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The Best Films of the Decade: 2003

Fireworks2003.jpgSo we've already been voting on the Best Films of 2000, 2001 and 2002, and now it's time to turn our attention onto 2003 in the ongoing quest to find the Best Film of the Decade, well in our eyes anyway.

2003 promises a good year, with films such as 21 Grams, The Fog of War, Love Actually, Oldboy, and more. It's a mixed bag, but I think the few I've chosen from the many releases are the best of the year. Now you need to vote on which is the best of them all as we creep towards 2009.

Get voting for the best of 2003.

21 Grams
I remember this film as being really good, but do you know the surprising thing is I remember little about it other than a confrontational scene between the characters of Sean Penn and Benicio Del Toro, two superb actors, and so I definitely need to revisit it. The story is about three separate people who are brought together through a terrible tragedy, and how that tragedy changes their lives. It also stars Naomi Watts and Danny Huston. I do remember it was a powerful film, and with those stars you wouldn't be surprised to know that there are some very powerful performances. I need to revisit this film.

Big Fish
Oh wow. This film had me howling at the end. My wife and I watched it and, as always, she fell asleep somewhere in the middle but come the end was awoken to a chest heaving, sobbing loudly, husband. This is a superb film that combines Tim Burton eccentricities with an amazing, heartfelt story that really builds on the wonderful real world characters. I think one of the strengths of the film is that there is a distinct real world element with real world characters separate to the Burton-esque side of oddities, and because these oddities are seemingly in the imagination of the character, they work much better than a film just filled with them. There's a great cast too, with Albert Finney and Ewan McGregor giving great performances, Billy Crudup, Jessica Lange, Helena Bonham Carter, Alison Lohman, Robert Guillaume, Marion Cotillard, and more. Love it.

The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara
A powerful documentary from Errol Morris which won an Oscar for perhaps one of his best films, as he interviews the former U.S. Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, as he recounts his time in office through the Kennedy and the Johnson era to his time as the President of the World Bank. With a stirring score and some excellent editing, we get a powerful insight into the decisions behind the scenes.

Haute Tension (Filmstalker review)
Here's the closing line from my review:

”A very stylish, tense film, truly a suspense-thriller-horror to be proud of from the French. Please Hollywood, don't remake it.”

That stills stands. The story is pretty clever, stylishly filmed and packs in some really horrific scenes with a rather cool ending, even if you do work it out before it hits you. It's well worth catching if you're a horror film fan. I'm not going to say any more on the film and leave it for you to uncover yourself.

House of Sand and Fog
Vadim Perlman delivers a superb film that he directed and adapted from the novel, and he's helped by two great performances from Jennifer Connelly and Ben Kingsley, and dare I say it, Connelly out acts Kingsley in the film. Ron Eldard and Shohreh Aghdashloo are good supports to the two leads in this emotionally harrowing thriller that really pulls you into the characters. Connelly gives a performance that is one of the best of her career and come highly recommended.

Kill Bill: Vol. 1
Quentin Tarantino is a real hit and miss film-maker for me, here he hit and hit well. Uma Thurman plays his assassin who has escaped her past and tried to get a new life, but her ex-boss and team have hunted her down and executed her. Or so they thought because she's back to hunt them down one by one and kill them all. She, and he, do the task with great style and the film has some iconic moments, although iconic from many other films, Kill Bill stands out on its own very well.

Another film I haven't seen and need to. Nimród Antal, who delivered Vacancy (Filmstalker review) which I really enjoyed and was quite a surprise for me. Sure it had a few issues, but it was a step above similarly themed films from Hollywood. It was Kontroll that got him noticed though and helped bring him to the west, and it's a film I really do need to see. Perhaps someone who has seen it can give a better indication of just how good it is.

The Last Samurai
I know a lot of people are turned off by the fact that Tom Cruise is in the lead of this film, as they are by any film he's in, but I think this is one of the films where he's taken out of his comfort zone and delivers a strong performance rather than relying on the Tom Cruise persona. Here we have a strong story filled with emotion and respect, a story that reflects stories like Dancing With Wolves but transported to a similar time in Japan. The western lead slowly discovers the beauty and respect of traditional Japanese, and Samurai, life, and falls in love with it. He falls so much in love with it he finds it's worth fighting for. It's a powerful drama with some wonderfully shot and well conceived scenes, including some incredible battle moments. Well worth watching.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
The third of the Lord of the Rings films deserves a place on this list. They are stunning films that are amazingly faithful to the original books, in ways that you would not believe until you've read and seen them. It's hard to believe that a book series that is so heavily set in fantasy and so reliant on the reader's imagination can be brought to life on screen so well that it reflects what the audience have created in their mind. Much of that power comes from the creative control that Peter Jackson held over the series. A wonderful film that took eleven Oscars, eleven, more for the entire series than the one film.

Love Actually
This marks the highest point for Richard Curtis, without a doubt, and from the opening moment it has you. I love that airport scene and the opening dialogue from Hugh Grant, it's wonderfully written and the visuals are perfect. It captures a moment in time and a feeling that all of us have, and do, experience. Then there's the rest of the film and performances where we are treated to so many aspects of love, both good and bad, and all of them a joy to watch, some more than others. Hugh Grant even gives a great performance, but undoubtedly the two key stories are of the lost mother and rediscovered love, and of the unrequited love. Wonderful, tender and touching writing that captures your heart and your imagination.

Lost in Translation
I think this film did so well because of the unusual pairing of the leads and that it was a perfect place for Bill Murray to show a serious side and to bring out a comic side to him that wasn't about over the top characters and physical jokes, but about a natural character humour. Here he played a real person, something that we rarely saw him do, and together with a subtle script that touched the reality of friendships and the beginning of a relationship, combined with gentle direction and the sad beauty of Scarlett Johansson, as well as a softly told tale, this film turned out to be something beautiful.

Aside from the story, Charlize Theron is really what this film is about. She won an Oscar for her performance of Aileen Wuornos,a woman whose cruel early life filled with abuse helped shape her into the woman she became, a highway prostitute who was also a serial killer. It's a tough film and a tough role to play, especially for Theron at the time as it was a complete turnaround. However she pulled it off superbly and walked away with an Oscar for it, as well as producing an excellent film that tells a dark story. A deserving win, despite what some critics said about it being focused on her transformation from beauty to Wuornos.

Mystic River
Talking of Oscar winners, Mystic River from Clint Eastwood walked away with Best Actor for Sean Penn and Best Supporting Actor for Tim Robbins. The film also starred Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne, Marcia Gay Harden and Laura Linney, all giving strong performances in a harrowing tale adapted from the Dennis Lehane novel. It tells the story of three men who are brought back together in their later years after one of them loses their daughter in rather suspicious circumstances, leading the police to look to one of them and a dark secret in their past. It's a powerful and troubling film, and both Penn and Robbins are well deserving of their Oscars, and with the wonderful script and superb Eastwood direction, Mystic River remains one of my favourite films to this day.

Oldboy (Filmstalker review)
There's a reason that this film can't get remade, because the original from Chan-wook Park is just so damned good, and of course is relatively impossible to recreate in Hollywood. The film has a wonderful story and script to it, not to mention the excellent visual style, it's not all about the powerful twists. The story sees a man kidnapped and kept in prison for fifteen years, unaware of who his captors are and the reason he's being held. He's eventually released and given money and clothes and a clue to who has done him wrong all this time, and he's out for answers and revenge. Superbly written and filmed, it's a powerful film that everyone should see.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
There are a lot of films that I decided not to include with this list, and you'll see all of the “almost rans” below. However I think it's fair to include the first in the Pirates of the Caribbean series because it did start the series and it took a damn big chance in Hollywood, something that doesn't often happen these days. It brought together a talented and varied cast to deliver something rather epic and hugely entertaining, and they didn't scrimp on the rest of the budget either. Of course it also brought us Captain Jack Sparrow and one of Johnny Depp's most loved characters, not to mention the relationships with .Orlando Bloom's Will Turner and Keira Knightley's Elizabeth Swann. Pirates of the Caribbean will become a classic and much loved film I'm sure, and for starting the franchise I think it deserves a shot at the best film of 2003. Do I think it'll make it? Not really, but then that choice is up to you.

So have a look at the poll and take your shot. Vote for the best film of 2003 and remember to get your vote in for the previous years. Each week I'm posting two more years, and come the end we'll gather the winners together and see what came out top of this decade.

Before that though, here's the films that almost made the list.

The Cooler, Dogville, Elephant, Finding Nemo, Gothika, Hulk, Identity, The Italian Job, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, The Matrix Revolutions, The Station Agent, Tears of the Sun, Thirteen, Touching the Void, Les triplettes de Belleville, Underworld, Zatôichi

Remember to vote for the Best Films of 2002, 2001 and 2000 right here on Filmstalker.



Although not the best of the year it was the only film I had eagerly anticipated the most. That film being Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Ahhh...

I definitely think Finding Nemo should have been included in this list.

Kill Bill vol 1 best film of that year

No contest. The Return of the King!


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