Wednesday, January 21, 2004

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and I've got a cement mixer full of "I meant to…" and "I was gonna…"

I wanted to post early in the year with my top 10 films of 2003. But I had seen less than 50 movies last year, and was still catching lots of those late-season Oscar-bait flix. People were coming back to town from their holiday vacations, so I had lots of movies to see, lots of friends to see 'em with.

Well, I saw a few then got back into the scheme of things and didn't see movies, didn't post anything. Basically I was back in my '03 rut.

After I saw "Big Fish" the other day… and decided it was hardly top-ten worthy, I realized I should procrastinate no more. By the way, I simply refuse to waste ten bucks and three hours on another Matrix movie, Anthony Minghella epic adaptation or Lord of the Rings installment, so sue me if they're not even considered for this.

10. Matchstick Men – This flick was more than just Nic Cage playing a twitchy con artist. It had a lot of heart and some interesting twists that left me guessing up to the end. Then I figured it all out. But still intriguing. I'd like to see this movie again. Can't say that about 21 Grams or In America, which is why they're not here.

9. Out of Time – Another one full of twists that ultimately disappointed at the end. But for most of the movie, Denzel was constantly faced with obstacles – can he hide the constant barrage of incriminating evidence against himself, while keeping the Feds--whose money he stole--at bay, and try to solve the murder mystery himself without incurring the wrath of his ex-wife, who's leading the investigation? I'm overwhelmed even thinking about this Hitchcockian thrill ride.

8. Monster – I won't repeat all the hoopla about Charlize Theron's uglifying transformation. Except to say I found it especially outstanding from an actress I never cared for (see my #6 choice). But she truly captured the character in deeper way. You almost felt sorry for this low-class, self-loathing trashy girl. Hey, prostitutes and serial killers need love, too.

7. Something's Gotta Give – Lemme first say that I hate the title. I get it mixed up with that other sensitive Jack Nicholson movie, As Good as it Gets. At least that platitude was actually uttered in the movie. What exactly had to give in this one? Give what? Do they purposely release movies about giving and getting during the holiday season? A subliminal message to send moviegoers to buy presents to give and get everyone? Better to call this flick, "A Woman to Love", which Diane names her play, based on Jack's meaningless compliment to her. A confusing title, too, but by the end, we'd get it (or is it give it?). Anway… this movie was funny. Everyone was great: Jack, Diane and of course, Doctor "You had a mild heart attack. Whoa." Keanu.

6. The Italian Job – A heist movie. With funny nicknamed characters and intricate planning and plot twists that are great examples of plant-and-payoff. Can't go wrong. Well, they could've cast more interesting lead roles than underacting Marky Mark and bland Charlize Theron, but the supporting cast more than made up for 'em.

5. Spellbound – Those nerdy kids were so cute. Their p-e-r-s-p-i-c-a-c-i-t-y would make you p-e-r-s-p-i-r-e with excitement. I was pleased to see that most of them had a pretty good handle on their obsession: how to spell some word that describes a condition of sickliness in rare tree fungi is hardly worth knowing, outside of the National Spelling Bee, and fascinating documentaries.

4. Capturing the Friedmans – An even better documentary, if only because it was so provocative and controversial. I grew up in a Jewish family on Long Island in the '80s, in a town similar to the Friedmans, so their home movies struck a chord with me. Fortunately, I got my computer training through the public junior high school, so I was spared being asked by the Nassau County Police if I participated in nude leap frog or was ever touched in my special places. (Well, programming do-loops do make me feel tingly inside, but I digress…) When I saw this movie, one of the filmmakers and a friend of one of the brothers were at the screening, and did a Q and A afterwards. So their impartial story was even more skewed toward one point of view, but I'm still not sure what to believe.

3. American Splendor – How do you make an interesting movie about a curmudgeonly guy who works his whole life as a VA hospital clerk, lives in some drab apartment in Ohio, and occasionally writes comic books about that lifestyle? With different points of view – from Harvey Pekar himself, through crude animation, and, to be sure, cast Paul Giamatti in it. I've loved that guy ever since he was Pig Vomit in the Howard Stern movie, and he hasn't disappointed since. Do I dare admit that I kinda related to his character? Well, him or his buddy who declared: "I. Consider. Myself. A. Nerd."

2. School of Rock – Thoroughly entertaining. In my opinion, Jack Black is a little overhyped as the anti-movie star, but in this movie he was perfect. A blend of John Belushi's buffoon and Bill Murray's irreverent wiseass. And I loved all the music he loved, for all the same reasons. When he brought the kids together to start a version of "Smoke on the Water"?! Brought tears to my eyes. But why doesn't the soundtrack CD feature Metallica's "The Wait"?! Guess I'll just wait for the DVD…

1. Finding Nemo – Everyone loved this. Know why? 'Cause it's awesome! Again, the guys at Pixar show that hard work and research and attention to details, beyond just advances in CGI (which look spectacular here), make for a great movie. This was almost as good as "Toy Story". The tale was simple but nearly flawless, as were the voice work by Willem Dafoe, Albert Brooks and Ellen DeGeneres. My favorite moment: When Dori tries to speak "whale": "Caaan yooooo helllllp uhhhhhhs?"

Here's 10 more that might be added to list if I get to see them:

Whale Rider
Swimming Pool
Gigli (just kidding)
Lost in Translation
Mystic River
Shattered Glass
Elf (not kidding)
Master and Commander: Far Side of the World
House of Sand and Fog

Other good films I saw:

Bend it Like Beckham
A Mighty Wind
Freaky Friday
21 Grams
The Station Agent
In America

The worst I saw:

5: 28 Days Later – Sorry, I've seen zombie movies that were scarier ("Dawn of the Dead"), funnier ("Dead Alive"), and more poignant ("Remains of the Day").

4: Legally Blonde 2 – Even worse than the first. Hey, that shoulda been their tagline. Makes more sense than "Red, White & Blonde".

3. Hulk – Mike wait. Mike want Hulk to smash. Mike watch Hulk sulk. Mike mad. Mike want to smash Ang Lee.

2. Open Range – Kevin Costner did a good Western once, right? Right? OK, I got to see it for free. But I'm still an idiot for expecting another "Dances with Wolves" and not another "Wyatt Earp".

1. Underworld – Mark my words: I will never sit through another new vampire movie. Even if it promises Kate Beckinsale in tight black leather outfits.

Also disappointing: Kill Bill, Vol. 1; The Cooler

Everything else I saw:

Final Destination 2
The Guru
Old School
Bringing Down the House
Anger Management
X2: X Men United
Bruce Almighty
Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
Pirates of the Caribbean
Bad Boys II
Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star
Once Upon a Time in Mexico
The Rundown
Kill Bill: Volume 1
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Scary Movie 3
Stuck on You
Calendar Girls
Big Fish


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