Sorry to potentially interrupt the INK talk, but I felt inspired to write this today and get it posted while Brandon is home. Please feel free to ignore it for the time being or forever.
This 2003 top 10 list is a long time coming. I think the last list I posted was back in April. I guess I got sidetracked by the 30s, 40s, and 50s lists. Hard to care about the 2000s when you are wrapped up in the golden age. Anyway, here's my favorite films of 2003 (I haven't seen that many, so bare with me):
10. Dirty Pretty Things (Frears)
A really solid thriller. It works well because it focuses on a small community of immigrants in modern London and gives us ample reason to care about each of them. It’s economical, it’s straightforward, it’s interesting–well written, well directed, well acted, all that. I really like the idea of making heroes out of those in the shadows, and honestly is there any group more in the shadows then modern immigrants displaced in increasingly nationalistic and xenophobic Western climates?
9. A Mighty Wind (Guest)
I’ll readily admit to being a sucker for this and BEST IN SHOW. I think they are hilarious. Fred Willard and Eugene Levy steal the show with some deft improv (Hey, wha happened???), but the songs are great and fun too. This is one of those comedies, like a Wes Anderson film, that you either find funny or you don’t at all, like it or hate it. I’m firmly in the “it’s funny and I like it” camp.
8. Elephant (van Sant)
I don’t know why, but it seems like it would be easy to pick on someone for calling something “haunting.” Maybe because it sounds clichéd. Oh well, “haunting” is the requisite adjective, I think, to describe the feeling one gets from this film, so I’ll use it and let my triteness be damned. But seriously, van Sant’s insistence on showcasing the minutia and quiter moments of this doomed high school make the film absolutely haunting. The quiet moments linger with you afterward–a kiss on the cheek, a girl pausing to look up into the sky, a boy walking comfortably through the halls of an environment he knows well and trusts. As do the film’s final horrific moments–honestly, who can forget that last shot? It shakes one to the bone. To say I vastly prefer this film to Lyne Ramsey’s soulless WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN is an understatement and goes without saying. ELEPHANT is an often lovely and serene film, but one that is ultimately horrifying. It achieves, I believe, what it sets out to accomplish.
7. Oldboy (Park)
I had no idea how popular or perhaps even overrated this film was until I saw it for the first time a few years ago and did some reading up on it. I will readily and shamefully plead ignorance about a lot of the Asian cinema of aughts. I haven’t really sought it out. I’ve only seen some of the giant ones that lead to bad English dubbing and proposed remakes, such as this. Anyway, all hype aside, I was really surprised by this film when I first saw it. Didn’t see the twist coming at all, didn’t expect it to be that powerful or even beautiful. But to me, it is both. One will see Shakespeare and Sophocles thrown around this film, and certainly it plays off the archetypes and drama of those titans. It’s actually just a really hard-hitting revenge flick with some beautiful cinematography and an expressive and wistful score. And as a revenge flick, it absolutely works. The shot in the elevator (pun intended) is one of the best expressions of the hollowness of vengeance that you could see in a film. After all this elaborate plotting, subterfuge, and violence, where has vengeance gotten either man? Also, I should note that there are some badass fight scenes in it that I couldn’t resist (à la infamous hammer fight pan). I’m a sucker for violence, vengeance, cinematography, and music.
6. Big Fish (Burton)
Tim Burton’s best film of the last decade. I’ve remained a great admirer of this film since I saw it theaters. I even own a copy of it and will watch it from time to time because I find it so charming, entertaining, and endearing. It’s a great tall tale. I think all the actors are superb in their respective roles and Burton supplies the right amount of visual flair, humor, sweetness, and adventure to make it all so enjoyable and touching. The ending gets me every time...every time.
5. Dogville (von Trier)
Speaking of great revenge flicks, this is one of the funniest you’ll ever see. I’ve expressed my love for this film on several occasions and maintain it still. A biblical fable? A political allegory? Could be both as there are definite elements of either one. I actually think it’s a hilarious black comedy, testing the limits of our humor. It’s overlong, inflated, mean-spirited, anti-American-and it’s totally awesome! It builds up antipathy for 2 hours and 40 minutes, only to deliver one of the best punchlines of the decade. The movie to me is a great joke, but is perhaps dangerous in the wrong hands. A mean and cynical message, but one that is amplified for the sake of satire.
4. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Jackson)
Get used to the idea of seeing this trilogy on my lists already, John. Sorry buddy, but I’m a fan. I’ve never read the books, have only a modicum of interest in fantasy (even less in Medieval-style fantasy), but I loved these movies unabashedly (they single-handedly paved the way for my GAME OF THRONES love too). I can only look at them through a cinematic lens and to me they are great, great, great. I prefer the first two installments to this film (they are more efficient perhaps?), but still have intense love and admiration for the final chapter.
3. Saraband (Bergman)
My favorite director’s swan song. It would be a stretch to put this at number one despite my love for it and Bergman. The two films above it had a bigger impact on me. Still, SARABAND represents Bergman doing what he does best–a small character drama filled with themes of doubt, sadness, desire, and the bittersweetness of passing time. Bergman was a dramatist before he was a filmmaker and SARABAND is written, shot, and staged like a play, bringing his career full circle. It’s a great, emotionally involving and melancholy film. A true delight for Bergman fans.
2. 28 Days Later (Boyle)
Permit me to remove all preening intellectual arguments and just call this film fucking awesome. It blew me away when I saw it in theaters (with the teacher who nurtured my interest in film). It still excites and thrills me. Incredible opening sequence, great characters who we love, real scares, real beauty; the film is loaded with some of the most intense and anxiety-drenched moments I’ve ever seen. Some disparage the film’s finale at the mansion. I dig it. The zombies become the least of our characters worries and some serious vengeance is in order. It’s rad. And, in all honesty, I’m glad they stuck with the happy ending because I’m a sap. This film rules.
1. The Son (Dardenne Brothers)
I’m wholly aware that I might be overestimating this film just because I’ve seen it the most recently. But, I really do feel that it deserves the top spot on this list. Simply put, it stunned me. I highly recommend that everyone see it because it’s just miraculous. John, I know you don’t want to watch a Dardenne Brothers film post-THE WRESTLER, but this one is really worth seeing and is right up your alley. The cinema verite camerawork is off-putting at first, but then you start to understand there is method to the madness, and it becomes essential. I don’t want to give anything away about this film for fear that it would ruin what is a truly unsettling and ultimately astonishing experience. The only thing I will provide is a great quote by Ed Gonzalez about the film. It’ll tell you why I love it so much: “Our willingness to submit to the film's grueling element of fear is then perhaps a test of our spiritual skepticism. Despite the film's overwhelming bleakness, its Bressonian rapture is unmistakable.” (It’s availabe on NWI, for those who are interested.)
Honorable: Elf (Favreau), Kill Bill Vol. 1 (Tarantino), Lost In Translation (Coppola), Cabin Fever (Roth)
2002 list should be up sometime next year.