Best Movies of All Time + Whale Rider

Top 10 Films of 2003

The year is 2003, and a lot has happened in the movie world. To help take you back in time, here's a look back at some of the film-related events that took place:

Former action star Arnold Schwarzenegger is sworn in as the Governor of California.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King becomes the year's highest-grossing film, earning over $1.19 billion at the worldwide box office.

Both sequels to the 1999 film The Matrix (The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions) are released and finish the year as the third and eighth-highest grossing films of the year, respectively.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King sweeps its eleven nominations at the Academy Awards, including wins for Best Picture and Best Director (Peter Jackson).

The world loses the likes of Michael Jeter, Gregory Peck, Katharine Hepburn, Bob Hope, Charles Bronson, John Ritter, Elia Kazan and Art Carney.

I've been able to see 56 films released in 2003, and from those, I've compiled my own top ten list. As one can imagine, some great films had to be left off the final list. Here's a look at some of the movies (listed alphabetically) that just missed the cut:

21 Grams
Big Fish
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
The School of Rock
But enough about the runners-up; here's the list you've been waiting to see! Counting down from number ten to number one, I've listed each film and have given the principal cast list as well as if and how fared at the Academy Awards. Also, I've listed the film's rank on my "Best Films of All-Time" list, if applicable. So without any further delay, here's my top ten movies of 2003!

10. Open Range

Rated: R
Directed by: Kevin Costner
Starring: Robert Duvall, Kevin Costner, Annette Bening, Michael Gambon, Diego Luna, Michael Jeter
It's not often in today's cinematic world that a fine western film is released, but Open Range managed to bring back the beauty of a solid western flick to the screen. Anchored by great performances from the likes of Duvall, Costner and Gambon, this film offers a clear sense of just and unjust as is the typical manner of a western film. And, at the end of the day, it brings one of the better shootouts I've happened to see in a movie.

9. American Splendor

Rated: R
Directed by: Robert Pulcini, Shari Springer Berman
Starring: Paul Giamatti, Hope Davis
Academy Awards: 1 nomination
American Splendor is an biographical film that tells the story of cartoonist Harvey Pekar, but this particular biopic goes about it in a rather original fashion. Rather than just tell the story in linear fashion, the audience is subjected to cuts to Pekar himself talking to Paul Giamatti, who plays the fictional Pekar, about his life. The chemistry between the two is fantastic, and we get a firsthand look at the real man as Giamatti does his best to portray him honestly and accurately.

8. City of God (Cidade de Deus)

Rated: R
Directed by: Fernando Meirelles, Kátia Lund
Starring: Alexandre Rodrigues, Leandro Firmino, Alice Braga, Phellipe Haagensen
Academy Awards: 4 nominations
It's been a while since I've seen Cidade de Deus, but I can remember the raw power that the film presents and conveys throughout its run-time. The audience is thrust into the slums outside Rio de Janeiro, and we're immediately caught in the allegedly true events being portrayed on-screen. There's a very visceral and realistic element to this film that makes it so intriguing, but be prepared for the harsh realities of life just outside paradise.

7. House of Sand and Fog

Rated: R
Directed by: Vadim Perelman
Starring: Jennifer Connelly, Ben Kingsley, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Ron Eldard, Jonathan Ahdout, Frances Fisher
Academy Awards: 3 nominations
When I first watched House of Sand and Fog, all I could think was how Shakespearean it felt. Centered around great performances by Connelly, Kingsley and Aghdashloo, we as the audience are taken into the depths of depression and the desire to thrive in an ever-changing world. It's a deep and honest film, but be ready for the slew of emotions that it's going to dish out.

6. Lost in Translation

Rated: R
Directed by: Sofia Coppola
Starring: Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Giovanni Ribisi
Academy Awards: 4 nominations, 1 win
Lost in Translation is the film that made Sofia Coppola the darling at many of the year's award ceremonies, and there's quite a good reason she earned such accolades. The interplay and sporadic romance between the Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson characters is awkward but beautiful, and I'd say the film works more as a character study than as a story-oriented flick. And it's always fun to guess what Murray might have whispered in that final scene.

5. Finding Nemo

Rated: G
Directed by: Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich
Starring: Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Alexander Gould, Willem Dafoe, Brad Garrett, Geoffrey Rush, Andrew Stanton, Bob Peterson
Academy Awards: 4 nominations, 1 win
All-Time Ranking: 101
Stunningly beautiful animation aside, Finding Nemo marked the first Pixar film since 1995's Toy Story that I absolutely loved. With a story that tells of a father on a seemingly worldwide quest to find his lost son, you can be sure there's going to be a lot of emotions involved. And let's not forget the slew of laughs that Pixar has always been able to produced in their animated fare. Just a fantastic film all the way around.

4. Whale Rider

Rated: PG-13
Directed by: Niki Caro
Starring: Keisha Castle-Hughes, Rawiri Paratene, Cliff Curtis
Academy Awards: 1 nomination
All-Time Ranking: 91
I saw Whale Rider during its initial limited release almost by accident. I had gone to the theaters to see something else, but after learning it was sold out, I figured I'd give this one a shot. Boy, did I make the right decision. A quiet story about a girl trying to come into her own as her people's future leader, Whale Rider offers an emotional but inspiring tale that's sure to captivate your interest and may just draw a tear or two from the toughest of us.

3. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Rated: PG-13
Directed by: Gore Verbinski
Starring: Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom, Geoffrey Rush, Jack Davenport, Jonathan Pryce
Academy Awards: 5 nominations
All-Time Ranking: 58
I'll probably raise a few eyebrows with how highly I've ranked this film, but let me try to explain. First, we're being given a rather well-crafted storyline that offers twists and turns around every corner, essentially keeping you guessing until the final credits. Second, the cast is near pitch-perfect (with the exception of Bloom, who does his best to keep up). Depp and Rush are utterly brilliant in their roles, and I've heralded Jack Davenport for his turn as Norrington. Finally, the film's orchestral score perfectly sets the tone of the film, bringing everything together. It's just a well-made adventure film, and it should be applauded.

2. Mystic River

Rated: R
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne, Marcia Gay Harden, Laura Linney, Emmy Rossum
Academy Awards: 6 nominations, 2 wins
All-Time Ranking: 53
I remember seeing Mystic River in theaters and thinking it was one of the greatest films I had ever seen. I recall cheering for it at the Academy Awards, applauding when Penn and Robbins took home statuettes before grinding my teeth when it lost out on the Best Picture to The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Emotions run rampant in this film, and it offers a story that will keep you engaged until the utterly depressing finale.

1. Manic

Rated: R
Directed by: Jordan Melamed
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Don Cheadle, Sara Rivas
All-Time Ranking: 2
While it's not a film that most people are going to have seen - or ever heard of, for that matter - but there's a fantastic dramatic story to be told here. I do have to say that I can probably relate to this film a little more than I would like to admit, but that doesn't take away from the film's overall power. Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel deliver powerhouse performances, and Don Cheadle is fantastic as usual. Manic is going to stop and make you think, and that's part of the reason I find it to be so good.

2003, American Splendor, best, City of God, Finding Nemo, House of Sand and Fog, Lost in Translation, Manic, Mystic River, Open Range, Pirates of the Caribbean, top 10, and more:

Relevant to: Top 10 Films of 2003 + Whale Rider