Second Run

Celebrating the overachieving, underhyped movies of 2004

She Hate Me -- In short, a biz-world up-and-comer loses his job at a crooked company and starts another gig: impregnating desperate lesbians at $10,000 a pop. Damned by those who say Spike Lee went nutso, She Hate Me should be feted for its ambition and audacity; it's Bush-bashing at its most hyperbolic, an indictment of Big Business doing its dirty deeds beneath the comfy blanket of government protection. Add to that the volatile mixture of sex and race, and no wonder crits got it wrong; Spike's gotta have it all, and it's easy to mistake desire for greed. -- Robert Wilonsky

Silver City -- A fictional Colorado gubernatorial candidate who also happens to be a nitwit spouts political inanities while an ex-reporter whose instincts remain intact uncovers abuses of power and an environmental scandal beneath the death of an obscure migrant worker. In the midst of a U.S. campaign season marked by unprecedented enmity and bitterness, John Sayles' mournful political satire proved smarter and funnier than its smallish audiences indicated, and it served as a welcome alternative to the blunt propagandist impulses of the election-year documentarians. -- Bill Gallo

The Story of the Weeping Camel -- When a female camel rejects its newborn calf, a family of nomadic herders sends two of their children across the Gobi Desert to fetch a musician whose playing has the power to heal the mother's heart. This gem of a film is a melding of documentary and narrative (all incidents and characters are real, but some scenes have been reenacted for the camera). Simple, stunning, unique. Robert J. Flaherty would be proud. -- Jean Oppenheimer

He's baaack: Cult fave Donnie Darko made a comeback.
He's baaack: Cult fave Donnie Darko made a comeback.
Political streak: Jonathan Demme's remake of The Manchurian Candidate worked well in a Bush-bashing era.
Political streak: Jonathan Demme's remake of The Manchurian Candidate worked well in a Bush-bashing era.

Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War -- Trey Parker and Matt Stone made great sport of the notion of war with North Korea, but this South Korean epic about the conflict that started it all blew audiences away in Asia. The tale of two brothers drafted into the army and eventually torn apart by circumstance, it's as graphically realistic and large-scale as any Steven Spielberg production, and as human as a family feud. It's one of the all-time great war flicks. -- Luke Y. Thompson

Tamala 2010: A Punk Cat in Space -- You've never seen a movie like this one, and most likely never will again. Combining images of a brutal computer-generated dystopia with a two-dimensional, black-and-white cartoon that mixes Hello Kitty with Barbarella, this fascinating slice of Japanese weirdness deals with a foul-mouthed spacefaring kitten who might be the reincarnation of an ancient goddess, or a robotic advertising mascot. I still haven't quite figured it out, but it's fun to try. -- Luke Y. Thompson

The Terminal -- A man without a country (Tom Hanks) lands in America and stays in the airport, where he falls in with the cleaning crew and baggage handlers, falls in love with a flight attendant, and runs afoul of the bureaucrat bent on keeping him prisoner amid the bookstores, fast-food kiosks, and other distractions that have turned airports into mini-malls. Why this was loathed and left for dead remains a mystery; it's one of Steven Spielberg's most charming movies in ages, a light, in-flight fairy tale without message or meaning, but one that was moving nonetheless. -- Robert Wilonsky

Tokyo Godfathers -- It's a Christmas movie about a transvestite, a bitter homeless bum and a teenage runaway. It's also a cartoon and a comedy. Anime director Satoshi Kon certainly likes to try new things, and having successfully animated a Polanski-esque thriller (Perfect Blue) and a brief history of Japan (Millennium Actress), he turns his hand to Frank Capra, albeit with a gritty edge that few American Christmas movies would dare approach. Stateside, it opened inappropriately during the early spring; rent it over the holidays and see it the way it was meant to be seen. -- Luke Y. Thompson

The Twilight Samurai -- Yoji Yamada directs a lingering, thoughtful film with a classical beauty and a very satisfying emotional payoff. Owing an obvious debt to Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai, it tells the story of a low-ranking samurai, troubled by poverty and the death of his wife, called to dubious action on behalf of his clan. Why wasn't it noticed? Because you need an attention span to appreciate it. -- Melissa Levine

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