In review: the great work ends in 2003

At the end of the first part of Angels in America, which would be high on the list of the year's best films if it had had a qualifying theatrical run, the Angel says, "The great work begins."

The big news in 2003 was that great– and not-so-great– work ended, with several trilogies soaring or limping to their conclusions.

There were a lot of twos and threes in two-oh-oh-three, with the usual abundance of sequels, plus at least half a dozen trilogies being completed (although some will go on to Part 4) seven, if you count the mockumentaries Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, and A Mighty Wind as a trilogy.

It was a big year for little people as Peter Dinklage got the role of a lifetime in The Station Agent and avoided being an elf in Elf, while Tony Cox was the perfect foil for Billy Bob Thornton's Bad Santa, and Deep Roy showed up in Big Fish to make Danny DeVito look tall.

Conjoined twins appeared to become trendy at year's end as Stuck on You and Big Fish opened close together with one pair in each.

The Indian trend that Monsoon Wedding was supposed to start didn't get very far. Bend It Like Beckham was a sleeper hit, but The Guru, Bollywood/Hollywood, and Where's the Party Yaar? crashed and burned.

What follows are my lists and observations. If you disagree with some of them, well, that's what you're supposed to do. Pick up The Hook, shake it, and yell at it (preferably not in a public place) if it makes you feel better; or if you're reading this online, holler at your computer screen.

I'm sorry I wasn't able to see Monster before my deadline. It sounds the most promising of the few titles I missed during the year or which screened too late to be considered.

Top Ten:

1. American Splendor - A new approach to biography, as befits American original Harvey Pekar

2. The Station Agent - A sweet, simple story of three lonely people bonding, again with great originality

3. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King - The trilogy ends on a high note.

4. Seabiscuit - The four-legged hero of the Great Depression galloped across the finish line on a wave of nostalgia, if I may mix my metaphors.

5. The Last Samurai - When a movie gets me rooting for a bunch of guys who live to kill everybody, including themselves, it must be doing something right.

6. Pieces of April - A charming, low-budget indie about a dysfunctional family getting together for Thanksgiving

7. Thirteen - The movie 12-year-olds don't want their parents to see is, for parents of adolescents, the year's best horror flick.

8. Bad Santa - Billy Bob Thornton is perfect as a foul-mouthed sleaze in a Santa suit in the antidote to all the other Christmas movies (but not for kids).

9. City of God - As Pixote once showed, no city's slums can inspire filmmakers like Rio's.

10. Love Actually - A commercially calculated romantic comedy that really works, thanks to a witty script and an all-star (or should-be star) cast


Honorable Mention (listed alphabetically):

 L'Auberge Espagnole

Better Luck Tomorrow

Bubba Ho-tep

Cabin Fever

Down with Love


Finding Nemo

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

28 Days Later

Winged Migration


Best Foreign-Language Film: City of God

 Runners-up: L'Auberge Espagnole; Lilya 4-ever


 Best Documentary: Winged Migration

 Runners-up: Capturing the Friedmans; Spellbound


 Best Cult Film: Bubba Ho-tep

 Runners-up: Cabin Fever, May


 Best Conclusion to a Trilogy: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

 Runners-up: Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, American Wedding


 Worst Conclusion to a Trilogy: Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over

 Runners-up: Scary Movie 3, The Matrix Revolutions


 Sequel that Most Improved on the Original: X2

Runners-up: Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, Bad Boys II


 Suckiest Sequel to a Really Good Original: Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde


 Sequel that Best Maintained the Level of the Original (for better or worse): The Barbarian Invasions

 Runners-up: Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, Final Destination 2


 Best Remake: The Good Thief

 Runners-up: Cheaper by the Dozen, The In-Laws


 Worst Remake: Willard

 Runners-up: Party Monster, Love Don't Mean a Thing


 Best Comedy Concert: Blue Collar Comedy Tour - The Movie


 Worst Comedy Concert: DysFunKtional Family


 Best Director: Peter Jackson, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

 Runners-up: Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini, American Splendor; Edward Zwick, The Last Samurai


 I Used to Be a Director Award: Richard Donner, Timeline

 Runner-Up: Rob Reiner, Alex & Emma


 Best Actress: Diane Lane, Under the Tuscan Sun

 Runners-up: Cate Blanchett, The Missing; Evan Rachel Wood, Thirteen


 Best Actor: Paul Giamatti, American Splendor

 Runners-up: Sean Penn, 21 Grams; Ben Kingsley, House of Sand and Fog


 Enjoying Himself Too Much to Get an Award for It: Jack Nicholson, Something's Gotta Give


 We've Seen It, Thank You, Now Put It Away: Jack Nicholson's butt, Something's Gotta Give


 It's Not Weird Enough, Call Johnny Depp: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Once Upon a Time in Mexico


 Best Supporting Actress: Patricia Clarkson, Pieces of April & The Station Agent

 Runners-up: Holly Hunter, Thirteen; ReneĆ© Zellweger, Cold Mountain


 Best Supporting Actor: Tim Robbins, Mystic River

 Runners-up: Peter Sarsgaard, Shattered Glass; Alec Baldwin, The Cooler


 Best Performance in a Bad Movie: Olympia Dukakis, The Event


 Worst Performance in a Good Movie: Sean Penn, Mystic River


 Best Proof of Reincarnation: Timothy Spall channeling Robert Morley in The Last Samurai

 Runner-up: Nicole Kidman doing her (Princess) Grace Kelly thing again in Cold Mountain


 Best Original Screenplay: Tom McCarthy, The Station Agent

 Runners-up: Glenn Ficarra & John Requa, Bad Santa; Richard Curtis, Love Actually


 Best Adapted Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Runners-up: Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini, American Splendor; Gary Ross, Seabiscuit


Surprise...Not! of the Year: The Liza Minnelli/David Gest breakup

Runner-up: The use of camouflage in the climactic battle of Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World after our noses had been rubbed in an entomology textbook to show how insects use it


Where Have We Heard that Story Before? Oh, Right, We Told It: Fenton Bailey & Randy Barbato, Party Monster


Best Gimmick: Russian Ark, impossibly shot in a single take


Sleaziest Gimmick: 28 Days Later, adding an extra ending well into the run


Misnomer of the Year: Piglet's Big Movie


Why We Won't See a Wave of Reality Movies: The Real Cancun


Weapon of the Year: The Sword (The Last Samurai, Peter Pan, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Kill Bill, Vol. 1) Not since the '50s has firepower been so secondary.


Best News for Film Critics Who Get Paid by the Word: As marquees get smaller, movie titles get longer. I'm not paid by the word, so I'm not typing the full names of LOTR, M&C and Pirates again, but you know what I mean.


Chicken v. Egg Question: Were Ben and Jen more annoying off screen or on?


You're Not Beautiful Enough to Be a Maid: Nicole Kidman as a janitor in The Human Stain, Jennifer Connelly as a housecleaner in House of Sand and Fog


Disturbing Trend (or at least Worrisome Thought): Theatrical releases have become trailers for the forthcoming DVDs. For instance, that's where we'll see the outtakes that should be at the end of Stuck on You and Christopher Lee as Saruman in LOTR: The Return of the King.


Worst Movie of the Year was an easy choice. While the Bottom Ten were all painful to sit through, only Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over left everyone who saw it with headaches and/or eyestrain.


Bottom Ten:

1. Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over

2. View from the Top

3. Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat

4. The Order

5. The Life of David Gale

6. Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd

7. Gods and Generals

8. Alex & Emma

9. Gigli

10. Chasing Papi


Dishonorable Mention (listed alphabetically):

The Event

From Justin to Kelly

Good Boy!


How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days

The Hunted

Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde

Poolhall Junkies


The Young Unknowns