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The Best (and worst) in Films - 2004

The Best Films
1. Fahrenheit 9/11
Politics aside, the fact that this uneven documentary drew multiplex crowds in record numbers proves that Michael Moore's film struck a nerve. Unfortunately, President Bush gave voters enough novocaine to ward off the pain.

2. Garden State
This love story and personal journey through post-adolescence is refreshingly without melodrama. Writer, director, and star Zach Braff plays a man who goes home to attend his mother's funeral and ends up finding strengths within himself that he never knew existed. Braff's affectionate screenplay is as unpredictable as life, yet contains enough continuity not to lose audiences altogether.

3. The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi
This entertaining yarn could teach Quentin Tarantino a thing or two about choreographing fight scenes featuring maximum bloodletting. This historical drama, which addresses honor, loyalty, revenge, and gender roles equally as well as deftly handles three storylines that inevitably intersect. The ending's musical number featuring tap-dancing peasants is just more icing on the cake.

4. Japanese Story
This drama mixes culture clash with tentative romance as Toni Collette plays hostess to a visiting Japanese businessman in the Australian outback. Their cold interaction warms as they venture together through the unforgiving landscape. An unfortunate turn of events derails their journey and gives Collette an unforgettable acting opportunity worthy of an Oscar.

5. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Jim Carrey is vying for an Oscar nomination in this delightfully trippy romantic drama that ventures into odd territory when he visits a doctor to undergo a procedure that erases selected parts of his memory -- specifically, that of the turbulent relationship he had with a woman (Kate Winslet), who has already erased him from hers.

The Worst Films
1. Team America: World Police
Trey Parker and Matt Stone's attempt at political satire rings hollow when they fail to take a real stand and end up sending a mixed message that's as twisted as the strings holding up the potty-mouthed marionettes.

2. Connie and Carla
My Big Fat Greek Wedding director Nia Vardalos laid an egg with this ridiculous yarn. The film tries to parlay serious messages about the tension between family and individuality, and how sexual expression can unite a community (the gay one), but resorts unforgivably to sitcom-level humor that displays little creativity beyond a few funny one-liners. Worse, it perpetuates stereotypes found only among the most acid-tongued queens.

3. A Dirty Shame
Aptly rated NC-17 for "pervasive sexual content," this John Waters film about sexual liberation in our oh-so-repressive times becomes muddled by film's end. Too many perversions get in the way of such rudimentary elements as story, character development, and sense.

4. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
After beginning in stunning fashion with an attack on Manhattan by mysterious flying robots of enormous proportion, this retro science fiction adventure quickly loses steam by weaving plot devices out of thin air and creating scenes that serve little purpose than to elicit momentary drama that is quickly forgotten.

5. The Stepford Wives
Paul Rudnick's update of Ira Levin's original story is chock full of great zingers and campy references. Somewhere along the way, however, the actual point of the story becomes lost. Besides dealing with circumstances that are not exactly laughable, the film tries to be satirical but lacks the guts to go all the way.

Best Performances
1. Toni Collette, Japanese Story
Collette's ability to convey grief and guilt are so convincing that her performance still resonates almost a year after the film came out.

2. Peter O'Toole, Troy
As the reluctant king Priam caught in the middle of a conflict beyond his control, O'Toole looks genuinely war-weary but his proud eyes show he's got plenty of gusto yet. His part may be small but he delivers the best lines.

3. Jamie Foxx, Ray
In this colorful, dramatic biopic, Foxx all but channels singing legend Ray Charles.

Worst Performances
1. Ian Iqbal Rashid: Touch of Pink
Although Rashid's send-up of old Hollywood romances is fun to watch, his own portrayal of the central character is so closeted, so neurotic, and so mean that he becomes totally unsympathetic to the point of almost ruining the film.

2. Toni Collette: Connie and Carla
Collette's singing ability is not bad but her portrayal of a woman posing as a gay man doing drag is just too unconvincing to put up with. (In her defense, the entire cast stinks.)

3. Matthew Broderick: The Stepford Wives
There's nothing wrong with playing against type, but Broderick is never convincing as a man who'd replace his wife (Nicole Kidman, no less) with a supplicant android with bigger boobs and better hostess skills.