Craig Younkin's Best and Worst of 2004
Team America poster
By Craig Younkin     Published January 26, 2005
Of all the films this year, one stood out as being the smartest, riskiest, funniest, and most original.
The fun part about being a critic, other than getting to watch movies and feeling like a big man pushing films around, is that at the end of every year I get to share the films that touched me deeply, and the films that touched me in all the wrong ways. 2004 was a so-so year with many disappointments (Meet the Fockers, The Village), but the year did have some surprises, however, especially in the documentary field.

The word documentary in the past has come to mean something a little less boring than school, but this year there were a number of documentaries that changed that way of thinking like Fahrenheit 911, Super-Size Me, and Touching the Void. This was also a very good year for Shrek 2 and Spider-Man 2, being two of the biggest sequels that didn't disappoint and actually improved on their original stories. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was also good but still didn't floor me like its first two films. Like any year it was one of both highs and lows, so without further ado, share the laughs, the memories, and the tears as we look back on the year that was 2004. (Applause here)

Best List

1. Team America

Of all the films this year, one stood out as being the smartest, riskiest, funniest, and most original. This film so fully embodies and makes fun of the America we know today, from the Hollywood liberals who for some reason have become the voice of the people, to the guns-blazing American foreign policy of shooting first and asking questions later. The movie also contains some of the best songs, sex, and vomiting of any film I've ever seen. Trey Parker and Matt Stone have created a film that will offend, but at the end of the day prove that America is still the greatest country on Earth. "Matt Damon." Matt Damon indeed!

2. The Aviator

If you?re an Academy Awards voter, I have a name I want drop on you: A fellow by the name of Martin Scorsese. Have you heard of him? Goodfellas? Casino? Taxi Driver? I ask only because, well, fricken Ben Affleck has one more Oscar than this guy does. Maybe you saw him after he lost at the Golden Globes. He was the guy who looked really depressed. When they gave us a shot at his table you wouldn't know if you were looking at the guy who directed "Raging Bull" or Woody Allen. So for your consideration, how about you give the guy a break. He deserves it for getting inside the brilliant yet complex head of Howard Hughes, one of the most interesting people I've ever seen in a biography. This is a compelling, stylized and incredibly acted (especially from Leonardo DiCaprio and Cate Blanchett) piece of work that belongs up there with Scorsese's best. So like I said ? give the man his Oscar already!

3. Before Sunset

Usually when characters talk for more than fifteen minutes in a movie, I tune out, but Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy and director Richard Linklater's brilliant series (this and Before Sunrise) works like A-D-D-busters. Both films are great romances as well as near perfect examinations of the different stages of life. Sunrise was about being young and carefree, while this film is more about becoming more of an adult and finding stability. It leads to a lot of intelligent and interesting conversations, and Hawke and Delpy are so good together that it is impossible to not hang on to every word. One night with both of these films and you will hope they choose to complete the trilogy with "Before Retirement".

4. The Bourne Supremacy

The Bourne Identity was one of the best action flicks in a long time and this sequel is even better. This is a fast-paced and intelligent action movie that showcases Matt Damon in top form. The plotting is more intricate than the first film and the fights and breathtaking car chases are enough to leave any action fan drooling. If you want to know what a guy's three-hanky movie is, rent this.

5. Vera Drake

Mike Leigh's film about a kindly old woman sent to prison for performing illegal abortions in 1950's England is the most tragic and heart-wrenching story of the year. The film doesn't condone the practice of abortions but also doesn't deny their need either. "If you can't love em, feed em, how do you raise them?"

But at the heart of the story is an old woman who couldn't help but show selfless dedication and care to other people. And as played by Imelda Staunton in what has to be the best performance given by anyone all year long, she makes Vera's simplicity and love all the more heartbreaking when she is condemned, even by her family, for it. She captures the emotions of this character so boldly and devastatingly, giving a performance that pleads, begs for forgiveness, and bleeds with shame all at the same time. The result is one of the best tearjerkers I've seen in quite a while.

6. Garden State

Most television actors are doomed to live the life of the small screen forever, but not Zach Braff. In this terrific and funny first effort behind the camera, Braff injects a lot of heart, quirky humor, and insight into what it feels like to be young and unaware of where your life should go. The film had a particularly strong effect on me, since I'm at that stage in my life. Braff and Natalie Portman also prove to be fine young actors, conjuring up some of the best romantic chemistry I've seen in a while. This film works as "The Graduate" for a new generation.

7. Collateral

Starting out as any average day for a cabby (taking a fare, being held at gun point, blah blah blah?), Michael Mann's film soon takes on a life of its own. It establishes the dark and mysterious mood of the back streets of LA while Jamie Foxx's Max and Tom Cruise's hit-man, Vincent, argue about Vincent's morality and Max's own self doubts and willingness to take chances.

While this is going on, a crime story is also being played out as Max drives Vincent around performing murders. This leads to many other well-written encounters with guys like Barry Shabaka Henley and Javier Bardem, and ends nicely with a very intense chase. Jada Pinkett Smith is also perfect, especially in an opening scene between her and Foxx.

8. Hotel Rwanda

Somehow we saw Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq but when genocide in Rwanda was happening in 1994, most of Europe showed a blind eye. This is a tremendous story of courage, abandonment, and hope as hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina stood by and tried to save as many people as he could, even as the rest of the world just walked away. This is a career-defining movie for Don Cheadle, who should be moved right up to the acting A-list. Director Terry George does a fantastic job of capturing the full frightening effect of everyday life in Rwanda. This is one of the most powerful movies of the year.

9. Fahrenheit 911

A film that quite obviously hates George Bush, but more importantly asks the questions that should have been answered before the Iraqi war even started. Michael Moore casts doubts on Bush's motives, his past, his knowledge on the days before September 11th, and even how secure we are since that tragic day. He also visits places like the impoverished Flint, Michigan, and in the most inspired scene in the movie, Washington D.C., to sign up politician's kids for the war. It may not all be true, but it's definitely stuff that needs to be thought about. And no, the other big name documentary that came out this year, Super-Size Me, is not about Michael Moore's big ego.

10. Sideways

I think this movie is a bit overrated but I did enjoy it immensely. It's the road trip buddy comedy about mid-life crisis that we've all been waiting for. Comedians say that the best comedy comes from pain and that is definitely true in this film about shattered spirits, broken dreams, low self-esteem, and finally, just trying to make sense of it all to get back on the right track.

Paul Giamatti is again completely rootable as a middle aged, average guy, and Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen, and Sandra Oh complete the ensemble cast wonderfully. This is Alexander Payne's funniest, and one of his most dramatically effective films to date.
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'Team America' Articles
  • Greg's Team America review B-
    October 21, 2004    Perhaps I was just expecting the comic genius that was the South Park film, and they just did not quite reach it. -- Greg Ward
  • Craig's Team America review A
    October 16, 2004    An outrageously funny film that uses all the Bruckheimerisms, over the top action sequences, elaborate musical scores, and combines them with mean spirited shots at Hollywood liberals. -- Craig Younkin
  • Crowd Report: "Team America"
    October 16, 2004    The crowd situation was in line with the opening night of Jackass ($9.7 million - $3,873 per-screen), and the attendance also ended up being on par with Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle ($14.6 million - $4,224 per-screen). -- Lee Tistaert
  • Friday Box Office Analysis (10/15)
    October 16, 2004    The rather underwhelming figure poses the question of whether or not the sneak previews drove out Trey Parker and Matt Stone?s more hardcore fans. -- Lee Tistaert
  • Crowd Report / B.O. Outlook: "Team America"
    October 11, 2004    After seeing it, I think it might land between Kill Bill Volume 1 ($22.1 million) and Volume 2 ($25.1 million), with even an outside shot at Dodgeball ($30.1 million). -- Lee Tistaert