2004: The Year in Movies

Refocusing
Critic vs. critic.
Jan. 5 2005 5:00 PM

2004: The Year in Movies

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I appreciate Dennis Lim's comments and agree with some of them. But I want to add that I invited Armond here (after having griped about him in previous Movie Clubs) because I think he is not just an irascible, ungovernable flame-thrower but also a hugely important voice in contemporary film criticism. I find his pieces genuinely challenging and indispensable, even when I think they're slightly nuts.

But now it's time to set aside our discussion of the merits and demerits of contemporary film criticism (however integral I think it is to our discussion of contemporary films) and spend the next two days on movies exclusively. Like Spanglish, which is neither smug nor sadistic. And if it is occasionally self-satisfied, Tony, it is also hugely unresolved (part of the reason it's so messy). Charley asked about moments in movies, and Tea Leoni's performance is one magic moment after another. I laugh out loud when I think of her furiously jogging along the streets of Beverly Hills yelling, "Your left! Your left!" as she whizzes by the domestics trudging from the bus stop to their jobs. And when Paz Vega's Flor can't take it anymore and angrily races her, it's one of those crystallizing dramatic moments.

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I know some of you don't share my regard for the splendor of Cate Blanchett, but when she came out in The Aviator with that Hepburn Philadelphia Story aristocratic whinny I nearly died. I've already mentioned Bernie Mac's push-ups. God, I loved the sequence set to "Another Day" in 50 First Dates; it made me cry. Will Farrell sporting the biggest erection in the history of movies (sorry, John Holmes) and protesting, "It's a pleat!" The final two words of Before Sunset. Fenella Woolgar's demented face when she drives someone else's racecar off the track in the underrated Bright Young Things. The parade of circus elephants in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The love in Uma Thurman's eyes as she regards David Carradine's Bill, despite every intention of killing him. Napoleon Dynamite's climactic bopping dance. All the scenes with the old man on the bench in Son Frère. The final video in The Sea Inside. The puke scene in Team America. The look in Annette Bening's eyes as she lowers the boom on that sweet young rival in Being Julia. The meek English middle-class mum in Shaun of the Dead explaining to her son that she didn't mention having been bitten by a super-contagious zombie because she "didn't want to be a bother." Tell the truth, I live for those moments—most comic, but some wrenchingly sad—in movies. (I actually had a pretty wrenching moment last night during an otherwise lousy horror movie, White Noise: I screamed louder than I've ever screamed in my life, buried myself in Stephanie's lap, and literally wet my pants—by which I mean I spilled my Diet Coke all over them.)

I am sorry I haven't yet seen the overlooked movies cited by Tony and Charley. I will try to rectify that. For tomorrow and Friday: Are we averse to discussing the phenomenon that was The Passion of the Christ? Its omission from most 10-best lists and likely shunning by the Academy Awards will prompt a new wave of charges against Hollywood. How do critics answer? Is there more to say about Vera Drake? (I loved the first half but felt that Mike Leigh was a victim of his own rigorous naturalism in the second. I wanted the drama to do more than just play itself out.) Have we anything to discuss about the autobiographical home movie as art? And here's a question for you: Was there any movie this year that you still can't quite figure out why you liked—or hated?

Let me also invite readers to propose topics to movies@slate.com. Please put in the subject line, "A Humble Suggestion That in No Way Challenges Your Brilliance."

As if this Movie Club isn't sprawling (and, as a Frayster has noted, loopy) enough, tomorrow we'll be joined by Scott Foundas, Christopher Kelly, and Wesley Morris, all of whom will doubtless bring their own passions, peeves, and obsessions to the party.

I can't wait.
David

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