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A look at the top 10 films of 2004.


Yet the fact remains that most movies are opportunistic, rather than artistic, endeavors. The following list was chosen from a lot of movies. Out of the many, it was hard to choose 10 worth talking about. And from those, only the top four, and maybe number five, were interesting and entertaining enough to consider watching again. Nevertheless, this list should help you cut through the garbage and prioritize your Netflicks queue.

1. "The Dreamers" — Bernardo Bertolucci showed why he is one of the giants with this alternate reality of youth in the turbulent '60s. Movies within movies pull the viewer into a hypnotic realm where beautiful, naked people live on a steady diet of vice. Who doesn't dream of that?

2. "Birth" — Critics prudishly shooed audiences away when "Sexy Beast" director Jonathan Glazer subverted expectation and casually inserted a 10-year-old into steamy bath water with Nicole Kidman. The strangest film this year is also one of the best.

3. "Sideways" — An old road-trip movie retread by the crafty filmmaking duo of Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor. Last responsible for "About Schmidt," they hit a career high in 1999 with "Election." "Sideways" is at least as insightful a social satire, if not as cinematically innovative.

4. "The Saddest Music in the World" — Guy Maddin's audacious time warp to 1930s cinema is a strange brew that gives new energy to the art form. Isabella Rossellini's beer baroness with steins for gams is the not-so-subtle symbol of the year.

5. "Fahrenheit 9/11" — Best line of '04: "Some people call you the elite. I call you my base." Michael Moore's ode to our adventurism in the Middle East deserved more than the hypocritical mealy-mouthing it got from CNN. Most noteworthy was its masterful manipulation — alternately entertaining, informative and heart-rending.

6. "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" — It wriggles in your brain like a half-remembered dream, but the loose structure and elusive implication in Charlie Kaufman's follow-up script to "Adaptation" make this the memorable romantic drama of the year.

7. "Vanity Fair" — An abrupt ending and overall rushed pacing seem almost inevitable results of tackling William Makepeace Thackeray's 19th-century masterpiece. Still, Mira Nair's lush and spirited adaptation more than lives up to the gilded standards of the Regency.

8. "Troy" — Wolfgang Petersen brings to life, at least visually, the grinding war to end all Greek wars. Brad Pitt is resplendent as Achilles, master swordsman and Ginsu demonstrator.

9. "Spartan" — The local Blockbuster is full of mindless action movies, so it's important to acknowledge a thoughtful one. Director David Mamet grips us with an unpredictable and timely political thriller starring Val Kilmer.

10. "The Passion of the Christ" — Yes, it was insufferably earnest, made by a filmmaker who believes his own devoutly Catholic wife is going to hell because she doesn't take Mass in Latin. Even so, Mel Gibson's march up the mount of ungodly box-office earnings sprang from a work with honest vision, resulting in an undeniably powerful rendering. S

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