I think we have firmly established that I have a thing for Cate Blanchett.

My Top 20:

  1. The Aviator
  2. A Very Long Engagement
  3. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  4. Sideways
  5. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  6. House of Flying Daggers
  7. Closer
  8. Million Dollar Baby
  9. The Incredibles
  10. Kill Bill Volume 2
  11. Silver City
  12. Hero
  13. Hotel Rwanda
  14. Spider-Man 2
  15. Kinsey
  16. Bad Education
  17. Finding Neverland
  18. Vera Drake
  19. Mar Adentro
  20. Shrek 2

Those are all four star films.  It’s a very solid year.  And that list is followed by one more four star film (Don’t Move) and a lot of high ***.5 films, several of which I feel are greatly unappreciated and would continue to be so if didn’t mention them here:  Baadasssss, Collateral, I Heart Huckabees, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Shaun of the Dead, Maria Full of Grace, Infernal Affairs, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Garden State, Osama, Saved, The Merchant of Venice, The Machinist.

Consensus Awards:

  • Best Picture:  Sideways
  • Best Director:  Clint Eastwood  (Million Dollar Baby)
  • Best Actor:  Jamie Foxx  (Ray)
  • Best Actress:  Imelda Staunton  (Vera Drake)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Thomas Haden Church  (Sideways)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Virginia Madsen (Sideways)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  Sideways
  • Best Original Screenplay:  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  • Best Cinematography:  The Aviator
  • Best Animated Film:  The Incredibles
  • Best Foreign Film:  Mar Adentro

Academy Awards:

  • Best Picture:  Million Dollar Baby
  • Best Director:  Clint Eastwood  (Million Dollar Baby)
  • Best Actor:  Jamie Foxx  (Ray)
  • Best Actress:  Hillary Swank  (Million Dollar Baby)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Morgan Freeman  (Million Dollar Baby)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Cate Blanchett  (The Aviator)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  Sideways
  • Best Original Screenplay:  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  • Best Cinematography:  The Aviator
  • Best Animated Film:  The Incredibles
  • Best Foreign Film:  Mar Adentro

The top film of the year, according to the Top 1000: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I rank it 3rd.

Top 10 Films  (Top 1000):

  1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind  –  #506  (#4)
  2. Million Dollar Baby  –  #875  (#15)
  3. The Incredibles  –  #911  (#31)
  4. Sideways  –  (#12)
  5. Before Sunset  –  (#19)
  6. Dogville  –  (#40)
  7. Mooladé  –  (#100)
  8. Vera Drake  –  (#117)
  9. The Aviator  –  (#119)
  10. Shaun of the Dead  –  (#129)

note:  Because so much of the focus for the Top 1000 is on classic films, because they have had a longer time to sink into the critical consciousness, they have a separate list called the Top 250 of the 2000′s.  The first number is for those films that actually make their Top 1000, the second number in parenthesis is for their rank in the Top 250 for the 21st Century.  I don’t know their precise methodology, so I can’t explain why some films rank higher on one list than on the other.  But, since the Top 1000 is the more definitive list, a higher rank there is the trump.

Top 10 Films  (2004 Best Picture Awards):

  1. Sideways
  2. The Aviator
  3. Million Dollar Baby
  4. Finding Neverland
  5. Ray
  6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  7. The Incredibles
  8. Kinsey
  9. Hotel Rwanda
  10. Phantom of the Opera

note:  Million Dollar Baby becomes the first Oscar winner to fail to win a Best Picture award from any other awards group (BAFTA, PGA, Globe, BFCA) since Braveheart.

Top 10 Films  (Awards Points):

  1. Sideways  –  2812
  2. The Aviator  –  2212
  3. Million Dollar Baby  –  1558
  4. Finding Neverland  –  1249
  5. Ray  –  1226
  6. Vera Drake  –  919
  7. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind  –  914
  8. House of Flying Daggers  –  643
  9. Collateral  –  601
  10. The Incredibles  –  568

note:  The five Oscar nominees occupy the top 5 slots for the first time since 1997.  Million Dollar Baby crushes the record for most points without any BAFTA points.

Shrek 2 has Puss. That’s all it needs.

Top 10 Films  (Domestic Box Office Gross):

  1. Shrek 2  –  $441.22 mil
  2. Spider-Man 2  –  $373.58 mil
  3. The Passion of the Christ  –  $370.27 mil
  4. Meet the Fockers  –  $279.26 mil
  5. The Incredibles  –  $261.44 mil
  6. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban  –  $249.54 mil
  7. The Day After Tomorrow  –  $186.74 mil
  8. The Bourne Supremacy  –  $176.24 mil
  9. National Treasure  –  $173.00 mil
  10. The Polar Express  –  $162.77 mil

note:  With no Lord of the Rings film and with Veronica giving birth right after the debut of Harry Potter, we only saw four of these films a combined seven times (twice for Harry Potter, Spider-Man and Incredibles, once for Shrek).

Top 10 Films  (Worldwide Box Office Gross):

  1. Shrek 2  –  $919.8 mil
  2. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban  –  $796.7 mil
  3. Spider-Man 2  –  $783.8 mil
  4. The Incredibles  –  $631.4 mil
  5. The Passion of the Christ  –  $611.4 mil
  6. The Day After Tomorrow  –  $544.3 mil
  7. Meet the Fockers  –  $515.6 mil
  8. Troy  –  $497.4 mil
  9. Shark Tale  –  $367.3 mil
  10. Ocean’s Twelve  –  $362.7 mil

note:  Even though Shrek 2 is the highest grossing domestic film since 1997, it is the lowest-grossing #1 worldwide film since 2000 because it only earns 52% of its gross internationally.  I’m not sure what to think of the international audiences.  They gave Harry Potter almost 69% of its total and Meet the Fockers less than 46%, so kudos there.  But they provided over 73% of Troy‘s total, almost turning it into a $500 million film and there’s no excuse for that.  Oddly enough, the Top 10 film they supported the least was Bourne Supremacy, with only 38% of its box office total.

Ebert Great Movies:

  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Nighthawk Golden Globes:

Love will overcome all for Audrey Tautou in A Very Long Engagement


  • Best Picture:  The Aviator
  • Best Director:  Martin Scorsese  (The Aviator)
  • Best Actor:  Leonardo DiCaprio  (The Aviator)
  • Best Actress:  Audrey Tautou  (A Very Long Engagement)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Clive Owen  (Closer)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Cate Blanchett  (The Aviator)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  A Very Long Engagement
  • Best Original Screenplay:  Silver City


  • Best Picture:  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  • Best Director:  Michel Gondry  (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)
  • Best Actor:  Jim Carrey  (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)
  • Best Actress:  Kate Winslet  (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Thomas Haden Church  (Sideways)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Virginia Madsen  (Sideways)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  Sideways
  • Best Original Screenplay:  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Nighthawk Awards:

  • Best Picture:  The Aviator
  • Best Director:  Martin Scorsese  (The Aviator)
  • Best Actor:  Leonardo DiCaprio  (The Aviator)
  • Best Actress:  Audrey Tautou  (A Very Long Engagement)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Clive Owen  (Closer)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Cate Blanchett  (The Aviator)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  A Very Long Engagement
  • Best Original Screenplay:  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  • Best Editing:  The Aviator
  • Best Cinematography:  The Aviator
  • Best Original Score:  House of Flying Daggers
  • Best Sound:  The Aviator
  • Best Art Direction:  The Aviator
  • Best Visual Effects:  Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  • Best Sound Editing:  The Aviator
  • Best Costume Design:  The Aviator
  • Best Makeup:  House of Flying Daggers
  • Best Original Song:  “Al Otro Lado del Rio”  (The Motorcycle Diaries)
  • Best Animated Film:  The Incredibles
  • Best Foreign Film:  A Very Long Engagement

Such a magnificent film it merits two images. If you haven’t seen it, you need to.

Top 10 Foreign Films:

  1. A Very Long Engagement
  2. House of Flying Daggers
  3. Downfall
  4. Bad Education
  5. Kung Fu Hustle
  6. Mar Adentro
  7. Don’t Move
  8. Maria Full of Grace
  9. Howl’s Moving Castle
  10. Walk on Water

This is, quite frankly, a phenomenal year for foreign films, one of the best in a very long time.  It also returns to the problem at the core of the Academy’s idea: one film per country.  My Top 10 list has one nominee (Downfall) and the winner (Mar Adentro).  But while Mar Adentro is a very good choice, it isn’t even the best film from its country – that would be Bad EducationA Very Long Engagement wasn’t submitted – rather France submitted The Chorus, easily the worst of the nominees (the next four films on the list would be two submitted films – Innocent Voices and Turtles Can Fly, followed by two other nominees – As It Is in Heaven and Yesterday – and all of them are worthy choices).  Don’t Move was also passed over by Spain while Maria Full of Grace (which earned a Best Actress nomination), was passed over by Mexico for a submission for Innocent Voices.  Yet, the Academy still blew it by not nominating the best of the submissions – House of Flying Daggers (though the Cinematography branch had it right – they nominated both A Very Long Engagement and House of Flying Daggers).  And this list doesn’t include other films worthy of inclusion (***.5 films): Steamboy, The Motorcycle Diaries (yet another film nominated in other categories), Moolaade, Grand Voyage and Ghost in the Shell 2.

the incomparable Zhang Ziyi in House of Flying Daggers

Nighthawk Notables:

  • Film to Watch Over and Over:  Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  • Best Line  (comedic):  “Where is my supersuit?”  (Samuel L. Jackson in The Incredibles)
  • Best Line  (dramatic):  “You didn’t want it down there with her.  It’s better it’s with you.”  (Peter Sarsgaard in Garden State)
  • Best Opening:  Closer
  • Best Ending:  Spider-Man 2
  • Best Scene:  the fight on the subway in Spider-Man 2
  • Most Heartbreaking Scene:  Don Cheadle explaining to his wife how she should die with the kids if necessary in Hotel Rwanda
  • Best Use of a Song (comedic):  “Don’t Stop Me Now” in Shaun of the Dead
  • Best Use of a Song (dramatic):  “The Only Living Boy in New York” in Garden State
  • Best Ensemble:  Silver City
  • Funniest Film:  Shaun of the Dead
  • Most Over-Rated Film:  Dogville  /  Napoleon Dynamite
  • Worst Film:  Raise Your Voice
  • Worst Sequel:  Alien vs. Predator
  • Worst Film I Saw in the Theater:  Troy
  • Worst Ending:  The Village
  • Performance to Fall in Love With:  Anne Hathaway in Ella Enchanted
  • Sexiest Performance:  Zhang Ziyi in House of Flying Daggers
  • Highest Attractiveness / Acting Ability Ratio:  Kate Beckinsale in Van Helsing
  • Best Guilty Pleasure:  Team America: World Police
  • Best Soundtrack:  Garden State
  • Watch the Film, SKIP the Book:  Sideways
  • Read the Book, SKIP the Film:  Troy
  • Star of the Year:  Jude Law  (Alfie  /  Closer  /  The Aviator  /  Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events  /  I Heart Huckabees  /  Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow)
  • Coolest Performance:  Jude Law in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
  • Best Trailer:  Spider-Man 2
  • Best Tag-Line:  “A romantic comedy.  With zombies.”  (Shaun of the Dead)
  • Best Original Song from a Bad Film:  “Remember Me” from Troy
  • Best Cameo:  Jessica Hynes  /  Martin Freeman in Shaun of the Dead
  • Best Animated Character Performance:  Antonio Banderas in Shrek 2
  • Film that Literally Made Me Scream Leaving the Theater:  Phantom of the Opera

Scenes to Remember:

  • Hermione punches Draco in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  • Bill’s death scene in Kill Bill Volume 2
  • the bamboo and the snow fight scenes in House of Flying Daggers
  • the first encounter with Puss in Shrek 2
  • listening to the Shins in Garden State
  • parking the car in Shaolin Soccer
  • Julia Roberts “playing herself” in Ocean’s 12
  • the anchor rumble in Anchorman

Film History:  Several box office records are set which actually still stand:  Shrek 2 becomes the highest grossing animated film (and third all-time at the end of its theatrical run), The Day After Tomorrow has the highest opening weekend to not hit #1 ($68 million), losing out to Shrek 2‘s second weekend, Passion of the Christ becomes the highest grossing R rated film (by almost $100 million) and Fahrenheit 9/11 becomes the highest grossing documentary of all-time (over quintupling the previous record holder) and is still the only documentary to gross over $100 million.  Fahrenheit 9/11 wins the Palme d’Or at Cannes.  Vera Drake wins the Golden Lion in Venice.  Sideways sweeps the Indie Spirits – winning Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress – tying for the second most points ever, behind Stand and DeliverCatwoman wins four Razzies, including Picture, Director and Screenplay and Worst Actress winner Halle Berry accepts her award in person while holding her Oscar.  Ingrid Thulin dies in January.  Spalding Gray disappears in January, prompting the following scene: while walking to my going away party after my last day of work at Powells on 26 February, Tavis says to Hillary and I, as we walk by a theater: “I saw Spalding Gray perform there.  If I get asked by the cops, I’ll say the last time I saw Spalding Gray was right there.”  Gray is pulled out of the East River nine days later.  Peter Ustinov dies in March.  Marlon Brando dies on 1 July.  Janet Leigh and Christopher Reeve both die in October.

Academy Awards:  The Aviator becomes the first film to win the BAFTA, Globe and PGA and fail to win the Oscar (though this would sadly be repeated the next year).  Million Dollar Baby becomes the first film since 1999 and the last film to date to get nominated for the big 5 Oscars; it also the last Best Picture winner to date to win multiple acting Oscars.  It is only nominated for one technical award – the first Best Picture winner not to get multiple tech nominations since 1980.  The Aviator is nominated for Picture, Director and Original Screenplay but loses all three – making Martin Scorsese only the fourth director to have this happen three times, joining Stanley Kubrick, William Wyler and Fred Zinnemann.  Yesterday becomes the first African Foreign Film nominee since 1995.  The Aviator with 450 points and 5 Oscars has the highest totals for both categories for a film that doesn’t win Best Picture since 1998.  Million Dollar Baby, on the other hand, with only 7 nominations has the fewest for a winning film since 1991 and the fewest points (420) for a winner since 1989.  For the fourth year in a row, the Best Picture winner is released in December; in spite of all the talk over the years about late release dates, this is the only time this has happened four years in a row.  With her Oscar-winning role in The Aviator, Cate Blanchett is in a Best Picture nominee for the fourth year in a row.

The Academy again nominates Marty and his film and again don’t give him either award.  That two of the very best films of the year are foreign, makes it easier to understand their omissions, and the Cinematography branch wisely nominates both.  The Academy does very well with the acting categories – not a single nominee rates lower than 8th on my list and I agree 5/5 with Supporting Actress.  Where they do the worst is in some of the technical categories (Really?  The costumes for Troy and Ray but not House of Flying Daggers, Vanity Fair or Phantom of the Opera?  The massive amounts of blood in Passion of the Christ, but not the makeup in House, Harry Potter, Hellboy or Kill Bill – especially since Harry Potter and Hellboy were both semi-finalists?).  And then there is their hatred for motion capture.  I don’t mind Polar Express getting passed over – I never really liked it.  But to pass over the massively original and fascinating Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow with Shark Tale?  What a terrible choice.

  • Worst Oscar:  Best Original Score for Finding Neverland
  • Worst Oscar Nomination:  Best Animated Film for Shark Tale
  • Worst Oscar Omission:  Best Actress for Audrey Tautou for A Very Long Engagement
  • Worst Oscar-Nominated Film:  The Village
  • Best Eligible Film with No Oscar Nominations:  Kill Bill Volume 2
  • Best Foreign Film Submitted but Not Nominated:  House of Flying Daggers
  • Worst Oscar Category:  Best Editing
  • Best Oscar Category:  Best Supporting Actress
  • Oscar / Nighthawk Award Agreements:  Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen, Supporting Actress, Editing, Cinematography, Art Direction, Original Song, Animated Film

Golden Globes:  Million Dollar Baby becomes the first film since Braveheart to lose at the Globes but go on to win the Oscar, and just like with Unforgiven, Eastwood wins Best Director while losing Picture.  For the third year in a row a film is nominated at the Globes for Picture, Director and Screenplay but doesn’t receive any of those nominations at the Oscars (Closer) – as many times as had happened in the previous 22 years combined (and it has not happened since).  Sideways, The Aviator and Finding Neverland join Closer in the Picture, Director and Screenplay races.  Sideways and Aviator win the two Best Picture awards while Finding Neverland goes 0 for 5.

Awards:  Sideways crushes everything at the critics awards.  It wins four awards for Picture (New York, LA, Boston, Chicago), two for Actor (New York, Chicago), both supporting awards from four (LA, National Society of Film Critics, Boston, Chicago) a fifth for Supporting Actor (National Board of Review), one for Director (LA) and all six for Screenplay.  It comes in the Top 10 all-time for points at New York and Chicago and fourth all-time at LA.  It sets an overall new points record, beating out L.A. Confidential (which would be broken in 2010).  It becomes one of only four films to get at least 100 points from all the existing critics groups, joining Schindler’s List, Pulp Fiction and L.A. Confidential (and later joined by Social Network).  In spite of only one Best Picture award, Million Dollar Baby comes in second in points – the highest finish by an eventual Oscar winner since Schindler’s List.  It wins Best Picture (NSFC), two Best Actress awards (NSFC, Boston), and two Best Director awards (New York and Chicago).  In third is House of Flying Daggers, with two Best Director awards (NSFC and Boston – with the former shared with Hero), two Cinematography (NSFC, Boston), one Art Direction (NBR) and two Best Foreign Film awards (LA and Boston).  That leaves Finding Neverland with the final Best Picture award – its awards from the NBR (it also won Score) would be its only awards until its win for Best Original Score on Oscar night.

For the third year in a row, the DGA nominates the five eventual Oscar Best Picture nominees and also for the third year in a row, one of the nominated directors will fail to earn an Oscar nom (in this case Marc Forster).  For the first time since 1997, all four SAG winners go on to win the Oscar.  Million Dollar Baby‘s 3 guild wins are the fewest for an Oscar Best Picture since 1998.  It also the third film in a row to win the DGA and lost the WGA and go on to win Best Picture at the Oscars (which has not happened since).  For only the second time (2001 is the other), all five Oscar Best Picture nominees are nominated for the SAG Ensemble (it would not happen again in the five nominee era).  For some utterly inexplicable reason, rather than nominate the two Golden Globe winners of the supporting awards (Clive Owen and Natalie Portman for Closer), SAG instead nominate James Garner for The Notebook and Cloris Leachman for Spanglish.  As the one major film in the running for guild awards with considerable technical prowess, The Aviator by far leads the pack with 19 total guild nominations and 8 awards.  The next highest films are Million Dollar Baby and Ray which each earn 9 noms and 3 wins (though Spider-Man 2 and The Incredibles also both win 3 awards).  All five eventual Best Picture nominees earn at least 8 noms and all are nominated for the DGA, the ACE (Editors) and at least two SAG awards.  Only Finding Neverland is kept winless among the films.

Million Dollar Baby becomes the first Oscar winner since Braveheart not to get nominated for Best Picture at the BAFTAs and the first since The Sting not to get any nominations at all, missing out on the deadline for the 2004 awards and getting ignored for the 2005 awards.  Finding Neverland, on the other hand, sets a new BAFTA record by going 0 for 11 (which include Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay and three acting noms).  The Aviator ties a number of films for third place all-time with 14 nominations.  It wins Best Picture, but only three other awards (Supporting Actress, Art Direction, Makeup).  The other major awards are split among Vera Drake (Director among 11 noms), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Original Screenplay among 6 noms) and Sideways (Adapted Screenplay – its only nom).  Joining The Aviator in the Picture and Director races are Vera Drake, Finding Neverland and Eternal Sunshine while The Motorcycle Diaries gets the final Picture spot and Collateral the final Director spot.

Million Dollar Baby becomes the first film to lost the BFCA and go on to win the Oscar since 1998.  Sideways is the big winner – taking home Picture, Screenplay and both supporting awards.  It has the most wins since 2000 (4), ties Mystic River for most nominations all-time (7 – broken the next year) and sets a new record for points (405 – not broken until 2010, when more categories had been added).  While all five eventual Oscar nominees are nominated for Picture and Director, both Ray and Million Dollar Baby are missing from the Screenplay race.  Just like at the guilds, Globes and BAFTAs, Finding Neverland goes winless.

Best Director:  Clint Eastwood, with the late release of Million Dollar Baby, would win two critics (New York and Chicago), then go on to win the Globe, DGA and Oscar.  With all of these, he becomes the first consensus winner since 2001 to fail to earn a BAFTA nomination and the first to win an Oscar without a BAFTA nomination since 1989.  In second would be Martin Scorsese (his second such finish in three years and his third of a record four 2nd place finishes) for The Aviator.  He would win the BFCA and earn nominations from the DGA, Academy, BAFTA, Globes and Satellites.  The other three consensus nominees would be Alexander Payne for Sideways (Indie and LA winner, DGA, Oscar, Globe, BFCA and Satellite nominee), Zhang Yimou for House of Flying Daggers and Hero (New York and Boston wins) and Marc Forster for Finding Neverland (DGA, BAFTA, Globe, BFCA noms).  My own winner would be Scorsese and my nominees would be Jean-Pierre Jeunet for A Very Long Engagement, Alfonso Cuaron for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Yimou (for Daggers) and Quentin Tarantino for Kill Bill Volume 2.  My 6 through 10 would be Eastwood, Yimou again (for Hero), Mike Nichols for Closer (Globe nominee), Michel Gondry for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (BAFTA nominee) and John Sayles for Silver City.

Best Adapted Screenplay:  I go against the grain, because Sideways is my #2 adapted script of the year.  Everyone else, and I mean everyone, has it at #1.  It becomes the first film to completely sweep the screenplay awards – it wins all 6 critics groups, the WGA, Oscar, BAFTA, Globe and BFCA.  The consensus nominees are Finding Neverland (Oscar, Globe, BAFTA, BFCA noms), The Motorcycle Diaries (Oscar, WGA, BAFTA noms), Million Dollar Baby and Before Sunset (Oscar and WGA noms each).  My own winner is A Very Long Engagement, whose brilliant script was completely overlooked.  Then comes Sideways, Closer (Globe, BAFTA noms), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Million Dollar Baby.  My 6 through 10 are Finding Neverland, Don’t Move, Shrek 2, Baadasssss and Spider-Man 2 (definitely not any other person’s top 10 list).

Best Original Screenplay:  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind clinches the consensus award simply by being the only original screenplay to win any awards.  And the only awards it wins are the ones in which there are separate awards for adapted and original screenplays: WGA, Oscar, BAFTA and the NBR.  It also earns Globe and BFCA noms, but of course, loses both of those to Sideways.  The easy second place finisher is The Aviator, which is nominated by WGA, Oscar, BAFTA, Globes and BFCA.  These are followed by Hotel Rwanda (Oscar, WGA, BAFTA noms), Vera Drake (Oscar, BAFTA noms) and Kinsey (WGA and BFCA noms).  My own winner, of course, is Eternal Sunshine, followed by Silver City (noted below for its total awards exclusion), The Aviator, The Incredibles (Oscar nom) and Vera Drake.  My 6 through 10 are Bad Education, Hotel Rwanda, Mar Adentro, Garden State (WGA nom) and Kill Bill Volume 2.

Best Actor:  Jamie Foxx runs away with the consensus award, winning three critics awards (NSFC, BSFC, NBR), as well as SAG, Oscar, BAFTA, BFCA and the Globe.  He’s followed by Paul Giamatti, who wins two critics awards (New York and Chicago), and earns SAG, Globe and BFCA nominations.  The rest of the consensus nominees are Leonardo DiCaprio for The Aviator (Globe – Drama win, SAG, Oscar, BAFTA, BFCA noms), Johnny Depp for Finding Neverland (SAG, Oscar, BAFTA, BFCA, Globe noms) and Don Cheadle for Hotel Rwanda (SAG, Oscar, Globe, BFCA noms).  It’s a great year and it kills me, but Giamatti is left off my list just like he was left out by the Oscars.  My winner is DiCaprio, for his brilliant turn as Howard Hughes, followed by Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (BAFTA, Globe noms), Foxx, Liam Neeson in Kinsey (LAFC win, Globe nom) and Cheadle.  My 6 through 10, a great group, are Giamatti, Oscar nominee Clint Eastwood for Million Dollar Baby, Depp, Globe and BFCA nominee Javier Bardem for Mar Adentro and Jude Law for Closer.

Best Actress:  Unlike in 1999, when Hillary Swank grabbed the consensus award to go along with her Oscar, here she is beaten out by Imelda Staunton.  While Swank comes in a solid second, winning two critics (Boston and a tie with Staunton at the NSFC) and four awards groups (SAG, Oscar, Globe, BFCA) she still loses out to the Vera Drake star who wins four critics awards (New York, LA, Chicago, NSFC) and the BAFTA while earning SAG, Oscar, Globe and BAFTA noms.  They are followed by Kate Winslet for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (SAG, Oscar, Globe, BAFTA, BFCA noms to go along with her BAFTA and BFCA noms for Finding Neverland), Annette Bening for Being Julia (NBR, Globe – Comedy wins, SAG, Oscar, BFCA noms) and Catalina Sandino Moreno for Maria Full of Grace (SAG, Oscar, BFCA noms).  While SAG and Oscar both agree with the consensus list, I am forced to disagree.  For one thing, they left out what I thought was the best performance of the year: Audrey Tautou in A Very Long Engagement.  I follow her with Winslet and Staunton, but then my fourth place is also missing from all the awards attention: Julia Roberts, giving one of the best performances of her career (better than her Oscar-winning one) in Closer.  Then I finish off my top five with Swank.  That leaves Bening in 6th place, followed by Globe nominee Uma Thurman for Kill Bill Volume 2, Sandino Moreno, Sigourney Weaver in Imaginary Heroes (many of Weaver’s best recent performances, like this, A Map in the World and Death and the Maiden have been ignored come awards time) and BAFTA nominee Zhang Ziyi for House of Flying Daggers.

The cast of Sideways: Thomas Haden Church and Virginia Madsen win consensus awards. Paul Giamatti is the consensus 2nd place finisher for Best Actor. There’s also Sandra Oh.

Best Supporting Actor:  Thomas Haden Church has the most dominant run for a Supporting Actor at the critics awards since 1994, taking home 5 of the 6 major groups (just missing out in New York).  He also wins the BFCA, but he only earns nominations at the Oscars, SAG and Globes.  But he easily wins the consensus over Clive Owen for Closer, who wins in LA and at the BAFTAs and Globes and earns Oscar and BFCA noms.  Jamie Foxx earns nominations from all five awards groups (Oscars, SAG, BAFTA, Globes, BFCA) and his performance in Collateral is cited in his National Society of Film Critics Best Actor award.  Morgan Freeman, who wins the SAG and Oscar adds Globe and BFCA noms for his performance in Million Dollar Baby comes in fourth (making him the only SAG / Oscar winner to come in lower than 2nd and the only one since 1997 not to win the consensus).  Taking the final consensus spot is Alan Alda, Oscar and BAFTA nominated for The Aviator.  My own list begins with Owen, followed by Freeman, Church, Peter Sarsgaard for Kinsey (BFCA nom) and then Sarsgaard again for Garden State.  Because of that, my 6th place finishes, Chris Cooper in Silver City, gets a Nighthawk nomination.  The rest of my list are Alda, Foxx, David Thewliss in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and SAG nominee Freddie Highmore in Finding Neverland.

Best Supporting Actress:  I could write the same thing about Virginia Madsen that I wrote about Church up above – same film, again the most dominant run since 1994, same nominations.  The only difference is that she only won four critics awards instead of five (Madsen didn’t win in Boston).  She’s followed by Cate Blanchett, who wins the SAG, Oscar and BAFTA and earns Globe and BFCA noms for her brilliant turn as Kate Hepburn in The Aviator.  The rest of the list includes Laura Linney for Kinsey (NBR win, SAG, Oscar, Globe, BFCA noms), Natalie Portman for Closer (Globe winner, Oscar, BAFTA, BFCA noms) and Sophie Okonedo for Hotel Rwanda (SAG and Oscar noms).  These five are not only the consensus list, but also the Oscar list and my own list (my order: Blanchett, Portman, Linney, Madsen, Okonedo).  My 6 through 10 are Meryl Streep for The Manchurian Candidate (BAFTA, Globe noms), Sharon Warren for Ray (BSFC win) and then three totally ignored performances: Natalie Portman (this time for Garden State), Cate Blanchett (this time for Life Aquatic) and Lynn Collins (for The Merchant of Venice).

John Sayles hits gold again with Silver City (2004)

Under-appreciated Film of 2004:

Silver City  (dir. John Sayles)

Certain actors make a career out of playing the bad guy, or at least the guy you can’t trust.  My mother, since the day she saw Lone Star, has been a big fan of Chris Cooper and longs for films where he isn’t playing the villain (that in this film he is essentially playing a version of George W. Bush, one of her arch-villains, is not a recommendation for her to watch Silver City).  Then there is Danny Huston, an actor of considerable talent, who it always seems is playing someone untrustworthy (hell, right now he is making a film where he plays Richard Nixon, and in spite of my fascination for Tricky Dick, there might not be anyone I consider more untrustworthy).  But, while I had seen Huston in films before Silver City, this was the film where he first made a strong impression on me, and playing the kind of cold, detached detective that has so influenced me (remember – my fedora is because of Sam Spade), I love the chance to watch him play the ostensible good guy.

Of course, characters in a John Sayles film are rarely given to us in terms of black-and-white.  He is one of the most complex of screenwriters and one of the most under-appreciated great directors in American film history.  In a career of Matewan, Eight Men Out, City of Hope, Lone Star, Sunshine State and Silver City, his only two Oscar nominations have been for his writing (and one of them for Passion Fish, one of his lesser films).  Here he gives us another of his great screenplays which forms the core of one of his best films (his best other than Lone Star, I would argue).  It’s full of a magnificent ensemble cast (including Richard Dreyfuss, who here essentially plays Karl Rove, and years later, will literally play Dick Cheney and Michael Murphy, whose presence so perfectly reminds you of the great ensembles from Robert Altman and Woody Allen).  And yet, here it is, without a single nomination from any awards group.

One of the things about casting Danny Huston in the lead, is that he is so off-kilter, that it allows humor to slide into the film.  When asked about a particular right-wing organization by Miguel Ferrer, he notes “Something about nuking Jane Fonda.”  There is a beat before Ferrer comments, “God I miss her.”  When asked about his girlfriend who has moved out “So you were having problems?”  “Apparently,” he replies.  She has left and taken all the furniture and had “Moving Day” on the calendar.  When talking to Tim Roth, who has a great small role as a muckraker, he comments “I always pictured you in some smoky hole in the wall, hunched over your computer, spewing your bile at the military-industrial complex.”, Roth replies “Well, it is a hole in the wall – but I’m surrounded by a bunch of anti-tobacco Fascists.”

Then there is Cooper as a stand-in for W – “He’s a draft dodger and a mama’s boy and a dimwit.” is how Ferrer describes him.  He speaks in broad platitudes that clearly have nothing deeper to them.  Roth, when denigrating the older right-wing power handlers, says of Cooper “There is not a corrupt bone in Dickie Pilager’s body, he’s just – what? – user-friendly!”  It’s certainly the view of W in a lot of circles.

And there is the story itself – a mystery concerning a dead body fished out of lake, unfortunately, by Cooper, while filming a commercial.  It could just be a bizarre coincidence.  But to Dreyfuss, it’s potentially something more, something dangerous.  And that’s where Huston comes in, subtly going about his business, sometimes smart, sometimes oblivious, but always hunting, moving closer and closer.  And as fucked up as his life is, he’s still moving forward.  Having just been screwed over (literally and figuratively) by one suspect, he’s still willing to help her son take the first steps to finding his father (after wisely noting “Some people don’t want to be found.”).

What all of this is a cross between a political satire and a noir mystery.  And like in some noir mysteries, while there is an element of completion at the end, there is also an aura of melancholy.  Not everything has come out how we would wish.  But there is hope for some, pain for others.  And in all of it, is Sayles, making use of his prodigious talent and giving us yet another unheralded great film.