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2004-01-12 | 11:13 p.m.

corduroy licorice's uncle had experimented with every drug in the book. he'd snorted, shot up, huffed and puffed, but it was his meth lab that finally blew his house down.

***

nictate's top 11 films of 2003

2003 was pretty satisfying for me movie-wise, but i think this year's oscars might be the most boring in years considering the lumbering hollywood master-and-cold-samurai fare that will probably get all the attention. if lost in translation doesn't get a dark horse nod, i may only watch to see the dresses.

so now, without further ado, i proudly announce with great fanfare my top film picks for the year that was.

#1 (with a bullet train)

lost in translation

one test of a film's quality is how many times you can rewatch it with deepening enjoyment. i recently saw lost in translation for the second time, a few months after my first viewing, and was just as in awe at the beautiful palette and beautiful quiet moments and beautiful relationship that sofia coppola's keyboard and camera created. the second time i saw it, i was more aware of the semi-autobiographical moments. she hits so many emotional notes in such a pitch-perfect way, much of it had to have been taken from her own experiences. from the opening shot of scarlett johansson's posterior peeking through pale pink panties to the closing whispered goodbye, this film was a watercolor valentine celebrating the rarity of finding real connections in an overwhelming world. brilliant, quiet acting from hangdog bill murray and johansson, tender, true writing and masterful art direction (and plain old direction) make this the most sastifying love story of the year.

2

gerry

stark in scenery and dialogue, this film by gus van sant is the type of movie many would dismiss as a pretentious art experiment. i found it mesmerizing. matt damon and casey affleck do a very believable job playing two hot shot hipsters whose day hike turns into a bruising test of will. there is an extended shot of the two shuffling across a blue-tinged, pre-dawn desert that runs for about five minutes. enough to send less meditative types running to the concession stand, but i ate it up like a box of semi-melted junior mints. gorgeous.

3

the secret lives of dentists

a modern marriage is silently imploding within its picture perfect shell. sounds like prime material for a cheesy lifetime movie, but this film is completely lactose intolerant. it feels real and true, from the finely sculpted writing by craig lucas to the finely honed performances by campbell scott and hope davis. dare i say instant classic?

4

irreversible

i have to warn you. this film is a bit of a mindblow. from its opening scenes of brutality to its unblinking 10-minute rape scene, this is not a film for the cinematic faint of heart. if you feel up for it, i think you will marvel at the powerful punch this story delivers as it unravels backwards, memento-style. the movement of time is marked by a merry-go-round camera swing that takes some getting used to, but amazing direction by gaspar noe and terrific acting, especially by the incredibly brave and beautiful monica bellucci, keep you hanging on. by the time the film ends (and the story begins), i was washed over with retroactive dread--an unusual emotion that was worth the price of admission in and of itself to experience.

5

city of god

another challenging, non-popcorn movie that will have you shifting in your seat with its uncomfortably graphic violence and human cruetly, but one that is not to be missed because of its eye-opening story, clever direction and unaffected acting. set in the slums of brazil, it stars children and teens who actually make a life in those filthy, drug-infested streets. their struggle for survival told here so honestly is both heartwrenching and stomach-turning.

6

whale rider

this is a "family movie" in the best sense of the word. a movie about family and for families that is well-told, entertaining, touching and, dare i use the overbeaten term, empowering. as a young maori girl, played with astonishing assurance by first-time actress keisha castle-hughes, struggles to win her stern grandfather's approval in their rural new zealand community, tears will be shed and cheers will be felt and little girls of all ages will feel their hearts swell with strength. worth 40 finding nemo's.

7

spellbound

as it reached its big finale, this documentary had me on the edge of my seat--nervously spelling my ass off inside my head. as the director introduces us to a handful of young students preparing for a national spelling bee, i think few viewers are prepared for how much those kids will mean to them by the closing credits. by the time you get to know these quirky kids and their even quirkier families and see the painstaking preparation that goes into this competition, the final spelldown takes on epic proportions. awesome.

8

american splendor

speaking of quirky, this film tells the true-to-life tale of one of the quirkiest men you'll ever meet. a grumpy file clerk who finds self-expression and cult hero status as a comic book writer after partering with crumb becomes a unlikable, but irresistable anti-hero. unique storytelling devices like comic book frames on-screen add to the eclectic enjoyment.

9

japon

another one of those suspiciously pretentious films that i wouldn't recommend to too many people, but i loved it. long silences and stark environments are characteristics it shares with gerry, but this film frosts a few extra layers of symbolism on top. it's about a middle-aged artist who decides to move to a remote mexican village as a prelude to suicide. the friendship he develops with a stoic old woman who provides him with shelter--both physical and emotional--is fascinating.

10

raising victor vargas

a true indie film cast with jennies and bennies from the block, raising victor vargas tells the unpretentious coming-of-age story of a good kid who's just a little confused by how to become a man without a dad around, how to get a girl to like him and how to deal with his quarreling siblings and strict, sole-caretaker grandmother inside the confines of their claustrophobic apartment. the impressive first-time actors in the lead male and female roles were discovered by the director in their lower east side neighborhood where the film was shot and much of the dialogue was improvised. stripped down to the bare essentials, there's no disguising a good story. when it's real, you can feel it.

11

to be and to have

quite a different documentary than spellbound, but enjoyable nonetheless. i realized later that the key difference is that the director on this project mostly just watched his subjects, while with spellbound the subjects were interviewed in-depth. the observational feel caused this film to create a paler shade of emotional involvement. to be and to have records the day-to-day life of a country school in france, in which one teacher instructs kids from kindergarten to fifth grade in one room. the teacher himself was a wonder to watch with his quiet patience and gentle guidance. the children were adorable in their innocence, especially a little bloke named jojo who stole every scene he graced. this is the kind of film that shows the taken-for-granted gift that good teachers give their kids every day. remarkable and touching.

honorable mention:

i have to throw some props at some more mainstream fare that pleasantly surprised me this year.

school of rock

if you think jack black is funny, you are guaranteed to like this movie. this is the jack blackest he's been and he's freakin' adorable as a counterfeit substitute teacher who accidentally succeeds by turning to his love of the rock 'n' roll. sure, it's formulaic. sure, it's predictable. but it's a hell of a lot of fun.

pirates of the carribean: something pearl something or other

if you think johnny depp is fun to watch, you are guaranteed to like this movie. his keith richards-inspired pirate is the lifeblood of this rollicking, however flawed, film and there is enough bob-hope-road-movie-type humor to shiver me timbers and hopefully yours.

and one more i almost forgot:

bad santa

while i wished it had been a bit smarter overall, its downhill-without-brakes twistedness and gleefully glum piece-of-coal-in-the-stocking black humor is to be celebrated as is billy bob's and his young charge's inspired performances.

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take a peek at these - (c) 2000-2003 nictate:

health tip
2005-03-16

health tip
2005-03-16

moving house
2004-11-19

quibbling with quitherfeather
2004-11-17

catcher in the wry
2004-11-16