Click here to view photo gallery


THE AVIATOR 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

COLLATERAL 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

ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND 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

FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS 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

THE INCREDIBLES 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

KINSEY 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

MARIA FULL OF GRACE 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

MILLION DOLLAR BABY 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

SIDEWAYS 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

SPIDER-MAN 2 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


ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT 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.

CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM 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.

DEADWOOD 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.

DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES 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.

LOST 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.

NIP/TUCK 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.

THE SHIELD 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.

SOMETHING THE LORD MADE 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.

THE SOPRANOS 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.

SOUTH PARK 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.