That Was The Year, That Was
Hello again everyone, and welcome to the annual spectacle of me making a fool of myself by
tipping films that haven't actually been made yet. The annual Lassie Awards have undergone a bit of
a makeover, so you've got that to look forward to as well.
2003 was the biggest year yet for the Post's most regular film review column: over sixty new or
recent films seemed worth the price of admission, nearly 50% up on 2002. (Many of them actually
were worth the price of admission.) The new movies in question were:
About Schmidt, Adaptation., Anger Management,
Bad Boys 2, Blackball,
Blue Crush, Bowling for
Columbine, Bright Young Things, Bruce Almighty, Bulletproof
Monk, Calendar Girls, Catch
Me If You Can, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, Chicago, Cidade De Deus (City of
God), Cold Mountain, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Confidence, Cradle 2 The Grave,
Daredevil,Equilibrium, Far From Heaven, Finding Nemo,
The Four Feathers, Freddy Vs
Jason, Gangs of New York, Hulk, Identity, Intolerable Cruelty, The Italian Job
(2003), Johnny English, Kill Bill (Volume One), Lara Croft Tomb
Raider: The Cradle of Life, The League of Extraordinary
Gentlemen, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the
King, Love Actually, The
Magdalene Sisters, Master and Commander - The Far Side of
the World, The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revolutions, Morvern
Callar, Nicholas Nickleby, Once Upon A Time In Mexico, Phone
Booth, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black
Pearl, Punch Drunk Love, The Quiet American, Seabiscuit,
Secretary, The Sin Eater (aka The
Order), Solaris (2002), Spirited Away, Star Trek:
Nemesis, S.W.A.T, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Timeline, The Transporter, Two Weeks Notice, Underworld,
X2, Young Adam
I know, in an ideal world you'd have time to go back and read all the reviews individually, but
with New Year's resolutions being what they are I expect you've all got Yogalates or plumbing
classes to get to. Anticipating this I thought I would share with you my list of the ten most essential
films of the last twelve months, in no particular order.
These aren't necessarily my favourite ten films of the past year, nor are they (in my opinion) the
ten best. But watching all of these would hopefully give you a fair idea of what's been happening on
the silver screen since my last lazy seasonal filler piece.
Arriving here early in 2003 was Steven Spielberg's Catch Me If You
Can, a brilliantly crafted piece of pure entertainment and the second half of Leonardo's
comeback (the first being Scorsese's flawed but impressive Gangs of New York). I thought
this was a hoot from beginning to end, a great story extremely well told. It's sometimes tempting to
deride films with no agenda beyond simply entertaining the audience, but I think that often says
more about the critic than the actual film in question.
Of course, it's also been a good year for the more off-the-wall style of American film-making, as
demonstrated by Spike Jonze's Adaptation. Trying to review
this film in a way that did it justice was a bit of a challenge and no mistake, but it remains one of
the most brain-manglingly funny films I've seen recently, with a couple of terrific performances
from Nicolas Cage at its heart.
Charlie Kaufman is rapidly becoming the man to go to in Hollywood if you want a book adapting
for the screen, and he gets his second film onto this list in the form of Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, the fabulous (in every sense of the
word) life story of the man who invented the TV show Blind Date. Another very solid piece
of film-making, driven by another bravura central performance (this time by Sam Rockwell), but
it's here mainly to commemorate the achievements this year of its director, George Clooney. No-one
has done more to try to bring intelligent films back into the mainstream, for which he should surely
But Americans aren't the only ones with cameras and editing suites, and anyone who doubts that
skill and energy exists outside the English-speaking world should go and take a look at Fernando
Mereilles' City of God, which came out of the Rio slums like a
firework. Comparisons with Pulp Fiction, Goodfellas and Trainspotting are entirely
justified. For my money, the best film of 2003 (and available on VHS very cheaply in at least one
major chain of shops in the UK).
Outside of cinemas, of course, 2003 wasn't a lot of fun for many people, something which the
Oscars did their level best to ignore. So all credit to Michael Moore for one of the most memorable
acceptance speeches in the history of the ceremony, given whilst accepting the best documentary
gong for Bowling for Columbine, a witty, passionate, and
persuasive film about the modern-day cult of violence - even if it does outstay its welcome just a
If there was a common thread running through the majority of 2003's action movies, it was that
of the superhero comic adaptation, with everything from Bulletproof Monk to The League
of Extraordinary Gentlemen hitting the screen. Despite high hopes, most of these flopped, or
were flawed, or both. The best of the bunch turned out to be Bryan Singer's X2, balancing big thrills with great FX and charismatic performances.
Even so, next year's comic book movies will have to restore the big studios' somewhat shaken faith
in the genre.
Arriving here several years after release in its native Japan was Miyazaki's Spirited Away, a lush and enthralling cartoon fairy tale that almost
inevitably didn't get the audience it deserved, despite rave reviews (from proper critics as well).
Possibly the most beautifully crafted film of the year, and a delight from start to finish.
Film-stars don't come more laden with testosterone than Russell Crowe (except perhaps for Julie
Walters), and the big man returned to the classy-historical-action genre with Peter Weir's Master and Commander - The Far Side of the World, a film which has
sadly rather under performed at the box office. This is probably down to the lack of jokes and
comic relief, but it's still a relief to see a big film which isn't afraid to follow its own course.
And, of course, the year concluded with the big one: Peter Jackson's final slice of Tolkien,
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Critical opinion
about this film remains divided (this is reviewer-speak for 'everyone else likes it more than I do'),
but it's still a breathtaking fusion of characterisation, special effects, bravura direction, and hairy
feet. Christmas won't seem like Christmas next year.
Of course, not everything in the garden of cinema was blooming, and there were indeed some
blooming awful films on release. Particular offenders were Bruce Almighty, The Sin Eater
(aka The Order), and Timeline, but my favourite bad film of the year was The Transporter, which took some absolutely first-class action
choreography and draped it in one of the stupidest scripts ever written, complete with blatant
product placement for Tiger beer. Hopefully star Jason Statham will be unleashed on another
unsuspecting audience very soon.
(Not quite making the list, in case anyone's interested, were About Schmidt,
Secretary, Morvern Callar and late entrant Cold Mountain.)
So, as the real US President is wont to say, what's next? Well, it looks like the year's single most
essential accessory for a would-be leading man is going to be a suit of armour and a damn big sword.
Out first is a made-in-NZ piece of ersatz Kurosawa, The Last Samurai, while following it
onto the post-Lord of the Rings bandwagon are Troy, Alexander, and King
Arthur, to name but three. There's yet another wave of superhero movies on the way, although
this time it's mostly sequels (the second Spider-Man), second-stringers (The Punisher
and Hellboy), and 'reimaginings' (the word-of-mouth on Halle Berry's Catwoman is
already asphyxiatingly toxic). Fans of people having their limbs hacked off, but in a funny way, can
look forward to the second half of Kill Bill, while fans of tough guys with long girly hair will
no doubt already be anticipating Hugh Jackman's take on Van Helsing. Not forgetting, of
course, the return of Harry Potter, this time with an unimpeded run at the box office.
Hopefully a few comedies and off-the-wall dramas will sneak into the theatres as well, you never can
Rest assured that, massed public outcry or going under a bus notwithstanding, I will do my best
to keep the Post's movie coverage moderately pertinent. Here we go...