Another doc acted as a different kind of tombstone for a bygone era: Shortly after the release of End of the Century, Johnny Ramone died after a five-year battle with prostate cancer, leaving drummer Tommy Ramone as the last of the living Ramones (there were other drummers, none as essential). End of the Century, then, marked the last time Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy would assemble to recall the ups and downs and downers of a career spent making noise off which so many would make so many millions.
Nobody in Metallica is dead yet (well, Cliff Burton, but that was a long time ago), but the band came close to winding up on the extinct list before going into therapy to work through some issues, chief among them James Hetfield's penchant for booze and his refusal to have a heart-to-heart with pal Lars Ulrich, who apparently was sired by a Lord of the Rings extra. The chronicle of that experience, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, coulda been gooey -- whose heart breaks for multimillionaires who tend to whine? -- but wound up an essential portrait of a band at work while working it out.
The stars of Dig!, Brian Jonestown Massacre's Anton Newcombe and Dandy Warhols front man Courtney Taylor, probably wouldn't go in for a little head-shrinking but sure as hell could use it, even after their rise turns into a protracted fall. Someone oughta make an album about them. -- Robert Wilonsky
Closing Credits: "Dutch"
When Ronald Reagan died on June 5 at the age of 93, his political adherents hailed him as the president who "made America feel better about itself" in the 1980s. Nobody claimed he made America feel better about movie acting. A genial featherweight who went in for neither introspection nor artifice, "Dutch" Reagan the actor played upright, well-scrubbed romantic leads in more than 60 mostly B-movies, many of them for Warner Bros. Antagonists scoffed that he once shared top billing with a chimpanzee (in 1951's Bedtime for Bonzo), and everyone who ever bought popcorn was relieved to learn, as the details of his Hollywood career became clearer amid his political success, that Warner executives had replaced him at the last minute before shooting one of the studio's best-loved films. It's hard to imagine Reagan, instead of Humphrey Bogart, delivering the deathless lament, "Of all the gin joints in all the world . . . ," in the wartime classic Casablanca.
That's not to say the former contract player and General Electric Theatre host was bereft of acting skill. In his most demanding role, an eight-year run as the last Cold War president, he often spoke forcefully and dramatically. Neither Americans nor Germans will ever forget The Great Communicator's stirring challenge in the waning days of the Soviet Union: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" Little matter, when it was all over, that even Reagan's most loyal friends acknowledged he often could not distinguish between a dashing part he'd essayed half a century earlier in, say, Code of the Secret Service, and his most recent exchange with Margaret Thatcher. He was what he was -- a player untroubled by self-doubt when the klieg lights came on. -- Bill Gallo
The Year in Queer
The gay films of 2004 merit a solid fair-to-middling overall rating, with a couple of lovely exceptions. Chief among those was Miguel Albaladejo's Bear Cub, a poorly titled but beautifully rendered story of a (tubby, hairy) gay man who learns how to parent his abandoned nephew. The Legend of Leigh Bowery, a documentary from Charles Atlas, chronicles the life and all-but-indescribable career of the eponymous clubgoer, performer, musician, provocateur, and fomenter of outrageous artistic expression. The film presents a cascade of unforgettable images, all of them engineered by its subject during his brief and blazing reign over the '80s club scene in London.
The year's other notable gay movies came with flaws:
John Waters' A Dirty Shame was a sore disappointment, opting for hysterical, mind-numbing farce rather than bothering to make a shred of sense.
There was plenty to love in Pedro Almodóvar's Bad Education, including a foregrounding of male homosexuality rare for the Spanish director and a superstar turn by Mexican delicacy Gael García Bernal. But Almodóvar undermines the power of his material by forcing it into a genre (noir) that doesn't suit.