Mark Leeper's Top Ten Films of 2004
(film comment by Mark R. Leeper)

As an amateur film buff I see nowhere near as many of the major artistic films as I would like. And frequently when I do, my take is somewhat individualistic. For example, while many of the critics are very impressed with SIDEWAYS, I am just mildly positive on it. These were the ten films that impressed me the most.


    Don Cheadle stars in a film that shows humanity at its best and at its worst. This is the moving dramatization of the true story of how one man saved the lives of 1200 people marked for genocide. It is a film of epic proportions that puts a human face on the disaster. One possible complaint is that it is a little too much like THE KILLING FIELDS. But that film, released twenty years ago, was the best film I saw in the 1980s. Saying HOTEL RWANDA is a lot like is at worst faint criticism. The film is a good introduction to the Rwanda Genocide for people who like me knew less than we should. It raises important questions at a time when many Americans want to see our country intervening less on the world stage. The film suggests the price that policy can cost. Rating: high +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10


    This is quite probably the best new science fiction film since MINORITY REPORT and well before. A medical device allows for the removal of painful memories by erasing them. The hitch is that the memories must be opened and partially relived as they are being erased. Charlie Kaufman's script is demanding, but it is delightfully engaging, intelligent, and even profound. Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman formerly came to public attention with the creative BEING JOHN MALKOVICH. He followed it up with the nearly as good ADAPTATION. Now he is showing that he has not yet reached his peak. ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND is his best script by a surprising margin. The director is Michel Gondry, but for once it is the screenwriter who is getting the deserved attention. Hopefully this is a movie that will show the film industry that good writing can do more for a film than good special effects. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10


    Much in the style of EL NORTE and with a story similar to a subplot of TRAFFIC, this is a story of a Colombian woman who because she is pregnant falls prey to drug smugglers who use her as a "mule." A mule is a drug transporter who swallows (many) sealed packets of drugs to get them though customs. The film is engaging, and though it is downbeat it is not relentlessly bleak. In her first film, Catalina Sandino Moreno gives a sensitive performance deserving of an Oscar. The low budget US-Colombian film if finely crafted and will be long remembered. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10


    J. M. Barrie, the author of PETER PAN, was a man in love with childhood and with the child within himself. He breaks free from the stilted confines of Victorian England to frolic with the four children of a widow. Because he refuses to be ordinary in the way that was expected of him he is rejected by his wife and by society, but finds that his imagination is his escape. The role of Barrie is not a flamboyant role for Johnny Depp, but he is just about perfect as a man revolting against stilted society to break through to his childhood. The film is surprisingly affecting in its romanticism. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

  5. Z CHANNEL: A MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION One of the earliest pay cable stations was also one of the best. This is story of that station and of Jerry Harvey who made station a film fan's dream while running his own life into the ground. Harvey would get films from all over the world, films that most ardent cinema fans had been dying to see. This documentary shows a rich selection of the films that played on Z Channel in Los Angeles in the late-1970s. It all came to an end very suddenly and very tragically. This is a documentary that does a lot in a lot of different areas. It is well worth looking for. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10


    Alfred Kinsey was a liberator according to some and a great corrupter to others. He certainly changed American sexual mores and KINSEY is the story of what he did and how he did it. Bill Condon, who directed the effective GODS AND MONSTERS takes a sympathetic look at the life of the father of modern sexual freedom. This is the surprisingly engaging story of how an expert on wasps changed the world. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10


    In Restoration England (and since before the time of Shakespeare) women were not legally allowed to be actors on the stage. Clare Danes plays Maria, a young stage hand who desperately wants to act. Billy Crudup plays the most renowned actor in women's roles in England. Then Charles II overturns the prohibition and the two actors vie to be the better actor of women's roles. The film is to a great extent about acting style, and about rage. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

  8. RAY

    As a biopic RAY follows a time-honored formula. Jamie Foxx is magnetic as Ray Charles but does not show us enough inner conflict. The film is at its best showing the roots of the character. But the music is fine and is what will please audiences. It is hard to go wrong with a film that shows Southern discrimination, sex, and drugs, and glues it together with the soulful music of Ray Charles. This is not the most ambitious film around, but it is entertaining. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10


    This is a documentary about a mountain climbing expedition that went very wrong and of the horrifying one man went though to save his life. This true story combines most of the greatest horrors of mountain-climbing in one film. There is the horror of dangling helplessly over high drops, holding a friend's full weight with a rope slipping through your hands, and horribly broken bones. Before seeing the film I thought that mountain- climbing was a foolish risk and that I would have no empathy for the climbers. I surprised myself by finding the suspense breathless and I now think climbing is an insane risk. But this is the best suspense film of the year (with more than one meaning for suspense). Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

  10. HERO

    China tries to make its own CROUCHING TIGER with a story of an enigmatic stranger who has killed a triad of assassins for the benefit of China's first Emperor. The stranger tells the emperor multiple versions of how he killed the emperor's enemies. Visually HERO is stunning. The telling is operatic in style but becomes muddled. Some of the story may seem obscure to American audiences, but in this film the visual style is much more important than the actual plot. This is a case where it might have been better to dub carefully than to subtitle. I had to let several subtitles go unread to appreciate the images above them on the screen. This film is not the entertainment that THE EMPEROR AND THE ASSASSIN was, but it certainly is a film that can be appreciated by wide audiences. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2005 Mark R. Leeper