One thing we at Place to Be Nation like to celebrate is the subjectivity inherent in entertainment — be it in wrestling, comics, music, television or, indeed, film. With that in mind, ten members of the PTBN staff will be picking the movies of the PTB generation. In this series, panel members will collect their five favorite films of each year, beginning with the year in which the oldest writer was born — 1976. The only rule given to each contributor was to provide his or her own criteria. Some writers may go with the most artistic films, while others might side with the most iconic blockbusters. We welcome your lists on Facebook and Twitter. Each staff member has submitted a list of five movies from 2003 ranked 1 through 5. A first-place vote is worth five points, a second-place vote worth four points, and so on. Using that point system, we have identified the top 5 movies of 2003.
2003 featured the release of the final film in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. But before we reveal the top 5, let’s see the movies that received votes, but fell short of making our final list.
Kill Bill, Volume 1 — 10 points
Love, Actually — 9 points
Lost in Translation — 7 points
Old School — 5 points
The Fog of War — 4 points
In America — 4 points
Elf — 3 points
Bad Santa — 3 points
Big Fish — 3 points
Holes — 3 points
How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days — 3 points
Intolerable Cruelty — 3 points
Open Range — 2 points
American Splendor — 1 point
Phone Booth — 1 point
Shattered Glass — 1 point
And now, let’s see the top 5 movies of 2003, as voted by the Place to Be Nation staff.
5. Mystic River
11 points, ranked by 4 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Andrew Riche at No. 1
Andrew Riche: When it comes to crime-based novels, there are very few contemporary authors more revered right now than Dennis Lehane. With most of his detective stories based in the rougher parts of Boston, Massachusetts, Lehane’s realistic and approachable style has attracted Hollywood execs to reprise his works for the silver screen in pretty quick succession, from Shutter Island to Gone Baby Gone to this fall’s The Drop. The first story of Lehane’s to be adapted into a film was his 2001 novel Mystic River, a riveting tale of three childhood friends with a dark secret whose lives are tragically intertwined once more by the murder of one of their daughters. Each friend has grown up to lead very different lives but are all, in their own ways, teetering on the brink of collapse. Jimmy (Sean Penn), an ex-con who has presumably cleaned up his act, revisits his criminal instincts and street connections to find the person who killed his daughter Katie. Dave (Tim Robbins), still emotionally scarred after being sexually abused as a child, has such a loose grip on reality that he himself cannot explain to his wife (Marcia Gay Harden) how he bloodied his hand the night Katie was murdered. Sean (Kevin Bacon) is the straightest of the three as a police detective assigned to the case, but is still dealing with his marriage falling apart.
Old wounds are re-opened as authorities, led by Sean, and hoodlums, led by Jimmy, desperately try to close the case themselves, eventually leading to the suspicion that Dave may have done it. The story takes a variety of twists and turns before the shockingly timid truth behind the killing is revealed, but not before more blood is shed in the name of justice, both personal and procedural. Just as Lehane’s novels have quickly turned into films, Clint Eastwood is renowned for his amazing efficiency and turnaround ability as a movie director. While many of the films he has directed also feature himself as a star, this was the third time in which he is not a performer, but boy, does he make up for it on both sides of the camera. Brian Helgeland deserves praise for adapting the novel into a screenplay that reads like a really dark Beantown sequel to Stand By Me, but I still think this is Eastwood’s best film as a director, digging down in the deep recesses of real life crime instead of hamming it up with a .45 magnum or a cowboy hat.
The cast is perfectly etched together and provides one magnificent performance after another. Penn and Robbins, both delivering tour de force performances as flawed former friends who become mortal enemies, won Oscars for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, a very rare achievement out of one movie. Kevin Bacon is far better as an investigator than in any season of The Following that you will see. And don’t forget about Laura Linney and Marcia Gay Harden as the women who stand not so firmly by their men and Laurence Fishburne as Sean’s partner. Lehane’s stories have this innate ability to reach out and grab you in a genre endlessly explored, and Clint Eastwood (with help from a splendid cast) reached new heights as a movie director with a modern crime tale that is as morally challenging as the mystery is intellectually.
4. Finding Nemo
14 points, ranked by 5 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Kati Price at No. 1
Kati Price: Finding Nemo is an adventure about a little fish who gets taken away by a scuba diver, and his dad’s journey to find him. This film has won 46 awards — including an Oscar for best animated film — and has been nominated for another 49 awards. This Disney/Pixar film, like most, is very brightly colored and extremely elaborate. This makes the film captivating for younger and older viewers alike.
A few voices you may recognize include, Ellen DeGeneres as the lovable goof Dory, Willem Defoe as the mysterious Gill, and Brad Garret as the blowfish, Bloat.
The first sighting of Nemo can actually be seen in Monsters Inc. as a pillow on the couch of Boo. Disney frequently incorporates characters into other films. For me, it is a lot of fun to try and spot them.
This film had the all time highest home release sales with 8 million copies sold on its first day, so it’s pretty likely that you’ve seen the movie, but if not you should. This is personally my favorite Pixar film. It is a very quotable film as well. The characters bring the film to life. This film has been enjoyed by so many of all ages. It has won numerous awards and regardless of your feelings towards animated films, it deserves a spot in our list.
3. Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl
17 points, ranked by 5 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Nick Duke, Aaron George and Andrew Woltman at No. 2
Andrew Woltman: I have stated my dislike for Johnny Depp on more than one occasion. To be sure, he has talent, but he also surrounds himself with recent roles that merely ensure a hefty payday and keep in tone with his eccentric screen persona. I hoped that Transcendence would be a refreshing change of pace, but I was let down like the child who waits the for absent ice cream truck. Not counting his brief cameo in the 21 Jump Street reboot, the last film I enjoyed him in was Pirates of the Carribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.
The swagger of Captain Jack Sparrow blends well into this welcome return to the swashbuckling genre of pirate adventure films. It plays on the humorous tropes of most pirate stories, while at the same time bringing to mind the nostalgia for the Disneyland attraction of the same name. (I mean, c’mon. Who didn’t laugh during the dog with jail keys scene?)
The supporting cast fills out their roles sufficiently whilst this tale is spun, and the romance between Orlando Bloom’s Will Turner and Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth Swann doesn’t feel tacked on in the similar vein as most modern movie relationships, and it actually contributes to the main plot.
And Johnny Depp. Yes. I did enjoy his work here. It’s fully bodied, funny, daring, and it steals the show in an already great film. Now if only the sequels didn’t limbo under the bar the first film set….
20 points, ranked by 6 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Nick Duke, Greg Phillips and Russell Sellers at No. 1
Greg Phillips: While Bryan Singer’s X-Men was a relative (and unlikely) success in 2000, its legacy is more for its icebreaking ability with the general public than its lingering greatness. X2: X-Men United, however, is a different story. Masterfully crafted from beginning to end, X2 remains one of the best superhero movies to date.
Though some X-Men fans take issue with its heavy Wolverine focus, the movie manages numerous subplots that give several characters a chance to shine – Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, Alan Cumming’s Nightcrawler, Sir Ian McKellan’s Magneto, Bryan Cox’s William Stryker, Famke Jansen’s Jean Grey and even Rebecca Romijn’s Mystique all get their opportunities to be the star of the show at various points. Though modern superhero films are generally good, many suffer from two issues: inconsistent pacing and poor fight scenes. X2 remains the best-paced comic book film I’ve seen. It’s brisk and action-packed, yet it’s methodical enough that you can catch your breath as a viewer and process the information.
And the action scenes! Oh, my, the action scenes. The opening, which unveils Nightcrawler’s powers in live action for the first time, still makes my jaw drop. But while much of the attention rightly falls on that scene, there are others near that level throughout the movie – Wolverine singlehandedly taking out Stryker’s soldiers as they infiltrate the mansion, Magneto pulling a guard’s iron-saturated blood from his body, Lady Deathstrike and Wolverine battling it out in the bowels of the Weapon X facility, and Magneto nonchalantly dispatching of Stryker’s goons in the most explosive way possible. X2 is not only the best X-Men film (though Days of Future Past is close), it’s one of the best action films of its era.
1. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
26 points, ranked by 7 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Glenn Butler, Aaron George and Andrew Woltman at No. 1
Aaron George: Throughout the course of this project I’ve gotten to write about some fantastic films, but nothing, NOTHING comes close to how much I love the Lord of The Rings Trilogy. I tend to look at the three films as one big movie but if I had to pick a favorite of the three it would be this one. To be honest it’s kind of hard to write anything that hasn’t already been said about them. I once heard a friend say “They should get a special award for not fucking it up.” Not only did they not muck it up, they delivered a stunning adaptation that even at twelve hours long, I can throw in and be (almost) as riveted as I was watching it in the theatre.
So full disclosure: I only started reading the book right before I went to see Fellowship. I know… I know… I’m like a Nazi dressed up like a climate change denier. I was halfway through reading The Two Towers book when I saw Gandalf fall in Fellowship. Needless to say I knew he was coming back and the effect was somewhat lost on me. I vowed to not read any more until I’d seen the whole trilogy. What that did was make the last forty-five minutes of this film the most nerve wracking and exciting time I’ve ever had at the theatre. I had no idea what was going to happen, and when Frodo finally succumbs to the evil of the ring I nearly pooped an eagle. Say what you want about the multiple endings, but I needed the catharsis of them to be able to sleep that night. Actually don’t say what you will about them. They’re great. And they’re totally earned. (You’ve been watching for eleven and a half hours!) Let’s be honest here, if you don’t have a lump in your throat when Into the West starts you don’t have a soul.
The acting is great, the action is great, the score is great, the effects are great, even the fucking credit sequence is amazing. This one deserves every single award it won (even though they may have been for the trilogy as a whole.) There are so many amazing moments in the film: the trumpets signaling the last ride of Rohan, the assault on the olyphants, the first ride through the white city, Faramir’s last ride, “you bow to no one”… I could go on. These are all amazing moments, but then you have the simplicity of Sean Astin’s heart breaking which is one of hundreds of little moments surrounded by the amazing spectacle Peter Jackson put together. I’d be totally remiss if I didn’t mention the horrific prologue where Sméagol brutally murders Déagol. These prologues are brilliant ways to start each of these films and whoever thought of them should be able to have sex with whatever man/woman they want for the rest of their lives.
The Lord of the Rings trilogy is one of the greatest accomplishments in the history of cinema. I know that sounds hyperbolic, but it’s true. You can say you don’t like the movie (I’ll KILL YOU) but you have to be impressed with the scope of the project, and the fact that what could have been a colossal failure turned out to be an incredible homage which, dare I say, exceeds the quality of the source material. It’s my favorite movie and it’s the kind of thing I can’t wait to share with my son when he’s old enough.
That does it for 2003. To see the full breakdown of all 10 ballots, click here. Check back soon to see the staff’s top 5 movies of 2004!