By Jesse Marx
By Chris Parker
By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
5. S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine
One of the few living survivors of a Khmer Rouge death camp interviews his teenage persecutors, now fully grown, and encourages them to reenact their crimes in the very place where they committed them. A sacred movie.
6. Ocean's Twelve
Yes, the world is on fire; yes, it needs our helping hands. But can I just go off-topic for a moment? If I can't stop staring at Brad Pitt, does that mean I'm going through some midlife sexual-identity change?
7. Control Room
Who would have guessed that the documentary form would lend itself to a 21st-century Balzac novel? The richness of sociological detail--especially the interactions among the self-contradicting characters--gives the movie a roundness and fullness that's very nearly unique.
8. The Terminal
Steven Spielberg's miniature portrait of comic abjection is among the most exquisite of his later works. Its felicities include the director's time-tested figure of the Wandering Jew being given many of the particularities of a Wandering Palestinian; and a terrifying set piece composed only of some Starbucks saltines and a handful of condiments.
9. Jesus, You Know
Austrian director Ulrich Seidl is the most scalding social satirist since Otto Dix. Here, he has created a brilliantly equivocal object: a movie in which a handful of Austrians speak to us, in baroque church settings, the words they speak to Jesus Christ. Is it another Seidl slap at the Viennese haute bourgeoisie? A sincere rendering of the yearning hearts of ordinary people? Or--scariest of all--is it a work that leaves us to fill in the ideological blanks?
10. The Five Obstructions
A man I love to hate, Lars von Trier, redeems his loathsome oeuvre in the last minutes of this terrifically suspenseful documentary about the gauntlet of challenges he throws down in front of his now-less-celebrated filmmaking mentor. A Rubik's Cubic, all-purpose allegory for therapy, S&M, Oedipal wrestling matches, and the agonies of reviewing movies.
Honorable Mention (in order of preference): Bad Education; Primer; Vera Drake; When Will I Be Loved; Million Dollar Baby; Twentynine Palms; Dawn of the Dead; Moolaadé; Tamala 2010: A Punk Cat in Space; King Arthur.
The Kids Are Alright
BY JIM RIDLEY
Call it the Revenge of the Gen-Yers. If there was a prevailing film trend in the years 2002 and 2003, it was the continued dominance of '70s Hollywood and its movie-brat progeny: After seeing strong new work from Polanski, Scorsese, De Palma, Altman, Spielberg, Schrader, and Bogdanovich in the same 12-month span, a 21st-century viewer might have thought he had awakened in 1973--like Sleeper in reverse.
In 2004, though, the cream of the past decade's indie-film wave reasserted itself with a vengeance. Virtually every major indie auteur who emerged during the 1990s represented in '04: Give or take Steven Soderbergh (Ocean's Twelve) and/or Kevin Smith (Jersey Girl), only Paul Thomas Anderson was AWOL from a roster that included Quentin Tarantino (Kill Bill Vol. 2), Wes Anderson (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou), Richard Linklater (Before Sunset), Alexander Payne (Sideways), and David O. Russell (I Huckabees). And for the most part, they did exactly what we had hoped for: They raised the bar for mainstream filmmaking to such a degree that even their misses felt like hits.
1. Before Sunset
The least you can say for Richard Linklater's sustained Holy Moment of a movie is that it offers a late-afternoon stroll through Paris by the sun-dappled Seine. At best--which constitutes the entire 80-minute film--the characters, the locations, the actors, their off-screen histories, and the simmering sexual tension in their banter produce a sensation not unlike falling in love (in real time).
Think of this rabid reworking of Our Town, a scalding morality play with the heft and mostly realized ambition of a major work, as The Passion of the Christ with the ending most people wanted after two hours of His bloody desecration--i.e., a payback that would make Sonny Chiba wince. Except this passion play comes with the horror of actually seeing our grim hope realized. We should be glad that Lars von Trier wants to be God and not the other way around.
3. Blissfully Yours
This raptly contemplative summer picnic of a movie follows a middle-aged Thai housewife, a young Burmese immigrant, and his girlfriend into the forests near the Burmese border on an afternoon reverie. Time dissolves in an erotic haze, and director Apichatpong Weerasethakul's languid takes are an immersion in natural wonders: the chirps of unseen wildlife, the prismatic play of light on a pond, even a penis unfolding like an exotic lily in a lover's hand. Despite its elegiac epilogue, the movie's lingering effect is restorative, as if the director had held a tuning fork to the world and recalibrated our senses. Be sure not to miss the precredit sequence--all 45 minutes of it.
4. I Huckabees
The movie that Preston Sturges might have made had he lived through 9/11: a riled-up, extraordinarily generous and humane farce about competing philosophies (and philosophers) that could just as easily have been called Design for Living. As a hotheaded firefighter with a short fuse, Mark Wahlberg proves he would've made an excellent William Demarest.
Metaphysical in its ideas and implications, Luddite in its means (all the way down to its glorious Super 16 cinematography), writer-director-editor-star Shane Carruth's $7,000 science-fiction marvel demonstrates that imagination is a special effect few movies can afford. What makes its abstract time-travel conundrums plausible is the mundane concreteness of the surrounding details: suburban garages, industrial-park monotony, guys in white shirts and skinny ties talking in the impenetrable shorthand of impatient techies.