1) "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" - As I said in my review of this movie, Peter Jackson is a genius. Could any other filmmaker have handled the Tolkien trilogy and had it turn out as breathtakingly beautiful as Jackson? Probably not. It took his artistic vision to bring this epic saga to life. With the release of the final film, Jackson has proven he can mix effects, action, and adventure, with equal servings of heart and soul. All I can say is bravo to Mr. Jackson and the entire cast and crew.
2) "Cold Mountain" So good I had to see it twice in one week. "Cold Mountain" isnt a war story, its not a love story, and its not a story of friendship. Its the perfect blend of all three, making it attractive to both genders and a wide age range. Not once did I glance at my watch during this movie, and thats my most accurate way of determining how much Ive enjoyed a film. Renee Zellweger deserves the awards buzz, as do Nicole Kidman and Jude Law. And put aside any trepidation you may have over seeing Kidman and Law play Southerners. They pull it off without a hitch.
3) "Big Fish" I have more than a few friends who believe I give extra points to any film that stars Ewan McGregor. While that may be true in most instances, "Big Fish" earns 3rd place because of the work of director Tim Burton, not McGregor. If the overall film hadnt worked on its own merit, no one performance could have saved it. This moving celebration of love and family had me totally captivated, and it didnt hurt that Burtons twisted vision is clearly imprinted on every frame of this film.
4) "The Station Agent" "The Station Agent" was the only movie of 2003 where, at the end of the film, I sat there wanting more. Seriously, I wanted another good 20 minutes with these characters. Compelling, gentle, and original, "The Station Agent" was only knocked out of 1st place on my list at the very end of the year.
5) "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" For a good time call on Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, and Keira Knightley, some swashbuckling pirates, and one creepy little monkey. "Pirates" delivered the most fun I had at the theater all year. Judging by the movies box office numbers, Im not alone in finding it one of the most enjoyable movies of the year. I love Depps performance as the weirdest pirate in film history and Keira Knightley proved shes more than just a pretty face.
6) "Laurel Canyon" Frances McDormand gets the chance to show off her sexy side in this ensemble drama, which also features Christian Bale, Kate Beckinsale, and Alessandro Nivola. Sex, drugs, rock 'n roll, loyalty, love, and family combine to make a steamy and erotic film centered around the music industry. "Laurel Canyon" also serves as a reminder we dont get to see enough movies that star Christian Bale.
7) "In America" This is the first movie that moved me to tears in 3+ years. Director Jim Sheridan and his two daughters wrote this script based loosely on their shared experience of coming to America and establishing themselves in New York. The adult cast Samantha Morton, Paddy Considine, and Djimon Hounsou are terrific but its the two kids who steal this film. Real-life sisters Sarah and Emma Bolger are endearingly innocent and somehow manage to never succumb to the annoying child actor trait of being precocious.
8) "Kill Bill Vol. 1" "Kill Bill" was one of the small handful of movies I couldnt wait to see in 2003. Tarantino returned to the big screen with a vengeance and because of the length of this, his fourth movie, we now have something to look forward to in 2004. And, oh yeah, Uma Thurman is a goddess. Enough said.