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Top Movies of 2004

Here’s my annual list of the top movies of 2004. Look for an in depth column on this subject appearing over at The Fort Wayne Reader in a few weeks. This year was one of the better years in recent memory for movies. It makes going to the cinema on a weekly basis worth while again!

(In an odd bit of coincidence, one actor appeared in two of the movies in this list in featured supporting roles. If you can figure out who HE is, send me an e-mail and I’ll publish your name in this column.)

Here’s the bare bones list:

The best movie of the year – Collateral. Tom Cruise plays Vincent, an assassin assigned to kill the prosecutor and witnesses of a major case set to go against a crime family in modern day Los Angeles. Jamie Fox plays Max, an unlucky cab driver that just happens to pick up Vincent as a fare but is wrangled into driving him around all night as he goes from hit to hit. Shot on digital video, Collateral gives it’s setting of L.A. an almost nightmarish quality. Eyes glow from ambient light and the night sky burns a putrid orange from the light pollution below.

The rest, in alphabetical order:
The Alamo – I thought The Alamo was a unique look at the Alamo siege while, at the same time, providing an interesting perspective on the defenders such as David (don’t call him Davy) Crocket. I felt that The Alamo did one thing that the multitude of Alamo movies and specials have failed to do; humanize the characters.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – The movie unfolds in a seemingly jumbled manner, with events from the past being intermingled with current and future events. But it somehow all works in the end. And on second viewing all makes perfect sense.

Garden State – It’s hard to say just how much Garden State hit home with me when I first saw it. Many of the details in the movie seemed to mirror my own life; from a death in my immediate family, growing older and even meeting friends from high school after not seeing them for nearly a decade. It is once in a rare while that a movie strikes me in such a way.

Napoleon Dynamite
– It’s wild and wacky. The kids and teens of today will be watching Dynamite on TBS twenty years from now reliving old memories. (And I along with them.)

Spartan – Spartan sounds like the generic spy-drama that has been made a million times before but Spartan is wholly different. Like in real life, the characters don’t spell the plot out for the audience or talk in an unnaturalistic manner. And, like in life, the plot of Spartan is a bit messy. People are killed when the audience least expects it. Major characters die.

Read the top movies of 2003 (according to Dangerous Universe) here.

Top Television Shows of 2004

Somewhere, somehow, the 2004-2005 television season became a goldmine of creative and interesting shows. Who would have guessed that one of the most viewed shows of the season would be about a group of people trapped on a desert island while a spin-off of one of the most horrible, and successful, shows of all time (Friends) would be struggling in the ratings? Every year people across the country hope for a good television season, this year the networks (other than the constantly good shows from HBO) delivered.

The best show on television this year would have to be David Milch’s epic tale of life in a real frontieer town – Deadwood. I had been looking forward to Deadwood for some time ever since I saw the first previews on HBO late in 2003. Set in South Dakota in the late 1800’s, Deadwood follows the boomtown of the same name. Here, the town of Deadwood is a haven for all things criminal and illegal being located outside the United States and out of the reach of any sort of real law enforcement. Not only is the story beind Deadwood a good one, it features some of the best characters to grace television screens since The Sopranos, namely Timothy Olyphant in a career defining role of Seth Bullock and Ian McShane as the criminal head of the town Al Swearengen.

I fell in love with the show shortly after the first episode and was watching it religiously week after week. I know a lot of people were turned off to Deadwood by the constant swearing by the characters in the first episode. (Which was toned back for subsiquent episodes.) However, I feel that what Milch was trying to show that the same ills that plague modern day society also plagued societies of the past.

Deadwood has got what a lot of other shows lack – a sort of true realistic grit.

The rest in alphabetical order:
Arrested Development Arrested Development follows the Bluth family as they cope with the head of the family, George (Jeffrey Tambor), being arrested for shady accounting practices at the family real-estate company. George is thrown in prison and the courts freeze the family’s wealth. Most families would be concerned with the father locked away in jail; the Bluths are mostly concerned about their lost money and the fact that they might have to get jobs and work for a living. Enter Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman), the only responsible member of the family who’s put in charge of the company and forced into the role of surrogate family head. Michael immediately puts himself at odds with the family after he tells them that the easy days of expensing luxury items to the company are over.

The comedy from Arrested Development arises from Michael trying to do the right thing by both his family and the courts and the family trying to stop him every step of the way in order to keep assets hidden and themselves a few dollars richer. It’s the family from The Cosby Show only dysfunctional in a 21st century kind of way.

– At first, I didn’t care too much for Entourage. After watching the first episode I was a bit turned off by the characters. Sure, Entourage hit true as to what it’s like for a group of guy friends to hang out together. But I didn’t feel that I could like the characters. I was wrong. By the third episode I was hooked.

Entourage follows new hot movie star Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) who is coming off a highly successful movie and is trying to land his next role. In reality, though, the series focus is on a member of Vincent’s “entourage” and friend from back home Eric (Kevin Connolly). Eric is thrust into becoming Vincent’s manager and is tasked with landing his next role all the while Vincent and the rest of the entourage do their best to party and spend Vincent’s money. My guess is that Entourage is the most accurate look into the Hollywood movie industray since Fox’s 1999 failed sitcom Action.

LostThe series follows a group of airline passengers stranded on a deserted island after a violent crash. The survivors quickly realize that they must band together if they have any hope of surviving. Not only do they have to deal with the lack of food and clean drinking water, the survivors must also face a very large “monster” roaming the island when it makes it’s presence known by consuming the jet’s co-pilot. So far, the audience has yet to see the beast other than as it travels through the jungle knocking down trees.

Lost is so much more than a simple tale of people crashed on a deserted island. I would say that Lost is an interesting character study on the effects of a high stress environment on different types of people who’ve never met before suddenly forced to live together and depend on one and other for survival.

Veronica MarsThe basic plot of Veronica Mars follows teenage Veronica Mars as she deals with high school by day while working at her father’s detective agency by night. However, much like Lost, a simple synopsis of the show’s plot will not suffice. Like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Veronica Mars’s basic plotline is a springboard into something more. Much more. There are two levels of story in Veronica Mars.

A few years prior to the events chronicled in the show, Veronica Mars’ best friend Lily was murdered. When Veronica’s dad, then the city’s sheriff, placed the blame of Lily’s father, the town turned their back on him and voted him out of office. And when Veronica didn’t turn her back on her father like everyone wanted her to, she was thrown out of the popular group in school.

One level is the very basic Veronica solving cases. But there’s a whole other level to the series in a second underlying sometimes-disturbing storyline of Veronica looking for the murderer of Lily.

The Office Christmas Special – What can I say that I haven’t said before about the greatness that is The Office? Simply put, The Office series, all fourteen and some odd hours, was the best fourteen and some odd hours of comedy on television. And The Office Christmas Special was the prefect ending to The Office series. It’s a shame that it’s all over for the show.

Read the top television shows of 2003 (according to Dangerous Universe) here.