It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. There were plenty of great films worth their weight in popcorn consumption this summer. On the flip side, though, there were a few so horrible that they almost made staying at home and watching reality TV sound enticing. It managed to be a controversial summer as well. For example, a few of you might think my first selection belongs on the opposite list
The 5 Best Films of Summer 2004
5. The Village
The most reviled film of the summer, The Village was actually a serviceably spooky thriller that fell victim to our impossible standards. Sure, M. Night Shymalan is an insufferable prick (at least from what I can gather from interviews, anyhow) but he's a quality filmmaker who knows how to deliver the goods. In The Village, he serves up some moments of almost unbearably prickly tension. And come on, just how shocking of a twist ending do you people need?
4. Fahrenheit 9/11
Maybe the second most-reviled (but also loved) film of the summer, Fahrenheit 9/11 is a bit of a disappointmentthe editing's kind of shoddy, Moore's attack method is scattershot at best, and the film veers uncertainly between scenes of horror and humor. But if a movie ever deserved a pass on its form because of its content, this is it. Bonus points to Moore for maintaining an unflappable calm in the face of his hysterical, hypocritical critics.
3. Garden State
A dead hamster and a horny seeing-eye dog provide excellent support for the humans in Zach Braff's charming first-time feature. Garden State captures the lazy, unsure days of young-adulthood in a way very few movies manage. Braff may have gotten the audience into their seats with his hipster soundtrack (featuring The Shins and Remy Zero) but he kept 'em through the use of good old-fashioned storytelling.
2. Silver City
The ads made this look like a thinly-veiled attack on the Bush administration, but the movie I saw was about political corruption in general (not the behavior of one prominent family in particular). John Sayles is the most literate filmmaker working today. By the end of Silver City, you'll feel like you've just completed a dense, richly-rewarding novel. They don't really make movies like this anymore, and that's a shame.
1. Before Sunset
The best sequel of the summer was perhaps even the best sequel ever? If you judge a sequel on its improvement upon the original, well, yes (and I liked the first one, too). Here's the perfect litmus test for any relationship: if the two of you interpret the ending of this movie differently, then you are not destined to be together. Trust me on this one.
And the Worst
Sorry, but Tom Cruise just really isn't that sinister. The scene where he tried to adopt an urban patois actually earned a few giggles in my theater. For some reason, Michael Mann thought that shooting in digital video would make the story seem grittier and more real. But all the technological experimentation couldn't save a story that was fundamentally uninteresting. Besides, how lame was that ending? This is the twist that people should have been complaining about.
4. Open Water
I'm tempted to give this one a pass, because first-time director Chris Kentis had some truly intriguing ideas, and unlike Michael Mann, he probably used DV because he couldn't afford anything else. But all the hype was misleading. Think of it as a water-logged Blair Witch Projectkind of creepy but far from the revolution in horror it wants to be. Not a bad movie, but wait until you can rent it on DVD. Then maybe you can explain the ending to me.
Criminally predictable, and in the end, kind of boring, Wimbledon strands Paul Bettany in a bland role while Kirsten Dunst coos and looks cute. The drama here is virtually non-existent; a mildly disapproving father is not exactly the biggest romantic obstacle in the world. The characters seemed pretty lucky to me already, draining the excitement right out of their potential victories. The final scene was the most cloyingly sweet spectacle since Britney's wedding.
2. Resident Evil: Apocalypse
Dude, I should have stayed at home with my PlayStation! The subtitle provides the first clue to just how generic this movie is going to be. When will the interchangeable zombie movies die? Maybe the parody Shaun of the Dead will finally drive a stake through this moribund genre. Oops, that's a bad metaphor, since a stake through the heart is what's supposed to kill vampires, not zombies. But you get the point.
All the focus groups in all the world and Hollywood can't come up with a more enticing product than Garfield? This horrible kiddie flick opened on my birthday (June 11you can send cards courtesy of the Maroon, thanks), which made it even more insulting. Really, if you want to watch Jennifer Love Hewitt parade around in short skirts while a cartoon cat makes jokes about poo, be my guest. Actually, I bet that encompasses a lot of people. But even they deserve a better movie than Garfield.
Since even my worst-of list contains a few really OK flicks (Open Water and Wimbledon) I'm going to go out on a limb and say that this was one of the best summers in recent memory. And things are only going to get better from here. The fall brings us Johnny Depp as author J.M. Barrie in Finding Neverland; Kevin Spacey as Bobby Darin in Beyond the Sea; Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles in Ray; and a few more movies about eccentric famous people trying to win an Oscar for playing eccentric famous people. I, for one, can't wait.