The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
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by Jesse Walker

Friday, December 20, 2013
TRADITION!: While other outlets are posting their picks for the year's best movies, the tradition here at The Perpetual Three-Dot Column, where we do not see nearly enough films on their initial release, is to instead offer our top-10 lists for 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago, and so on. I've been doing this for more than a decade now, which means we've started to revisit some eras I've covered before. But before we start cycling back through those, we should give 2003 the attention it missed the first time around.

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 2003, it gave its Best Picture award to The Return of the King, a steadily-more-tedious bore of a movie that excises the best part of Tolkien's trilogy to make room for a four-hour sequence of hobbits jumping on a bed. (*) It isn't on my list.

1. The Wire 2
Written by David Simon, Ed Burns, Joy Lusco, Rafael Alvarez, and George Pelecanos
Directed by Ed Bianchi, Elodie Keene, Steve Shill, Thomas J. Wright, Dan Attias, Tim Van Patten, Rob Bailey, and Ernest Dickerson

Most people's favorite character on The Wire is Omar, and there are times when I agree with that. Other times I give the title to Frank Sobotka, the union leader at the heart of the second season: a tragic hero who thinks he can do good by doing evil, and who takes himself down in the process.

2. Tarnation
Directed by Jonathan Caouette

By 2003 video cameras were standard equipment for a middle-class American household, and they had been for long enough that a documentary like this was possible. Tarnation takes the video diaries that Caouette started shooting at age 11 and assembles them into something absorbing, unsettling, and visually stunning.

3. The Saddest Music in the World
Directed by Guy Maddin
Written by Maddin and George Toles, from a story by Kazuo Ishiguro

One of the funniest comedies of the 21st century, yet hardly anyone has heard of it.

4. Osama
Written and directed by Siddiq Barmak

It isn't about Osama bin Laden, but it is, in a way, about his mindset.

5. Lost in Translation
Written and directed by Sofia Coppola

If you want to appreciate how good Bill Murray is, watch the scene where his character makes a whiskey commercial. Everyone on the set but him speaks Japanese, and he has no idea what's going on. He tells us this with small movements of his jaw and eyes, and as I watched in the theater every one of those little facial ticks sparked spasms of laughter from the audience. I'm not an actor, but I'm pretty sure of this: It can't be easy to make people laugh just by moving your pupils slightly to the left or right.

6. Saraband
Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman

Bleak and disturbing, as Bergman can be. Moving, too.

7. Kill Bill: Vol. 1
Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino

A trash symphony.

8. Good Bye Lenin!
Directed by Wolfgang Becker
Written by Becker and Bernd Lichtenberg

There's a whiff of Ostalgie here, but I can overlook that. The concept is just so deliriously funny, and the protagonists' motive so sweet.

9. Looney Tunes: Back in Action
Directed by Joe Dante
Written by Larry Doyle

Dante dubbed this the anti-Space Jam, and that is exactly what he made.

10. Capturing the Friedmans
Directed by Andrew Jarecki

Like Tarnation, this draws on years' worth of home videos to tell a story that is more than the sum of those parts. Some of that story's slant has been called into question in the decade since this came out. But even if you agree with every charge the film's critics have lobbed at it, it is still an astonishing document of a disintegrating family's life.

Honorable mentions:

11. The Triplets of Belleville (Sylvain Chomet)
12. Swimming Pool (François Ozon)
13. The Agronomist (Jonathan Demme)
14. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring (Kim Ki-duk)
15. A Mighty Wind (Christopher Guest)
16. All the Real Girls (David Gordon Green)
17. Hurt (Mark Romanek)
18. Code 46 (Michael Winterbottom)
19. My Architect (Nathaniel Kahn)
20. Cunnilingus in North Korea (Young-Hae Chang, Marc Voge)

Of the films of 2003 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Dogville and The Same River Twice.

(* The phrase "four-hour" refers to subjective time. It is possible that I fell asleep during this scene and that the time that actually elapsed was longer.)

posted by Jesse 3:51 PM
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