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Thread: Critics' Darlings: The Films of 2003

  1. #61
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    Our Best Lists are a profile, a personal Rorsach test that shows as best we can exactly who we are, and that's why we don't need to compromise and arrive at a consensus.

    But I'd also agree that any current 2003 best lists have to be very provisional. The way a lot of the best ones come out in the last month or so guarantees that. When you have a very good year, you have to drop items off your list that seemed big contenders at first.

    I look forward to your posting on "Amerindie" films -- which I hope will be quite soon, because that's something I'm very curious to hear about.

  2. #62
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    AMERICAN and INDEPENDENT

    There has never been a year in which so many of the best movies are American ones made outside the Hollywood sphere of influence. Quality movies in every genre, including many docs, with low budgets and few "stars". If there is a big studio involved with a film from the list, it's only at the distribution level. I've seen the vast majority of the films below and found only one not worth watching (Blue Car). It's included as a sign of recognition that it has respectable critical support.
    2003 is the year of the "Amerindie".

    ALL THE REAL GIRLS
    ELEPHANT
    RAISING VICTOR VARGAS
    AMERICAN SPLENDOR
    CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS
    LOVE AND DIANE
    PIECES OF APRIL
    THE COOLER
    STEVIE
    WEATHER UNDERGROUND
    GIRLHOOD
    STOKED
    GERRY
    THE STATION AGENT
    MANITO
    THIRTEEN
    MASKED AND ANONYMOUS
    REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES
    NORTHFORK
    WARMING BY THE DEVIL'S FIRE
    SPELLBOUND
    BETTER LUCK TOMORROW
    CHARLOTTE SOMETIMES
    BLUE CAR
    DECASIA

  3. #63
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    I think that NY Film Critics Cirlce will include Cronenberg's Spider in the poll for best of 2003. And my guess is that it may win. I loved it personally. Body horror being his best game, this was still a masterfully patient and delicate Cronenberg work.

    For whatever reasons while Spider is 2003 Russian Ark is 2002, having won last year. Go figure; I think they came out within days of each other in December 2002.

  4. #64
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    SPIDER is remarkably assured and sober. A chamber drama, a head trip with a consistent internal logic. It's keeping THE MAGDALENE SISTERS company atop my English-language list of favorite movies.

  5. #65
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    11 out of these 25 I haven't seen, so I can't claim a "vast majority" (what does that actually mean?) or herald a renaissance, though this must imply that inde production is up. Some are saying that consequently "inde" no longer means anything, except that the means of production and distrubution are changing.

    Categories are tricky.

    "Made outside the Hollywood sphere of influence" is no doubt a phrase carefully composed. Some of the directors, notably Gus Van Sant, must be viewed as intentionally stepping outside of that sphere rather than being excluded from it or far beyond it at all times.

    What about an offbeat film like Spider?

    There have been discussions of what "inde" means before on this website. There are no hard and fast categories. I"m not sure why Spider has come up here, but is it very offbeat and "Outside the Hollywood sphere of influence"? Or not? Especially if big companies can do the distibution for an "inde" film, the category becomes ever more fluid.

    What is clear is that small is beautiful: that it can be efficient and artistically effective to work with a low budget and lmited staff, which we always knew, didn't we? Except that moviemaking is a collective effort, and that can as well mean hundreds or even thousands of people as dozens.

    A friend of mine sees a great many offbeat films. I will ask her how many of these on Oscar's list she has seen and find out if she scores better than I do.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-27-2003 at 12:54 PM.

  6. #66
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    Impressive, most impressive

    With digital cable, I now have IFC... I will look for these titles in the near future. Thanks for listing them Oscar. I always enjoy your posts. I've been away here and there, traveling, and have only seen most of the commercial crap out there. Going to an indie is like reading a short story by O. Henry - precise, poignant, and colorfully entertaining in ways that make most studios shudder with trepidation. I look forward to your list.

    I, on the other hand, got dragged off to "Elf"!

  7. #67
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    Thanks, Cinemabon. I enjoy your posts too. Like Chris says "small is beautiful". American independent movies seem to have cornered the market on sensitive drama, with realistic situations and detailed, "precise" characterizations. Patricia Clarkson (and her manager) is one actress with a particular ability to recognize quality projects. She is reason enough to seek out three films that brought a smile to my face:All the Real Girls, The Station Agent and Pieces of April. One film that can serve to illustrate the difference between "Indie" and "Hollywood" is the crowd-pleasing dramedy Raising Victor Vargas, about the titular horny 16 year old from the Bronx. Hollywood would undoubtedly turn in into something crass like American Pie.

    One thing I've noticed about most indie film is the provision of a very specific sense of locale. You sense David Gordon Green's intimate familiarity with the North Carolina environs of All the Real Girls(and his marvelous, laconic George Washington). Same goes for the Northwest of the Polish brothers' Northfork and others listed.

    I agree with Chris' calling independent a "fluid" designation. It has been (at least) since Disney bought Miramax in '93. But most would consider the films listed to meet criteria to be called "indie". And I propose that the excellent quality of most is the major trend of the year, and reason for us to rejoice.
    Last edited by oscar jubis; 12-01-2003 at 01:14 AM.

  8. #68
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    PRINT CRITICS' BEST OF 2003

    I've updated the list of 2003 movies as rated by print media critics which now takes into account the latest releases.

    TOP 10 FILMS OF 2003

    1.The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.
    2.American Splendor
    Finding Nemo
    Lost in Translation

    5.The Son(Belgium)
    Capturing the Friedmans
    7.Marooned in Iraq(Iran)
    Russian Ark(Russia)
    Sweet 16(Scotland/UK)
    Triplets of Belleville(Ire/Fra/Can)

    RUNNER UPS

    Man without a Past(Fin), Love & Diane, School of Rock, To Be and To Have(Fra), Mystic River, Magdalene Sisters(Ire/UK), Spider(Can), Bus 174(Bra), 10(Iran), Raising Victor Vargas.

  9. #69
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    This is a good list, and I am happy to say that there aren't many I haven't seen. Can you please tell me what Love and Diane is?

    I'm glad to be reminded of Sweet Sixteen.

    Will be back in NYC for a few days so can catch up some.

    I do highly recommend to all seeing My Architect.

    I don't agreee with the high rating of Capturing the Friedmans, but it is a notable documentary in a year of exceptional ones. I'd rate My Architect and To Be and to Have well above Capturing the Friedmans.

    I also recommend The Fog of War, Power Trip (not distributed?), To Be and To Have of course, all of which I caught in NYC before Christmas.

  10. #70
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    Originally posted by Chris Knipp
    Can you please tell me what Love and Diane is?

    A 2003 trend I've discerned is improved distribution of non-fiction film as a result of Bowling for Columbine's success at the box office and at the rental store. This trend did not include Love & Diane, distributed by tiny Women Make Films and screened only in NY, Boston, DC, and Chicago (and a couple festivals). It's about a Brooklyn mom's struggle to regain custody of her kids after rehabilitation from drug addiction.
    Jennifer Dworkin's years-in-the-making 155 minute doc focuses on mom's relationship with her eldest daughter. I haven't seen it but here's high praise from the usually reserved J. Hoberman (Village Voice):
    From first shot to last, The movie is continuously absorbing, sometimes revelatory, frequently moving experience. It's not only amazingly intimate, but also characterized by an unexpected lyricism.


    I do highly recommend to all seeing My Architect.

    I watched My Architect:A Son's Journey at the local Jewish Film Festival (a much better bet than our Israeli Film Festival; the best "Jewish-interest" movies are clearly from the diaspora). Rosenbaum(Chicago Reader) points out that the film illustrates director Khan's evolution regarding how to film architecture. I was too immersed in content to notice.
    Last edited by oscar jubis; 01-03-2004 at 12:33 PM.

  11. #71
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    2003 is over

    The year is over so I think it's safe to make the list.

    Some preambling is required beforehand tho:

    -I prefer the Matrix films over LOTR

    -If I was to be incredibly personal with my picks I would say The Moab Story (which I have yet to see) and Dogville (which I also have yet to see but have the DVD) take spots one and two in the list. I worship these two art-house gods, and (if I may be so bold) THEY CAN DO NO WRONG.

    -I don't know whether to include Russian Ark or The Pianist- which I saw for the first time in 2003- because Canada
    has a very different release schedule from the US. Example:
    Elephant . I have to wait two weeks.

    So here's my "objective" list of the best films of 2003. I may like a movie better personally, but I gotta give credit where credit is due. (Finding Nemo & Triplettes of Belleville are special exceptions, and I won't include them).

    1. LOTR: Return of the King
    2. City of God
    3. Kill Bill vol. 1
    4. The Dancer Upstairs
    5. 10
    6. The Matrix Revolutions
    7. Hulk
    8. Master and Commander
    9. Mystic River
    10. Intolerable Cruelty

    I still have yet to see The Last Samurai, Cold Mountain, Pieces of April and Lost in Translation, so this list could still change. The above 10 get a high approval rating from me.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

  12. #72
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    "the local Jewish Film Festival (a much better bet than our Israeli Film Festival; the best "Jewish-interest" movies are clearly from the diaspora)"

    Of course: drawn from a larger pool. But there are some cool Israeli films too. I liked Yossi and Jagger, recently.

    "A 2003 trend I've discerned is improved distribution of non-fiction film as a result of Bowling for Columbine's success at the box office and at the rental store."

    Is that really the reason? Is it not true then that there are more good documentaries this year?

    I think that I did read that comment by Hoberman about Love and Diane. As for My Architect, it's great both for the "content" (the personal story) and the images (the sense it gives us of what an incredible architect Louis Kahn is).

  13. #73
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    Trend in realism

    Is it the new reality shows? Bowling for Columbine? Or perhaps, we all just crave that ability to be the fly on the wall. The collective "they" are calling 2003, the year of the documentary; especially thanks to festivals like Sundance, Venice, and Toronto, which have showcased these "new" films that are now in demand. It seems that many independents are moving in that direction as well, rather than stick with plots.

    I believe the roots to this trend goes back a little further to filming styles. Documentaries in the past used to be a hit and miss proposition. I did one that had a budget of 80 to 1. That's eighty shots I did not use to everyone included in the film. I believe "Winged Migration" had a budget busting 500 to 1! Most feature films use only a 10 or 20 to 1 at the most as an average. Filmmakers then had to "steal" shots as they happened, then try to cleverly edit them together to tell their story. With the advent of faster film stocks and the "hand held" steadycam self-blimped camera, we saw an emergence of filmmakers willing to go to places they never dreamed of before. Slowly this new style of documentary films are gaining acceptance as a part of a current trend in realism.

    The second part of my theory is that the line between truth and fiction in the documentary has been crossed when we all started accepting "dramatic re-enactments" as catching truth on film. There is still a typical camera and sound crew present; however we are given the impression that things are happening or unfolding naturally as we watch, when in reality, the scene was set up. This creates the illusion of reality. This works especially well for television shows like Survivor, being in someone's home, like the Ozborns.

    While I like the message of certain documentaries help the public to be aware of certain societal issues, I believe strongly that the overall use of film is still plot driven by fiction. I like to think it's the creative side of mankind.

  14. #74
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    Both of you make good points, but don't underestimate the influence of Bowling's bottom line. I can name a dozen quality docs released(so to speak) in the three years preceding Moore's moneymaker which would be granted wider distribution nowadays.
    Last edited by oscar jubis; 01-04-2004 at 01:13 AM.

  15. #75
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    BOWLING Phenomenon

    *The highest rated documentary of all time according to IMDb voters. The doc received over 20,000 votes, more than four times as many as the nearest competitor. The most widely seen doc of all time.

    *The film would have made a profit almost the size of its $4 million budget from German boxoffice($7) alone. It grossed $22 million in American theatres but it became much more popular upon home video release. It's a worldwide hit.
    Last edited by oscar jubis; 01-04-2004 at 01:43 AM.

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