In 2004, there were many critically acclaimed and commercially successful movies that were released. The year was particularly noteworthy for the release of several groundbreaking films that pushed the boundaries of filmmaking and storytelling.
Some of the most notable movies released in 2004 include “The Aviator,” directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio; “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” directed by Michel Gondry and starring Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet; “Million Dollar Baby,” directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Eastwood and Hilary Swank; “Sideways,” directed by Alexander Payne and starring Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church; and “Kill Bill: Volume 2,” directed by Quentin Tarantino and starring Uma Thurman.
Best 2004 Movies
Overall, 2004 was a great year for cinema, with a diverse range of movies that catered to a wide variety of audiences and tastes.
1. The Machinist (2004)
“The Machinist” is a psychological thriller film directed by Brad Anderson and released in 2004. The film stars Christian Bale as Trevor Reznik, an industrial worker who suffers from extreme insomnia and weight loss.
Trevor’s deteriorating mental and physical health leads him down a dark path as he becomes increasingly paranoid and starts to see strange visions and encounter mysterious figures.
As Trevor’s grip on reality starts to slip, he becomes obsessed with a coworker named Ivan and embarks on a dangerous journey to uncover the truth about his own past and the events that led to his current state.
“The Machinist” was praised for Christian Bale’s performance and for its suspenseful, atmospheric tone. The film’s stark visual style, with a color palette of mostly blue and gray tones, also garnered attention.
Despite its limited release, “The Machinist” has gained a cult following over the years and is considered a notable entry in the psychological thriller genre.
2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a 2004 romantic science fiction film directed by Michel Gondry and written by Charlie Kaufman.
The movie stars Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet as Joel Barish and Clementine Kruczynski, respectively, former lovers who undergo a medical procedure to erase all memories of each other from their minds.
The film explores themes of love, memory, identity, and the human condition, as Joel and Clementine confront the consequences of their decision to erase their relationship and rediscover the reasons why they fell in love in the first place.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind received widespread critical acclaim for its originality, creativity, and emotional depth, as well as the strong performances of its cast.
The movie was also a commercial success, grossing over $72 million worldwide against its $20 million budget.
The film has since become a cult classic and is widely regarded as one of the greatest science fiction and romantic films of all time.
It won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and has been praised for its innovative storytelling and visual effects, as well as its exploration of the complexities of human relationships and the nature of memory.
3. Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004)
“Kill Bill: Vol. 2” is a 2004 American martial arts film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino.
It is the second installment in the “Kill Bill” film series, following “Kill Bill: Vol. 1” (2003), and stars Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Michael Madsen, and Daryl Hannah.
The film follows The Bride (played by Thurman) as she continues her quest for revenge against the people who tried to kill her and her unborn child.
Unlike the first film, “Kill Bill: Vol. 2” features more dialogue and character development, as well as a greater focus on Western and samurai films as influences on its story and themes.
The film received positive reviews from critics and was nominated for two Academy Awards.
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4. Wesele (2004)
“Wesele” is a 2004 Polish film directed by Wojciech Smarzowski. The film tells the story of a wedding reception in a small Polish village, which becomes a microcosm of the corruption and moral decay that is eating away at the country.
The film is noted for its bleak and unflinching portrayal of contemporary Poland, and its cast of characters includes a corrupt mayor, a pedophile priest, and a group of disillusioned young people who see little hope for their future.
“Wesele” was well-received by critics and won several awards, including Best Director and Best Screenplay at the Polish Film Awards.
5. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)
“Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” is a 2004 comedy film directed by Adam McKay and starring Will Ferrell as the titular character, Ron Burgundy, a self-absorbed and clueless news anchor in San Diego in the 1970s.
The film follows Burgundy and his news team as they compete with a new female anchor and navigate the changing landscape of news broadcasting.
The film received mixed reviews upon its release, but has since become a cult classic and spawned a sequel, “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” in 2013.
The film is known for its absurd humor, memorable one-liners, and performances from its ensemble cast, including Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, and Christina Applegate.
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6. Vera Drake (2004)
Vera Drake is a 2004 British drama film directed by Mike Leigh. The film tells the story of Vera Drake, a kind and compassionate working-class woman in 1950s London who is secretly performing illegal abortions for women in need.
When one of her patients suffers complications and is hospitalized, Vera’s world is turned upside down as she is arrested and put on trial.
The film received critical acclaim for its sensitive portrayal of a controversial subject and for Imelda Staunton’s powerful performance as Vera Drake.
The film explores themes of class, morality, and the consequences of actions, and it was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Director and Best Original Screenplay.
Vera Drake has been praised for its realistic portrayal of life in 1950s London and for its nuanced approach to the topic of abortion, which remains a divisive issue to this day.
The film has been described as a powerful and moving study of a woman who is trying to help others in a society that does not always value the lives of the working-class or women.
7. Dealer (I) (2004)
“Dealer” (also known as “The Dealer”) is a French crime drama film released in 2004, directed by Thomas Arslan.
The movie tells the story of a young man named Vincent (played by Benoît Magimel) who becomes a drug dealer in order to make ends meet. He quickly gets involved in the criminal underworld and finds himself in dangerous situations.
The film received critical acclaim for its realistic depiction of the drug trade and its effects on those involved. It also received praise for its strong performances, particularly from Magimel.
“Dealer” is a gritty and intense drama that offers a bleak look at the world of drug trafficking.
8. A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)
“A Series of Unfortunate Events” is a 2004 American black comedy film directed by Brad Silberling and based on the children’s novel series of the same name by Lemony Snicket.
The film stars Jim Carrey, Emily Browning, Liam Aiken, Timothy Spall, Catherine O’Hara, and Billy Connolly.
The plot follows the three Baudelaire children who, after their parents are killed in a fire, are placed in the custody of their closest relative, the evil Count Olaf, who attempts to steal their inheritance.
The film received mixed reviews from critics but was a commercial success.
9. Sideways (2004)
Sideways is a 2004 comedy-drama film directed by Alexander Payne and based on the novel of the same name by Rex Pickett. The movie stars Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church as Miles and Jack, two middle-aged friends who take a road trip through California’s wine country before Jack’s wedding.
As they explore vineyards and sample different wines, the two men navigate their personal lives and relationships, with Miles struggling to come to terms with his failed marriage and Jack engaging in a fling with a local woman named Maya (played by Virginia Madsen).
Sideways explores themes of love, friendship, and mid-life crises, as the characters confront the challenges of growing older and finding meaning in their lives.
The film received critical acclaim for its sharp writing, strong performances, and beautiful cinematography, as well as its portrayal of the wine industry and its culture. Sideways was also a commercial success, grossing over $100 million worldwide against its $16 million budget.
The movie won numerous awards, including the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, and has since become a beloved classic of independent cinema.
It has been praised for its realistic and relatable characters, as well as its poignant and often hilarious exploration of the human condition.
10. Turtles Can Fly (2004)
“Turtles Can Fly” is a 2004 Kurdish-Iranian drama film directed by Bahman Ghobadi.
It is set in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, just before the US invasion in 2003, and follows a group of children who work to clear mines and gather satellite dishes in order to watch news reports of the impending war.
The film focuses on the experiences of children during wartime and the impact of conflict on their lives. “Turtles Can Fly” won several awards at international film festivals and was praised for its portrayal of the effects of war on children.
11. Ray (I) (2004)
“Ray” is a biographical film about the life and career of American musician Ray Charles. It was released in 2004 and directed by Taylor Hackford.
The film stars Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles, and also features Kerry Washington, Regina King, Clifton Powell, Harry Lennix, Terrence Howard, and Larenz Tate in supporting roles.
The movie covers Charles’ life from his childhood in the 1930s to his rise to fame in the 1960s and his struggles with drug addiction and personal relationships.
Foxx won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Ray Charles.
12. A Very Long Engagement (2004)
“A Very Long Engagement” is a 2004 French romantic war film directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and starring Audrey Tautou.
The film is based on the novel of the same name by Sebastien Japrisot and follows the story of a young woman, Mathilde, who is trying to find out what happened to her fiancé, who disappeared during World War I.
The film is set in the aftermath of World War I and explores themes of love, loss, and the human cost of war. It received critical acclaim upon its release and was nominated for two Academy Awards.
The film’s lush visuals, intricate storytelling, and moving performances have made it a classic of French cinema.
13. Crash (I) (2004)
“Crash” is a 2004 drama film directed by Paul Haggis. The movie features an ensemble cast that includes Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Jennifer Esposito, Brendan Fraser, Terrence Howard, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Thandie Newton, and Ryan Phillippe.
The film explores issues of race and social tension in Los Angeles through a series of interconnected stories that involve characters from different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds.
The film received widespread critical acclaim for its powerful storytelling and unflinching examination of race relations in America.
It won three Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Film Editing. “Crash” is a thought-provoking and emotionally charged film that offers a poignant commentary on the complexities of human relationships and the impact of prejudice and discrimination on society.
14. Birth (2004)
“Birth” is a 2004 American drama film directed by Jonathan Glazer and starring Nicole Kidman. The film tells the story of Anna, a woman who believes that her deceased husband, Sean, has been reincarnated as a 10-year-old boy.
The film explores the psychological and emotional ramifications of Anna’s belief and her growing relationship with the boy.
The film received mixed reviews upon its release, with some praising Kidman’s performance and Glazer’s direction, while others criticized the film’s pacing and its handling of the subject matter.
15. The Assassination of Richard Nixon (2004)
The Assassination of Richard Nixon is a 2004 drama film directed by Niels Mueller and starring Sean Penn as Samuel Bicke, a frustrated and disillusioned salesman who becomes increasingly unstable and delusional in the years leading up to his attempted assassination of U.S. President Richard Nixon in 1974.
The movie explores themes of loneliness, alienation, and disillusionment, as Bicke struggles to make sense of his life and finds himself increasingly at odds with the world around him.
The Assassination of Richard Nixon received generally positive reviews from critics, with particular praise for Penn’s performance as Bicke. However, the film was not a commercial success, grossing only $2.4 million against its $16 million budget.
Despite its low box office returns, the movie has since gained a cult following for its portrayal of a troubled and sympathetic protagonist, as well as its commentary on the dark side of the American dream and the human condition.
17. Collateral (2004)
“Collateral” is a 2004 American neo-noir thriller film directed by Michael Mann and starring Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx.
The story follows a cab driver named Max (Foxx) who unwittingly becomes involved in the dangerous world of hitman Vincent (Cruise) during a night of driving in Los Angeles.
Over the course of one night, Max is forced to help Vincent complete a series of hits while trying to avoid being caught by the police.
The film was critically acclaimed for its intense performances, atmospheric cinematography, and tight direction.
18. Guard Dog (2004)
“Guard Dog” is a 2004 animated short film directed by Bill Plympton. The film tells the story of a hyper-vigilant guard dog who is assigned to protect his owner’s home, but ends up causing more harm than good.
The dog’s paranoid and overprotective behavior leads him to attack innocent pedestrians and even his own owner, until he finally learns to trust and let go.
The film was critically acclaimed for its unique animation style, which featured Plympton’s signature hand-drawn animation and exaggerated character designs.
The dark humor and satirical commentary on the concept of safety and security also earned it numerous awards, including an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Short Film.
“Guard Dog” is considered one of Plympton’s most popular and influential works.
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19. Steamboy (2004)
Steamboy is a 2004 Japanese animated steampunk film directed by Katsuhiro Otomo.
The story takes place in 1866 in England, during the height of the Industrial Revolution, and follows a young inventor named Ray Steam who receives a mysterious metal ball from his grandfather, a scientist who has just returned from the United States.
Ray soon discovers that the ball contains a powerful source of energy, which can be used to power a steam engine of unprecedented power.
As the story progresses, Ray becomes embroiled in a dangerous conflict between his family, who want to use the energy source for peaceful purposes, and a powerful corporation that seeks to use it to create a weapon of war.
The film features stunning animation and thrilling action sequences, and explores themes of technology, power, and responsibility.
Steamboy was a major undertaking, taking over a decade to complete and involving a budget of over $20 million, making it the most expensive Japanese animated film at the time of its release.
Despite mixed critical reception, the film has gained a cult following for its unique visual style and engaging storyline.
20. The Man with No Shadow (2004)
“The Man with No Shadow” is a French film directed by Georges Schwizgebel and released in 2004. The film is an animated short that tells the story of a man who wakes up one day to discover that he has lost his shadow.
As he sets out to retrieve it, he finds himself on a surreal journey through a world of shifting shapes and colors.
The film uses a unique animation style that combines hand-painted and computer-generated images. The result is a visually stunning work that draws the viewer into the dreamlike world of the protagonist.
At its core, “The Man with No Shadow” is a meditation on identity and the search for self. The protagonist’s quest for his shadow can be seen as a metaphor for the search for one’s true self, and the film’s surreal imagery suggests that this search is never straightforward or easy.
Overall, “The Man with No Shadow” is a visually stunning and thought-provoking film that rewards repeated viewings.
21. Primer (2004)
“Primer” is a science fiction film released in 2004, written, directed, produced, and edited by Shane Carruth, who also stars in the film.
The movie follows two engineers, Aaron and Abe, who accidentally discover time travel while working on a project together.
As they experiment with their new invention, they become embroiled in a web of deceit and manipulation as they try to outmaneuver each other and control the outcomes of their time-traveling.
The story is presented in a non-linear format and challenges the viewer to piece together the plot and understand the intricacies of the time-traveling technology.
“Primer” was praised for its intelligent and thought-provoking plot and its realistic portrayal of time travel.
The movie won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival and has since become a cult classic among fans of science fiction.
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22. Pusher II (2004)
“Pusher II” is a Danish crime drama film directed by Nicolas Winding Refn and released in 2004. It is the second installment in the “Pusher” trilogy, following the original “Pusher” (1996).
The film centers around the character of Tonny, a small-time criminal and drug addict who is released from prison and tries to reconnect with his estranged father, a well-respected gangster.
Tonny struggles to find a place in his father’s criminal empire and to prove his worth to him, while also trying to kick his drug habit and build a relationship with a woman he meets.
Like the first “Pusher” film, “Pusher II” features gritty, realistic portrayals of the criminal underworld in Copenhagen, Denmark.
The film was critically acclaimed for its raw and intense performances, particularly from actor Mads Mikkelsen in the role of Tonny. It was also praised for its exploration of themes such as fatherhood, addiction, and redemption.
23. The 7th Day (2004)
“The 7th Day” is a 2004 thriller/horror movie directed by Carlos Saura. The movie is about a serial killer who targets members of a religious sect, the Palotines.
The main character, Manuel, is a detective who is investigating the murders and trying to figure out the killer’s motives.
As the story unfolds, Manuel discovers that the Palotines are not as innocent as they seem, and that there may be a connection between the murders and the sect’s dark past.
The movie explores themes of religion, faith, and redemption, and features a tense and suspenseful plot.
The movie stars Juan Diego Botto as Manuel, Ana Claudia Talancón as Elena, and Blanca Portillo as Mother Superior.
The film received mixed reviews upon its release, with some critics praising its atmospheric tension and suspense, while others criticized its predictable plot and lack of originality.
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Best 2004 Movies – Wrap Up
These movies span across various genres and are some of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful films of the year.