The year 2003 is quite possibly one of the most outstanding recent years for film. It truly ran the gamut from brilliant pieces to some of the worst movies ever made (Gili). I like to believe that the good heavily out weighed the bad. It saw film makers veer from their comfort zone and others come of age and produce personal masterpieces.
Oscar went home with Peter Jackson and had a sweeping night in honor of Lord of the Ring: Return of the King, the conclusion to Peter Jackson’s epic trilogy. The Academy had an array of films of every type from the big budget blockbuster to smallest of well acted independent films. Clint Eastwood produced and directed another masterful notch on his belt with a film based on Dennis Lehane’s wonderful novel that struck terror in every parent who read and/or saw the movie. We saw the return of Quentin Tarantino and in a classic and brilliant way with Kill Bill Vol. 1. There are numerous other films that we could mention and summarize but we will have to cut that short as it could be a series of articles on it’s own.
Let’s examine the other fine fine films nominated for 2003 awards handed out in 2004. First is Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River. With strong characters and every actor in the movie at the top of their game, including best actor and best supporting actor winners, Sean Penn and Tim Robbins. The movie, aside from it’s numerous nominations and wins hit it’s audience right between the eyes with scenes like the one in which Sean Penn discovers the victim of tragic events is his daughter. That very scene will without question go down in American cinematic history.
Second on the nominations list is second generation film maker, the daughter of the almost mythic Francis Ford-Coppola, and her pitch perfect opus, Lost In Translation. Bill Murray showing that comedy can be a work of art as much as any work of fine drama. The world also had a new household name in Scarlett Johansson even though she was a long time movie veteran. Coppola made us think maybe great art is hereditary.
Next is, once again, the token UK film, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. With standard British acting from Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany, it featured big high seas battles and wonderful cinematography and costume design. The trouble with Master and Commander is it appealed to a very limited audience which was mainly older males with a love of time period movies.
Finally is the very sentimental but well made Seabiscuit about an underdog race horse and his unlikely jockey that captured the hearts of America during the great depression just when an underdog hero was what everyone needed to believe in and provide escape from the daily troubles 90% of americans were dealing with. With great acting from the previous years best supporting actor, Chris Cooper, Tobey McGuire and Hollywood main stay Jeff Bridges.
As we know not every movie can be nominated for, let alone win the best picture of the year. This had to be a most difficult year for those filling out nomination and winner ballots. It was a very very strong year for independent movies with such great movies as Joel Shumacher’s Veronica Guerin along with The House of Sand and Fog, Pieces of April, Thirteen, Kill Bill Vol.1, Monster (for which Charlize Theron won best actress), The Station Agent and 21 Grams.
One film void of any nominations possibly because it may have been too commercial or even controversial was Kevin Spacey and Kate Winslet in The Life of David Gale. A strong movie dealing with the sensitive topic of the death penalty with several twists at the end and even though it’s a surprise ending you know somewhat of a surprise is coming. It featured one of Laura Linney’s great performances and Spacey and Winslet weren’t half bad either.
Kevin Costner went back behind the camera and directed himself and the screen legend Robert Duvall in the western Open Range. A very underrated western and overall movie in itself. While not a deep story, it was still a realistic look at a small mining town and told a story that feels like it’s one that may have happened all too often during a pivotal time in America’s development.
With a look at all these movies and as have previously been stated in this series of articles, The Lord of the Rings took home the prize as an honor to the three films as a whole. It wasn’t the best of the three films but was a very necessary part of the overall story as was as well made as the two previous. Using the criteria stated earlier in my articles, I believe the strongest picture the most moving and emotional with the best directing and performances was Mystic River. It’s a movie that many will see and think that it won best picture and will then be surprised that it didn’t. Clint Eastwood will again make in appearance in this series of reviews as you will see but until then let the debating begin!