Monday, April 24, 2017

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Picture 2003

The Contenders:

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (winner)
Lost in Translation
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
Mystic River

What’s Missing

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.

My Choice

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.

Final Analysis


  1. Well we'll never agree on a winner this year. I hated the first Lord of the Rings movie and filled with dread when I realized I now had to watch the other two in the trilogy to know how the story turned out. Which I did and hated both of those, the only good thing I have to say about this one is that it wasn't as frustrating and pointless as the second.

    With that out of the way my choice of the nominees would be your number two, Master and Commander which would be the only one I'd include in a list of picks. I loved Seabiscuit but not in a Best Picture way, I simply found it interesting and involving. Mystic River and Lost in Translation were okay films but I hold no great affection for either.

    I haven't seen several that you propose as alternates but I adore Love Actually, I have a real weakness for multi episodic films that are done properly. It would get my vote for Best Picture, it's surely the most enjoyable.

    1. I know that there are people who didn't like the LotR trilogy, but most of the people I encounter who don't love them are more just neutral to them. My wife and kids don't care about them one way or the other despite my love for them.

      If you haven't seen City of God, you need to see it as soon as you can. It's not an enjoyable film in any way, but it is absolutely magnificent. Whale Rider and American Splendor are not of the same artistic brilliance (few things are), but are both much more enjoyable, and the story of the deservedly-nominated Keisha Castle-Hughes is evidence that we still have a long way to go as a culture in terms of general acceptance of people. I'd like her career to start for real, because her performance in this is one of the most natural child performances I have ever seen.

      Also, thank you for liking Master and Commander. Every time I bring it up, people look at me like I'm crazy for liking it, but I think it does almost everything right.

    2. Count me in as someone who loves Master and Commander.

      As for the Best Picture of 2003, I have to pick Kill Bill. It always seemed to me like Tarantino was thinking "What would Tony like?" the whole time he was making it. It's my favorite movie made after 1975.

    3. Yikes. I am not a fan of Kill Bill, and I think Tarantino is the most overrated director working today.

      We'll have to just disagree on that.

    4. It's the same universe as Christopher Nolan. So objectively, there's no way Tarantino could be the most over-rated director, no matter how much you don't appreciate his work.

    5. We'll disagree on that, too. Tarantino would be much better as a director if he stopped trying to be cool and started trying to just be good.

    6. Are you more of a film snob if you like Tarantino, or if you jump on the Tarantino Hate Train? I can see both sides of that argument.

    7. I don't see it as a film snob issue, seriously. There are plenty of places where I agree with and disagree with the typical film snob. I think Tarantino is in love with himself and it comes through in all of his films. That's really it.

  2. The LOTR trilogy is my favorite movie series ever, even over Star Wars and my beloved Star Trek, and while I think Fellowship is the better movie, Return of the King had to win and deservedly so.

    Master and Commander is also a great movie, and anyone who says otherwise is wrong.

    1. Return of the King is my favorite of the trilogy, but only by a very small margin over the first one. The difference is small enough that it's not worth quibbling about.

      And yes, Master and Commander is a great movie. It's also a master class (no pun intended) on how to film a battle sequence that shows how chaotic a battle can be, but doesn't end up as a confused mass for the audience.

  3. Personally, I'd have to put Lost in Translation here because it sticks with me a lot more over the long run. With that said, I could put Return of the King or Master and Commander here and not feel wrong about it. Both are epic yet don't feel big just for the sake of it. Master and Commander in particular is undervalued as a great movie. I'm not as fond of Mystic River, despite the performances. I just felt like it was a bit overdone, but that might relate to personal preference more than anything else. You're definitely right about Seabiscuit.

    1. Mystic River is an ugly story, and can veer into melodrama. I think it avoids it, but I understand fully why someone might accuse it of that.

      This is one of those categories where, if I did this again today, places 2-4 might be completely reordered. As I said above, I like the three movies about equally, and in a lesser year, would have no problem putting any of them on top.