Top 10 Movies of 2003

Number 10.  –  Big Fish

It’s interesting to see if there was a more fantasy-like version of Forrest Gump. Tim Burton may be the biggest name attached to Big Fish, but its really screenwriter John Augusts’ movie, as he masterfully adapts a book about storytelling into a movie about storytelling with ease. In fact, I’d say the biggest detriment to the film is Burton himself, who seems out of his element, trying to cling to any creepy element he can find. In the non-fantastical scenes, his direction is boring and bland; without any crazy stylistic flourishes, he seems to simply get the easiest shots possible. The actors in the movie are all incredibly talented, yet for some reason, none of them seem to be at their best (except maybe Albert Finney). In the end, the story is involving and deep enough to carry all the flaws to the end, making Big Fish an understandably flawed but nonetheless ambitious and charming adventure. The one amusing thing about this film is that Edward Bloom, the centric character of the film, says as many memorable things in 125 minutes as Mark Twain did in his lifetime. This character is witty, clever, and well-portrayed by both Ewan McGregor and Albert Finney. (Though McGregor could have done a little better.) If I had to pick one Tim Burton film (not in collaboration with Johnny Depp) and say it’s by far the best of his career, I’d automatically choose BIG FISH. It has a great cast, a great crew, and both halves put some brilliant, brilliant work into it. Everything is simply fabulous–the camera work, the art direction, you name it–and it is an absolute must-watch.

Number 9.  –  Freddy vs. Jason

Two of the 1980’s biggest horror franchises, Nightmare on Elm Street & Friday the 13th, became something that all horror fans want to to see. I understand a lot of people hates this film, but there’s really no other way to make a cross-over film like this one to be good. It’s honest about it’s direction, but it still remains the best cross-over movie that I’ve ever seen. One of the great things about this movie is the way director Ronny Yu created a smart and realistic conflict between evil serial killer Freddy and Jason. Basically, Freddy can no longer terrorize the teens of Elm Street. Why? Because no one believes in him anymore. In order to strike fear once again, Freddy convinces Jason Voorhees to do killings in his name by disguising as his mother. The more killings Jason does, the more powerful Krueger becomes. Eventually, Jason finds out what Freddy is up to and is, naturally, pissed as hell, leading to an all out war between the 2 killers. Over all, “Freddy v.s Jason” is one of the most entertaining movies I have ever seen. Is it one of the best? Far from it. But it’s good enough and insanely fun enough for it to be one of my favorites. If you were to go on a roller coaster, while watching the National Championship on your iPhone, while winning a million dollars, it would be about as fun as this movie.

Number 8.  –  Monster

Now taking a more serious approach, we’re looking at one of America’s greatest killers and it is a woman — Aileen Wuornos. What a tortured life this woman led; a life of inferiority, confusion, violence, victimisation, prostitution, anger and ultimately, murder. Charlize Theron’s utter transformation is what drives this film, her performance and physical emulation perfectly conveying the pain of her character. The film reflects on Wurnos’ childhood, a time of sexual favours, inadequacy, rape and beatings. A narrative gap, which misses a dubious failed marriage and numerous arrests, presents the viewer with a sorry picture, a woman who washes in petrol station toilets; a woman who is desperately trying to make ends meet. She then meets a companion, the vulnerable Selby Moore. It’s at this point that the film strays from the facts; ‘Selby Moore’ is a fictional character, very loosely based, especially in appearance, to Tyria Moore, Wuornos’ lover until her execution. The pair, who have moved in together, live off Wuornos’ prostitution wage until their relationship is complicated by Moore’s discovery of Wuornos’ taste for violence. The film depicts the first murder as Wuornos described it; self defence. Her first victim was Richard Mallory, a convicted rapist. Aileen stated that he raped and savaged her, so she shot him. I’m digressing slightly, but I believe this to be true; Mallory would’ve thought Wuornos to be trash, expendable social underclass who would be an easy thrill with no consequences. I respect that the scene was orchestrated in this manner. 

Number 7.  –  X2: X-Men United

This movie triumphs as a great superhero film! Definately the best of this young franchise. There is absolutely no room for improvement. Just keep the pace the same, and you have a great franchise. Even though it will be hard to keep up to this level of excitement and storytelling, I will always love the X-Men films for what they are, because they, after seeing the first two instalments, have definitely learned what makes an amazing superhero action flick. With great acting, loveable characters, a much more enhanced believable plot, and scenes that will have your jaw drop, I find this film to be near-perfect on every level, surpassing the original by a mile, as far as superhero films go that is. The sophisticated, multi-layered plot beautifully ties together many threads and disparate characters to perfectly capture the best themes of the books, namely prejudice, divided loyalties and moral ambiguities and each character is given just enough room to shine. The action sequences are also a huge improvement; the opening sequence features more thrills than the entire first films combined and every set piece is a perfectly pitched combination of excitement, plot development and characterisation; the assault on the mansion and Magneto’s escape being the pick of a brilliant bunch. If only Brett Ratner hadn’t fumbled the ball so badly for the third instalment, I suspect that this film would be rightfully recognised as the coming of age of Marvel Studios and the beginning of the Renaissance of the superhero genre. 

Number 6.  –  Kill Bill Vol. 1

Kill Bill is a signature Quentin Tarantino film. It’s got everything that makes his films so fun. It’s got snappy, quick dialogue. It’s got violence on violence on violence, which is shown in a stylish way. And it’s cool. Tarantino’s Kill Bill is a smart, quick moving, highly involving, samurai sword toting, revenge film. There are a shit load of revenge movies out there. Some are good, but most are bad. Kill Bill is definitely on the good side, and will be a genre staple for a long, long time. The Bride was supposed to get married, but was viciously assaulted and left for dead. Nine people did die, including her fiancé, and the baby inside her. She goes into a coma for a while. When she awakens, she puts a list together. On it are all the people who were to blame for her predicament. Last on the list is Bill, her former employer. There’s a lot of sword fighting in Kill Bill, which could be a good thing, but could also be a bad thing. Here, it is good. The sword fighting scenes are choreographed great. There’s high energy in them and a ridiculous amount of style, as well. I don’t think this is Tarantino’s best film out there, but it is a hell of a fun time. He tells the story, again out of order. The first woman we see The Bride kill, is actually second on the list. When she goes to cross the person out, number one is already crossed out. Don’t worry though, you’ll se how that happened in all its bloody glory. The film jumps around from situation to situation, never linearly though. The films scenes still play out in Tarantino’s signature style, where scenes are long and epic.

Number 5.  –  Pirates of the Caribbean:
The Curse of the Black Pearl

What a hell of a surprise to see Disney has released their first ever PG-13 film and it became on of their best live-action film. In my personal opinion, it’s really the best movie of the whole franchise because of its simplicity — which is something that’s crime that the sequels focused way too much on complexity. It sounds like a dumb idea to turn one of Disneyland’s most recognizable rides into a full film, but when you watch it, you’ll almost forgot that this a film about a theme park ride. The story is actually more complex than I had expected, involving cursed pirates and their quest to rid themselves of the curse. I won’t say more than that so as not to spoil it if you haven’t seen it. There aren’t as many action scenes as I had thought there would be in a pirate movie, but the ones that are in the movie were very fun and enjoyable. After seeing it, I think it had the right balance of action and drama. There are also, of course, a lot of funny bits interspersed between the action and drama. Some really good special effects also add to the enjoyment of this movie. I wasn’t much of a fan of Johnny Depp until I saw this movie. I think he deserved to win the Academy Award for best actor. It’s largely because of his performance, IMO, that the movie was so good. Most of the supporting cast did well, mind you, just that Johnny Depp stood high above the rest. I did find Orlando Bloom’s performance a bit wooden, but other than that the acting was good.

Number 4.  –  Master & Commander:

The Far Side of the World

It would be very hard for any director to follow The Truman Show, even if that director was Peter Weir. Having proved himself to be adept with period dramas (Dead Poets’ Society), romantic comedies (Green Card) and religious thrillers (Witness), Weir sets his sights in Master and Commander on the good old-fashioned historical epic. Drawing on his great work in Gallipoli, his adaptation of Patrick O’Brian’s series of novels is a very fine effort, combining character drama and frenetic action in an excellent balance. This film has a story, and it’s a good one, but it’s not about the plot. It’s more about the characters, namely the two principals: the strong captain played by Russell Crowe, and his friend- the ship’s docter and naturalist played by Paul Bettany. Both are terrific in their roles, drawing apt comparisons to Sherlock Holmes and Watson. This is not a film for everyone though. A lot of people may find it boring, and I’ll admit, there could have been another action scene or two, and some more development with some of the other characters, but all in all, I found this to be a very fascinating film. I know some but not a lot about the nautical world of this time period, but from what I do know, this film gets a great deal of it correct, and that’s something I really appreciate. If you ever wanted to know about the ins and outs of being on a early 19th Century British warship, than this is the film for you. What impressed me about this movie as much as the historical recreation of this era in the Royal Navy was the lack of pretense and the determination to stick to the language and attitudes of the day. Instead of resorting to trendy dialogue or contemporary humor to cheaply gain laughter, Master and Commander aims to be a landmark film that can be appreciated in the long-term as well as the short. The film makes the viewer think of what these sailors must have experienced at a time when Britain, through competition with other European countries, was determined to rule the waves. Here’s hoping for a sequel or two!

Number 3.  –  Underworld

If you always pay attention to critics recommendations, you’re going to have a lot of movies to miss out on, and this one that nearly all the critics dismisses but the general movie going audience loves. I love this film for being one of the best vampire film that truly reminds me of the role-playing game Vampire: The Masquerade. Underworld had a very impressive plot, which may have some tribute to Romeo and Juliet. It takes place in modern day New York where two races, Vampires and Lycans (Werewolves) have been fighting each other for centuries. Don’t ask any more about the conflict, it’s a long story. The main character, a vampire named Selene, played by the beautiful Kate Beckinsale, is saved by a medical student named Michael, a human. The vampires are at war with the Werewolves known as Lycans in this film. Things get more complicated as it turns out Michael has the only correct blood type to create a Lycan/vampire hybrid, one that the Lycans want to use to kill the vampires. While it reads as a horror, it plays more like a gangster/fantasy piece. Both races participate in gun-play with specially modified bullets to instantly kill their opponents. The werewolves are animalistic warriors, wanna-be heavy weight mafia, with more brawn than brains. On the flip side, the vampires are like a communal family with hierarchy, ancient customs and they’re legitimate business owners which funds their criminal endeavors. Cinematography in the Gothic style gives the film a darkness that suites the theme well. Action is well timed giving the fight scenes a sharpness that is brutal and bloody. The story, now so familiar, keeps ones attention due to the actors quality in the characters gushing forth as blood from a vampires feast. Music gives a deeper meaning to the black of blood drinking. Nibbles: Blood Pudding.

Number 2.  –  Old Boy

Oldboy is the sequel to Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and is a well thought out movie that ranks up there as one of the greatest revenge films ever made, more so than the likes of Kill Bill. This is nonetheless a superb piece of cinema — South Korea’s best, one that ever serious film fan should definitely check out. The level of filmmaking is superb and director Chan-Wook Park crafts a blistering picture that has stood out above others in the genre. This is a brilliantly shot picture that will certainly appeal to genre fans looking for something truly different. Oldboy is an in your face type of movie, one that doesn’t shy away from its violent content, and it’s one of the few film where the violence is an integral part of the story, and not used in an unnecessary manner. Along with that there is a truly compelling and well layered plot that entertains you from start to finish. Acting wise, the cast deliver some wonderful, convincing performances and in terms of a strong sequel, Oldboy is a worthwhile follow up that exceeds expectations. Korean cinema in the last few years has seen some stellar films, and Oldboy is one such prime example of the genres standout features. This is a near flawless picture that is haunting in its plot and tells a stellar revenge story that is sure to delight cinema buffs everywhere. Oldboy is a disturbing ride, but one that is worth taking if you love a well crafted movie that tells a great story. The direction is immaculate the performances are wonderful, and the film will certainly stay with you long after you’ve seen it. The scenes that use a heavy dose of violence are not for the squeamish and add to the experience that director Chan Wook Park is trying to convey in his Vengeance trilogy and it works brilliantly. Oldboy is a riveting masterwork that elevates the revenge genre to whole new levels. 

Number 1.  –  The Lord of the Rings:

The Return of the King

And thus we reach the inevitable third instalment of one of the greatest trilogies ever made. It is bare none the most successful film of the 2000s winning 11 Academy Awards, had the highest grossing film of all time, and most of all pleased the audiences as whole. After all the build-up that the last two films given us, the third film certainly delivered us the finale that we all deserved! This film is the most vicious and harshest out of all the films before it, thanks to the dangers and violences nearing to Mount Mordor. There are so many things in this film that roars iconic for me such as Eowyn slaying the Witch King, the King of Gondor bleeding through is mouth as he feats during Mary’s song, the fight between Sam, Frodo, and Gollum, Aragorn’s speech before the final battle, to even the destruction of Sauron’s Eye… this is all incredible stuff that proved all the skeptics that Lord of the Rings would never adapt well in to a movie all those years ago to look like idiots in hindsight. I’m going to come right out and say it, The Return of the King is the best conclusion to a trilogy I have ever seen. The movie is literally overflowing with content. Full of equal amounts of action and drama, Peter Jackson absolutely nails it! He is somehow able to handle dozens of characters and multiple plot-lines. And unlike the second movie, he balances everything perfectly. But none of this would have been possible without the steady hand of Peter Jackson. How he is able to hold it all together and give us an Oscar winning movie us almost inconceivable. It’s very common for the third movie in a franchise to be the worst. And almost always, if it had two great movies coming before it, the third movie will disappoint. But I honestly can’t think of anything disappointing about this movie. The level of excellence that Jackson was able to maintain throughout this trilogy is staggering. Every shot counts and every moment matters under Jackson’s keen eye, whether its a slow motion montage or a terrifyingly tense encounter with a giant spider, Peter Jackson seems to have an instinctive feel for Tolkien’s work in terms of mood and tone. He blends comedy with tragedy and tension with sentiment with a deft touch which makes you think that he wrote the thing himself. There is a bit of controversy about the ending. Did Peter Jackson really need half an hour after the action ends to tie up the loose ends? I’d say absolutely. With so much investment in falling in love with these characters, we couldn’t just let them go and end all so suddenly like every movie in existence; it was our final moments with the characters before it’s really the goodbye for the audience. The epic saga’s final installment may prove to be its best, due to the amazing battle sequences (of which there are many), the return of an enticing plot, and the epic proportions of the entire film. The pathos is more powerful, the battles more glorious, and the plot more perilous. A brilliant end to a brilliant franchise, not a minute of the three hours seems to disappoint.

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