Remembering a Decade…2003

(prologue) As we can begin to hear the death rattle of the oughts, we in the third row decided to start on this continuing series throughout 2009 that will look back at our favorite films of each of the past ten years (2000-2009). This will ultimately culminate in a “ten best/favorites of the oughts” piece sometime in early 2010.

The year 2003 seems to be the first film year of the decade in which all of the writers here at RowThree are generally on the same page. Our top three films from that year were pretty much no-brainers. After that things get choppy and we discovered that there are quite a few hidden gems from 2003 that might make the list but frankly not enough of us had seen them (Code 46, Temps de Loup, My Life without Me, etc). Animation fans might fret the fact that Triplets of Bellville didn’t quite make the cut either. But them’s the breaks.

Just so it’s known how we came up with this list, it’s pretty simple. The same way in which we always do our annual top ten list, each of the admins here took our top five (plus two honorable mentions) of the assigned year and relegated a point system (with a bit of arbitrary) and came up with a consensus list of our top five favorite films for that year.

5) Elephant
– A remarkable piece by Gus Vant Sant that has got to be one of the most shockingly realistic portrayals of tragedy ever put to screen. 85% of the film is mundane nothingness as we wander from class to class or banter with friends about inconsequential nonsense. But an impending gloom hangs over the entire picture as the anticipation of what the audience surely knows will ensue in the final chapter in this masterpiece of a film builds to a terrifying crescendo. Aside from Paul Greengrass’ United 93, never I felt so in the moment, yet so helpless at the same time. Some might argue that this is Van Sant’s finest work and I might not argue back.

4) Kill Bill: Vol. 1
– “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” The old Klingon proverb serves up this bit of wisdom to open Kill Bill and Quentin Tarantino gives us exactly what they ordered as Uma Thurman (the bride with no name) roars and rampages from killer to killer to get her “bloody satisfaction.” Tarantino knows his exploitation films and is able to recreate that nostalgia with his own brand of flair with Kill Bill. It’s rare that an out and out genre picture like this hits the main stream, but when Tarantino is behind the camera, it’s a cinch that the public will flock to the theaters to see what’s in store for them this time. In this case, it’s a samurai, western, revenge picture with motorcycles, suburbia, children and Mia Wallace. Yeah.

3) All the Real Girls
– For me, All the Real Girls was the first step into the world of David Gordon Green. It was also my first real experiences with Paul Schneider, Zooey Daschenel and Danny McBride. Watching it at the right time and place just added a load of goodness to come from this stunning movie that probably most would describe as mundane and boring. But isn’t that kind of the point? It is an absolutely gorgeous look at real lives in a very real segment of America with the near pitch perfect use of decaying grandeur. But far from boring (in my opinion) is the atypical boy meets girl story with believable, yet starry eyed, performances from all of the leads within this setting. These actors have since gone on to be fairly high profile and the film may not resonate as well today as it did six years ago, but that’s by no means any fault of the film – that’s just circumstance. The film as it stands is a masterpiece.

2) Oldboy
– Oldboy was unlike anything else we’d seen in 2003… or ever for that matter. It was a film that pretty much unsuspectingly took everybody by storm; relentlessly drubbing your senses with visual flair, high octane fighting sequences, instances of unadulterated brutality, drama, plenty of “wtf!?” moments and capping it all off with an incredibly intriguing plot complete with mystery and a twist. Oh and it’s from Korea so it’s safe to say no one (mainstreamers) saw it so it is one of those movies you can pull out on the spur of the moment and awe all of your friends with at a get-together. Yes it’s safe to say this movie had it all in terms of a cinematic package. The score is a perfectly synced mix of classical and techno which jives really well with the various textures and color palettes on display. Throw in some amazingly detailed set design and leads that could carry the film on their shoulders if they had to and I’d argue that although it’s not our #1 film of 2003, it’s easily the one most talked about, referred to and highest in the cult status quo.

1) Lost in Translation
– Strangely charming, awkwardly captivating, and ironically magnetic in it’s blank qualities, Lost in Translation is a film that feels very hard to pin-point at times; it feels hollow, yet it remains likable to the end, and ultimately means nothing and everything at the same time; an almost melancholic outlook that resonates with our main characters while still managing to bring quirky humour and subtle philosophies to us. The quandaries that the film represents are something that can be experienced by each person as we are left in our own melancholic state asking questions of ourself. Coppola’s feminine touch pushes the film to absolute brilliance, crafting a finely tuned film that aims for much more than what may be initially derived on a one time viewing. Hopefully, you’ll be lost in this same confusion that the title bares; you will find something much more real, much more relevant, and much more revelatory to your own life. It’s not about the dialogue, it’s not about the story, it’s not about the setting. Intead, this is a film about emotions, characters, and accompaniment, and that is how you should be approaching this. Oh and quite the interesting soundtrack to boot.

– – a few honorable mentions: Jeux D’Enfants (aka Love Me If You Dare), The Station Agent, American Splendor, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

We’ll see you in a couple weeks with our picks for 2004.


Andrew James
Podcaster. Tech junkie. Movie lover. Also games and guitar. I dig music.


  1. I even though she's cute in Elf, I'd make the case that All the Real Girls is Zooey's ONLY good performance. She's basically a dead eyed vacant doll in every movie.

  2. What was that movie where Zooey Daschanel and Katy Perry take turns pleasuring each other with a strap on?

    Oh wait that wasn't a movie

  3. I've actually never even heard of All the Real Girls, but, as mentioned previously when talking about Yes Man and probably (500) Days of Summer, I have a huge girlcrush on Zooey at the moment. So it's now at the top of my Netflix queue.

    And I need a rewatch on Elephant, because I thought it was incredibly pretentious. Yet I love Lost in Translation, which I hear lots of people say is pretentious. Huh.

  4. "What was that movie where Zooey Daschanel and Katy Perry take turns pleasuring each other with a strap on?"

    Talentless Vapid Sorority Girls in Heat 8

    • I don't gush all over Zooey like some, but I certainly do like her for the roles she plays. Yeah it's kind of the same, dry character that is almost like a stoned zombie (an attractive one), but usually that's what the role calls for. "All the Real Girls" and probably "Winter Passing" being her best. Actually, for the bit part she had in "Almost Famous" she was really good too. So despite her aloof disposition, I still like to watch her perform… and I like her band too.

  5. Naw, she was terribly cast as Trillian and doesn't even really do anything in it.

    I am just plain sick of her bringing down movies that otherwise should be good.

  6. Huh? If I have any issue with the actress, it is popping up in bland studio comedies like YES MAN or FAILURE TO LAUNCH. I thought she brought something (even it was only wide-eyed cuteness and dry wit) to THE HAPPENING and HITCHIKER'S GUIDE.

    She knocks it out of the park in ALL THE REAL GIRLS, THE GOOD GIRL and in a very small role in BIG TROUBLE (a massively underrated comedy with a big ensemble cast doing what they do best…)

    Nothing, NOTHING however, can remove the awful taste of the Sci-Fi Channel's epic failure "TIN MAN" Ouch, and Zooey had the lead in that one.

  7. Just rewatched Lost in Translation last week. I always forget how great that movie is between viewings.

    I'm going to add All the Real Girls and Oldboy to my queue. Some of my favourites from the year include Shattered Glass, Blue Car, and though it may not technically count because it was a made-for-TV movie, Showcase's Soldier's Girl is incredible.

    Oh, and for great silly popcorn, Phone Booth. (Please don't throw things at me!)

  8. She's almost as bad as Wahlberg in the Happening, but at least Wahlberg had the decency to be hilariously bad.

    She's in bland studio comedies because she's bland. She is bland and shy in a few good movies because a casting director was smart enough to use it to their advantage.

    Trillian is not supposed to be bland and shy, she was supposed to be more spontaneous and adventurous. In that movie she's basically like Weaver in "Galaxy Quest" – repeating the computer. She says "We've reached normality" a couple of times but otherwise contributes NOTHING. Actually that may not be entirely correct, because at times she's a black hole, sucking anything comedic around her into obliveon.

  9. "She knocks it out of the park in ALL THE REAL GIRLS, THE GOOD GIRL"

    Being properly cast based on what you CAN do does not a good actress make. Otherwise Heather Graham 'knocked it out of the park' in Boogie Nights, when it was really the casting director doing their job well.

    Scarlett Johansson is similarly bland and talentless, but I'd say she's done more to justify her star than Zooey. She's stretched her very thin range (and has been stretched as well) over a wider variety of uses. It's hard to call her 'versatile' but in comparison to Zooey, she's Ben Fucking Kingsley.

  10. Goon, are you just trying to pick fights? What does Scarlett Johansson have to do with anything? I think it's just overexposure that fuels your animosity, I see no blatant harmful existence in either actress.

    I watched Elf for the first time this weekend and it is a great movie, and she was really cute in it. She has an expressive face, and is charming. What else do you want? Usually you don't get that lucky. And it's not even like she's this next big thing, she's not even that popular.

  11. I don't see anyone mentioning Zooey's latest, 500 Days of Summer, did anyone see it? I thought it was horrible, the worst kind of pandering hipster going through the motions without knowing how to create engaging characters kind of Sundance manufactured commodity. Zooey is so not anything in this film, even her beauty couldn't save her in this film, she was this lifeless blah throughout the whole procession.

    and sorry all you fans of JGL, while I think he has some onscreen charisma, his choices in films have been bad. I personally didn't care for Brick, Miracle of St Anna, ugh, I also saw one with him at TIFF last year that never came out which was horrible (the name escapes me) and now this.

  12. "She’s yet to be front and centre in any major Studio flick."

    The Happening and Yes Men arent major studio films? What are you calling 'front and centre' or 'major studio flick'?

    Henrik, I brought up Scarlett because I think the comparison of the two was brought up before in some 'versus' type argument someone else proposed here before. was just in my head because of it.

  13. Front and Center means headliner. Obvious Yes Men was a Jim Carrey Vehicle with her in a very supporting role. The other was a M.Night show all the way, with the actors secondary, and she pretty much in the Funky Bunch to clear star, Marky Mark in that one.

    As soon as she gets something like Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts, or even Reese Witherspoon or even Kate Hudson, Rene Zelweger, etc., I'd hardly call her front and center.

  14. rot, couldn't disagree with you more. I found (500) Days of Summer warm, funny, full of both joy and sadness, well-structured, satisfying and surprising, and utterly charming.

  15. It's confusing to have the descriptions constantly state "I this" and "I that" when you don't let us know who is writing.

  16. @ "his choices in films have been bad."

    Now Rot, maybe you don't like his films. But from Mysterious Skin to Brick to Lookout he's established acting cred and a built fan base. So you really can't say they were bad career choices.

    It's also an interesting list of films and they're good parts. Most young actors would love to get staring roles as good as any of those.

    And so what if Miracle at St. Anna's wasn't good. He was working with Spike Lee so it's cool.

  17. Granted I have't seen Mysterious Skin or The Lookout, so thats true, but from my experience, his talents are wasted on the material. Brick is not that bad, and if anything it was a very good career decision on his part, so I should take that one back, I am more disappointed with the one I saw at TIFF and (500) Days of Summer which to me are painfully derivative.

    to give some examples for Summer:

    getting grown up advice from kid sister: Bottle Rocket

    many aspects of the film including the poseur art critic scene: Annie Hall, and any number of Allen films actually

    Goofy out of control friend and the nerdy but quiet friend: High Fidelity

    The first encounter and getting to know each other through pop music: Garden State

    Narrator linking the romantic leads by their commonalities growing up: Amelie

    and then there is the soundtrack… admittedly I had virtually all of the songs on my ipod like four or five years ago, and sure its not necessary that a soundtrack be up to the minute current or anything, but that every song felt dated and not in a good way, and this was not a period piece, felt strange. Pop music was way overused in this film… whenever there was a scene to convey the relationship deepening, the conversation that is supposed to make us understand WHY these two may or may not be in love, those scenes are montages with pop music over top… and that to me is lazy writing.

    The film feigns a lot of its emotions, it tells us what these people feel, but I never felt it outside of the narration. With a romantic narrative I need to care about the characters caring about one another, but this relationship felt utterly vacuous, it will a pantomime of emotion, a sad person bounces a ball in his apartment by himself and buys twinkies and Jack Daniels, a happy person dances down the street… its hiding its superficiality under a veneer of meta that to me doesn't work.

  18. @Ashley – I think you and I share love for titles released in 2003. OLDBOY was the only film on my list which made the consensus list. Here's mine:

    *Code 46


    *My Life Without Me

    *Shattered Glass

    *Whale Rider

    HM: The Corporation, Elephant

    RE (500) OF SUMMER – saw it yesterday. Liked it a lot. Have started to like it less as it settles in but still thoroughly enjoyed the giddiness it left me with.

    As for JGL – Rot, you need to see THE LOOKOUT and MYSTERIOUS SKIN both of which are my favourite JGL performances (though MS is *hard* to watch). Overall though, I agree with you – he's super talented but hasn't really been given a chance to shine. In SUMMER, he shows yet another side because I never took him for someone to end up in a "romance". And we're not done with JGL for the year yet. GI JOE is still to come. I'm sure he'll be genius in it.

  19. I will admit there are some witty bits in Summer, I certainly laughed, but what this film aspired to do, to depict love and the disintegration of love, I think it failed miserably. I just noticed our local free press paper reviewer also made the link with Annie Hall and this film… if I remember right, Marina, you haven't seen Annie Hall?

    I am fine with films borrowing from the past, don't get me wrong, but this one does it heavily, and feels like a pastiche of quirky Sundance fare, with the heart and soul of the story made an afterthought.

  20. whoa… Marina, you did not pick Lost in Translation?

    I rewatched this again last week, and it is a perfect film to me, 5 out of 5, it so deserves the #1 I feel.

  21. On 500 DAYS: And I don't think it's about the disintegration of love. I think it's about relationships in general but not necessarily love. Maybe HE thought it was love but it was painfully one sided. What I liked BEST about the movie is that it features a guy who is hopelessly in love with a woman who doesn't want him back and not the other way around (as is usually the case). My major problem with that is that she is made out to be a complete bitch. Review coming. May need to designate the comments as spoilerific.

    As for LOST IN TRANSLATION: loved it when I saw it in '03. Dislike it now. Not hate, that's too strong a word and I don't *hate* the movie it just doesn't do anything for me. Small bits I like (Murray essentially being directed by a translator "Are you sure that's all he said?", Murray on a treadmill, the final scene of the film – what *does* she say to him…I realize there are entire websites dedicated to this) but Johansson rubbed me the wrong way. Have seen the movie twice since and the second time (technically the third), I couldn't finish it.

  22. rot, not having watched The Lookout or Mysterious Skin, his two most impressive performances (alongside Brick, which I am a huge supporter of), makes your opinion on him fairly unfounded – especially since his filmography is extremely limited to begin with. Have you seen Manic either (which also co-stars Zooey Deschanel, for that matter)?

    The guy can act. And he's picked some really interesting roles so far in his career. The popularity of 500 Days of Summer and the paycheck from GI Joe are really going to open even more creative doors for him. He's going to be around for a long time.

  23. @ the paycheck from GI Joe are really going to open even more creative doors

    Well, that's often cited as the idea behind taking roles like that. We'll see if it works out. He's gonna have to be back for at least two more in all likelihood.

  24. I don't believe he signed a three-movie contract, although maybe I'm mistaken. Regardless, the GI Joe movie has nothing to do with anything GI Joe, so his character dying at the end is just as likely as him not dying.

    Personally, I don't even know if he did it for the money. I bet he did it because he was able to take a lot of sweetass lessons on swordfighting.

  25. I never doubted Levitt's acting abilities, and like I said originally I think he has onscreen charisma, what I said was the films I have seen him in, for the most part, have sucked. His talent is squandered… the film I saw at TIFF last year was called Uncertainty, and it was the worst one I saw out 20 some films there, and there again he was squandered.

  26. @Jonathan – Colleen and I talked about this a little during the July pre-view. You don't even see him in the trailer – wonder if his face is covered up throughout the film.

  27. I got ya, rot. Still, I think you're in the minority on that one and I'm not sure why you made some an extreme comment that "his choices in films have been bad." It seems like you're basing this on two of his movies.

    I can't defend or agree on Uncertainty, because only people that attended TIFF have watched that, but his other movies where he starred or had a significant role: Brick, The Lookout, Mysterious Skin, Manic, Latter Days, even as far back as 1998 in Sweet Jane, they were all far from a waste of his talent. All solid, unique, interesting movies, all critically well-received, all doing good things for his career.

    That leaves his minor roles in Miracle at St. Anna (and again, who wouldn't want to work with Spike Lee?), Havoc, Shadowboxer, and Killshot to be the movies he is in worth complaining about since 2000 – where he screentime in all of those combined is probably under an hour.

  28. I liked Brick.

    I thought the Lookout was pretty awful actually.

    I don't have a particular beef with the guy but there's something about him that screams "the other Jonas Brother"

  29. What was it you didn't like about The Lookout?

    Besides the stellar performances by JGL and especially Jeff Daniels and Matthew Goode, I appreciated that it didn't use the memory loss as a cheap gimmick or a way create predictable twists – it's a straight-forward story about these psychological internal struggles of a young man who wants to do what is right but so desperately wants his old life back -before the final act, which becomes a thriller heist-gone-wrong climax (and I admit, is probably the films weakest part, but it still works).

    The characters are all complex and realistic (besides that Bone character), the dialogue is smart, the chemistry between Levitt and Daniels being one of the main highlights, the music by James Newton Howard was some of the best of that year – it was just a solid, low budget movie, especially impressive being directed so well by a first-timer. It was in my top ten of 2007, that is for sure.

  30. I didn't remember much so here's a cut/paste of my flixter review of when i saw it:


    "After all I've heard I was disappointed. This film never outright offends but never really shines either. The script and dialogue, especially the scenes with narration – are probably the weakest elements, and most of the acting is about on par with your average TV drama. The direction attempts a certain style but in the end it feels just detached from itself enough that it feels like a Canadian film. I don't see the big deal about Gordon Levitt, he doesn't have much presence on screen and in this case his character is largely unlikeable and unsympathetic, even when he's being taken advantage of. "

    • Which reminds me, I should clarify on the author of this post. Andrew wrote all of it except for the "Lost in Translation" review. I stole much of that blurb from a random review on Flixster that I thought was pretty good. I edited it a bit and cleaned it up, but it's not my words.

      I didn't love LiT myself either. No worries Marina.

  31. I loved the narration. Added to the noir-vibe that it was going for and the melancholy repetition of "I wake up. Take a shower. With soap" really set the tone for the character.

    I obviously disagree wholeheartedly on your assessment of the acting and if I remember correctly, most all of the reviews I read echoed my feelings on the acting being the strongest element, even the bad reviews.

  32. @ Marina

    Yes, 2003 was a great year for cinema. Though not my absolute favourites, a few other good titles worth noting include Monster, The Cooler, Mystic River, 21 Grams. I'm actually kind of surprised these didn't get some love in the orignal post or in the comments so far.

    Also, though I'm not a big TV watcher, three of the funniest (and sadly shortlived) shows all premiered sometime in 2003: Arrested Development, The Joe Schmo Show, and Wonderfalls.

  33. My "next day" reaction to the North American premiere screening of Lost in Translation, at the 2003 edition of TIFF:

    "Japanese culture has to be the strangest amongst the nations of the First World, overrun with its exotic cuisine, the omnipresence of sophisticated technologies and the forced politeness of business conducted in it’s cities. This is counterbalanced by the Zen-like solitude of its rural shrines and ornately sculptured parks.

    Lost in Translation is about loneliness in a foreign land. It features two Americans that certainly cannot relate to the local culture and for that matter, their spouses. Bill Murray plays Bob Harris, a movie star past his prime and doing a whiskey commercial in Japan for $2 Million. His only real communication with is wife is when she urgently Fed-Ex’s him fabric samples for redecorating the house and his only communication with his children is them making noise on the other end of the phone. Scarlett Johansson plays Charlotte, an unemployed philosophy graduate (is there any other kind?) on a holiday while her husband (a cameo from Giovanni Ribisi) who is work as a photographer for Japanese rock musicians. Charlotte is intelligent, wry, and doesn’t get along with any of her husbands subjects, including a young air-headed movie star who they run into the lobby of the hotel.

    The movie plays rhythmically between Bob alone in the hotel, to Bob and Charlotte meeting in the hotel bar, to Charlotte alone touring the parks and shrines out of the city. Theirs is a platonic friendship born out of a sense of a kindred spirit in one another from isolation from everything around them. The kind of conversations that happen at 2 O’Clock in the morning about the meaning of life are blended with what could possibly build to a May/December romance.

    Sophia (daughter of Francis Ford) Coppola knows how to do atmosphere. One has to look no further than her debut film, The Virgin Suicides, a picture that oozes with it. Here she has topped it both in ambience and narrative drive. This is a picture in which nothing really happens, but it compelling from the first minute to the last.

    Look for how scenes of breathtaking beauty, such as when Charlotte ties a piece of paper to a tree with thousands of such ties in a quiet park, or the absurdity of Bill Murrays appearance on a hyper-paced Japanese game show, or just the pair of them talking while laying down on a bed.

    The Best film of this years Festival. "

  34. I didn't get into that showing, but I was outside taking pictures, and that was where I first encountered the luminous beauty of Cate Blanchett firsthand.

    • What I remember best about "LiT" is that stunning shot of Murray teeing off at the golf course with the mountain in the background. If memory serves, that was not a scheduled shoot. Bill just went golfing and the cameras followed and got an amazing shot.

      I remember being very luke-warm on the film as a whole though. I don't really care for Johansson nor do I care for Coppola's directing choices in general. Having said that, this is one I think I picked up fairly cheaply and one I would definitely like to revisit. Of course I say that all the time and never get around to it.

  35. I didn't see ALL THE REAL GIRLS until what, 2008? 2007? Not too long ago. But I was lucky enough to see a pristine 35mm print of it! For Free. Which is very sweet. (Thanks U of T CINNSU group)

  36. Yes, I saw ATRGs in the theater. I loved it.

    Since then I've watched it once and thought much less of it the second time around.

    I've actually seen all of DGG's movies in the theater accept Snow Angels which I just watched last night and may be my favorite of his.

    In a total coincidence I watched it immeadiately after watching Eastbound for the first time. Same writer / director / dp… amazing!

  37. Snow Angels was a solid little drama, but less ambitious than his other work. I think All The Real Girls would be my favorite, followed by Pineapple Express

  38. Dang. I totally forgot Guy Maddin's COWARDS BEND THE KNEE, one of his best films. certainly one of the best of '03.

  39. after going through my dvds to put together a FilmJunk concensus decade list, I think 2003 was the weakest year of the decade. Some great films, but overall as a year cant compare to the rest of the decade.


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