Top 10 lists are ludicrous, a very fun ludicrous however. They are especially fun when looking back upon them.
My dear friend Sara Michelle Fetters of Moviefreak.com recently published a piece where she took a gander back ten years to her 2003 list to see how her taste changed and to view what movies managed to age better than others. Ten years is such a perfect time to do this, with enough of a gap to properly catch up on under-seen gems and to let that massive barrage of major dramas competing released every December stand on their own feet, for good or bad. There is always the muddle of thoughts of what really defines a cinematic year, how certain works fit into themes of the era and, at least personally, always one movie I wish I had switched out for another by the middle of January.
Plus, there is something fascinating to see how a person’s tastes evolve over time; or it could be my ego. Yet, would a man with a huge ego being willing to publish his original top 10, first published on – no joke – his Livejournal account on December 31st of the given year. Probably, but perhaps a shade of context is needed.
2003 found me halfway into my final year of college at Salisbury University, home to one average-sized movie theatre, plus a mildly art-house option a little under an hour away (aka the one which would show The House of Sand and Fog). Movies were a defining passion already and I was declaring my opinions every week for the school newspaper, where an alleged history of hating things began with only negative reviews for the first three issues; to be fair, The Order was amongst said negativity. By year’s end, I had seen a lot of releases, though the number of critical darlings still out of reach was significant.
So what made the list; well take a look.
10. X2: X-men United
9. Mystic River
8. Matchstick Men
7. School of Rock
6. 28 Days Later
5. The Last Samurai
4. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
3. Kill Bill Vol. 1
2. Love Actually
1. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
The first thought upon seeing this list is that it’s far less embarrassing than I feared. At least half of those movies I still love, flaws and all, even if my admiration for The Last Samurai, which I had seen only days previous, dissipated almost immediately. 2003’s list can’t hide my LOTR obsession either. I did see that final film twice on opening day, six times on the big screen and inspired an actual filming of my friend Kat and I's reaction to its eventual Best Picture win at the Oscars. Seeing it as my tippy-top pick is no shock. That Mystic River, a release that never quite sat well with me and I believe has largely been forgotten with each passing year, made my end of year collection is the closest thing there is too a surprise.
So where are we now, with a love for epics less potent than 2003 Brian and bunch of time to catch up on the kind of European stuff I tend to drool over? If I had to do it all again, and I don’t, but clearly I am for sh*ts and giggles, it would be in the following order. (All movies listed were released domestically in 2003; that was the only criteria).
10. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
From the top of the list to the bottom. Peter Jackson’s closing chapter to the Tolkien adaptation still wows regularly, with that wonderful Howard Shore score, gargantuan battles and swath of characters easy to invest in; it’s editing is another thing. While the infamous multiple endings never irked me, it’s the build-up that stumbles here and there, especially when Viggo Mortensen’s Aragorn disappears for roughly an hour. Still great, not the greatest.
9. Love Actually
Sappiness and more sappiness be damned, a Christmas classic I say. A Christmas classic!...that we put on before the grandparents come over due to the cursing and the boobies.
8. The School of Rock
Ten years on and a pile of bad Jack Black movies later, Richard Linklater’s story of a would-be-rocker turned substitute teacher is still an utter charmer, channeling Black’s well-worn goofball persona better than any movie before or sense. Effortlessly funny and sweet and one of the rare perfect live-action family films of recent time.
7. Shattered Glass
This dramatization of Stephen Glass’ fabricated work at “The New Republic” is a stirring narrative, played out like crime fiction. Watching Hayden Christensen’s Glass spin his every lie and slowly lose the sympathies of his colleagues is a marvel, aided by a knockout performance by Peter Sarsgaard.
6. 28 Days Later
Danny Boyle’s career may be more celebrated now via life-affirming works like Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours, his best stuff is still drowning in the dregs of society. 28 Days Later, the non-zombie zombie movie, helped bring about the resurgence of the undead by eerily detailing how the scariest thing about the end of the world is mankind itself.
5. Crimson Gold
Jafar Panahi didn’t enter my purview until 2006’s Offside, I am delighted to have his filmography to dig through now. Crimson Gold, written by the legendary filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, is described easiest as an Iranian Taxi Driver. That’s the easiest way. This is more than a man pushed too far outing ala the ludicrous Fallen Down. Crimson Gold dives into the harsh inequalities of life, the simple judgments we reference one another with, the traumas of war and plenty other topics, each touched upon with a haunting delicacy.
4. Finding Nemo
Simply put, the best Pixar movie from start to finish. Plenty of the studio’s efforts have perfect openings or endings; this one excels from pillar to post.
3. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
When it comes to that discussion of films that have grown in people’s estimation with each year, Peter Weir’s 2003 release stands high on the mountain for movies from the Aughts, with new converts popping up regularly. A non-hit, financially speaking, upon its release, and a double-digit Oscar nominated picture, Master was stuck in the Gladiator shadow to many; another centuries-old set story with Russell Crowe in the lead. Gladiator isn’t half the movie Master managed to be, featuring a remarkably deep cast, large, yet intimate, tone and a script that adapted a pair of Patrick O’Brian’s nautical novels into a breathless 138 minutes.
2. Lost in Translation
Lost in Translation has been a favorite since the second it ended after my first viewing, it frankly wasn’t seen until weeks into 2004, leaving it off the original and sacrosanct Livejournal list. Bill Murray’s melancholy turn resonates as profoundly today as it did back then, with his Bob Harris fumbling his way though Tokyo, out of place in his temporary home and his actual one in the States, finding solace only after a surprising friendship by Scarlett Johansson, in the part that made her a household name. Then there’s that ending, moving as ever in its quiet nature. The words Murray speaks to Johansson have been discovered through technological manipulation; knowing them is to miss the point of its staging.
1. The Son
Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s career together has been nothing short of masterful since 1996’s La Promesse. If The Son isn’t their peak, it’s only because they’ve made around half-a-dozen pieces of perfection. This is a beautiful piece of art, through and through, able to withdraw tears with each watching. We begin with Olivier Gourmet’s character, a carpentry instructor whom is quiet and clearly good at his job, despite a humble presence. A new student appears and, for reasons the Dardenne’s gradually unfurl, Gourmet is visibly shaken. I’m not really a spoiler caring kind of guy. That out there, any minor interest in The Son would be best met with a clear head since the Dardennes’ emotional reveals are shocking and profoundly telling of the drastic nuances a person’s life can consist of in its travels. The movie doesn’t tread in twists, it is interested in the layer’s of the human condition. Through their minimalist camerawork and editing, this is achieved. It is an achievement with few equals.