Category: Misc./General Career News | Posted by: admin
Article Date: December 19, 2003 | Publication: Scottish Daily Record & Sunday Mail Ltd. | Author: ALAN MORRISON
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WE entered the Matrix, travelled through the dark heart of Mordor and swam colourful oceans with a computerised fish.

And when we came up for air, somehow Hugh Grant had become Prime Minister. Ah well, stranger things have happened, as the films of 2003 were keen to point out.

But how do you sort hundreds of movies into the good and the bad? Award ceremonies don't always get it right, as the 2003 Oscars proved. Chicago was the big winner, its upbeat musical sheen enough to distract voters' minds from the woes of the real world.

The Academy's other star was The Pianist, Roman Polanski's sombre but rather monotonous depiction of survival under the Nazis in a Polish ghetto.

Neither film is fit to lace up the period costumes of two of the night's biggest losers: 1950s melodrama Far From Heaven and Martin Scorsese's superb Gangs Of New York.

We should be able to expect better from the 2004 Oscars, and can already make our own minds up as several of the contenders popped up early with a 2003 release. So will it be Master And Commander, with Russell Crowe giving the orders on board a British frigate? Or Seabiscuit, as racehorse turns underdog? Maybe Cold Mountain (out here on Boxing Day), with Jude Law deserting the American Civil War to return to Nicole Kidman's arms?

An early favourite is Return Of The King. Surely now that Peter Jackson's magnificent Lord Of The Rings trilogy is complete, the Academy won't look theother way. A stealthy rival might creep up on it, however, in the shape of Clint Eastwood's Mystic River a dark murder mystery that probes the guilt and emotions of its characters on a deeper level than the average thriller.

Now we're in awards mode, let's invent some of our own starting with Woman Of The Year. Well, that rules out Jennifer Lopez. Maid In Manhattan was a decent but cliched rom-com fairytale, but Gigli put a bullet to the head of her screen career.

Our lady-in-waiting for mega-stardom is Britain's Keira Knightley. Building on Bend It Like Beckham, she swashed and buckled her way to worldwide fame in Pirates Of The Caribbean. She took on a more serious role as a former junkie in the underrated film Pure, but it was her appearance in Love Actually that cemented her new celebrity status.

And the men? Perhaps Johnny Depp,whose frazzled rock star approach to Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates Of The Caribbean was the most hilarious single performance put on screen this year. Or Colin Farrell, whose workaholic drive saw him appear in no less than six films (and every gossip column going).

Forced to make a decision, we'd go for gorgeous George Clooney. In one year he was producer (Welcome To Collinwood), director (Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind), serious actor (Solaris) and comedy genius (Intolerable Cruelty). For sheer star power and versatility, George is our Man Of 2003.

And our Best Movies? Return Of The King, obviously. Kill Bill Volume 1, in which Quentin Tarantino swapped cool wordplay for vicious swordplay and made Uma Thurman a vengeful samurai icon. Shanghai Knights and American Pie: The Wedding for lightening the load. Bruce Almighty and AngerManagement came close, but the wild antics of Jim Carrey, Jack Nicholson and Adam Sandler were chained too tightly to feel-good formulas.

We could also give out a Best Comic Book Adaptation award. Daredevil was silly; The Hulk was too complicated, despite some impressive computer effects, but X-Men 2 was exactly what a comic book movie should be a bunch of cool people in tightfitting suits saving the world.

Looking back, 2003 might well be regarded as a pivotal point in the fate of traditional 2D animation. While the Pixar team behind the Toy Story movies rode on top of a box office tidal wave with 3D hit-of-the-year Finding Nemo, Disney did itself no favours with three clunkers Treasure Planet, Jungle Book 2 and Brother Bear with only Piglet's Big Movie to redeem them.

Otherwise, the cartoon triumphs were foreign: the Alice In Wonderland meets Japanese spirit world' magic of Spirited Away and the quirky, jazzy oddity that was France's Belleville Rendez-Vous.

Talking of subtitles, Brazil delivered the best film of the year. City Of God deserved every comparison to Good Fellas and Pulp Fiction thrown its way, as it chronicled teen street crime with a dynamic energy a masterpiece in any language.

At the other end of the scale, certain summer blockbusters were the worst offenders. From the empty-headed Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, to the unforgivably repetitive Bad Boys 2, it was a terminal case of sequelitis. The most vile were first-timers, however: Dana Carvey's painful Master Of Disguise and Martin Lawrence's borderline racist National Security.

The Brits fared well with a triplewhammy. Rowan Atkinson followed Mr Bean's world domination with James Bond spoof Johnny English, while Love Actually is set to snowball to become the biggest British film ever. Audiences who lapped up PM Hugh Grant romancing tea lady Martine McCutcheon also giggled as the members of the Women's Institute bared their wrinkles for a good cause in Calendar Girls.

Closer to home, Scottish talent led the way behind the camera with Peter Mullan's award-winning The Magdalene Sisters, David Mackenzie's Young Adam and Kevin Macdonald's thrilling Touching The Void. American Cousins and Wilbur Wants To Kill Himself revived a quirky Scottish humour not seen since Gregory's Girl.

Our actors also continued to hog the limelight. Ewan McGregor delivered his most intense performance yet inYoung Adam, but hammed it up wonderfully in retro-romance Down With Love. Sean Connery had a bad year with the League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, as did Gerard Butler with double duds Tomb Raider 2 and Timeline. Billy Connolly didn't do any better in the latter, but was at his charismatic best in The Man Who Sued God. But all hail to Shirley Henderson who, at one point, seemed to be in every film going Intermission, Wilbur and American Cousins.

Twelve months ago, 2003 would be, we were told, the year of The Matrix. But the genius of the slo-mo, sci-fi original got lost in a downpour of pretentious babble and over-extended plotting. Only one trilogy kept its vision intact, as each instalment filled our minds with wonder. Neo may be the new messiah, but we'll put our money on little Frodo any day.