2004 in review: Films

2004 was a good year for me and films. A subscription to the ScreenSelect DVD rental service helped me see 100 new films. (New to me, that is–not just films released in 2004.) Spread out over a whole year, 100 films isn’t all that much, but I didn’t set myself that target until the middle of September. I had watched about 60 films by that point, and I figured that with a good push, I could easily get in the last 40.

Well, I made it, but there were weeks where it felt like a real slog. I have to watch another film tonight? Gah. Can’t I just play some Halo 2 instead? For me, setting targets is a great way of turning activities that are normally a great pleasure into boring chores. I think it’s entirely possible that I’ll make it up to 100 films again in 2005, but this time, I’m not going to make it a goal.

Having said that, I do feel a great sense of achievement at having reached 100. It’s nothing compared to what your average film critic will watch in a year, and I’m still not even close to having seen all the recent important new releases. However, it’s a big deal to me because I feel like I’m not losing ground on the films I want to see. (Or, at least not losing ground quite so quickly.) I’ve watched a large proportion of the new releases that have interested me in 2004, and I’ve caught up on a bunch of films I missed in previous years.

Another good thing is that I now have a respectable chunk of data to play with and turn into charts and graphs:

Chart of my film ratings for 2004

With the exception of the anomaly at 2 stars, the chart runs pretty well the way you’d expect: a roughly bell-shaped curve, with its peak skewed to the favourable end. The skew comes from observational bias: I tend to watch films that I think I’ll like, so it’s hardly surprising that my average rating comes out to 3.23 stars, half-way between “solid and enjoyable” and “pretty good”.

For the purposes of rating films, I find it helpful to keep my text labels for each star value in mind:

Star rating Explanation
5 stars All-time great
4.5 stars Highly recommended/award-level film
4 stars Recommended
3.5 stars Pretty good
3 stars Solid and enjoyable
2.5 stars Almost okay, but too flawed to make the grade
2 stars Disappointing
1.5 stars More than just disappointing: actively bad
1 stars Don’t waste your time
0.5 stars Drivel
0 stars Give me those hours of my life back, you fucker!

“Recommended” only kicks in at 4 stars and above. 36 out of the hundred films I saw made that grade. Last year, 15 out of the 38 films (39%) I watched hit that mark, so it looks like I’m maintaining a certain level of consistency. However, both last year and this year I felt that only four films rated a full five stars, which may mean that I’ve been rating more critically this year. I’m a bit concerned about the blip at two stars. That tells me that I’m having some difficulty judging films I don’t like. I guess I just need to watch more rubbish, so I can fine-tune my distinctions.

So what were my favourite films of the year? Well, including films that IMDB says were released in 2003, but that only made it over to this side of the pond in 2004, here’s my top 10:

  1. The Incredibles
    (5 stars)
  2. Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (5 stars)

  3. Dodgeball
    (4.5 stars)

  4. Collateral
    (4.5 stars)
  5. Shaun Of The Dead (4.5 stars)
  6. Kill Bill, Vol 2 (4.5 stars)
  7. Lost In Translation (4.5 stars)
  8. Kinsey (4 stars)
  9. Danny Deckchair (4 stars)

  10. Zatoichi
    (4 stars)

Extraordinary films from previous years that I saw for the first time in 2004 include
Wilbur (Wants To Kill Himself)
Touching The Void
Peter Pan (2003)
The Pledge
, and
. Upon reflection (and seeing it a second time), Spider-Man 2, which I had previously rated 4.5 stars, I don’t think quite so highly of any more. Still 4 stars, but not a top 10 film.

And the worst ones? Here are the bottom feeders:

  1. National Treasure (0.5 stars)
  2. Johnny English (1 stars)
  3. Spy Kids 3D (1.5 stars)
  4. Good Boy (1.5 stars)
  5. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (1.5 stars)
  6. The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen (1.5 stars)
  7. Once Upon A Time In Mexico (1.5 stars)
  8. Bad Boys II (1.5 stars)

The two performances that will stick with me most from 2004 are Simon Pegg in Shaun of the Dead, and Ben Stiller in Dodgeball. Both are displays of sheer comic genius. David Carradine’s portrayal of Bill in Kill Bill, Vol 2, was also very well done, especially in the way he underplayed Bill’s depths, and his fundamental tragedy.

Curiously, there isn’t much in 2005 that I’m explicitly looking forward to. I definitely want to catch Ocean’s 12, Ray, and Million Dollar Baby when they open over here, and I suppose I’ll end up seeing the new Star Wars thing, too, but there’s nothing big that’s really got me by the balls right now. With 155 films still backed up in my ScreenSelect queue, though, I don’t think I’ll be running out of viewing material any time soon.

Peter Sarsgaard lookalike

Peter Sarsgaard has been bothering me since I saw the film Kinsey last month. There was something about him that reminded me of someone else…another actor…something about his wide lips and crinkle-eyed smile.

I only figured it out today: it’s Gene Kelly.

Peter SarsgaardGene Kelly

Someone back me up here? I know the similarity isn’t necessarily obvious from these head shots…but it’s definitely there.

Too many Andersons

When I was younger, I used to have a mental block on the words porpoise, tortoise, and turquoise. They were just similar enough that my brain filed all three words in a single slot, and I found it inordinately hard to distinguish between them.

Then, a couple of years ago, I developed a similar block on three people: Peter Morville (information architecture guy, co-author of the polar bear book), Peter Merholtz (user experience guy, co-founder of Adaptive Path), and Peter Morwood (SF and Fantasy guy, husband of Diane Duane). I just couldn’t tell the difference between them without a quick net search to jog my brain.

Now, I’ve got the same thing going on with three movie directors: Wes Anderson (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums), Paul W.S. Anderson (Event Horizon, Resident Evil), and Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia).

The block is annoying, but it has got me wondering what kind of film these directors would make if they really were one person. It would probably be a multi-threaded ensemble piece, darkly humorous, with tragi-comic elements, about a dysfunctional family with at least one child genius…fighting off a zombie invasion from outer space.

It might not suck, you know.

100 Films

About half-way through this year I admitted to myself that I wasn’t going to make my target of reading 50 books in 2004. My commute time has traditionally been when I’ve read the most, and now that I’m driving to work, I’m barely getting through a book a month.

So I set myself a different goal: I would watch (and write quick reviews of 100 new films, instead. (New to me–not necessarily brand new releases.)

I slacked off a bit on the viewing in July and August, but I’ve been picking up the pace lately. I hit 60 films in mid-September, and I’m up to 78 now, although I haven’t posted reviews of all of them yet. (I’ve got a backlog of 8 to work through.) That leaves me with another 22 films to see, and only 10 weeks left to go in 2004. (If you’re terribly interested in my score, you can keep track over here.)

Two-and-a-bit films week should be achievable, but I’m getting a bit worried by the number of games being released in the run-up to Christmas. We’ve got Halo 2, Half-Life 2, Ratchet and Clank 3, and Jak 3 all being released in the next month, and I just noticed yesterday that Metroid Prime 2: Echoes is going to be out in November, too.

This has the potential to seriously mess with my plans.

Guerilla marketing at the cinema

Our local cinema has taken pre-film advertising to the next level. After handouts of bread last month, now they’ve started with live-action commercials.

There I was on Saturday evening, waiting for Spider-Man 2 to start, when the house lights went up after the main commercials had ended. I heard some voices at the rear of the the theatre, and for a moment I thought there was some kind of technical fault, and that we were all going to be ushered out into the rain. But it was just two guys starting up their act.

One was dressed in a set of full-body white coveralls, and the other was dressed in Hollywood casual, with a baseball cap and a clipboard. They proceeded down the aisle and in front of the screen with a little sketch about a director and a stunt man. The stunt man was objecting to being set on fire and having to run about like crazy. He was happy enough to be torched, but he was feeling low on energy, and his contract had said nothing about any running.

The commercial turned out to be for Lucozade (a British energy drink), to tie in with their big summer promotion: buy a bottle of Lucozade, and win the chance to go to Pinewood Studios and be a stunt man for a day. Woo hoo.

I suppose that with the Festival just around the corner, the streets of Edinburgh are littered with actors and comedians, many of whom won’t be making much bank, and, well… you’ve got to make ends meet somehow. I wonder what other oddities the Fringe will throw up this year?