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2003 in Film

This year's Top 10 lists, like all lists, are snapshots of moments in time. Tomorrow, next month, or next year, the items might change a bit -- or maybe not at all. Movies are finite, but lists go on forever.

The top three vote-getters in this year's poll earned their places by being the only three films that showed up on each of the reviewers' lists. Though not in agreement regarding their order of ranking, Lost in Translation, American Splendor, and Capturing the Friedmans were the only films that all three Chronicle reviewers placed somewhere on their individual Top 10 lists. This voting system also allowed each reviewer's No. 2 choice -- in each case, a film that doesn't appear elsewhere on the other two lists -- to tie for fifth place, giving us an unprecedented six-way tie for fifth place. It should also be mentioned in regard to any potential conflicts of interest that the Chronicle's overall No. 2 choice, American Splendor, is based on the comic books of Harvey Pekar, who is also a longtime Chronicle contributor.

One thing that becomes obvious looking over these lists is that the year of the smaller film may have finally arrived. Despite the attempts of the studios and the MPPA to squeeze the smaller movies out of view with their hasty adoption of the screener ban, the vote tallies prove that the smaller movies found their way into the Top 10 in greater number than the studio efforts. Documentaries also came into their own as feature films this year, showing up in greater numbers on all the individual lists.

What does it all mean? Lists are summaries, guidelines, opinions, suggestions. They offer ideas about movies to watch -- and, of course, should always inspire more lists.

<i>Lost in Translation</i>
Lost in Translation

'The Austin Chronicle' Top 10 Films of 2003

1) Lost in Translation Votes: 27 Mentions: 3

2) (tie) American Splendor Votes: 22 Mentions: 3

2) (tie) Capturing the Friedmans Votes: 22 Mentions: 3

4) In America Votes: 10 Mentions: 2

5) All the Real Girls Votes: 9 Mentions: 1

5) (tie) The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons From the Life of Robert S. McNamara Votes: 9 Mentions: 1

5) (tie) Kill Bill: Vol. 1 Votes: 9 Mentions: 2

5) (tie) The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Votes: 9 Mentions: 2

5) (tie) Open Hearts Votes: 9 Mentions: 2

5) (tie) Spun Votes: 9 Mentions: 1

<i>Capturing the Friedmans</i>
Capturing the Friedmans

Marjorie Baumgarten

1. Capturing the Friedmans

There's such a compendium of human pathology on display that we almost lose sight of the deft filmmaking that directs our emotions to and fro.

2. The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons From the Life of Robert S. McNamara

Errol Morris, at last, nabs his white whale and, before it's through, smelts his harpoon into a plowshare and finds the human being within.

3. American Splendor

This stunningly accomplished debut from filmmakers Springer Berman and Pulcini accomplishes what few thought could be done: creating a warm, human story from a curmudgeonly cult comic book.

4. Lost in Translation

With this captivating movie that's so different from her debut outing, Sofia Coppola proves she's a director of real vision and unique sensibilities.

5. City of God

Amid the savagery of the slums, this Brazilian drama reverberates with the voices of the voiceless and the possibility of hope.

6. Kill Bill: Vol. 1

Best choreography of the year, a constant exhilaration.

7. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

So disappointing after the previous two episodes, which were both No. 1 on my last two years' lists -- still, there's at least one great hour of filmmaking here.

8. In America

The movie is like a transfixing novel that you never want to finish reading, so in love are you with the characters and their complications.

9. Open Hearts

Dogme 95 finds its heartbeat.

10. To Be and to Have

Teaching is an art form, a calling, the most intrinsic of human interactions: This French documentary inspires viewers not to settle for less.

<i>American Splendor</i>
American Splendor

Kimberley Jones

1. Lost in Translation

The first bloom of a young actress (Scarlett Johansson), the maturation of a writer and director (Sofia Coppola), and the revitalization of an institution (Bill Murray). Perfectly wonderful.

2. All the Real Girls

David Gordon Green reasserts his position as the heir to Malick with this aching chronicle of the before, middle, and ugly aftermath of love.

3. American Splendor

A valentine to Harvey Pekar and all the other bitter, gloomy cranks of the world. It's about time we got our due.

4. In America

So what if Jim Sheridan's autobiographical story of an immigrant family's survival is sentimental? I know I needed a good cry, and you probably do, too.

5. Cold Mountain

Gone With the Wind? Anthony Minghella just reduced it to rubble with his gorgeous, ruminative, and, yes, definitive Civil War epic.

6. Capturing the Friedmans

A fascinating, relentlessly squirmy lesson in camera subjectivity.

7. Down With Love

Up, up, up with this cheeky ode to the Sixties sex comedies.

8. Open Hearts

Dogme 95 finally made good on its promise with this haunting Danish film about a car accident and the romantic quadrangle it leaves in its wake.

9. X2: X-Men United

Bryan Singer delivers not only a superior sequel and the most thrilling action set-pieces of 2003 (take that, Wachowski Inc.), but also slides a gay subtext into a megabudgeted Hollywood pic. Sneaky.

10. Gerry

Gus Van Sant finally shakes that getting-soft slump with what sounds like the setup to a bad joke -- two guys walk into a desert, only one comes out -- but plays like a lost Antonioni.

<i>Kill Bill: Vol. 1</i>
Kill Bill: Vol. 1

Marc Savlov

1. Lost in Translation

Both Bill Murray and Sofia Coppola deserve Academy attention for this flawless, passionate, and above all, human comedy. Takashi Fujii as the host of "Matthew's Best Hit TV" deserves something, too, possibly a Xanax.

2. Spun

Cheaper than rehab and twice as much fun, this hellish, hilarious descent into the zippy mire of hardcore amphetamine tweakers is witty, terrifying, and immensely fun, if you like that sort of thing.

3. Spellbound

This never would have made it past the first seven seconds of a studio pitch meeting, but it's everything studio dramas strive to be: heartfelt, funny, and devastatingly emotional.

4. Capturing the Friedmans

The most amazing, impossible-to-turn-away-from record of a familial train wreck ever recorded, and hopefully not the beginning of a new Fox TV reality trend.

5. American Splendor

Harvey Pekar is Paul Giamatti is Harvey Pekar, et cetera. Yet more proof that Cleveland's favorite cartoonist son is more interesting than most of those superhero fellows.

6. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Slightly imperfect on its own, but as the trilogy capstone, and taken with Jackson's previous two chapters, a majestic, butt-numbing masterpiece. Love those Orcs!

7. Kill Bill: Vol. 1

Two words (or is it three?): Go Go Yubari.

8. The Station Agent

"A blonde, a guido, and a dwarf walk into a bar ...": so not like that joke at all.

9. The Magdalene Sisters

So harrowing you'll probably end up washing everything in Woolite in your sink from now on.

10. Princess Blade

Yumiko Shaku is every animé-boy's live-action wet dream in Shinsuke Sato's sexy, violent, minimalist masterstroke.

Sofia Coppola
Sofia Coppola

Marjorie Baumgarten

Near Misses

Dirty Pretty Things, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the Universe, X2: X-Men United, Triplets of Belleville, Monster

Most Overrated Films

Mystic River, Swimming Pool, Man on the Train

Most Underrated Films

Northfork, Spun, Capturing the Friedmans

Acting Kudos (MALE)

Johnny Depp, (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl), David Strathairn (Blue Car), Bill Murray (Lost in Translation)

Acting Kudos (FEMALE)

Zooey Deschanel (All the Real Girls, Elf), Uma Thurman (Kill Bill: Vol. 1), Patricia Clarkson (Pieces of April, The Station Agent, All the Real Girls)

Best Director

Andrew Jarecki (Capturing the Friedmans), Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation), Gus Van Sant (Gerry, Elephant)

Best Screenplay

Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola), Masked and Anonymous (Bob Dylan and Larry Charles), Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (Quentin Tarantino and Uma Thurman)

Best Revival -- theatrical or DVD release

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (theatrical)

Worst film that's not Gigli

Gods and Generals: Ron Maxwell's inert, four-hour-long Civil War follow-up to Gettysburg should have been left for dead on the battlefield.

Wild Card -- Suggest your own category

A Great Year for Great Ensembles: In America, American Splendor, Pieces of April, The Station Agent, Bad Santa, Masked and Anonymous, School of Rock

<i>All the Real Girls</i>
All the Real Girls

Kimberley Jones

Near Misses

The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons From the Life of Robert S. McNamara, 28 Days Later, Raising Victor Vargas, The Triplets of Belleville, Melvin Goes to Dinner

Most Overrated Films

Mystic River,

Love Actually, Thirteen

Most Underrated Films

All the Real Girls, Bad Santa, Irreversible

Acting Kudos (MALE)

Bill Murray (Lost in Translation),

Peter Dinklage (The Station Agent), Sean Penn (21 Grams)

Acting Kudos (FEMALE)

Renée Zellweger (Down With Love, Cold Mountain), Zooey Deschanel (All the Real Girls), Sarah Bolger (In America)

Best Director

Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation), Andrew Jarecki (Capturing the Friedmans), Anthony Minghella (Cold Mountain)

Best Screenplay

All the Real Girls (David Gordon Green), The Secret Lives of Dentists (Craig Lucas), American Splendor (Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini)

Best Revival -- theatrical or DVD release

Criterion's The Adventures of Antoine Doinel box set (DVD)

Worst film that's not Gigli

View From the Top: You mean the top of the trash heap? 'Cause even that's generous.

Wild Card -- Suggest your own category

Art Portends Life: It was a bang-up year for docs, but narrative films -- 28 Days Later, Phone Booth, Shattered Glass -- were eerily close to life, too, calling SARS, snipers, and Jayson Blair in advance. Let's hope Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines doesn't prove similiarly prescient.


Marc Savlov

Near Misses

The Weather Underground, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, May, Thirteen, The School of Rock

Most Overrated Films

The Matrix Reloaded, Finding Nemo, 28 Days Later

Most Underrated Films

Spider, Willard, Matchstick Men

Acting Kudos (MALE)

Crispin Glover (Willard), Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl), Nick Nolte (The Good Thief)

Acting Kudos (FEMALE)

Yumiko Shaku (The Princess Blade), Holly Hunter (Thirteen), Marina de Van (In My Skin)

Best Director

Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King), Jonas Åkerlund (Spun), Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation)

Best Screenplay

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Frances Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson), American Splendor (Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini), Secondhand Lions (Tim McCanlies)

Best Revival -- theatrical or DVD release

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (theatrical)

Worst film that's not Gigli

Dreamcatcher: It's as though Stephen King (whose original novel was no great shakes to begin with) and the once-great Lawrence Kasdan lost some horrific, EC Comics-style bet with the devil.

Wild Card -- Suggest your own category

Best "Better Left to the Imaginations of People Like Me" Remake/Franchise Crossover: Ang Lee's Hulk/Paris Hilton porn epic -- with Nick Nolte as "The Cell Phone."

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