Cinema Consults: Our Picks for the Best Movies of 2003

Carlos Henriquez, MD

,
Lisa A. Tomaszewski

Physician's Money Digest, February15 2004, Volume 11, Issue 3

Most years it is difficult to findenough good films to fill out atop 10 list. This past year wasan exception, as Hollywood, Americanindependent, and foreign films all contributedquality fare. The following arethe 10 we enjoyed most in 2003, listed inorder of preference.

Dr. Henriquez's Picks

  1. Seabiscuit. This intelligent,Depression-era tale directedby Gary Ross, was an excitingmixture of history and drama.Hats off to Jeff Bridges, TobyMcGuire, and the rest of thecast. Seabiscuit wins by a nose.
  2. Thirteen. This was thebest of all the fine Americanindependent films of 2003. Noperformances all year surpassedHolly Hunter's and Evan RachelWood's as mother and wayward daughter,emotionally draining themselvesand the audience, right down to thefilm's last moments.
  3. Lost in Translation. Bill Murrayas a fading movie star and ScarlettJohansson as a discontented young marriedwoman are adrift in aTokyo hotel until they meetand strike up a friendship. Thisis a funny, touching film, sensitivelydirected by Sofia Coppola,that features Murray'sbest performance ever.
  4. 21 Grams. Mexicandirector Alejandro GonzalezInarritu guides a very talented,top-notch cast—Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, andBenicio Del Toro—as threestrangers whose lives are intertwinedin this story of tragedyand redemption.
  5. Finding Nemo. From thePixar studio, this was the bestanimated film of the year, abouta clown fish who searches forhis lost son. Albert Brooks, thevoice of the father, and Ellen Degeneres,as the voice of the sidekick he picks upalong the way, are hilarious and deservespecial Academy Awards of their own.
  6. The Last Samurai. This film,directed by Ed Zwick, is a fascinatingblend of history and drama. Tom Cruisegives an Oscar®-worthy performance as adisillusioned Civil War veteranin Japan, training the emperor'stroops to fight the rebellioussamurai. Ken Watanabe isequally impressive as thesamurai leader.
  7. Whale Rider. This lovelylittle film from New Zealand isset among the modern-daydescendents of the indigenousMaori. It is the story of a12-year-old girl determined to become atribal leader despite her grandfather'sstubborn insistence that it can only be amale. It is an inspirational story.
  8. Master and Commander: TheFar Side of the World. Russell Crowedelivers yet another award-worthy performanceas Captain Jack Aubrey, alternatelychasing and fighting a Napoleonicera French warship. Australian directorPeter Weir provides a classical seafaringadventure with an extra dose of realism,in this solid piece of Saturday night at themovies entertainment that's sure to please.
  9. The Magdalene Sisters. GeraldineMcEwan, as the nun in charge, is simplythe best among a host of excellent performancesin this documentary-like revelationof a disturbing secret in Irish history.As recently as 1996, and for decadesbefore, “wayward” young Irish womenby the thousands were taken from theirfamilies to become virtual slaves in theMagdalene convents. Not for the squeamish,this film is proof that fact can bestranger than fiction, and more painful.
  10. Cold Mountain. Based on theCharles Frazier novel and directed byAnthony Minghella (The English Patient),this film is basically Homer'sOdyssey, set in Civil War North Carolina, as Confederate soldier Jude Lawstruggles to return home to NicoleKidman. Though somewhat emotionallycold, the powerful acting by Law,Kidman, and Renée Zellweger and thebrutally realistic depiction of historywere enough to earn Cold Mountain aplace on this list.

Ms. Tomaszewski's Picks

  1. Big Fish. Tim Burtontakes all the originality and daringof his filmmaking style andshapes it into this whimsicaljourney. Albert Finney andEwin McGregor play the oldand young Ed Bloom, whosepenchant for telling colorful stories of hislife's adventures alienates him from hisfact-focused son. It's a thoughtful fairytalethat posed some piercing questionsabout truth, memory, and meaning.
  2. The Lord of the Rings: The Returnof the King. I'm not really talkingabout one movie here, but three—theboldest and most spectacular literary andfilm endeavor brought to the screen. Thetime has come to acknowledge the brilliantgift that Peter Jackson has given tous and to the generations that follow.
  3. Lost in Translation. Quietly,patiently, and beautifully, Sofia Coppolacaptures exactly what it feels like to beremoved from our all-consuming Americanculture and placed in a world wherewe are the outsiders. It begs repeating—Bill Murray is amazing in this film, as isScarlett Johansson.
  4. Angels in America. Someone forgotto tell HBO that it's supposed to bemaking TV movies. With the exceptionof the screen size, this film should be runningthe Oscar® race along with the restof my list. It's a jaw-dropping, breathtaking,and heart-wrenching film thateveryone should see.
  5. 28 Days Later. Danny Boyle(Trainspotting) directed this film, and heclearly can create art from gaping horror.The cinematography is stunning and theperformances are sharp.
  6. Bend It Like Beckham. There arejust not enough good movies out thereabout women and sports (and thereshould be). This one sets itself apart,because it tackles so many forms of discrimination,while at the same time celebratingthe beauty of Indian culture.
  7. Cold Mountain. Gripping and brutal,this movie offered another perspectiveon the Civil War—not of the soldiers inthe field, but of the soldiers who deserteda cause they didn't believe in. Despite thegrand scale of this film, it is really just asolid character-driven love story.
  8. Mystic River. This film is saturatedin tension. It builds one frame to thenext until it arrives in a very dark andscary place. The performances are exceptional,especially Tim Robbins'. Myonly reservation is that the plot becomestoo coincidental, pokingholes in the realism it sodesperately tries to achieve.
  9. Capturing the Friedmans.This documentary paintsan intimate and startling portraitof a middle class familyripped apart by the heinouscrime of child molestation. The pain is palpable,but it is a story that needs to be told.
  10. Whale Rider. This wonderfullittle film combines pitch perfect actingwith a enchanting story. The themesare mythological and yet very real--culture, generations gaps, family, andthe search for one's destiny. The younggirl who leads this film, Keisha Castle-Hughes, is truly a prodigy.

Carlos Henriques, MD, recently retired from 35years of family practice in the Mid-Hudson Valley ofNew York State. He spent his sudent years atColumbia University—both college and medicalschool—and 2 years of general practice residency inFlemington, NJ. When not practicing medicine overthe years, he filled most of his free time watching andwriting about films for various local publications. Henow plans to devote himself full-time to the study offilms, hoping to someday find one that will equal orsurpass his all-time favorite, The Third Man.

Lisa A. Tomaszewski, managing editor of Physician'sMoney Digest, is currently working on herPhD in literature at Drew University in New Jersey.She is an avid fan of film and has taught a summerfilm course at Fairleigh Dickinson University. Shewelcomes questions, comments, or suggestions forfuture film reviews at 732-656-1140 ext 195 orltomaszewski@mwc.com.