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Second Run

Celebrating the overachieving, underhyped movies of 2004.

While Michael Moore and Mel Gibson garnered most of this year's critical attention, plenty of fine films opened to little or no fanfare. Following are our reviewers' favorite movies that didn't draw the adulation they deserved. Consider yourself armed for the next trip to Blockbuster.

Control Room. In a year of agitprop documentaries both left and right, the best political doc of the bunch was this genuinely fair and balanced look at Arab news station Al-Jazeera and its coverage of the Iraq war. Yes, the filmmakers ultimately lean left, but it's the U.S. military's PR guy, Josh Rushing, who stands out as the strongest and most likable personality. Sadly, he was discharged shortly after the movie was finished, possibly for becoming too open-minded. -- Luke Y. Thompson

The Corporation.With corporate greed running rampant, this timely documentary by Jennifer Abbott and Mark Achbar looks at the role of the corporation throughout history -- and the corporate culture it has spawned. It's wildly entertaining and informative -- so why was it overlooked? Apart from Fahrenheit 9/11, how many Americans even considered seeing a documentary this year? -- Jean Oppenheimer

Donnie Darko: The Director¹s Cut. I wanted to love it the first time around, but the ending always felt like a copout, even after friends tried to explain that it really wasn't "all just a dream." This year, the full-length version expanded on the concept, delivered a greater emotional punch and revealed the true greatness of Richard Kelly's vision. Initially an interesting disappointment, Donnie is now a favorite. -- Thompson

The Door in the Floor. In Tod Williams's exceptionally crafted movie about a marriage wrecked by loss, relative newcomer Jon Foster plays a high school student interning with a famous writer (Jeff Bridges) and his wife (Kim Basinger) for the summer. Bridges is glorious in his debauchery and Foster truly charming as a young man whose innocence goes up in flames. The script, too, is tight and deft. -- Melissa Levine

I § Huckabees.David O. Russell directs Lily Tomlin, Dustin Hoffman, Jude Law, Naomi Watts, et al., in an existential romp that manages to be both earnest and ironic. It's a whip-smart, hilarious and feeling look at one soulful man's journey to find meaning in life. The friendship between Mark Wahlberg and Jason Schwartzman is priceless. -- Levine

Kitchen Stories. In 1950s Norway, a group of Swedish efficiency experts studies the kitchen routines of single men living alone in a remote farming district, recording their every movement from stove to table, cupboard to sink. This quirky Norwegian gem ably satirizes the follies of petty bureaucrats and misguided social engineers, but it's also a touching meditation on the ways human beings grapple with loneliness and try to connect. Against all odds, the mild-mannered researcher and the dour, long-faced farmer forge a memorable friendship. -- Bill Gallo

The Manchurian Candidate.A remake of the John Frankenheimer classic, this spiffy redo subs corporations for commies as its bad guys; Mama's still a creep with a crush on her sonny boy, but she's in bed with Enron, or close to it. Amazingly, in the year of the political movie, Jonathan Demme's take on politics-as-unusual got lost in the shuffle -- considered too familiar by some, too wacky by others, not at all by most. Which is a shame, considering how it ultimately came out as a Republican-bashing, Patriot Act-hating movie without the polemics getting in the way of a kinky good time. -- Robert Wilonsky

Mean Creek. An innocent prank goes awry when five kids decide to teach the school bully a lesson. Director Jacob Aaron Estes's feature debut is a pint-sized Heart of Darkness that raises sobering questions about responsibility, morality and guilt. Superbly acted by a largely unknown cast. Why was it passed over? Maybe the "R" rating kept away the target audience. ­ Oppenheimer

The Mother. The astoundingly hit-or-miss Roger Michell directs Anne Reid and Daniel Craig in a piercing, brave movie willing to delve into the awakening libido of a grandmother. Such finely tuned emotional registers aren't often seen on screen. Plus, Daniel Craig's abs! Yeow! ­ Levine

My Architect.In this documentary by Nathaniel Kahn, the son of the great architect Louis Kahn tries to unravel the startling secrets of his late father's life and, in the process, explores his own nature. Haunted and ineffably sad, the younger Kahn's quest to understand a parent who was deeply unhappy, stubborn and deceptive (good old Dad had two secret families aside from his "official" one) develops into a story of the troubled father searching for himself. In the end, the great man collapsed and died in a Manhattan restroom, and his body went unclaimed for two days. -- Gallo

Overnight. Rarely does a documentary leave me wanting more, but this look at the disastrous crash-and-burn Hollywood career of Boondock Saints director Troy Duffy could have been twice as long and remained just as compelling. A must-see cautionary tale for those who dream of working in Hollywood, and a barrel of laughs for anyone who already does. -- Thompson

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 Meshould 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. -- Wilonsky

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