Last year was indeed a terrific one for films, making it a merciless assignment to limit my best-of-2003 choices to only 10. But here goes:
1) The Dancer Upstairs. This Latin-paced political thriller/romance is an astonishing directorial debut from actor John Malkovich, and stars heart-melting Spanish actor Javier Bardem. Repeated viewings only enhance the film’s layered, subtle nuances. It’s a tragedy this movie is not gaining the recognition it deserves.
2) The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Storytelling on an epic scale. A magical, fantastic, unparalleled achievement, the film’s technical wizardry matched by its dramatic intensity. Gollum still reigns as the most interesting movie character of the year.
3) Seabiscuit. A top-notch artistic and technical achievement, made all the more effective by its being a true story. Jeff Bridges, Tobey Maguire and Chris Cooper are stellar.
4) Finding Nemo. This simple tale is effectively told via breathtaking animation, wit and charm, and made swimmingly effective through voice work by Albert Brooks and Ellen DeGeneres. Plus, there’s a happy ending!
5) Mystic River. A rare movie that’s better than its source book. This classic, Celt-like tragedy about the shadows of childhood demons is also a triumph of ensemble acting; director Clint Eastwood gave Sean Penn, Kevin Bacon, Tim Robbins and other actors a vehicle for Oscar-worthy performances.
6) Cold Mountain. Let’s get over the Romania complaint. This Western North Carolina-style Civil War Odyssey is a gorgeous, horrible, lyrical, gut-wrenching, utterly great movie. Nicole Kidman and Renee Zellweger give us characters who prove that war makes both men and women reach peaks of courage.
7) Northfork. An enigmatic, surreal tale about death, new life, angels and so-called progress in the high plains of Depression-era Montana told by multi-talented filmmaking twins Michael and Mark Polish. Nick Nolte as a compassionate priest should be beatified.
8) Open Range. Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall revive the Western mythos in this moving tale of men and the freedom they love.
9) Thirteen. A gritty, low-budget, high-impact tale about troubled teenage girls hooked on peer pressure. Holly Hunter is riveting as the rudderless mother.
10) Winged Migration. This mind-boggling achievement of vision and patience, which took upwards of four years to realize, includes migrating birds trained by French filmmakers to fly beside gliders operated by human camera operators. Shot on all four continents, and including the greatest soundtrack of 2003.
Let’s remember, too, such other wonderful movies as Pieces of Eight, Lost in Translation, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, The Human Stain, Under the Tuscan Sun, Piglet’s Big Movie and Better Luck Tomorrow.
And, lest we forget, there was Step Into Liquid, the brilliant surfing documentary that takes a cosmic view of the waves, and My Dinner With Jimi, the best feature film of the Asheville Film Festival. Directed by Bill Fishman, Jimi stars Justin Henry as the lead singer of The Turtles, the Beatles-era California band that imploded after a few years of heady fame.
1) Dickie Roberts, Former Child Star. Xpress reviewer Ken Hanke should be forced to write, “I will not make Marci see any more David Spade movies!” on the blackboard 1,000 times. There’s not one redeeming quality in a single frame of this lame satire on family values. Bad boy, Ken!
2) Gigli. Guaranteed to embarrass Ben Affleck and his J. Lo for the rest of their lives. Awful from the ridiculous title to the last millimeter of wasted film stock.
3) Kangaroo Jack. Everyone involved with this Down Under clunker should be roasted on the barbie.
4) Alex and Emma. How could talented funnyman Rob Reiner make such a sexless stinker? Especially with the adorable Kate Hudson in it?
5) Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. Wall-to-wall spandex, and this thing’s still a snoozer. And, hey, I’m a fan of stupid chick-flicks.
6) The Hunted. The biggest action-movie disappointment of the year, in which he-men Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio Del Toro couldn’t fight the wimpy script.
7) Rugrats Go Wild. A disorganized, lifeless letdown not only for kids, but also for Thornberrys fans like me. Boo!
8) Dark Blue. Handcuff the crime novelist, the famous director and the big-name talent (Kurt Russell, one of my main faves) if they dare to come up with another cop-movie idea.
9) Anger Management. Wins the award for the most deceptive preview of the year. Don’t for a minute think this Adam Sandler/Jack Nicholson turkey is funny.
10) Dreamcatcher. Famous director, famous screenwriter and famous novelist team up to create a bloody mess.