Knight at the Movies ARCHIVES
Good Stuff and So-So Stuff:
2004's "Best of List" and Straight-Jacket
1-5-05 Knight at the Movies column
By Richard Knight, Jr.
Criticism, I am always quick to remind, is a subjective art. So my choices for the best movies of 2004 may not
reflect yours – and certainly not my other colleagues. In fact, my “Best Of” list is sure to change. I generally have
space to write about two movies a week (give or take) in this column and that leaves a lot of potentially great stuff
out there waiting to be discerned (I have yet to see Sideways and Bad Education, for example). I’m the first to
admit that I haven’t seen everything – and critical responsibilities aside – I hate seeing any movie when I’m not in
the mood for it. For example, it took me six months after Halle Berry won the Oscar to finally get interested in
Monster’s Ball one late night on cable. Seeing it immediately changed my “Best Of” list for 2001, however, but I
didn’t know that until late in 2002.
So, at the moment, in looking back over 2004, these are some of the films that have had a great impression on me.
Documentaries and biopics seemed to be the two film genres of choice this year with a slew of both filling
theatres. Certainly, the opening night last summer of Michael Moore’s indictment of the Bush administration,
Fahrenheit 9/11, was the single most thrilling cinema experience of the year from an audience perspective. It
was galvanizing to see the hordes of people camped out, standing in line for hours at Chicago's Landmark Century
to see a DOCUMENTARY. The movie has become the highest grossing documentary of all time and had the effect of
kick starting the election into high gear. This is also Moore’s strongest film yet (aided by his decision to keep his
appearance in the movie to a minimum).
Another documentary, the 2½ hour The Corporation, had an even stronger effect on me. The work of two
Canadian filmmakers, the movie begins by revealing the little known fact that legally a corporation has the same
rights as an individual. Once that bizarre idea sinks in, the filmmakers examine what such a person, were they to
exist, would be like. The answer, not surprisingly is that of a psychopath – a really bad one. The film, which
resembles a long “Frontline” episode, quietly lays out the ever-increasing powers of this nameless, faceless
entity. This was documentary as car wreck – fascinating but horrific – a really hot subject that calls for a follow-
When it comes to biopics the year was packed with them. Though Kinsey gets an honorable mention for its subject
matter and Ray for its powerful leading performance by Jamie Foxx, Finding Neverland – the story of playwright J.
M. Barrie’s creation of “Peter Pan” – and The Aviator – Scorsese’s take on the early life of billionaire industrialist
and film producer Howard Hughes – were the best. Director Marc Foster, in his follow-up to Monster’s Ball, pulls
off an amazing feat, showing us the simultaneous positive and negative aspects of the power of the imagination. A
second screening has convinced me that this is my favorite film of 2004 with The Aviator not far behind. Though I
contend that Leonardo DiCaprio’s teenage physicality is wrong for the leading role, it doesn’t stop Scorsese’s film
from soaring almost as high as Hughes did.
Though Colin Farrell’s bid for male action hero badly failed with the much anticipated and justly derided,
Alexander, his multifaceted work in the earlier A Home at the End of the World shouldn’t be overlooked. This little
seen relationship film was for me the “gay movie” of the year (if there is such a thing) and also contains assured,
delicately shaded performances from Robin Wright-Penn, Sissy Spacek and newcomers Dallas Roberts and Erik
Smith. The other would be Tarnation, in which a gay man fights not just his own battle with mental illness but his
mother’s as well. Jonathan Caouette’s searing documentary would be too painful without the hopeful ending while
his creative assemblage of photos, videotapes and archival material on his boyfriend’s iMac movie software to edit
for a little over $200 was justly touted.
The hilarious black comedy Saved! which takes place in a Christian high school and features a virginal teenager
(named Mary, natch) trying to save her gay boyfriend from the flames of Hell and Damnation (“You’re born again,
not born a gay” she is reminded) was also somewhat overlooked. The film cast a group of sharp, funny actors who
obviously relished the biting material. They included Jena Malone, Mandy Moore and Macaulay Culkin – who,
between his droll paraplegic here and out of control club kid in Party Monster – is making a nice little second
career for himself with interesting role choices.
Other movies I liked a lot this year (in no particular order):
1. Shall We Dance? (a true, old fashioned audience pleaser that I wrongly thought would be a big hit – but it may
find a wider audience on DVD)
2. Harry Potter 3 (director Alfonso Cuarón nicely put the emphasis back on magic and mystery in the series)
3. Broadway: The Golden Age (Rick McKay’s one man documentary is an embarrassment of riches for any self
respecting theatre aficionado)
4. The Incredibles (Pixar’s digital animation just keeps getting better and better and creatively trumped two new
hybrids of the genre: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and The Polar Express)
5. Troy (the movie with the most gay subtext of the year – and not a bad action picture, either)
Straight-Jacket is the fictionalized version of superstar Rock Hudson’s phony, “bearded” marriage to a studio
secretary in order to hide his homosexuality back at the height of his fame in the mid-fifties. The film, which was
the closing night presentation of Reeling, the gay and lesbian film festival last fall, is getting a theatrical run here at
the Music Box. It opens Friday. The “straight jacket” refers, of course, to the unfortunate situation that the
Hudson character, Guy Stone, finds himself in when forced to marry in order to maintain his he-man image.
Director Richard Day, who last wrote and helmed the hilarious but overlooked Girls Will Be Girls, has based his
follow-up movie on his play and has shot it in the style of the Hudson-Doris Day Technicolor comedies (but
unfortunately, obviously didn’t have the same big budget as those or the more recent triumphant recreation of
them, Down With Love). The cheapo computer special effects that stand in for Guy’s mansion are blatantly
obvious and detract from what is already a confused amalgam of styles.
Though the film is at times playful and bright, has the hunky Matt Letscher in the lead, Adam Greer as his equally
shapely heartthrob, and the sublime, tough and funny Veronica Cartwright as his jaundiced agent, Jerry, the overall
tone of the picture is quite odd. Many of the scenes seem to have been acted and edited as if they were still
waiting the addition of a sitcom laugh track and fall flat waiting for the guffaws that don’t verbally come. Also,
Jack Plotnick, who plays Stone’s pot smoking, Communist leaning, straight acting rival, so funny in Girls Will Be
Girls, is badly miscast.
The best reason to see the film is Carrie Preston as Sally, the innocent but controlling wife. When Sally performs
an impromptu musical number for the momentarily stunned studio chief at the huge organ he has installed in his
office, the film reaches its comic zenith.
The Best "Gay" movie of 2004, the Best Documentary and a new Rock Hudson Bio parody