Best Films of 2003

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.

Hope Davis and Paul Giamatti in American Splendor.

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.

Runners-up: Bad Santa, Bus 174, The Housekeeper, The Magdalene Sisters, Marooned in Iraq, A Mighty Wind, Pieces of April, Raising Victor Vargas, The Secret Lives of Dentists, and Spellbound.

For more of 2003’s best, see Ethan Brown’s favorite albums of the year.

Best Films of 2003