Colin Odell and Michelle Le Blanc
1. The Incredibles
Brad Bird’s The Incredibles, an entirely CGI creation that showcases the importance of directorial coherence and a tight script over pyrotechnics and photo-realism. Sharply observed, funny, touching and genuinely exciting this at once a technological marvel as well as a nostalgic one.
There’s also a sense of nostalgia in Takeshi Kitano’s interpretation of Zatoichi – a role made famous by Shintaro Katsu. Kitano’s blind swordsman evokes the spirit of the earlier films while furthering the tale of the ronin masseur’s bloody vengeance. The visceral swordplay is enhanced by CGI that allows us to witness a kind of carnage that would be difficult to exact using more traditional methods. But Kitano keeps his film steadfastly planted on terra firma by maintaining an earthy Edo feel and committing some of the finest tap-dancing routines ever seen to celluloid.
3. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Clipping the year’s "best existential comedy" competition at the post is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (David O. Russell’s I Heart Huckabees coming close second) where Jim Carrey undergoes a memory wipe to obliterate a painful love affair with Kate Winslet. It’s not entirely successful and as a result, gives both the protagonist and audience a fractured, confused merging of reality and artifice. Again CGI is used to deconstruct and reconstruct our hero’s reality in a way that is symbolically representative rather that actually realistic.
1. Lost in Translation
Best known previously for busting ghosts, Bill Murray delivers the performance of a lifetime in Sofia Coppola’s sophomore film. As a disenchanted movie star marooned in a Tokyo hotel, his ennui is shared by a luminous Scarlett Johansson – the film details their briefest of encounters with poignancy and humour. Coppola bathes the city in a warm glow, mixes in a modish soundtrack and critiques ideas of fame, travel and showerheads. And as for Murray’s face as he gazes after Johansson while his photograph is being taken – a perfect heart-rending image.
2. Open Water
Based on a true story of two abandoned scuba divers left to the mercy of sharks, Open Water may suffer next to Jaws, but possesses an immediacy and a heart-stopping urgency that few mainstream films ever attain. Shot on digital cameras and featuring two no-name actors, the film is tightly edited and structured. The sheer vastness of the ocean is the film’s strongest asset – out here, worry leads to bickering, then to despair, and finally to a distressing climax.
3. Bad Santa
Billy Bob Thornton dominates this wonderfully acerbic and foul-mouthed black comedy about a misanthropic Santa smoking, drinking and stealing his way through endless shopping malls. Director Terry Zwigoff’s lurid colour scheme and jaunty pace combines splendidly with quirky support from Brett Kelly and Tom Cox to fashion a potent antidote to Hollywood’s usual rosy-cheeked, child-loving Kris Kringles.
Worst Film – Enduring Love
Films that start with a bang can only really end with a whimper, and so it proved with Roger Michell’s leaden-footed adaptation of Ian McEwan’s novel. Yes – the balloon tragedy opening was an arresting, surreal sequence, but the rest of the film was the worst kind of British cinema – urban angst-ridden thirty-somethings intellectualising about metaphysics and fate. Like Notting Hill (1999), London is again represented as some unknowable hinterland, full of Tate Modern lunches and chrome-clad university campuses. Daniel Craig, so impressive in The Mother (2003) is here reduced to blank emoting, while Bill Nighy’s mellifluous tones try to save the day, but can’t.
1. Before Sunset
Before Sunset is the follow-up to 1995’s Before Sunrise. In that first film, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy played students who meet by chance on a train and spend a night together in Vienna. To make a sequel to such a little gem looked, at first, foolish and desperate. But Before Sunset picks up the story nine years later and extends it superbly. Richard Linklater isn’t afraid to direct a film consisting largely of conversations between his two leads, and Hawke and Delpy have grown beautifully before our eyes.
2. Super Size Me
In Super Size Me Morgan Spurlock sets out to eat nothing but McDonald’s for thirty days – breakfast, lunch and dinner. From this contrived premise, Spurlock fashions an engaging look at America’s (and, by extension, the world’s) obsession with fast food. The movie succeeds largely because of the charismatic Spurlock, and because the subject matter is very entertaining and accessible.
3. Il Conformista
Perhaps my most prized trip to the cinema in 2004 was to the Prince Charles in London to see Il conformista on their Bertolucci day in March. The NFT’s Fred & Ginger, Cagney and Polanski seasons were other highlights. Among new movies,
I also liked the riveting Touching the Void; Io non ho paura/I’m Not Scared, which contained some real poignancy beneath the conventional suspense; and Oldboy, until about two thirds in, and then I lost the plot or it lost me.