Top 10 films of 2004
1. Hero, Zhang Yimou, China The simplest, most complex and most beautiful movie of the year, reimagining Chinese history as a series of showdowns and betrayals. Condemned in some quarters for being preoccupied with endorsing fascism, it's actually a mythic illustration of charisma and treachery's central role in leadership.
2. The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson, USA Gibson's uncompromisingly personal interpretation of Christ's murder illustrated the worst all-or-nothing tendencies of modern movie criticism, which myopically insists that a movie's problematic aspects negate its esthetic virtues.
3. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Wes Anderson, USA Discussions of Anderson's maritime dream tend to fixate on the obvious cinematic references while ignoring the clearest source of Anderson's peculiar magic: "Peanuts."Aquatic asks what happens when pop simplicity is complicated by real-world darkness and pain.
4. The Incredibles, Brad Bird, USA A straight-up fantasy adventure plus loving spoof of James Bond, Star Wars, Kubrick and others, The Incredibles is also an inquiry into the need for heroes and myths and the plight of exceptional people in a society that prizes mediocrity.
5. Son Frère, Patrice Chereau, France This time-shifting tale of two estranged siblings (one with a blood disorder) is the year's rawest and most intimate drama. Probably the greatest gay-themed film in the last 10 years, and the most boldly romantic since Cyril Collard's Savage Nights.
6. The Terminal, Steven Spielberg, USA The master's large-scale, politically complex, sociologically exact comedy-drama about a stateless Eastern European man trapped in an airport was underappreciated by audiences and critics alike. Sweet-souled films usually are.
7. Osama, Siddiq Barmak, Afghanistan Barmak's movie about a girl posing as a boy in Islamic fundamentalist-dominated, male-centered Afghanistan was a little masterwork of melodrama, agitprop and formal precision.
8. Bright Leaves, Ross McElwee, USA Another laid-back masterwork from North Carolina filmmaker Ross McElwee, who perfected the first-person, ruminative format later corrupted by the likes of Michael Moore, Morgan Spurlock, Nick Broomfield and other showboaters.
9. Gozu, Takashi Miike, Japan As demented as any Miike film, and perhaps sillier than most, this tale of a gangster who mysteriously loses his boss in a small town unfolds with the dark logic of a nightmare. Just when you think it can't get any more perverse, it does.
10. Primer, Shane Carruth, USA Carruth's microbudget sci-fi picture about a young scientist building a time machine received respectful, sometimes dazzled, but usually puzzled reviews, along with pans from people who couldn't make heads or tails of it or who thought it was pretentious, incoherent and cold. Kubrick's movies got the same reception.