2003 Leaman Awards - The Part-Time Critic

Monday, January 16, 2017

2003 Leaman Awards

*Last Updated 7/24/2022

2003 Films Seen: 112
Number of Films with 'A' or 'A+': 8
Key Films Still to See: n/a

Brief Summary: The films released from January to December of 2003 just might be my favorite year of films ever. Pound for pound, I don’t think one could ask for more than the great works that 2003 one gave me. It produced multiple 'A+' films that find spots on my "all-time lists. As I look over the Ambassador List for this year, I am shocked at two things: 1) Just how difficult it was to keep it to 25. I could have listed another twenty or so films I'd be fine recommending and 2) Just how diverse and mainstream the ambassador list is. My top ten alone includes a fantasy film, adventure film, an animated film, two (!!) documentaries, two crime sagas (one a foreign film), an existential comedy, and and two family dramadies. For my particular tastes, 2003 stands out because it greatly delivered the goods when it comes to action spectacles, eye-popping special effects, and feel-good blockbuster hit - none more monumental than Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Now, I won't make any declarations here, but perhaps in the future I'll make an official "Favorite Years in Cinema" list and we'll see if this year takes the prize.

Not a "best of" list or a "favorite" list - but a list of the films and sequences (action, drama, comedy, & musical) that I think represent the best the year had to offer. So think of it as a strange mixture of favorite, best, and defining. Once you get to the top ten films, it definitely becomes more defined as a Top Ten list of the year. The number one film is my favorite of the year.


Honorable Mentions: 28 Days Later..., Open Range, The Rundown, Russian Ark, Thirteen

25. Elf (B)
24. Shanghai Knights (B)
23. X2: United (B)
22. Capturing the Freidman's (B+)
21. The Cooler (B+)
20. Bad Santa (B+)
19. House of Sand and Fog (B+)
18. Bruce Almighty (B+)
17. Touching the Void (B+)
16. Elephant (B+)
15. A Mighty Wind (B+)
14. Matchstick Men (B+)
13. The Matrix Reloaded (B+)
12. The Gospel of John (B+)
11. The Fog of War (A-)

THE TOP TEN
10. Spellbound (A-)
9. In America (A-)
8. Pieces of April (A-)
7. Mystic River (A)
6. City of God (A)

5. Lost in Translation (A):


4. Stevie (A):


3. Finding Nemo (A):


2. Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World (A+):


1. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (A+): What more can be said about Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King that won't get repeated and explained in the many awards it will win on this list. I fell hard for the entire Lord of the Rings series and despite my insane expectations for the third entry, it beat them. I enjoyed it so much and knew it meant so much to me that I ended up seeing Return of the King in theaters ten times! Perhaps this isn't a surprise for those who have looked at my Film Bible and seen this movie at number one. I highly doubt that another film will come along that was as triumphant and sweeping on the big screen, nor as emotionally powerful as it has been continually on the small screen. Will there ever be a film to top this one for me? Time well tell. 


FAVORITE ACTION SEQUENCES OF THE YEAR
The Very Good:
  • "Finale: Florida Keys Car Chase with a Hundred Decoys" -2 Fast 2 Furious (Commentary)
  • "Finale: Snatch & Grab in Cuba Ends up in a Police Story Homage" -Bad Boys II
  • "Opening: Venice Vault Heist & Boat Chase" -The Italian Job
  • "Mini-Cooper Chase in the Streets of L.A." -The Italian Job
  • "Fighting the Snow Bird" -Sinbad: The Legend of the Seven Seas
  • "Shelob vs. Frodo & Sam" -The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Commentary)
  • "Burly Brawl: Neo vs. Lots of Agent Smiths" -The Matrix Reloaded (Commentary)
  • "Hallway Slaughter with a Hammer" -Oldboy
  • "Sword Fight: Turner vs. Sparrow" -Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (Commentary)
  • "Finale: Destroying Hatcher, his Henchmen, and his Town" -The Rundown
The Great:
  • "Launching Cars on the Bridge Chase in and Thru Miami" -Bad Boys II
  • "House of Blue Leaves: Bride vs. Crazy 88's/Gogo/O-Ren Ishi" -Kill Bill Vol. 1
  • "Finale: The Surprise vs. the Acheron" -Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World
  • "French Chateau Fight: Neo vs. Merovingian" -The Matrix Reloaded (Commentary)
  • "Highway Chase: Ghosts, Agents, & Key Maker" -The Matrix Reloaded (Commentary)
  • "Harmonville Shootout" -Open Range (Commentary)
  • "Singing in the Rain Marketplace Fight" -Shanghai Knights (Commentary)
  • "City Emergency Chase: T101 & TX Chase Connor" -Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (Commentary)
  • "Opening: Assassin in the Oval Office" -X2: United (Commentary)
The Best: "The Battle for Minas Tirith" -The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
Commentary: This is my pick for the greatest Lord of the Rings action sequence and I think it's also one of the single best action sequences ever created - if not the single best. For anyone who has only grown up on the Avengers being the biggest action spectacle they can think of, have I got something for you! Just like the Battle for Helm's Deep, I've decided the only way to give the sequence it's due credit is to admit it's actually just one long action sequence. For a full commentary on this sequence, check out my Lord of the Rings All-Time Best Action Scenes Post.


FAVORITE DRAMATIC SEQUENCES OF THE YEAR
The Very Good:
  • “Ending to the Story” -Big Fish
  • “Jesse Gets Out of Prison and Meets his Mother” –Capturing the Friedman’s
  • “Ry Dances During a Rain Storm” –The Company
  • “Nemo Hears the Story of his Father’s Journey” –Finding Nemo
  • “Marlon finds Nemo at the Bottom of the Net” –Finding Nemo
  • “Please Not My Son” –House of Sand and Fog
  • “Johnny Says Goodbye to Frankie” –In America
  • “Spending the Rent on a Carnival Game” –In America
  • “Lighting of the Beacons” –Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
  • “Outmaneuvering the Acheron & Chasing it Around Cape Horn” -Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
  • “Officer Dining Room: An Anecdote About Lord Nelson” -Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
  • “The Architect Changes Everything We Know” -The Matrix Reloaded
  • “Sean asks Jimmy the Last Time he’s Seen Dave Boyle” –Mystic River
  • “Campfire Ambush in the Dark” -Open Range
  • “Europe is Left Behind as Everyone Leaves the Ball” –Russian Ark
  • “Stevie and his Mom Share a Moment Before he is Sent to Prison” –Stevie
The Great:
  • “Theoden Encourages his Men Before Their Charge into the Pellenor” –Lord of the Rings: the Return of the King
  • “Bob Whispers Something Secret” –Lost in Translation
  • “Aubrey Choosing to Go Ashore and Save a Friend” -Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
  • “Finale: Mom and the Family Make Visit for Thanksgiving” –Pieces of April
  • “Stevie is Given Some Wisdom by Patricia” –Stevie
The Best: “Sam and Frodo at the End of All Things” –Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
Commentary:
It may seem an odd choice, but this scene is the strongest one of the film. Although technically the scene referenced above is them on the volcano as after losing the ring, I really lump Sam’s saving of Frodo in the volcano as well as the subsequent rescue by the eagles. This scene is so strong to me because It makes tangible the cumulative effect of their journey. As Frodo struggles as to whether he wants to end his life in the volcano, Sam is there. As they are finally free of the ring, and they lie together the fraternal bond between them is tangible. Throw in the slow fade out at the end of all things, followed by the rescue of the eagles (watch Frodo’s face as he realizes what is happening) and you have the best scene of 2003.


FAVORITE COMEDIC SEQUENCES OF THE YEAR
*Didn't keep great track of this category initially
The Very Good:
  • "Fred Willard's Industry Stories" -A Mighty Wind
  • "WINC" -A Mighty Wind
  • "Christopher Walken's Monologues as Hopper" -The Rundown

The Great:
  • "Filming a Whiskey Ad" -Lost in Translation
  • “Captain Jack Sparrow Makes His First Entrance at Port” -Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
  • "Dewey Puts Together the Class Band Piece by Piece" -School of Rock
  • "Police Fight: Circular Door Comedy" -Shanghai Knights
The Best: "Godly Prank: Messing with the Teleprompter" Bruce Almighty
Commentary:


FAVORITE MUSICAL SEQUENCES OF THE YEAR
*Other than one animated musical, no official major musicals released this year
The Very Good:
  • "On My Way" -Brother Bear
  • “Pippin Sings as Faramir Makes his Last Charge” –Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
The Great:

  • "No Way Out" -Brother Bear
  • “Mitch and Mickey Sing and Kiss at the Re-Union Show” –A Mighty Wind
  • "Rock Got No Reason Peformance" -School of Rock
The Best: "Karaoke Lounge: ‘More Than This’” –Lost in Translation
Commentary:



BEST DIRECTOR
Nominees:
  • Sofia Coppola Lost in Translation
  • Clint Eastwood Mystic River
  • Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
  • Fernando Meirelles City of God
  • Andrew Stanton Finding Nemo
  • Peter Weir Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
Commentary: Return of the King has such a singular vision, with all cylinders firing, that there is no way not to award the mastermind behind the entire project. If you follow cinema long enough you are present to see so many big budget stories unable to wrangle all of elements together to make a cohesive whole. Blockbuster filmmaking is like running a small country with so many departments and thousands of workers to manage while also shepherding the story, the acting, the action, the pacing, the editing, etc. Peter Jackson has fashioned an epic masterpiece, that I believe, he nor anyone else will ever top. 


FAVORITE FILM ENSEMBLE
Nominees:
  • In America
  • Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
  • Lost in Translation
  • Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
  • Mystic River
Commentary: Return of the King is a rare example of a film with a massive cast actually giving substantive and satisfying arcs to lead roles and supporting ones. There is some outstanding acting to be found here, and more impressively in an ensemble so large, there are no obvious miscasts or sore thumbs. Although the hobbits, Aragorn and Gandalf tend to get all the attention, how could one imagine Return of the King without the great work of Karl Urban (Eomer), Bernard Hill (Theodon), Miranda Otto (Eowyn), David Wenham (Faramir) or John Noble (Denethor)? 


FAVORITE MALE PERFORMANCES
Nominees:
  • Sean Astin Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
  • Alec Baldwin The Cooler
  • Jeff Bridges Seabiscuit
  • Nicholas Cage Matchstick Men
  • Paddy Considine In America
  • Ben Kingsley House of Sand and Fog
  • Bill Murray Lost in Translation
  • Sean Penn Mystic River
  • Tim Robbins Mystic River
  • Elijah Wood Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Commentary: I don't know if Murray's performance is the "best" here (it's always tough awarding a comedic performance), but it is certainly my favorite one. Most of the time Murray gets to play a comedic caricature goofs, so it’s refreshing to see Bill become a living and breathing human being here. When I first saw his performance while I was in college, I connected so strongly with his general displeasure and apathy at life. It wasn't that he wasn't thankful, or grateful, or successful - he was. He just somehow was disconnected from it all and it comes through from the first time you see Bill's face pressed up against the window of a car driving through Japan. He gets some hilarious moments here, but it's his relationship with Scarlett Johannsson's character and his quiet moments alone that I enjoy the most. This role was so powerful that he basically replayed versions of it in several films afterwards (most notably Broken Flowers.)


FAVORITE FEMALE PERFORMANCES
Nominees:
  • Shohreh Agdashloo House of Sand and Fog
  • Patricia Clarkson Pieces of April
  • Jennifer Connelly House of Sand and Fog
  • Scarlett Johansson Lost in Translation
  • Samantha Morton In America
  • Catherine O’Hara A Mighty Wind
  • Marcia Gay Harden Mystic River
  • Charlize Theron Monster
  • Naomi Watts 21 Grams
  • Renee Zelweger Cold Mountain
Commentary: Charlize was the deserved winner of the Oscar and is also now the winner of the prestigious Leaman Award! All the hype that you have heard about is true, Charlize Theron completely transforms herself into her character. The performance is brave, daring, and worthy of every accolade praised upon it. With such worthy nominees, Theron pulled off a heck of a win.


FAVORITE SCREENPLAYS
(original or adapted)
Nominees:
  • City of God
  • The Cooler
  • Finding Nemo
  • House of Sand and Fog
  • In America
  • Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
  • Lost in Translation
  • Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
  • Mystic River
  • Pieces of April
Commentary: Adapted screenplays are no less difficult than original ones - especially adapting something as large and beloved as The Lord of the Rings. The cinematic landscape is littered  Over time, the moments that have stuck with me lie directly in the power of the characters, their struggle, and the moments they share with each other. I also am pleased with the nips, tucks, and alterations that Jackson and co. made from the books. What we have in Return of the King is not an example of a film whose impact will wear away as its effects no longer are groundbreaking, we have a film that will stand the test of time, and that’s thanks to its screenplay.


BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

Nominees:
  • Capturing the Friedman's
  • The Fog of War
  • Spellbound
  • Stevie
  • Touching the Void
Commentary: n/a


BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Nominees:
  • Finding Nemo
  • Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas
  • The Triplets of Belleville

Commentary: Considering that I consistently rank Finding Nemo as my favorite animated film of all- time (though that changes from time to time) I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it took this award. It’s a film that I find to be endlessly funny as well as surprisingly moving. Nemo is an animated film of uncommon depth (no pun intended), visually and thematically. The other nominees include an overrated and an underrated feature. The Triplets of Belleville is a decent film with creative animation, but it lacks pace and really drains the viewer. Whereas Sinbad is a fast paced adventure story that features some great action set pieces as well as a quick fun little story. Too bad it's been largely forgotten.

BEST FILM EDITING
Nominees:
  • City of God
  • Finding Nemo
  • In America
  • Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
  • Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
  • Spellbound
Commentary: Some may find my choice of The Return of the King here a little generous, even for someone who likes the film. The concluding moments of Return of the King seems to be the source of most frustration for critics and with better editing it could have been fixed. I disagree. Against conventional wisdom, I think that Return of the King features the trilogies strongest editing. The concluding epic is an amazingly paced film that juggles the plot beats, character arcs, length of the action scenes, and emotional journey with great care. After spending nine or so hours within Middle Earth, I think that the film is allowed to conclude with a little grace, follow through on our character roster, and a sincere goodbye.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Nominees:
  • City of God
  • In America
  • Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
  • Lost in Translation
  • Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
  • Russian Ark
Commentary: Surprised that Return of the King didn't take this one as well? While ROTK's cinematography is gorgeous and epic, something I could award Master and Commander for as well, but I just prefer the look that Lost in Translation's camera work pulled off. The way the camera captures Tokyo at night (specifically its neon glow), the way the camera lingers on the divide between cultures, the emptiness of crowded places, the inviting nature of empty places, and mostly the ingenious compositions that tell stories within themselves. 


BEST ART DIRECTION
Nominees:
  • Big Fish
  • Down with Love
  • The Last Samurai
  • Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
  • Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
Commentary: Another win for The Return of the King! If not for the once in a generation fantasy world building done on The Return of the King, this award could have proudly gone to several other nominees. In particular the work on Master and Commander is technical, immersive, just beautiful stuff. Lots of big budget productions building historical and fantasy worlds this year, but none compare to the grandeur of Gondor or the bravado of Mumakil.  


BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Nominees:
  • Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
  • Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
  • The Matrix Reloaded
  • The Matrix Revolutions
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
  • X2: United
Commentary: A revolutionary year in visual effects. Along with the two Matrix films, Return of the King raised the bar for all films coming after it. Never before has a film so seamlessly fused visual effects on such an ambitious and grand scale. The work here is magnificent; Gondor, the Battle of the Pellenor fields, the Mumakil, Shelob, the Ringwraith's, and I still haven’t even mentioned Gollum! Next time you watch the film notice how delicately even small portions of the visual world are animated; how the great eagles gently scoop up Frodo and Sam from their rock or the expressions of Gollum's face as he falls into the lava. Much like the score, the visual effects work here is an art in and of itself.


BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Nominees:
  • Finding Nemo
  • In America
  • Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
  • Lost in Translation
  • Whale Rider
Commentary: All the nominees are good scores, but they just aren't as memorable as most years. What this year may have lacked in depth, it makes up for it with The Return of the King. Undoubtedly one of my favorite scores of all time, Howard Shore has outdone the work he did on the two previous installments of the series. Weaving familiar themes with grand new ones (the lighting of the beacons, the grey havens), Howard Shore has crafted an epic, yet startling intimate score. Not merely background, its art in and of itself.


BEST SOUND DESIGN
Nominees:
  • City of God
  • Finding Nemo
  • Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
  • Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
  • Open Range
Commentary: Three films stand out to me here as possibly the best: Master and Commander is incredible with its clarity and focus on all the little details that come with the sailing world, allowing the listener to hear every shot, wooden creak, and explosion. Open Range re-introduced me to the idea that a gunshot can be loud, sudden, and deafening. However, The Return of the King again stands above its competition. My favorite sound moments have to be “call” of the ring, the strategic commands during the mumakil charge, and the lighting of the beacons in Mordor.


BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Nominees:
  • Down with Love
  • The Last Samurai
  • Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
  • Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
  • Russian Ark
Commentary: A field of winners in my opinion. There is not a single film that I would not be happy with taking home the prize; Four of the five feature epic and lavish costumes, while Down with Love features a lovingly made throwback to the fashion of the 50’and 60s. In the end though, The Return of the King gave me the greatest scope of costumes. From Gandalf’s white robes, Aragorn’s suit of armor, the full slate of orc armor to the hundreds of extras that fill out the film, the costumes are distinctive, memorable, and immersive.


BEST MAKE-UP & HAIR DESIGN
Nominees:
  • Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
  • Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
  • Monster
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
  • Russian Ark
Commentary: A year with excellent work in make-up. Monster and 28 Days Later each featured excellent character make-up work, especially on converting Charlize Theron to serial killer Aileen Wuornos. However, the scale and detail of the work done for The Return of the King blew else everything out of the water. My favorite detail has got to be the rubbing of the ring around the neck of Frodo, that completely sells the difficulty and the sacrifice that it was to carry the ring.

BIGGEST GUILTY PLEASURE
Nominees:
  • Bad Santa
  • Cat in the Hat
  • Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle
  • Scary Movie 3
Commentary: n/a


MOST SURPRISING FILM
Nominees:
  • Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle
  • City of God
  • The Gospel of John
  • Lost in Translation
  • Stevie
Commentary: Lost in Translation is grew on me with multiple viewings. When I saw it for the first time in theatres I walked away thinking it was an overrated art film. After another viewing, and then a few more subsequent ones, I began to enjoy the whole aesthetic of the film; the tone, the theme, and the atmosphere. Now, Lost in Translation is one of my favorite films of all-time, and Bob (Bill Murray) and Charlotte (Scarlet Johansson) has become one of my favorite on screen duos of all-time.


MOST DISAPPOINTING FILM
Nominees:
  • Bubba Ho-Tep
  • Gods and Generals
  • The Matrix Revolutions
  • The Medallion
Commentary: Considered a cult hit now, I had friends who swooned over the comic genius of this film, but upon viewing the said masterpiece I have to begin questioning the judgment of said friends. The basic premise does have promise and gives one an initial chuckle, but the production values are so shoddy, and the direction so poor, the film loses any and all humor its seed of a premise held. The sparse plotline isn’t helped at all by badly paced editing either. In the end, the movie becomes more of an exercise in tedium than humor.


MOST UNDERRATED FILM
Nominees:
  • The Cat in the Hat
  • The Gospel of John
  • The Matrix Reloaded
  • Shanghai Knights
Commentary:


MOST OVERRATED FILM
Nominees:
  • 21 Grams
  • Old School
  • Winged Migration
Commentary: I think when you watch as many films as I have, coming up with a few films that can be considered “overrated” is not all that hard to do. One of my goals each year is to watch most of the movies that are highly rated by critics. That’s how I came across Winged Migration. It’s a nature documentary four years in the making that gave the viewer the ability to fly right alongside flocks of birds as they migrated. Unfortunately, all the movie has to offer are some beautiful images of birds in flight. The narration is sparse and not all that informative, which really leaves the viewer to keep himself interested. I think that the makers of the documentary overestimated the ability of its audience to find 90 minutes of birds exciting. 


WORST FILM
Nominees:
  • Bringing Down the House
  • The Fighting Temptations
  • Hollywood Homicide
  • The Medallion
  • Timeline
Commentary: One could easily think this was an American produced atrocity with too much studio interference and people who just didn't "get" Jackie Chan's style. However, this is written, directed, and choreographed by a Hong Kong team. I'm absolutely flabbergasted that this film was nominated for an action choreography award at the Hong Kong film awards. It is just flat out terrible. The story is about some fantasy medallions that give someone eternal life and supernatural powers and Jackie of course gets caught up in it all. I don't know the full behind the scenes work, but whatever happened ending up producing a boring film, with poor performances, and features embarrassing action sequences from someone who takes such pride in them. Skip this one, don't even show it to the kids.


BEST COMPILATION OF WORK
Performances/Accomplishments (that I saw anyways):
  • Patricia Clarkson: All the Real Girls, Pieces of April, The Station Agent
  • Hugo Weaving: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revolutions
  • Ian McKellan: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, X2:United
Commentary: Nothing but great performances in several films. In particular, Clarkson's performance in Pieces of April at times quietly moving and at others side-splitting hilarious. This is one of my favorite supporting roles ever. Period.


ERIC BANA AWARD
*Given for the best performance in a bad film (See 2004's Troy)
Nominees:
  • Bruce Campbell Bubba Ho-Tep
  • Billy Bob Thornton Bad Santa
  • Hugo Weaving The Matrix Reloaded & Revolutions
Commentary: Technically, Reloaded is not a bad movie but I do think Revolutions is. I include both here because they were filmed back to back and Hugo Weaving is just living it up as Agent Smith. He genuinely feels like he is enjoying chewing up every scene he gets to be in. The character has become iconic, the wide eyes, the cadence, and the increasingly maniacal nature through the arc of the first three films.


THE END!

"Farewell, my brave Hobbits. My work is now finished. Here at last, on the shores of the sea... comes the end of our Fellowship. I will not say do not weep, for not all tears are an evil." -The Return of the King

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