Shaken and Stirred
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14 movies better than a glass eye in 2003
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Movies, 2003. Contrary to the common wisdom, I think 2003 was a really good year for movies. (This New York Times piece gets it right.) There are still quite a few that I havenít seen that I have high expectations for, TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE, BIG FISH, PETER PAN, IN AMERICA, and THE COMPANY just to name a few. These are in no particular order, but stand out as my personal favorites of the year so far.

1. RABBIT-PROOF FENCE. So, technically this came out in 2002, but I didnít see it until this year and I was just completely bowled over by it. This is truly visual storytelling at its finest and acting near invisibility. The landscape alone is worth a watch. (The book, however, not so muchóbut maybe I didnít give it a fair try.) Great soundtrack by Peter Gabriel.

2. WHALE RIDER. Oh, let me count the ways I loved this movie? Mostly, I loved it because it wasnít what I expected going inóthe slightly clichť girl power story with big emotion. Well, it is a girl power story and it does have big emotion, but itís so subtly done, the actors all do such a brilliant job of conveying deeply buried emotion and of flat-out pulling a response out of you when their emotions reach the surface. The other thing that blew me away was how much this movie tried to be fair to its charactersóit would have been very easy to demonize the patriarchal figure and yet heís allowed to be both infuriating and empathetic.

3. CITY OF GOD. This movie, whose violence is only exceeded by its brilliance, canít be recommended highly enough. I donít think this movie ever became the breakout hit that Miramax anticipated, but it certainly deserved to be. So raw and true and, even, mythic that it feels as if you are part of the slum in Rio de Janeiro where itís set. This is like Tarantino doing documentary with a real heart beneath the blood and guts and flash. Only better.

4. KILL BILL, PT 1. Having said the above, no matter how annoying I may find Q.T. himself in interviews, I still think heís a filmic wunderkid. (Sic) His movies are like oozing zombie creatures motivated by the life force of other movies but no less alive for that. All Q.T. movies are swimming in as much cinematic stew as possible, and they still have a sense of the sheer joy and energy of the form to them that many movies just plain donítónone more so than KILL BILL. The thing I liked best about this movie is that it has a moral code to its violence which renders it inoffensive (especially coupled with the cartoonish quality of it) in the same way that Sergio Leone violence isnít offensive, or even that in THE GODFATHER. These are people who have chosen to live lives of violence and acknowledge the consequences of itóand this is demonstrated in the opening. Loved it.

5. BLUE CAR. Yeah, I have a soft spot for this one because itís a Nicholl-winning script helmed by the writer. But itíd be an impressive debut even without that pedigree. This is a gut-wrenching movie, in which even a tough girl gets her heart broken. Agnes Bruckner as that tough girl poet is riveting. A movie about real people acting real, thatís not always easy to watchóbut the sleazy teacher gets his comeuppance, and he gets to have more depth than most of them do (in my experience).

6. PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN. Yay! I went to see this movie on my birthday and was absolutely delighted by it. Itís a wonderful movie, a swashbuckler that delivers and, thanks be, someone finally revived the pirate genre. Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott deserve a lot of the credit for this one because they managed to take several humdrum drafts and combine them and improve them into a kick-ass movie that tips its hat to all the right influences. And of course, Johnny Depp makes the flick. Get the DVD, watch the deleted scenes! Skeleton monkey! Yay!

7. THE LORD OF THE RINGS: RETURN OF THE KING. Well, I have a confession to makeówhich some of you already know. Iíve never read the books, or if I did, I was too young for them and donít remember them. Mostly, I just remember reading THE HOBBIT over and over. I started reading FELLOWSHIP after the first movie, promptly lost it, and decided to wait until Iíd seen all three movies to read the books. I think this, like the other two movies, are beyond impressive pieces of movie magic. This movie just couldnít have been made before now, and without the particular talents turned to it, probably couldnít even have been made now. I think this is one for the film history classes, and will stand the test of time. Especially when Viggo Mortensen becomes a big deal leading man. I suppose Iíll get to the books this coming year, though I could technically stretch it until after the extended edition DVD comes out.

8. AMERICAN SPLENDOR. This movie deserves its own special category, but good luck deciding what it is. Part documentary, part comic, part fiction, part biographyóitís just a damn good movie. This movie impresses the hell out of me. (And no, Iím not a huge Harvey Pekar fan.)

9. LOST IN TRANSLATION. HmmmÖ It seems like some of the movies loved best, Iíve saved till last. Bill Murray improves any movie heís in and heís just brilliant here. I think Rushmore will still be my favorite Bill Murray movie, because itís one of my favorite movies period, ever, end, stop. But this oneís a close second, and Scarlett Johanssen proves yet again that she is the young actress of taste and talent. Sofia Coppola really is a fine storyteller, and Iím glad this movie has more light in it, for all its quiet brooding, than THE VIRGIN SUICIDES.

10. THE STATION AGENT. Loved it. The easy pacing, the visual quirk of the depot and the dead and moving trains. The memorable, lovable characters, all of who have rough edges. Peter Dinklage is just great, as the stoic dwarf who comes to town a loner and reneges on his own commitment to stay that way forever. Other than a few moments where darkness threatens to overwhelm the movie, this is a gem.

11. X-MEN 2: UNITED. This was the comic book I loved most when I was a kid. I still remember like yesterday all those arguments with my big brother over whether Cats Laughing was a real band (who woulda thunk Iíd grow up to know all its members?) or just made up for the back of Kitty Prideís jacket. I enjoyed the first X-MEN movie, but this one is better. Not perfect, but damn enjoyable and if they keep getting betteróitíll be a big difference from the comic book. Additional bonus: Storm slightly less lame in this one. (Where was Angela Bassett or Iman when we needed her? Just think, with Iman, that would make THREE supermodels in one movie.)

12. MYSTIC RIVER. The only thing I wish is that Iíd gotten to see the movie before I read the book. But I still think this is a dead-on adaptation that swoons close to Greek tragedy. Clint Eastwood manages to keep melodramatic material from becoming sentimental, which is no easy task. Youíve heard others gush about the performances so I wonít, but theyíre gushworthy. If youíve read the Lehane book, the ending will work better for you. Iíd wait anyway, and read it afterward, if you havenít. (Itís a marvel of structure, really.)

13. 28 DAYS LATER. You like a good zombie movie, donít you? Then see this one. Itís good, and surprisingly frothy, which is in fact a twist on the clichť.

14. THE GOOD THIEF. Iím not Nick Nolteís biggest fan, nor would I even use his name and the word fan in the same sentence. However, this is a stylish, fun heist movie that earns those adjectives. Unlike most ďstylish, fun heist movies.Ē And Nolte actually seems to eat up playing his crotchety old self as a decidedly un-sex symbol kind of guy.

earworm: "9 to 5," Alison Krauss version

random rec: a cactus in the wintertime

namecheck: Mister "Geniusest Guy Ever" Netflix Inventor

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