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Laurence Station's Best Films of 2003

Top 10:

1. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Peter Jackson, New Zealand)
A triumphant conclusion to an epic trilogy. King not only delivers the requisite emotional oomph, but cements Lord's status as one of the all-time film classics.
 
2. Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola, USA)
Captures the ennui and detachment of Americans abroad in a wonderfully understated, "Is this-is-all-there-is?" manner. Veteran Bill Murray's never been better, while ingénue Scarlett Johansson displays a candor and composure that belie her tender years.
3. American Splendor (Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini, USA)
Quirky and visually clever, American Splendor respects the life and work of Harvey Pekar, never cheapening his story with too obvious-sight gags or easy-out verbal slights.
 
4. Monster (Patty Jenkins, USA)
Charlize Theron turns in a career-making performance, with an underappreciated but no less important assist from Christina Ricci. Monster is a gritty, dirt-under-the-nails actor's film that resonates because of the passion of its two leads.
5. The Triplets of Belleville (Sylvain Comet, France / Belgium / Canada)
Sylvain Chomet creates an amazing visual treat, mixing familiar plot elements (kidnapping, gangsters, shootouts) with a bizarre, mostly dialogue-free world populated by faded Depression-era stars, a porcine dog fascinated by trains, and athletes forced into a life-or-death bicycling competition.
 
6. The Fog Of War (Errol Morris, USA)
There are no easy answers when dealing with Cold Warrior Robert S. McNamara, but director Morris achieves as up close and personal a look at this complex man as we're likely to get. And that is no small achievement.
7. Shattered Glass (Billy Ray, USA)
Hayden Christensen validates his acting chops, but this film belongs to Peter Sarsgaard as a conflicted editor forced to "out" a fraudulent writer. Shattered Glass is a penetrating look at the perils and pressures of high-stakes journalism, where credibility, not newsstand sales, is everything.
 
8. Finding Nemo (Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich, USA)
Similar to Triplets in terms of its "little boy lost" plot structure, only with eye-popping computer animation, wonderful voice acting, and a rather pat, toothless conclusion.
9. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (Peter Weir, USA)
A painstakingly accurate look at life on the high seas during the Napoleonic era. The lack of character development is thankfully offset by the exciting, "you are there" quality of its sterling technical craftsmanship.
 
10. 21 Grams (Alejandro González Ińárritu, USA)
Incredibly flawed but still emotionally resonate look at the fickle nature of fate, coincidences and just plain bad choices. Like Monster, 21 Grams is an actor's movie, through and through.
 
Notable near misses (Alphabetically Listed):
 
  • The Good Thief (Neil Jordan, France / UK / Ireland) See this one for Nick Nolte's performance as a damaged, over-the-hill art thief. The Nice and Monte Carlo settings are eye-candy bonuses.
  • Raising Victor Vargas (Peter Sollett, USA) A refreshing examination of poor people that never once draws overt attention to this fact. Sollett is interested in the interactions between people and the complicated messiness of young love. A humble, unassuming gem of a movie.

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