2004 in REVIEW- Reality takes a big bite

If a trend could be seen in this year's movies– and the first thing they teach in journalism school is trend-spotting– it was toward documentary and biographical films. Perhaps Hollywood finally noticed the ratings for certain cable channels, as well as the major networks' "reality" shows.

That would explain the biographies, some of which bore as little relation to reality as anything on television. But there were two other reasons for the documentaries, most of which had little connection to Hollywood: Documentaries, especially Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine, made money in 2003; and 2004 was an election year. More than a dozen documentaries in theatrical release focused on the presidential candidates (Fahrenheit 9/11, Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry) and election issues (Uncovered: The War on Iraq, and Tying the Knot, about gay marriage).

The overwhelming majority of these films came from the liberal end of the political continuum and mostly preached to the choir. We'll never know how many votes they influenced, only that they didn't influence enough.

Even before Charlize Theron carried off her Oscar (and most other awards) for portraying Aileen Wuornos in Monster, films were in production or on their way to theaters about Ray Charles, Howard Hughes, Cole Porter, Bobby Darin, Bobby Jones, Alfred Kinsey, Ned Kynaston, Ramón Sampedro, Ernesto "Ché" Guevara, Samuel Bicke, Paul Rusesabagina, J.M. Barrie, Achilles, and Alexander the Great. That the stars of most of these are considered award contenders explains why actors like to play real people.

We even got historical epics this year, with Troy and The Passion of the Christ being the best of the lot, and The Alamo narrowly edging out King Arthur and Alexander as the worst.

Top Ten:

 1. Bad Education - Pedro Almodóvar reflects on his school days in a film that bends genres and genders.

2. Kill Bill: Vol. 2 - We should have known better than to expect just more of the same from Quentin Tarantino– less martial arts, more of everything else than Vol. 1

3. Sideways - The best of many independent films that scored breakthroughs this year– the road movie Hope and Crosby never dreamed of

4. The Notebook - Two great love stories of the same couple, then and now; the best tearjerker of the year, if not the decade

5. Team America: World Police - Team South Park shows satire is alive and well, and makes me cheer, even with a pro-Bush ending.

6. The Motorcycle Diaries - This story of a young man's political awakening is specific to Ché, yet in many ways universal.

7. Super Size Me - Morgan Spurlock's amazingly entertaining and informative look at how Americans are eating themselves to death

8. Hero - Zhang Yimou emulates Kurosawa in a gorgeous Chinese historical epic.

9. Spider-Man 2 - Maybe better than the first, which was already the best comic book superhero movie.

10. The Door in the Floor - The year's best domestic drama was overlooked in theaters, even with its stars going on talk shows to promote the nudity in it, but it deserves to be discovered on DVD.

Honorable Mention (listed alphabetically):

Good Bye Lenin!

Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle


Incident at Loch Ness

Maria Full of Grace

Mean Creek


Since Otar Left...

Stage Beauty

A Very Long Engagement

Best Foreign-Language Film: Bad Education

Runners-up: The Motorcycle Diaries, Hero

Best Documentary: Control Room

Runners-up: Super Size Me, Fahrenheit 9/11

Best Director: Quentin Tarantino, Kill Bill: Vol. 2

Runners-up: Pedro Almodóvar, Bad Education; Jean-Pierre Jeunet, A Very Long Engagement

Best Actress: Uma Thurman, Kill Bill: Vol. 2

Runners-up: Imelda Staunton, Vera Drake; Annette Bening, Being Julia

Best Actor: Jamie Foxx, Ray

Runners-up: Jeff Bridges, The Door in the Floor; Gael García Bernal, Bad Education and The Motorcycle Diaries

Best Supporting Actress: Virginia Madsen, Sideways

Runners-up: Cate Blanchett, The Aviator; Sharon Warren, Ray

Best Supporting Actor: Thomas Haden Church, Sideways

Runners-up: Clive Owen, Closer; James Garner, The Notebook

Best Original Screenplay: Pedro Almodóvar, Bad Education

Runners-up: Paul Weitz, In Good Company; Trey Parker, Matt Stone & Pam Brady, Team America: World Police

Best Adapted Screenplay: Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor, Sideways

Runners-up: Tod Williams, The Door in the Floor; Jean-Pierre Jeunet & Guillaume Laurant, A Very Long Engagement

Breakout Actor: Scott Mechlowicz, Mean Creek and EuroTrip

Breakout Actresses: Bryce Dallas Howard, The Village; Catlina Sandino Moreno, Maria Full of Grace

Best Line of Dialogue: "Matt Damon." - Team America: World Police

Best Ad Copy: "This Thanksgiving, would you like a leg or a thigh?" - Saw

Most Gratuitous Violence: The Passion of the Christ

Overrated: Finding Neverland, The Aviator, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Underappreciated: EuroTrip, The Girl Next Door, Open Water, The Door in the Floor, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle

Having a Bad Year: Joel & Ethan Coen (The Ladykillers), John Waters (A Dirty Shame), Spike Lee (She Hate Me), Kevin Smith (Jersey Girl), Wes Anderson (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou)

Having a Busy Year: Jude Law (Sky Captain & the World of Tomorrow, Alfie, I (Heart) Huckabees, Closer, The Aviator, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events); Don Cheadle (The United States of Leland, After the Sunset, Hotel Rwanda, Ocean's Twelve, The Assassination of Richard Nixon)

Separating New-Agers from the Rest of Us: What the #$*! Do We Know!, I (Heart) Huckabees

Two of my least favorites, De-Lovely and Primer will probably make as many best as worst lists, but I doubt even Kevin Smith will list the worst of the worst, Jersey Girl, among the year's elite. It got a raw deal by being lumped in with the whole Ben-and-Jen thing, even though it was really a Ben-and-Liv movie, but the fact that it was unfairly trashed doesn't mean it didn't deserve to be fairly trashed.

Bottom Ten:

1. Jersey Girl

2. Garfield

3. The Whole Ten Yards

4. Primer

5. Against the Ropes

6. De-Lovely

7. My Baby's Daddy

8. Twenty-nine Palms

9. The Alamo

10. White Chicks

Dishonorable Mention (listed alphabetically):

Christmas with the Kranks

A Dirty Shame


The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

National Lampoon's Gold Diggers

New York Minute

The Prince & Me

She Hate Me

Soul Plane


Worst Performance of the Year: Caroline Aaron, Beyond the Sea