2004 – The Summer of Questions
|How Do You Define Best?|
Whenever you embark on doing a “best of” list or want to debate “the greatest of all time” in anything you find yourself asking questions and weighing answers. What’s more important for an album to resonate in its time like Michael Jackson’s Thriller or to have long reaching influence like The Clash’s London’s Burning? How much should we consider the years Kurt Warner wasn’t a starter when gauging his Hall of Fame credentials? Do we hold David Beckham’s popularity against him when we talk about his legacy as a footballer? What weight do we give the ongoing social relevance of the Star Wars universe when discussing the merits of the original film? In the end the questions you ask and the answers you give is what your list is about, not some abstract idea of “best” or “greatest” (I always find it funny that we throw out words like “greatest” as if we have all agreed on what the word means when the truth is our definitions of “greatest” within the specific context of things varies wildly). 2004 is a perfect example of what I am talking about. It is a summer with a lot of questions, but if you are inclined to answer those questions a certain way 2004 vaults near the top of anyone’s short list of greatest summers in movie history. However, if you answer those same questions differently, or ask different questions entirely, you will scoff at me for having nominated 2004 as a candidate for consideration as the greatest summer. How will you come down? Well, let’s ask the questions.
Should Movies That Are The Best in a Franchise Carry Extra Weight?
It used to be that we would have the occasional sequel (except for slasher horror movies that added numbers to the end of their titles like they were Popes or Kings). James Bond was the only real movie franchise. By the 2000’s that had started to change and of course now we don’t even bother with numbers with our seemingly countless movie franchises. 2004 was near the start of this explosion but stands apart for putting out the best of some of “the” franchises that defined the last decade.
|Did You Know This Is Still
The #1 Comedy of All Time?
- Shrek 2 – Shrek 2 is one of those massive hits that we somehow forget just how big it was. By the end of the summer Shrek 2 had become the fourth highest domestic grossing film of all time and remains the highest grossing comedy of all time. While the number isn’t a fair comparison to movies like Star Wars or ET (ticket price increases have inflated movies greatly compared to 1977 when Star Wars came out or 1982 when ET was released) Shrek 2 still shot past a number of movies which it had no discernible advantage over like Spider-Man and LOR: Return of the King. Shrek 2 was huge, even if it never really felt like it. And Shrek 2 was the rare sequel that improved upon the original, and the original was quite good.
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – I don’t feel the need to slam the first two Harry Potter movies and what Chris Columbus did with them the way some do. Maybe it is because I didn’t read the books and went in with no expectations whatsoever. Still, for those of us who hadn’t read the books the world of Harry Potter and the world-wide obsession it had spawned didn’t resonate until Alfonso Cuaron took over the directing helm and brought us the prisoner of Azkaban. The menace of Voldemort suddenly felt real. The pain of the past suddenly came to life. And the scars Harry had and continued to live with felt deep. But Cuaron also brought us the wonder of the magical world in ways that the first two movies (and all of the successive films) haven’t really touched. I’ve enjoyed all of the Harry Potter movies to some degree, this is the only one I loved.
- Spider-Man 2 – In the first of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies he had to get through a lot of set-up, as do all origin movies. In Spider-Man 2 he was able to just tell a terrific story and develop characters (both those that returned from the first film and new ones). Part Frankenstein’s monster, part Frankenstein he is fueled equally by grief and obsession and an alien force that is distorting those feeling into something villainous Doc Oc becomes “the” spider-man villain and his pain and story arc is juxtaposed perfectly with Peter Parker dealing with all that he is giving up to be spider-man. This is such a good spider-man movie that it is hard to imagine there ever being a better one.
- Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy – When you hear this was originally an SNL sketch character does it surprise you? Me either, it kind of seems obvious once you hear it. I don’t know if Ron Burgundy would have ever fully worked in that shorter form, but in this long form he has just enough variety to hold up and the time allows for Ferrell to play off of his characters stupidity in really funny ways. To me, what puts this movie over the top are all the smaller side characters (I die every time I see the Fred Willard scenes when he is talking to the principal at his kids school) and the fight scene in the middle of the movie.
- Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story – Viewed as a disappointment when it came out in ’04 (as was Anchorman) this is a movie that has shown tremendous staying power on cable. Like Anchorman it is silly and absurd and ultimately stupid, but none of that stops it from being funny. The MVP of this movie is Gary Cole. “Do you believe in unliklihoods?” is one of the best spoofs on a sports cliche lines ever uttered and I sincerely wish The Ocho were a real channel.
- Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle – the rebirth of NPH, who turned his absurd cameo into the breakout role he needed to shed Doogie Howser, MD.
|Should Documentaries Start as Wars?|
- Fahrenheit 9/11 – I am a man who is torn when it comes to discussing Michael Moore. I believe Roger & Me to be one of the three or maybe even two best documentaries ever made. I thought Bowling for Columbine had some moments of pure and disturbing and sometimes disturbingly funny genius. My problem has been that somewhere in there Michael Moore stopped making documentaries, he stopped letting the story tell itself and he began making propaganda. That may sound harsh, even more harsh than I mean it to be, but I can’t think of another word to describe films that are made, that are begun, with a specific opinion already firmly held and the intent of the film is to re-enforce said opinion and to convince others to share it. What ends up happening is that, if you are inclined to agree with the opinion, you like the movies and if you don’t agree with the opinion you don’t. That in and of itself isn’t bad or wrong, where he looses me (and he did in Sicko and Fahrenheit 9/11) is when he makes the issues simplistic, when he makes the world too black and white, too good versus evil, too immovable in his view to the point where anyone who even tries to add layers to it is viewed as enemy.
- The Notebook – talk about your polarizing movies. Honestly, I think this film elicits stronger opinions and ensuing arguments than Fahrenheit 9/11. For roughly 50% of the population this is the most romantic movie ever made (or at least right there with Titanic) and for the rest of us it is unwatchably sappy. I know some who love this movie enough that they would crown 2004 the greatest summer ever on the strength of The Notebook alone.
- Van Helsing – this was to be the new franchise for Hugh Jackman (kind of like Robert Downey, Jr with Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes). It will never be that, but it’s not bad to sit through in pieces on a Saturday afternoon.
- The Day After Tomorrow – you know you’ve done it. You know you’ve said to someone who scoffs at the idea of global warming on a cold winter day that you now know that global warming will create the next ice age. And how do you know this? Because Dennis Quaid told you so.
- Raising Helen – what can anyone say about this movie? It is EXACTLY the movie you thought it would be.
- The Chronicles of Riddick – he’s making another one. Sometimes I think Vin Diesel just makes the Fast and Furious movies so he can have enough juice to get another Riddick flick made.
- King Arthur – I will argue that this is a massively underrated movie that was hurt because it wasn’t anything like what people expected (kind of the bizarro Raising Helen).
- I, Robot – I still can’t quite figure out why this movie wasn’t a big hit? Will Smith is Will Smith. You have the twisty scifi plot thing with cool special effects that’s not so out there as to turn to many people off. And, again, you have Will Smith. Still, hardly a month goes by when this isn’t on TBS or FX or TNT or some other cable channel so obviously I’m not the only one who thought it was OK.
- The Terminal – ultimately this is a movie that should never have been made because there just wasn’t much of a movie here. It survives because Steven Speilberg and Tom Hanks can apparently make watching paint dry not feel too bad.
- The Bourne Supremacy – yes, the hand held camera thing was over done and made the action feel too herky-jerky, but this was still a fun, fast paced spy thriller.
- The Village – OK, so we all saw the end coming 2 hours away (at least partially because we were all looking for the twist before we even set foot in the theater), it still had its moments and wasn’t half as dreadful as some make it out to be.
- Alien vs. Predator – more like the Predator movies than Alien. So not great, but fun to watch nonetheless.
- Manchurian Candidate – not nearly as good as the original, but not nearly as bad as some of the reviews might have made you believe.
|It Does Not Make Me Gay
To Admit This Is One Handsome Man, Right?
- Troy – do I need to say anything else?
- Napoleon Dynamite – like The Notebook, this is the kind of movie that can put this summer over the top depending how you feel about it. Some love it, some really hate it. I thought, like many indy comedies that have a penchant for leaning too heavily on a one note joke, it had some good and maybe even great moments but also dragged mightily in parts.
- The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement – can’t believe she is going to be Catwoman and I can’t watch these movies without thinking about Welcome to the Dollhouse because of the actress who plays her best friend.
- A Cinderella Story – Hillary Duff is Cinderella, how awesome is that?
- Collateral – just when I am set to embrace a hatred for Tom Cruise he reminds me he is a really talented actor (and so is Jamie Foxx)
- Open Water – you may never go on that scuba vacation you have always dreamed of after seeing this.
- Layer Cake – see why they made Daniel Craig James Bond
- Garden State – even if you didn’t love Scrubs you will like this little dramedy
- House of Flying Daggers – maybe it doesn’t have quite the same level of emotional resonance as Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon but it is still spectacular to look out and fun to watch.
- New York Minute
- Garfield: The Movie
- The Stepford Wives
- Around the World in 80 Days
- White Chicks
|Didn’t This Feel Like A Summer Movie?|
If our 2012 April served as a calm before our inevitable summer storm 2011’s April served as the strong winds that come before the rain. April 2011 went from Source Code to The King’s Speech, to Hanna (one of the top two movies of 2011, if you haven’t seen it go watch it now), to Soul Surfer, to Rio and ended with what was perhaps the most entertaining movie of the year, Fast Five. Those six movies may have been better than the top six movies of the summer of 2011 (I’d take Hanna over Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part 2, I’d take Rio over Cars 2, I’d take The King’s Speech of The Help, I’d take Fast Five over Transformers Dark of the Moon or Thor or Captain America). April 2011 was so good that it felt like the summer started early and when Thor was released on the first weekend of May it didn’t feel any bigger than when Fast Five opened a week earlier (or when Rio opened the week before that) and the fact is that Fast Five continued to play all through May. If we judge the summer of 2011 do we count Fast Five or Rio as part of it? When you think back on the summer don’t you think of each of those teams as a part of it?
|Should This Put ’04
Over The Top?
April 2004 was top to bottom even stronger than April 2011. There were ten movies released in April of 2004 that would merit mention. Four that were not quite big enough to survive a summer release in the minds of the studios but were still enjoyable movies (Walking Tall, The Whole Ten Yards, 13 Going on 30, The Girl Next Door). A better than solid comic book movie (Hellboy). A fun family flick (Ella Enchanted). A couple of indie classics (Kill Bill Vol. 2 and Shaun of the Dead). A tremendously underrated movie (Man on Fire). And a classic high school comedy (Mean Girls). All of these movies played well into May and all of these movies would really add to the depth of a 2004 summer that doesn’t need these flicks to be strong. Some or all of these movies might put 2004 over the top, but is that a cheat?
There is one last question I really have to ask — where is the transcendent movie? 2004 has a lot of depth (I mentioned 27 movies in positive categories above) and some really good movies, but I’m not sure (even with the success of Shrek) that there is a movie on this list that makes you go “oh yeah, that was the summer of X”. Can a summer be the best without that one movie that defines it? (sorry, didn’t mean to add another question). I suppose it can in the abstract, I’m just not sure this summer did, but maybe if I were a hopeless romantic, a Democrat or liked to make fun of dorky kids from Idaho I would feel differently.