Best Movies of 2003


City of God

Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund | 130 mins | Crime/Drama
Alexandre Rodrigues | Leandro Firmino | Matheus Nachtergaele | Phellipe Haagensen

“Just when we thought the gangster genre had been driven into the ground, “City of God” exploded like a thousand firecrackers into cinemas. Set in the forsaken favelas of Rio de Janeiro, and focusing on two boyhood friends who take divergent paths to adulthood, the crackling picture did everything a filmmaker is not supposed to do — span decades, with a cast of hundreds, full of child actors — but arrived with an electric vibrancy common to much of the best Latin American cinema of the decade. While one turns to a life of crime as a drug dealer and merciless gangster, the other pursues his love of photography, and fate eventually intercedes. The duality that strains the childhood friendship is brilliantly captured by Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund, who saturate the film in deep, gorgeous colors that are jarringly juxtaposed against the often shocking and graphic violence that permeates the slums. Filmed on location in the grimy streets of Rio — rocketing back and forth in time and making room for tangents which illuminate rather than distract — and populated by amateurs and actual gang members, “City Of God” paints a bracing portrait of the allure of a gang when life gives you so few options, and the hope that beats in the hearts of those searching for something more.” – indieWIRE


In America

Jim Sheridan | 105 mins | Drama
Paddy Considine | Samantha Morton | Djimon Hounsou | Sarah Bolger

“Set in a Hell’s Kitchen tenement, Sheridan’s autobiographical story of an Irish family reeling from the loss of a child is both tender and robust. In the face of the fierce emotion that powers the movie, sentimentality doesn’t stand a chance. Instead of exhausting your capacity to feel, Sheridan keeps deepening it. The performances by the astonishing Samantha Morton, Paddy Considine, the wonderful newcomers Sarah and Emma Bolger, and Djimon Hounsou all radiate with an emotional commitment that matches Sheridan’s. “In America” sweeps you into its rough, loving embrace and then puts you back in the world, safe and sound, telling you the life waiting outside the theater is a gift.” – Charles Taylor, Salon


Master and Commander

Peter Weir | 138 mins | Action/Adventure/Drama
Russell Crowe | Paul Bettany | Billy Boyd | James D'Arcy

“Yet another movie about bravery, honor and duty. But as with “Return of the King,” you don’t walk away from it praising the worthiness of its themes — instead, you’re left with a true and deep sense of the rueful compromises that rousing victories often demand. Russell Crowe gives a performance that’s heroic not just in the most obvious sense of the word, but also in the most subtle: His Jack Aubrey understands that every decision has a potentially devastating downside, and he carries that knowledge both in his heart and on his nobly squared shoulders. “Master and Commander” is a magnificent historical adventure with a throbbing heart. And there’s mournful grandeur in cinematographer Russell Boyd’s every shot.” – Stephanie Zacharek, Salon


Capturing the Friedmans

Andrew Jarecki | 107 mins | Documentary/Biography
Arnold Friedman | Jesse Friedman | David Friedman | Elaine Friedman

“Andrew Jarecki’s nimble nonfiction film looks at both sides of a child molestation investigation and its effect on a household, and becomes a piece about a much bigger subject. It examines not only the slippery nature of truth versus delusion, but the American obsession of detailing our own lives with a camera.” – Elvis Mitchell, New York Times


Kill Bill Vol 2

Quentin Tarantino | 111 mins | Action/Crime/Thriller
Uma Thurman | David Carradine | Daryl Hannah | Michael Madsen

“”Kill Bill” is Quentin Tarantino in virtuoso mode, giving us a martial arts picture that is heavy on storytelling, light on story. The film is all kinetic energy, visual conceit, production design and performances focused to a razor’s edge, but with only the most rudimentary motivation or character development. It is a tribute to Uma Thurman and the other cast members that they are able to bring presence and substance to characters who have been written with rubber stamps.” – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times


Finding Nemo

Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich | 100 mins | Animation/Adventure/Comedy
Albert Brooks | Ellen DeGeneres | Alexander Gould | Willem Dafoe

“I usually sit toward the back of the theater, but during “Finding Nemo” I wanted to sit closer, to immerse myself in the underwater beauty of the film’s graceful animation. The story is lots of fun (how in the world can a fish escape from an aquarium and get across the highway and back into the sea?), but the most distinctive accomplishment of the Pixar production is its visual artistry. Water is often dealt with in animation as if it is simply transparent, except for bubbles. The artists of “Finding Nemo” have uncanny success in suggesting that their characters are actually swimming in the sea; carefully modulated color densities suggest actual less water between a character and the audience. The story is well-told, but the telling gains immensely from the visuals.” – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times


American Splendor

Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini | 101 mins | Biography/Comedy/Drama
Paul Giamatti | Shari Springer Berman | Harvey Pekar | Chris Ambrose

“The way Hollywood works now, you could go to a different movie every day and see nothing but fantasy. On the other hand, there’s the funny, grungy, desperate, moving catharsis of American Splendor, the tale of a lonely, badly dressed file clerk from the lower depths of Cleveland who turns his life into a comic book – not to escape reality but to redeem it. As a boy, Harvey Pekar goes out for Halloween costumed as himself; he doesn’t see how you could want to be anyone but who you are. It’s no wonder that he can’t find his entrance into the America of plastic smiles and makeover dreams. Paul Giamatti, in a hilarious and touching performance, turns Pekar into the unlikeliest of movie heroes, a tubby, sputtering misfit grouch chained to his quirks his questionable grooming habits, his nerds’ convention of friends – to everything that makes him him. He’s a beautiful loser who stumbles out from under a cloud of doom by embracing the grand, inglorious art of his ordinariness. Hope Davis, the cutie-pie crank who marries him, players her as the only woman on earth who would, making this a love story that feels as rare as a miracle. Reflecting Pekar’s life, codirectors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini have made a film that cracks open into a comic book that morphs into a documentary, only to snap back into the most boisterous, tender, and crazily exquisite movie of the year.” – Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly


Mystic River

Clint Eastwood | 138 mins | Crime/Drama/Mystery
Sean Penn | Tim Robbins | Kevin Bacon | Emmy Rossum

“Why have I chosen Mystic River as the best movie of the year? Isn’t The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King — its closest rival — more ambitious? Not really. Both films deal with souls damaged by the past, by greed, by sins of commission and omission. The difference? Nothing that pins you to your seat in Mystic River is generated by a computer. The main characters are three working stiffs from Boston, friends since childhood who have been scarred by an incident from that childhood. Now, as adults, Jimmy (Sean Penn) is trying to find out who murdered his daughter; Sean (Kevin Bacon) is the cop assigned to the case; and Dave (Tim Robbins) is the prime suspect. Brian Helgeland’s adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s novel becomes a blueprint for director Clint Eastwood to plunge deeper into the darkness of human nature that he probed so memorably in Unforgiven. All the actors do Eastwood proud, and in a just world Penn and Robbins will both win Oscars. Eastwood, showing a classical directing style worthy of comparison to John Ford, isn’t interested in spectacle but in the moral warfare raging in the eyes of three men who are taking their own trip to Mount Doom, seeking redemption and finding only ruin. Eastwood, in the directing coup of 2003, shows how violence is hardwired into the American character. Not a popular subject these days. Eastwood refused to soften his film’s harsh reality for box-office gain. That’s another reason Mystic River stakes a claim on greatness. It’s that rare film that is truly uncompromised.” – Peter Travers, Rolling Stone


The Lord of the Rings - The Return of the King

Peter Jackson | 201 mins | Adventure/Drama/ Fantasy
Elijah Wood | Viggo Mortensen | Ian McKellen | Orlando Bloom

“’Well, I’m back.’ That’s Sam the hobbit speaking, succinctly marking his place at the end of The Return of the King. But it’s also me speaking – and millions like me – back for one last time in thrall to the movie magic that mortals have conjured in The Lord of the Rings. Out of J.R.R. Tolkien’s literacy epic, New Zealand director Peter Jackson has fashioned a cinematic masterwork, a trilogy that has stood as a classic since our first glimpse of the bucolic Shire in The Fellowship of the Ring, back in 2001. And in his concluding chapter, Jackson has established a new template of grandeur for the Big Finish: a 200-minute saga that feels huge but scaled for humans, massive but urgent. The Return of the King is a visual spectacle, a state-of-the-art display of technical flair, and a showpiece of plot density and narrative rhythms. But what moves us more is our identification with the stakes these mythical characters are fighting for, men and elves and hobbits alike – notions of enslavement and freedom made powerfully relevant by the grace of the filmmaker’s storytelling. The digitally created monsters are awesome; the organically created feeling of pertinence to our own embattled world is even more profound. It’s why we feel we too have alighted from a transforming journey at the trilogy’s end. And why we’ll keep coming back to reexperience the voyage.” – Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly


Lost in Translation

Sofia Coppola | 102 mins | Drama/Romance
Bill Murray | Scarlett Johansson | Giovanni Ribisi | Anna Faris

“You’ve read enough about this movie by now, haven’t you? Emotionally and visually, it’s pitch-perfect; with this one film, Sofia Coppola jumps to the head of the indie-god class. (Quentin’s got to get out of the basement and return all those Hong Kong videos.) Bill Murray deserves the Oscar and might even get it; Scarlett Johansson is almost as good but won’t win anything (except the, um, hearts of guys all over the world). Making a movie about Yanks in a bizarro-world foreign culture is kind of cheating, and using karaoke scenes as a shorthand for falling in love is really cheating. But somehow Coppola makes it all work; she takes the fraught topic of older-guy/younger-woman love and cooks it down to irreducible human reality. It’s a miniature, but it’s a wonderful miniature.” – Andrew O’Hehir, Salon

Full Top 50:

1Lost in Translation320513.663%12%2063463%12%
2The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King272923.954%21%1675451%19%
3Mystic River217404.243%9%1302740%9%
4American Splendor211204.242%5%1351141%4%
5Finding Nemo206104.441%2%124538%2%
6Kill Bill: Vol. 114695.129%2%96629%2%
7Capturing the Friedmans143164.428%4%93828%3%
8Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World140115.128%2%89827%3%
9In America133134.826%3%78824%3%
10City of God106113.721%3%68721%2%
1121 Grams10764.321%1%68421%1%
12Cold Mountain10564.621%1%57417%1%
13The Station Agent10344.320%1%69321%1%
16Whale Rider8355.216%1%52116%0%
18The Fog of War7134.314%1%49315%1%
19School of Rock6725.713%0%51116%0%
20House of Sand and Fog6724.913%0%39112%0%
21Dirty Pretty Things6145.612%1%40312%1%
22Big Fish5834.711%1%34310%1%
23The Triplets of Belleville6025.811%0%47214%1%
25Shattered Glass5315.510%0%2909%0%
26A Mighty Wind5226.010%0%3119%0%
27Bad Santa5116.310%0%34010%0%
28The Magdalene Sisters5014.810%0%3019%0%
29The Man Without a Past4524.69%0%35211%1%
30Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl4416.29%0%2317%0%
31The Barbarian Invasions4465.49%1%2738%1%
32The Son4334.48%1%34310%1%
3328 Days Later4115.38%0%2819%0%
35Bus 1743714.77%0%3119%0%
37Love Actually3516.57%0%1916%0%
38X2: X-Men United3505.87%0%1906%0%
40The Last Samurai3426.07%0%1003%0%
41Raising Victor Vargas3325.87%0%2327%1%
42The Secret Lives of Dentists3224.66%0%2728%1%
43All the Real Girls3216.06%0%2217%0%
44Winged Migration3206.26%0%2508%0%
45To Be and To Have3005.66%0%2207%0%
47Unknown Pleasures2824.36%0%2116%0%
48Bend It Like Beckham2505.45%0%1404%0%
49Pieces of April2405.95%0%1505%0%
50Friday Night2315.45%0%1715%0%

Lists Included 506 | Top Critics’ Lists Included 327

R Rank
L Total number of lists where the film was selected as one of the top 10 films of the year
AR Average position on ranked top 10 lists
#1 Total number of lists where the film was selected as the best film of the year
L% Percentage of total lists where the film was selected as one of the top 10 films of the year
#1% Percentage of mentions where the film was selected as the best film of the year
TCL Number of times that the film was selected as one of the top 10 films of the year on top critics’ lists
TCL1 Number of times that the film was selected as the best film of the year on top critics’ lists
TCL% Percentage of times that the film was selected as one of the top 10 films of the year on top critics’ lists
TCL1% Percentage of lists where the film was selected as the best film of the year on top critics’ lists

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