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Top Ten

The Year in Film

Another year, another intro essay bitching about the past 12 months of cinema...

Tokyo Story: Bill Murray and Scarlett Johanssen found a great (platonic) love in Lost in Translation.

Top Ten 2003

The Year in News O'Malley vs. Ehrlich, Public Housing Segregation Trial, Computer Voting, Baltimore's Primary Election, and More

The Year in Quotes Bon Mots by Joy Martin, Martin O'Malley, Keiffer Mitchell, Miss Maryland and Others

The Year in Film Another year, another intro essay bitching about the past 12 months of cinema...

The Year on Television So now it's official, there are two kinds of television: the kind you watch, and the kind you gawk at...

The Year in Music Jay-Z, Little Brother, OutKast, Stephen Malkmus, The White Stripes and more

The Year in Local Music Urban Ave 31, DJ Debonair, Misery Index, Lungfish, Richard Chartier and more

The Year in Art "Work Ethic" at the BMA, "Imperfect Innocence" at the Contemporary, Performance Video at UMBC, and Other Remarkable Shows

The Year in Books The Cadaver Industry; a Meditation on Race, Music, Family and Postwar America; Growing Up in the Bronx, and More

The Year on Stage Hedda Gabler, Dickens of a Carol, Misalliance, Picasso at the Lapin Agile and Other Great Performances

The Year in Food Grilled Sardines, She-Crab Soup, Spicy Tuna Tartare, Pierogi and Other Memorable Morsels

Posted 12/17/2003

Another year, another intro essay bitching about the past 12 months of cinema. Of course, that shouldn't be the only reason you're feeling a sense of déjà vu. American Wedding, Bad Boys II, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd, Final Destination 2, Jeepers Creepers 2, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, Legally Blonde 2: Red, White, and Blonde, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revolutions, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Scary Movie 3, Shanghai Knights, Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, 2 Fast 2 Furious, X2--if you got the feeling you had already seen most of the movies released this year, no wonder. And that's just the actual sequels, a list that doesn't including the various remakes (The Italian Job, Willard, The In-Laws, The Good Thief, Gigli, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), retreads (The Last Samurai = Shogun, Love, Actually = Four Weddings and a Funeral, Cradle 2 the Grave = any other movie starring DMX), and "homages" (Down With Love, Die, Mommie, Die!).

True, moviegoers have been eagerly awaiting the third installment of Peter Jackson's much-feted Ring cycle, the Matrix sequels and the second Charlie's Angels movie were better than the air of disappointment surrounding them would indicate, and some of the low-expectations do-overs wound up being kind of fun (The Italian Job, Once Upon a Time in Mexico). But it's safe to say that innovation and originality were not hallmarks of 2003. The established auteurs who dared to experiment fell flat: Gus Van Sant turned out not one but two formally interesting but otherwise unengaging films (Gerry and Elephant), while Ang Lee and Amores Perros' Alejandro González Iñárritu crafted two of the most lovingly exquisite and bold not-very-good movies ever made (The Hulk and the soon-to-open 21 Grams, respectively). The one-shot-wonder Russian Ark, the reality-twisting American Splendor, and the sensorially schizophrenic Spider were among the very few films that broke cinematic ground with thoroughgoing success.

All this is a circuitous way of saying that the thin shaving of 2003 flicks that most appealed to our critics tended to fall back on old-fashioned virtues such as storytelling, compelling characters, and emotional connection. It is simplistic to say our critics' poll results announce a triumph of substance over style--the two have never been mutually exclusive--but it is by and large a list that wears its heart on its sleeve. The fact that the Tokyo-set star-crossed-hipster love story Lost in Translation is such alt-weekly bait doesn't mean that its longing glances and quiet reveries didn't hit home, hard. And 28 Days Later is a zombie movie, but it's an emotionally devastating zombie movie. Despite its convoluted story, Mystic River's mournful appeal couldn't be more straightforward and traditional, as a brace of America's finest film actors smoldered and combusted on screen as regular Joes and Janes . The Baltimore-set documentary Girlhood delivered its hard truths about two literal around-the-way girls without varnish or artifice, while Capturing the Friedmans played hide and seek with the truth about an inscrutable family to no less powerful effect.

On the local film front, local filmmakers turned out worthy efforts (from witty short Exasperado to brooding feature Two If by Sea to the psychotronic Night Fifty), a handful of Hollywood projects (Ladder 49, A Dirty Shame) kept local film folks busy, and the reopening of the former Rotunda and Patterson theaters (as the first-run Rotunda Cinematheque and the revival-crazy Patterson Center for the Arts, respectively) mean more movie screens in the city proper than there have been in years. Of course, we still miss out occasionally, as when one of 2003's best films, the Brazilian ghetto/gangster epic City of God, played a suburban multiplex for a scant week. Let's hope in 2004 there will be more to miss, at least.(Lee Gardner)

(CP critics Lee Gardner, Richard Gorelick, Ian Grey, Eric Allen Hatch, Geoffrey Himes, and Bret McCabe voted in our poll. See the complete ballots below.)

1

Lost in Translation (Sophia Coppola, United States) To its detractors, Sofia Coppola's gentle character study was the cinematic equivalent of a New Yorker short story--smart, smooth, and elliptical, with enormous changes at the last minute. There are worse things, though, than storytelling that trusts the viewer to connect the emotional dots. And the rest of us were entirely persuaded by cinematographer Lance Acord's alluring visions of nighttime Tokyo, by dialogue that sounded like something humans might speak, and by the gallant performances of Bill Murray and Scarlett Johanssen. Murray's brief karaoke rendition of Roxy Music's "More Than This" displayed--and evoked--more complexity of feeling than anything else found in a multiplex this year. (Richard Gorelick)

2

City of God (Katia Lund and Fernando Meirelles, Brazil) Like an even speedier Scorsese or a Tarantino with a point, Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund's amphetamized first feature compressed more than 20 years of death, crime, love, and accidental survival amid the abject poverty of the titular Rio de Janeiro snake pit. Equal parts blood-splattered social document and subject-appropriate post-Matrix hyperstyle, it was also the year's finest ball-peen-hammer-to-the-head viewing experience. (Ian Grey)

3

28 Days Later . . . (Danny Boyle, United Kingdom)* Alternately overexposed and shadow-strewn, Danny Boyle's hypertwitchy zombie-virus holocaust film looks like sudden terror feels, and for its first half is truly scary as fuck-all. Nobody could sustain a film-long anxiety attack, but even as its genre downshift to survivor combat film drags, its multiple social subtexts sink in like slow poison. (IG)

4

Russian Ark (Aleksandr Sokurov, Russia)* Aleksandr Sokurov's ninetysomething-minute, one-take tour de force stands as this year's film most likely to render you a disembodied brain floating through time until you attain a transcendent state. Its ghostly navigation of physical space makes it an unlikely companion piece to Gus Van Sant's Elephant, but boasting more paintings and a smaller body count. (Eric Allen Hatch)

5

Capturing the Friedmans (Andrew Jarecki, United States) Andrew Jarecki's documentary about child-abuse accusations that rocked a Long Island family in the 1980s may have sparked more stimulating conversations--about subjective morality, about the elusive objectivity of truth, about the voyeuristic aspects of film viewing--than any other movie that played Baltimore in 2003. Its use of the Friedman family's unnerving home-video footage may scare whole generations into locking up their DV cams. (EAH)

6

American Splendor (Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, United States) The comic-book series of Harvey Pekar (the title comic) and his wife, Joyce Brabner (Our Cancer Year), were adapted into an endearing movie that gleefully blended fiction with reality, professional actors with the real-life people they were portraying, and live action with animation and documentary footage. Potentially off-putting, the nervy mix--concocted by co-directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini--succeeded by staying true to Pekar's sour weirdo spirit. As the Pekars, Paul Giamatti and Hope Davis delivered heroic, drop-dead gorgeous deadpan performances. (RG)

7

Spider (David Cronenberg, Canada)* David Cronenberg's claustrophobic portrait of one man's mind spies on a just-released mental patient (Ralph Fiennes) living in a Lucian Freud-harsh London and battling delusion intrusions from his antagonistic past. Spider isn't Cronenberg's most unsettling outing, but it may be his most anxious, illuminating hell as not the cuckoo's nest of other people but the Beckettian straitjacket of the self. (Bret McCabe)

8

Mystic River (Clint Eastwood, United States) Sean Penn has the showiest role in Mystic River, stewing in anger and guilt; Tim Robbins is just as good in a quieter role, his own guilt and anger absorbed so deeply into his bones that he can barely stand straight. But what lifts Clint Eastwood's movie out of its genre origins and into greatness are two overlooked actresses: Laura Linney, who wills her husband into courage with a mix of sex and ferocity, and Marcia Gay Harden, who stumbles down the sidewalk as a hollowed-out ghost, robbed of the very strength that powers Penn and Linney. (Geoffrey Himes)

9

Girlhood (Liz Garbus, United States)+ People who think the answer to our society's problems are more police and more prisons need to see this stunning addition to the canon of rough-hewn Baltimore-based filmmaking. Ostensibly a documentary about two young girls thrust into the juvenile justice system after committing violent crimes, it functions not only as deft psychological portraits of the girls, their families, and their wardens, but also of the city in which they live--one of many suffocating from lack of funding for education, drug treatment, family planning, and health care. (EAH)

10

Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Peter Jackson, New Zealand)++ A rare case when a movie's flaws--repetitious situations, a protracted coda--become the very attributes that make it more accessible, more lovable. If it were perfect, Peter Jackson's behemoth would be too awesome to enjoy. Chief wonders: The battle scenes are breathlessly ferocious, and the overarching momentum of alternating narratives never falters over the course of 200 minutes. Those with the freshest memories of the first two volumes--really, those who have been savoring the DVDs--will find the most pleasure in completing this journey. (RG)

* available on video and DVD

+ reopens Dec. 19 at the Charles Theatre

++ opens Dec. 17

The Complete Ballots:

Lee Gardner
1. Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola, United States)
2. 28 Days Later (Danny Boyle, United Kingdom)
3. City of God (Katia Lund and Fernando Meirelles, Brazil)
4. Capturing the Friedmans (Andrew Jarecki, United States)
5. Finding Nemo (Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich, United States)
6. Russian Ark (Aleksandr Sokurov, Russia)
7. Mystic River (Clint Eastwood, United States)
8. Open Hearts (Susanne Bier, Denmark)
9. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (Gore Verbenski, United States)
10. Irreversible (Gaspar Noe, France)

Richard Gorelick
1. Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola, United States)
2. Capturing the Friedmans (Andrew Jarecki, United States)
3. American Splendor (Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, United States)
4. The Barbarian Invasions (Denys Arcand, Canada)
5. House of Sand and Fog (Vadim Perelman, United States)
6. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Peter Jackson, United States)
7. Shattered Glass (Billy Ray, United States)
8. A Mighty Wind (Christopher Guest, United States)
9. Swimming Pool (Francois Ozon, France)
10. Finding Nemo (Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich, United States)

Ian Grey
1. Russian Ark (Aleksandr Sokurov, Russia)
2. Spider (David Cronenberg, United States)
3. Girlhood (Liz Garbus, United States)
4. 28 Days Later (Danny Boyle, United Kingdom)
5. City of God (Katia Lund and Fernando Meirelles, Brazil)
6. 21 Grams (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, United States)
7. Bad Santa (Terry Zwigoff, United States)
8. Blue Car (Karen Moncrieff, United States)
9. A Mighty Wind (Christopher Guest, United States)
10. Rivers and Tides (Thomas Riedelsheimer, Germany)

Eric Allen Hatch
1. Russian Ark (Aleksandr Sokurov, Russia)
2. Open Hearts (Susanne Bier, Denmark)
3. Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola, United States)
4. City of God (Katia Lund and Fernando Meirelles, Brazil)
5. Girlhood (Liz Garbus, United States)
6. Capturing the Friedmans (Andrew Jarecki, United States)
7. Elephant (Gus Van Sant, United States)
8. Cabin Fever (Eli Roth, United States)
9. Weather Underground (Sam Green and Bill Siegel, United States)
10. Divine Intervention (Elia Suleiman, France)

Geoffrey Himes
1. 28 Days Later (Danny Boyle, United Kingdom)
2. 21 Grams (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, United States)
3. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (Peter Jackson, United States)
4. Mystic River (Clint Eastwood, United States)
5. The Man with No Past (Aki Kaurismaki, Finland)
6. Finding Nemo (Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich, United States)
7. Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola, United States)
8. Anything Else (Woody Allen, United States)
9. American Splendor (John Pulcini and Shari Springer, United States)
10. Pieces of April (Peter Hedges, United States)

Bret McCabe
1. City of God (Katia Lund and Fernando Meirelles, Brazil)
2. In This World (Michael Winterbottom, United Kingdom)
3. The Magdelen Sister (Peter Mullan, United Kingdom)
4. Spider (David Cronenberg, United States)
5. Elephant (Gus Van Sant, United States)
6. Mystic River (Clint Eastwood, United States)
7. Dirty Pretty Things (Neil Jordan, United Kingdom)
8. Divine Intervention (Elia Suleiman, France)
9. American Splendor (Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, United States)
10. Swimming Pool (Francois Ozon, France)

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The Year In Tracks (12/15/2009)
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The Year in News (12/9/2009)

The Year in Movies (12/9/2009)

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