Best Publicity Stunt: Harvey and Quentin
Kill Bill’s “Volume One” designation seems almost beside the point. Miramax-bashers and general movie cynics are not incorrect in the assumption that Harvey and Quentin’s cut-in-half/double-the-proftis strategy will undoubtedly pay off. But all of the critical griping about its being incomplete was simply the safe haven for the unimaginative—without a satisfying wrap-up, many didn’t know how to mete out their emotions. Truth is: Kill Bill: Volume One is in itself more complete than any other American film from last year. A candy-colored but not sugarcoated reconfiguration of revenge story tropes, it created a truly queasy pop-culture parable, more challenging in its refusal to grant simplified character identification than Tarantino’s ever attempted in the past. Unemotional? Every time I saw it, each scene in which a little girl must watch as her parents are slaughtered before her very eyes triggered a devastating hush in the audience. “You come out feeling nothing,” as one wizened New York critic assumed of us all. But that odd melancholy that diffuses the supposed “catharsis” following Lucy Liu’s calligraphic beheading is no mistake. And it’s the very end of Volume One that’s the clincher: To chalk off the closing-line revelation as a mere cliffhanger is to miss Tarantino’s uncovering of the moral rot in genre conventions. The “cheap twist” puts the entire previous 110 minutes into question, and makes us wonder, even in this banana-yellow and blood-red comic strip, if any of it was “justified." —Michael Koresky

The “Oh, Just Grow Up” Award goes to all those critics who delighted in thinking they single-handedly uncovered the homoeroticism in Lord of the Rings upon witnessing The Return of the King’s mammoth, tear-stained sayonara. Throughout the myriad “climaxes” of the series, heroic hobbits Frodo and Sam often seemed about a quarter of an inch away from a passionate liliputian liplock. It’s easy to crack jokes regarding their incredibly close, beyond brotherly bond, but what the tossed-off, even seemingly innocuous remarks like J. Hoberman’s in the Village Voice (“gayer than Angels in America”) actually do is denigrate Elijah Wood and Sean Astin’s revelatory achievement; thanks to Astin’s ever-increasing commitment to his “Mr. Frodo,” and Wood’s compassionate, intermittent reciprocation, Peter Jackson has given us Hollywood’s first truly developed evocation of male-male love—uncomfortable viewers want to cheapen it to intimations of lust. In fact, when was the last time any sort of love story, hetero or homo, was given a full 12 hours (if extended cuts are considered...and they should be) to blossom? No wonder film executives originally wanted to change Sam’s gender, much to the immediate horror of Tolkien fans everywhere: this is potent, challenging stuff. The purity of Frodo’s kiss to the top of Sam’s head at the close of the series has only a precedent within the final moments of E.T. Budget of $300 million aside, let’s not forget that this is still very much the director of Heavenly Creatures. —MK

Best Debut Feature: Joel Schumacher, Phone Booth
Since nothing Schumacher’s made thus far really counts as cinema, we decided to throw him a bone for this tawdry yet enjoyable piece of retro-trash. That he had to follow it with a tawdry yet completely awful piece of retro-trash like Veronica Guerin hurts a little, but this former costume designer has never seemed so comfortable as when confined with Colin Farrell in a nondescript New York City phone booth on its last day. Joel, heed this advice: less doesn’t necessarily have to be a bore. —JR

Santa Slayer Award: Divine Intervention
Though Terry Zwigoff’s Bad Santa goes out of its way to demolish one of the West’s most cherished institutions, it does end up grudgingly admitting that capitalism’s bearded free agent isn’t all bad. Not so with Elia Suleiman’s Divine Intervention. Instead of Billy Bob cussin’ and fuckin’ his way to salvation, Suleiman’s West Bank Santa is anonymous, on the run, and bearing a stab wound delivered before the film even begins. No happy ending here. Just a bloody Santa suit and a bunch of undelivered presents. It’s just one startling sequence in a film full of genius and rage that completely underlines the cultural differences behind the two positions of filmmaking. Zwigoff’s careful eye sketches his characters from the raw material of the American underground: comic book artists, record collectors, and postured disaffected youths in effort to create a hopeful, if weary, portrait of and for those operating outside of the mainstream. That Bad Santa works to recuperate a character that couldn’t be more mainstream speaks to an opportunity not afforded to Palestinian Suleiman. What has the West offered him lately, besides Israel? —JR

Best Random Shakespeare Intrusion: The Hulk
Everyone loves to talk about how Lady Macbeth Laura Linney’s character turns in that film’s awkward, disquieting penultimate scene. But to describe a bit-player’s sudden shift away from weeping trophy wife in the same breath as western lit’s favorite she-witch seems a little like wishful thinking. If you want to see Shakespeare on screen in 2003, you had to look, of all places, at Ang Lee’s Hulk. In what’s easily his least soporific, most incoherent (the latter being the precondition for the former) feature to date, he presents Nick Nolte a late-film chance to reprise his mug shot photo and chew major scenery immediately before his final mythic confrontation with sonhulk Eric Bana. It’s a rant worthy of a mad Lear (or Macbeth), and Ang even stages it as if we were sitting in the cheap seats at the Globe. —JR

Most Discounted: The School of Rock
Critic #1: Hey did you see School of Rock?
Critic #2: (warily) Yeah…
Critic #1: Not bad, huh? I kinda liked it.
Critic #2: (relieved) Me too! It’s no Waking Life, though. It’s really just a kid’s movie.
Critic #1: So true, but for that, it’s better than I expected.
(Enter Reverse Shot critic)
Reverse Shot Critic: School of Rock is the greatest fucking movie ever! I will eat both of your faces! (eats their faces)
FIN

Linklater is American Cinema’s best, most effective genre shapshifter working today (take that Soderbergh), so it’s only natural that he’d eventually get around to making a film directed at children.
It easily tops Traffic, Soderbergh’s entry into the genre, and manages the tricky high-wire act of being “aimed at” children, yet far from “limited to” even better than Finding Nemo. —JR

Best Teen Horror Sequel Inadvertently Based on a Milton Bradley Board Game: Final Destination 2
FD2 is the kind of flick designed for a generation that grew up playing Mousetrap. The actual game strategy of Mousetrap never seemed to matter much, everyone just wanted someone to win so you could set off the “turn the crank, snap the plank, boot the marble right down the shoot” Rube Goldberg-ian wackiness. And really, the thing never seemed to work properly, or at least not how it did in the commercials. Final Destination 2 may not have a “plot,” per se, but watching the creators take such unbridled glee in setting up each death sequence as its own game of Mousetrap is pleasure enough. Will it be a flock of killer birds? A poorly timed airbag deployment? Slippery spaghetti? Really, in the end, it doesn’t matter. The film reduces the heady notion of fate into little more than an excuse to encourage active spectatorship, turning every banal piece of set decoration into a possible threat. This, coupled with the fact that the film refuses to pull punches (bodies are treated alternately like watermelons at a
Gallagher concert and victims of a Cuisinart) and contains what has to be one of the more nightmare-inducing car crash sequences ever to be filmed elevates it not only above its predecessor, but the vast majority of formulaic gore that continues to be cranked out yearly. —Suzanne Scott

Caught in a Trap and Can’t Walk Out Because I Love You Too Much Baby Award:
A Mighty Wind

A Mighty Wind finally exposed once and for all the near-fatal contradiction in Christopher Guest’s ever-growing yet increasingly hermetic genre-unto-itself. Sure, many of the vignettes are still amusing, and his performers (notably Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara) tapped into deeper reservoirs of droll poignancy than ever before. But by design, these supposed “mockumentaries,” based on improvised personas and comic sketches, should breathe easier, glow with an intuitive freeform grace. Instead, Guest has so severely boxed his actors into tightly confined script parameters that the whole endeavor has become (gulp!) predictable: Disparate groups of American losers from a wide range of regions are shown in determined preparation for a reunion or event which is meant to represent a lowly subset of the American showbiz factory; each clings to their hopes and dreams like barnacles on the hull of pseudo-celebrity, then after the culminating event, we flash-forward six months and catch up with them to see how much further they’ve fallen into pathetic self-delusion. Waiting for Guffman was the funniest, Best in Show perhaps the most insightful—A Mighty Wind falls somewhere in the middle, the “lukewarm water,” as Harry Shearer’s meek Derek Smalls described himself in This Is Spinal Tap. As everything goes through the motions, we can certainly savor the preening self-satisfaction of aging jokester Fred Willard, the vacant decency of Levy, the stubborn righteousness of Michael Hitchcock’s event coordinator, but never should this format devolve into formula. And apologies to Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell: though this purports to be a festival of American folk, it’s strictly Peter, Paul & Mary territory. —MK

Deadest Horse to Keep On Beating: Gigli
Put on your Tinseltown goggles for a moment. Everything rosy? Now, you’ve got a Martin Brest script sitting on your desk. He says it’s a character piece. You say, it’s not great—but what is? Okay, it’s bad, but an established director with a good rep wrote it and he wants to make it. He’s got lots of friends, he’s money. Together, you could pitch it to a couple of stars as a vehicle to flex their acting muscles, something that could get them “taken seriously.” You can keep the budget down; most of the film takes place in nondescript homes and a car. A gangster with a soft side? Definitely. A tough-but-beautiful sort-of lesbian? As long as you feature the sort-of and she’s horny. A retarded—I mean autistic—kid? Rain Man-esque; he brings out the soft side. You get great news from the office: Pacino and Walken are willing to do their director friend a favor and take cameos! Pacino! A character piece with Pacino?!? You can get anybody you want! Affleck, even. And the butt-girl, what’s-her-name…Sold? Not really? I’m with you.

Much to my dismay, I won’t bombard you with more Bennifer-bashing tchotchkes. You know, it sucked . End of story. Unfortunately, it’s tough to think a clear retrospective thought about a film that fails in all of the worst ways. Hollywood’s annual “what were they thinking?” award goes to a film that isn’t even fun to watch, and it’s never been more apparent that thinking was likely out of the picture long before anyone could have done something about it. It’s not hard to imagine a production team blinded by star-power radiating from two of the most bankable and one of the most gifted actors on the planet, forgetting they still had to make a movie, or more likely, deciding early on that they didn’t have to make a movie at all. An excruciating reminder of how things work in the film business, it reeks of the apathy and ineptitude that gives America a bad name: Hollywood. Could we have ever imagined a Gigli, reigning representative of the depressing nadirs to which filmmaking so easily plummets in a star-above-all-else system? What’s more important is that we don’t forget. —Matthew Plouffe

Best argument yet for lifting the screener ban: From Justin to Kelly.
How else would I have seen this sand-in-the-crotch musical nugget? Netflix? It would undoubtedly hover way at the bottom of my rental queue. In the theater? Nah, can’t stand the commercials. Not only does it have the singular effect of featuring as headliners two performers who will undoubtedly never appear in another film for as long as they live, but the good-natured lethargy of this American Idol spin-off was a healthy Hollywood laxative in a sea of teen depravity—even the frequent bump ‘n’ grinds seem to replicate choreography from Romper Room. Just imagine Beach Blanket Bingo with Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon reimagined as a feeble pop belter and a clown-haired androgyne and you’re on the right track. —MK

Stupidest Movie of the Year: Laurel Canyon
Kate Beckinsale and Christian Bale are engaged uptight Harvard med school overachievers who return to Bale’s record producer mom’s LA digs while he does a local psych residency, she studies the reproductive cycle of fruit flies. But see, the thing is, for all their booksmarts, these two stuffy Brit actors (he chews on his American accent like a stale bagel, she predictably preens through hers) really just need to loosen their starched J. Crew collars and get in touch with their inner West Coast hippies (which naturally means nude frolicking in the pool, chaste lesbo kisses with future mother-in-law, smoking a lot of the doob). Frances McDormand flashes her boobies, Natascha McElhone widens those peepers and, playing an Israeli, speaks with weird Ukrainian inflections, Alessandro Nivola belts out some incredibly bad sub-Oasis britpop. That this had an extended run at art houses last spring proves that post-Sundance there truly is no longer such a thing as an art house. As a late-Sixties/early Seventies “nostalgia” piece, it doesn’t even have the moral oomph of Peter Fonda’s 30-second flossing scene in The Limey; it’s most revealing in its portrayal of the lingering Eastern-Standard Time Zone biases against those California free-spirits and their amoral ways. Who is this made for? —MK

Director We’d Most Like to Go Away and Never Come Back: Ron Howard
Only two years on, A Beautiful Mind’s Best Picture win is already widely acknowledged as one of the all-time Oscar embarrassments, and even five-year-olds know that The Grinch is garbage. But with his “I want to make a Western now, Mommy” genre pillage, thrillingly titled The Missing, Ron Howard really scraped the bottom of the barrel. It’s audacious to try to recontextualize the narrative of Ford’s The Searchers into a white family values studio product; it’s even more audacious to update everything except Ford’s racist caricatures and melodramatic stereotyping. To sprinkle in a few goodhearted Native Americans with minimal dialogue shouldn’t really cut the mustard anymore, and it certainly doesn’t cleanse the palate of the project’s overall bad taste: most memorable is the Scooby Doo-ish interlude, with the snaggle-toothed, pockmarked Apache witch doctor as he casts an evil mystical spell (!) on the heroic white virtuous protagonist (!), writhing and moaning as her skin starts to blister and boil (!). What’s most amusing are the attempts of some critics to assert that Ron Howard’s cowboys-and-indians rubber action figure diorama means to bring a feminist touch to the Old West, by virtue of the solitary fact that its main figure is a woman (Cate Blanchett, who really needs to get a new agent and make good on all that so-called “promise” the press started shoving down our throats about six years ago). With its nonstop fetishizing images of pure virginal white girls being beaten, kicked, sold into prostitution, forced to suicide, and having their mouths crammed full of dirt by leering, bloodthirsty Injuns, the film couldn’t be more reductive. This type of pre/post-PC Old Hollywood nostalgia-porn should have long ago gone the way of the horse and buggy. —MK

Director We’d Most Like to Go Away and Never Come Back Part II: Tom Shadyac
Ace Ventura, Nutty Professor, Liar Liar, Patch Adams, Dragonfly. This Michael Bolton look-alike’s filmography reads like a litany of Nineties worst-ofs. He returned this year with Bruce Almighty, which had fewer laughs per minute than Mystic River. Tom probably regards his audience-friendly drivel as above criticism. But it's not. Think of what our world would be like today if Patch Adams (the film, not the man) hadn't been born into it. I would have at least two more pleasant bus rides under my belt. He may just be the second most dangerous man in film. After Richard Roeper, of course. —JR

Best Gay Pirate Movie: (tie)
Master and Commander/Pirates of the Caribbean

Johnny Depp’s flaming, bejewelled performance in Caribbean gave the early edge to Gore Verbinski’s unexpectedly enjoyable theme-park ride adaptation, but the lingering looks exchanged in the battle of wills between ship’s doctor Paul Bettany and captain Russell Crowe brought Weir’s latest neck-and-neck down the stretch. And they make such beautiful music together: That closing cello-and-violin jam session provokes goose pimples in its sheer mellifluous jubilance. And that title! Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, indeed. —JR

Most Impossible to Shake (But How They Tried....): In the Cut
A case study in what can go wrong, reception-wise, when an art film attempts to harness, reevaluate, and utilize the attributes of a Hollywood star. (Here, it’s Meg Ryan stripping down (yes, literally, too) all of her “sellable” lip-curling cutie-pie grimaces to a ragged essential.) But Jane Campion had an even tougher sell than Kubrick—while both In the Cut and Eyes Wide Shut ostensibly seemed to be and were subsequently marketed as, “erotic thrillers,” Campion’s film actually tried to comment on functional genre particulars, whereas Kubrick so abstracted genre that expectations flew out the window after about 30 seconds. Campion based her work on a best-seller, one whose post-Looking for Mr. Goodbar attributes had already been hotly debated in print, setting herself up for beside-the-point accusations of “unfaithful” adapation while also having to fend off derision from both feminists and post-feminists and misogynists; all this highfalutin reduction created a critical black hole. Try your best to ignore the serial-killer narrative logic lapses; keep your eye on the ever-darkening, crumbling East Village apartments and storefronts, the shimmering of an apple blossom tree in the wind, the dark woody interiors that create an almost metaphysical terror. Campion’s urban horror story, filmed as though through an amber crawlspace by shallow-focus expert Dion Beebe, gets inside the head of its protagonist more effectively than any film since Friday Night; come to think of it, if this had been directed by Claire Denis, I can’t see anyone making as much of a stink.—MK

First Annual Reverse Shot Award for Humanitarian Filmmaking: In This World
With all the filmmaking talent in the world, you’d think we’d have someone other than Michael Winterbottom taking on the plight of the post-“war” Afghani people, but as with his 1997 Welcome to Sarajevo, we find this prolific and mildly talented filmmaker boldly going where no one else will. Where Stephen Frears’s Dirty Pretty Things was a mawkish soap opera, In This World is lean, terribly mean, and can actually lay claim to confusing the boundaries of fiction and non- in ways that American Splendor couldn’t even dream of. As an added bonus, In This World might be the only convincing case made for digital video filmmaking in a year marked by vigorous attempts to send the medium back to the drawing board.
Runner up: Under the Skin of the City
Rakhshan Bani-Etemad was Iran’s foremost woman filmmaker before Samira Mahkmalbaf could read, and Under the Skin of the City is ample proof why. A hard-hitting look at the complexities of Islamic fundamentalism clashing with modernity as viewed through the prism of a tightly-wound family unit, Skin had the unfortunate luck to open theatrically on the eve of the Iraqi invasion and was barely seen. For a window into a boisterous modern side of Iran missing from most of its cinematic exports, seek it out. —JR

ADD Filmmaking Award:
Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary

Be honest now—raise your hand if you can really stand Guy Maddin films for more than six minutes at a time? His aesthetic strategies (frenetic B&W updating of early Soviet silents) make cinephiles fall in line with wet laps, but I’m still waiting for the Maddin film that doesn’t make me want to stare at a wall for a few hours afterwards. Dracula comes close, and is as beautiful as the rest, but I still don’t think he needs anything more than the six minutes of The Heart of the World to get the job done.—MK

Best Performance by a Black American:
Anthony Hopkins in The Human Stain


Best Performance by an Adapted Text: The Human Stain

Woefully miscast and directed on autopilot, Roth’s novel still manages to overwhelm—proof positive that complex source material can, at times, survive even the boldest of assassination attempts (still a shame about American Splendor, though). Also further proof why filmmakers are so quick to rush to the decaf literature of Oprah’s book club for inspiration. Really—why leave filmmaking glory to novelists? —JR

Worst Poster: Elephant
Unless the artwork here is making some reference to that for the namesake Alan Clarke film, it doesn’t make any sense why a faded orange pachyderm missing its feet wandered into a white field only to trample over a stray picture-in-picture window containing a scene from the latest Gus Van Sant film. —JR

Film website Reverseshot.com would most like to rumble:Filmcritic.com
Arguably the largest collection of film-related stupidity on the web. And we’re not even talking about the individual writer bios. For a tasty treat, check out their review of Stevie.

Film critic Reverse Shot would most like to rumble:
Richard Roeper.

Forget video, here lies the real face of the death of film. We know it’s common knowledge that Roeper knows less about film than Dubya, and that Ebert brought him on after Siskel’s woebegone death due to nepotism run amok (they were buddies at the Chicago Sun-Times, where Roeper wrote occasional thoughtless “thinkpieces” and sports columns). But when this deer-caught-in-headlights class president reject actually starts to exert some sort of pull over the industry, then we’re all doomed. The poster boy for the dumbing down of film, it’s no wonder Ebert hired him: He becomes the scholar by default.

Best Use of German Death Metal: Lilya 4-Ever’s employment of Rammstein on the soundtrack

Best Thing About Lilya 4-Ever: Employment of German death-metal band Rammstein on the soundtrack

Culture Slut Award: Whale Rider
Where Zacharias Kunuk’s Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner was an honest attempt to bring cultural myth to a wider audience, Whale Rider (not surprisingly brought to theatres by the same folks responsible for My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Real Women Have Curves) is a cynical attempt to cram cultural myth into an export-friendly package disguised as earnest girl-power revisionism. It’s no surprise which trumped the other by more than 20 million at the box office. Who will be next to find their cultural heritage on the big screen? Have we had a decent aboriginal film since The Last Wave? —JR

Best Re-issue: One From the Heart
Yes, Au hasard Balthasar is a much better film, but didn’t everyone know that already? As valuable as it is to have new prints of Bresson’s masterpiece back in circulation, the rediscovery of a classic (maybe re-evaluation in this case) is a better long-term investment for film culture. And judging from the initial reception of Coppola’s follow-up to Apocalypse Now, it’s pretty amazing that it didn’t stay lost forever. In 1982, it probably seemed a bad hangover after a night at the Paradise Garage, but with a few years’ distance, its living expressionist set design and lighting recall nothing so much as Murnau’s similar experiments in The Last Laugh and Sunrise. —JR

Best Shorts: G.I. Joe PSA’s by Eric Fensler
Who needs actors and scripts when you have imagination and G.I. Joe public service announcements? In a series of shorts that could probably satisfy Duchamp, Dali, and Debord, Fensler has turned simple warnings against drinking poison, touching live wires, and skating on thin ice into hilarious, surreal mini-masterpieces. Who wants a body massage?—JR

Most Heartwarming (In a Good Way): In America
Jim Sheridan’s severe textual overstatements and jarring quasi-Afro-mysticism are completely outdone by sheer generosity of spirit and emotion. The My Left Foot director’s autobiographical reminiscence detailing an Irish family in mourning relocating to New York City is so adriotly plotted (the young daughter’s camcorder diary reverberates with quizzical filmic purity and novelistic genuineness) and superbly performed (Djimon Hounsou’s empathetic AIDS-infected Boo Radley, Samantha Morton’s composed but heartbroken mom) that all of its references to E.T.—that supreme drama of familial bonds and encroaching mortality—seem wholly earned. The best portrait of immigrant life since Barry Levinson’s Avalon—supreme praise indeed. —MK

Best Musical Sequence: Camp’s opening scene
If anything were ever truly painfully earnest, it would be Todd Graff’s so well-intentioned-it-literally-hurts all-inclusive, gay-straight alliance high school theater-freaks comedy-musical-romance. Whew. Such a great concept, such a flat execution; If Graff had truly trusted his material and the talented, charismatic kids, perhaps he wouldn’t have fallen back on droopy WB-meets-Rodgers-and-Hammerstein teen-soap clichés. But talk about peaking early: Holy Majoley, that’s a hell of an opener. With its limber, encircling DV camera, gloriously sustained close-up of the phenomenal (and as it turns out, phenomenally underused) Sasha Allen, and the heavenly ascension of the teen gospel choir belting out the heart-grabbing, movie-encapsulating “How Shall I See You Through My Tears,” originally from Broadway’s little-known The Gospel at Colonus, Camp’s opening number stops the show...pre-credits! As reality sets in (amateur framing, inconsistent performances, and confusing plotting), it increasingly seems like it dropped in from another movie altogether. —MK

Best Low-Budget Production Values: House of 1,000 Corpses
Okay, so that first hour, while sprinkled with the occasional Freaks reference or off-putting cutaway to the voluptuous horror that is Karen Black, comes across as just another tongue-in-cheek genre send-up. Smart-ass young’uns (one played by once-upon-a-time host of MTV’s Singled Out, Chris Hardwicke!) make a bad decision to stop off at a roadside gas station, become embroiled in some weird backwoods family dynamics, and end up as captives to a bizarrely performative incestuous clan of homicidal maniacs. Seen it all before? The last half-hour of Rob Zombie’s half-eaten-pet project is a whole different ballgame: No more punchlines, no more smirks, the “fun” simply drains away like the blood from a gurgling open wound. Ripping a page out of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre handbook (and actually getting that film’s revelatory sense of forward propulsion, albeit with a few too many quick-cuts), the final scenes become hallucinatory, almost stream-of-conscious, equal parts Hooper and Argento: midnight graveyard carollings, grotesque Jean Shepherd-meets-Donnie Darko bunny costumes, baroque, blue and amber-tinted catacombs, infinite narrow hallways lined with skeletons, and a bizarre coterie of inexplicable underground-dwelling monster freakazoids, all done with good old-fashioned latex and carpentry. So good, so evil. Please don’t let it become a franchise.—MK

Worst Re-make: Anything Else
Prozac Nation was so bad that it’s not even getting released, so why did Woody see fit make his latest snoozer its phallocentric doppelganger? Substitute Jessica Lange for Stockard Channing, and I dare you to tell them apart. The whole enterprise is so lame that it makes one long for the halcyon days of The Curse of the Jade Scorpion. At least the Woodman had the good sense not to play himself in this one. —JR

Most Willfully Overlooked: The Good Thief
Everything Jonathan Demme’s miserable The Trouble with Charlie aspired to be—a gloriously crystalline French New Wave homage that actually manages to update its jazzy Sixties-era camera and editing tricks for maximum emotional fluidity. Through his character’s long hard crawl from addiction, Nick Nolte seems to rebound from his spazzoid mug photo in this performance alone. After the irreproachable Butcher Boy and End of the Affair, this Monte Carlo jewel heist mood piece (based on Melville’s Bob le flambeur) confirms Neil Jordan as a director of subtle flair. At what point did he begin to be underrated? —MK

Worst News for Movies in 2003: The Loss of Stan Brakhage
One of the many legends about Stan Brakhage is that he would film with his eyes closed in order to better see, and thus experience, what was inside himself. This practice naturally accorded with Brakhage’s filmmaking method and theory: he was, if anything, cinema’s first inner-world observer and explorer, an unparalleled, ever-changing artist who did not illustrate his dreams, as the Surrealists had attempted, or recreate the rhythms of the mind and eye, as the Soviets had done, but managed to actually immerse himself fully with/in the universe by directing his vision toward the deepest territory—even, I dare write, deeper than the unconscious—of the body and soul. Cinema is still in awe, still left entranced in anticipation of the night.—Michael Joshua Rowin

Best News for Movies in 2003:
It's now 2004.

Most Accurate Titles: Anything Else, Hollywood Homicide, Intolerable Cruelty, Paycheck

Most Creative Titles: The Lizzie McGuire Movie, The Statement, Porn Theater

Most Last-Minute Titles: Something’s Gotta Give, It Runs in the Family, What a Girl Wants, Anything But Love

Most Misleading Title: Japon

Best Double Feature for Child Lovers: Spellbound followed by Capturing the Friedmans

Best Alternative to Oprah’s Book Club: Stone Reader

Most Horrific Rape (Scene):
Irreversible

Most Horrific Rape (Entire Film): The Cat in the Hat

Movies We’ll Probably Never See, But Hate Anyway: Secondhand Lions, Radio, Beyond Borders

Movie Trilogy We’ve Stopped Watching: The Matrix