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Desson Thomson's Top 10 Films

Friday, December 31, 2004; Page WE36

With such assured movies as "Tarnation," "Intimate Strangers," "Spider-Man 2," "Metallica: Some Kind of Monster" and "The Motorcycle Diaries" reluctantly forced out of this list, I had the agonizing but enjoyable task of coming up with even better candidates. Here they are, then, my own personal 10.

1. "Sideways." Alexander Payne's movie is about friendship, love, sex and mischief, a sort of road-movie of the soul set in gorgeous wine country in Santa Ynez, Calif. It's quite simply the best story of the year, with four unforgettable, enduring characters -- and not an A-list movie star among them. The movie proves what Hollywood will never accept: Great stories and writing are always better bets than the inflated acquisition of expensive stars.

Outside of the Hollywood mainstream came one of the best movies of the year -- Alexander Payne's "Sideways." (Twentieth Century Fox)

. . . And the 10 Worst Films

I could never see my way to New Year's Eve without saluting -- in a humble, vicious way -- the year's masterworks in idiocy. As always, the competition for this list was intimidating.

1. "She Hate Me. " Spike Lee's altitudinous self-confidence has given us such great films as "She's Gotta Have It" and "Do the Right Thing." But this Serious Movie lacked what Ernest Hemingway once termed the necessary gift for a writer: "a built-in, shockproof [guess the word] detector."

2. "Catwoman." I thought cats always landed on their feet, until I saw Halle Berry's performance as the feline superhero.

3. "The Alamo." Forget "The Alamo."

4. "Surviving Christmas." Another year, another Ben Affleck turkey. I already have a special spot for him penciled in for next year's list. I can't imagine he'll let me down.

5. "Wimbledon." This romance between aging tennis pro Paul Bettany and the up-and-coming ingenue Kirsten Dunst was a prolonged double fault.

6. "Silver City." John Sayles is like the little girl with the curl. When he's good, he's very, very good. But when he's bad, he's horrid. This satire about a doofus Colorado gubernatorial candidate and his evil backers was horridissimo.

7. "The Village." M. Night Shyamalan's downward spiral from "The Sixth Sense" to this misbegotten mystery-thriller is the kind of free fall that would render the most battle-tested of F-15 pilots unconscious.

8. "Thunderbirds." This revamping of a cult British marionette TV show of the 1960s into live-action with American teenagers had one telling similarity with the original: The actors were, indeed, wooden puppets.

9. "De-Lovely." This was meant to be a teary-eyed tribute, in which an aging Cole Porter (Kevin Kline) looks back over his de-lovelier earlier years with long-suffering wife, Linda Lee. But in the end, it's about Kline remembering scenes in the movie when he didn't have to wear old-man makeup.

10. "Raise Your Voice." Sure, there are those who don't think of Hilary Duff as a corporate package of cheesy mediocrity. I envy their bliss.

-- Desson Thomson

_____Memorable Moments_____
Michael O'Sullivan's Top 10 Exhibits (The Washington Post, Dec 31, 2004)
The Year in Music (The Washington Post, Dec 31, 2004)
Richard Harrington's Top 10 (The Washington Post, Dec 31, 2004)
Geoffrey Himes's Top 10 (The Washington Post, Dec 31, 2004)
Mike Joyce's Top 10 (The Washington Post, Dec 31, 2004)
Mark Jenkins's Top 10 (The Washington Post, Dec 31, 2004)
. . . And the 10 Worst Films (The Washington Post, Dec 31, 2004)
The Best Bites of 2004 (The Washington Post, Dec 31, 2004)
Looking Back: Bugs, Bars, Poker and More (The Washington Post, Dec 31, 2004)

2. "The Incredibles." A close second, this animated movie is testament to the endless inventiveness of Pixar, the country's greatest animation house. Not only devilishly witty, it's also a surprisingly affecting film about a family of zesty characters who happen to be superheroes: a potbellied dad who can't stop busting criminals, a mom with elastic powers and homemaking sternness, and two kids who have to keep their super abilities to themselves.

3. "Bad Education." Spanish director Pedro Almodovar's masterful film is an inspired melange of film noir, soap opera and (how to put this?) transvestite farce. It's as vital and entertaining as it is profoundly prescient with a story about pedophilia, memory, blackmail and true love. And there's a young boy's Spanish-language performance of the song "Moon River" that will haunt you for life.

4. "House of Flying Daggers." Zhang Yimou's movie, set in 859 A.D., is an otherworldly, quasi-operatic fairy tale about three star-crossed lovers, all caught up in a game of deception, romance and ultimate justice. Sit back and enjoy the year's most stirring exhibition of choreography, color and form. Its special effects, including one scene involving soldiers straddling towering bamboo plants, are simply breathtaking.

5. "Maria Full of Grace." This movie about a 17-year-old "mule" named Maria who ingests heroin-packed prophylactics so she can smuggle them into the United States, is a cold-sweating nail-biter. As the title character, Catalina Sandino Moreno is a Colombian Mona Lisa, a delicate, unforgettable force majeure who sears into your consciousness.

6. "Fahrenheit 9/11." So Michael Moore's unequivocal attempt to shoot down the Bush presidency clearly failed. But does that make "Fahrenheit" any less significant? Not really. What matters here, no matter what your political prism, are the passion and satiric wit that suffuse the movie. Disingenuous? Patriotic? Unpatriotic? Three-ring circus showmanship? Maybe it's all these things. But that's the prerogative of personal moviemaking. And no one enjoyed artistic license with such compelling gusto.

7. "Moolaade." Ousmane Sembene's film, about the brouhaha in a West African village when an independent-minded woman refuses to allow four young girls to undergo the barbaric ritual of female circumcision (which is really the mutilation of genitalia), is harrowing but also terrific. It's a fable, with talking-drum urgency, about the clash between Western values and draconian tradition.

8. "Vera Drake." Mike Leigh's grim, moving saga is about Vera (Imelda Staunton), a postwar angel of abortion who helps poor, young British women in "a spot of trouble," no questions asked, no money charged. But Vera, whose family has no idea about her secret life, is about to learn that no good deed goes unpunished, especially in the working classes. This spare, unsentimental parable quietly sneaks into your heart and prods it sharply. And Staunton's anguished performance never leaves you.

9. "Million Dollar Baby." Clint Eastwood's movie starts off as an old-fashioned buddy picture between a crusty boxing trainer (Clint Eastwood) and his feisty new signing (Hilary Swank), a firebrand who dreams of winning titles. But the story delivers an uppercut to the jaw that will stun and even divide audiences. After smarting from the blow, however, I came to accept the movie's fascinating design. I'm still thinking about it days and days later, particularly the powerful performances of Eastwood and Swank.

10. "Hotel Rwanda." There's a staggering, emotional power to this movie, which won the popular People's Choice Award at this year's Toronto Film Festival over more than 200 other films. Set on the eve of the Hutus' genocidal massacre of the Tutsis in 1994, the film's about the bravery of Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager who harbors hundreds of Tutsis from slaughter. As Rusesabagina, Don Cheadle delivers a real throat-choker, and his performance is even more poignant by dint of being based on reality.

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