by Russ Simmons, Liz Sweeney and Jason Aaron
Well, Tolkien junkies can finally breathe a sigh of relief. New Zealander Peter Jackson's adaptation of the Lord of the Rings trilogy is complete and, in the opinion of most, quite satisfying. Now that The Return of the King has proved to be box-office gold, it is only a matter of time before we'll find out if any of that gold can finally be gilded onto an Oscar.
In terms of domestic ticket sales, a simple story of a lost guppy conquered all in 2003. Finding Nemo not only proved to be a money machine for Disney and Pixar, but it also became the #1 DVD of all time. Not bad for a clownfish.
Solid foreign language films were few and far between this year, but there were many exceptional independents filling the art houses. The results of a misguided screener ban may have hurt the chances for these small, independently produced films to receive crucial award nominations. (The Motion Picture Association of America's ban on sending videos to critics was overturned, but it could be too late to help.)
The biggest thing that Hollywood gave us was The Terminator
as governor of California. Still, there were some memorable movies released
over the past year and some clunkers that gave us headaches. Here are
our picks for the best and worst of 2003.
Young Keisha Castle-Hughes was terrific as Paikea, the rightful heir to become the tribal chief. Trouble is, no female had ever held that post, so Paikea's grandfather was having none of it. As the elder searched the tribe for a young male to train for the lofty post, Paikea worked hard to prove her own worthiness.
Whale Rider was the rare "art" film that you could take the family to. The winner of the audience awards at the Sundance and Toronto Film Festivals, Whale Rider was released too early and was a victim of the awards screener ban. Therefore, it won't garner much attention at Oscar time.
Lord of the Rings: The Return
of the King
Capturing the Friedmans
House of Sand and Fog
In the Cut
House of 1000 Corpses
House of Sand and Fog
Behrani (Kingsley) is an Iranian immigrant who buys a house at auction in the attempt to bring his family out of poverty. He unwittingly pits himself against the house's former owner, Kathy (Connelly), who is suffering from severe depression on the heels of a failed marriage. Lester (Ron Eldard) is a beat cop burdened both with the task of evicting Kathy from the house and the weight of his own passionless marriage.
This is a haunting and beautifully crafted story with rare authenticity and top rate performances.
Pai's life begins with tragedy when her twin brother and mother die, leaving her tribe without a chief. However, girls are not considered to be suitable leaders. Her ability to overlook the intractability of her elders and remain focused on her purpose and the needs of her people is inspiring and provides a moving tribute to Maori cultural tradition. This is a story that also crosses generations to become the best family movie this year.
Lord of the Rings: The Return
of the King
As the Shadow of Mordor spreads across the land and the Dark Armies are massing, the threat centers on Gondor, the kingdom of men. Frodo and Sam, aided by the increasingly psychotic Gollum, draw closer to Mount Doom, while the divided Fellowship faces separate perils that culminate in the final great battle at Minas Tirith.
As in the book series, the ending to the saga is bittersweet, both in content and in context. Many will wish the curtain had yet to close.
Pieces of April
Dual story lines follow her family's comical road trip to April's grungy Lower East Side apartment and April's equally kooky meal preparations. The subtext relates the relationship between mother and daughter, although they are rarely in the same frame together. April's mother, the ironically named Joy (Patricia Clarkson at her best), is dying of cancer and loves nothing better than tormenting her family with deathbed humor.
"We all have to give a lot thought...," she says while the family awaits a profound thought about her mortality, "to how we are going to hide the food we don't eat." Cinema verite combined with caustic humor delivers a holiday classic.
The collision of Roy's personal and criminal lives is at the crux of this drama and Cage's performance is spot on. His portrayal of OCD is comical without slipping into ridicule, and the transformation that occurs through his relationship with his daughter is compassionate and real. This multi-layered piece contains an emotional depth uncommon to the con-artist milieu.
Runners Up: Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Spellbound, Seabiscuit, Nowhere in Africa and Bend It Like Beckham
Eric Rivers (Mike Vogel) aspires to become a professional skateboarder and encourages his buddies to join him on a road trip in order to get noticed on the summer tour. Crazy hijinks ensue including scatological adventures with beans, throwing firecrackers into moving cars and a party at which the dancing gives the film's title new significance.
One can hope the sequel has them all in traction.
Gods and Generals
Final Destination 2
Gigli (Ben Affleck) is supposedly a "vicious fuckin' mad dog" hitman. Teamed with an equally implausible female counterpart (Lopez) to watch over a kidnapping victim, Gigli sets his sights on more personal goals. However, while Rick may be built like a brick, it turns out she's actually a lesbian with a suicidal psycho-stalker in tow. An asinine lesbian conversion is the petard upon which the superfluous crime narrative is hoist.
Runners Down: Wrong Turn, Cradle 2 the Grave, Timeline, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle and Beyond Borders
The Best DVDs of 2003:
Of 2003's various Matrix-inspired projects, only The Animatrix was able to salvage the franchise's sense of excitement and originality. This collection of animated short films was meant to merely wet the appetite of rabid Matrix fans and hold them over between sequels. It did far more than that. The Animatrix features an awesome array of creative talent such as Yoshiaki Kawajiri (writer/director of the Japanese anime classic Ninja Scroll), Andy Jones (director of the computer-generated Final Fantasy film) and Peter Chung (creator of MTV's "Aeon Flu").
Animator Kouji Morimoto's simple yet spectacular 10-minute short film Beyond is substantially more entertaining than all 267 combined minutes of The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. With their bloated, stale sequels, the writing/directing team of the Wachowski brothers failed to live up to the promise of their own vision. Luckily, The Animatrix was around to assure viewers that the world of The Matrix is still fertile ground for imaginative stories.
Lord of the Rings: The Two
Towers (Extended Edition)
On the other, it makes for great DVDs. In addition to the 43 minutes of new footage, this four-disc set of The Two Towers offers four commentary tracks by the cast and crew and two whole discs of documentaries and design galleries.
By now, there's no question that the Lord of the Rings is the most epic and awe-inspiring trilogy ever seen on the big screen, and now it also seems predetermined that the DVD editions will carve out their own place in movie history. I suppose I might as well go ahead and reserve a slot on next year's Best Of list for The Return of the King Extended Edition.
The highest grossing film in the U.S. this year was a little movie called Finding Nemo, produced by the same wizards at Pixar who gave the world Toy Story and Monsters, Inc. Finding Nemo was not only the year's biggest moneymaker, it was also one of the best overall films, and thus deserved a lavish DVD treatment. It sure got it.
Like most of Pixar's DVDs, this one features hours of worthwhile bonus features, including a great documentary, educational guides to underwater life, a virtual aquarium feature that turns your TV into a fishbowl and a cool visual commentary that mixes deleted scenes and behind-the-scenes clips with the actual film. It's hard to find any fault with this undersea odyssey, which is sure to go down as Pixar's finest effort.
Homicide: Life on the Street
(Seasons 1 and 2)
This emotionally intense, visual groundbreaking cult hit replaced the stereotypical car chases and shoot outs of past cop shows with riveting interrogation scenes and painstaking character development. This DVD collection of Homicide's first two seasons features 13 episodes, including the Emmy-winning "Three Men and Adena," which one could argue is among the very finest hours ever broadcast on television. If you've never witnessed the fiery, tortured and tenacious Detective Frank Pembleton (as brought to life magnificently by actor Andre Braugher) at work in The Box, screaming, sweet talking and magically convincing a murder suspect to sign his life away, then you haven't seen TV at its finest.
West Side Story (Special
Edition Collector's Set DVD)
Though the twirling, finger-snapping gang members might seem a little more campy than they did in 1961 when this updated version of Romeo and Juliet took home the Oscar for Best Picture, you can't deny the timeless power of its score, the skill of the performances (even after 40 years, Rita Moreno still sizzles) or the enduring beauty of star Natalie Wood.
Other Top Choices: The Adventures of Indiana Jones, Straw Dogs (Criterion Collection), The Who: The Kids Are Alright (Special Edition), Once Upon A Time In The West and Bowling for Columbine
The Mission (Two-Disc
I'd like to meet the ignoramus who decided that a 17-year-old BBC documentary deserved its very own disc in this two-disc set. And someone please tell these studio nitwits that "Interactive Menu" and "Scene Access" no longer qualify as Special Features.
28 Days Later
Considering it's written by Darren Aronofsky, the genius behind Requiem for a Dream, and directed by David Twohy, who helmed the stylish sci-fi hit Pitch Black, you'd think this film would've warranted more attention. It certainly didn't get any courtesy of this DVD, which slipped into stores with all the fanfare of a flea circus.
Initially dismissed by most as a rip off of The Matrix, this 2002 futuristic action flick is far more cerebral than it might seem at first glance. Considering it's already emerging as a modern cult classic, thanks in large part to its incredible action scenes, Equilibrium will surely warrant a comprehensive DVD at some point down the road.
Enough (Special Edition)
More of the Bad:Beauty and the Beast: Belle's Magical World, Windtalkers (Special Director's Edition), Treasure Planet, The Matrix Reloaded and Die Another Day
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