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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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.