Tuesday, December 30, 2003

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Time now to turn my attention to what I deem as the best movies (that I saw, anyway) of 2003. Being unemployed for seven months this year left me with more time than usual to go to the movies, and I tried to take advantage of that until the ol' severance package ran out. Problem is, I didn't see that many films that I thought were the best of this, or any year. Actually, most of the best flicks I caught this year were on Turner Classic Movies, where I saw many classics, many of which I'd never seen before, and some not-so-classics like the fun Maisie series starring Ann Sothern. Anyway, here ya go. In alphabetical order.

Concert for George Yes, this played in theatres but I got this on DVD for Christmas. For some reason I had forgotten this even took place, but now I have it to view until the end of time. Did I like it? Why sure! Big Beatle freak me, you know. It was great to see all the assembled musicians jamming and having a good time, not only the usual suspects like Eric Clapton and Jeff Lynne but Procol Harum's Gary Brooker (who played keybs on All Things Must Pass) and Billy Preston (who played on the Beatles' final albums, plus was a significant Apple artist for a few years there). Of course, Ringo and Paul were there, with Mr. Starkey singing a Carl Perkins number he could probably do in his sleep, and no big surprise here, "Photograph"; and Paul contributing a great rendition of "For You Blue" (in which Ringo chimed in during the solo with "them old twelve bar blues", much to the delight of the hard core Beatlefans) and "Something", which he started out playing on ukulele and sounded pretty darn good but you just knew the Massed Alberts would have to horn in eventually. It must have been odd for Paulie to sit there and play piano on the Pass cut "Wah-Wah" which was George's version of "How Do You Sleep", John's vicious attack on Sir Paul. Anyway, I could go on and on, but if you like George or his former group at all, this is a heartfelt, entertaining and well-done tribute, and if you aren't, you could maybe get a charge out of the funny skits by the surviving members of Monty Python (with Tom Hanks as a head-scratchingly poor substitute for John Cleese) and the handsome production values throughout.

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind All right, this one fooled me because all the dates given for this film adaptation of the memoirs of game show mogul Chuckie Barris were of 2002 vintage, but it made its premiere in limited release on New Year's Eve of that year, and actually had the bulk of its theatrical run in '03. This film was a delight in a lot of ways: it is surprisingly clever visually, thanks to director/actor George Clooney (who knew?), it appealed a lot to me as someone who grew up watching The Gong Show and The Dating Game, it has great peformances by Dean Stockwell as Chuck and Clooney as the CIA agent who recruits him to be a black ops agent, and the script doesn't get so carried away with the utter strangeness of the source material that it forgets to provide emotional depth as well. Very well done.

Finding Nemo Both the animation and story were first-rate in this engaging all-ages animated version of The Searchers. Well, OK, that's not exactly accurate, but you know what I mean. Nemo was a winner not because of the animation, but because of its witty and clever script. This would have been an enjoyable film if they had used sock puppets. I just wish that those who are churning out tepid trad-animated fare like Sinbad and Treasure Planet would realize this.

Kill Bill Vol. 1 An all out feast of pop culture references, martial arts action, rock 'n roll, laughs and thrills, and after all is said and done the best film I saw this year. It's a bit bloody, for sure, but Tarantino is so audacious and skillful even as he repulses you that you can't help but dig it. Can't wait for Vol.2.

Pirates of the Carribean This one was a lot of fun, too, mostly for the mutual scenery chewing of Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush and some nifty special effects. I was totally unimpressed with the acting ability, for lack of a better phrase, of love interest Keira Knightley, and I thought there were a few too many swordfights dragging down, curiously enough, the action...but I really liked this one for the most part.

X2 I'm sure there have been better superhero movies, but I'll be damned if I can think of one offhand. I thought the performances were letter-perfect, especially the great Ian McKellen as Magneto, and this one was balls-to-the-wall action all the way, which kept us from thinking too much about what was going on. Hm...I wonder what the next one's going to be about...

and...well, that's it. I was tempted to include The Return of the King, 'cause I just know I'm gonna love it, but that violates the spirit of these sort of lists. Other 2003 flicks I did see that didn't make the cut were Ang Lee's visually accomplished but utterly joyless The Hulk, with the most (literally) hard-to-watch climax of any film in recent memory; the better than I expected but still not that great League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (review coming); Matrix Reloaded,another visually impressive but needlessly cluttered and convoluted film; the Jamie Lee Curtis remake of Freaky Friday, well acted and often very clever but no improvement on the original, so you have to wonder why they bothered...aw, all right, I know why. I also saw Daredevil, which often threatened to be a good movie and stay true to the spirit of Frank Miller if not Stan Lee and Gene Colan, but suffered from too-dark action scenes and eye-rolling plot contrivances.

Well, that's it, I suppose..most of these are superhero/sci-fi/fantasy genre films, which betrays my fanboy leanings, I suppose. Guess I just wanted to see a spectacle of some sort for my money, can't say. Nine times out of ten I'll wait for a low-profile indie film to hit cable, because 8 times out of ten it won't come within 80 miles of where I live. But hey- I also went to see the great Spirited Away twice in '03, so that oughtta count for something.

Next: they year in TV. Or on TV. Or whatever.