2004 in Review
March 19th, 2005
2004 in Review
By Chris Wehner
There is a trend that is apparent the last couple of years. What is it? Quality. Yes, that’s right. There is some quality writing going on. I know, I have been on the Hollywood sucks bandwagon for years (as almost everyone has been). I have enjoyed a lot more movies each and every year for the past three years. The reasons for which I will explain: Is it simply a matter of better writing, yes, that’s part of it; better directing, yes, absolutely, but also, I’ve been coming to the realization that consistent doom and gloom reviews by critics has become a cycle of disenfranchisement. I’m simply more open to what is being written today. There’s still plenty of crap. But also, Hollywood isn’t dominating, independent films (or smaller films) are becoming mainstream.
First let me tackle the whole critics as agenda setters. Ever since the creation of film criticism, starting with Frank “The Spectator” Woods in 1908 writing for the Dramatic Mirror, critics have deplored the modern films that each generation produced. From James Agee to Pauline Kael to Roger Ebert, it’s a consistent trend. Each has, at times, looked back to a mythical “Golden Age” of films. They have, at times, dismissed films that have become classics. Not only do movie executives not “know anything” about what makes good movies, neither do critics. Does that mean we can’t be critical? Of course not. But it does mean I can change my state of mind and how I approach reviewing films and the writers that hold them up with their words.
As far as quality, I see a trend of upward mobility, vertical integration; there's an ascendancy of quality happening and it’s wonderful. Charlie Kaufman has become another Preston Sturges in the industry--now he only needs to start directing. His writing has inspired a new generation of writers willing to try new things, or simply to dare to be "quirky" or "off-beat" with their writing. He is freeing the screenwriter from paradigms and rules of the past, and he’s not alone. If Kaufman has entered the room, it’s only because Quentin Tarantino knocked the door down. We’re seeing writers take more risks with their words than ever before. We’re seeing more edgy and dark characters, more truthful ones, and the writing is powerful as a result.
This past year was a breath of fresh air. First at Sundance (2004) I had the opportunity to see Napoleon Dynamite, Super-Size Me, Dogville, and though it was sloppy, The Butterfly Effect. All three filled with some outstanding and interesting characters, and Morgan Spurlock’s documentary was fantastic. And it didn't stop there. I try to see only films that I feel I will like, and more and more they are not disappointing me. It's also good to see that Tarantino has reconnected with his fan base and is as popular as ever.
In a year when some of our best working screenwriters displayed their talents how can we not acknowledge the craft as rebounding from a dull 1990s? David Mamet continued to add to his legacy as a great writer with Spartan; Brian Helgeland is obviously on top of his game with two excellent adaptations now in two years with Mystic River and Man on Fire; John Logan (The Aviator) and David Benioff (Troy) are establishing themselves as up-and-comers; and too we've seen some slippage. M. Night Shyamalan is stuck in second gear. His writing is more exploitative and resembles popcorn candy drivel. Unbreakable fell apart after a solid first two acts, Signs couldn’t decide if it was a thriller, drama, or Sci-fi flick and in the end just completely collapsed under its own weight; The Village was another cool concept that was formulaic and obvious. After writing and directing the brilliant The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan has suffered from over-confidence and as a result his stories suffer. And finally, John Sayles and Steven Gaghan stank it up with The Alamo. Just an awful screenplay and movie. Gaghan hasn’t written anything decent in years. Sayles will rebound, I hope.
Overall, what a great year as even the highest grossing film, Shrek 2 was extremely well written. Spider-Man 2 was decent and The Passion of the Christ was poignant. I look forward to another great year of films, and most importantly, of more excellent screenwriting!
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind by Charlie Kaufman
Hotel Rwanda by Keir Pearson & Terry George
Before Sunset by Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy & Ethan Hawke
Sidways by Rex Pickett (novel), Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor
Man on Fire by Brian Helgeland, A.J. Quinnell (novel)
Spartan, by David Mamet
Dogville by Lars Van Trier
Finding Neverland by Allan Knee (play) & David Magee
Troy by David Benioff
The Aviator by John Logan
Million Dollar Baby by Paul Haggis
Napoleon Dynamite by Jared Hess & Jerusha Hess
Kill Bill: Vol. 2 by Quentin Tarantino
Ray by James L. White
Maria Full of Grace by Joshua Marston
Collateral by Stuart Beattie
The Alamo by John Sayles and Steven Gaghan
Anchorman by Adam McKay and Will Ferrell
Code 46 by Frank Cottrell Boyce
The Village by M. Night Shyamalan
Top Grossing Films
$436,470,000 Shrek 2
$373,380,000 Spider-Man 2
$370,275,000 The Passion of the Christ
$275,940,000 Meet the Fockers
$260,135,000 The Incredibles
$249,360,000 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
$186,740,000 The Day After Tomorrow
$176,050,000 The Bourne Supremacy
$169,786,000 National Treasure
$162,750,000 The Polar Express
Chris Wehner is a film critic for the Movie Review & Screenplay Database (www.iscriptdb.com), editor-in-chief (and publisher) of Screenwriters Monthly, author of Screenwriting on the Internet: Researching, Writing, & Selling Your Script on the Web (2000) and Who Wrote That Move? Screenwriting in Review: 2000-2002 (2003), script reviewer, and founder of ScreenwritersUtopia.com. He is also Vice President of Development for MoviePartners, Inc. He is currently developing (and writing) several projects for various companies. He has been involved with screenwriting for nearly 10 years and in many different capacities.