best film: With Kill Bill married to the second half of the film, which came out in 2004, I think it’s pretty easy to declare Lost in Translation the best singular film of 2003. The only other film, or part of a film, that is close, is the totality of Peter Jackson’s 10+ hour LOTR but not only is it broken out over three years (2001-2003), but 2003 is the weakest entry of the three. Coppola’s work in lost in translation her most perfectly realized – a meditation on celebrity and sequestration. It has her best photography to date, a climax fit for annals cinema history, and two superb lead performances.

 most underrated:  Mystic River isn’t one of the 11 films from 2003 already on the TSPDT top 1000 so that’s a good place to start. It also isn’t one of Eastwood’s 4 best films according to the list – so both of these are wrong. It’s Eastwood’s first film in his new mode and the start of a renaissance in filmmaking from 2003-08 (at age 73 in 2003) that is already getting unduly underrated and underappreciated. He made 6 archiveable films during this stretch of 6 years and Mystic River is right there with Million Dollar Baby as the best). The overhead shot when Penn finds out the bad news, the silent cues on the street during the parade, and then the dialogue and mirror scene between Laura Linney and Penn at the film’s conclusion are all reasons I think it warrants the distinction of being a masterpiece.

 most overrated: Von Trier’s Dogville is near the masterpiece level on TSPDT (#381) which makes it the #1 fiction film of the year. The film has been growing on me over the years but I’m just not here yet. I admire the dedication to the aesthetic and the boldness of the choices he makes but I just wasn’t moved by the beauty of this film nearly as much as breaking the waves and dancer in the dark. Perhaps I’ll be closer to this with another study but for now I’m quite a ways apart.

gem I want to spotlight: My ranking below in the top 10 of Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King has to do with some of my problems with that film specifically. I think the first, Fellowship in 2001, is the strongest of the three but I haven’t had a chance to discuss and praise the film yet so I wanted to here. Like Kill Bill, I evaluate and rate this film as one 10+ hour film and not three separate. The top 10, which takes up three separate years, doesn’t really work. This is a 10 hour masterpiece warrants a spot amongst the very greatest of films from the 00’s decade. Jackson’s world has been so beautifully built. The narrative is nearly peerless, the establishing shots, the mise-en-scene transports you. It’s stunning.

 trends and notables:  2003 isn’t an overly amazing year in comparison with how this decade started. We’re ending LOTR and starting Kill Bill so those are some event pictures for cinephiles for sure in 2003. Sofia, capitalized on her talents here with her sophomore effort to make a masterpiece (to date clearly her strongest work) and we have the beginning of the Eastwood revival. They had films that found their way into the archives (barely) but it’s a down year for the coen brothers (intolerable cruelty) and Linklater (school of rock). Saraband would be the last archiveable film for Ingmar Bergman and ditto for the dreamers from Bertolucci. Sadly (and a career bummer for Jude Law) Anthony Minghella would also make his last archiveable film with cold mountain. For firsts it’s a light year but it’s great to have Michelle Williams in the archives for the first time. It’s clear from the very beginning (here with the station agent) that she is an unbelievably talented actress.

best performance male:  Bill Murray gives the best performance of the year in Lost in Translation. It’s tough to call this his career-defining work because he’s so damn good in Groundhog’s Day but there’s nothing that surpasses his work here. It’d be easy to call Murray the best performer of the year if it wasn’t for Sean Penn standing on his head in two of the best four films of the year (Mystic River and 21 Grams). I think their accomplishment here in 2003 is equal. Behind them we have Min-sik Choi for his work in Chan-wook Park’s Oldboy, Russell Crowe for his work in Master and Commander and, finally, Viggo Mortensen for more his collective work in the LOTR trilogy.

best performance female:. This category is loaded here in 2003. I think all 5 could be argued to be the very best but forced to choose I’ll go with Scarlett’s work in Lost in Translation. Murray’s is the louder role but Johansson is the film’s center and it’s an internalized performance that would make Antonioni proud. Nicole Kidman’s work in Dogville definitely deserves praise as does Uma Thurman in Kill Bill. Naomi Watts proves that Mulholland Drive in 2001 was no fluke here with her second mention here in three years. Lastly, though the film doesn’t compare to the other four, I have to mention Charlize Theron’s transformation in Monster. A strong performance and five strong mentions here.

top 10

  1. Lost in Translation
  2. Kill Bill
  3. Mystic River
  4. 21 Grams
  5. Master and Commander
  6. Elephant
  7. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring
  8. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
  9. Old Boy
  10. Crimson Gold

 

Archives, Directors, and Grades

21 Grams- Iñárritu MS
All the Real Girls- Gordon Green R
American Splendor HR
Angels in America- M. Nichols R
Bad Santa R
Best of Youth R
Café Lumiere- Hou-Housin R
Coffee and Cigarettes- Jarmusch R
Cold Mountain- Minghella R
Crimson Gold- Panachi HR
Dogville- Von Trier R
Elephant- Van Sant HR
Finding Nemo R/HR
Girl With a Pearl Earring R
Good Bye Dragon Inn- Tsai R
House of Sand and Fog R
In America- Sheridan R
Intolerable Cruelty- Coen R
Kill Bill- Tarantino MP
Lost in Translation- S. Coppola MP
Maria Full of Grace R
Master and Commander: Far Side of the World- Weir MS
Matchstick Men- R. Scott R
Memories of Murder- Bong R
Monster R
Mystic River- Eastwood MP
Old Boy- Chan-wook Park HR
Owning Mahoney R
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl R
Saraband- Bergman R
School of Rock- Linklater R
Seabiscuit R
Shattered Glass R
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring- Ki-duk Kim HR
The Barbarian Invasions
The Cooler R
The Dreamers- Bertolucci R
The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King- P. Jackson MP
The Return- Zvyagintsev HR
The Secret Lives of Dentists- Rudolph R
The Station Agent-McCarthy HR
The Triplets of Bellville R
Thirteen R
Time of the Wolf- Hanake R
Tokyo Godfathers- Kon R

 

*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives