As always, the not quites: Big Fish is that increasingly rare Tim Burton film where he seems to be free of studio influence to do whatever he wants and tell a sweet, offbeat story. Freddy Vs Jason takes one great horror franchise, and one pretty crap franchise, and smashes them together in a funny, bloody fan’s dream. House Of 1000 Corpses is probably Rob Zombie’s best movie to date, and it doesn’t look like he’s going to recapture what makes it so fun again. Dogville is Lars Von Trier doing what he does best – pissing people off, experimenting with Cinema, and creating something unique. It’s bizarrely engaging and while it shouldn’t work, it really really does. The Last Samurai dropped at jsut the right time, as my love for Japanese cinema was at its peak. Ignoring all the White Guy Saviour stuff, and all of the wonderful hair, it’s a gorgeous movie and features a couple of great performances in Cruise and Watanabe. School Of Rock is quotable, fun, and reminds me of a lot of my the favourite movies of my youth – Bill And Ted, Kindergarten Cop, Wayne’s World etc. Jack Black is at his best, and it’s one of those movies you get sucked into watching every time it’s on.
10: The Dreamers (UK/US/France/Italy) Bernardo Bertolucci
Bertolucci should be enough to grab any movie fan’s attention, but through in Michael Pitt and Eva Green, and this seemed like it was made just for me. Naturally there’s a lot of nudity and sex here which may put some off and likewise invite a lot of idiots to watch it for the wrong reasons. There’s a lot of callbacks – to classic New Wave Cinema, to cultural shifts in the 60s, to Bertolucci’s life and career, but in essence it’s a captivating story with a great central trio.
9: Underworld (US/UK/Hungary/Germany) Len Wiseman
As Buffy was ending I needed a new sexy vampire heroine. Kate Beckinsale steps in, all leathered up and guns firing to save the world from a deadly vampire/Lycan war. It’s all very silly and serious, it’s all very stylish, but in terms of post-Matrix action movies it’s one of the best.
8: Kill Bill Vol 1 (US) Quentin Tarantino
This was the first Tarantino movie I ever saw on the big screen, and it felt like a big event. It had been half a decade since his previous film and it was a packed screening. Most of those there didn’t seem to ‘get’ the movie, but I enjoyed every second, spotting a myriad of Easter Eggs and enjoying the onslaught of violence and visuals. It might be his most straightforward, enjoyable movie.
7: A Mighty Wind (US) Christopher Guest
It honestly took me a while to come around to This Is Spinal Tap. I’d always liked it, but it took me longer to love it than most. A Mighty Wind I loved immediately – perhaps because I was more used to the format, perhaps because it wasn’t lampooning anything I cared about. There are some great songs and performances here from Guest regulars, and it’s an easy going movie which continues to unwrap subtle jokes with each viewing – sometimes a visual gag, sometimes a single line or word of dialogue you missed before, or sometimes an actor’s reaction. All of Guest’s movies are gold.
6: The Curse of The Black Pearl (US) Gore Verbinski
Is there a better example of a Theme Park attraction being turned into a movie than this? Depp should have received his Oscar, and it’s the closest we’ve come to a rip-roaring Indiana Jones style romp since The Mummy. It’s funny, rattling along like raft cutting through the waves, and everyone involved seems to be having the times of their lives. It’s such a shame the sequels are trash.
5: Zatoichi (Japan) Takeshi Kitano
Kitano had been steadily pumping out underrated film after underrated film – an amazing accomplishment for the quirky funny man best known in the west for Takeshi’s Castle. While many of his films dealt with common themes – masculinity, violence, inner turmoil, they were typically set in a modern, Yakuza setting. With Zatoichi he goes back to the legend of the blind Samurai to make the best film version of the character, starring as the title character himself. He does things with sound and editing in this film I’d never seen before, and uses the story to showcase those common themes with a keener eye for detail while not letting up on humour and action. Like many Asian movies of this era, it’s a travesty this saw zero interest by The Academy.
5. Oldboy (SK) Chan Wook Park
Each of the remaining films on my list are covered in more detail in my favourite films of the 2000s post. Check it. Suffice it to say, this is essential viewing.
4: A Tale Of Two Sisters (SK) Kim Jee Woon
Gorgeous. Haunting. Should have had a Best Actress Oscar nod.
3: Ju On (Japan) Takashi Shimizu
Wonderfully creepy J-Horror classic
2: The Return Of The King (NZ/US) Peter Jackson
The excellent climax to maybe Cinema’s greatest trilogy.
1: X2 (US) Bryan Singer
Probably the greatest comic book sequel of all time.
Let us know in the comments which films of 2003 make your list!