John Walker's Electronic House

by on Jan.01, 2005, under The Rest

For the sake of the most pedantic man ever born, here is a special notice for the hard of understanding:

The films included are based on their official release date in the UK, and not their first release anywhere in the world. This is how Lost In Translation is included, seeing as it was officially released in the UK on the 9th Jan 2004, despite being a 2003 film in the States, and even getting a one-off showing at a film festival in London in October. However, I thought I’d base the list on when films were released in the cinemas here, which, I don’t know, seemed to make sense. Apparently not. And Stuart Campbell is a weehead.


2004 will not be heralded as a Golden Era of Cinema. A pretty dismal year means that most top 10 lists around are made up of the only ten films worth mentioning, rather than the results of tough choices. This is no different. However, each deserves to be mentioned.

11) A Tale of Two Sisters – Ji-woon Kim

Despite arguments to the contrary only this evening, this is the scariest film I’ve seen in a very long time. I’m tempted to say ever. Managing to be so much more than a series of shocks or slow-drawn tension, this Korean horror uses the unveiling of understanding to a remarkably sinister effect. And then adds shocks and slow-drawn tension. The performances from Su-jeong Lim andGeun-yeong Mun as the eponymous sisters are something Hollywood appears unable to generate. Scenes with the two girls crying together, their eyes and noses running in absolute terror, are heart-breaking and weirdly honest. We normally allow actors to do the Looking Like I’m Scared Face and ignore that it never occurs outside of cinema. To see the reality of fear on the screen is a ghastly shock. The film also possesses a tenderness that the more famous Japanese horrors fail to generate, making this well worth seeking out.

10) Super Size Me – Morgan Spurlock

Morgan Spurlock’s documentary was the final shove that convinced me to stop fannying about and stop buying fast food. Having not eaten at MacDonalds for five years, it was getting a bit stupid to then happily stuff Burger King into my face. Despite the film’s focussing on MacDs, its broader eye highlighted the word “hypocrit” across my forehead, and I haven’t eaten chainstore fast food since. What makes Super Size Me stand out and above the more famous Fahrenheit 9/11 is Spurlock’s ability to present information without needing to shout his comments over the top. Allowing a voice from all sides of the argument, and never telling you what to conclude, his displayed balance made this a far more effective film than Moore now appears capable of making.

9) Spider-Man 2 – Sam Raimi

Sam Raimi remembered that he is good. Thank goodness. Perhaps suffering stage fright with the first of the franchise, he was clearly much more at home for the sequel, pulling out all his trademark camera work, a delight for silliness, and the brains to not dismiss the superhero genre as needing to be either deadpan or tongue in cheek. Instead it lives between the two, and even delves into his more familiar territory of horror with the surprisingly dark hospital scene.

8) Lost In Translation – Sofia Coppola

Barely 2004, but just, Coppola Jr’s second film understood how to use Bill Murray effectively – meander whimsically. Hopefully Wes Anderson’s ‘The Life Aquatic’ will manage the same. It’s an odd film, almost enchanting with its gentle pace, and entirely fulfilling in its first viewing. So much so that I’ve had no urge to see it again since. Once was lovely, and enough.

7) Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events – Brad Silberling

Despite being far too choppy for the first half, and suffering from trying to pack in four acts due to needing a big finish, it still manages to hold itself together. Cleverly adapting the strongest parts of the books, while boldly leaving out the parts that would suffer from being on film, Silberling ends up with a far more effective vision than even Daniel Handler’s books. Borrowing heavily from Tim Burton, his gothic realisation of the world Handler created is much more evocative than the sketchy outlines provided in the text. Blending technologies from the last one hundred years, and decorating scenes with brilliantly spooky imagery, this allows the imagination of the novels to be given a new life, rather than the more usual book-to-film dampening effect. It’s the opening chapter to a series that should make fans of the oft-compared rubbish books about a wizard look embarrassed.

6) American Splendor – Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini

Again barely scraping into 2004, this conversion of Harvey Pekar’s comic books does the meta thing better than you could hope. Combining fictionalised accounts of the events in Pekar’s life played out by the cast with those being portrayed analysing their character in the film, and then later literally combining them, the perfect cleverness made me want to cheer. It was just such an awesome pleasure to watch.

5) The Corporation – Jennifer Abbott, Mark Achbar

Making a balanced film about the evils of Capitalism would be a fairly stupid thing. Making a film from an intelligently biased perspective as a response to the opposite bias that’s given 24 hour coverage on America’s news channels is a very clever thing to do. Never pretending to be anything other than an information dump and call to action, The Corporation presents the facts as it sees them, with one hell of a lot of evidence to back itself up. At 145 minutes it throws an incredible amount at you, entwining investigative journalism with talking-head interviews, and then asks you to do something about it. Reviews of documentaries are now by law required to mention Michael Moore, which is here made easier by his appearance within it. In his few short moments he manages to say more, and to say those things more effectively, than in the whole of F9/11. I recommend having a notebook with you when you watch, and I do recommend that you watch.

4) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – Michel Gondry

Not much needs saying. Kaufman’s scripts and Gondry’s direction are things that should be combined far more often, and Kate Winslet looks amazing with blue hair. It was all about the viewing, and that’s something I loved doing.

3) The Incredibles – Brad Bird

Everyone likes to say how Pixar have yet to make a bad film. What people don’t tend to mention is that they have made forgettable films. Monsters Inc. barely gets a mention now, with Toy Story and A Bugs Life more heavily placed in long-term consciousness. I believe that Finding Nemo will suffer a similar fading, its very narrow narrative and lack of memorable scenes not supporting longevity. The Incredibles will not. Obviously aimed at an older audience than Nemo or Monsters Inc., it demonstrates that their skills are only increasing as they progress. Possibly most outstanding is the creation of the most realistic family I can remember seeing on film, despite the fact that they’re both cartoons and superheroes. It’s an astonishing piece of cinema, funny, real and full of love.

2) Before Sunset – Richard Linklater

I’m very aware of the thoughts of friends who disliked, even hated Linklater’s sequel to the wonderful Before Sunrise. However, repeated viewings gave their comments no support, and it remains one of my favourite films of the year. Where Before Sunrise was about a moment in a place, Before Sunset is about two people and nothing else. Despite being set in the automatically scene-setting Paris, Linklater makes no attempt to have his location be a character (as Vienna very much was in the first). This is reflected by his repeating a trick from the ending of the former – the empty shots of significant locations – this time at the very beginning. Dialogue dominated, the first half is an exercise in denial, with the second half slamming truth into their conversation, all bolstered by the ever-present shadow of their brief time together. And if you thought Sunrise’s listening booth scene was tense, it’s nothing compared to the walking up the stairs scene here.

There’s no number 1.

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