Low Resolution celebrates the end of the Double-Ohs Decade with a year-by-year retrospective of the movies I watched and (sometimes) loved. All due apologies to Nick Davis and Nathaniel Rogers for co-opting portions of their own decade-end features. I crib with love!
[Previously: 2000; 2001; 2002]
If you've noticed dark thunderclouds above your head, or the lights flickering, or a deep bellowing from beneath the floorboards, you should know it's because we're talking about 2003, that vaunted Bad Year for movies. Again, like with 2000, this perception is partly due to the Oscarbait movies that were supposed to be good but weren't (hello, House of Sand and Fog, The Last Samurai, and The Human Stain). Big-name filmmakers were lining up to underwhelm, from Ron Howard with The Missing to Tim Burton with Big Fish, to, most glaringly, Anthony Minghella with Cold Mountain, one of many assumed Oscar frontrunners to fizzle out this decade.
The secret saving grace for 2003 were the genre offerings, which boasted my favorite superhero movie (X2: X-Men United), horror movie (28 Days Later), documentary (The Fog of War), and animated movie (Finding Nemo) of the decade. Plus a good handful of diamonds in the rough. Maybe I'm always glass-half-full with these things. I'll admit the year wasn't rock-solid with classics or anything -- I really liked The Station Agent, but that's not a #4 movie in any other year. And while there was some seeeerious crap -- like, Cold Creek Manor type crap -- those diamonds in the rough (see below) have really made me look back on this year with a fondness.
Click below for the best movies of 2003...
The Year in Matt Damon: Matt's only 2003 credit is the regrettable conjoined-twins comedy Stuck on You. So...a misstep.
The Year in Tilda Swinton: Okay, weird: I didn't see either of her '03 offerings, Young Adam or The Statement. Neither set the world on fire, but between this and Matt Damon's crappy year, maybe there's something to this 2003: Año del Diablo thing after all.
Best Theater Experience:
Here's the thing we maybe don't remember: Nobody thought Pirates of the Caribbean was going to be anything but crap and a career-killing choice for Johnny Depp. Even after the (rather excellent) trailer debuted, people weren't ready to believe a movie based on the worst ride at Disney World could be good. I had jumped onboard at the trailer, and watching a packed theater absolutely fall in love with a movie, to the point where they were hopping out the doors afterwards, still buzzing, was a sight to see.
My Top 10
1. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
2. Kill Bill, Vol. 1
3. Lost in Translation
4. The Station Agent
5. In America
6. Finding Nemo
7. The Fog of War
8. American Splendor
9. 28 Days Later
10. X2: X-Men United
Here's the thing with my number-one movie: I could not have been happier with the way it turned out. It all seemed so right -- Team Jackson didn't make a wrong step, the big battles felt big, the big losses hit home, even the multiple endings sat just fine with me (that was a lot of story that needed concluding). There would not be one thing in that whole movie I would have done differently. I thought then that it was the best of the three Rings movies and the best of 2003. My feelings about the movie have not changed. And yet, it's the only movie of those three that I haven't watched again. I hardly ever find myself thinking about it when I think fondly on the trilogy, and if you asked me to pick one movie from this top 10 to watch right now, it would sit well behind most of the others. (Now that I mention it, I do have a hankering for The Fog of War.) Does this mean that my list is due some re-shuffling? Or should that extreme and enduring sense of satisfaction and perfect completion be allowed to stand?
Danny Boyle - 28 Days Later
Sofia Coppola - Lost in Translation
Peter Jackson - LotR: Return of the King
Jim Sheridan - In America
Quentin Tarantino - Kill Bill, Vol. 1
Johnny Depp - Pirates of the Caribbean
Paul Giamatti - American Splendor
Ben Kingsley - House of Sand and Fog
Bill Murray - Lost in Translation
Sean Penn - Mystic River
Scarlett Johansson - Lost in Translation
Charlize Theron - Monster
Uma Thurman - Kill Bill, Vol. 1
Naomi Watts - 21 Grams
Evan Rachel Wood - Thirteen
Best Supporting Actor
Sean Astin - LotR: Return of the King
Paul Bettany - Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
Benicio Del Toro - 21 Grams
Peter Sarsgaard - Shattered Glass
Ken Watanabe - The Last Samurai
Best Supporting Actress
Shoreh Aghdashloo - House of Sand and Fog
Patricia Clarkson - The Station Agent
Hope Davis - American Splendor
Holly Hunter - Thirteen
Emma Thompson - Love, Actually
Ten Films That Have Endured
A Mighty Wind
Down with Love
Capturing the Friedmans
School of Rock
The Matrix: Reloaded
See what I mean about diamonds in the rough, though? For one thing, you've got arguably Gus Van Sant's two best movies of the decade -- depending on how you feel about Milk. Watching Gerry show up on so many Best of Decade lists has the feeling of critics all unveiling a long-dormant enthusiasm for the first time. Back in '03, that movie wasn't even getting love from the snootier critics. The movie that did get that love was Elephant, which I liked a bit better. It left me feeling fantastically unsettled.
Shattered Glass is a movie that never feels like it's breaking (so to speak) any new ground, but it's perfectly made and super rewatchable (and don't tell anybody, but Hayden Christensen is actually really good). And speaking of rewatchable, I've gone back to School of Rock and Love, Actually at least once a year since they debuted.
I hope you're not expecting me to grovel for approval about loving Camp either. For all its flaws, this movie was everything people love about Glee without any of the crappy pregnancy storylines. Plus, embarrassing as this confession may be, it was the first time I'd heard any real Sondheim. As for The Matrix: Reloaded, I'm including it purely for that freeway chase scene, which was the most awesome thing within the most disappointing thing all year.
Five Films I Should See Again
The Shape of Things
City of God
I'd love to see what Cold Mountain feels like without the weight of all those Oscar expectations. And along those same lines, I worry that I was watching Monster to evaluate the Charlize Theron performance rather than take in the film itself. I didn't love City of God like everybody else seemed to -- it felt like it really devolved into a conventional crime story and relied on the shock of the age of the characters and the Brazilian setting to make it distinctive. I really hated Cabin Fever, but I'm having a hard time remembering why, besides the fact that it wasn't scary. And while I was fairly enamored with The Shape of Things (and particularly Rachel Weisz) at the time, nobody backed me up on that, and now I'm wondering what I saw in it.