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Best Films of 2003

     What year before 2003 has weighed in with such a cluster of totally glum, downer American movies? Sylvia, 21 Grams, Mystic River, House of Sand and Fog, Monster, The Statement, Wonderland, In the Cut.

     As Charlie Brown would mutter, "Good grief!"

     The Boston Society of Film Critics bypassed for its awards all those sagas of suffering except for Mystic River, which won Best Picture, but opted for the far mellower Lost in Translation for Best Actor (Bill Murray), Best Actress (Scarlett Johansson), and Best Direction (Sophia Coppola). For Best Documentary, the Boston Critics did choose that ode to family dysfunction, Capturing the Friedmans.

     2003 was a rah-rah Year of the Documentary. Note that extraordinary week in the Fall when nine different non-fiction features were playing in Boston theatres.

     My Best Documentary of 2003? A tie between two Vietnam War-era investigations, Fog of War, Cambridge's Errol Morris probing of ex-Defense Secretary Robert S.McNamara, and Sam Green's and Bill Siegel's The Weathermen, looking back at the most militant cadre of anti-War protestors. Morris's film is much the more formally interesting, but I'd rather have dinner with "Days of Rage" superbabe Bernadette Dohrn than with preppy war criminal,"Bob" McNamara.

     The Rest of the Best Documentaries of 2003: Morning Sun, The Same River Twice, Capturing the Friedmans, Spellbound, What I Want My Words to Do To You, Power Trip, Love & Diane, Shelter Dogs.

     And these distinguished runners-up: The Stone Reader, Playing House, Cinemania, Tibet: Cry of the Snow Lion, Lost in La Mancha, Bus 174, Derrida, In the Mirror of Maya Deren, Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary, To Be and To Have.

     The Best Feature Film of 2003? The Triplets of Belleville, an adult animation from France of bold, uncanny originality, with hand-drawn cels equal to the greatest fantasy book illustrators, Edward Gorey, Maurice Sendak, etc. Filmmaker Sylvain Chomet is a visionary genius, and this fabulist tale - of a bicyclist boy, a train-chasing dog, a courageous grandmother, and a crooning trio of frog-eating shopping-bag ladies - is an enthralling throwback to the pre-Disney, free-flowing age of the Fleischer Brothers.

     The Best American Feature of 2003? Shattered Glass, high tension and intense paranoia at The New Republic, and this vivid true-life saga of the flushing out of zealous reporter Stephen Glass, who forged a sensational career writing fake magazine articles, is the most exciting journalist detective movie since 1976's All the President's Men.

     Two locally made Boston narratives are outstanding first works. Andrew Bujalski's Funny Ha Ha, New England's Best Feature, is a droll, beautifully written comedy about Cambridge post-collegiates, with Kate Dollenmayer amazing as the semi-lost lead, underemployed and fumbling at love. Garth Donovan's Everyone's Got One, New England's Best Comedy, is a coarse, hilarious story of a would-be screenwriter obsessively stalking a slippery indie producer. The post-There's Something About Mary Farrelly Brothers have never been this funny.

     The Best Feature Films of 2003: The Triplets of Belleville, Shattered Glass, American Splendor, Lost in Translation, The Secret Life of Dentists, 21 Grams, Irreversible (The Best Foreign-Language Film), The Magdalene Sisters, Funny Ha Ha, Zero Day.

     And these estimable runners-up: Mystic River, Divine Intervention, Raising Victor Vargas, Sweet Sixteen, A Mighty Wind, Terminator 3:Rise of the Machines, XX/XY, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Japanese Story, Elephant.

     Best Actor: Bill Murray, Lost in Translation – Runners-Up: Paul Giamatti, American Splendor; Sean Penn, 21 Grams; Hayden Christensen, Shattered Glass; Will Ferrell, Elf.

     Best Actress: Toni Collette, Japanese Story – Runners-Up: Kate Dollenmayer, Funny Ha Ha; Jennifer Connelly, House of Sand and Fog; Naomi Watts, 21 Grams; Scarlett Johansson, Lost in Translation.

     Best Supporting Actor: Peter Sarsgaard, Shattered Glass Runner-Up: Eugene Levy, A Mighty Wind.

     Best Supporting Actress: Zooey Deschanel, All the Real Girls – Runner-Up: Geraldine McEwan, The Magdalene Sisters.

     Best Director: Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, American Splendor – Runner-Up: Billy Ray, Shattered Glass.

     Most Overrated Movies: Bend It Like Beckham, Dirty Pretty Things, Bad Santa, The Barbarian Invasions, Winged Migration.

     Worst Casting: Nicole Kidman, The Human Stain and Cold Mountain.

(Boston Phoenix - December, 2003)


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