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(Revised to a great degree on August 8, 2004. Revised entries added in blue. Position changes in green.)


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2003: The Year In Film

By: Danny Baldwin


     Too many people say "the numbers speak for themselves" far too often, but this time, the phrase is appropriate. In 2002, I had 19 four-bucket-rated films. In 2003, I had 11. The number of three-and-a-half's has significantly decreased as well, even though I hate to put my faith in something so arbitrary as the rating system. The answer as to why this was the case couldn't be simpler. Major studios' "commerciality over quality" method was used much more often than it had been in previous years. I believe there were more sequels last year than any other in the past decade. Despite this, the year's box-office total still decreased, compared to that of 2002. Most moviegoers had to rely on indies to provide them with quality entertainment, and chain theatres began to play more and more of them, as time went on. While I was overjoyed to see this happen, I also felt grave sorrow for Hollywood's many losses. I predict that 2004 will be a great year for epics; even without The Lord of the Rings, pictures like Hidalgo and The Alamo will dominate. However, I still think it'll be a mediocre 365 days for the majority of motion pictures. The lineups at art-houses don't look too hot either, but only time will tell. We can only hope the state of cinema will improve in the near future, even though it's unlikely. And so, let's take a look at the forty-one films that are worth your time, the twenty-four that aren't, and s'more lists and stuff. Let the reading begin! Go Directly to The Top 10 ->.


Most Overrated and Underrated

Overrated: 28 Days Later, All The Real Girls, Elf, Dirty Pretty Things, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Matchstick Men, Once Upon a Time In Mexico, Out of Time, The Rundown, Secondhand Lions, Spellbound, X2: X-Men United.

Underrated: Anything Else, Charlie’s Angels 2: Full Throttle, Hollywood Homicide, How to Deal, The Human Stain, The Life of David Gale, A Mighty Wind, Old School, Tears of the Sun, Veronica Guerin.


The Worst

11. Wrong Turn—Eliza Dushku gets trapped in the woods. Sounds fun, eh? Sexy, scary, and ultimately disposable, right? I wish it was that way. But of course, there are some inbred-cannibals and then some completely conventional plot twists and all that jazz added to the mix. How could I have thought that the filmmakers would’ve left them out? Wrong Turn begins like a classic B-movie, corny, but spooky and tense, thriving upon its “assets” to full capability. However, before long, it becomes a Z-movie. There’s nothing enjoyable about this creation; it’s a vile and pointless exercise in brutal hilarity. Even if I was a fan of the slasher flick, I don’t even think I’d be able to tolerate this one. I’m not sure what exactly it wants to accomplish, but I know that it doesn’t do it. I’ve made a lot of wrong turns in my life, but this one was by far the worst.

10. The Matrix Revolutions—I am, truthfully, surprised that this isn’t classified, by most, as an animated movie. It’s only about special effects; one by one, a machine kills another machine, and so on. Why is this so interesting? It isn’t, but Warner Brothers has seemingly brainwashed society and made everyone think it is. Violence can be a very strong and effective element in film (take Kill Bill: Volume One, for example), but here, it’s brutally beaten and abused. I enjoyed one scene in the entire picture, and it included very little killing. But, somehow, I was able to dodge almost all the bullets that The Matrix Revolutions shot at me, and came out of the theatre in one piece. To think that the first two installments in the franchise were actually good never ceases to stun me.

9. Malibu’s Most Wanted—I clearly was on some kind of heavy drug when I had mistaken Jamie Kennedy for a talented guy, after seeing the first season of his television show. I’m not so sure I can think of a more generic and clichéd topic for a movie than white rappers. The problem with this movie is that we’ve seen everything in it before; there is not a single drop of originality to be found in its contents. Hence, I would be mad if I actually thought it was funny. (I laughed only twice when viewing it). There are some motion pictures that would probably seem much better stoned. This is not one of them. It’s a wretched watch in any state of mind. If there is a better reason for avoiding it, I don’t know what it is.

8. Beyond Borders—Despite starring Angelina Jolie and Clive Owen, this piece of trash was a complete failure, and its terrible box-office numbers did it justice. From the false melodrama to the disgusting and offensive images of a starving Africa, which make for an undercooked and laughable political statement, there is nothing rewarding in the film except, perhaps, the look of the leading actress. In a perfect world, I wouldn't have to stand this stupid kind of teary, preachy, wannabe hardship, because it wouldn't exist. Throw in a hysterical Jolie pose after hearing the click of a land-mine, and you've got yourself an awful flick.

7. Legally Blonde 2: Red, White, and Blonde—UUGGHH! Reese Witherspoon, I thought it would be impossible for you to make me cry! The first Legally Blonde was witty, charming, and downright hysterical, but this mess is inexcusable—a dopey, crude, unfunny and obnoxious creation. It’s not diverting—it’s atrocious. All the bubbly characters have gone to waste in this script; hardly any of it can be redeemed by the cute and loveable leading actress. While watching Red, White, and Blonde, the color pink was the least apparent in my mind. My brain was consumed by black and blue, shriveling in the embarrassment of witnessing this disaster. Did we really need a sequel here? While it may’ve been a good idea money-wise, it makes me want to take back everything I said about the first installment in the franchise. However, I find the idea of a third Blonde strangely appealing. It could, quite possibly, block the nastiness of this insufferable piece of crap from my mind.

6. Kangaroo Jack—I guess I predicted that I’d hate this movie for the right reasons, but for some reason, it’s really gotten to me over the past twelve months. Even though it’s a crude and evil exercise that no kids should be able to see, there’s something disheartening about deeming Kangaroo Jack with a low score, because its intentions are is (somehow) in the right place. The problem with the whole thing is that it isn’t funny; it’s like a wannabe Scooby Doo, which, in itself, makes it dead on arrival. During all of Kangaroo Jack, you notice that the cast actually has some talent, though—talent that’s been wasted on an utterly repulsive project. January releases are usually abysmal and forgettable because of their poor quality, but this one has left a scar on my body. It’s a critic’s worst nightmare, like Chinese Water torture only with knives dropping from their holder, rather than liquid from a bottle.

5. Bruce Almighty—Most critics and audiences hailed this one, and I’m still sitting here in my chair, ranting about its horrendous execution, not understanding it in the least bit. To be completely honest, I laughed quite a lot at the first thirty minutes of material this film had to offer. The idea was witty, the actors are skilled, and there was nothing really wrong with the story itself. But, who wants to teach morals and all that hokey shit in a movie that’s supposed to be naughty, oblivious, and hysterically preposterous? That’s what the multiple writers of Bruce Almighty tried to do, and it is certainly what made me hate their wicked creation. Jennifer Anniston cries, Jennifer Anniston talks about praying, Jennifer Anniston kisses Jim Carey. How in the world is that entertaining? This flick should be darker and more malevolent. Why people bought into its spell, and were conned into liking it, is beyond me. I, really, have no idea. Please. Tell. Me. God. Now.

4. Scary Movie 3—Also known as David Zucker Brutally Beats His Admirers From Airplane!. I laughed once, and giggled twice. The saddest part of it all is that the one scene I actually found to be hysterical involved Jenny McCarthy and Pamela Anderson. The word “bad” will no longer be alluding to the Michael Jackson album, but the sheer torture that this film provoked. It, however, helped me, in realizing how great a comedy The School of Rock was, which I saw the week before. I can at least commend it for that. Despite the tastelessness of it, this one actually managed to pull in over a hundred million dollars of dough at the box office. There will be a Scary Movie 4 released in 2004. Let’s hope that a fifth doesn’t ever see release. However, worse could happen. Take for example: Scary Movie vs. Not Another Teen Movie. Place your bets.

3. Bad Boys II—What happened to the good ‘ol Martin Lawrence? Okay, he was alright in National Security earlier last year, but enough’s enough. When watching this effort, or lack thereof, I was truly amazed. I never was aware that any director, even Michael Bay, could get away with making a movie with less than 1,000 words of dialogue. Not to mention, more than a fifth of those are “fuck.” And, of course, with that much action, and so little talking, I was sure I’d find one of two things to be true by the picture’s end. (1) The dialogue was relatively well-written, albeit in short quantities. (2) The action was entertaining, because there was so much of it. When the credits began to roll, however, I wasn’t confident of either, in the least bit. I was bored for the entire running length (over two hours!), left completely exhausted by the film’s sheer mediocrity.

2. My Boss’s Daughter—Wow! The second David Zucker “film” on my list is also the second-to-worst one of the entire year. Not that watching Ashton Kutcher attempt to be funny isn’t painful enough, this movie, a disgusting and wannabe confection that tastes like something from the month-old bakery, is thoroughly awful. It’s so bad that the audience doesn’t even sympathize for the cast, who are humiliating themselves, but those behind the camera who had to deal with them while shooting. The whole thing is set up like a mediocre sitcom episode, but turns out to be much worse than that. The first scene actually had hooked me in, and allowed me to think it’d be a clichéd, but enjoyable romp. However, the sheer terror of what followed overwhelmed me, and made me want to vomit. There were a few positive reviews for this abominable creation, and I’m pretty confident that those critics were high. Or drunk. Or just like Tara Reid. I’m not sure which one to hope it was.

1. Jeepers Creepers II—It’s always customary that I never write much about my worst pick of the year, because I never seem to want to reflect back on its awfulness, so I will stay true to the tradition, and make this snappy. The first Jeepers Creepers was terrible, opening with a cool ending, and finally copping out and losing sight of what it needed to do. This second installment proves that it could’ve been a lot worse. This is the only movie I rated zero buckets in 2003, and I have good reason for doing so. It’s predictable, poorly acted, poorly scripted, poorly directed, and poorly scored. Not one part of Jeepers Creepers II is scary; I don’t think I would’ve even been frightened by “The Creeper” when I was two years old. There are obviously no redeeming qualities in it, leaving no reason to see it. If there’s any movie that deserves to be damned to hell, it’s this one.

* * *

Dishonorable Mentions (In Alphabetical Order)

Equally filled with stereotypes of the gay man and the straight one, Boat Trip was an unfunny and disastrous wreck, albeit occasionally sweet. The only person in the cast whose work wasn’t unbearable to view was Roselyn Sanchez. The rest of the performers are, well, frankly, terrible.

I have no clue as to what Cabin Fever wanted to be about, but I'm not so sure I want to. It did have some hysterical parts, which were quite counterproductive, but ultimately ended up being a disaster, simply because of the terrible final act. Eli Roth has talent. It's just wasn't put to use here.

Daddy Day Care had me convinced that Eddie Murphy was no longer funny, until his other project that was released later in the year, The Haunted Mansion, came out, and proved that he still had comic talent. This made it clear that the fault of this film was all in the script.

The nasty and vile Dreamcatcher started out fine, and was headed in the right direction, until stupid sci-fi twists ensued. It's amazing that Stephen King crafted "Shit Weasels" with intelligence. It's not so amazing that this movie doesn't craft "Shit Weasels" with intelligence.

Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd was better than the original film, and had me going for quite a while, but it was so clichéd and unoriginal, all my laughter was crediting were the films that came before it, for they were the ones that originally crafted the scenarios and humor featured here.

From Justin to Kelly should be on my bottom ten list, but it’s just so goddamn sweet and innocent in its intentions, it pains me to even include it here. Yeah: bad acting, bad script, and bad direction—but, even though it’s terrible, I don’t want to down it. I could actually probably watch it again. Wait. I wouldn’t go that far.

Film infatuated fools took Gerry as an intelligent study, but I didn't look at it in any other light than a boring one. What's so interesting about two guys who walk around the desert for over an hour and a half and barely say a word? There are no landscapes in sight, so the beautiful cinematography doesn't help any. Gus Van Sant should be ashamed of himself.

Despite having some very funny moments, Johnny English, the spy-spoof starring Rowan Atkinson, was a complete waste of time. Clichéd, uneasy, and conventional in its attempts, it’s a movie to forget.

In my review for The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen I wrote that I would love to forget it until there came a time to make my worst of the year list. Now’s that time and it has escaped the bottom ten, but still has an awful place in my heart. It is, perhaps, the most disappointing movie of the year.

A Man Apart was a pointless exploration of the Mexican drug underworld, with, guess who? VIN DIESEL. Thoroughly awful and chocked full of unnecessary characters, it’s nowhere near a pleasurable experience.

MTV's production, The Real Cancun, celebrated getting drunk, having sex with people who you barely know, and running topless in the wild streets of Mexico on Spring Break. As much as it may say about youth in America, I don't think it meant to be a social statement, and instead endorsed all that it exhibited. Which, if you didn't know already, is very wrong.

What were critics thinking when they gave The Secret Lives of Dentists good reviews? Okay, yeah, it creates a realistic depiction of life in the shoes of a suburban family. The only problem is it doesn’t do anything with this. Wow, isn’t it amazing?

Only the abysmal script of A View From The Top could destroy the talents of Gwyneth Paltrow and Michael Myers. I went in with high expectations, and I admit that, but I had no idea that it would be this bad. The humor fails, the acting is disgraceful, and the dialogue is easily some of the worst of all-time.


The Best

11. Seabiscuit—There have been very few moments in my life when I’ve wanted to give Hollywood a great, big hug, but watching this film was one of them. It may be melodramatic and cheesy at times, but when in full form, it’s a wondrous and emotional experience, packed with triumph and a distinct sense of hope. It’s an amazingly captivating, and heart-stopping experience, almost containing the same qualities as a top-notch action film. When watching this movie, audiences root for the horse that it is named after, as if they had thousands of dollars betting on him. Most of this is because of the strong performances, which are abundant in every corner of the cast-lineup. Jeff Bridges and Chris Cooper are terrific in their supporting roles, providing the scenes they’re in with a feeling of extravagance. But Tobey Maguire is the best in the film. He really comes out of his shell, and perhaps, gives the best breakthrough performance of the year. Seabiscuit starts out slow, but finishes far too fast. Movies that are worth using cheesy lines over are seldom come by, but this is one of them. It hooks us in and never lets go until the last frame of video has played.

10. The Hulk—Woo-hoo! I’ve found a comic book movie that I actually love, and it couldn’t feel any better. This is because of one man—director Ang Lee; he brings such a darkness about the material, an artsy flare to a mainstream film. This flick is more about human psychology than it is action, which is kind of remarkable, in this genre. There is creativity in its context, making for a much more enjoyable and riveting experience than most would expect. This is a motion picture that focuses on character development and a growing story; it actually leads up to something, unlike the rest of its kind (but, by then, the teenage boys had already walked out). However, the plot isn’t all that’s focused on—the special effects are pretty damn great, too. When projected, the screen is consumed by everyone’s favorite angry green giant, which left a grin on most every tasteful viewer’s face. I, really, can’t think of a better time I had at the movies last year.

9. The Quiet American—We’ve had our share of war movies that are about war. Battle after battle, emotions run high; they’re splendidly wonderful, but we know the drill. This movie is technically a 2002 release, but I’ve included it on this list, for it’s completely astounding. It takes us into a Vietnam war, before us Americans were involved. And it’s not really “about” the war, either. The Quiet American is a piece comprised of mood, setting, and romance—a miraculously one-of-a-kind creation. It wasn’t as successful as it should’ve been at the box office, and crappy distribution by Miramax (sorry) basically threw it in the trash. Director Phillip Noyce has made a hypnotically stirring film, because everyone can strangely relate to it. And, it wouldn’t be half the film it is without the shocking ending, which is, like the rest of the film, pure genius.

8. Whale RiderPleasingly, this movie found a market in the U.S., and was one of the most successful indies of the year. Starring a brilliant cast of New Zealander no-names, it is not only one of the best films of the year overall, but should ream to be responsible for the successful careers of many performers. While most critics have bluntly followed the marketing strategy for the film, and called it a supreme “girl power” flick, the meaning is much deeper than that. It’s a study of the tension in genetically-drawn relationships, and the way in which fondness and happiness are able to overcome it. Whale Rider is magically mystical, a treat for the whole family.

7. The Station Agent—Have you ever been mad at the world? Society? One’s taste in humor? Try being sick of it everyday, like Fin, the main character in this movie. He’s a dwarf, hence constantly the butt of peoples jokes, the subject of their malevolent fun. However, before long, he soon stumbles upon to two unlikely friends, who are loyal and true to him, unlike almost everyone else he’s ever met in his life. Along with Fin, these two, named Olivia and Joe, build a genuine relationship that feels insanely real. There’s true beauty in The Station Agent; it’s overflowing in passions for life, forgiveness, and friendship. In it, hardly anything is ever lost, but much is gained—the events which take place here are merely adding to the characters lives, not replacing their past memories. This film is purely honest, one that can be watched excessively. It’s a joy to behold and a miraculous experience. Bravo!

6. Thirteen—“Holy shit” is about all I have to say. While many may call this movie sick and twisted, and put it in the same category as Kids, it’s completely real. From the get-go, I had my doubts that any director would embrace this type of shocking material, but Catherine Hardwicke does so, with flying colors. First penned by Nikki Reid, who has just turned sixteen, it’s a bitingly cold slice-of-life; so pure and well-performed, it will leave a haunting effect on everyone that views it. Speaking as a teenager, I cannot think of how a movie could be more realistic than Thirteen. I witness the people, who take part in the activities that the main characters in this flick do, talking about their wild doings everyday, yet the material still left me in awe. The most admirable thing about this film is that it doesn’t provide any easy answers, and accepts its contents as sad facts. Irreversible was deemed the “toughest film to take” last year by most, but it’s a piece of cake to experience compared to this.

5. The Lizzie McGuire Movie—This addition to my list will definitely ream to be the most controversial, and I couldn't care any less. After five viewings of it, and soon to be six, I can conclude that this is a timeless children's classic, even though it will sadly never be universally hailed by anyone but pre-teen girls. I may not fall into that demographic, but I enjoyed it tremendously, and was even inspired by its true excellence. Director Jim Fall crafts every frame of the movie with care, and the musical numbers in it are both enchanting to the ear-drums and surprisingly metaphorical and meaningful. In the leading role, Hilary Duff couldn't be any more charming; this film represented a turning point in her career, in which she became a tremendous actress, instead of just a perky addition to Hollywood. Now, we just have to convince her to make a masterpiece for adults, now that she's mastered the kids' half of the map. A Cinderella Story shows that she's decided to keep treading the same water for the time being, but nevertheless, I really couldn't be any happier. Duff's greatest work has yet to be seen, despite her already glowing and flowing efforts. The Lizzie McGuire Movie will shock you with its deceptive twist, like a noir for the 'tween set. I took it at something shallower than surface value the first time I saw it, and hated it, but as I looked deeper with chance repeat values, I loved embracing it. Now, it works for me as both simple entertainment, as well as a study of the pubescent mind and its hopes, dreams, and ambitions. To top it all off, the final scene is both touching and serves as a satisfying conclusion for what marked the end of the television show's run. I cannot say enough about this misunderstood, but masterful, intelligent delight of a motion picture. It's quite hysterical, in its own right, as well.

4. Nowhere In Africa—There are very few uplifting films about the Holocaust in existence, but we can add this one to the short list. Even though it isn’t much about the period in time itself, the setting makes for a great backdrop for the character study. This movie is about the evolution of one woman’s attitude towards life, and how the things surrounding her affect her character. She’s escaped persecution in Nazi Germany and fled to Africa with her family, only to be discriminative towards the natives there. However, as time moves on, and she becomes more aware of the happenings in her home country, her feelings change, and she begins to adapt to her new lifestyle. Nowhere in Africa is an amazing kaleidoscopic view of life and the world, showcased in a surreal setting. 

3. Lost In Translation—Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson give the best performances of their careers in Sofia Coppola’s breathtaking, ingenious, and comically subtle masterpiece. The emotions in this film are genuine, and everyone can relate to them. It’s a mature blend of realist and imaginative cinema, highlighted by the serene location and a witty script. Rarely does a film come along that’s as poignant as this one, and we must cherish it simply because of this fact. It represents the utmost complexity in a simplistic setting, divinely engaging in every way, shape, and form. It’s touching and beautiful, and these two characteristics are the most important in every film, no matter what the genre. Their abundance here is simply amazing, and not to be taken for granted.

2. The Magdalene Sisters—Peter Mullan has created an insanely memorable and effective account of the terrible aspects of organized religion. There is an unspeakable horror amidst the chaos of the events featured in this motion picture. It creates an unexplainable realism in being so brutally honest with the audience. When experiencing The Magdalene Sisters, the seats in the movie theatre will appear to be nonexistent, the screen a big, white wall, and the exit-door closed shut, and locked on the other side. One truly feels like they’re experiencing the real deal. I was shaken with fear as the images in it washed over me, my vision clouded in sorrow. Every scene in this film is ravishingly memorable, and will stick with you for a very long time.

1. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King—I gazed at the screen, and was overwhelmed, watching this magnificent creation that words can hardly describe. “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy is a historical landmark; one with such a lasting significance and wondrous approach, it’s hard to deny that these films are some of the greatest of all time. We’ve reached new heights in visuals, power, emotions, and film’s relationship with music in witnessing them. The Return of the King is so bold and engaging, so profound and captivating, it sweeps all its viewers away, immersing them in the pure joy of a fantasy-world; one where the characters strive to do good, and thrive upon this very thing. We share their hopes and dreams with them, wrapping us up in the sheer beauty of the life that they live. When we watch these films, we are transported into the world of Middle-Earth, and there, we experience a triumph that is more true and faithful than anything we will ever experience in reality.

* * *

Honorable Mentions (In Alphabetical Order)

American Splendor, a biopic on the life of pessimistic underground comic-book writer Harvey Pekar was a unique joy to watch, telling the tale of a strangely heroic guy that’s no one’s hero.

Denys Arcand's illusive The Barbarian Invasions celebrated the joys of life, in a rather dismal situation. Human nature is a fantastic focus for this beautiful piece of only dialogue, with only a few crude gags and political cheap-shots holding it back from being great. A foreign gem.

Bend it like Beckham, the movie responsible for the now gigantic career of British actress Kiera Knightley was purely fantastic in every way. Whether it’s your first or fifth time watching it, it’s just as fun.

Blue Car was perhaps the most important film of the year—a terrifying look at sexual predators in the most unlikely of forms. Agnes Bruckner’s performance is a triumph.

The strange, cult likes of Bubba Ho-Tepp were absolutely hilarious, in every sense. Bruce Campell shined as a retired Elvis Presley, who tried to take down an evil, live mummy with a black John F. Kennedy, in possibly the funniest film of the year. The only regret I have is missing the Campell-Q&A, on the second day of its run in my local theatre. That would've been a blast.

Andrew Stanton’s amazing and imaginative creation Finding Nemo introduced us to the simple joy of humor, color, and interest. Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, and Willem Dafoe give spectacular voice-performances.

Errol Morris' provocative The Fog of War shows the horrors of war, but also why we need it, and what it solves. Consisting of Eleven Lessons from former politician and soldier, Robert M. McNamara, it's far better than Bowling For Columbine could've ever wished to be.

Audrey Tatou shred her Amelie-image in He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, playing a woman obsessed with a man, brainwashing herself to believe she’s in a relationship with him, when she’s never even met him. The structure of the thing is effective and one-of-a-kind.

In Holes, a magical treat for the whole family, written for the screen by Louis Sachar, who adapted from his own award winning novel, we are told the tale of the curse that was put upon the men in the Yelnats family by Madame Zeroni. It follows the latest Yelnats boy, who is accused of stealing the shoes of Clyde “Sweet Feet” Livingston, a famous baseball player, right before they were about to be auctioned off at a homeless shelter. He’s sent to Camp Greenlake, where boys must dig a 5’ X 5’ hole everyday. Imaginative and lively.

House of Sand and Fog was a riveting and effective look at conflict and contrasting personalities, albeit contrived. It’s a wonderful fictional effort; one where we hope that the characters’ problems are resolved and even care for them, even if they aren’t great people. This, alone, is absolutely astounding.

The average immigrant story was told in a remarkable way in the masterful In America, with almost every bit of it told through the eyes of two young girls. The fairy-tale-like presence of the Djimon Hounsou character, Mateo, makes the movie.

World-class filmmaker documented an Afghani boy's hardships as he tried to leave the Middle East in In This World. It's more heartfelt than drama, and functions as an amazing study of world events, rather than a political lecture. Fully engrossing and quite a tearjerker, if I do say so, myself.

The Coen Brothers hit big again (in their own hearts) with Intolerable Cruelty, a hysterically witty comedy with two great leads, that no one went to see, unfortunately. It was entertaining, quirky, spicy, and zingy in the way it delivered.

Edward Zwick’s The Last Samurai, which starred Tom Cruise, was a miraculous look at two different cultures. It was as packed with emotion as it was visually impressive, making for a gorgeously moving epic.

The Matrix Reloaded surpassed the quality of the original film and exhibited some truly revolutionary and mind-blowing special-effects. Sadly, it was brutally destroyed six months later by the thoroughly awful third installment in the series, Revolutions.

Monster represented Charlize Theron's chance to shine, and she took it, and it paid off, as everyone knows by now, after the numerous awards she's received. While flawed in its heart, this is a terrifying and disturbing motion picture that will get a visceral, uncompromising reaction out of nearly all sane audience members.

In Mystic River, three childhood friends are reunited after the death of one’s daughter. Despite a few flaws, it is a powerful and riveting journey through death and the process of coping.

The Polish Brothers’ Nortfork transported audiences into a small town that’s being evacuated, because it’s soon to be submerged in the waters of a damn. Following the men leading the evacuation team, its elegant cinematography and creative symbolism play out in a striking fashion.

In Open Range, Kevin Costner’s return to the world of Westerns, the director crafted a beautiful tale of revenge. Robert Duvall put on one of the best supporting performances of the year.

Peter Pan had just the stuff I needed as a five-year-old. It really sucks that it was made nine years late. However, I was still miraculously engaged in the lively action, and blown away by the beautifully enchanting visuals, despite the fact that I’m now fourteen. If this movie doesn’t bring the true kid out in every adult that views it, they’re certainly a hopeless cause.

Raising Victor Vargas managed to be a successful piece of realist cinema, unlike its competitor All the Real Girls, which was boring and dry. It should land the lead Victor Rasuk many more career opportunities in the future.

The experimental The Safety of Objects was a both a study of real suburban life, and quite an imaginary one, by its end. It worked in both ways, and nearly every performance in it is spot on, especially those of Timothy Olyphant and Glenn Close.

The Shape of Things is classic Neil LaBute—a striking, colorful, witty, and twisty negative look into the world of relationships. Paul Rudd and Rachel Weisz give stellar performances, making this a completely terrific film.

The Son was a terrific picture from the Dardennes brothers, full of haunting tension, and moody, metaphorical scenes. The leading performances never gave into the audiences hopes for optimism, and the bleak world in which the characters embodied never shed a tear of melodrama. However, it ends on a note that feels to be surprisingly upbeat, deceptively.

David Cronenberg’s Spider was an interesting little creation about a schizophrenic man in a halfway house. Since Dennis “Spider” Cleg deceives us, the audience, about things, because his disease dements his view of real life, the truthful version of the story showcased in the film isn’t revealed until the very end.

Ken Loach’s indie-sleeper Sweet Sixteen presented an effective political statement, by only allowing audiences to observe. There’s an obvious bent to the screenplay, but it’s not an offensive one, as seen in scumbag left-winger Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine.

Swimming Pool, a sexual and spellbinding thriller from budding director Francois Ozon, was absolutely terrific, and should land young actress Ludivine Sagnier many career opportunities in the future. Every frame of this film had us intrigued and captivated until its end. If this doesn’t make a great for a great movie-going experience, it’s time to ask ourselves what we really want out of a film.

The third installment in the Terminator series was an action-packed extravaganza and the perfect set-up for a fourth film in the series. As long as the flicks don’t become tired, I don’t want to see the franchise end anytime soon, with Arnold or without.

Marcus Nispel’s insane remake of Tobe Hoober’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre transported audiences back into the world of classic, old-fashioned horror. It both scared the living daylights out of me and utilized an engaging style. Clichés and conventions aside, it was one hell of a ride.

* * *

Notable Films I Missed: Ararat, Mambo Italiano, My Life Without Me, Party Monster, Stevie, Sylvia.


Best Performances

Listed in preferential order.

Best Actors (6): Rawiri Paratene in Whale Rider; Bill Murray in Lost in Translation; Paul Giamatti in American Splendor; Ben Kingsley in House of Sand and Fog; Jack Black in The School of Rock; Peter Dinklage in The Station Agent.

Best Actresses (8): Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation and Girl With A Pearl Earring; Evan Rachel Wood in Thirteen; Jennifer Connelly in House of Sand and Fog and The Hulk; Nora Jane Noone in The Magdalene Sisters; Keisha Castle-Hughes in Whale Rider; Hilary Duff in The Lizzie McGuire Movie, Nicole Kidman in Cold Mountain and The Human Stain; Christina Ricci in Anything Else.

Best Supporting Actors (5): Robert Duvall in Open Range; Djimon Hounsou in In America; Brendon Gleeson in 28 Days Later; John Voight in Holes; Alec Baldwin in The Cooler.

Best Supporting Actresses (5): Ludivine Sagnier in Swimming Pool and Peter Pan; Keira Knightley in Bend it like Beckham, Love Actually, and Pirates of the Caribbean; Hope Davis in American Splendor; Allison Lohman in Matchstick Men and Big Fish; Patricia Clarkson in The Station Agent.



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