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Wednesday, March 8, 2017 issue
2003-12-31 life & times
Best film picks of 2003
Cletus Turner

"Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl." (click for larger version)
It's that time of the year again. It's time to look back at the best and worst movies of the year. We have seen familiar faces, tons of sequels and not a whole lot of drama over the course of the past twelve months. Did Affleck or Russell make the list, or the cut? What films really were good, and what movies should have been part of a dung heap?

The first film we'll look at is Bringing Down The House. Queen Latifah, fresh from her Oscar nominated turn in Chicago, pulled out all the stops on this comedy, and Steve Martin joined in on the fun. The nice thing about the film was that it was actually funny. Latifah and Martin worked well together and Martin's ghetto slang was hilarious. Perhaps the best part of the film was Eugene Levy. His slang was perfect and his continual flirting with Latifah made the film. Bringing made over $100 million in the off season, which is a true accomplishment.

Oscar buzz. Nothing new for Tom Cruise, but The Last Samurai is not your usual Cruise movie. We have seen Risky Business, Top Gun and both Mission: Impossible films, but they are all aimed at women. Samurai is not that type of film. Instead, this film is art at its best. Sweeping landscapes, drama and a story that actually is a story make this film an Oscar contender. But, even more important, Cruise isn't being typecast as the good-looking guy. This is one of his first forays into a type of story that requires him not to be pretty. Instead, like his turn in Born on the 4th of July, he actually has to act. That is why the early Oscar buzz is in his favor. Doesn't hurt though, that he actually has a film that helps showcase his talent.

What do you get when you take a Saturday Night Live comedian, put him in tights and pretend that he has been taken to the North Pole with Santa? A hit film. Elf has been one of the surprise hits of the year with Will Farrell pulling out all the stops. Farrell plays a man who was found by the elves and raised by the them. Suddenly, he is too tall and too uncoordinated to work at the North Pole anymore and must go out on his own. He, naturally, wants to find his family. The film has shown great legs as it has been in the top ten at the box office for nearly two-and-a-half months.

The supposed final installment of the American Pie series was released in August and was able to rake in over $100 million at the box office. In American Wedding, we were treated to the further adventures of the guys we first saw in the first American Pie movie. This time, Jim, played by Jason Biggs; Kevin, played by Thomas Ian Nichols; Stifler, played by Seann William Scott and Finch, played by Eddie Kaye Thomas are in for the big adventure. Jim is getting married to Michelle, played by Alyson Hannigan. The boys end up in some hilarious situations, like always. The nice thing about this film is that each of the characters actually show some growth from their experiences, although they don't grow up. Because of the success of the third film, over $100 million at the box office, don't be too surprised if this franchise is pulled out for one last hurrah.

Russell Crowe hoped another huge-budget epic would bring him back to the fore in the movie industry. Sadly, it didn't, although the film has been loved by critics, including me. The problem with the film is that it is so dark. There is only one comedic moment in the whole three hour film. Crowe, Paul Bettany and Billy Boyd star as British sailors fighting the French during the early 1800's. Sounds boring, but surprisingly, its not. The action keeps right on going and you get to see the high seas as they were meant to be. Dirty, dangerous and frightening, the early seafarers didn't know if they would make it back to land or not. It isn't supposed to be pretty, like in Mutiny on the Bounty with Mel Gibson. The action is followed by so many character building scenes that by the end of the film, the audience can almost feel like Crowe's character, Jack Aubrey, is a part of the family. Bettany and Boyd put in wonderful performances as well.

Seabiscuit has to be one of those Oscar films that actually is a good movie to go and watch. The story of a horse that wasn't supposed to even have a chance to win, surprises everyone. Toby McGuire plays jockey Red Pollard in the film. Beau Bridges plays the millionaire who owns Seabiscuit and Chris Cooper plays Tom Smith who helped train the horse. Pollard and Smith are able to get remarkable performances out of the horse and make it a winner in 1938. The film is based on a true story. The story is made all the more powerful since Pollard was half-blind. Overcoming all odds, the film did well. It was able to pull in over $100 million which seems to be the measuring stick these days for successful films. Cooper, Bridges and McGuire put in non-stop performances.

The final act to the Lord of the Rings trilogy was released just two weeks ago, but it is such a powerful ending with great performances, wonderful special effects, and strong story that the film has to rank in the year's top ten. Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellan, Elijah Wood, Billy Boyd, and Sean Astin give excellent performances. The characters relationships, which aren't exactly the way they are in the books, is given massive air time and lets us see the acting skills of some new-found actors.

Finding Nemo is one of the best films of the year simply because it shows class. Nemo is about a missing angel fish and the search mounted by his father to find him. A shark joins the search, which is definitely weird, but fun. Children of all ages found the film entertaining and made it the highest grossing box office film of the year. The film made over $300 million and stayed in the top ten for four months. It is one of those few films that doesn't debut at number one, but becomes number one later. The film also became the highest grossing animated film of all time.

Halle Berry won an Oscar for her performance in Monster's Ball and followed that success with a riveting performance in Gothika. Berry played a doctor who suddenly discovers her life isn't what she thought it was. With Robert Downey Jr. and Charles Dutton as background players, the film has to be one of the best films simply because the acting complemented the story and made us want to watch to see what happens next. The fact that the mystery was a good one certainly helped.

Any top ten list would be remiss to not include Pirates of the Caribbean. Johnny Depp made the film even better than a cool story and swashbuckling action. Capt. Sparrow, Depp's character, is one of those singular characters that makes a film go beyond what it probably would have been. Naturally, a sequel is already in the making. However, it is amazing that the film was created from a roller coaster ride. The story was created for the movie. Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom did not have top billing, but were excellent in their roles as Elizabeth Swann and Will Turner. Geoffrey Rush was perfect as Capt. Barbossa, the villain. Disney had the top two films of the year with Nemo and Pirates.

Check back in Friday as we look at the 10 worst movies of 2003.

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