Page 5 of 5
by Matt Zoller Seitz
In many ways, 2004—an especially nasty presidential election year—seemed a delayed reaction to September 11, 2001. The year's two most contentious releases, Michael Moore's anti-Bush polemic Fahrenheit 9/11 and Mel Gibson's blood-soaked account of Jesus' death, The Passion of the Christ, expressed the red state/blue state divide better than any editorial, but they also exposed deeper, more widespread and lasting tensions—between the secular liberals that fancy themselves the stewards of western culture and the deeply conservative and religious element that often seizes and holds real power. And multiplexes were otherwise packed with movies about trauma, vengeance, the warrior spirit and the spiritual consequences of sin—everything from the remakes of Dawn of the Dead and Walking Tall to Guillermo del Toro's Hellboy and Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill, Vol 2 to David Mamet's overlooked Spartan, and Ernest Dickerson's adaptation of Donald Goines' novel Never Die Alone, which builds to a shot of its nihilistic gangster hero's body being fed into a crematorium furnace.
Beyond politics and current events, 2004 was notable for its bumper crop of visually audacious blockbusters: Zhang Yimou's dazzling wuxia fantasies Hero and House of Flying Daggers; Jean-Pierre Jenuet's wartime fable A Very Long Engagement; Brad Bird's Pixar feature The Incredibles, perhaps the most inventively drafted American cartoon feature of the decade; Wes Anderson's messy but unique nautical epic The Life Aquatic, which folds a father-son bonding story, a Moby Dick spoof, an action-adventure and a meditation on mortality and loss into one stunning package.Mike Leigh made an passionate argument for the moral and social necessity of abortion in Vera Drake. Tsai Ming-liang continued to chart the post-millennial evolution of China by way of a movie theater in Goodbye, Dragon Inn. Canadian eccentric Guy Maddin continued his silent film pastiche madness in The Saddest Music in the World and Cowards Bend the Knee. Alexander Payne and David O. Russell made humorous spectacle of upper middle class American neuroses in Sideways and I Heart Huckabees. Pedro Almodovar reached new peaks of poignancy (and refined an already sophisticated sense of structure) with Bad Education. It was the year that Martin Scorsese and Oliver Stone overreached with The Aviator and Alexander and Jean-Luc Godard made a triumphant return to the forefront of art-house consciousness with Notre Music, an interconnected triptych of featurettes about war, history and memory that put more well-received works to shame. Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and director Michel Gondry offered a piercing look at the necessity of remembering all experience—even the unpleasant parts—in the anti-romance turned rejuvenating love story Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. And debut filmmaker Jared Hess and inveterate troublemakers Trey Parker and Matt Stone contributed the year's most bizarre live-action comedies with Napoleon Dynamite and Team America: World Police. In retrospect, the latter movie, an all-puppet spoof of dumbass action spectacles, now seems a near-definitive statement on the U.S. during the Bush years: bloodthirsty, insecure and obsessed with scale and speed, a Michael Bay film come to life and likewise unaware of its ridiculousness.
Our senior film writers offer more thoughts on the decade at the movies, one year at a time.
Dec 31, 2009
In the first half of a two-part video essay on the decade at the movies, we return to the not-so-halcyon years 2000-2004. Plus, year-in-review snapshots from our senior film writers.
Dec 30, 2009