The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (winner)
Lost in Translation
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
This is a solid collection of movies, with several that could have won in other years. In terms of potential improvement, there are a couple of non-English language films that I’d put into contention right away. The first of these is The Barbarian Invasions, which I liked far more than the first film in that series. The second is Oldboy, which was almost certainly too much for the Academy to really consider. A third is The Best of Youth. Goodbye, Lenin! is a potential miss as well. Fifth, and one that really should have been here, is City of God, which was nominated for Best Director, but somehow managed to be skipped even for Best Foreign Language Film. Love, Actually would be tempting in a lesser year, but not this one. Both Whale Rider and American Splendor would also be worth talking about in a lesser year, too. I have a warm fuzzy for Big Fish, even if it probably doesn’t belong here, and Elf, while now a holiday staple, doesn’t belong, either. I would have loved to have seen The Station Agent get some love. It deserves it. It’s worth adding that this is a noteworthy year for terrible movies; both Gigli and The Room were released in 2003.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. If I could get rid of one movie for something else, probably City of God, it would be Seabiscuit, which is clearly the weakest link in the five nominations. There isn’t anything particularly wrong with Seabiscuit; it’s just long and not very interesting. Despite being a film about horseracing, it’s very leisurely about getting to where it wants to go. Looking back at it, I had trouble thinking of anything other than the horseracing and Tobey Maguire in racing silks. I’d much rather see City of God here instead.
4. Now things get tougher, and anyone disagreeing with my position of places 2-4 will have my complete understanding. I’d like to put all of the remaining films in second place because I like them all about equally and find them all about equally impressive. The difference between second and fourth place here is wafer thin. So, it’s with a heavy heart that I put Lost in Translation here. I like this movie a lot and I hate putting it in fourth. So why is it here? The only reason I can give is that it’s a much smaller movie than the three that remain.
3. Mystic River is impressive on every level. The performances are excellent all the way through, it’s magnificently filmed, and the story is one that stays with the audience for days after viewing. In a lesser year, this would have been a much stronger contender for the win. I can’t say that it’s a movie I want to watch that often because it’s a difficult watch, but I like everything about it. I hate putting it in third place, even in a year when it couldn’t possibly win.
2. The most controversial placement here will be Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World in second place, but it’s a movie I will fight for. I like the story, and I like the scope of the story, too. More, this movie is the sort of thing that everyone about to make an action movie should be strapped to a chair and forced to watch. This is how you film action sequences; they are exciting and frenetic without being confusing or confused. It also goes long in terms of trying to present a realistic and real world. I love it and I won’t apologize for it, even if everyone else likes it a hell of a lot less than I seem to.
1. There could be only one winner in 2003, and that was the one with the most words in the title: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. The conclusion of Peter Jackson’s magnum opus deserved most (not all) of the accolades it got and most (not all) of the Oscars it won, but it absolutely deserved to be heralded as the best movie of its year. That it could overcome Oscar’s penchant for hating fantasy in general is noteworthy, but not giving it the win would be as crazy as, well, not nominated The LEGO Movie a decade or so later.