Best Movies for Grownups from 2004
Ray, Directed by Taylor Hackford
"You can tell any story you want, and you can make me look any way you want," Ray Charles told Taylor Hackford, director of the compelling biopic Ray.
"But I will not let you not tell the truth, because that wouldn't be right."
And the truth, it turns out, has set this movie free. Ray is beautiful—in its evocation of a man's passion for life and in its celebration of the universal power of music. It's also ugly—in its unblinking excavation of that same man's selfishness, duplicity, and self-destruction.
In other words, it's a lot like life.
True, Ray Charles's devils in the movie are a bit more emphatic than most of ours. Blindness, drugs, booze, betrayal, and spite all play important supporting roles. But Ray, in tracing the astronomical and subterranean extremes of one man's life, invites us to trace our own lifelong topographies.
The truth of Ray seems somehow truer than it is in most biopics. The young star, Jamie Foxx, who was personally approved by Charles, positively channels Brother Ray: the confident-cautious gait, the rapturous musicianship, the beaming embrace that seems to draw not just an adoring audience but all of creation into his arms. In the end, though, it's the music that gives Ray its searing truth. Charles's original recordings serve as the soundtrack—and he also contributed some new riffs for the movie before he died.
In deliberating about our 2004 Best Movie for Grownups, the editors of AARP THE MAGAZINE often noted that, unlike in previous years, there was no clear choice for 2004—evidence that there were more grown-up movie choices than ever.
Consider the runners-up: The Aviator, Martin Scorsese's biography with brains, dissected Howard Hughes to find the roots of his obsessive later life. The slyly funny In Good Company offered a timely take on aging baby boomers in the workplace. Kinsey, the story of 1950s sex researcher Alfred Kinsey (Liam Neeson), explored the way a single, passionate quest can change the course of social history. The Notebook faithfully brought Nicholas Sparks's complex yet romantic novel to the screen. And Sideways, on its surface a middle-age buddy flick, slowly emerged as an examination of how, like a fine wine, we all mature as the sum total of the ingredients of our lives.
And even that expanded list fails to include such accomplishments as Mel Gibson's intensely personal The Passion of the Christ; Michael Moore's relentlessly controversial Fahrenheit 9/11; Shall We Dance?, a heartfelt ode to the happily resolved midlife crisis; and three high-profile, big-name films exploring existentialism and the meaning of life: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Jim Carrey), I ♥ Huckabees (Dustin Hoffman, Lily Tomlin, and Jude Law); and What the #$*! Do We Know? (Marlee Matlin).
They are, in the words of Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan, "a certain kind of movie." Such films are "the movies that adults are hungering for, that are thoughtful and intelligent, that are about something but still are very entertaining," says Turan, author of the new book Never Coming to a Theater Near You. "They engage your mind and your emotions."
Best Actor Over 50
Liam Neeson, Kinsey
Was 1950s sex researcher Alfred Kinsey a hero? Or did he single-handedly usher in an era of moral decay? In his astonishing portrayal of the good doctor in Kinsey, Liam Neeson leaves plenty of room for both sides to continue the debate.
Already one of our most evocative actors (the heart-tugging stepdad in Love, Actually, the compassionate businessman in Schindler's List), Neeson this time pulls a mask of inscrutability over his head. As Kinsey—an entomologist-turned-sex- researcher—he goes about his investigation with the detachment of an X-Files agent, although from the beginning it's clear that the truth is not "out there."
A character as bullheaded as Kinsey could become a bore. But Neeson keeps surprising us. In his early college lecture about diversity among wasps (the flying kind, not the cultural adversaries he'll later encounter), Neeson's enthusiasm is enough to make you run out and pick up Alford's Textbook of Agricultural Entomology. As he seems to encourage sexual experimentation among his research staff, he might as well be suggesting they look into switching from paper clips to staples. And as Kinsey sees support for his work dwindle, he seems physically assaulted. Only at the end, recalling one small victory, does Neeson allow Kinsey a moment of rapture. We can't know if the real Kinsey ever enjoyed a moment like that. Through Neeson, we get to.