This was a very strong year for cinema. Films from the Far East were particularly great. As I did last year, I am listing my top ten films and I'm not doing an honorable mention or runner-ups or doing any ties. This, of course, makes creating a list like this particularly hard. However, I'm very firm on this list as I've seen all the films listed multiple times in different contexts and feel as strongly about each of them as I did the instant I left the theater. These are 10 fantastic films. Great stories, performances, music, effects (if they're there), editing, cinematography and substance. I could easily list an additional 30 films I liked this year, but then, that would spread too thin the message this list tries to send, which is... SEE THESE MOVIES! Starting at the top:
1. RETURN OF THE KING
This film along with FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING and THE TWO TOWERS will become, over time, beloved and timeless in the same way as some of the classics we now adore from yesteryear. This film fills me with such love for film that I can barely contain my enthusiasm. There are those that don’t like the film, poor miserable insufferable fools that they be, I do respect their decision. I also can respect a dung beetle’s choice in dietary desire, though I will never be in their sad state of existence. RETURN OF THE KING is a masterpiece. When it ends, all I want is to see it again, only longer. The film has astonishing emotion, jaw-dropping spectacle and operatic heights that no other film this year even approaches. Pure cinema unleashed. It is opening the doors for many films to be made, let us hope they are done as well as these.
Chan Wook Park’s SYMPATHY FOR MR VENGEANCE was my number 1 pick from last year. That he made a better film this year is… astonishing. That I saw a better film than this this year is a true testament to how fucking great RETURN OF THE KING was. The performance of Min-sik Choi is frankly the best performance by an actor in cinema this year. Choi’s Dae-su is simply one of the greatest performances I have ever seen. It is all at once pathetic, noble, sad, melancholy, tragic, comic, furious, under-stated, over-the-top and cool. The film will shake you where you sit and it will stay in your mind like an inoperable tumor. The antagonist of the film, as played by Ji-Tae Yu, is equally amazing. More proof that the most vital and overlooked region of cinema is South Korea. Some day the rest of the world will wake up to the phenomenal work coming from there.
3. PING PONG
I think ping pong is one of the most annoying ‘sports’ of all time. I hate the sound of it, the way people hold the paddles and have never really thought the game was particularly worthy of invention, though… I would say it is far worthier of existence than say… GOLF, which I loathe even more, if only… it always seems to be on Television. HOWEVER, when I saw this film… that all changed. PING PONG is an amazing heart-warming film that never plays to the clichÃ© of that type of film. The characters, story and emotion of the film sneak up on you. If you get a chance to see this (not likely) it will become a film that you’ll force friends to watch. Best film by a first time filmmaker this year. Watch out for Fumihiko Sori… He’s a dangerous director.
4. THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE TELEVISED
Personally, I hold this is the single most important film made this year. Unfortunately, the only people that’ll see the film are the ones that don’t need to see it. An absolutely stunning first hand center seat at history. A history that continues to be distorted, one that continues to be misconstrued. This documentary happens to show, clearly, just how corrupt the leadership of the United States is. AND more importantly, it show the dangers of exactly what can happen when gigantic multi-national corporations gain control over 80% of a country’s airwaves. It shows how news can be distorted, how a country can be led like a cow to slaughter. It confirms every paranoid conspiracy intuition we liberals have about the Bush Administration. Unfortunately, it’ll just be written off as exactly that. Like the old saying, you can lead a horse to water, but ya can’t make em drink. AUSTIN READERS! This is about to open a run at the Alamo Drafthouse! Check it out!
5. LOST IN TRANSLATION
An absolutely great film about connections. Sofia Coppola really did a wonderful job on this film. For one, she directed Bill Murray to his very best performance, and the best American acting performance of the year. World-wide I’d say it’s the 2nd best performance of the year behind the amazing turn by Min-sik Choi’s work in OLDBOY. Scarlett Johansson turns in the best performance by a lead actress in a film this year. I fell absolutely in love with her in this film. Reminded me in a way of watching Audrey Hepburn in ROMAN HOLIDAY, where sure… she’d been in films before, but suddenly, she just became the most radiant girl in the world. Ultimately this is a perfect small scale film. One that has a tiny story to tell. I love it for being such a small story. For having so much soul, so much truth in such a small package. Ultimately, I am very intrigued by Sofia’s work in this film and can not wait to see where she goes from here.
6. AMERICAN SPLENDOR
2nd Best Comic Book Adaptation of the year. OLDBOY is also a comic adaptation, though most do not know that. I love AMERICAN SPLENDOR, the work by Paul Giamatti is inspired. The editing is the very best work in film this year. Absolutely beautiful and elegant and innovative. The playing between animation, documentary and narrative filmmaking is nothing short of brilliant.
7. CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS
A documentary to chill the heart. I’m still utterly confused and torn about what I saw with this film. The story about Arnold Friedman and the allegations and charges that were brought against him. What happened in the community surrounding the story. What the media did, what the cops did and ultimately what the family did is just some of the most disturbing things I’ve heard of. There are points in this film that will invoke unleashed fury from you, then moments later make you feel guilty, then conflicted for having those feelings. A truly incredible documentary.
8. TRIPLETTES OF BELLEVILLE
Wow. The most amazing non-traditional 2D animated film you’ll probably ever see. In thinking back upon the film, it feels like a dream instead of a real movie that you might’ve seen. Ultimately it has the same basic story arc as FINDING NEMO, yet how it tells that story is through pure cinematic devices… No narrative dialogue, insane spontaneous musical interludes, bizarre characters that make even more bizarre plot twists. Working on some crazed lunatic logic, the film is one of the purest delights I’ve seen in quite some time. Amazing animation!
9. TWILIGHT SAMURAI
The best samurai film I’ve seen this year. Many people will have you believe that THE LAST SAMURAI was the best Samurai film, but TWILIGHT SAMURAI is easily many times better than Ed Zwick’s film. Ultimately it tells the story of a very low samurai. He would rather count grain and tend to his children and Alzheimer mother, than ever take up his sword again. This is a film about one’s station in life and the bravery that must come into play to exceed that station to become more than what you have ever aspired to. Ultimately his great combat is more horrifying than any battlefield with 1000s of combatants. More brutal because of the intimacy, more sad for the results. Ultimately this is as great a film as UNFORGIVEN or THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE. Fantastic.
10. KILL BILL VOL 1
Had this film been complete. Had it simply been KILL BILL, then I feel this could have had a chance at being the best film of the year. However, this first half was so strong for me that I can not, not include it on this list. The film celebrates a joy of cinema and genre that is just neglected these days. I also feel that Uma Thurman deserves a nomination for her performance in the film. Her character is both pop and real, cult and tragic, dashing and resolute. There should be some special soundtrack award for how Quentin uses music in conjunction with the images on screen. I find it a marriage that can never be separated. I hear the music, I see the images… I see the images, I hear the music.
The Worst Film I Allowed Myself To Witness In 2003:
MASKED AND ANONYMOUS
An absolutely numbing experience. Imagine treading water in the worst public toilet you’ve ever seen, whilst watching your loved ones set ablaze. It is worse than that. I have never seen so much talent so awful in my entire history of cinema going. Yet I continued to watch, hoping that one of the endless cameos might possibly have some glimmer of greatness… of quality… but no. Watching inane actors wallow in mediocrity is to be expected. Watching great actors do swan dives into mediocrity is torture. Terrible.
The Apparent Best Film That I Hate In 2003:
I love Clint Eastwood as a director and star and composer. I tend to love most Brian Helgeland films that he’s associated with. I expected to love this film. It is one of the best reviewed films of 2003, yet I found myself growing to hate it with every passing moment in the theater. I love the 3 leads, yet found all their performances forced. I absolutely hated the sub-plot of the cel-phone calls from the silent runaway love of Kevin Bacon’s. I hated how her pointless calls always came as footnotes to apparently hurtful or inopportune scenes for Kevin’s character. I loathed the “convenient evil mastermind” routine that Tim Robbins’ character transformed into while being interrogated then suspected as murdering his friend’s daughter. I hated Sean Penn’s wife’s sudden transformation into Lady Macbeth when it came out of total left field. I don’t buy Sean Penn’s Superman screams of angst and spaz attack with the cops when he learned of his daughter’s death. The only things I liked about the film was Fishburne’s character and that great scene with Eli Wallach as the Liquor Store Owner… and at the mere sight of him, wished that I had seen an entire film set around Eli Wallach being a racist gun toting foul mouthed Liquor Store Owner. This is my least favorite film ever made by Clint Eastwood. And I know that I apparently am the only one that feels so.
Best Vintage Film That I Had Never Seen Till This Year:
LORD JIM (1965)
I have known of the story for many years, but never had read Joseph Conrad’s novel. I had no clue whatsoever about the arc of the story. A brand new 70mm Print of LORD JIM played at the Paramount Theater this year and it absolutely blew me away. I had heard this was a “not-so-good” film, but my father insisted that we go see it, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my life of film going, it is… If there is a 70mm film starring Peter O’Toole playing on a big screen… GO! So I went. Wow. I have no idea if the film is true to Conrad’s novel, I am planning on reading it this coming year. However, I can not express in words just how beautiful this film in 70mm is. Or how beautiful Daliah Lavi is. I have a particular love for all character roles by James Mason and his Gentleman Brown is no exception. He is fantastic as always. Eli Wallach’s shifty-eyed wily General is great. A really great DVD of this movie must happen!
Personal Favorite Film Experience of 2003:
Watching TEENAGE MOTHER happen to the BNAT 5 audience. It was bliss. I have been told that I resembled a mad scientist whose creation was killing all the right people while this film played. As I have stated, this is the single greatest work of cinematic terrorism that I have ever seen. That PARAMOUNT PICTURES ever released it is astonishing. Must be seen with a packed unsuspecting audience to truly get the desired effect. To have picked this film out of the list of the 60 some odd obscure exploitation titles that Tim League had recently acquired… then see it play out the way it did… BLISS.
Best UnFinished Film Seen in 2003:
THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST
Had this been the finished film, I would have placed it at number 3 in my list of the best films of 2003, yet the film is not finished. The effects shots that Mel Gibson told our audience were yet to be included… well, the create an uncertainty in me that I can’t really voice… simply because, I haven’t seen how they play yet. What is so great about this film? Simply, this is the first film featuring Christ, where I didn’t think of him as the son of God, but the son of Mary. I know that is a distinction that is hard to understand, but once you see the film, you’ll get it. This isn’t Jesus being played by someone with “space cadet eyes” – who is constantly in seeming communication with a higher power. Instead, he is a man that is enduring torments you could never possibly imagine undergoing, and with such grace. There is no fury or retribution in his face. There is compassionate suffering instead. Understanding rather than contempt. I’ll discuss further in my review, that is coming, but for now… this work print that Mel showed is truly a remarkable and brilliant film as is… What is coming in February is not that film, but something I haven’t seen. This was a great film.
Best Performance By A Supporting Actress That Will Go UnConsidered For Awards This Year:
Milla Jovovich in DUMMY
Seems most people are in love with Rene Zellweger’s turn in COLD MOUNTAIN, which was out-standing, but for my money, the best supporting actress was Milla Jovovich’s hilariously clueless aspiring singer in DUMMY. I was absolutely dumbstruck by how much I loved her character and her performance in this movie. She has a sub-plot that suddenly I was 100% invested in. In fact, through the rest of the film… the parts she wasn’t in, I wasn’t wishing she was onscreen so much as I was hoping that her practice was going well. You see, she plays the part of Fangora… a crazy best friend of Adrien Brody’s shy Steven. Fangora has a band, a really awful band, that she’s had FOREVER and they’re constantly trying to get a gig. She gets a job to play a wedding, but she has to play Klemzer music. She tries to research the music, learn Yiddish and… the results… what she does… Well, it’s just one of the greatest moments in film this year. I absolutely loved her, her character, her story, her music… just everything about her. She’s like an Edsel in this thing, so terribly wrong that she’s beautiful. DUMMY is also a really great film that just narrowly missed getting on my top ten. Watch out for Greg Pritikin movies, he’s someone to look out for.
Best 3D Scene Seen This Year In A Theater:
Rita Hayworth in MISS SADIE THOMPSON
This was part of the unforgetable one day spent at the amazing 3D Film Festival at the Egyptian in Los Angeles this year. In particular, it was this hot sweaty drunk cabana scene with Rita, Aldo Ray and a group of other Navy Guys as she sings "Blue Pacific Blues" whilst reclining on her bed. Astonishing 3D, in particular... the close up on Rita's face... suddenly it was as if I was hanging upon the brow of the most beautiful Mt Rushmore sized living face of beauty the world had ever seen as a tear formed in the goddess' eye and rolled down that beautiful cheek. It was like I was watching film for the first time and realized how beautiful it could all be. Absolutely amazing.
Most Dreamy Debut Horror Film Director That Wants To Make A Film With The Olsen Twins And A Monkey:
His ability to reenact every moment of the Olsen Twin’s YOU’RE INVITED TO MARY-KATE & ASHLEY’S SLEEPOVER PARTY Video was the scariest thing I’ve ever witnessed. That he can actually do both of their voice and faces… CREEPY!