Top Films of 2003

A best book list would be futile, for the same reasons that Jessa noted. By my estimate (and I started logging in April), I read roughly around 97 books in 2003. But many of these were attempts to catch up with books published last year, or getting up to speed with the literary canon, or playing the read-the-precursors game with current releases (such as Robert Caro’s LBJ biographies and the Dark Tower books). The book-to-film ratio (and the media consumption-to-life experience ratio) this year dramatically shifted. Nevertheless, there were notable lapses into film geekdom (such as the Castro’s Noir City series and the San Francisco Independent Film Festival) in which I threw in the towel with fellow cinephiles and went hog wild. While I averaged about 1-2 films a week, it’s quite conceivable that I saw fewer films this year than I’ve seen in the past seven years. Despite a conscious attempt to avoid the obvious cinematic bombs (Bad Boys 2 and The Cat in the Hat to name two that come to mind), 2003 was, nevertheless, a solid movie year for the indies and an abysmal year for the Hollywood films. Oddly enough, my favorite film of the year was, in fact, a Hollywood film.

Best Films of 2003:

1. Mystic River
2. Down With Love
3. Spider
4. Teknolust
5. Spellbound
6. Lucky
7. Bad Santa
8. The Magdalene Sisters
9. Intolerable Cruelty
10. The Barbarian Invasions

Honorable Mention: American Splendor, Capturing the Fleischmans, Thirteen, The Cooler, Alien: The Director’s Cut, A Mighty Wind, Dirty Pretty Things, Irreversible

Overrated: The Return of the King, Lost in Translation, Kill Bill Vol. 1, Cremaster 3

Guilty Pleasures: The Core, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Bubba Ho-Tep

Haven’t Seen Yet: The Fog of War, The Company, 21 Grams, In America, Cold Mountain, Girl with a Pearl Earring, Master and Commander, Looney Tunes: Back in Action, The Triplets of Bellville, Monster, Shattered Glass

Worst Films of the Year (or Why Did I Pay $10 For This?):

1. Love Actually
2. The Matrix: Reloaded
3. Scary Movie 3
4. The Recruit
5. Big Fish

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  1. Hmm, I would’ve thought Revolutions would’ve been further up the “worst” list than Reloaded, though you must’ve had the good sense not to go…

  2. You really liked Down with Love that much? I thought it was a cute trifle, but I never thought of it again after leaving the theater. I need to hurry up and write my own list.

  3. Graham: No, haven’t seen “Revolutions.”

    Jessa: To draw an analogy, “Down with Love” is the “Raiders of the Lost Ark” of 1960s romantic comedies. Pure, unadulterated joy. And I suspect that it will be reassessed years down the road, much like “One from the Heart” is being given a second look right now. The film’s both a loving homage and a cockeyed effort to understand extant ideologies. The kind of grand movie that’s underappreciated because typical moviegoing audiences look down upon this sort of giddy satire as “mere comedy,” when in fact this kind of movie is a lot harder to make than your standard melodramatic Oscar-nominated potboiler, and a hell of a lot more accomplished.

    I couldn’t even begin to describe to you why “Down with Love” isn’t just “a cute trifle.” I mean, isn’t this the same mentality, Jessa, behind those perilous foes in the 1950s who declared that comics books were “brain damaging?” Why can’t we celebrate movies that are as accomplished as the heavy dramas, but that fail to be appreciated because they take on a more jocose tone? The film has endless visuals and production design nods (such as the two ladies tearing off their coats), plays off the ridiculous 1962 sexism and gender roles (in both the magazine world and the Hudson-Day comedies) with swimming, subversive wit (both in dialogue and in visuals, much of this seen in repeat viewings), and even dares to confine its characters within the stylistics, outdoing “Austin Powers” in the bargain. For my money, it completely outdid “Far from Heaven” in its design, execution and multilayered satire.

    The fact that it’s been overlooked is criminal. No less than Andrew Sarris noted in the Observer that the film “hasn’t been given enough credit for its affectionate but satirical insights into the early 60’s and especially the films of that era. Most of the critics have focused on the retro costuming and paper-moon backdrops, to the exclusion of scenes depicting the social and cultural mores at the time.”

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