Maximum Impact: Max's 2003 Favorites
by Max Braden
Published: March 9, 2004
The Best and Overrated of 2003
Now that the Oscars have spoken and I've finally gotten to see almost all of 2003's award-worthy films, I've put together my top ten favorites list for the year. Plus, I thought I'd chime in on why the big winners didn't deserve all that brown-nosing.
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL
- Oscar noms for Depp, Makeup, Sound, and Effects, SAG win for Depp
My favorite movie of the year is also the best all around. Start with solid storytelling by Elliott and Rossio, swift direction, beautiful night, day and underwater cinematography, a rousing score, and the most memorable character of the year played to the hilt by Johnny Depp. Oh, and of course pirates! Kevin Kline won the Best Actor Oscar for his similarly comedic role in "A Fish Called Wanda" and I think Depp deserved it too, savvy?. The DVD also has a lot of great material, the best of which is a hiliarious out-takes segment.
This lovely movie achieved the highest emotional peaks of any movie this year, trumping all romantic comedies in recent memory. Sure, some stories could have been left out, but the stories on the various aspects of love touched audiences in a very honest and human way. The "Beautiful Aurelia..." and airport dash sequences are my favorite of the year. Keira Knightley's wedding video was almost too beautiful to gaze at directly. Great music. Available on DVD 4/27.
SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE - Oscar and SAG noms for Keaton's performance
Credit writer/director Nancy Meyers for dialogue that popped like a two-hour bag of microwave popcorn. Her screenplay should have been nominated. This is Keaton's best work, and deserved of her nominations (and I haven't even liked her in any role since "Annie Hall"). Jack finds the perfect character medium between his acerbic "As Good As It Gets" and schlumpy "About Schmidt" roles. The running gags don't get old, and it keeps you guessing til the end. This movie makes me want to grow old fast. Available on DVD 4/23.
DIRTY PRETTY THINGS - Oscar and WGA noms for Writing
"Amelie"'s Audrey Tautou is featured, but the real treat of this low-key thriller about organ harvesting is the acting by Chiwetel Ejiofor and Sergi López. Ejiofor plays an illegal immigrant in a London hotel run by sleazy Lopez, who you just love to hate. He's an actor to keep an eye on. Most people missed this in the theaters - make sure you catch it on DVD. Available on DVD 4/23.
FINDIND NEMO - Oscar noms for Writing, Music, and Sound, win for Best Animation
Not the best Pixar film to date ("Toy Story" still being my favorite), but this sure provided a lot of laughs and memorable quotes. Ellen DeGeneres steals the show as a natural blue suffering short-term memory. Available on DVD.
SEABISCUIT - SAG nom for Cooper and the cast, WGA nom for writing, DGA nom for directing, Oscar noms for Best Picture, Writing, Cinematography and tech.
Sports movies about the underdog aren't that hard to get right, but "Seabiscuit" goes that extra mile with some great cinematography. It's hard not to be outright awed by the visual and audio power of these magnificent animals. Available on DVD.
MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD
- DGA nom for Directing, Oscar noms for Picture, Directing, tech, win for Cinematography and Sound
Save for the plot detour of picking flowers in the middle, this is a great chase movie, with very satisfying ending. I highly recommend the soundtrack, the best score of the year by far. Available on DVD 4/20.
LOST IN TRANSLATION - WGA win for Writing, SAG nom for Murray, DGA nom for Directing, Oscar noms for Picture, Directing, and Murray, win for Writing
Sofia Coppola's second major film is a rare bittersweet romance. Her writing creating interesting characters, and her directing showed tremendous patience. Were it not for Depp, I'd place Murray as best actor of the year. He manages a perfect balance of funny and sad. Available on DVD.
BIG FISH - Oscar nom for Music
The moral of this story is that it's not exactly what you did your where you did it or who you met in your life that matters, but that you got out and lived it. That's a story always worth telling. Some very funny vinettes. Vividly shot, this movie should have been nominated for cinematography. Available on DVD 4/27
MYSTIC RIVER - Oscar wins for Penn and Robbins, noms for Picture, Director, Writing, and Harden, SAG win for Robbins and nom for Penn
Oh man, what isn't wrong with this movie that everyone says is right? I couldn't tell by the accents if we were in Boston or Chicago; Robbins plays a character so mopey, how'd he ever get married and raise a kid?; Eastwood's score sounds like it was written for a cheap 80s made-for-tv cop show; all the scenes take twice as long as they should; there's a totally irrelevant and mystifying subplot for Kevin Bacon; the actresses' roles are terrible; and just when the story seems it might get interesting - oops, what an amazing coincidence! Okay, Sean Penn was okay, but he was better in 21 Grams, which is what he should have been nominated for instead.
THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING
- Won all 11 Oscar noms for Picture, Directing, Writing, and technical
Okay, yes, it's a huge achievement to bring the books faithfully to the screen with such grandeur, especially when many fantasy movies have failed so miserably in the past. But just because you're faithful to the source material doesn't mean you've made a great movie. When a movie runs over three hours, that's a sign the director hasn't run a tight ship with his story. And the tone! - everyone is so depressed and down in this movie it's like a nightmare version of the Seven Dwarves: Lazy, Whiney, Crabby, Hungry, Weepy, Pessimisty, and Psychodaddy. The last sequence is just adds insult to butt-injury when you realize that if they'd just given a power bar and a hawk to Sam in the first place, he'd have gotten the job done and been back in time for second breakfast.
KILL BILL, VOL. 1
I'd sooner rate this movie NC-17 than "The Passion of the Christ", and NOT because of the buckets of blood spilled in the grand finale. I'm all for Pulp-Fiction level violence, but not scenes that center around children. The anime revenge sequence just went too long and too far in content. Bombastic dialogue (I think I've only heard one other person use the word "beseech" in the last decade, and it was a politician) is only surpassed by directing that tries too hard. An homage shouldn't just recreate the originals, especially when the original style music is already painful to the ear. And what's with the lame black & white fight footage?
THE HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG
- SAG and Oscar noms for Kingsley, Oscar noms for Aghdashloo, and Music
Kingsley is great in his role as a stubborn ex-Iranian general just trying to provide for his family, but he's offset by the terribly acted cop that aids Jennifer Connelly's character. Who, by the way, is a little to beautiful to be as wasted as she's supposed to be, and a little too quick to shack up with this fool when she's supposed to be caring about her future. By the very depressing end, you're left wondering - was all that necessary? in more ways than one.
THE MATRIX RELOADED & REVOLUTIONS
The most anticipated sequels in years turned out to be some of the worst in years. Note to sci-fi moveimakers: once you've established the magic of your world, don't mess with it. This one of the biggest problems with Star Wars Ep. 1 and particularly the third Matrix entry. Neo brings the his mindbending powers into the real world and the story is just blown. Before that though, we had to suffer that pointless rave scene, terrible dialogue and acting, and an out of control escalation of 'bigger is better' action. Some cool new characters though. In fact, these sequels would have been better if they'd just cut Neo out entirely.