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Films of 2003

The drill is the same as last year. We asked the diskant staff and contributors to vote for the best films of 2003 and now we present our panel of experts to tell you what they think of those films. The panel is Dave Stockwell, Simon Minter, Chris Summerlin, Ollie Simpson, Marceline Smith and myself. A few films didn’t quite make the grade, big ones including the Matrix sequels and Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York. We are merciless and impartially partial when it comes to films.

* * *

Spirited Away

The latest Ghibli animation to get an official UK release. Dreamlike logic and oddly familiar grotesques, brave enough to remember that all great children’s stories have a dark heart.

DS: That it isn’t My Neighbour Totoro is about the only criticism I can level at it. Diskant Film of the Year 2003, or I’ll eat my hat.

MS: I was so excited about seeing this that I went to the first preview showing in Glasgow. I was not disappointed. Although initially unexciting as they set the story up it soon topples straight into Miyazaki World, populating it with seemingly cute’n’cuddly characters (until they show their often terrifying depths) in fantastical and uneasy locations. The second time we took two young children with us who were enraptured, only taking their eyes off the screen to ask questions and being strangely quiet afterwards. And yet Disney still patronise kids with crap like Brother Bear. When Will They Learn?

* * *

City of God

Straight Outta Janeiro. The depressing true story of story of crime in the favelas told in a breathtakingly confident, fresh and perversely beautiful way. There’s a scene in this film where Lil Zé turns on his mentors to strike out on his own bloody path. He is this film and Scorsese’s clumsy Gangs of New York is the one left in the dust with bullets in the head.

DS: I was sceptical going in to see this film, but it really blew me away. A bravura performance from the director and the (non-professional) actors. Worth seeing, whatever your taste in films.

OS: Not bad, apart from the fact that it was obviously trying to be a Guy Ritchie film, but since it was shown in arts cinemas, no one noticed.

SM: Fantastic, life-affirming (albeit in a weird, depressing way) and surprisingly funny chunk of Brazilian gang life. You can’t fail to be emotionally affected in one way or another by this film.

* * *

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Aw, you know.

MS: I could write about this for hours but I’ll spare you. Suffice to say that they left out almost all of my favourite bits from the book and yet I still loved it. Too many good things to mention but I particularly enjoyed Frodo’s final descent into mentalism and the immense feeling throughout the film of courage through the despair of what seems certain defeat. I didn’t cry but it was a close call.

SM: The whole series is a true epic in its scale and vision. Mind you watch it from a comfortable cinema seat, though. Incredible special effects and some beautiful camerawork and direction more than make up for a storyline which takes possibly too much concentration to keep up with.

* * *

Kill Bill (vol.1)

Tarantino neatly escapes the wise-ass crime straitjacket he sewed himself and makes the best gory martial arts film since Lone Wolf’s baby cart went back to Mothercare. Gleefully inauthentic, immediately iconic and more jaw-drops per scene than anything else released this year.

DS: Okay, so the cinematography and choreography is absolutely amazing – Tarantino’s never done better. But it seems that he spent so much time concentrating on getting the look right that he couldn’t be bothered to write a decent script this time around. The sharp est dialogue’s on a level with the last two Star Wars films… mercifully, there isn’t much of it. And it’s ONLY HALF A SODDING FILM. So each of the Lord of the Rings trilogy was over 180 minutes long and they were virtually the biggest films of all time, but we can’t hack three hours of this? It seems that Harvey Weinstein has found a new way for Hollywood to screw us out of even more money. Cunt.

MS: I didn’t get to see this after I was stood up by one of my supposed best friends (on a Friday night! Which was also Halloween!!). Thanks everyone for pointing out that I missed a great film. Bah.

SM: If you like violence, cartoons and balletic, artful scrapping, but can’t be arsed to investigate any of them funny foreign-language movies in the video shop, here it all is, Hollywood-style, done brilliantly.

* * *


The story of a masochistic girl (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who can only find fulfilment in a loving relationship with her sadistic boss (James Spader). Not the coruscating satire on hierarchical office politics or Hollywood love it sounds like but a surprisingly sweet reinvention of the romcom with self-mutilation and spanking instead of tears and flowers. Better than the Coen Brothers one and that one with Hugh Grant and Sandra Bullock. Bend over and take dictation!

DS: Christ, this film was disappointing. For a minute before I went in I was naive enough to kid myself that it might not only be amusing but could also genuinely challenge the odd taboo and whatnot. Silly old me: its just an hour and forty minutes of occasionally mildly funny jokes about S&M and a daft little plot that was probably meant to be endearing. Plus it’s got Jeremy Davies in it, who deserves to be SHOT.

SM: James Spader playing sleazy character? Yes, once again. Not quite touching enough, and for me, too inclined to go for the cheap laugh, but still a good watch and, if nothing else, the sort of storyline you don’t come across every day.

* * *

Finding Nemo

AKA Fish Story.

CS: What fun. Saw this in Australia and laughed hard while a theatre of 3 year olds looked at me like I was mental. My 3 year old nephew-in-law-kind-of is quiet as a mouse right now watching it and for that I am eternally grateful to Pixar.

: Possibly the greatest fish-related film of all time if only for giving dolphins a much-deserved slagging. Pixar once again show off their staggering CGI abilities in an engagingly cute story. The buddy-buddy stuff gets pretty annoying if you’re not twelve but there’s enough new characters and situations appearing to stop any boredom setting in. Fun, in a word.

* * *

Morvern Callar

I said it was great last year and it still is this year. Lynne Ramsey and Samantha Morton’s interpretation of Morvern Callar conveys her internal and external journey in a beautifully cinematic way. Apparently this still hasn’t made it’s money back, so anyone with an interest in adventurous filmmaking has a duty to see it at least once and, if you like it, as many times as you can. Otherwise it’ll disappear and the only UK films to be made will be tales of oppressed but plucky northern / British Asian children overcoming adversity/ prejudice to achieve approval from their families / liberal southerners representing society as a whole. And Alan Parker musicals or Ridley Scott war porn.

DS: Alan Warner’s debut novel is one of my favourite books ever, so I was always going to be disappointed by an adaptation – but it’s a pretty good attempt. In keeping with the book’s eclectic tracklistings of Morvern’s tapes for her walkman, the producers took the very wise option of getting Warp to do the soundtrack, and thus put some music in the film that Warner would approve of (Can, Boards of Canada, Velvet Underground, etc – nice). Oh yeah, and it’s by far the best serious film to emerge from the UK that I can remember for a long time… not that it’s saying much.

OS: Good soundtrack. Best thing about it probably.

MS: I’ve not made up my mind about this yet. I missed the first five minutes and have always felt like that ruined the whole thing. Or maybe I just didn’t like it. I really liked the book but the characters didn’t seem to work the same way on screen. Having grown up in a tiny isolated Scottish seaside town myself, I didn’t find the film as personally affecting as the book. I guess the use of silence encouraged thought and my thoughts were too full of the book. The soundtrack and general use of music was fantastic though.

SM: A strange, dreamlike film in which seemingly nothing happens – and then once it’s over, you realise that a great deal has happened. Truly individual and perhaps the most ‘challenging’ film in this list.

* * *

Pirates of the Caribbean

Again, this does what it says on the ticket stub. Proves there’s more good plot ideas in theme parks than Hollywood script conferences.

OS: I love how Johnny Depp apparently has to do a sketchy cockney accent in every film he’s in nowadays.

MS: Everyone goes on about Johnny Depp’s hilariously great acting in this film (and indeed it is the best thing about it) but where’s the love for Orlando Bloom’s I Have No Brain style of acting? The guy’s a genius of idiotic overstatement and has perfected the demeanour of someone who has no idea what is going on. Which kind of works here as generally his character does have no idea what he’s doing (but see also Return of the King: “A diversion!” etc.). Anyway, this was the perfect summer blockbuster – pirates, cursed treasure, secret islands, “starcrossed” lovers, skeleton ghost pirates, big ships, sword fighting and much romping. What’s not to like?

DS: If they’d cut the godawful Orlando Bloom and pouting Keira Knightly out of the film altogether and just left in the bits with Johnny Depp camply lurching arou nd like a wholly convincing drunkard, it would have been the best 45 minutes of footage to emerge from Hollywood this year.

* * *

Freddy vs. Jason

Always feeling cheated by trailers? Then this is for you. Nothing more or less than what it says in the title, plus it’s good for busy people because you arrive halfway through and you’ve missed nothing.

SM: While I haven’t seen this installment, I have over the past year watched every installment of both series. This probably puts me in the correct mindset to watch this one. [And overqualified to write the thing.]

* * *

Old School

While people voted for this, none of them felt inclined to tell us why. Hmm.

Our favourite albums of 2003