2003 saw some huge sequels released such as the concluding part of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, two new “Matrix” films, “Terminator 3”, “X-Men 2”, and “Bad Boys 2”, while other franchises were just getting started such as “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Kill Bill”.
It was a good year for the sequel too – all the ones mentioned fared superbly at the box office with the “Matrix” films taking a combined $1.2 billion worldwide, while Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” took that amount all by itself.
10. Capturing The Friedkins (Andrew Jerecki, USA)
Andrew Jerecki’s documentary was originally supposed to be a film about children entertainers but after discovering his point of focus – clown David Friedman – was the brother of Jesse and the son of Arnold who had each been convicted of child sex offences. The film duly took a different approach, investigating the family instead. It is a thought-provoking and provocative piece of work that was nominated for an Academy Award.
9. School of Rock (Richard Linklater, USA)
Jack Black is the star of the show in what remains one of his best films. He’s the disgruntled wannabe rock star who gets kicked out of his band and has to start anew. Posing as his friend to earn some extra pocket money teaching kids at the local school he finds a knack for educating the youngsters on the rockier side of music. Tasking his class to ‘give it to the man!’ and rock out, “School of Rock” becomes just that – a loud-mouthed, guitar grunting, drum smashing education in feel-good comedy and great music. Richard Linklater gives us his most crowd-pleasing film, and Black has rarely been better.
8. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (Gore Verbinski, USA)
Big budget Hollywood blockbusters may still be able to return huge box office receipts but they’ve been turning me away for the last few years for the simple reason they haven’t been good enough. “Pirates of the Caribbean”, on the other hand, isn’t a throwaway money-maker. It’s a big-hearted, massively entertaining fantasy adventure based on the popular Disney theme park ride. Gore Verbinski directs the film with an assured hand, like the adult who has regressed to childhood and been given the key to the candy shop.
The film is brimming with a sense of Hi-Ho-Silver adventure that whisks the viewer to a world that is beautifully rendered in seamless special-effect and populated by dastardly characters of the good and evil variety. For children it is the awe-inspiring high seas story of the damsel in distress, for adults it is a reminder of the time when Captain Hook existed and there was – most assuredly – a bogeyman living under the bed. Of course, it’s made all the more appealing by the always reliable Johnny Depp who has never before delivered such a wonderfully memorable character – for a guy like Depp, that’s saying a lot for this performance.
7. Swimming Pool (Francois Ozon, France/UK)
“Swimming Pool” made a splash – poor pun I know! – with critics at Cannes in 2003 with its mixture of sexual tension and mystery. Featuring the powerful if mild-mannered performance of Charlotte Rampling and the often naked body of beautiful Ludivine Sagnier, the film has become the popular alternative movie of 2003.
6. Kill Bill: Vol 1 (Quentin Tarantino, USA)
Quentin Tarantino finally returns to the director’s chair after a six year hiatus with “Kill Bill: Vol. 1”. Originally, “Kill Bill” was a single movie but Tarantino had so much material to work with and the creative indiscipline to cut his own work the film was split into two. Volume 1 turns out to be the better of the films – it is more purposeful and although it lacks a completely satisfactory conclusion due to the fact this part was never meant to start and finish, it has a the biggest set-piece which makes it that bit more memorable.
5. Big Fish (Tim Burton, USA)
“Big Fish” is Tim Burton’s dreamlike adaptation of Daniel Wallace’s book about the eager imagination of Edward Bloom, played in the film by Albert Finney as an old man (with Ewan McGregor taking up the role in the old man’s recollections of his younger days). Burton is the perfect director to bring to theatrical life a book that celebrates imagination and childhood fantasy set against the backdrop of a weird yet wonderful world of huge fish, giants, and witches.
4. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (Peter Jackson, USA)
Peter Jackson concludes his mammoth adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings story with arguably the best film of the trilogy. Again, it’s a three-hour plus epic that was released later on DVD with even more additional material that was cut from the final theatrical release. Some criticised the overcooked finale but few argued about the breathtaking battle at Minas Tirith which combined seamless special effects with top performances that was all expertly executed by a director at the top of his game.
3. Finding Nemo (Andrew Stanton, USA)
In 2003 Pixar released “Finding Nemo”. It is their best movie to date. Warm and funny, brilliantly constructed, original, fabulously designed and brought to life. Like their other movies it is the perfect film for adults and children to watch together because it has something for everyone. Pixar also made further gains in their animation techniques – the depiction of the sea and being underwater looks at times like it has been actually photographed rather than digitally recreated.
2. Bad Santa (Terry Zwigoff, USA)
When talking about Terry Zwigoff’s “Bad Santa” I feel need the swear. And swear. And swear. And swear again. I wonder why? Zwigoff’s film is, without any doubt at all, one of the funniest films ever made. Coupled with Billy Bob Thornton’s drunk Santa performance, the film is about as darkly comic as comedy can get without been depressing. It’s built on Glenn Ficarra and John Requa’s terrific script which marries character study with wall to wall gags. The dialogue sizzles with anger and disillusionment but there’s a heart at the centre of it. Thornton’s relationship with the character only known as The Kid is one of the oddest you’ll ever see but it’s unique and strangely sweet-natured. It takes a certain mindset to warm to a film like “Bad Santa” but once you become accustomed to the humour you’ll be hooked by the oddball but big-hearted, cigarette-smoking, binge-drinking, foul-mouthed Bad Santa.
1. City of God (Fernando Meirelles, Brazil)
“City of God” was originally released in the UK at the beginning of January 2003 but received little attention. Critics started to pick up on this little Brazilian movie when it was re-released in time for the Academy Awards, and word of its hard-hitting portrayal of Rio’s violent slums began circulating. A cult following grew.
The film is a brutal but humane depiction of a society shunned and dismissed by those that don’t live in it and endured by those that do. It’s moving, authentic, and important.
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