists is pretty simple. The same way in which we always do our annual top ten list, each of the admins here took our top five (plus two honorable mentions) of the assigned year and relegated a point system (with a bit of arbitrary) and came up with a consensus list of our top five favorite films for that year.

Garden State5) Garden State
– Truth be told, it was a dead tie between this film and Downfall (in two separate votes). But as the guy who has to write all this stuff up and provide images and handle all the voter polls, I am making an executive decision and going with Garden State… barely. The reason I go with Garden State is for not only it’s compulsively rewatchable nature, but the fact that it is also a first time writing/directing effort from Zach Braff. An outstanding cast (Braff, Portman, Sarsgaard) that somehow manages to get away with a lot of seemingly platitudinous dialogue to tackle some potentially familiar situations and concerns and transcend into the effervescent. Not to mention it’s got a really dry sense of humor that kills me to beat the band each time. The backdrop of this suburban small town in New Jersey has just the right feel to it and each set is simply lovely. The primal scream into the infinite abyss is still a very moving scene for me personally. The film takes it’s share of criticism from movie goers and critics, but that’s because they too had “balls” written on their forehead and are ashamed.
– – “Ooh, great job man! I really thought you were retarded. I mean, you’re better than that Corky kid and he’s actually retarded. If there was a retarded Oscar you would win, hands down.”

Collateral4) Collateral
– I don’t think anyone captures certain characteristics of a particular city quite like Michael Mann. Mann’s unique eye for detail shows gives us the gritty feel to L.A. that we all know and “love,” but somehow he gives us more that creates a vibe and a world for us to live in that breathes and feels both real and surreal at the same time. L.A. becomes its own character as the backdrop for a modern day noir in which Tom Cruise plays bona fide villain, Vincent – a hitman who forces an unwilling cab driver (Jaimie Foxx) to take him from one destination to the next, further showcasing Mann’s eye for city locale and detail. Collateral is a film that sets its tone immediately with great character introductions and precise dialogue. Sure it’s got its detractors, but around these parts we’re big Mann fans and it wasn’t too difficult to see immediately that Collateral would certainly make our list.
– – “I can’t drive you around while you’re killing folks. It ain’t my job!”
– – “Tonight it is.”

3) Primer
– If there is one movie of the decade that will likely take more than one viewing (or six) to really wrap your head around, it’s Primer. Made for mere pennies, Primer has got to be one of the most interesting and mind-bending films about time travel ever constructed. It may not look slick and snazzy and ranks at about a zero in the special effects department, but great sci-fi is rarely about looks and more about an idea; and writer/director Shane Carruth takes this idea and runs a full 101 yards and straight into the endzone. If you missed this little gem (which if you blinked you probably did), catch up with now; any way you can.
– – “You got anything to eat? I haven’t eaten anything since later this afternoon.”

2) Sideways
– The critical darling of 2004 was of course Sideways. I’ve yet to come across any sane person who doesn’t absolutely adore this film. We’d all seen Paul Giamatti in countless films before this, but it was writer/director Alexander Payne that made him a household name. Likewise with Thomas Hayden Church – “hey isn’t that the guys from ‘Wings’?” On top of that, this hilariously dry script overflowing with charm and heart almost single handedly rocked the Merlot industry to its knees. Another compulsively quotable, classic film from the decade of the new millenium. Where’s my Criterion release!?
– – “I am NOT drinking any fucking Merlot!”

1) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
– Michel Gondry’s sophomore effort solidified his name as a film maker that will forever get people (well, those of us not stuck in the main stream current anyway) in the theater seats unconditionally. Coupled with the likes of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and we get arguably a genius team that takes a run of the mill love story and injects it with science fiction, tall tales, humor, style and imagination. No other film of the decade has the same charming resonance that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind had upon its viewers. The idea of destiny and memory intertwine into something unlike anything we’d ever seen before. And let’s not forget the superb cast (Winslett, Wilkinson, Wood, Ruffalo) – even Carrey as the introverted nice guy coincidentally makes us immediately forget about Lloyd Christmas or Ace Ventura. Joel is a complete character; brought to like by Carrey. This is a rare and moving picture that takes a beautiful slice from Kaufman’s wonderland of a mind and makes something perfect. Yes, even its flaws help contribute to its perfection.
– – “Can you hear me? I don’t want this any more! I want to call it off!”

– – a few honorable mentions: Downfall, 3-Iron, Closer, Before Sunset, Shaun of the Dead

We’ll see you in a couple weeks with our picks for 2005.


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Michael W. May

Sideways is barely ok, thanks to the acting. I thought the script was mostly *bleep*. So, *raises hand* mostly sane person who doesn't adore it 😉

Good choices otherwise, methinks.

Jandy Hardesty

Downfall would've been on my original list if I hadn't thought it was 2005. Ah well. I *heart* Garden State as well.

The weird thing about Gondry is that yes, I will go see anything he does, but I don't think anything he's done since Eternal Sunshine has been even close to as good – it's like he needed Charlie Kaufman to balance his flights of fancy. And Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York is a masterpiece of some kind, but I kept wishing for a bit of Gondry's whimsicality to counteract the darkness. I want them to collaborate again, damn it! They were so good together.

Jandy Hardesty

MWM, nah, you're trippin'. :p


Napoleon Dynamite not even an honorable mention? That film was a phenomenon!!!

Matt Gamble

2004 was a moster year Drew. I know I kept off at least 10 films that would have probably made a top 7 any other year, and Napoleon was certainly among that group.


Wanted to throw in my Hon-Mentions of VITAL and BIRTH, the real best two films of 2004. Sure, I'll give the Gondry/Kaufmann flick the third spot, to be honest it is more 'compulsively re-watchable' than the my #1 or #2 choices, but I thing Vital and Birth are both stronger cinema.

And Damn, there should be more love for SPARTAN out there, which took tedious-exposition and gave it the trashing of a life-time. I believe a lot of folks (the ones making thrillers and mystery pictures) have been paying attention to what SPARTAN stepped up and did so well, namely trust the audience to keep up.

Lastly, Anyone who thinks Garden State is better than 3-Iron, well, we should have words.

/definitely the divisive one for this year….


Lastsly, as much as I enjoy Sideways, it is easily my least favourite Alexander Payne film (and that includes his Paris Je T'aime short).


Also, perhaps SIDEWAYS was such a critical success, because Paul Giamatti's character seems to echo and re-enforce the 'hero' status of surly critics. (I'm not the first to suggest this theory, but yea, there you go…)


I haven't seen Eternal Sunshine in ages, I should probably check it out again this weekend. Sideways was a cute one-time viewing, but I've had trouble getting through it on subsequent attempts. I'm not even going to touch the disappointment that was Garden State. The only good thing about that movie was my beloved Sarsgaard. I've never seen Collateral or Primer, will definitely add those to my queue.

As for a few of my favourite titles, in no particular order:

– It's All Gone Pete Tong

– Before Sunset

– Mean Girls

– Brødre (Danish flick being Americanized this year)

– Kinsey


People woke up to how 'surface and empty' Garden State actually is. I mean is there really a large gap between Juno and Garden State.

I didn't hate either of these films on first viewing, in fact they were pleasant enough, but very very empty, and this is what gets called 'indie?' Yie.


"BIRTH, the real best two films of 2004. "

Birth is fucking shit. The way the child was characterized neutered everyhing about that story into absolutely laughable tripe. as much as I like Glazers videos, it's nothing but a demo reel for how well he can rip off Kubrick's cinematography.

Boo Kurt, boo.

John Allison

Here is my list:

Kung Fu Hustle

Mean Creek

Night Watch

Taegukgi: Brotherhood of War


HM: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Kill Bill Vol. 2


Downfall could be my favorite movie of the decade.


Ooh, Mean Creek is fabulous! Good one John. 🙂


Birth is cool.

And I also quite like Mean Creek. Don't piss in the campfire. Ya do it in the creek.

Some films people haven't mentioned. Dreamers (with onscreen vulva! Where's Tim1974?), Dogvill, Kill Bill 2, and Tarnation. Was My Architect that year?

Mad Hatter

My top 5 '04 movies…






HM to BEFORE SUNSET, which I finally saw last week.

Matt Gamble

Also, perhaps SIDEWAYS was such a critical success, because Paul Giamatti’s character seems to echo and re-enforce the ‘hero’ status of surly critics.

That theory might fly if he was actually a hero. Payne certainly didn't think of him as one.

Ross Miller

I liked Birth quite a bit.

Sideways is utter brilliance. Giamatti's character was one of the best of that year.

Garden State I bordered on LOVED the first time I saw it, but it's lost its quirkiness upon repeat viewings. I still enjoy it though.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind IMO is one of the best of decade. I agree with you Jandy, that I think Kaufman needed Gondry (or Spike Jonze, for that matter) to bring some quirkiness or… structure to Synedoche, New York. Kaufman has a ways to go as a director (although he's a deadly writer). As you say, there's a masterpiece in there somewhere, but until it becomes clear, it's simply GREAT at this point.

Here's my list (as usual, since I live in the UK, some of them may be from other years, either side, in this case 2003 or 2005), in no particular order:

5. Collateral

4. Before Sunset

3. Kill Bill Vol.2

2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

1. Oldboy

Honourable mentiontions (loads – just so I can mention them:P): Sideways, Save the Green Planet, Anchorman, Infernal Affairs, Saw, Man on Fire, Napoleon Dynamite

I'm guessing Oldboy was released in 2005 in the US hence the lack of mention in the RT post(?)


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