Of all the films rented on Cinema Paradiso in 2004 the top ten included Lost in Translation (2003), Big Fish (2003), Kill Bill: Vol.1 (2003), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) and The Butterfly Effect (2004); whilst some of the more popular films rented that year that have not stood up so well to the test of time include Along Came Polly (2003), 50 First Dates (2004) and Gothika (2003).
As the first article in what will be a series that looks at each year that Cinema Paradiso has been in service this article will look at two films available for rental in 2004 that have, in my opinion, stayed consistently popular and stand up well to repeat viewings, these are: British rom-zom-com Shaun of the Dead (2004) and the wonderfully gentle drama starring the man now known as Tyrion Lannister, The Station Agent (2003).
For those of you who have been living under a rock for the last ten years Shaun of the Dead is the first in the much-loved Cornetto trilogy, the brainchild of English comedy cohorts Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. With well established, though hardly globally recognised, careers in the UK Pegg, Frost and Wright had all previously worked together on British cult comedy series Spaced which itself was known for spoofing famous film scenes and making countless geeky references; the success with which the boys brought this formula to the big screen was not only impressive but also somewhat unexpected, all of which has helped to keep the popularity of Shaun of the Dead going so long after its initial release.
The genius and hilarity of Shaun comes from the excellent mixture of the unusual and the familiar tropes of a popular genre; Shaun is, unlike most men tasked with saving the world from an oncoming apocalypse, a distinctly average and rather under-achieving man in his thirties, his place of refuge and solace is his local pub and his hobbies and interests are largely video game related. Yet it is the personality that flows out of Shaun (played brilliantly by Pegg) that turns this rather unremarkable man into a hero. He does what most of us would do in such a situation, panics, thinks about the people he loves and turns to the only place he has ever truly felt safe. There are no convoluted plans, no convenient meetings and any lucky escapes are so strongly rooted in comedy that their presence is a pleasure to behold.
Still regarded by most, this reviewer included, as the best of the now completed Cornetto trilogy Shaun of the Dead remains a staple of a recent British cinema diet, the comedy is both cleverly satirical and so raw it's still bleeding, what better film to pick to epitomize the irony heavy and somewhat disaffected youth of the early part of the 21st Century?
The Station Agent (2003) on the other hand is a far more understated film in which a man of small stature, played by the effervescent Peter Dinklage, inherits a cottage in a quiet suburb of New Jersey after his only friend, Henry, passes away.
Though an unassuming film The Station Agent nevertheless sparkles with emotion – though don’t be fooled into thinking it is a melodramatic film; far from it in fact the personal tragedies that have affected all three of the central characters are played out in a muted and intimate fashion, the relationships that develop between them entrenched in deep seeded human needs and social fears. Unlike Shaun the characters in The Station Agent are extraordinary in a decidedly unobtrusive fashion, their charm comes from the intimacies they share and the audience’s pleasure from the richness of the characters juxtaposed against the sparseness of their surroundings.
For those of you who had not encountered Dinklage before HBO's Game of Thrones series rocketed him to the heights of his current stardom then his performance in The Station Agent is likely to blow you away. The versatility of his talent could hardly be better demonstrated than in the harsh tones of Tyrion and the gentle solitude of Finbar.
Yet despite their Stark (excuse the pun) differences there is a great deal of similarity between Shaun of the Dead and The Station Agent, both films overwhelmingly resonate with the importance of friendship – where Shaun’s is explicitly depicted in the final scenes in which his friendship with Frost’s character Ed continues after Ed’s death, The Station Agent plays the need for friendship more like the echoing sounds of an orchestra, a lone note that lingers on in one’s hearing long after the curtain falls.
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