2004: A Look Back
Having just aired my feelings about the pop culture output of 1994, my favorite year, I’ll now turn my attention to 2004. I’ve already provided an in-depth look at ‘04’s horror movie releases in my "Year in Horror" entry for that year, so here I’ll take a more general overview of the movie-related trends that prevailed back then. My conclusion: movie-wise 2004 was NOT my favorite year.
In contrast to all the great films released in ‘94, ‘04 turned out a long succession of losers: THE TERMINAL, THE STEPFORD WIVES, TWENTY-NINE PALMS, TROY, WHITE CHICKS, KING ARTHUR, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, THE VILLAGE, ALEXANDER, THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK, OCEAN’S TWELVE, VAN HELSING, THE PUNISHER, CLOSER, ALIEN VS. PREDATOR, TOOLBOX MURDERS, PAPARAZZI, 9 SONGS, ALONG CAME POLLY, TWISTED, THE FORGOTTEN, CATWOMAN, SEED OF CHUCKY, SPANGLISH, EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING, BIRTH, MINDHUNTERS, THE LADYKILLERS…the list goes on and on. Sure, some legitimately good movies managed to sneak in--SEAN OF THE DEAD, MARIA FULL OF GRACE, ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND--but they were few and far between.
2004 was important for the release of Mel Gibson’s PASSION OF THE CHRIST, which more than any other single movie was responsible for popularizing evangelical cinema. There was also SAW, which is credited with kicking off the torture porn movie cycle.
It was 2004 that gave us SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW and IMMORTAL, which continue to vie for the “honor” of being the first feature with all-digital backgrounds. Neither film, unfortunately, was particularly memorable (as time has proved), suggesting the digital revolution wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Speaking of which, the Russian CGI fest NIGHT WATCH proved that non-American moviemakers are capable of creating special effects extravaganzas every bit as flashy and sensationalistic as those of Hollywood. It was by no means the last such example.
As for much-remarked upon releases like SUPER-SIZE ME, FAHRENHEIT 9/11 and MILLION DOLLAR BABY, they haven’t dated well at all. The same can be said for THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, which appears to have been supplanted by 2013’s BIBLE miniseries and the latter’s recent big screen spin-off SON OF GOD.
A digression: back in May 2001 Roger Ebert hosted a directors’ panel at Cannes, about which Ebert claimed he’d “never sensed such sadness on the part of directors who have made good films and now find it difficult to get them to American audiences.” I’d say those directors, whose ranks included Wayne Wang, Michel Gondry, Arliss Howard and Jennifer Jason Leigh, didn’t know how good they had it back in ‘01, as the films they were flogging--THE CENTER OF THE WORLD, HUMAN NATURE, BIG BAD LOVE and THE ANNIVERSARY PARTY--all attained theatrical distribution (however limited) in the U.S.
In 2004, by contrast, at least two challenging and impressive horror-themed indies emerged, the American made X,Y and the Japanese TSUBURO NO GARA, never got any sort of release outside the film festival circuit. That’s an all-too-common occurrence now, but ten years ago it was a bit of a shock to see quality cinema falling by the distribution wayside.
These days I’d be surprised to hear that X,Y or TSUBURO NO GARA were financed at all, much less released. So in one respect, at least, ‘04 wasn’t a total bust movie-wise. Indeed, it can almost be viewed as the beginning of the end for quality film distribution--for quality film making, on the other hand, 2004 essentially was the end.