The Flick Chicks

01/07/04 Top Ten Movie Picks for 2003

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Judy Thorburn

My Picks for the Best Flicks of 2003

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It’s a new year. And with that comes the time to for me to announce what I felt was the cream of the crop in terms of films that made it to Las Vegas movie screens before the close of 2003. As customary, the studios leave what they consider the best for last, meaning the last few months of the year is the time they release the major contenders for the Oscars and other award consideration.  But, that isn’t to say there weren’t some fine films throughout the rest of the year. I just have to reach into my memory bank to recall those that are worthy enough to make this prestigious list. If they were good enough to stay with me, and left a strong impression till this day, they deserve a spot on my Top Ten list or receive praiseworthy honorable mention. So, here they are:

l. Finding Nemo - I never would have thought a totally computer animated film would top my list of favorite films from the past year. But, this Dreamworks feature just stole my heart, and I could not find any fault with this delightful little gem.   Ellen DeGeneres and Albert Brooks deliver wonderful, hilarious and heartwarming performances as the voices of an unlikely pair of fish, a forgetful wacky blue tang and a neurotic, overprotective clownfish dad, who join forces and embark on a comical and yet dangerous undersea adventure, in hopes of finding his rebellious little clownfish son who had been taken from their coral reef home. Stunning visuals, marvelous undersea characterizations within a sweet story makes Finding Nemo the catch of the year for the entire family.

2. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King – The last episode of J.R.R. Tolkien’s the Lord of The Rings epic trilogy is the best. The battle for Middle Earth comes to an end as Frodo (Elijah Wood) and his faithful cohort, Sam (Sean Astin) travel to Mt. Doom to destroy the ring, while evil forces are out to try and stop the inevitable. Director/ visionary Peter Jackson delivers a multi textured fantasy adventure of spectacular proportions filled with an array of wonderfully developed characters, including Gollum and Gandalf, plus amazing action sequences that will blow you away.  Incredible special effects complement the complex, but compelling story that is not easy to follow if you haven’t read the novels or seen parts one and two. But, this over three and a half hour film should earn Jackson and crew some major awards for being a near masterpiece.

3. Seabiscuit - Laura Hillebrand’s best selling novel, adapted to the big screen, details the story of the legendary Depression era race horse who could, a long shot who defied the odds, and in his victories became a symbol of hope for a nation in despair.  Owner Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges), jockey and ex-street fighter “Red” Pollard (Tobey MacGuire) and horse whisperer/trainer Tom Smith (Chris Cooper) are the men behind the legend, whose life was influenced by their four legged example with whom they were given a chance for redemption. Marvelous performances, exciting racing sequences marked by fantastic cinematography and an uplifting message about healing, had me drawn into this true to life story. If you loved Rocky, then it’s a sure bet you will find Seabiscuit a winner.

4. House of Sand and Fog - This deeply moving film defines the difference between a house and a home by watching what happens when an irresponsible woman (Jennifer Connelly) who lost her house gets caught up in a battle to regain it from its new owner. The American dream becomes a nightmare for all involved when tragedy results. Connelly is solid, but Ben Kingsley is magnificent and deserves the Oscar, as the strong and proud Iranian immigrant trying to make a good life for himself and his family in America. Riveting performances by the entire cast, and an important message make this a memorable piece of cinema not easy to forget.

5. Pirates of the Caribbean - Curse of the Black Pearl- Johnny Depp is a hoot leading the perfect cast, as the eccentric, loopy, mascara eyed, rogue pirate, Jack Sparrow. He is forced to team up with dashing young Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) to rescue a damsel in distress, Elizabeth Swan (Kiera Knightly) kidnapped by a ghostly crew and their Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), and recover a treasure in order to reverse an ancient curse of the Black Pearl. Based on the Disney theme park attraction, this sweeping action adventure combines a witty script, awesome production design, neat CGI effects resulting in one very enjoyable movie.

6. Open Range - Kevin Costner is back in the saddle in the genre he appears most comfortable with, the old fashioned western, and a really good one at that. He stars with veteran actor Robert Duval as free grazers, cowboys herding cattle on the open range, who seek revenge for the brutal murders of their cowhands by a corrupt sheriff and a ruthless wealthy rancher determined to drive them off their land and kill them.  Gorgeous cinematography showcasing the beautiful hills and plains, fine acting which includes Annette Bening as the love interest, and the best gun-fighting showdown since High Noon or Gunfight at the OK Corral are some of the reasons Costner, as director and star, should be proud to add this solid piece of work to his resume.

7. The Last Samurai - Tom Cruise is commanding as the guilt ridden decorated Civil War hero, hired by Japan’s Emperor and his advisors to train their army to fight against the tradition bound Samurai, thought of as holding back western influenced progress.  But, his life is changed when he is captured by the enemy, learns from their warrior leader (marvelous, Ken Watanabe) and bonds with their culture, which leads to enlightenment and redemption for his character.  This is a masterful, beautiful film with a powerful cast, and intelligent storyline that sweeps across the screen in perfect pace. The only flaw was the pure Hollywood ending, a detraction that didn’t fit. Nevertheless, it is overall a most honorable cinematic experience deserving high praise.

8. Whale Rider - Young newcomer Keisha Castle-Hughes gives one of the most poignant and unforgettable performances of the year as twelve year old Pai, a native of New Zealand’s patriarchal Maori tribe who is determined to overcome rejection by her tradition bound grandfather, Koro (Rawri Paratene) who refuses to accept the fact that she is destined to be the new chief. Elements of mysticism are injected into this wonderful little story that sends touching lessons about love, family, prejudice and tradition.

9. Identity - The plotline might seem familiar.  It’s where a group of people is stranded at a desolate motel during a raging thunderstorm, and one by one an unknown assailant mysteriously kills them off. Well, this house of terror has a twist, that you don’t see coming.  The truth is revealed from the intersecting story that slowly unfolds.  John Cusack and Ray Liotta head the cast in this surprisingly good scare fest. Clever and intriguing, it keeps you guessing till the surprise ending – a gotcha, excellently crafted. I just love that!

10. Something’s Gotta Give – Diane Keaton is a repressed but successful New York playwright in her late fifties, and Jack Nicholson is a confirmed bachelor in his sixties who dates only women half his in this delightful romantic comedy. What starts as mutual antagonism turns to heated attraction for the pair, in this battle of the sexes . Keaton is at her quirky and charming best, finding herself in a dilemma being the center of attention between a young handsome doctor, played by Keanu Reeves and the stubborn older Nicholson, who is set in his ways.   Smart and sexy with clever dialogue, it also has a great supporting cast that includes Amanda Peet and Frances MacDormand.

Other memorable films who deserve honorable mention is the seafaring adventure, Master and Commander, with Russell Crowe leading his faithful crew to a battle on the high seas; the supernatural gothic thriller Gothika that stars Hallee Berry as a psychiatrist who wakes up one morning on the wrong side of a prison cell, accused of a crime she had no memory of committing; and Kill Bill: Volume 1, Quentin Tarantino’s comic book style, over the top, but very entertaining, homage to martial arts flicks. Uma Thurman is the empowered fem, a retired assassin seeking revenge on her former colleagues who left her for dead on her wedding day.

Can’t wait to see what’s in store for 2004.

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