And Then There Were Ten
Compiling my list of the ten best movies of 2003 was not an easy task. I couldn't possibly see every film released during the year, and I'm certain I missed a few that deserve recognition. Also, I agonized longer than usual over my choices for the "Best" and "Second Best" Movie of the Year -- until I realized the two under consideration were almost the same film. Both Big Fish and Secondhand Lions deal with storytelling and how it can help one generation understand another. Each of these movies fascinated me by the way they interspersed fantasy segments with real life in a series of creative and entertaining sequences. How could I choose between them?
I'm not poud of it, but I decided to use alphabetical order in determining my Number One film -- which reminds me how tenuous and personal these end-of-year lists are -- even for professional critics. After additional soul searching, here are the movies I consider the ten best of 2003:
1. Big Fish. Wonderful stories come to life with humor and amazing special effects in Tim Burton's enchanting combination of fantasy and reality. Memorable performances by Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Helena Bonham Carter, Jessica Lange and Billy Crudup add to the high quality of this special film.
2. Secondhand Lions. In the most heartwarming drama of the year, a shy young boy blossoms under the care of two eccentric uncles. Schmaltzy? You betcha. But in the hands of three exceptional actors like Robert Duvall, Michael Caine and Haley Joel Osment, this movie worked its magic on me.
3. Girl with a Pearl Earring. Featuring an intense Colin Firth as Johannes Vermeer and lovely Scarlett Johansson as the model for one of the painter's most famous masterpieces, this beautiful film emerges as a work of true cinematic art. Eduardo Serra's astonishing cinematography gives the movie the look of a painting come to life.
4. School of Rock. This hilarious comedy surprised me because of its important message concerning what good teaching is all about. Jack Black's energetic performance and the film's never-a-dull-moment pace held my interest from beginning to end.
5. Seabiscuit. What's not to like? We love to cheer for underdogs, and this film offers us four of them -- a damaged racehorse and the three men who turned him into a champion, thereby giving an entire nation something to root for during the Great Depression. I worried about how Laura Hillenbrand's brilliant book would transfer to the big screen. Thanks to filmmaker Gary Ross, my worrying turned out to be a waste of time.
6. Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Director Peter Jackson deserves kudos from movie fans everywhere for his remarkable work on the last part of this amazing trilogy. It's a spectacular cinematic treat, one with no equal in terms of production design and special effects.
7. Love Actually. Romance, laughter and tears blend seamlessly in this fast-paced film about the agony and ecstasy of love as enacted by an impressive ensemble cast including Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Colin Firth, Laura Linney and Alan Rickman. This romantic comedy was the most joyful movie of the year for me.
8. Veronica Guerin. Here's a biopic that's tough to watch but definitely worth the effort. Chameleon Cate Blanchett is better than ever as the brash Irish journalist who exposed drug lords and gangsters without regard to her own safety.
9. Once Upon a Time in Mexico. Antonio Banderas and Johnny Depp appear at their watchable best in this wild action flick, another example of exciting filmmaking from Robert Rodriguez. And what terrific music! "Siente Mi Amor," a beautiful ballad sung by Salma Hayek during the closing credits, still haunts me.
10. The Secret Lives of Dentists. Combining elements of Eyes Wide Shut and A Beautiful Mind, this edgy drama offers a riveting depiction of how jealousy, everyday problems and lack of communication can derail married couples. Campbell Scott and Hope Davis deliver two of the finest performances of the year as the frustrated husband and wife.
Honorable Mention (in alphabetical order): American Splendor, City of God, Dark Blue, Dirty Pretty Things, Down with Love, Elf, Lost in La Mancha, Master and Commander, A Mighty Wind, Open Range, Pirates of the Caribbean, Respiro, Shanghai Knights, Swimming Pool, Together, Whale Rider.
Dishonorable Mention: because it's also traditional for critics to name the worst movies of the year, here are my picks for that dubious honor (again in alphabetical order):
Bad Santa. Ranks high (with "rank" emphasized) on my 2003 naughty list.
Daredevil. Ben Affleck as a super hero -- need I say more?
Darkness Falls. About as scary as lunch with Clay Aiken.
Gothika. Forced me into deeper therapy for my Penelope Cruz problem.
How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days. Should've been titled How To Lose My Interest in 10 Minutes.
The Human Stain. More stained than human.
In the Cut. Not enough cutting; some scenes remain.
Marci X. My husband still denies we've seen this one.
Tears of the Sun. "Let there be light," I begged while trying to see what was going on in this darkly filmed drama.
Uptown Girls. What's next -- Downtown Girls? Oh, the humanity!
(Check out my 2002 list of Best and Worst Movies.)