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My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 2003

Would it be unfair of me to say that 2003 sucked movie-wise? Yes, of course it would. Not even going into how I’ve only seen a small percentage of all films released all over the world during the year, just looking at what I have seen tells me that there were plenty of good movies out there and no disproportionately large number of stinkers. I’m sure the average 2003 movie I’ve seen isn’t much worse than the average of most other years.

But this list is still… weak? No, not weak. These are all very good films. That might be the problem, though. Most of these are indeed very good. It’s just that there are few truly great ones on here. Movies I love. Compared to most other years from the decade, 2003 was a bit lacking at the upper section. Some of these films would have a hard time finding spots on previous top 10 lists I’ve made.

It’s all good, though. I’ll gladly take more years like 2003 as long as I get one film as good as what’s at #1 here.

As usual, to avoid international confusion, I go by years listed on IMDB to determine what is and isn’t “a 2003 movie”.

10 – AMERICAN SPLENDOR (Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini)

“Why does everything in my life have to be such a complicated disaster?”

Two things are key if you want to make a good biopic. 1: Find an interesting character to make a film about. 2: Find the right actor for said character. American Splendor accomplishes these two steps with gusto. Paul Giamatti plays Harvey Pekar, notorious underground comic book writer. A complicated character with plenty of odd quirks and a vitriolic personality, Giamatti nevertheless finds the human being within and offers a nuanced and believable performance. A lot of the film’s success is due to the actor. Without him, the movie might have been just as interesting, but probably not as good.

9 – MATCHSTICK MEN (Ridley Scott)

“She said you were a bad guy. You don’t seem like a bad guy.”

Of course Roy (Nicolas Cage) doesn’t seem like a bad guy. He’s a conman. It’s his job to appear trustworthy. And he’s doing good for himself, despite having to combat his OCD and other mental hang-ups. But then his daughter (Alison Lohman) whom he has never met before enters his life, and things get complicated. Matchstick Men tells an entertaining story with twists and turns a-plenty and features one of Cage’s better performances of the decade. Also: Pygmies!

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Posted by on 20 December, 2011 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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Rewatch Review – The Wrestler (2008)

As I mentioned yesterday in my review of Up in the Air, awards season is weird in the ways it can influence how you view movies. I went back and glanced through a bunch of reviews for Darren Aronofsky‘s The Wrestler just now, and all anyone could talk about at the time was leading actor Mickey Rourke. Rourke is brilliant, Rourke’s career mirrors that of his character, Rourke makes a triumphant comeback, Rourke will win the Oscar, Rourke this, Rourke that. When it was time for me to sit down and watch the film, it became impossible to separate Rourke’s performance from the movie. And Rourke was brilliant, so the movie was brilliant too. I called it my favorite film of 2008 at the time.

While my adoration for the film is dampened a little bit as I watch it for a second time, my appreciation for Rourke’s performance is anything but. He plays Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a professional wrestler who was a big star in the 80s, selling out Madison Square Garden. That was a long time ago, though. Now he’s old and washed up, his body’s broken down and he’s wrestling in small gyms in front of crowds barely scratching triple digits. The money from his heydays is long gone. He lives alone in a trailer, takes odd jobs where he can find them and spends his free time at the local strip club. He seems to enjoy doing what he does and takes things in stride, but when a health issue suddenly pops up and doctors tell him it’s time to retire lest he risks permanent injury or death, he’s forced to reevaluate his life. If he can’t fill his life with wrestling, he doesn’t want to be alone anymore. One particular stripper named Cassidy (Marisa Tomei) seems a possibility for a romantic relationship, and there’s also his daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood) who he tries to get back in touch with after having neglected her during most of her life.

There are certainly similarities between the careers of Mickey Rourke and Randy The Ram, but focusing on that too much is to do a disservice to what a transformative performance this is. This is one of those turns where the actor fully becomes the character. We’re not seeing Mickey Rourke in this film. We’re seeing The Ram from the word go, as he sits quietly in a dressing room preparing for a match, as he marches to the ring basking in the crowd’s approval, as he puts his body through immense physical punishment because it’s all he knows and all he wants to do. The only time when Rourke shines through and I become aware that he’s acting is during an emotional talk with his daughter, but that is one brief scene and the illusion is soon restored. This is the actor’s finest performance to date that I’ve seen.

When you look past said performance, you find a fairly straight-forward and familiar story. The estranged daughter is a character and subplot we’ve seen many times before, and stripper Cassidy isn’t far removed from your standard hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold (Tomei still puts in a great performance, I should point out). Their presence here makes sense, as many old pro wrestling stars can attest too (for more on the subject, check out Barry W. Blaustein‘s fascinating documentary Beyond the Mat), but we still know who these characters are and what role they’ll play in Randy’s story from when we first see them. While The Wrestler is more of a character study than a plot-driven drama, I would still have liked something a bit more fresh underneath the no doubt unique facade of a serious wrestling film.

This was Aronofsky’s fourth feature film. His first three (Pi, Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain) were heavily stylized and harrowing mindscrews. The Wrestler is thus a radical departure from his signature style, as he instead wisely opts for a realistic tone more suited for the material. There’s more of a hands-off approach at work here, just shooting to see how a scene goes with no storyboarding to map things out. The result is a markedly different film from Aronofsky’s usual fare. His next film Black Swan would see a return to his normal style, but The Wrestler stands as testament to his versatility as a director. He can make great movies in different ways. If you didn’t know it was him, you’d have a hard time guessing that this film is the work of the man who made the vibrant thread-twisting The Fountain.

But just because the film is somewhat austere in its tone and visuals doesn’t mean the emotions are. As familiar as the plot may be, it’s still a very gripping tale being told. Mickey Rourke is indeed the film. His haggard face tells the whole story, both when he struggles to form bonds with the people around him and when he’s going through physical anguish in the ring. Had he not done such a teriffic job, the whole movie could have ended up a slight footnote in Aronofsky’s filmography. But Rourke is game here, and it’s only a shame that he hasn’t shown the same fire since.

Score: 4/5

 
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Posted by on 10 September, 2011 in Reviews, Rewatch Reviews

 

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