Top 10 Films of 2004

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2004 could be called the year of the blockbuster sequel.

“Spider-Man 2”, “Shrek 2”, “Ocean’s Twelve”, and “Kill BIll: Volume 2” were the most notable and financially successful. Meanwhile, Harry Potter made his third and best adventure to Hogwarts.

Yet the best films of the year came from the independent and low-budget scene with Alexander Payne standing head and shoulders above everyone else with his majestic “Sideways”.

There was also crowd pleaser and sleeper-hit “Napoleon Dynamite” and “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou”.

10. Before Sunset (Richard Linklater, USA)

before sunset linklater

Richard Linklater’s update on 1995’s “Before Sunrise” is a carefully constructed story of thirtysomething cynicism to life after the idealism of our twenties appears to wane. Good performances from Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, great script, wonderful Vienna locations.

9. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Alfonso Cuaron, USA/UK)

More mature “Harry” than the previous two films with the actors improving and becoming used to their roles. Cuaron’s dark vision of the Harry Potter world is beautifully realised.

8. Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright, UK)

shaun of the dead spaced edgar wright simon pegg

Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright bring their Spaced-humour to the big screen with this homage and parody of zombie films and the horror film genre. It works for the most part with well-targeted humour and sprightly performances.

7. Kill Bill: Volume 2 (Quentin Tarantino, USA)

kill bill vol 2 quentin tarantino

Not as good as Part 1 but still a worthy addition to Tarantino’s slowly growing list of films.

6. Million Dollar Baby (Clint Eastwood, USA)

Clint Eastwood’s film about female boxer Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) is one of his most assured films. “Million Dollar Baby” flourishes largely because of Swank’s powerful performance, where she proves once and for all that she is one of the most talented Hollywood actresses of the last 20 years.

5. Dead Man’s Shoes (Shane Meadows, UK)

dead man's shoes shane meadows

Shane Meadows’ best film is a tale of revenge and redemption. Paddy Considine is strong in the lead role, and is ably supported by the rest of the cast. Meadows finds a sense of gritty realism that makes the film’s brutal scenes more affecting.

4. Vera Drake (Mike Leigh, UK)

vera drake mike leigh

Mike Leigh took his unique storytelling technique back to the 1950s with this period film about abortionist Vera Drake. Imelda Staunton delivers a wonderful performance.

3. Downfall (Oliver Hirschbiegel, Germany/Italy/Austria)

downfall hitler germany

Oliver Hirschbiegel’s film was one of the most popular European films of 2004. It tells the story of Traudl Junge’s account of Hitler’s final days in the Berlin bunker where he would take his own life. Very realistic depiction of the final days of the World War II.

2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, USA)

eternal sunshine michel gondry

Jim Carrey has made a couple of classic movies and perhaps this is the last one he’ll ever make. Michel Gondry’s mind-bending film is darkly twisted and infuriatingly incomprehensible. It’s also brilliant, funny and uplifting.

1. Sideways (Alexander Payne, USA)

sideways alexander payne paul giamatti

Alexander Payne’s majestic character study of disillusioned teacher/writer Miles (Paul Giamatti) and his friend Jack (Thomas Haden Church) is a funny, touching and life-affirming tale of lust, love, sex and wine. The scene in which Miles and Virginia Madsen’s Maya discuss why their favourite tipple – wine – plays such an important role in their lives is one of the best written, perfectly judged and acted scenes of the last decade. It’s a superb use of relevant metaphor and character revelation. “Sideways” is a wonderful movie – it isn’t just the best film of 2004, it is the best film of the decade.

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About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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    Dale Civale Reply

    Also like Shrek movies, great animation film.

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    Castor Reply

    Good to see you stick by your conviction that Sideways is the top movie of 2004. I didn’t really think much of it but it certainly was pleasant enough.

    I would put Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind at the top. I also highly enjoyed Collateral and Hotel Rwanda. A pretty weak year in retrospect.

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      Dan Reply

      Thank you Castor, Sideways has quickly risen to the top of the tree in terms of my favourite movies. Glad you like Eternal Sunshine as much as me – great flick. I love the uniqueness of it and the actors do a great job.

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    Olive Reply

    Was just about to say Hotel Rwanda and Collateral too, until Castor beat me to it! Liked “The Aviator” also.

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      Dan Reply

      Hmm…I liked Collateral too but not so much the second time I saw it. It would possibly get into my top 20.

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    Downfall was such a great flick. Bruno Ganz’s performance as Adolf Hitler is one of the best portrayals in my opinion. Oh and Kill Bill Vol. 2 was pretty badass.

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      Dan Reply

      Totally agree…Ganz was a huge reason Downfall was a success.

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    Ronan Reply

    Haven’t seen Vera Drake, but I would be anxious to see how Leigh dealt with such volatile subject matter. The story makes me feel sad so I would be interested to see how he treats and represents it. Can’t see a happy ending with that one.

    • Avatar
      Dan Reply

      It’s certianly a difficult subject but I felt Leigh handled it with restraint – he allows the audience to be the judge. Like many of his movies, the actors are the focus. Imelda Staunton is simply superb in this.

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    Encore Entertainment Reply

    I just can’t agree on MDB, I can’t.

    Of course THE AVIATOR tops my list easily followed a bit by ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, MEAN GIRLS, FINDING NEVERLAND, CLOSER, HOTEL RWANDA, BIRTH, VERA DRAKE, BEING JULIA and THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN.

    I really need to see BEFORE SUNSET AND BEFORE SUNRISE I am a huge fan of Ethan Hawke, after all.

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      Dan Reply

      Mean Girls is an interesting one Encore! Although I’ve never seen it so I can’t judge. My impression of it from the poster/trailer/Lindsay Lohan is a one that stereotypes teenage school life and marginalises cliched social groups. Have I seen it all before or is Mean Girls different? Or am I completely wrong?

      Glad we agree on several other films though. It’s a shame I couldn’t find a place for Finding Neverland on this list.

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      Castor Reply

      OH yes, how could I forget Mean Girls, definitely in my top 5 of 2004. You should see it and judge for yourself Dan!

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    Aiden R. Reply

    With the exception of it arguably being Paddy Considine’s best role, wasn’t all too crazy about Dead Man’s Shoes, thought it dragged until the last Act. But damn do I need to watch Sideways again, been a long time. Awesome list, man. Good year for movies.

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    Heather Reply

    Eternal Sunshine was certainly my favorite of this year, and I know I’m one of the few that couldn’t stand Sideways, but I really loathed that film.

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      Dan Reply

      I was reading somewhere that Alexander Payne directs like a misanthrope – his films have a disdain/distaste for his characters/life. Perhaps you’re in that camp? But I’ve always seen his films as darkly comic tales of wayward and troubled individuals who are dealing with personal tragedy or disenchantment. Funny but dark, humane and bittersweet but not sentimental. What did you think of Election or About Schmidt?

      How is site running now? Any ideas what is slowing it down. I added an RSS subscribe thing a few days ago. I’ve removed that for now. Not sure what is causing slow down/freeze.

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    Fitz Reply

    A great year looking back in retrospect. Love the top two choices.

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    Róisín Reply

    Has it really been 6 years?..!

    Out of all of the films listed for 2004, I have to say that “Sideways” shines one of the brightest. Absolutely loved that film, although I found it hard to be objective about Paul Giamatti after “American Splendor” 🙂

    Genuinely great list – All films I hope to own on DVD. Apart from “Dead Man’s Shoes”, which I’ve yet to see.

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    Róisín Reply

    Oh, some of my favourites for (what I think were released in) 2004 were “Howl’s Moving Castle” and “The Chorus”.

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    Goregirl Reply

    Lists are fun but they can also be a bitch. Completely agree with Sideways, Spotless Mind, Vera Drake, Kill Bill 2 and Shaun of The Dead. All five would be in my own top 10!! I’d be hard-pressed to choose one over the other, I think I’d have to put Sunshine on top or Shaun. Downfall and Million Dollar Baby were both good, but wouldn’t have made my top 10. Just cannot get in to the Harry Potter though. I haven’t seen Dead Man’s Shoes, I’ll have to check that one out!

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    Dan Reply

    @Goregirl: Definitely check out Dead Man’s Shoes, Goregirl – a revenge thriller with a nice twist and some exploitative violence in a very British setting.

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    DEZMOND Reply

    must admit I hated all of these films, Dan 😉 But you know we have different tastes. But I must admit VERA DRAKE was the exception, Imelda’s performance is out of this world. I couldn’t believe how can someone be so convincing and focused as she was. One of the best acting performances ever!

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