Well, it’s mid-January, so you know what that means…

It’s time for my Top 10 Movies of 2003 list! This year’s list is full of comedy, full of documentaries, and features one movie about a guy who’s full of shit.

I still haven’t seen a few movies I should probably see (like Monster, In America and Pirates of the Caribbean), and I’ve only watched enough of Seabiscuit to know it wouldn’t make my Top 10, but before “better late” turned into “never”, I figured it was time to satisfy my obsessive side with another list. Ahhhh… I feel much better now…

10. Shattered Glass – I hate when a movie title is a pun on the main character’s name. Well, the filmmakers sure hit paydirt with this kid. I keep imagining them going through all the alternatives: “Stained Glass”, “Glass Eye”, “Heart of Glass”, “Stephen’s Adventures Through the Lying Glass”, “Glass of Water, Table Two”. What if his name had been Stephen Rabinowitz? Would this movie even have been made? Dopey title aside, I was always fascinated by this stinky little weasel and the scandal he caused. The movie doesn’t do much to explain why he did what he did – who the heck knows – but it’s great at showing the ramifications for those around him, especially Peter Sarsgaard Who’s Getting Pushed For an Oscar Nomination and Chloe Sevigny Who Should Be. I hope the real Glass didn’t see “Big Fish”, or he’s probably thinking that 20 years from now we’ll look back on his bullshit as whimsical flights of fancy that enriched all our lives.

9. 28 Days Later – This movie’s goal: To scare the bejeezus outta me. Me, after seeing it: “Hey, where’s my bejeezus?” But yeah, it went south after they got to the army compound or whatever.

8. Camp – The sensitive parts were nice, and the musical numbers were great, but the funny parts were what got this on the list. The little kid who didn’t want to play sports. The performance art in the dumpster. The All About Eve subplot with the bitchy girl and her fed-up sycophant. It’s nice to see someone make an extremely personal film that isn’t self-indulgent or self-serious, and that’s actually, you know, fun.

7. Spellbound – My two favorite types of kids: #2. Nerdy kids. #1. Kids talking in foreign languages. This movie was the next best thing to “Au Revoir Les Enfants”.

6. School of Rock – The movie Jack Black was born to make. Maybe he’ll die now.

5. Bad Santa – There’s a point at which something is so cynical that you can’t take its cynicism seriously anymore. I’ve spent most of my life in search of that point, and this movie stayed there effortlessly and hilariously for an hour and a half. Now, I just wish people would focus less on Billy Bob’s performance and more on that little kid’s. I want to thank him for being so funny, for never playing on the audience’s sympathy and for breaking the Culkin family stranglehold on preadolescent roles. Remember the scene in “Gremlins” where Phoebe Cates talks about how when she was a little girl, her dad dressed up in a Santa suit then tried to slide down the chimney but broke his neck, and the family didn’t realize it had happened until they started a fire and smelled his cooking flesh? Well, this movie was almost as funny as that. Seriously, Phoebe, just how big was your chimney?

4. Elf – You have to agree on one point: If this movie had starred Adam Sandler, as it very well could’ve, it would’ve been thoroughly awful. Sure, I like Adam Sandler as much as the next guy, but you just know he would’ve mugged and overacted all the charm out of the main character, had his ex-roommate from college rewrite it and take out all the subtlety, cast Steve Buscemi as Santa and added about 1,000 more gratuitous crotch blows. But the last 15 minutes would’ve been exactly the same.

3. Capturing the Friedmans – I’m such a horribly nosy person, I could probably be fascinated by anyone’s home movies. But when you add a crumbling marriage, accusations of child molestation, a New York City party clown, a possibly false conviction, goofy accents, a frigid, awkward mother-son reunion and alleged games of anal leapfrog, there’s no way I won’t be riveted. I wouldn’t say this movie is non-biased (after all, the director is now helping Jesse appeal his conviction), but it’s definitely inconclusive, and that lack of certainty about what actually happened in the Friedmans’ computer classes, even more than all the eerie voyeurism of the late-80’s home video footage, is what’s going to stick with me for a long time.

2. American Splendor – Boiled down to its elements, it sounds like the most generic TV movie ever. A semi-lovable crackpot achieves minor celebrity, falls in love, gets cancer, beats cancer and finally, grows into a man after adopting an adorable seven-year-old girl. Twenty years ago, it would’ve starred Mickey Rooney and been a Sunday night CBS movie-of-the-week ratings smash. But thankfully, instead of some network hacks, this story fell into the hands of a group of truly original talents, who saw something more in the story and the real-life people involved. All the performances are great, from Paul Giamatti, who I always love, to Hope Davis, who I usually dislike, to Judah Friedlander, whom I’d never heard of before. The filmmakers find a really innovative way of telling their story that never lets you forget it’s a movie, for better or worse, and they know which tangents are worth the trip, like the “Revenge of the Nerds” scene. It added nothing to the story, but the movie wouldn’t have been the same without it.

1. Down With Love – Have you ever had the experience of being in a crowded movie theater and being the only one laughing? What about selecting a #1 movie of the year that you know will only bring you ridicule, condescension and blank stares? Well, this year was the year I learned that I’m brave enough to endure both. Maybe this movie was ahead of its time. Maybe America’s not ready to laugh right now. Maybe it was one of those movies that seems to have been made for me and me alone. I’ll never understand why America ignored this movie and went all puppy-dog swoony over Lost In Translation, the excruciating Triplets of Belleville and Mystic River, with its awful, awful cheat of an ending. Bad Clint Eastwood, bad! After seeing Down With Love, I declared my love for the movie’s writers and vowed to see everything they ever get made. Then I saw the other movie they wrote this year, Legally Blonde 2. Down with love, indeed.

ALSO PRETTY GOOD: Intolerable Cruelty, Cold Mountain, 21 Grams, The Italian Job, Finding Nemo, The Runaway Jury, Kill Bill: Volume 1

EVERYTHING I SAW THIS YEAR: Lost in La Mancha, Old School, Bringing Down the House, Willard, Phone Booth, Better Luck Tomorrow, Anger Management, A Mighty Wind, The Real Cancun, Identity, Spellbound, Down with Love, The Matrix Reloaded, The Italian Job, Finding Nemo, Capturing the Friedmans, 28 Days Later, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde, Camp, Freaky Friday, American Splendor, The Battle of Shaker Heights, Lost in Translation, The Station Agent, The School of Rock, Mystic River, Kill Bill: Volume 1, Intolerable Cruelty, The Runaway Jury, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Shattered Glass, Elf, Love Actually, 21 Grams, Bad Santa, The Cooler, The Triplets of Belleville, Big Fish, Something’s Gotta Give, Cold Mountain

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