AFI AWARDS 2004 – American Film Institute

AFI Awards

Honoring a year of excellence.




…soars into the stratosphere of classic American filmmaking. Martin Scorsese not only maintains the incredible standards of his career with this modern epic, but also expands its horizons. As bold and brash as Howard Hughes himself, the film is dazzling beyond words, while the visual splendor of the film carries us back to an era of Hollywood gone by. Leonardo DiCaprio embodies Howard Hughes in one of the year’s most demanding roles, with two character arcs at play as Hughes rises and falls simultaneously. Read the AFI Catalog entry


…takes audiences on a ride they won’t soon forget. It’s a thrill ride, but it’s also a dark, dreamy meditation on morality that stays with you long after your heart stops racing. Director Michael Mann is a true craftsman of the genre, and his comfort in the audience’s discomfort allows him always to be a step ahead. Part of the film’s allure is that it gives us a tour of Los Angeles after the sun sets, which is beautifully captured with new technologies by cinematographers Dion Beebe and Paul Cameron. Read the AFI Catalog entry


…is an unforgettable love story. Daringly original and heartwarmingly romantic, this film is as challenging and rewarding as love itself. There is no more inventive screenwriter today than Charlie Kaufman, who helps us remember that film is a medium with boundless storytelling possibilities. Jim Carrey’s indelible performance is the central force in the film, while Kate Winslet continues to astound with her every look, her every smile. To see the film twice is to enrich your love for it ten-fold. Read the AFI Catalog entry


…hoists the world of high school football on its shoulder and parades it into the history of mythic American sports stories. Adapted from H.G. Bissinger’s non-fiction book about the town of Odessa, Texas, and its passion for the local team, Peter Berg’s film demonstrates that sometimes the most dramatic stories are based in reality. The true power of the film lies in its ability to illuminate the hope that lives on Friday nights across America. For many in the stands, these are their heroes; for those who take the field, this is their moment in life, their chance to shine. FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS captures these sentiments with grace and eloquence. Read the AFI Catalog entry


…lives up to its name in spectacular fashion. This clever and original animated film from writer/director Brad Bird dazzles in its visual splendor, but it is the story that proves most colorful. The Parr family — a.k.a. Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl and their two super children — is a nuclear family that imparts a message for all ages — that we all have special talents. Enter the villain, and the film’s incredible blend of adventure and wit sets a new bar for James Bond. Read the AFI Catalog entry


…is a rich and engaging film biography about Dr. Alfred Kinsey, the revolutionary sex researcher who challenged the conventions of “normal.” But this is no science lesson or standard bio-pic, for writer/director Bill Condon has a dynamic storytelling style that finds a heart in the man whose mind is so celebrated, and also beautifully portrays the era that gasped and then embraced his findings. Liam Neeson delivers a monumental performance as Kinsey, while Laura Linney lights up the screen with warmth and forgiveness. Read the AFI Catalog entry


…shines a light from above on a dark corner of the American dream. Catalina Sandino Moreno is mesmerizing in her screen debut as a young woman from Colombia who endures a harrowing journey to the United States as a drug mule. Writer/director Joshua Marston’s film is presented in Spanish, but speaks volumes about America and the beacon of hope it continues to shine on countries around the world. The film’s power lies in its natural storytelling, where nothing is forced, but tension rules. Read the AFI Catalog entry


…is classic American filmmaking by a man at the top of his game. Director/actor/producer/composer Clint Eastwood proves once again that he is American film’s true renaissance man. Simple, pure and direct in its storytelling, the film finds power in its lean frame, while taking on issues of family and faith without flinching. Hilary Swank inhabits her character as if she is in a class by herself, and with Morgan Freeman and Eastwood in her corner, there is no more engaging acting ensemble on screen this year. MILLION DOLLAR BABY is a knockout. Read the AFI Catalog entry


…is vintage comedy that, like a good bottle of wine, will only get better with age. Director Alexander Payne is well established as one of the great directors of his generation, and here he impresses again as the rare filmmaker whose reliance is not on special effects or sleight of hand, but on words and warmth. The film’s brilliant cast provides the soul to this compassionate film about friendship and all its imperfections. AFI raises a glass of Pinot noir to the creative ensemble for their remarkable achievement with SIDEWAYS. Read the AFI Catalog entry


…is a movie sequel at its most triumphant. Glorious, inventive and joyful, Sam Raimi’s film creates something deeply human from the pages of a comic book, illustrating for Hollywood how to create a summer blockbuster by investing in the craft of storytelling. SPIDER-MAN 2 swings high through the annals of American superheroes, spinning a story without a reliance on special effects, spectacular as they are. Amidst the film’s popcorn-munching fun, its message rings true — with great honor comes great responsibility. Read the AFI Catalog entry



marches to the tap of its own therapist’s pencil, often finding itself so far outside the traditional form of television comedy that it stands alone in its own genre. Richly imagined by Mitchell Hurwitz and the creative ensemble, each week the show’s lovably twisted characters give us an uproarious, glorious trip to the nuthouse they call home. Amid the laughs is brilliant commentary on celebrity and a gleefully wicked satire of the American family we all know too well.


makes it impossible to curb your enthusiasm for the talents of Larry David. Finding humor in the droll and everyday, the show unfolds in a signature style that sets it apart from all other comedy on television. This year’s spectacularly engineered storyline with Mel Brooks and THE PRODUCERS was not only one of the longest comedic build-ups on record, but it also delivered one of the great punch lines in television history.


stands tall in the proud tradition of the American Western. Grand schemes and Shakespearean motives take viewers on a true journey through time, and yet the show’s unique power comes from what is not necessarily true to the period, illustrating that sometimes storytellers have to lie to tell the truth. David Milch and his writers blend fact and fiction, historical and imagined characters, and use modern language to immerse viewers in a richly defined parallel universe that captures how dark and difficult life was in a time that has since been glamorized by Hollywood.


is the best thing to happen to television in many years. Marc Cherry has created the water cooler show of 2004 by dusting off one of the oldest forms of TV — the classic American soap opera — and presenting it with a level of sophisticated satire that makes it totally unique. The show is a triumph for its acting ensemble, which bring such personality to their characters each week that we feel as if we know them like our own neighbors. For all the accolades and critical attention the show receives, perhaps its greatest contribution is that it reminds us that one of the key elements of great television is — in a word — fun.


was found by American audiences this year, just when they needed to be rescued from reality television. Confounding expectations with every episode, the show demonstrates how fulfilling it is to be in the hands of talented writers and storytellers. From the opening moments of the harrowing pilot episode, LOST has played like a psychological thriller, presenting a giant puzzle and doling out its pieces sparingly. Strange and offbeat, yet familiar (think GILLIGAN’S ISLAND), LOST enjoys both a broad audience and a cult following, which is a testament to the inventive work of the creative ensemble.


continues to alter the face of television. Beautifully designed and photographed, the program entrances viewers with its sexy appearance, but ultimately reminds us that there is more to great drama than what meets the eye. Creator Ryan Murphy and the show’s creative ensemble operate with precision each episode, cutting through layers of the human condition to reveal stories of friendship and family rarely seen on television today.


is not just another cop show. Visceral and raw, hard-hitting and complex, this is a program where the unresolved tension between daily police activity and ethical transgression redefines the genre. Michael Chiklis delivers a powerhouse performance with each episode and helps to make THE SHIELD “appointment television.” This was particularly true in 2004, when corruption began to corrode the core of the strike force in episodes reminiscent of John Huston’s classic film THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE.


is a revelation. In a world where so much information is available at our fingertips, this television movie is a spectacular example of how the medium can find an unknown story and share it with millions of people in a single night. With seasoned veteran Joseph Sargent at the helm, and outstanding performances by Mos Def and Alan Rickman, this bittersweet story is an important tool for America as it continues to search for a public vocabulary to discuss issues of race.


returned to television in 2004, drawing America back into its dark and dangerous family circle. Digging deeper into the psychological complexities of its already beautifully realized characters, David Chase and the creative ensemble created a profound emotional resonance in a year marked by the tragic grandeur of the series. The show’s ability to captivate viewers with its alluring — but doomed-universe became even more powerful as the family struggled internally…and began to take care of business.


takes American audiences where no politically correct man — or woman — has gone before. Smart, fearless and sometimes indefensible, SOUTH PARK speaks most importantly to television’s role as communicator with younger generations. Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have a remarkable ability to react quickly to current events and trends, which creates an extraordinary vitality in the comedy…and laughter that will echo across the century.


MOVIES INSPIRE NATIONAL DEBATE In 2004, THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST and FAHRENHEIT 9/11 reminded the nation of the power of film. Both films transcended the art form, catalyzing a national debate on theology and politics.

Each film was a personal crusade, with Mel Gibson serving as writer/director/producer of THE PASSION and Michael Moore serving as writer/director/producer of FAHRENHEIT. Both filmmakers tossed Hollywood convention out the window, attracting masses to the movies that would normally not purchase a ticket to an ultra-violent subtitled film or a documentary.

Ultimately, both films shone a bright light on the political and religious polarization in the United States in 2004.


Jean Cocteau once said, “Film will only become art when its materials are as inexpensive as pencil and paper.”

In 2004, the accessibility to affordable tools for the art form was brilliantly dramatized by the Cannes Film Festival’s acceptance and enthusiasm for TARNATION, a film made for $218.

Director Jonathan Caouette received standing ovations for his documentary, a self-portrait about growing up with a mentally ill mother. He edited the film from home movies, photographs and other materials on his personal computer.

The direction is not only one for independent filmmakers, as the filmmakers who created Paramount’s SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW used desktop Macintosh computers to create the film’s 2000 effects shots.

This movement is encouraging and will further solidify the moving image as the language of the 21st century.


2004 saw the final broadcasts of veteran newscasters Tom Brokaw, Barbara Walters and Bill Moyers, the retirement of 60 MINUTES creator Don Hewitt and the news that Dan Rather would leave his anchor seat in 2005.

The loss of this generation of journalists raises questions about the long-term viability of evening news broadcasts, which have been suffering from declining ratings for years, due to 24-hour news channels and immediate access to news via the Internet.

It also illustrates a more significant and worrisome trend — the drastic change in how news is packaged and presented via television. Gone are the days when Walter Cronkite read the news with a voice of authoritative integrity. Today’s newscasters are more personalities than journalists, and the landscape has become one of “niche news,” where viewers tune in to hear information that is skewed to a particular political agenda, not a public agenda. Audiences choose a report and reporter that agrees with their point of view, and ultimately, makes them comfortable. The networks and all news outlets should strive to present many sides of the complex issues in today’s world, and the viewing public should be reminded that part of the responsibility in finding the truth is their own.


On May 12, NBC and Universal merged to become NBC Universal, signaling the final stage of vertical re-integration in the entertainment industry.

This trend has proven cyclical, beginning with the Paramount Decree of 1949, which was designed to prevent monopolistic practices in the film community by prohibiting the studios from owning theater chains. Fifty-five years later, 2004 sees a landscape where studios, networks, theater chains, music labels and home video departments are integrated to serve and support each other.

The effects of this culmination will be felt in all areas of the creative community, where “event films” have become necessary to build a bridge between all corporate constituents. The independent film scene continues to flourish in large part because the tools have become more affordable, but what has been lost is the middle ground, where studios support films that can entertain a vast audience with different interests, which is what makes this country so unique.


Jon Stewart and the creative team at THE DAILY SHOW have been well awarded for their daily pseudo-news broadcast, but in this year of the presidential election, their impact on the national conversation grew beyond television.

The show’s impact on younger Americans is particularly significant. As it deconstructs the news cycle each night in its humor, THE DAILY SHOW provides a master class in critical analysis, forcing us to question how the news is presented on other channels.

It would be sad to document that one of the best sources of news today is a faux news show, if Jon Stewart and his creative team didn’t do it so well.


FRASIER, FRIENDS and SEX AND THE CITY all aired their final episodes in 2004. Combined, the three sitcoms gave America 27 seasons of comedy — FRASIER ran for 11 years, FRIENDS for 10 years, and SEX IN THE CITY for six years.

With EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND ending its nine-year run next year, THE SIMPSONS will be the only situation comedy institution left on television.

Comedy has not left the airwaves, though; it thrives in late night television with Jay Leno and David Letterman, on cable in the form of CHAPPELLE’S SHOW and on the networks it has found a new home in less traditional places, like the dark halls of DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES and the courtroom drama BOSTON LEGAL.


A second wave of convergence has begun to impact the world of television as content is packaged for distribution across multiple platforms.

Of note in 2004:

– The premiere of the pilot for the WB’s JACK AND BOBBY aired in its entirety over the Internet before the broadcast premiere.

– The success of television programs on DVD has reshaped the economics of television.

– The market for video games-where players gather around their television sets — exploded in 2004, suggesting a new dimension for television, where the viewer is the star of the program.

For those who wonder if the day is near when consumers will own a Dick Tracy TV watch, the answer is, “Yes” and so much more.


The Federal Communications Commission became a programming power in 2004.

The government’s voice in what is suitable for the airwaves is not a new concept, but the staggering rate at which the threat of it grew during the year has had a profound effect on television. Unsure of how the FCC will rule on an issue, the creative community has begun to self-censor their shows, a disturbing trend in a country founded on free expression.

The flashpoint for this moment of significance was in January, during Janet Jackson’s and Justin Timberlake’s live Super Bowl halftime performance, when Jackson’s breast was exposed to a global audience during a sexually explicit dance routine.

In September, the FCC fined 20 TV stations the maximum penalty for indecency and the result has been a chilling effect on all aspects of television-production, advertising and distribution.

As a prime example, on Veterans Day, several ABC affiliates refused to air Steven Spielberg’s SAVING PRIVATE RYAN in an unedited form for fear they would be fined by the FCC. Most of the stations that pulled the film had aired it unedited to commemorate Veterans Day in 2001 and 2002.

MARLON BRANDO, 1924 - 2004

On July 1, acting legend Marlon Brando passed away at the age of 80.

The art of screen acting has two chapters-“Before Brando” and “After Brando.” Though Stanislavski created “method acting,” it was Brando who showed the world its power. His raw, hypnotic energy created screen characters that will live forever in the annals of film history:

Stanley Kowalski in A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (1951) Johnny Strabler in THE WILD ONE (1953) Terry Malloy in ON THE WATERFRONT (1954) Sky Masterson in GUYS AND DOLLS (1955) Don Vito Corleone in THE GODFATHER (1972) Paul in LAST TANGO IN PARIS (1972) Colonel Kurtz in APOCALYPSE NOW (1979)