1. Lost In Translation
Sofia Coppola’s debut movie The Virgin Suicides divided critics, but her follow-up seems already destined for cult status, despite not having yet received a general release in the UK. A London Film Festival gala screening and the release of its painfully hip soundtrack have ensured anticipation is already strong. Telling the story of two lost souls (Scarlet Johanssen and the unsurpassable Bill Murray) marooned in an unfamiliar culture (Tokyo), Lost in Translation is in some ways a slight movie, but it perfectly captures that feeling of being at one remove from one’s life, and the transient relationships one forms in that context, and is great fun with it.
Somehow, one feels that Miike Takashi might not be someone to be stuck in a lift with. His relentless prolificacy and invention, combined with the surreality and boundary-pushing unpleasantness of his films like Ichi the Killer, Audition and Visitor Q make you wonder what could possibly be going on in his mind – other than a relentless desire to persecute audiences foolish enough to watch his films. Gozu represents Miike at his perplexing peak:the juxtaposition of the relentless seriousness of the tone with the sheer surreality of some of the interludes, from the opening Yakuza assassin dog to the final strangely satisfying "happy ending", make it another lunatic classic.
3. The Wind Carpet
This film is that most unusual of hybrids, a Japanese-Iranian coproduction. One might have thought that such a product of two film cultures that have surely pushed cinematic minimalism to its limits might be a little slow or depressing, especially when it turns out that the plot involves a Japanese businessman and his young daughter visiting Iran to collect a Persian rug designed by his wife who has just been killed in a car accident. But in fact it’s an absolute treat, feelgood in the best possible way, always treating its culture-clash comedy with the lightest of touches and taking its characters just seriously enough.
Worst Film – Bringing Down The House
It’s been a banner year for bad movies, from topically gung-ho Americana (Tears of the Sun) to ridiculously pretentious Frenchiosity (Twentynine Palms) to po-faced didacticism (The Life of David Gale). Picking a worst movie has proved considerably more difficult that picking the best. But one film stands clear above the rest, a film so crashingly offensive, so unrelentingly unentertaining, so desperately determined to excavate every outdated race cliché, that it is the only choice. Bringing Down the House is a culture-clash comedy featuring Steve Martin as an uptight white businessman and Queen Latifah as a sassy, funky convict on the run. She teaches him to dance; he puts on ghetto gear and speaks hip-hop lingo in a club. Enough said.
It’s a bit dispiriting, upon compiling your Films of the Year, to find yourself casting your mind right back to the Winter: but it turns out that’s just when 2003’s highlights were released. Punch Drunk Love was a determined attempt to bring together cineastes and multiplexes. Consequently it fell somewhere between the two and passed many by. That’s a crying shame: it’s a spellbinding piece, genuinely original and beautiful without resorting to syrupy cliché. Give it a chance if you didn’t at the time.
Similarly, Russian Ark utterly transports the viewer. It succeeds because it could so easily fall flat: the potentially gimmicky ‘one take’ technique, those weighty Russian cultural references. But in execution director Sokurov conjures up an absorbing experience, and you’d be a cold soul not to be beguiled by its sweep.
Holes isn’t as esoteric, but that’s no criticism. Ostensibly it’s a children’s film: clearly young folk cheerfully lap up strong, original storytelling. It boasts all the depth of a modern fairy tale but without the cloying superficiality of most of its kind. If you know anyone around the age of ten, treat them to the DVD for their next birthday. But watch it yourself before you wrap it.
Worst Film – Tears of the Sun
It’s been a busy year for bad films, too: those waste-of-time Matrix sequels, the infuriatingly glib Veronica Guerin, and Johnny English, flying the flag for awful home-grown comedy. But surely the year’s nadir was Tears of the Sun, in which Navy SEAL Bruce Willis single-handedly saves Nigeria. It’s easy to watch popular World War II propaganda – say, Donald Duck pulling Hitler’s moustache – and smile at how much more sophisticated we are these days. This’ll have you thinking again.
Ben McCann 1. Belleville Rendez-vous
1. Belleville Rendez-vous
A delightful melange of classic draughtsmanship, an irritatingly catchy theme tune and a liberal dollop of national stereotypes, this delightful tale of a kidnapped Tour de France cyclist and the lengths his devoted grandmother and dog go to rescue him showed how you didn’t always require famous actors and gargantuan marketing strategies to fashion sentimental, humorous and exciting animation.
2. Roger Dodger
Campbell Scott gave the performance of his life (and one of the best of the year) in this coruscating tale of a self-loathing lothario instructing his nephew on the ways of seduction in the Manhattan party scene. Written and directed by debutant Dylan Kidd, it is a film full of surprises – remarkably nuanced turns from Isabella Rossellini and Elizabeth Berkeley, vitriolic dialogue, and a wonderfully uncontrived ending. The kind of film that arrives out of left field and rails loud and clear against the emptiness and isolation of city living and loving. Sex and the City as reimagined by Neil Labute.
As the story of eight relentlessly driven children at the 1999 American Spelling Bee, Jeff Blitz’s documentary was unjustly shunted sideways by Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine. This isn’t just a film about kids trying to spell words none of us have ever heard of, but a portrait of a modern-day America where hard work, entrepreneurialism and family pride are valued above all else. A film which features warmth, sadness and an endearingly gauche ‘performance’ from Harry. The aftermath of his elimination is the year’s classic scene. He’ll never misspell ‘banns’ again.
Worst Film – Kill Bill Vol. 1
Revered by all and sundry as a classic Tarantino tale of revenge and redemption, Kill Bill disappointed on so many levels. Not only did it stumble from one awkwardly choreographed set-piece to another, but there seemed a complete lack of the narrative cohesion and visual clarity that typified his earlier works. The decision to release it in two parts smacks of self-importance, while the ‘homages’ to Leone, Kurosawa and kung-fu movies get lost amidst the noise. A real disappointment from a director supposedly back on form after the flabby excess of Jackie Brown. In fact, give me that film any day. It’s tender, funny and melancholic – qualities sadly lacking in Kill Bill.