I didn’t have any trouble reeling off a ten-best list this year—no padding, no excuses (the word most shows up a lot). In alphabetical order, here they are, followed by a runner-up ten.
American Splendor: Writer-directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini’s highly original rendition of the travails of underground-comics legend Harvey Pekar stars Paul Giamatti in a classic soulful-zhlub performance.
Finding Nemo: Maybe the most wondrous of the Pixar animated features.
The Last Letter: A monologue, poetically directed by Frederick Wiseman, featuring the French actress Catherine Samie in the year’s finest acting.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King: The most satisfying conclusion to a movie trilogy ever.
Lost in Translation: Sofia Coppola knows in her bones what it’s like to be jetlagged. So does Bill Murray.
Mystic River: Clint Eastwood’s most powerful movie and Sean Penn’s most powerful work.
The School of Rock: The most sheerly enjoyable movie I saw all year.
Stone Reader: Mark Moskowitz’s literary detective story is a one-of-a-kind personal documentary.
To Be and to Have: Nicolas Philibert’s marvelous documentary about a French schoolteacher is a great humanist portrayal of the profession.
The Triplets of Belleville: For outright cinematic inventiveness, nothing here beats this animated French feature from Sylvain Chomet.
For more of 2003’s best, see Ethan Brown’s favorite albums of the year.