Yes I completely understand that it’s February and these things traditionally come out to be read through a New Year’s Day hangover. I blame a trip, a show, and the vexing lack of hours in a day.
For my newer readers (and there are a lot of you) I have no hard and fast tradition about summarizing my favorites; I always resist and then people keep asking me to do it, so I do it. I think it’s impossible to make such a list because all art is truly subjective. Ask me what I think should win an Oscar and it will be a different list than what movie I want to watch again and again and again. This list is kind of a meld of the two flavors of opinion.
Anyway, argue with me if you want, but you folks asked for it, and this is just my opinion. Make your own lists and share them with me if you want. But I still won’t like Kill Bill as much as everyone else did.
Best of 2003 (1 = most good)
1 Pirates of the Caribbean
2 Finding Nemo
These two movies are really tied. Most critics cower behind a need to like only “important” films or dramas or sensitive artistic visions, but you know what? These two movies kicked every kind of butt a movie can kick. They are dripping with the joy of the filmmaking team, they are creative beyond anyone’s expectations, they are impeccably executed, and every viewing brings new love for them. Johnny Depp and Ellen Degeneres are hugely underappreciated for their subtle talents and their respective films showcase everything we love the most about them (except Ellen’s physical comedy). No two films in 2003 brought so much happiness to so many people AND were critically applauded. And nominated for stuff. Go buy the DVDs already, slackers. Ultimately Pirates beat Nemo for the simple reason that since acknowledged genius Andrew Stanton wrote Nemo, we knew the Pixar film would be good, and no film based on a freaking theme park ride designed in 1967 should ever have been watchable, much less an instant classic. Pirates had further to go to win us over, so I gave it #1.
3 American Splendor
4 Lost in Translation
These two movies flip flopped for me as far as where on the list they would be numbered. Lost in Translation is delicate, elegant, tender and beautifully performed, whereas American Splendor is post-modern, brash, loud, and grungy. Both films are unique in ways that defy description, and are the exact reasons the MPAA ban on screeners was the worst idea since the McCarthy blacklists. Ultimately I chose Splendor over Translation as the better film because of the incredible challenge of making Harvey Pekar likable, especially when he is being played by himself and by Paul Giamatti. That, and there are fewer dips in the energy of Splendor.
If you haven’t heard by now, Charlize Theron’s performance in Monster is the most intense and incredible thing this year, period. The film itself is an emotional ride and it sticks with you for a long time. Chirstina Ricci doesn’t get much mention next to her costar but she holds her own with her weird character’s terrible flaws and her own chameleonic nature.
6 Love Actually
7 Down With Love
“This list is totally written by a chick. She has TWO movies with the word ‘love’ in the title in her top ten.” If you’re one of those Cro Magnon men who refuses to see movies with the word Love in the title for fear of getting teased by the other guys in the cave, well you missed out on some seriously great writing, delightful characters, and hot naked and semi clad women. “Wha??” Both Love Actually and Down With Love have already merited multiple repeat viewings and they just get better with each viewing. I don’t think I need to justify their greatness here. But they are super memorable.
8 Triplets of Belleville
My friends and fans know I am a serious Pixar advocate and junkie, and the rankling I have experienced watching the first two Animated Feature Oscars going to the less deserving Shrek and Spirited Away cannot be described in a family publication. Finding Nemo is an amazing film, but I trembled in my boots when I walked out of the fantastical and excellent Triplets of Belleville. It’s unique and innovative and while I think Pixar is the single greatest filmmaking apparatus in the world, this film is really amazing.
2003 was truly the year of the documentary. I admit I did not see them all, who could? But this is the one that stayed with me the longest. The kids and their wildly divergent stdying styles, motivations, obstacles, and support networks, they gripped me, amused me, and I bit off all my finger nails in anticipation of the finale. If you don’t generally watch documentaries, try this one, it just might change your mind.
10 The Cooler
Another little movie that could, this one scrabbled its way up the long list of great independent films from this year into my top ten on the combined strength of William H. Macy, Alec Baldwin, and Maria Bello. It’s a sweet love story, a vaguely supernatural fable, a dramatic underworld movie, and a comedy all in one. It’s grand, check it out.
Special Prize: September 11
Eleven short films from eleven countries, some good, some great, some so-so, but the whole compilation is worthy of viewing and deserving of recognition.
Worst of 2003 (1 = most bad)
1 Cat in the Hat
How can one accurately describe, without gestures and facial expressions, the full insulting horror of this film? Not only is it (unlike the entries below) an abominable “adaptation” of a children’s classic, it’s a crass commercial whorefest with inappropriate jokes, self-satisfied putrefaction on the part of Mike Myers, and a huge waste of time to boot. I have hated some movies, but this movie hurt me. Really, if I have to explain why this was the worst movie of the year…
2 Spy Kids 3D Game Over
Lame. Boring. Stupid. Overproduced. Underwritten. Overdone. Should have stopped at the still joyful and whimsical #2. Tron was better, including the effects.
3 Matrix Revolutions
Lame. Boring. Stupid. Overproduced. Underwritten. Overdone. Should have stopped at the still interesting and mystical #1. The Last Starfighter was better, except for the effects. And what the hell? Do they think making two cold, unsexy characters kiss will interest the female audience? Nope.
4 Kill Bill Vol 1
While it seems unfair to put this movie down here, considering how legitimately well the whole thing was choreographed, the plain and simple truth is that this is one unsatisfying piece of cinema. I can appreciate cartoon violence and the kitschy joy of trash, but there needs to be something to keep my interest and excite my emotional investment in the story. And I don’t ask much.
5 Legally Blonde 2: Red White & Blue
See? Chick movies can suck too. This movie was an affront to the empowering, funny, charming original film. Elle Woods betrays her character, her self respect, and even her dog. I was so angry when I left the theatre I haven’t been able to watch the original since. Some day I hope to get it back.
6 View from the Top
Proof that Gwyneth is only as good as her script. What should have been a joyful girl power romp through the skies and some fun costuming turned into a “dare to dream, trailer girl” insult to all women who seek to bette r themselves through superficiality (which may be all they have). You probably didn’t see it, but I did, and that’s why it’s on my bottom 10. And I saw over 100 movies this year. Think on that.
7 The Medallion
Only notable in that it was already made into a terrible movie last year – The Tuxedo. How can they make the same mistake twice? Shame shame shame.
8 Le Divorce
Proof that Kate Hudson is only as good as her marketing. Tiresome women leaning on each other ineffectually as they selfishly ignore each other’s problems in favor of their own problems, where anything that smacks of interesting is shunted away in favor of Hudson prancing about like a fool. Wait, maybe that’s Alex & Emma instead?
9 Anger Management
A winning idea cast in a mean-spirited, egotistical horror show wherein crazy people make crazy people crazier all in the name of sanity. And the simple sight of a formerly respected actor singing from West Side Story is supposed to leave us in stitches? Sick, sad, and tired. Punch Drunk Love did it better and it didn’t embarrass any Oscar winners.
10 Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life
Despite having the excessively sexy Gerard Butler in it (the only thing that made the other movies worse than this one), this movie was a bunch of noise and bluster and not even enough tomb raiding to justify its source material. She didn’t even have the shorts on! What gives?