The Most Rewatchable DVDs of 2004
You know the disc. It’s the one you always reach for by default, when you’re in the mood for a good chuckle or a quick goose to your cerebral rear end—the one that makes you laugh every single time you see it. Or maybe it’s the film you return to again and again to explore its inner secrets, to take more away from it each time you view it. The year 2004 boasted many such DVD releases, from the long-awaited treasures to the multifaceted newer gems. Here are the DVDs released this year that I personally turn to over and over again—my most rewatchable DVDs of 2004.
1. After Hours
Finally on DVD, Martin Scorsese’s After Hours is my favorite Scorsese film, the one I go back to more often than any other, the one that, each time I watch it, reaches long ticklish fingers into the dark, pulsing pleasure center at the back of my brain. It’s not an outright comedy, in the strictest sense of the term. It’s filled with the stuff of nightmares—crime, anger, suspicion, suicide, a vigilante mob, and reluctant mohawks. But its deadpan black humor, combined with a masterful straight-man performance by Griffin Dunne, just happen to speak to me as eloquently and mischievously as anything I’ve ever seen on film. The brilliance of this quirky little black-as-pitch comedy is that its humor isn’t to be found in broad strokes or set pieces but rather in tiny moments and gestures, in awkward exchanges and appalled glances, all of which add up to a thing of twisted, surreal beauty. The DVD of After Hours offers spectacular image quality, average sound, and a pretty good collection of extras.
2. Napoleon Dynamite
You wouldn’t want to spend a lot of time in the real-world company of someone like Napoleon Dynamite, but in his film, he performs a seemingly impossible trick: He becomes one of the most likable characters you probably came across in 2004 cinema. He’s a gruff, unapologetic nerd, inhabiting a world of his own making but, geographically, somewhere in Idaho. He suffers through a painful, put-upon existence at Preston High School, lives with his surly grandmother and obliviously strange and effeminate brother, and despite himself, befriends similar social outcasts. What makes this film eminently rewatchable is its sheer number of quotable lines and absurd moments. Or perhaps you fall into the camp who believes, in Napoleon’s words, "This is pretty much the worst video ever made." To that, I side with brother Kip: "Napoleon, like anyone can even know that."
3. Badder Santa
I've finally found the Christmas movie that I’ll watch religiously every year during the holidays. Appealing perversely to my twisted, dark inner core—that region just under the shadow of my red-blood-pumping heart—Bad Santa is one of the funniest goddamn movies I’ve ever seen. Definitely not a film that has wide appeal, it's the kind of movie that either deeply offends or leaves you breathlessly heaving laughter in the aisle. (That's me over there, curled up in the fetal position.) You might say director Terry Zwigoff (Ghost World) has created the first Christmas film for people who can't stand Christmas. Originally a story idea dreamt up by those impish Coen brothers, Bad Santa is an angry, cynical, potty-mouthed ode to holiday anticommercialism. It's a slap in the face to the corporate notion of Christmas, embodied by the odious mall Santa. This film flies in the face of America's most cherished institutions and consumer traditions, and it does so with a fearless blasphemy and a full-bore, cranky relentlessness. It's such a rare thing, you want to hold it to your bosom and cherish it for the wholesomeness of its crusty, bold, black heart. The DVD provides fine image and sound quality, along with a modest array of fun supplements, including some gut-bustingly hilarious unused John Ritter footage.
4. Shaun of the Dead
Writer/director Edgar Wright and cowriter/star Simon Pegg have fashioned a terrific "rom-zom.com" (romantic zombie comedy) in Shaun of the Dead, and it could be not only the year’s funniest film but also the year’s most blackly entertaining DVD package (even better if you’ve got the Region 2 wonder). Shaun is particularly enjoyable for us genre geeks because it adheres so faithfully to zombie-flick conventions while endlessly tickling our funny bones with its practiced, deadpan British fingers. This is one very funny, intricately written and expertly performed film. Shaun of the Dead offers many nudge-nudge pleasures for those paying attention, making this an extremely rewatchable disc. Be sure to dig through the DVD’s wide array of grisly supplements to get the most enjoyment out of the film—this crew loves its inside jokes, and all of them are playfully pointed out. Image and sound quality are top-notch.
5. Kill Bill Volume 1
The first chapter of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill saga is an unapologetic orgy of gore and style, of indulgence and fun. Tarantino has cobbled together a great tapestry of cool strangeness—grindhouse, yakuza, samurai, anime, spaghetti western, Italian horror, De Palma cheese—straight from his brain to the screen, and he's stitched it all together into a smartly choreographed, slipshod-paced silver bullet that'll just slay you. What an odd amalgam of visual styles! His head filled with influences coming from myriad directions, Tarantino has let it all bleed out onto the screen. You get inventive split-screens, lurid filters, whip pans, wild crane shots, slow motion, and even black-and-white photography. But it's probably best that you don't look too closely at this marvelous contraption. When you do, you see that Tarantino has perhaps indulged himself a bit too often, and indeed, those indulgences got the better of him in the plodding, talky Volume 2. I recommend just sitting back and letting Volume 1 wash over you, redly and somewhat stickily. The DVD begs for a later director’s cut and better supplements, but you’ll want this one now, just to watch certain scenes repeatedly.
6. Garden State
Writer/director/star Zach Braff’s surprise indy hit Garden State is a sometimes meandering, free-spirited little film with a gigantic heart, a Graduate-style coming-of-age parable about a young man searching for meaning within himself and learning to enjoy the life that’s been given him. It’s a film that’s not going to change the world, but it’s full to brimming with good will, quiet humor, and weighty emotion, and if you let it, it’ll find its way deep into your heart. And if you’re a Natalie Portman fan, you’re in for one of her very best performances. But what will really strike you is the way these characters exude life beyond this little film—much the same way that the characters in my number 9 pick, The Station Agent, do. You want to experience the film over and over, to drink in its fragile personalities and buoyant charms. The disc’s technical details are top-notch, and even the extras (including two commentaries) are rewatchable.
If you’d told me last year that I’d be thanking Macaulay Culkin for some of my biggest laughs in 2004, I’d have slapped you. But miracles happen, and in Saved!, Culkin turns in his best-ever comic performance as the paraplegic, wheelchair-bound Roland (gotta love that name). The movie itself offers a ton of laughs on top of a fairly standard teen movie with an obvious message, but I’m all for movies that decry religious hypocrisy. Bring ’em on! I love this film for the hand-wringing Christian conundrums that Jena Malone deals with in her unique way, and for Mandy Moore’s hilarious over-the-top portrayal of an evangelical bitch. But mostly, I love when its satire is firing on all cylinders, when it’s mercilessly spearing those holier-than-thou types. And although the satire doesn’t always maintain its furious edge, Saved! gets a lot just right. I already find myself going back to it often—if only to watch Roland "dance."
8.Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
One of my favorite films of 2004 is also one of my most rewatchable, simply because I find myself discovering new storytelling magic every time I let this film’s labyrinthine story play before me. The latest brainchild from the wonderfully unique Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a romance for the intellectual set, a strange and surreal stab at finding the meaning of love. As you might expect from Kaufman, the film is a nonlinear mindfuck, and therein lies the rewatchability factor. As we watch Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet sort out their tearful, joyful predicament involving lost and regained memories, we come to a rewarding understanding of relationships and mutual attraction. There’s real emotional heft here, so I put time between my viewings, but there’s just so much to explore. The DVD presents excellent technical specs, as well as an informative if difficult-to-understand commentary by Kaufman and director Michel Gondry.
9. The Station Agent
Tom McCarthy's surprisingly affecting The Station Agent is a modest, quiet film that values the spaces between words, and the silent, tentative glances between new friends. It's an antidote to the increasingly loud Hollywood film—a character-centered meditation symbolized eloquently by the slow inevitability of trains, and by the gorgeous melancholy of small-town New Jersey. And also by the poignant calm of a dwarf named Finbar. You wouldn’t think such a recipe would add up to a rewatchable film, right? But The Station Agent is a film that truly draws you in, and when it ends, you don't want to let it go. These are people you'd like to meet and befriend. The magic of the film is that it's so potent while remaining largely quiet. Every shot, every glance, commands your attention. And when the film does give way to joy—as in the inevitable train-chasing sequence—you just about cheer. The DVD provides excellent image quality, modest surround sound, and a fair number of extras, chief among them a friendly, chatty commentary that reunites you with the friends you made in the film.
10. The Empire Strikes Back
Released (obviously) as the second chapter of the long-long-awaited Star Wars Trilogy on DVD, The Empire Strikes Back is, and always will be, the most rewatchable of the Star Wars films, offering up the most fantastical and emotional rewards for the saga’s gargantuan fanbase. The original film will always hold its unique, bubblegum spot in film history, but it’s the dramatic, mythical second chapter that shoved the trilogy into legend. It’s hard to overstate the lasting impact The Empire Strikes Back has had on the Star Wars phenomenon. It’s also the film to which George Lucas has applied the least amount of annoying, revisionist digital tweaking. The DVD set offers illuminating commentaries, and most wonderfully, a peerless documentary about the making of the entire trilogy. Oh, and it also contains the first and third films, A New Hope and Return of the Jedi, the latter of which ended up, in many ways, paving the way toward those infuriating prequels.
Some other rewatchable films: Wild Things: Unrated, Before Sunset, The Iron Giant, Shrek 2, Bill Hicks Live, The Ladykillers, Bill Cosby: Himself, Out of the Past, The Triplets of Belleville, The Cooler, School of Rock, and American Splendor.