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December 22, 2003 2:00 AM
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indieWIRE's Favorite Films of 2003

indieWIRE's Favorite Films of 2003

indieWIRE staff and contributors




"American Splendor" received the most top-10 votes from indieWIRE
editors and writers.


It's the time of year when film fanatics like us get to look back (or perhaps obsess about) the finest films of the last 12 months. indieWIRE staffers and contributors offer our subjective (and wildly varying) lists of 2003's best films. In tomorrow's edition, directors, actors, and industry execs will share some of their favorites.

All lists are ranked from 1-10 unless otherwise noted.

indieWIRE STAFF

BRIAN BROOKS, Associate Editor

(in alphabetical order)

"Bend it Like Beckham "

You don't have to be a Sikh or a girl living in the U.K. to want to shout "You Go Girl!" Inspiring... a great story...and you don't even have to know who David Beckham is (he plays soccer for Madrid -- formerly for Manchester United -- and is married to Posh Spice and is totally hot) to love this movie. And uhhhh...If I had a coach like that, I would've played "football" too.

"Bus 174"

Unfortunately, life is a complex mess and does not easily break down to good vs. evil as some "leaders" in our world proclaim. There is no way a story like this could've been told unless it was true. The drama takes place in Rio de Janeiro, but may as well have been on Pennsylvania Avenue. (Note to Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and friends: Not to be interpreted as an excuse to completely kill public transportation subsidies).

"Capturing the Friedmans"

How could a story like this get so many people in the theaters? Brilliant filmmaking (and a distributor that really knows his shit).

"The Magdalene Sisters "

How did slavery remain an institution into the'90s in a Western nation? By the power of religion. This unbelievable true story won praise and awards at the 2002 Venice Film Festival resulting in official condemnation from the Vatican. That in itself is worth my $10.

"Monster"

Although this list is in alphabetical order, I think this film, based on a true story, is my favorite of the year. Bravo Charlize Theron!!! Not very many people can make a hooker/murderer a sympathetic character. The story is an American tragedy, a sobering reality check to Americans who honestly believe that all "men" are created equal. And is this really Patty Jenkins' first feature? Daaaaamn girl!

"Raising Victor Vargas"

OK, I was a bit pre-disposed to get into this movie because it takes place in the East Village (which I lovingly call the "E. Vill.") where I live, and everyone knows how weirdly 'nationalistic' New Yorkers can be toward their neighborhoods. Great acting, great direction, and god that grandma is so cute (not to mention the grandsons).

"The Revolution Will Not Be Televised "

War, famine, disease, CNN, World News Tonight...the drama of the world in far off places can typically receive an automatic mental shut down in an era of information overload. But when escapism into reality TV also becomes a big bore, check out this doc! Death to the Oligarchy!!

"Spellbound "

These kids are great spellers, but their true talent is their gift of passion. I don't cry much in movies, but this doc brought some tears, and at the risk of sounding completely cheesy...they were joyful.

"The Station Agent"

Bravo to the people who had the courage to make this film! Next time one of my friends from overseas tells me that American films are all about stars, special effects, and mega marketing...I'll say, well..."The Station Agent."

"The Weather Underground"

This doc is amazing. And I have to say...Rebellion is sexy! On the one hand, I'm completely enthralled by the people in this doc who had such political passion... Such a stark contrast to today's apathy. The resulting violence, though, was unnerving. But, the live footage of Weatherman Bernadine Dohrn in the '60s wearing those huge Jackie O. sunglasses telling the "fascist bourgeois pig press" they would have to pay $25 to attend a meeting of their organization was PRICELESS!

Runner Ups (no particular order): "American Splendor," "demonlover,"
"Finding Nemo," "Lost in Translation," "The Secret Lives of Dentists,"
"Shattered Glass," "Swimming Pool," "Thirteen," "Whale Rider"

Movies I didn't see but people tell me I would've liked: "Bad Santa," "The
Barbarian Invasions," "Elephant," "In America," "Kill Bill," "My Architect,"
"Mystic River"

EUGENE HERNANDEZ, Editor-in-Chief

The one movie that stood out for me as the best of the year was not even
released in theaters, however I was fortunate to see it on film in a movie
theater (and then I watched it again recently when it premiered on TV). The
six-hour "Angels In America," with performances by Al Pacino, Meryl Streep,
Mary Louise Parker, Justin Kirk, among others, and production values that
rival any motion picture made this year, mark it as the unparalleled
cinematic achievement of 2003. Ten years ago when writer Tony Kushner's
"Angels" debuted on stage it had a weight and depth that I found
eye-opening. Viewing these mid-'80s characters from today's vantage point is
equally insightful being that we are in a society that has progressed yet at
the same time is fighting new battles in the same war.

top 10 (in alphabetical order):

"American Splendor"

A highlight of Sundance '03 was cheering for Harvey Pekar, his wife Joyce
and their daughter Danielle after watching Shari Springer Berman and Robert
Pulcini's masterful depiction of this damaged but resilient American family.

"Finding Nemo"

Like many of the creatures at the heart of Disney animated tales, Nemo is a
fish on a mission. Going along for the ride as he grows up and ultimately
makes it on his own is pure fun.

"Kill Bill"

Lacking a background in the Asian cinema that influenced Tarantino, I
instead relied on my experience with "Looney Tunes" cartoons as I watched
"Kill Bill." Perhaps to the dismay of some in the audience, I laughed a lot.

"Monster"

I couldn't help but think of Barbara Ehrenreich's book "Nickel and Dimed" as
I watched Charlize Theron incredibly embody Aileen Wuornos. Yet the pain and
violence of Ehrenreich's stories are mere preludes to the downward spiral
Wuornos encounters as she lashes out in the second half of Patty Jenkins'
powerful first feature.

"My Architect"

Balancing a determination to better understand his estranged father (noted
architect Louis Kahn) with an appreciation of buildings, director Nathaniel
Kahn offers a sharp look at both architecture and paternal relationships.

"Mystic River"

An engaging story, well told, "Mystic River" is simply the best drama to
come out of Hollywood this year, with one of Sean Penn's two remarkable
performances in 2003 (the other being his role in "21 Grams").

"Raising Victor Vargas"

Picking up where their acclaimed short film left off, Peter Sollett and Eva
Vives have created the indie movie of the year, a little film with a lot of
heart, a wonderful script, and a terrific cast of actors.

"Shattered Glass"

I was on the edge of my seat throughout "Shattered Glass," horrified at the
audacity of Stephen Glass. Peter Sarsgaard shines as the editor who trusts
and ultimately confronts the manipulative writer.

"The Station Agent"

Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson, and Bobby Cannavale are stellar as three
isolated people who find each other and find support in Tom McCarthy's "The
Station Agent." It's just one of three solid movies from SenArt Films this
year, alongside docs "Stevie" and "The Fog of War."

AND FIVE MORE WORTH MENTIONING (listed alphabetically): "Bad Santa," "Blind
Spot: Hitler's Secretary," "Camp," "City of God," "The Revolution Will Not
Be Televised"

WENDY MITCHELL, Managing Editor

"Lost in Translation"

This film touched me more than anything I've seen in years.

"City of God"

Stylish yet brutal.

"The Revolution Will Not Be Televised"

A reminder of the importance of non-fiction film.

"The Magdalene Sisters"

A handful of the most chilling moments on the big screen this year. That
nun's reflection in an eye that's encrusted with blood? Mindblowing.

"American Splendor"

I'm not a comic book fan in the least, but this wildly inventive film was so
good that it almost made me a convert. I found myself smiling not only at
the subject matter, but also the endlessly creative ways that Shari Springer
Berman and Robert Pulcini brought Harvey Pekar to life.

"Capturing the Friedmans"

Hands down, the most thought-provoking film of the year.

"To Be and To Have"

A movie that made the world seem a little less scary. Without being sappy.

"The Station Agent"

Tom McCarthy's first film doesn't feel like a first film at all -- it
features sharp writing and editing and astounding performances from Peter
Dinklage, Patty Clarkson, and Bobby Cannavale.

"The Weather Underground"

A must-see film in our mostly apathetic times.

"The Real Cancun"

Yes, I'm serious. Gloriously shameless entertainment. And we all need a dose
of that sometimes.

Honorable mentions: "Ford Transit," "Bad Santa," "In America," "Monster,"
"Stevie," "Elephant," "Swimming Pool," "Pupendo," "Sweet Sixteen,"
"Irreversible," "In This World"

Almost honorable mentions: "Down with Love" (for Ewan McGregor's
performance), "Spun" (for taking risks), "Girl with a Pearl Earring" (for
cinematography and a rare thing called restraint), Coline Serreau's "Chaos"
(for being so confounding), "Open Hearts" (for the most realistic break-up
scene ever)

JEN VITALE, Office Manager

"The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King"

"City of God"

"Cold Mountain"

"Lost in Translation"

"Bad Santa"

"Girl With a Pearl Earring"

"Kill Bill"

"Mystic River"

"21 Grams"

"Thirteen"

indieWIRE CONTRIBUTORS

ERICA ABEEL

"The Station Agent"

"American Splendor"

"Elephant"

"All the Real Girls"

"Raising Victor Vargas"

"21 Grams"

"School of Rock"

"Lost in Translation"

"Mystic River"

"Buffalo Soldiers"

Best Foreign Films

"The Barbarian Invasions"

"The Flower of Evil"

"Bord de Mer"

"To Be and To Have"

"The Housekeeper"

"Swimming Pool"

"Dirty Pretty Things"

"Sweet Sixteen"

"City of God"

"The Triplets of Belleville"

LIZA BEAR

(in alphabetical order)

"American Splendor"

"Balseros"

"The Barbarian Invasions"

"Bus 174"

"Dog Days"

"The Fog of War"

"Lost in Translation"

"The Man Without A Past"

"Mondays in the Sun"

"Suddenly"

"The Revolution Will Not Be Televised"

Best re-release:

"It's Always Fairweather"

Special Mention:

"School of Rock," "Shattered Glass," "Swimming Pool"

PETER BRUNETTE, Chief Critic

(in alphabetical order)

"21 Grams"

"American Splendor"

"City of God"

"Japon"

"The Last Samurai"

"Lord of the Rings: Return of the King"

"The Man Without a Past"

"School of Rock"

"Something's Gotta Give"

"The Station Agent"

STEVE ERICKSON

"The Son"

"Resurrection of the Little Match Girl"

"Irreversible"

"Bus 174"

"Capturing The Friedmans"

"Graveyard of Honor"

"Zero Day"

"Bad Santa"

"Elephant"

"Friday Night"

HOWARD FEINSTEIN

(unranked)

"The Magdalene Sisters"

"Elephant"

"Lost In Translation"

"The Eye"

"Ten"

"Hukkle"

"Kill Bill"

"Master and Commander"

"Divine Intervention"

"The Man Without a Past"

LESLIE FELPERIN, London-based contributor (based on U.K. release dates)

"Far From Heaven"

"Lilya 4-Ever"

"City of God"

"Spirited Away"

"Adaptation"

"Dark Water"

"About Schmidt"

"Kill Bill"

"In the Cut"

"Intermission"

SCOTT FOUNDAS

"Unknown Pleasures"

"Platform"

"The Son"

"In This World"

"The Fog of War"

"Japon"

"Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World"

"The Man on the Train"

"American Splendor"

"Friday Night"

STEPHEN GARRETT

"Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King"

"City of God"

"American Splendor"

"Gerry"

"Japon"

"School of Rock"

"Elephant"

"Kill Bill"

"28 Days Later"

"The Missing"

ADAM HART

"Dolls"

Takeshi Kitano's latest masterpiece is as mysterious and inscrutable as the
filmmaker himself, and it needs to get a distributor now.

"Turning Gate"

Let us all hail the next master of Asian cinema, Hong Sang-Soo.

"Dracula: Pages From A Virgin's Diary"

Pure cinematic wonderfulness, with vampires.

"Friday Night"

The sensual has rarely been such a spiritual experience.

"Elephant"

A formalist's dream movie, but truly devastating.

"Spellbound"

America's future has never looked brighter.

"Divine Intervention"

Two words: flying ninjas.

"Finding Nemo"

We should all start to realize that the films Pixar is making are among the
greatest children's movies ever made.

"The Man Without a Past"

Cinema's great absurdist at his most melodramatic, as funny and touching as
anything else Kaurismaki has done.

Tied for 10th: "21 Grams," "Spider," "Sweet Sixteen," "To Be And To Have,"
"Power Trip"

Honorable Mentions: "Ten," "Irreversible," "Gerry," "Cremaster 3," "So
Close" (my favorite guilty pleasure of the year), "Hukkle," "Pirates of The
Carribean," "Mystic River," "American Splendor," "Capturing the Friedmans,"
"PTU," and a little Hungarian movie called "Vagabond"

BRANDON JUDELL

"AKA"

A poor gay Brit poses as a rich gay Brit and is adopted by swinging,
constantly copulating aristocrats in the '70s. This brilliantly triptych
vision is based on the director's own actual capers.

"21 Grams"

A puzzle film, that as the pieces fall together, creates a pulverizing
picture of a modern word with hope of spiritual solace. The entire cast is
superb as flawed humanity.

"Lawless Heart"

A gay man dies -- not from AIDS -- and his aftermath is told three times:
once through his lover's eyes, once through his homophobic brother-in-law's,
and once through his self-indulgent best pal's. Witty, emotionally brutal,
and ever so wise.

"Since Otar Left"

Three generations of women living in Tblisi await the return of their
son/brother/uncle who's working as a clandestine laborer in Paris. They have
a long wait since he's dead. Ninety-year-old Esther Gorontin gives the
performance of the year here as the woman who loves her out-of-town child
more than life itself.

"Crimson Gold"

The truly brilliant opening focuses on a pizza delivery man robbing a
jewelry store and making a fatal muck of it. The rest of this astounding
feature about Irani haves and have-nots chronicles how he got so desperate
in the first place.

"Hadassah Hospital"

An at times very funny, hopeful, and discerning doc about Arab and Israeli
doctors treating Arab and Israeli patients in the same Jerusalem hospital.
Often the suicide bombers lie near their victims, as do the soldiers and the
citizens they've wounded.

"The Station Agent"

Three losers of different heights connect and change each other lives for
the better.

"Suddenly"

Two tough Argentinean lesbians named Mao and Lenin kidnap a closeted,
heavy-set girl, take her on a road trip, and then set her free in more ways
than you can imagine. Sort of a South American New Wave feature. Imagine an
early Godard with a queer bent.

"The Education of Gore Vidal"

If you adore wit and intellectual brilliance, this look at the
novelist/politician/actor/playwright supplies both in spades.

"Ford Transit"

An Arab van driver transports his Arab passengers from one Israeli roadblock
to another as doc director Hany Abu-Assad records their political views and
daily strife. This film must be cherished for blowing up every stereotype we
have of Palestinians.

ANTHONY KAUFMAN

1. "Elephant"

#2-10 (alphabetical)

"Capturing the Friedmans"

"demonlover"

"Gerry"

"In This World"

"Japon"

"Medea"

"28 Days Later"

"21 Grams"

"Unknown Pleasures"

I would also like to add the opening scene of Peter Mullan's "The Magdalene
Sisters," and runners-up "My Life Without Me," "The Secret Lives of
Dentists," "El Bonaerense," "The Station Agent," "Sylvia," "Spider,"
"Raising Victor Vargas," "Monster," and some of the best documentaries of
the last few years: in addition to "Capturing the Friedmans," "The Fog of
War," "Bus 174," and "Stevie"

Guilty pleasure: "X2: X-Men United"

Most Overrated: "Mystic River"

Most Underrated: "Friday Night"

Not yet seen: "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," "Cold
Mountain," and the rest of the studios' Oscar bait.

ANDREA MEYER

(in no particular order)

"Irreversible"

"28 Days Later"

"Swimming Pool"

"Thirteen"

"Lost in Translation"

"Mystic River"

"American Splendor"

"Camp"

"L'auberge Espanol"

"Cold Mountain"

The movie that made me laugh hardest all year was "Elf."

Because it was an amazing year for documentaries and French films, here are
a few I love that could have/would have been on my list if I'd had more
room: "Seaside," "The Housekeeper," "Carnage," "demonlover," "Cinemania,"
"Stevie," "Love and Diane," "Capturing the Friedmans," "Only the Strong
Survive," and while it's not French or a doc, "City of God" deserves to be
mentioned here somewhere.

NICK POPPY

Top 10 docs of the year

It was a very good year for documentaries. Of course, there are many more
very good films, including hundreds that will never see the inside of a
theater. That's a massive pity, but perhaps such a bumper crop will help
change exhibitors' minds about the marketability of non-dramatic
programming.

"The Fog of War"

"Love & Diane"

"Remembrance of Things to Come"

"Stone Reader"

"Capturing the Friedmans"

"Power Trip"

"The Revolution Will Not Be Televised"

"Balseros"

"Girlhood"

"Bus 174"

RAY PRIDE

Jeez, another great year for movies while the omens for the industry in all
its large and small permutations grow ever more batty. So many wonderful
documentaries, so many mixes of documentary and fiction, so many voices from
around the world.

"Lost in Translation"

The Sudafed-and-Johnny Walker mindset of the road warriors of the
twenty-first century; jetlag as Ecstacy; regret, longing and desire as woozy
narcotics. Sofia Coppola's shockingly mature postcard from the edge of the
West.

"Lilja 4-Ever"

Moodysson: the third great film from a young master. "Lost Highway" meets
"Mouchette."

"In America"

"I love what lives": Djimon Hounsou as the full-throated avatar of gangling,
unseemly beauty as it is passing darkly in an unspecified time: that is, a
child's memory, as in, two daughters of Jim Sheridan.

"Elephant"

Life is but a scream.

"Angels in America"

Saw it on Broadway. Mike Nichols and company surpass its weird, sprawling
impact.

"Irreversible"

His hand, her belly: fingertips soft as breath.

"Cold Mountain"

Soviet cinema's intensity, patient Italianate detours, painful Southern
digression: divagations of longing. Simmering perfume.

"Friday Night"

Nan Goldin without the damage, pleasuring the bruises.

"Capturing the Friedmans"

A stand-in for the mad, blossoming beauty of docs all year: why is that
clown so angry? Why does truth, however arrayed, trump the cleverness of
fiction?

"Raising Victor Vargas"

The post-neorealism: Peter Sollett is one of the observant, insistent young
directors (David Gordon Green is another) who like to listen as well as
watch.

MATTHEW ROSS, indieWIRE contributor &-managing editor of FILMMAKER Magazine

"Irreversible" -- Gaspar Noe is a flat-out cinematic genius, and this
rape-and-revenge nightmare is both masterful and problematic, but it's the
most astonishing work of the year.

"City of God" -- One of the most technically assured debuts ever for a
first-time filmmaker, and with a startling command of its epic narrative;
exciting but not cheap.

"The Fog of War" -- Flawless technique, fascinating subject; a terrifying
and relevant film.

"In This World" -- A tragically effective combination of naturalism and
stylization; a deeply empathic, politically aware work.

"Demonlover" -- Ambitious efforts like this need to be applauded (despite
its narrative choppiness); Assayas is a world-class director with big ideas.

"Friday Night" -- Another exquisitely-realized gem of psycho-sexual longing
from master director Claire Denis.

"The Station Agent" -- Crisply acted and refreshingly sparse, and it didn't
stoop to sit-com sentimentality or self-conscious quirkiness to sell itself,
unlike so many other U.S. indies.

"Elephant" -- "Elephant" is a really good movie (but not the truly great one
it could have been), with much to be impressed by, most notably Harris
Savides' stunning visuals and the rich, ambient sound design.

"Capturing the Friedmans" -- Beautifully-structured (or shamelessly
manipulative, depending on your opinion), it captures the complexities of
life and the vagaries of truth better than any other film this year.

"The Triplets of Belleville" -- The most inventive movie of the year.

Honorable mentions: "American Splendor," "Carnage," "In My Skin," "Lost in
Translation," "Monster," "Power Trip," "Raising Victor Vargas," "The Same
River Twice"

Haven't seen: "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" (loved the first
two), "Porn Theater"

Note: I looked at last year's list and was appalled at one of my choices:
"The Hours." I will forever bare the shame of thinking I liked that movie
for about 10 minutes (incidentally, the same 10 minutes during which I put
together last year's list). It must have been the painkillers I was taking.

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