Top 10 Films of 2003

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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)

capturing the friedmans documentary film movie

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)

school of rock film jack black

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 sex fantasy lesbian naked girl

“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 tim burton film movie

“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)

lord of the rings return of the king film movie

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)

finding nemo film movie pixar

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)

bad santa comedy film movie billy bob thornton

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 brazil film movie

“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.

Read my full review of City of God HERE

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About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    Heather Reply

    I still haven’t seen City Of God, which I know is terrible, but I’ll get there.

    I love that you put Bad Santa on here! Definitely a good movie that made me laugh hysterically.

    I feel like people forget about Big Fish. I know Burton has been hit and miss with his higher profile movies, but I think Big Fish is one of his better films of the past decade easily.

  2. Avatar
    Olive Reply

    I’m with Heather, I haven’t seen City of God, it is sitting on the shelf and I will get to it though!
    Loved “Swimming Pool” too and with Jack Black in School of Rock, you can’t go wrong. Also really liked Master & Commander & Lost in Translation. I know the latter is a love it or hate it film; I loved it.

    • Avatar
      Dan Reply

      I know a lot of people have got Lost In Translation in their top films of 2003/top films of the decade but I wasn’t a big fan. I saw it after all the rave reviews so my expectations were high and they weren’t met. I think it’s Sofia Coppola’s direction more than anything – she seems to wallow in misery and self pity.

      • Avatar
        Heather Reply

        I felt like it was more self reflection and discovery and the journey of finding out you could have lived an entire life doing what you thought made you happy and still not even know who you are. So many people just go through the motions without really experiencing joy or learning about themselves. I loved the feeling of the movie and the ambiguity left everything open enough to make it a very personal connection.

        I get why some don’t love it, but that is why I do love it so much.

  3. Avatar
    rtm Reply

    Absolutely agree with #3 and #4. I don’t think I have the guts to see #1 based on what I’ve read, but I finally mustered up the courage to see Kill BIll, and surprisingly liked it. Might see the 2nd one soon.

    Btw, I tagged you for the Versatile Blog Award:

    • Avatar
      Dan Reply

      …ooh! Awards! I like them…thank you Flix!

      I think everyone should see City of God because it does open your eyes. It is brutal and difficult to watch but it isn’t the sort of gratuitous gore of Saw. It’s authentic – which I suppose makes it all that more frightening. But it’s an important film about a story (society) too often shunned by mainstream news media only interested in oil-asset military conflicts.

  4. Avatar
    James Ewing Reply

    School of Rock! Love it. In fact, I think I love it more than Linklater’s Before Sunrise/Sunset films.

    Also, Return of the King is one of my all time favorites, so I’m digging that.

    Finding Nemo is fantastic. One of my favorite Pixar flicks.

    I’m not so keen on some of the others. City of God is a film that feels far too stylized to have the kind of impact I think it wanted to have (for me anyway).

    I’m intrigued by Swimming Pool. I’ve seen it pop up on several people’s all time favorites lists so I’m hoping to check it out eventually.

    Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Big Fish are fun, but both fall just short of masterpieces for me in big ways.

    Also, not a fan of the Pirates series. Entertaining? Sure. Good? Not so much.

    • Avatar
      Dan Reply

      When it comes to Pirates of the Caribbean, I love the first one for its adventurism, Depp’s performance, and wonderful production value but I do hate the two sequels. The sequels feel like re-runs of the first film drawn out over three hours.

  5. Avatar
    Castor Reply

    Haven’t seen Swimming Pool but that picture sure makes me want to! Glad to see City of God at the top, one of my top 3 movie of the decade. If you haven’t seen it, it should be your #1 movie priority!

  6. Avatar
    Peter E. Reply

    Excellent to include Swimming Pool and Friedmans on here! They were in my Top 10 of the year too!

    BTW, I just found out about The Versatile Blogger award from a few of our movie blog friends and did my own post, as a couple of them nominated me. I included your site in my post and I think I am supposed to inform you of this…

  7. Avatar
    Rodney Reply

    Dude, nice choice for number 1. I’d have swung with Nemo or Return Of The King myself, but City Of God is an amazing film experience and deserves a spot in the top three at least. Great list!

  8. Avatar
    Raghav Reply

    Still haven’t seen a few of those. Capturing the Friedmans is high on my list. Big Fish has been on TV but I’ve never been really interested in it. Might give it a go next time it’s on. Bad Santa has a sort of cult status now I feel. I’ll have to give that one a try too.

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