You know, now that I was looking it over, 2003 was not a great year for film. I mean, it wasn't bad, but it wasn't great, thats for sure. I feel like 2004 was much better.
1) Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
Still Will Ferrell's best and funniest movie to date. An absolutely stacked cast, including awesome turns from Steve Carrell, Paul Rudd, and amazing cameos from Luke Wilson and others (Ben Stiller, even Tim Robbins' two lines he has are amazing.) Not only is it funny, quotable through and through, but also attacks the news business at a time when (well, its not like that time has really passed) but at a time when the news really needed to be called out for not being serious at a time when they needed to be serious. For not actually doing their part that they should be doing for the American people. Its there in the subtext, I am willing to say it is an amazingly funny "Network" for the 00's, as well as a workplace/battle-of-the-sexes comedy in the vein of "His Girl Friday". Yup, seriously.
2) Before Sunset
If ever there was a movie that was not begging for a sequel, it was "Before Sunrise". Usually indie love stories end after the hook-up. This picks up a decade later after Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke met and hung out for a night in Vienna. Linklater might be the master, or on of them, of the "Hangout Movie" (Is that what Tarantino called them?) When he isn't making money doing basic big studio work like The Bad New Bears, he makes these quiet, contemplative movies where two people rehash their lives over the decade since they last met, and the result through their dialogue is raw and revealing. And they even manage to end ambiguously again! Its like a wandering, indie, young person's "My Dinner With Andre" with more romantic tension (if thats what you can call it) for the Aughts. Its also one of the last times Ethan Hawke hasn't played a desperate man thats just trying to cling to the last threads of his life.
3) The Bourne Supremacy
Matt Damon returns in the second go-around as the thinking man's ass-kicker. Due to circumstances, he is drawn back into the spy game, still not quite sure of the things he has done, he takes on his old agency who are out to stop and bury the old program that created him. Helped out gamely by Joan Allen and the always great, Brian Cox. Few people can do the sleazy player like he can.
4) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
I think what is so amazing about this is that it the type of pseudo-science fiction mindfuck/romance that sounds like, on paper, that it shouldn't work. But it does amazingly. We all fell briefly in love again with Jim Carrey playing it straight, as the man trying to erase the memories of his old girlfriend. Its a twisty mindbender, with amazing visuals. All dealing not only with what makes a relationship or not, but also the nature of memory, of course. Of course, we aren't anything without our memories and what we went through before. Again, it sounds like it should fail miserably, but it succeeds amazingly.
5) Garden State
When I wrote about 2003's The Station Agent I mentioned I liked it because it was quiet and because of the absence of forced indie quirk. Well, then why do I like Garden State so much, which has become this decade's go-to reference for forced indie quirk? (Well this and Little Miss Sunshine , which I also like...) It hit me at the right time and place basically. I know the difference between annoying movies about growing up and moving on and ones that aren't. This has all the earmarks of being one that is super annoying and I can see how people might feel that way. Me? I saw it probably at the right time in my life, and since seeing it again, it still hits me in the right spot that I believe Zach Braff was going for. Sure, Natalie Portman's character can be a bit annoying, but I think thats the point. I actually think Zach Braff and Peter Sarsgaard are pretty pitch perfect-and I think that the quirkiness in this case, works for me. It might be forced but it works for me-I just go along with it. Its also the first movie I saw with Tina on first weekend we hung out together. It might also have something to do with it.
6) I Heart Huckabees
I Heart Huckabees is an exercise in weirdness and, to a lesser degree, the power of ideas, existential and political and everything in between. David O. Russell really went over the deep end, in a good way, with this one, and found some fun/strange stuff for a good cast to do. I actually think this is some of Mark Wahlberg's best work, but Jude Law, Naomi Watts, Jason Schwartzman, Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin...Its smart in its silliness, if that makes sense. Also the dinner table scene with an uncredited Richard Jenkins, and Jean Smart and a young-ish Jonah Hill is a particular highlight.
7) Kill Bill Vol. 2
Is interesting, but looking at it now, this almost seems like the perfect bridge and/or progression for Tarantino after Vol. 1 and into Inglourious Basterds. After the blood and violence of Vol. 1 , Tarantino downshifts with this much more moody, talky episode, taking the slower tenor of the chatty spaghetti westerns he loves so much. I mean there is still action here, the close quarters battle in the trailer between Uma Thurman and Darryl Hannah, as well the ridiculous tension of The Bride being buried alive in a wooden coffin. It was the third act though, where Tarantino showed he could craft such amazing dialogue, showing that Bill and the Bride still loved one another to a degree, to talking of death and a child's discovery of it, and the use of masks and/or identities (such as Superman) to mask who one really is. Its some of Tarantino's most fully realized dialogue until Inglourious Basterds, and it always seemed integral to the slow build and finale he was going for.
8) Mean Girls
Certainly Lindsay Lohan's best movie of the 00's. Here's hoping Tina Fey can find sometime in between her 30 Rock writing/acting gig to do another movie this funny and heartfelt. It came out of nowhere to be the best teen movie of the decade, and most of that credit has to be given to Fey's script which actually takes a nonfiction book and crafts into this fictional narrative. Great stuff all around.
9) Shaun Of The Dead
The Zombie movie made a big comeback in the 00's. Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright took the idea of a zombie movie and turned it on its head, not only playing it for laughs as well as horror, but also in making a statement about not only your connection with others, but in noticing that connection and not just moving through life....say, like a zombie. Also has a distinction that you actually care about the characters when they are forced to make their final showdown with the zombies at the pub. Which is also a rare feat for both a comedy and/or a horror movie.
10) The Incredibles
With Pixar knocking it out of the park nearly 90-95% of the time, its hard sometimes to judge individual quality of each movie. We can all agree that Cars might be their least effort. And then we can argue the individual merits of everything else. The Incredibles is still my favorite. Everything Pixar does is meticulously crafted, and this is no exception, but I like the craft of making it look and feel like a 50's superhero/spy adventure that got plunked down in our century. Which is perfect for the idea of superheroes who aren't allowed to be superheroes anymore, taken away from what they do naturally and forced to be "normal" human beings. There are deeper ideas about natural abilities and the use of those abilities, and it is wrapped up in a package that looks tremendous. Backed by an amazing score by Michael Giacchino which channels John Barry. Just really awesome stuff.