Looking back 10 years into the world of movies is very exciting, a year when we saw a lot of incredible movies, the birth of popular franchises and a host of new Hollywood stars. 2004 also saw the passing of many of the movie industry’s finest, people who have left an eternal stamp on the art of film. Here’s a look back…
A few comedy movies stood out that year, there weren’t many, but those small few have remained firm favourites in the genre for me and many others… the hilarious Dodgeball – A True Underdog Story, the South Park creators’ Team America: World Police, hit sequel to Meet The Parents – Meet The Fockers, Shaun Of The Dead, a couple of great Adam Sandler movies – 50 First Dates and Spanglish, and Lemony Snicket’s A Series Of Unfortunate Events. But the one that stands above all that year has to be the now iconic Anchorman – The Legend Of Ron Burgundy. Will Ferrell has long been a comedy giant, but Anchorman, along with 2003’s Elf and Old School, launched him into global superstardom and made him a household name. We all love Ron Burgundy, we all have our favourite quotes, but Anchorman has always been an assemble piece, with other comic greats Steve Carell, Paul Rudd and the brilliant David Koechner providing many hilarious moments with Will, and Christina Applegate nailing her performance as the first female news anchor who sets off a chain of events so hilarious with the boys that Anchorman has constantly cracked us up for 10 years, and given us a sequel, which in my opinion was even funnier. One of the great funny movies of our time, very deserving of it’s now cult status, hard to believe it’s been so long ago.
Christmas movies were a real treat, with Tim Allen returning to his festive roots for the brilliant and horribly underrated Christmas With The Kranks, also starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Dan Aykroyd, following the countless disasters a married couple are forced to endure when they decide to skip the Christmas holiday and go on a luxury cruise with the festive funds, but hit with an unexpected surprise on Christmas Eve that throws their plans out the window and plunges them into total chaos. We also had another underrated festive movie, Surviving Christmas, with Ben Affleck playing a millionaire who is dumped by his girlfriend and in his determination not to spend the holidays alone rents the family and home of a miserable grouch played by the late great James Gandolfini. As we’d expect, it becomes a merry farce as the rich man discovers money really can’t buy him everything he wants. A Crimbo favourite of mine since it came out, just good old-fashioned festive fun and sweetness. But the big one, the movie that redefined animation and created a whole new world of filmmaking, The Polar Express, with the Oscar-winning legend Tom Hanks taking on several roles in motion capture, with a train conductor and young boy heading up the movie, taking a train filled with non-believing children on a magical ride to the North Pole to meet Santa Claus himself, with incredible adventures and sing-alongs all the way. The Polar Express is truly spectacular, visually breathtaking, wonderfully written and packed with fantastic music and songs, a movie that can be re-watched over and over without ever losing a single bit of it’s beautiful charm and excitement. Tom Hanks and Robert Zemeckis are a God-given movie partnership, one of the greatest.
To counter-act that lovely festive feeling, perhaps we should mention the scary side of 2004? As usual, the year was packed with horror movies, ranging between bad, decent and brilliant. We’d the likes of Dawn Of The Dead (A movie I have still yet to see), Godsend (A very underrated Robert De Niro chiller thriller), the brilliant Exorcist: The Beginning, the awful M.Night Shyamalan movie The Village, The Grudge (A disappointing and dull movie made only watchable by having Sarah Michelle Gellar as it’s star), the fantastic Resident Evil: Apocalypse and the epic and sadly underrated horror action movie Van Helsing, with Hugh Jackman taking on Dracula, Wolfman and Mr. Hyde, alongside the magnificent Kate Beckinsale. Van Helsing was a major high point of 2004 for me. But we saw the birth of a franchise that would go on to garner a huge fanbase, lead to many copycat movies and make critics balk at every entry, all except the original… Saw. Deeply twisted, extremely gory (Although very delicate when compared to it’s sequels) and highly original, Saw is a movie that changed the way people made horror movies, bringing a whole new edge to the genre with it’s style, violence and intensity, combining gory visuals and nightmarish tension with the old classic Hitchcock movies and the classic beat-the-clock thrillers we don’t see much of anymore. While the sequels go far more for the gore and the guts, the original works as a fantastic piece of movie excitement and remains the standout of the series, although i’m personally a fan of the whole franchise.
Sci-fi fans got a horrific kick up the backside 10 years ago with the release of Alien Vs Predator. For years, fans of both the movie franchise dreamed of a battle between the two movie mega-monsters, but what finally became reality became a total train wreck, as what we ended up with was still to this day a boring and severely watered down version of what us fanboys really wanted. While i will admit age has been moderately kind in terms of visuals and style, AVP still is almost unwatchable. Barely a decent scene between the alien warlords, dreadful characters, less gore than an episode of Barney The Dinosaur and just a wafer thin story thrown together at the last minute to pit these 20th Century Fox legends together. However, the moment i finished Aliens Vs Predator: Requiem, the first AVP has been washed from my mind, replaced by what i consider to be one of the most exciting and terrifying movies ever made, AVP-R is everything i wanted and so much more, so i’ll thank the first movie for at least getting the ball rolling. 2004 was surprisingly low on Sci-fi movies, not counting the many stunning comic book movies i’ll be getting to shortly. But there was one major movie that represented the genre with great honour, Will Smith’s I, Robot. Action-packed and visually mindblowing, I, Robot has it all… Story, script, effects, style and some of the most incredible action scenes of that year… One of Will Smith’s greats (Easily top 3), a stunning movie that still shows no sign of age, I, Robot is always a must-see blockbuster, another massive highlight of the year.
Disney had quite a year too, with a new Pixar smash-hit, The Incredibles. Nine years on after Toy Story, Pixar showed no signs of slowing down, delivering yet another family-friendly, action-packed, visually gorgeous movie, focusing on a family who’s every member has a special power that will be put to the test to save the world in a series of hilarious and exciting adventures. Disney and Pixar at the top of their game, The Incredibles was huge at the box office and in home media, delighting old and young alike. Then Disney gaves us the Nicolas Cage blockbuster National Treasure, one of the biggest Disney thrill rides i can think of, along with it’s brilliant sequel, National Treasure: Book Of Secrets. National Treasure follows Ben Gates, a historian in search of a long-lost treasure, a treasure with a map hidden where no one ever thought to look… On the back of the United States Declaration of Independence. In a frantic bid to find the treasure and protect the document from a nasty killer (Sean Bean), Gates steals the Declaration and goes on a dangerous mission with a museum expert, his partner in crime and his father to get to the lost treasure first. Plenty of top action, great comedy and a clever story, National Treasure (And it’s sequel) is Disney at their best. Bring on National Treasure 3.
Kids were treated to a brilliant year of movies, not only with the just mentioned Disney hits, but with the fantastic smash hit sequel Shrek 2 (The top grossing movie of 2004), the next chapter of Harry Potter – Harry Potter & The Prisoner Of Azkaban and also with many classic kids’ TV shows getting their first or second big screen adventures, with great movies like Garfield, Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed and Thunderbirds. But there’s one that means a lot to me, as a huge fan of the show and it’s wonderful characters, namely the star himself, Spongebob Squarepants. The super-lovable Spongebob finally got his big screen outing with Spongebob Squarepants: The Movie and scored a mjaor hit around the world. Remaining strictly loyal to the TV show and its characters, Spongebob’s movie also went bigger and better than anything we’d seen, and brought in many great names to take part in the fun, including the Hoff himself, David Hasselhoff, in a hilarious live-action/animated scene hat became an online favourite. I love Spongebob, i love the show, and i love the movie even more, it treated the show and it’s fans with great respect, which is why it was such a hit and still one of the best choices for a family evening sit-down.
What’s a year without a few big epics? A couple of big historical ones were King Arthur and Troy. King Arthur took on a classic tale and gave it a complete makeover, ditching the family-friendly attempts of past tellings and going straight for the kill. Dark, violent and very exciting, King Arthur has been sorely underrated since it’s release, but I’ve always held high praise for it, i welcomed the alternate story, the fantastic battles and the Bruckheimer sense of fun it brought. Add to everything, it’s being largely Irish-made and set. A brilliant piece of epic entertainment. And Troy… Don’t even know where to start… I just love it, as incredible to look at and exciting to watch as anyone could hope a movie of it’s kind to be. And as if the 2004 version wasn’t enough for me, the 2007 Director’s Cut is an absolute joy, adding a half hour of footage that i could never even imagine the movie without. Most studios and directors have a tendency to push out so called extended and director cuts of movies, but end up adding stuff the movie simply didn’t need, hence it being cut. But Troy’s 30 minutes is beyond fantastic, the horrific violence, the extra and much needed scripting and of course those shots of Helen of Troy (The stunning Diane Kruger, from National Treasure) every man just needs to see (Why those scenes were censored for a lower age rating i’ll never know, Titanic went much further and got a 12). Troy: Director’s Cut is the way this movie must be watched, you’ll never go back to theatrical version again, i highly recommend the Blu-ray release.
Disaster movies saw a fall from the mid-90s, we didn’t see a really major one again until Roland Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow. I still remember seeing at the cinema and being blown away by the first hour. Sadly, the movie takes a turn after the carnage of the first half, opting for a more character-driven survival movie rather than the smash-and-grab style we’re used to with disaster movies. Also a disappointing ending for me, and after all this time, i still wish i had written the story. But Roland’s joyous flair for disaster and visually stunning set pieces still wins over for the most part, i just wish he’d been given more to work with for the movie’s finale. Anyone who hasn’t seen Into The Storm, that is how a disaster movie should be made, it’s got problems, but it’s got all the right ideas on how to move around it’s problems… Huge action sequences, which make up for everything else wrong with the movie, including a major finale, which The Day After Tomorrow sadly lacks.
Comic book heroes got a great outgoing in 2004, with the fantastic Hellboy starring Ron Perlman as a demon with a hand made of solid stone who gets caught up battling ancient nazis, easily one of the best comic book inspired movies out there. Then we had a return to the screen for Frank Castle AKA The Punisher, with Thomas Jane taking on the role of a vengeful ex-Delta Force expert hunting the man responsible for the death of his family (Dolph Lundgren was the first to rise to the challenge in the brilliant cult 80s action classic, also title simply The Punisher). John Travolta turned in a great performance as the movie’s villain, with Jane in great form as Punisher, but sadly the movie also goes unfairly unappreciated. We were also treated to the final part of the comic book trilogy Blade, with Blade: Trinity, featuring once again Wesley Snipes as the title character, a half vampire-half human warrior taking on various vampire nasties, but keeping the biggest vampire of them all for last, Dracula himself. I love the Blade trilogy, and while Blade 2 remains easily the best of them, Blade: Trinity did a great job of wrapping everything up, and the additions of Ryan Reynolds and Jessica Biel helped it even more. A cracking piece of vampire action. But of course, there’s one comic book superhero movie of 2004 that to this day has remained a firm favourite among both movie fans and comic book fans, Spider-man 2. With Sam Raimi following up his monster hit, the fantastic Spider-man, he had his work cut out for him, but he rose to the challenge brilliantly and in style, along with the team of writers, in giving us a far advanced and far more intelligent superhero movie the likes we hadn’t seen since Tim Burton’s Batman Returns in 1992 (Unless we’re counting Hellboy). Bigger action, bigger special effects, bigger villain (A wonderful performance from Alfred Molina) and bigger story than the first, and with a once-again great performance from Tobey Maguire, Spider-man 2 was an incredible success and since it’s release has garnered almost nothing but praise from all walks of movie-loving life, including myself. Followed up by Spider-man 3, which, while still being a cracking blockbuster and tons of fun, tried too much in too little time, the Sam Raimi series ended. But what a series it is, with Spider-man 2 the big champion.
What 2004 did lack, strangely enough, was a decent amount of great action movies, excluding obviously the comic book, Disney and epic movies (And I, Robot, an action feast!). But there were a handful that hit the screens. The brilliant Man on Fire was one of them, directed by the wonderful and sadly departed Tony Scott, one of the greatest action movie directors we will ever know, and starring Denzel Washington as a former CIA agent hired as a bodyguard who is hired as a bodtguard to a young girl, but forced back into action when she is kidnapped. Man On Fire, in my opinion, is Denzel’s finest performance and one of Tony’s best. Then we had Walking Tall, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson carrying on down the path of action movie greatness, as a soldier returning home from war and finding his beloved town has descended into a seedy crime land, who decides to take out the garbage and bring the fight to the criminal running everything. Excellent action movie with some wonderful fights and shootouts, along with a decent support cast for The Rock, a must-see for anyone who hasn’t. Next is The Bourne Supremacy, the return of Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, this time directed by incredible filmmaker Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips, United 93 and The Bourne Ultimatum), had a hard act to follow with the first Bourne movie, The Bourne Identity, but thanks to a new director, a better script and some of the best action I’ve seen (The car chase is an absolute joy, one of my favourite movie car chases.), The Bourne Supremacy outdid The Bourne Identity in every way, and even could not be quite surpassed by the third movie, The Bourne Ultimatum, it just nailed the formula, a cracking thriller, perfectly shot and brilliantly told, few action movies can compare to it.
And sticking with the action-thriller genre, 2004 gave me a movie that has remained high on the list of my personal favourite movies and easily stood above everything of the year (With one exception, but with reason, i’ll get to it shortly). Collateral. Movie ultra megastar Tom Cruise teaming up with the legendary director Michael Mann to tell the tale of Vincent, a mysterious hitman who takes a cab driver, played wonderfully by Jamie Foxx, hostage and forces him to drive him around late-night L.A. to carry out an assignment of murdering five people. What follows is some of the finest and most exciting filmmaking ever produced, and (Again, in my opinion) easily of the greatest movies ever made, Cruise delivering his very finest performance, though some may disagree with me, and Jamie Foxx proving why he’s one of the best 21st century movie stars to emerge as Max the cabby. Collateral is pure perfection, a marriage of wonderful directing by a master, incredible performances from two stunning actors and tension you could cut with a knife, the excitement and fear is almost unbearable at times, the ultimate character-driven thrill-ride. And the soundtrack, between the score by The Dark Knight‘s James Newton Howard and the collection of wonderful genre-spanning songs and instrumentals, is a treasure, working even by itself as a stunning album, one of the best I’ve heard. Collateral is magnificent, plain and simple, an utter masterpiece.
Big Oscar winners next, Clint Eastwood’s heartbreaking and almost unwatchable Million Dollar Baby, deserving of it’s every award and review of praise, telling the story of a female boxer who is taken under the wing of a long-time boxing promoter but ends up fighting for more than a prize title. Clint is wonderful in one of his last performances and his directing is stellar, still proving why he’s one of the best in Hollywood. But, although it rarely happens, Clint was out-done on his own turf by Hilary Swank, who is absolutely incredible, easily earning the Oscar she was given for her role in the movie, she stole the show, she really did. A brilliant movie, but a very difficult watch. Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator was another stunning piece of filmmaking, telling the story of eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes, an airplane expert and pilot who’s increased insanity effected not only himself, but those around him. Cate Blanchett deservedly won a Best Supporting Actress role for her perfect performance of Hollywood icon Katherine Hepburn, while Leonardo DiCaprio continued (And still continuing) to be snubbed by the Academy. But in fairness to the Academy, they were saving that Oscar for Jamie Foxx in yet another incredible performance, taking on the role of legendary singer/songwriter Ray Charles (Who sadly died in 2004, shortly after the movie’s completion) in the movie Ray. While the movie itself failed for me on a few levels, Foxx’s performance is still stunning and very deserving of that Oscar, he’s amazing. Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind also proved to be a great success, also winning an Oscar, Best Original Screenplay. What is unusual is that although Jim Carrey is my favourite movie star, i find it to be one of his weakest movies, it’s largely overrated. Jim himself is decent, Kate Winslet is not bad, but the movie for me just doesn’t work, i don’t understand it’s popularity, it’s just weird without interest, which never appeals to me, but the soundtrack is actually really good. And how Collateral didn’t receive a single Oscar still astounds me, especially given that Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind is given Best Original Screenplay when Collateral clearly deserved that award. Sideways was another big winner, but is a movie I’ve yet to see, so i can’t form an opinion on it.
And the last to mention of 2004 is a big one. A story that’s been told so many times, but never with the depth, detail and heart that was brought to it by another Hollywood legend, Mel Gibson. The Passion Of The Christ. Recreating the final 12 hours in the life of Jesus Christ. His last supper, his arrest, his torture, his crucifixion, his death and his rebirth. Jim Caviezel was tasked with taking on the most important role an actor could be given, and he delivered, for me, the greatest acting performance ever seen in a film, an absolutely incredible portrayal of a man beyond our world and beyond our understanding, he is the perfect choice. While i constantly harp on about Hollywood blockbusters, action movies and such, it is important to note that The Passion Of The Christ is not to be considered a movie, it is not something to entertain, not something to amuse or excite, it is a film. And as a film, it must stand above all movies and be judged differently than anything else we talk about. I believe this is the most important film we will ever see, there may be some people who question how authentic aspects have been put foward, but regardless of how an individual chooses to believe in religion or not believe, The Passion Of The Christ is fundamental in showing us a history that has formed our world, whether it’s faithful or not, without mercy to its viewers, without choosing to avoid the darker parts of man and the evil he’s capable of and without remorse. Mel Gibson may seem to many as a troubled man, a man with ideas different to our own, but no one can deny the raw power and strength he poured into this film, along with it’s cast, production team and the heart and sorrow that went into it’s music score by John Debney. Everything down to resisting the urge to tell the story with English language (Even if one of the languages used was not authentic of the time). Whether you believe the story presented, whether you have your own beliefs, the core of the film is that evil may destroy good, but good will always be reborn, long after evil has gone. The Passion Of The Christ is everything you need to know about the world, it couldn’t have been told better, in my opinion. Being made on a $30 million budget and generating over $611 million at the worldwide box office, along with it’s massive sales on home media, proves at least that people, although not all religious, still feel the need to be told the story of Christ.
Finally, 2004 saw the passing of many beloved movie stars, people we’ve all loved for many years and for many different movies. The wonderful Christopher Reeve and the legendary Marlon Brando both died in 2004, the stars of Superman. We lost the comedy great Rodney Dangerfield, we lost the brilliant Jerry Orbach, the legend Howard Keel, the beautiful Janet Leigh, the incomparable Peter Ustinov. And we lost former movie star turned US President Ronald Reagan. We also lost two movie soundtrack composing giants in 2004… Jerry Goldsmith and Elmer Bernstein, who gave us some of the greatest movie soundtracks. May they all rest in peace, and the many other great movie stars, composers, producers and directors who passed away that year.