2003: Film in review

Tuesday, 24 February 2004 — 4:31pm | Capsule reviews, Film

Whenever reading year-end summaries, a lot of people seem to have this fetish for reverse enumeration. This only works some of the time, given that the best films of a given year are typically polar opposites in one respect or another. However, an impetus for a comparative ranking system still remains, for the purpose of honouring the very best pieces as being truly superior.

As a compromise, I will do this in tiers.

The oh-my-God-that-was-the-best-movie-ever! tier: Finding Nemo, The Return of the King. I openly admit to both these films bringing me to tears. In fact, I am proud of it. Both of them are pinnacles of modern cinema to be celebrated five, ten and a hundred years down the road. It should be noted, however, that the current theatrical edition of The Return of the King is subject to the same reservations as was the case with the two preceding instalments: the promise of a superior Extended cut on DVD. For this reason, it is impossible to weigh one of these two masterpieces over the other.

The heart-fluttering-in-love-and-excitement tier: Kill Bill Vol. 1, Down With Love, Lost In Translation. The first two – or one and a half, rather – are masterful emulations of style with note-perfect directorial precision, but on a more general level, are just oodles and oodles of pure fun at the movies. Both are celebrations of the art of cinema itself. Lost In Translation is a mood piece that, by some imperceptible magic woven by Sofia Coppola’s mad filmmaking skills, captures on a screen the exact feeling of being lost or just bored in a big foreign metropolis, and does so with admirable subtlety and grace. All three are worth treasuring, and while none of them will be right for everybody, they remain must-sees.

The also-pretty-good “honourable mentions” tier: Master and Commander, The Matrix Reloaded, Seabiscuit, American Splendor and X2: X-Men United. I will elaborate on my thoughts regarding Master and Commander and Seabiscuit in my hopefully-forthcoming Oscar analysis. Meanwhile, The Matrix Reloaded is the best of the trilogy (a view knowingly shared by few), and Splendor and X2 are the highlights of the post-Spider-Man renaissance of comics on film.

Then there are the slightly more special awards. Seeing as how there are no contenders for “Best Use of a Cow” this year, the conventional ones will have to do.

Biggest waste of my time: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and this is why.

Most crushing disappointment: The Matrix Revolutions, which botched the resolution of pretty much every good idea in Reloaded. Somewhere along the line, the Wachowskis must have thought emulating Star Trek: Voyager was a good idea. Never has a promising multi-film saga devoured its own head with such enthusiasm.

Most improved: X2, which sets a new world record for an increase in quality from the first instalment of a major franchise to its sequel. Everything that was wrong with the first X-Men – and believe me, it was a lot – suddenly got up and fixed itself. I suspect super mutant powers at work here.

Most underrated: Down With Love, the most inventive and polished romantic comedy of the year (Lost In Translation does not quite fall into this category), disappeared from cinemas with only $20 million in the bank and a mixed audience reaction. Apparently, most people just didn’t get it.

Most overrated: This one is a tough call. It’s easy to pick out Mystic River or Cold Mountain, both heavily awarded yet not included in my favourites above, but at a basic level they are still very strong pieces with some of the best ensemble acting in recent memory. It is tempting to pick on The Last Samurai for being the lacklustre movie it is, but it was never that universally praised to begin with. If one reads through the movie reviews of 2003 pumped out by professional critics and amateur audiences alike, the film actually least deserving of the degree of praise it has received is the original Matrix.

More ranting and raving will be coming in short order, though there is an election forum to attend in half and hour, and I need to go prepare some loaded questions for the candidates.


submit to reddit

One rejoinder to “2003: Film in review”

Say something interesting: