A List Of Films from 2003
How to write about what I thought were the best forty films of last year. No, scratch that, why am I writing about the forty best films of last year? The simplest answer of course would be that I did it last year and am a completist. But of course this merely delays the question. Why did I do it last year?

A best of list is personal, self-indulgent and almost completely useless to the outside world (the fact that I am on the whole against owning DVD’s makes it even pointless as a wishlist). All of these things are clear to any of us living in the postmodern ‘no experts’ world. And even if I were to stomp around saying that the fact that I saw over 150 new films last year gives me some sort of authority (which this sentence is trying to do) I know in my heart (actually brain) that I do not believe it. So instead, mea culpa, I do this to show off, to make people agree, disagree, and generally talk to me. And rather than pr?cis exactly what the films are about and why you should like them, I’ll just say one or two things that still stick in my head about them. You’ll know most of them anyway.

Anyway, before I start, a short list of films that I did NOT see which could have made it into this list, which I missed due to bad timing, bad mood or general disinterest: Blind Shaft (Other Cinema poor scheduling), Crimson Gold (Iranian ennui), Dumb & Dumberer (call it a hunch), Wreckmaster Harmonies (life is too short),

So here is a list which if I wrote it tomorrow would only change a bit:

1: City Of God
No apologies for obviousness. First film I saw in 2003, which in scale, scope and….
….Sorry. A moment? The end. The news footage shown under the credits of the actual Knockout Ned reprising the new sequence in the film. You have not been told that this is a true story, though the presentation suggests that it contains more than a number of generalised truths. Suddenly in a moment of resemblance, the already impressive totality of the film is thrown at the viewers face. This actually happened, whatcha gonna do about it. walking away, reasoning that this is merely a dramatised version of some loose true stories does not work. It should not be even vaguely true.

2: Take Care of My Cat
The second film I saw in 2003. This trend does not continue. (The third film I saw was Sweet Home Alabama which will not be making this list). A growing up is shit film, which has a beautiful ending. Two of the friends think of escaping, and do. It is complete wish fulfilment, the other girls are still trapped in their situation, but this Korean coming of age drama understands (like City Of God) how important hope is.

3: Heartlands
Finally, a British Road movie that works. A film that articulates the idea that in a country without huge expanses it is the small that might just be beautiful. And the conclusion that the road is a sometimes a destination, not just a means to get there. And Eric Bristow.

4: Cypher
For someone finally outdicking all the Dick adaptations. Cypher is a no holds barred confusing sci-fi movie relying nearly wholly on decent acting to convince. But manly for not having a Macguffin, for having a central conceit that the film convinces us is really worth all the plot twists to get at the end.

5: All The Real Girls
Perhaps this is too neat a story. A lothario finally falls in love, and unfortunately gets a taste of his own medicine. But what makes it so well mae is that this simple, classical plot is completely obscured by the film-making. The sweetness of the characters give the audience a taste of the love, and the phonecall where Zooey Deschanel lets him down hurts everyone.

6: Kill Bill (vol 1)
A film which really questions if the job of fight choreography should always be qualified with the word fight. As complex and beautiful as Singin’ In The Rain, and as much about the movies as that film too.

7: Raising Victor Vargas
As much as I liked the lead story, I particularly remember Judy’s best friend Melonie (played by Melonie Diaz).Diaz was about the only good thing in the otherwise ropey Double Whammy, and sparkles in support here.

8: Adaptation
Clever should never be an insult. Having dug itself into a hole with its own self-reflexivity, Charlie Kaufmann’s script has its cake and eats it. Very funny, intelligent and oddly even genuinely exciting when it flips gears. I like it for most of the things people I went with disliked. A film that says there is nothing wrong with action movies. And that the film Identity had pretty much the plot of The Three was a delicious irony.

9: Intolerable Cruelty
Were people who said Catheine Zeta Jones and George Clooney had no chemistry watching the same film as me? Light as a feather, nasty as candy earwax. I laughed nearly all the way through it, though the asthma inhaler gag is a piece of sublime slapstick.

10: thirteen
Advance publicity suggested a worthy, but almost excruciatingly unwatchable message film. What publicity did not say is how funny a lot of it would be. Dark humour, mixed with real sympathy for its characters. John Cusack in Operation Kandahar is just one of the sly digs in the film.

11: Tadpole
The Graduate with a fourteen year old. The dinner scene is farce at its best, but the best part of this comedy is Bebe Neuwirth eating up the scenery and spitting it out as this films Mrs Robinson. And what she’s doing is illegal. Camera-work is terrible, but a nice zingy script.

12: Spellbound
Possibly a dangerous road for documentary to go down, almost aping the ridiculousness of a Christopher Guest mockumentary. Yet this cross section of American kids are a decent antidote to all the US bashing we have been getting in the media. Weird, funny but driven, showing the power of ambition when it is channelled properly. Admittedly for a pretty pointless reason.

13: Elf
I loved the narwhale. With that moment you knew that this was a film with its heart in the right place. Zooey Deschanel’s singing too, suggesting she should be in a musical. Mainly though for proving that you can go to the well of lost plots and redeem the irredeemable. Who knew you could do so well ripping off Ghostbusters 2.

14: X-Men 2
Settling into the trustworthy franchise role, a serial picture which has learnt pretty much all of the rules of Buffy (which is only fair considering where Buffy got it from). Happily ticking the boxes for fans, happily not being geeky for non-fans. All you need is one blockbuster action sequence (the opening one) and plenty of imagination – and this fires on all cylinders. Magneto’s ball-bearings!

15: Solaris
The sheer intelligence of the reaction of Natasha McIllhone when she realises that she is just a phantom dreamt up by Clooney and the planet. A film full of big ideas and tiny moments.

16: Le Fils
The simplest kind of suspense is the mystery of the human mind. A woodwork teacher strikes up a relationship with the boy who killed his son. Is he planning some terrible revenge, is how looking for an apology, is he looking for a surrogate son? That it is not clear if even he knows is compelling.

17: About Schmidt
Because there are not enough films about being normal, dull and old. The year’s saddest film.

18: In This World
Oh no, asylum seeker, economic migrant, child, oh no! Right on woolly liberal pity the poor furriner or Christ, if I lived like that I might put myself through that just for a chance to be pilloried in the streets in Britain. Yet another Michael Winterbottom triumph, pity the lead actor has already done a bunk.

19: Far From Heaven
I don’t like Julianne Moore. Never have. Not liked anything Todd Haynes has done before either (you can tell I really hated Safe right?) But I liked her in this, and I liked this a lot. Affectionate pastiche is a bit of an insult for what is a properly rounded, emotional film. If it happens to look dazzling in the process, who would argue with it.

20: To Kill A King
The civil war. Brother against brother, nation torn asunder. The usual. Roundhead versus Cavelier. Perhaps Tim Roth’s Oliver Cromwell is too much the villain in this, but a fascinating period piece, which really comes alive when Rupert Everett’s King Charles is on screen. Particularly notable is the dignity with which he gets his head chopped off, particularly scary is his total belief in his divine right to govern.

21: Undercover Brother
Stupid, quotable, silly but oddly a film with a pretty decent message too. If Austin Powers was not just content with recycling the same jokes they could be this good. Two words: Flare parachutes.

22: Rain
Another female coming of age drama. It has tremendous ending, driving away from the scene of the tragedy the whole film has inexorably been building towards. As the car drives off we stare at the motionless heroine, who feels responsible, who is responsible. And we stay with her for two minutes. Nothing happens. We reflect, she reflects.

23: Touching The Void
999 The Movie, luckily sans Michael Buerk. Is it a documentary docu-drama or peyote fuelled pile of bollocks that leave you scared shitless of Boney M. Brown Girl In The Ring has never been this scary.

24: The Trilogy
If I had seen two or three first, I probably would not have gone back. Beyond the formalist exercise (and the rather nonsensical romantic comedy) is a set of characters who in the main are compelling. One in particular is a genuinely compelling thriller, but perhaps the best part was going back like serial fiction to fill in the blanks. Trilogies saved from fantasy and science fiction.

25: Chicago
It may not have any real show stopping tunes, but it brought back the idea of spectacle to cinema. We can do anything with special effects now, they aren’t special anymore. Let’s get back to a bit of human endeavour, song and dance.

26: Roger Dodger
Desperation personified in Campbell Scott’s ultimate bullshit merchant. The bottle of champagne with the two girls in the park where Roger’s boorishness is contrasted with his nephews sweetness may not ring true, but the death knell of the old man is tolling. As Roger knows. Does he deserve redemption? I think so.

27: Sympathy For Mr Vengance

Quite possibly the daftest translated title, certainly one of the most gruesome and nastiest films I saw last year. And yet the most disturbing part of the film is not one of the blood splattered parts. Rather it is the point when our green haired, deaf-mute hero cannot hear that his kidnapped charge that he has no desire to hurt is drowning in the background. Sticks in the mind due to its meaningful unpleasantness.

28: Dark Blue
A Man Who Shot Liberty Valance for the nineties LA riots. Kurt Russell spits out dialogue that possibly too well tailored, but manages to look truely shocked when his life falls apart. The drive through the riots pokes fictions nose against fact and just about convinces with conviction.

29: Secretary
Perhaps not as groundbreaking and rude as it thinks it is, but ten times sweeter. Like many romantic comedies, the films best bits are before everything goes wrong and just when they are falling in love. Here, with that section involving saddles, whips and yelps of joy it is very, very funny.

30: Lilya-4-Ever
Your appreciation of this film depends completely on how you take the capering around with stick on cotton wool angel wings at the end. Maybe Ken Loach would not have done that, but as an almost jet black joke it worked for me. And the Rammstein opening is about the subtlest thing in this film, but sometimes film has to be angry.

31: Lord Of The Ring: The Return of The King
Worst of the three, wholly down to the source material. In the end Sauron, our arch-villain, is naught but a Looney Tune eye, boggling at the last minute at Frodo pulling one over on him. Too long, with an over-sentimental and simplified ending, it was still a real event.

32: Belleville Rendez-vous
‘S a cartoon. Yay! Warped, visually very clever, with an offbeat story that makes plenty of internal sense, this is a twitching triumph. Very few subtitles, measured and with great music, the opening number is just tremendous.

33: Time Of The Wolf
A film that revives our fear of the dark. The first half hour is relentlessly unpleasant, but the sequences in the dark, real proper darkness when the little boy goes missing are as confusing to us as the characters. The rest may be a poor mans Survivors, but the brutality of the first minute, and then the fear.

34: Goodbye Lenin
A simple farce with pretensions, the film is best when going for the laughs. The extended Coca-Cola gag stretches the truth like all good farces should, leaving the end to grasp at sentiment.

35: Broken Wings
The fourth film in the list which could be described as a teenage girl coming of age drama (the hit genre of the year), this slight Israeli film is cut from rather simplistic stock. Teen rock chick dealing with the death of her father and the rest of her families inability to deal with the same. Required quirks include brother who dresses up in a mouse costume. Covers similar ground to Rain (with a very similar plot twist), you have to cover your eyes when the younger brother repeatedly flings himself into the empty swimming pool.

36: Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines
I need not add too much to my appreciation of this film. It sidelines Arnie in favour of a plot which past changing films are always afraid of. But it knows how to use Arnie properly. Smash his head through a toilet.

37: XX/XY
Mark Ruffalo getting caught out there. Clueless arseholes all over the world should see this film as an instruction manual in how to fuck up not one, but two relationships and be left miserable. Most clueless arseholes though don’t quite have Ruffalo’s charisma.

38: Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl
Just for Johnny Depp. A performance of camp, grandeur and a surprising amount of pathos, surviving around the Bruckheimer Disney theme park nonsense. Was telling everybody the Keith Richards stuff merely running interference because he thought everyone would take the piss? Jack Sparrow is a masterful comic creation which is just as well cos the film is too long, and too stupid apart from that. Best entrance of a film in years.

39: Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World
A handy comparison to the pirate nonsense, this was seafaring nonsense of a higher degree. It spent far too much time trying to be authentic, when it was just the boysiest owniest yarn you could imagine. Thoroughly pointless, effortlessly exciting. Russell Crowe is no natural blonde though.

40: Whale Rider
Painfully predictable, it still works because of the strong lead. Big sticks, lovely facepainting and a great big stinking whale prosthetic allows it to be thoroughly predictable, so while you are concentrating on the plot you are looking at the details round the edges.