1
Sep
2009
Feature: Jordan's Movie Quest
Jordan's Movie Quest: The Year 2003
Jordan
Continuing my quest through the last decade in film, and leading up to a year end, Top Ten of the Decade list, here are my favorites from 2003, with a blurb on each:

10. The Five Obstructions- Lars von Trier loves to cause people pain and existential anxiety. It's sort of his trademark. In this documentary he takes his talents for torture to the real world as he forces his favorite director Jorgen Leth to remake his film The Perfect Human five times, each time with a different obstruction to the film's creation, imposed by von Trier. The film explores the nature of genius, what makes a movie great, and just how far a man can be pushed in furtherance of his own (or occasionally, someone else's) art.

9. Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl-Say what you will about the sequels that followed, the original Pirates is an excellent summer movie. Full of swordplay, comedy, the occasional foray into the occult, and a great performance by Johnny Depp, the movie is pure popcorn bliss. The story follows the far less interesting Will Turner (Orlando Bloom, who for some reason beyond me continues to get roles) on a quest to save his equally boring lady love (Keira Knightley). Sounds like the makings of a pretty stifling period picture (as that seems to be all the two can make) until you add Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) an eccentric adventurer, and the nefarious Captain Barbossa (a delightful Geoffrey Rush) to the mix, making for one of the most thrilling, hilarious, and entertaining popcorn movies of the last decade.

8.The Triplets of Belleville-short, surreal, and almost entirely wordless, The Triplets of Belleville is a call back to the animation styles of old. When Madame Souza's Tour de France obsessed grandson is kidnapped by mobsters, she sets off to rescue him in the big city, with the help of the boy's devoted dog. Along the way she meets the titular triplets, aging has been stars who survive by cooking frogs they kill with dynamite. Odd and decidedly moody, the movie is a work of pure animated genius, speaking to the power of visualization to tell a story as strange as it is strangely touching.

7. Kill Bill Volume 1-As much as I would love to place Kill Bill on a single list, the fact is the studio system cut Tarantino's revenge epic down the middle and released it in two different years. Volume 1 tells the story of how our not-so-blushing bride (Uma Thurman) was shot in the head by her old boss and former lover Bill (David Carradine), and left for dead along with the rest of her wedding party (including her unborn child). Four years later she wakes up and goes after the five people responsible for her would-be assassination. The film follows her quest to end the lives of Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox) and O-ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), paying homage to countless kung-fu movies and styles of filmmaking (including anime) along the way. From the mounting tension as the bride works herself out of paralysis to the over-the-top awesomeness that is the showdown in the House of Blue Leaves. Thoughtful, well crafted and action packed, the film may not live up to its successor (spoiler alert: Volume 2 is a million times better), but it has a lot of fun providing the set up.

6. Oldboy-After 15 years imprisonment, former drunken lout Oh Dae Su (Mi-sik Choi) has one thing on his mind: revenge. Unfortunately he soon discovers his release is just another step in the game being played by his captor. He has five days to find him or things are going to get even worse. His quest for revenge sends him into the arms of beautiful young sushi chef Mi-Do (Hye-jeong Kang) and deep into his own past as he tries to discover why someone would rob him of fifteen years. Disturbing, thought-provoking, and very violent, Oldboy is a different, and much darker quest for vengeance than Kill Bill. Fitting into Chan-wook Park's vengeance trilogy, the movie will likely scar you for life, and leave you thinking for weeks after the credits roll.

5. Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King-After nine hours and billions of dollars, the Lord of the Rings trilogy comes to a smashing, action packed end. As Frodo (Elijah Wood) draws ever closer to Mordor, he begins to rely more and more on Sam (an Oscar worthy Sean Astin, denied even a nomination). Meanwhile, the rest of the Fellowship prepares for a battle with Sauron's army as Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) returns to the throne of Gondor that is rightfully his.The movie may be a half an hour too long (but then again, the book its adapted from is about 150 pages too long so it can't really be blamed) but it packs most of its running time with epic confrontations, detailed examinations of friendship and loyalty, and the occasional battle sequence that will melt your mind.

4. Finding Nemo-In the tradition of Pixar films being phenomenal comes Finding Nemo, the story of a timid, neurotic father Marlin (Albert Brooks) willing to risk life and fin to rescue his kidnapped son, Nemo (Alexander Gould). Along the way he befriends the doltish but endearing Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) and has a series of death-defying encounters that teach him to enjoy life again. A sweet, but never overly saccharine tale of the bonds between father and son, Finding Nemo is both heartbreaking and heartwarming in all the right ways.

3. Big Fish-Oddly placed right next to Finding Nemo, this film is quite a bit different and a whole lot less aquatic. Big Fish is, however, also the story of a relationship between a father and son, though in this case a bit more complicated. Will Bloom (Billy Crudup) has been plagued his entire life by the outlandish and colorful stories of his father Edward, to the point that he has moved to France, where he has married the beautiful Josephine (Marion Cotillard). But when he hears his father is terminally ill and doesn't have long to live, he heads home. Both his wife and his mother (Jessica Lange) encourage him to clear the air between his father (Albert Finney, also deserving an Oscar nomination he was deprived of). Ever the journalist, Will strives to separate the fact from the fiction as his father tells him the story of his life. The younger Edward ( Ewan McGregor) breaks out of small town monotony with a giant by his side, travels to an untouched paradise, and works at a circus to woo his untouchable love (Alison Lohman). Tim Burton directs the movie with just the right amount of eccentricities to balance out a truly moving story about the way stories exaggerate details, and the way they can shape our lives for better or worse.

2. Dogville-The year 2003 was a banner one for Lars von Trier. Not only did he make the excellent The Five Obstructions (see above), he also directed Dogville, a dark, nihilistic look at small town America. Grace Margaret Mulligan (Nicole Kidman) appears in the town of Dogville during the Depression, clearly on the run from the mob. While wary of the risk, the town is persuaded by moral philosopher Tom Edison (Paul Bettany) to take Grace in, so long as she agrees to work for them. This simple agreement quickly becomes more complicated as the denizens of Dogville (including Lauren Bacall, Patricia Clarkson, Zeljko Ivanek, Jeremy Davies, Phillip Baker Hall and Stellan Skarsgard) realize how easily they can exploit Grace's dire situation for their own gain. Shot on a soundstage with a spare set (white lines drawn on the floor indicate the walls of the buildings throughout the town and other important markers like benches) and lit like a play, Dogville is a bleak, disturbing, and surprisingly layered look at the dark side of human nature, an examination of just how badly we are willing to treat another human being when we know we have all the power.

1. Lost in Translation-Bob Harris (Oscar nominee Bill Murray, in easily his best performance) is most assuredly going through a mid-life crisis. His movie career is dead, his relationship with his wife is strained at best, and he has traveled to Tokyo to sell himself out as a celebrity spokesperson for whiskey. Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) is stuck in a rut in her mid-twenties, already disconnected from her husband, and drifting through life after graduating with a Philosophy degree and no real aspirations for a career. When both are hit with a bout of insomnia while staying in the same hotel, they bond over their lack of sleep and their general malaise. Director Sofia Coppola constructs a visually stunning look at Tokyo as well as a fascinating study of two people who can't seem to find their place in the world and can't manage to get over the depressive state that keeps dragging them down. With brilliant performances from Murray and Johansson, excellent cinematography and a thoughtful, melodic soundtrack, Lost in Translation is a moving meditation on unfulfilled longing, missed connections, and the mistakes that make up our lives.
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