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— Errata Movie Podcast —

Well, 2003 has come to a close, so it's time for Errata's first ever year-end list of favorites. I'm limiting the list to 8 instead of the traditional 10, because this site was only open for 9 and a half months. We need rules, you see. Rules that involve math.

One more rule: I'm not going to tell you which movies I didn't see, a sort of hedge. Because, you know what? However many movies I saw this year, it's a fraction of what was available.

Let me explain.

I'm surprised by the number commentators who, in early December, compiled a "best of" list with the caveat that the third Lord of the Rings movie would "probably" be added, too. After they see it, of course, a mere formality. Hey, it's my dream come true. An even larger number of critics said, "Here's my list, but I still haven't seen X and Y." I have two problems with this: 1) It furthers the misconception that any of these lists is complete, that anyone — anyone — who writes about movies can see even a simple majority of the movies that played in theaters in the U.S. this year, and 2) it implies that of the hundreds of movies the critic didn't see, X or Y in particular have a good chance of getting into the top 10, which means the critic making the hedge evaluates movies based on some criteria outside the movie itself. Context is one thing, but going through the motions is another.

I myself am tempted to put a caveat on my list, because holiday travel has prevented me from seeing the new movie by one of my favorite filmmakers, but so be it. That's the breaks, man! Definitive, schmefinitive. These are my ideas, that's all. These are my "favorite" movies (relative), not the "best" movies (absolute). Picky, picky. Time to put my taste on the line.

So in no particular order, here's what I really liked this year:

  • The Son — An astounding number of movies are driven by a mindless thirst for vengeance, but Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne made a movie that looks squarely in the face of that thirst. Maybe I said that this list was in no particular order, but I put this one first on purpose. Nothing's more profound than simple observation of complex human beings.
  • Bus 174 — and also The Same River Twice, Capturing the Friedmans, Stevie, and documentaries in general. Not only were there a large number of decent documentaries in theaters this year (including Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary, Daughter From Danang, Power Trip, Spellbound, Stone Reader, My Architect, A Decade Under the Influence, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, and Winged Migration), but the documentary form seemed to seep out of its bounds into fiction films like Blackboards, Russian Ark, Hukkle, Sex is Comedy, Ten, American Splendor, and In This World. Leni Riefenstahl died this year, and Night and Fog appeared on DVD. Pumping Iron played in San Francisco as Arnold Schwarzenegger ran for governor of California, and Tupac: Resurrection played at mainstream theaters across the country and was advertised on MTV. Documentaries thrived, despite the flood of reality programming on TV. Apparently movies are still doing something that TV is not. Here's Dave Kehr on the year's documentaries, writing in The New York Times.
  • Friday Night — Even if this is my least favorite of the Claire Denis movies that I've seen, a general unwillingness among critics to delve beneath this movie's surface makes me think that it deserves a good trumpeting. Denis is a master of subtlety and has the uncommon ability to hide her technique in plain sight.
  • Lost in Translation — Sofia Coppola builds an unusual story around enormously likable characters, and Bill Murray has never been funnier. If I were compiling a list of the year's funniest movies and a list of the year's saddest movies, this one could be on both. I like that.
  • Dogville — Lars von Trier made another of his poor-downtrodden-waif movies, but the extra layers of irony kept me thinking throughout, and I left the theater with a fair bit to chew on. I didn't want to like this one, but I confess that I did.
  • The School of Rock — Here's how to make a mainstream movie without looking like a sellout: pay attention to the character details. Here's how to make a genre movie feel brand new: pay attention to the character details. There's no reason in the world that Richard Linklater and Mike White needed to construct a distinct personality for each of their two dozen characters, but they did, and it was funny and cute but most importantly funny.
  • Elephant — Gus Van Sant's Columbine recreation is hypnotic and bizarre, but its worth is proven by the discussions that it motivates. It actively exposes the questions we ask ourselves about why school shootings happen, but it answers none of them.
  • Yasujiro Ozu retrospective — I bumped Oasis out of this list to make room for arguably the most significant cinematic event of my year, the opportunity to see a couple dozen of Ozu's movies. This retrospective made its way from Berlin to New York to San Francisco and Berkeley, and I hope it goes on from there. Here's Matthew Plouffe on the retrospective, writing in Reverse Shot.

Next: a list of the year's provocations.

Posted by davis | Link
Reader Comments
January 2, 2004, 04:52 PM

Great list, Robert--especially since The Son was my favorite film of 2003, too!

I've been tempted to get the Danish Dogville DVD, but von Trier is hit and miss for me. And I increasingly regret having missed Elephant. Hmm...

(And you should go ahead and add Oasis since your site is nine months old...that would mathematically jive with nine films, wouldn't it?) :)

January 3, 2004, 02:49 PM

Hey, Doug, I like your math. And your list, by the way. When I run the numbers (pulling the lever on the adding machine that I keep next to my popcorn popper) I come up with 5 or 6 films in your list that I haven't seen. Excellent!

And that's not counting your video lists, which are going to keep me busy for a while. Thanks. Your breadth is something I aspire to.

You should check out Elephant. I'd be curious to hear your take. I kick myself for missing The Station Agent which has shown up on a few lists, including yours. It's one of those that I had plenty of opportunities to see but never got around to.

January 3, 2004, 06:47 PM

Okay, I might see Elephant tomorrow at 11:00 a.m...we'll see.

I know what you mean about The Station Agent--for some reason, I didn't expect it to be as good as it was, either, so I kept finding other films I wanted to see more. I'm glad I finally gave it a chance.

(BTW, hilarious comments on Kiarostami's "remake.") :)