2004 Leaman Awards - The Part-Time Critic

Monday, January 16, 2017

2004 Leaman Awards

*Last Updated 7/24/2022

2004 Films Seen: 76
Number of Films with 'A' or 'A+': 5
Key Films Still to See: n/a

Brief Summary: This film year is one of the most well-rounded and deep years of cinema in my lifetime. There are at least three films from this year I would consider as some of my all-time favorites and there are over ten films earning a score in the A range. A top ten with all films in the A grade range is an extremely rare feat and shows that there's something about the film output this year that continues to engage and entertain me. Not only has the quality of the movies been above average this year, but also I found the diversity of the movies to be quite satisfying. Looking over my Ambassador's List, I find a once in a generation religious film, the best action film since Die Hard, great adult dramas, challenging premises, quality quirky comedies, strong foreign films, an ambitious historical epic, and a horror film that spawned an iconic franchise. I'd enjoyed movies most of my life with a particular spark beginning around 1997 or so. It took the Lord of the Rings series, especially Return of the King, to turn that liking into a deep love. 2004 was the first year I really got serious about film and began to study it as not just a form of entertainment, but as a vehicle of art; a vehicle that can say and express things about humanity that can’t be expressed in any other medium. Whether its something as simple as the comedy in a situation or the complexity of finding that memories (however painful at times) can still contain joy and hope. 2004 was a monumental year in my understanding of film and really, life. 

Not a "best of" list or a "favorite" list - but a list of the films and sequences (action, drama, comedy, & musical) that I think represent the best the year had to offer. So think of it as a strange mixture of favorite, best, and defining. Once you get to the top ten films, it definitely becomes more defined as a Top Ten list of the year. The number one film is my favorite of the year.

Honorable Mentions: In Good Company, Kill Bill Vol. 2, Spartan, Spider-Man 2, Team America: World Police 

25. The Aviator (B)
24. The Manchurian Candidate (B)
23. Million Dollar Baby (B)
22. The Village (B)
21. The Terminal (B)
20. Alexander: The Ultimate Cut (B)
19. Saw (B)
18. Hero (B)
17. A Very Long Engagement (B+)
16. Infernal Affairs (B+)
15. Shaun of the Dead (B+)
14. Friday Night Lights (B+)
13. Napoleon Dynamite (B+)
12. The Incredibles (B+)
11. Maria Full of Grace (A-)

THE TOP TEN
10. Lemony Snicket's a Series of Unfortunate Events (A-)
9. Finding Neverland (A-)
8. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (A-)
7. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (A-)
6. Collateral (A-)

5. Shrek 2 (A)

4. Sideways (A)

3. Before Sunset (A)

2. The Bourne Supremacy (A+)

1. The Passion of the Christ (A+): Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ provided me with the most emotional and spiritual experience in the cinema of the year. This movie represents the coming together of one of the greatest stories of all time and the greatest medium we have today. The result is far greater than any text or any picture could provide, a virtual re-enactment of the crucial last hours of Jesus’ life. I can understand why others may not connect to this film on certain levels, but for me, there is no other film in 2004 that has touched, changed, and inspired me as this one has.


FAVORITE ACTION SEQUENCES OF THE YEAR
The Very Good:
  • "Battle of the Alamo" -The Alamo
  • "Mind Fight: Nameless vs. Sky" -Hero (Commentary)
  • "Shot Down Out of the Sky" -The Incredibles
  • "Family Fights Together on Syndrome's Island" -The Incredibles
  • "Barstow Trailer Fight: Bride vs. Ellie Driver" -Kill Bill Vol. 2
  • "Finale: Convention Center Shootout & Legoland Fight" -New Police Story (Commentary)
  • "Storming the Castle to Save Fiona" -Shrek 2
  • "Brank Brawl: Spider-Man vs. Dock Ock" -Spider-Man 2
  • "Greeks Arrival: Achilles Takes the Beaches and the Temple" -Troy
  • "Greeks Attack the Walls of Troy" -Troy
  • "Hector vs. Achilles" -Troy
The Great:
  • "The Battle of Guagamela: Alexander vs. Darius" -Alexander: The Ultimate Cut
  • "The Battle of Hydaspes" -Alexander: The Ultimate Cut
  • "Drug Bust Gone Bad: Police Story Homage" -Born to Fight
  • "Munich Magazine Fight" -The Bourne Supremacy (Commentary)
  • "Train Fight: Spider-Man vs. Dock Ock" -Spider-Man 2
The Best: "Chased in Moscow" -The Bourne Supremacy
Commentary: The quintessential Jason Bourne sequence to me is an extended and increasingly intense urban chase punctuated by a visceral fight or car chase. The top two action sequences on the list are the epitome of what this series does and compose the top shelf of "grounded" spy action. This style after The Bourne Supremacy was so influential that Martin Campbell essentially spent the first hour of James Bond's 2006 reboot Casino Royale in Bourne's image. This sequence begins with Bourne making a trip to Moscow to find the daughter of someone the Russian figures he learns he assassinated when he was in Treadstone. Before he finds the girl, the authorities and the assassin, played by Karl Urban, are on to him. What ensues is the best action sequence in the franchise. An already injured Bourne is forced to flee on foot when his taxi driver learns he is a wanted man and high tails it out of there. Luckily, Urban spots Bourne walking along a riverway and is able to get a shot off into his shoulder, causing Bourne even more injury. The bleeding Bourne makes his way through some underground walkways and into a market where he grabs items to deal with his injury (alcohol, a wrap) and, yep, a road map for the chase he knows is happening. Urban and the authorities are always a step behind this foot chase. At one point he is stopped by cops and taxi men and is forced to fight them off. He gets in the taxi and the car chase is now on. If the Paris chase was a classic of traditional car chases – then this one is a classic of a brand new style. Using his unique editing and camera work – Greengrass conveys a wild and brutal car chase through Moscow. High speeds, big roads, and lots of damage to Bourne’s car happens here – all the while Bourne is pouring alcohol on his wound, overlooking a Moscow map, and shifting gears like a mad man. This is the first car chase I can recall watching that sometimes feels like its in a destruction derby. Along with this new emphasis on self-damage, you get a lot of the classic tropes here – last second turns, going the wrong way, destruction – but they feel incredibly fresh in Greengrass’s style and the driving beat of the score. The scene finishes off with a heck of an impactful stunt done in a tunnel. This is a masterpiece. For more commentary on the Bourne franchises action scenes, click HERE.


FAVORITE DRAMATIC SEQUENCES OF THE YEAR
The Very Good:
  • “Davy Crockett Tells the Taters Story” -The Alamo
  • “The Cab Ride Home” –Before Sunset
  • “Waltz/Your gonna miss your flight” –Before Sunset
  • “Jason Explains his Role in Her Parents Murder” –The Bourne Supremacy
  • “Come Back and Make Up a Goodbye” –Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  • “Joel Realizes He Doesn’t Want to Erase Clementine” –Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  • “Flying a Kite” –Finding Neverland
  • “Bringing Neverland to the House/This is Neverland” –Finding Neverland
  • “Why Did She Have to Die?” –Finding Neverland
  • “Booby Miles Can’t Play and Doesn’t Know What to Do” –Friday Night Lights
  • “Catharsis After the Big Championship Game” –Friday Night Lights
  • “Fighting Over the Still Waters” –Hero
  • “Yan is surprised when Superintendant Wong falls to his death” –Infernal Affairs
  • “Elevator Climax” –Infernal Affairs
  • "Buried Alive...and Breaking Out" –Kill Bill Vol. 2
  • “Finding his Jaguar Shark” –The Life Aquatic
  • “Dancing at the Prom together” –Napoleon Dynamite
  • “Defusing a Bomb and Losing Someone Close” –New Police Story
  • “The Crucifixion of Jesus” –The Passion of the Christ
  • “Drinking his Peaked Wine in a Fast Food Joint” –Sideways
  • “Revelation of the Real Jigsaw Killer” –Saw
  • “Hearing his Family on the Phone/Deciding to Take his Leg” -Saw
The Great:

  • “No Glory Without Suffering: A tour of the God’s and their Fates” –Alexander
  • “Peter Pan Opens/To Die Would be an Awfully Big Adventure” -Finding Neverland
  • “Jesus Falls and Tells Mary He Makes All things New” ­–The Passion of the Christ
  • “What do you like so much about Pinot?” –Sideways 
The Best: “The Scourging of Jesus” –The Passion of the Christ
Commentary: n/a


FAVORITE COMEDIC SEQUENCES OF THE YEAR
Was not catalogued well, but will be updated in the future
The Very Good:
  • "Family Dinner at the Castle" -Shrek 2
The Great:
  • n/a
The Best:
Commentary: n/a


FAVORITE MUSICAL SEQUENCES OF THE YEAR
Was not catalogued well, but will be updated in the future
The Very Good:
  • "Masquerade" -Phantom of the Opera
The Great:
  • n/a
The Best:
"High School Talent Show: Napoleon Surprises Everyone" -Napoleon Dynamite
Commentary: n/a

BEST DIRECTOR
Nominees:
  • Mel Gibson The Passion of the Christ
  • Michel Gondry Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  • Paul Greengrass The Bourne Supremacy
  • Richard Linklater Before Sunset
  • Alexander Payne Sideways
Commentary: The Passion of the Christ was his idea and vision through and through. It's an untraditional Jesus film that eschews the usual format. His hand was on everything in this movie from the writing, to the tone, to the promoting. Mel Gibson had a singular vision of what he wanted to create and he accomplished regardless of his critics. For my money, it's a once in a generation kind of film that has powerfully impacted me.


FAVORITE FILM ENSEMBLE
Nominees:
  • Before Sunset
  • The Bourne Supremacy
  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  • Finding Neverland
  • The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
  • The Passion of the Christ
  • Sideways
Commentary: There's a possible Oscar winner each of the main acting categories. Everyone here is perfectly cast and, at least for me, irreplaceable in their roles.


FAVORITE MALE PERFORMANCES
Nominees:
  • Jim Carey Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  • Brian Cox The Bourne Supremacy
  • Tom Cruise Collateral
  • Rodrigo De La Serna The Motorcycle Diaries
  • Jamie Foxx Ray
  • Paul Giamatti Sideways
  • Thomas Haden Church Sideways
  • Ethan Hawke Before Sunset
  • Freddie Highmore Finding Neverland
  • Morgan Freeman Million Dollar Baby
  • Bill Murray The Life Aquatic
Commentary: n/a


FAVORITE FEMALE PERFORMANCES
Nominees:
  • Joan Allen The Bourne Supremacy
  • Cate Blanchett Aviator
  • Julie Delpy Before Sunset
  • Virginia Madsen Sideways
  • Maia Morgenstern The Passion of the Christ
  • Catalina Sandino Moreno Maria Full of Grace
  • Hilary Swank Million Dollar Baby
  • Uma Thurman Kill Bill Vol. 2
  • Kate Winslet Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  • Kate Winslet Finding Neverland
Commentary: n/a


FAVORITE SCREENPLAYS
(original or adapted)
Nominees:
  • Before Sunset
  • The Bourne Supremacy
  • Collateral
  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  • Infernal Affairs
  • The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
  • Napoleon Dynamite
  • The Passion of the Christ
  • Shrek 2
  • Sideways
Commentary: n/a


BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
*No eligible documentaries this year
Nominees:
  • n/a
Commentary: n/a
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Nominees:
  • The Incredibles
  • The Polar Express
  • Shrek 2
Commentary: One of the rare sequels that is better than the original. Shrek 2 makes great use of its full cast of characters, wringing from them humor that satisfies everyone in the audience. The film continues to make great fun of the "Disney Princess" and fairy tale tropes while finding a genuine emotional center. 
BEST FILM EDITING
Nominees:
  • The Bourne Supremacy
  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  • Friday Night Lights
  • The Passion of the Christ
  • Sideways
Commentary: I wanted to give this award to The Bourne Supremacy, but the truth is that so much of The Passion of the Christ's power to comes from how it is edited. The film has well edited sequences yes. However, it's the macro-level intercutting between Jesus' sufferings (which make up the large portion of the film) and his teachings and interactions with disciples that give so much of this film its deeper meanings. The scourging's and crucifixion are incredibly tough to watch, but Gibson's film seems to know just when to flashback to the right moment of Jesus' life to give that particular moment of suffering new context and meaning. One of my favorite examples is during the scourging sequence, Jesus glances at the bloody feet of his Roman torturers and we flashback to the sequence where Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. What's the editing implication here? That we should serve and love (wash the feet of) even those who have done great evil to us - even to the Romans.


BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Nominees:
  • The Bourne Supremacy
  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  • Finding Neverland
  • Hero
  • The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
  • The Passion of the Christ
Commentary: n/a

BEST ART DIRECTION
Nominees:
  • Alexander: The Ultimate Cut
  • Hero
  • Lemony Snicket's a Series of Unfortunate Events
  • The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
  • The Terminal
Commentary: n/a

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Nominees:
  • The Day After Tomorrow
  • I, Robot
  • Spider-Man 2
  • Troy
  • Van Helsing
Commentary: The team made some great advancements in depicting Spider-Man, but the triumph here is clearly in making a villain in Doctor Octopus who has four mechanical arms attached to his back seem like a natural and organic thing to the Spider-verse. Through a combination of practical and digital effects they pulled it off and helped to create one of the best on-screen villains and pair of superhero action sequences in the process: Doc Ock's brawls with Spider-Man in the bank and on the train.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Nominees:
  • The Bourne Supremacy
  • Finding Neverland
  • The Motorcycle Diaries
  • The Passion of the Christ
  • The Village
Commentary: When people think of the influence of Jason Bourne on cinema, they mostly just think of "shaky cam" and a practical hand to hand fight style. What they forget is that there's a full package of action cinema that this film gave us which felt fresh and new. Yes, the editing, cinematography, and fight choreography are a huge part of Bourne's legacy, but they forget that the original score provided the fundamental rhythm and soundtrack to those tightly edited sequences. The score is unique, propulsive, energetic, and undeniably an influence on countless actions films in its wake. 


BEST SOUND DESIGN
Nominees:
  • The Bourne Supremacy
  • Hero
  • The Incredibles
  • The Polar Express
  • Spider-Man 2
Commentary: More than any other movie nominated, The Polar Express was brought to life by its sound editing. While watching the movie, I was awed by the focused, but impactful sound design for actual train itself, as well as the little sounds they got right, like the flapping of the ticket in the wind, and the first time the boy hears the bell. Overall, a memorable and worthy sound achievement.


BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Nominees:
  • Alexander: The Ultimate Cut
  • Aviator
  • Hero
  • Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events
  • The Phantom of the Opera
Commentary: n/a

BEST MAKE-UP & HAIR DESIGN
Nominees:
  • Alexander: The Ultimate Cut
  • Hellboy
  • Hero
  • Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events
  • The Passion of the Christ
  • The Phantom of the Opera
Commentary: n/a
BIGGEST GUILTY PLEASURE
Nominees:
  • Man On Fire
  • Team America: World Police
  • Troy
  • The Village
  • Van Helsing
Commentary: It came out in an age where historical epics were being released left and right and while it is not a good movie at all, there are several fun qualities. My favorite of course are the epic actions sequences that attempt a scope and scale rarely accomplished. The time and attention poured into the Hector and Achilles fight sequence has stood the test of time as well. This film is not well written or acted, but darn it, there's still a lot of fun to be had in it.

MOST SURPRISING FILM
Nominees:
  • Alexander: The Ultimate Cut
  • Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events
  • The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou
  • Napoleon Dynamite
  • Shrek 2
Commentary: I was in college when Napoleon Dynamite came out and there was a buzz about a quirky comedy that people couldn't stop quoting. I remember going to see it and enjoying it but not being all that impressed. Then I found myself quoting several scenes of the film and laughing about it with my friends. I went and saw it again and laughed almost the entire. It's a film that grew on me and whose quotes, sequences, and characters have wormed their way into my vocabulary constantly.


MOST DISAPPOINTING FILM
Nominees:
  • Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story
  • Meet the Fockers
  • Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
Commentary: This one is pretty simple, 2000's Meet the Parents was one of my favorite comedies and my expectations were high going into this one. I could have handled a disappointing mediocre comedy (certainly didn't expect it to be as good as the first one), but I felt the movie was an absolute tragedy. Worse than mediocre, it was boring, offensive, and unfunny. Bummer.


MOST UNDERRATED FILM
Nominees:
  • Alexander: The Ultimate Cut
  • Born to Fight
  • Shrek 2
Commentary: When Oliver Stone released Alexander the big headlines surrounding it had to do with the possibility of including some depictions of homosexuality with Alexander and one of his close lifetime advisors. Stone wanted to make an epic about Alexander's life that echoed the cultural milieu he came from and that included homosexual acts. Anyways, the movie came and went and Stone has recut and re-edited the film several times. Whether its the original or the much better Ultimate Cut we are talking about, Alexander is a historical epic that is well worth the watch if you want to get in the minds of how the culture viewed leadership, their gods, ambition, glory, etc. I think it's one of the better historical epics of the time period.


MOST OVERRATED FILM
Nominees:
  • Closer
  • Dogville
  • Fahrenheit 9/11
  • Garden State
  • Super Size Me
Commentary: Let's just say that I find Michael Moore a political hack who uses his considerable cinematic skills to exaggerate, distort, and lie. That he sometimes has a kernel of truth is besides the point. I find his hyperbole and methods distasteful. That elite American culture fawned over this documentary with little skepticism made me hate it even worse.


WORST FILM
Nominees:
  • Meet the Fockers
  • Saved!
  • Shark Tale
Commentary: Worse than mediocre, it was boring, offensive, and unfunny. Bummer.


BEST COMPILATION OF WORK
Nominees:
  • Jim Carrey (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events)
  • Kate Winslet (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Finding Neverland)
Commentary: After a somewhat rocky early aughts, Jim Carrey came roaring back with 2003's Bruce Almighty and followed up with a one-two drama/comedy punch in 2004. He brings his comedic and dramatic chops to Michel Gondry's quirky but deep romantic comedy Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and then gets to go full Peter Sellers and do manic comedy like only he can in the family film Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. Both performances are top tier efforts and are helped to carry their respective films. 


ERIC BANA AWARD
*Given for the best performance in a bad film (See 2004's Troy)
Nominees:
  • Eric Bana Troy
Commentary: When I first began my awards in 2004 I wanted a category where I could identify a really good performance or character in a movie that was otherwise pretty bad. I remember watching 2004's Troy and feeling Eric Bana really sell the nobility and honor of Hector who knows his brother is in the wrong but is forced to defend the honor of his family and city in place. Bana played the reluctant warrior so well but he seemed surrounded by people who were just so poorly cast or acting in a much campier film that I couldn't help but feel like this was the perfect test case for such an achievement. The award has stuck and been featured in every awards I have.

THE END!

"You keep reading and you're gonna miss your flight"


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