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.
Runners-up: Jeff Bridges as the tormented—and tormenting—children's author in The Door in the Floor.
Richard Gere as the lawyer who learns it takes two to tango in Shall We Dance?…Dennis Quaid as the bewildered 50-something manager with a boss half his age in In Good Company…Kurt Russell as the hard-driving U.S. hockey coach in Miracle…Omar Sharif as the deli owner who befriends a Parisian boy in Monsieur Ibrahim.
Best Actress Over 50
Anne Reid, The Mother
You probably don't know BBC regular Anne Reid, but after The Mother, you will never forget her. Reid's is among the most fearless performances ever by an actress of any age.
Reid's character, May, is the doting 60ish wife of a jovial old man, something of an afterthought to her rambunctious grandchildren and vaguely resentful daughter. Her eyes seem hollow, her walk something just this side of a shuffle.
Suddenly, May is a widow. Slowly, she awakens to the world outside her comfy home, until somehow she falls into a torrid affair with a man half her age. Oh, yes: he also happens to be her daughter's on-again, off-again boyfriend. You see where this is going—or at least you think you do.
As she falls in love for perhaps the first time in her life, May's once-dead eyes glisten. Her forced, pinched smile loosens into a wide-open mix of delight and awe. And her walk morphs into an easy glide, floating on air with a schoolgirl's bounce.
Reid is courageous in the love scenes, unforgiving in their contrast of the lovers' bodies. In the entangled aftermath, she's heartbreaking as she confesses, "I didn't think anyone would ever touch me again…apart from the undertaker." May is far from sympathetic and often easy to dislike. By the end all we know for sure is May's been on the journey of a lifetime, and Reid has taken us along for the ride.
Runners-up: Cloris Leachman, boozy and brassy as Adam Sandler's wine-soaked but wise mother-in-law in Spanglish…Gena Rowlands, courageous and heartbreaking as a woman with Alzheimer's in The Notebook…Susan Sarandon, clueless, then confused, then confounded, as the wife in Shall We Dance?…Meryl Streep, channeling Hillary Clinton and Attila the Hun as the ambitious senator in The Manchurian Candidate…Lily Tomlin, sexy and screwy as an existential detective in I ♥ Huckabees.
Best Foreign Film
Good Bye Lenin! (Germany)
Alex is glad his mother has snapped out of an eight-month coma in a Berlin hospital, but there's one problem: she was one of the last true believers in Communism, and the Berlin Wall has fallen. What's more, Mom's doctor warns him, the slightest shock could kill her. Alex's solution, in director Wolfgang Becker's funny, poignant satire, is to reconstruct East Germany in his mother's bedroom.
Runners-up: The Motorcycle Diaries (Argentina): Che Guevara, the early years…Osama (Afghanistan): A girl tries to pass as a boy under Taliban rule…Monsieur Ibrahim (France): A Turkish shopkeeper befriends a troubled boy…The Sea Inside (Spain): A man's fight for the right to die.
Best Grown-up Love Story
James Garner and Gena Rowlands, The Notebook
Their embrace at the end of The Notebook may have unleashed more movie-theater tears than any scene since Leonardo DiCaprio sank slowly in the west in Titanic. This lifelong love story alternates seamlessly between a single couple's younger and older selves. The youngsters playing the roles (Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams) are sexy and pretty—but as the long-married couple fighting Alzheimer's, Garner and Rowlands are so compelling that we hate to leave them for even the shortest flashback.
Runners-up: Robert Redford/Helen Mirren in The Clearing…Dennis Quaid/Marg Helgenberger in In Good Company…Richard Gere/Susan Sarandon in Shall We Dance?
Best Director 50 and Over
Mike Nichols, Closer
Nichols has been dissecting the evil that men and women do to each other ever since his directing debut, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, in 1966. But here, Nichols's lancet is sharper than ever, and he draws more blood—even though his characters are bloodless sexual opportunists. It's one ugly group, fashioned by Nichols from four of the cinema's most beautiful people: Jude Law, Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts, and Clive Owen. For Nichols, it's a virtuoso performance: he shows only the start and finish of each cursed relationship, jumps forward and backward in time without warning, yet never leaves us wondering where we are.
Runners-up: Clint Eastwood, getting gritty again with his boxing epic, Million Dollar Baby…Taylor Hackford, summoning a genius's ghost with Ray; Michael Mann, riveting as ever with Collateral…Martin Scorsese, returning to the bio-epic with The Aviator…Ousmane Sembene, at 81 showing why he's still Africa's top filmmaker with Moolaadé.
Best Screenwriter 50 and Over
Alvin Sargent, Spider-Man 2
He wrote for General Electric Theater in 1953. So how did Sargent, 77, end up penning what Roger Ebert calls "the best superhero movie since the modern genre was launched"?
"He explores humanity without being mushy or saccharine," Sony studio chief Amy Pascal said in an interview. "People tend to go with the newest, grooviest writer. But if someone is a good writer, he's a good writer."
Runners-up: Pedro Almodóvar for Bad Education, a searing study of childhood abuse…James L. Brooks for Spanglish, a domestic drama about people trying to fit in…Paul Haggis and F.X. Toole for Million Dollar Baby, a gutsy female boxing tale.
Lynn Redgrave, Kinsey
We timed it: Redgrave appears for just over two minutes and 50 seconds, yet after nearly 40 years of roles that barely touched on her skills, her soliloquy as a woman telling her story to the controversial sex researcher is so breathtaking and heartfelt she delivers what amounts to a benediction.
Runners-up: Tom Selleck, losing the mustache and gaining gravitas in Ike: Countdown to D-Day…Meryl Streep, vamping to Greg Kinnear's "Summertime" in Stuck on You.
Best Intergenerational Movie
Miracle, Directed by Gavin O'Connor
Even before we've bought our popcorn, we know the U.S. is going to beat Russia in this movie based on the 1980 Olympic hockey team. So it falls to Kurt Russell, as coach Herb Brooks, to provide the drama. "If we played them 10 times, they might win nine," he barks. "But not tonight. Tonight we skate!" Even without all that ice, you'd get the chills.
Runners-up: Baadasssss!: Mario Van Peebles's tribute to his dad, Melvin…Monsieur Ibrahim: An aging storekeeper passes his wisdom on to a troubled kid…The Five Obstructions: Director Lars von Trier puts his mentor, director Jorgen Leth, through a filmmaking ordeal…Spanglish: A woman realizes it's time to be a mother to her grown daughter.
Festival Express, Directed by Bob Smeaton
The film record of this amazing 1972 concert train tour—starring Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, and The Band—was lost for 35 years until Smeaton gathered footage from all over Canada to piece together this raucous document.
Runners-up: Control Room: What CNN would look like if Atlanta were in Qatar…Metallica: Some Kind of Monster: The band gets group therapy…Riding Giants: A thrilling history of big-wave surfing…The Story of the Weeping Camel: A Mongolian family tries to save a baby dromedary.
Best Movie Time Capsule
De-Lovely, Production Design by Eve Stewart
Beyond the film's period details and Cole Porter songs, its energetic musical numbers (by the likes of Alanis Morissette and Elvis Costello) capture the exuberant spirit of the 1920s.
Runners-up: The Aviator: Scorsese's 1940s Hollywood time capsule…Beyond the Sea: Kevin Spacey's quirky Bobby Darin tribute…The Notebook: Nick Cassavetes's evocation of 1940s small-town America…Vera Drake: Mike Leigh's return to the bad old days of repressive 1950s Britain.
Best TV Movie
The Five People You Meet in Heaven, ABC/Hallmark Entertainment
Often-underused Oscar-winner Jon Voight shines as a man given the chance to see how his life profoundly affected five people—some of whom he'd never met.
Runner-up: The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (HBO): Geoffrey Rush gets under the skin of the legend—and finds it wasn't very funny in there.
Best Movie for Grownups Who Refuse to Grow Up
The Incredibles, Directed by Brad Bird
There's lots for kids, but even more for adults, as middle-age heroes come to grips with a world that has passed them by.
Runners-up: Anchorman: An ode to insipid "happy talk" 1970s news teams…Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story: A reminder of the days when child abuse was sanctioned under the title "gym class"…Mean Girls: Tina Fey's exploration of the twisted adolescent mind…The Polar Express: A call to adults to hang on—for dear life—to the dreams of youth.