With the nearest cinema more than half an hour from my house, I have to really want to see a movie to make the journey. Who wants to add the waste of gas and good hour or so on the road to the money already spent on tickets and popcorn? My limited time at the movies, though, means I enjoy the experience more than if I took it for granted.
Listed below are my favorite cinema moments of 2003.
1. “Why are you sitting in my chair?” in The Eye (Oxide Pang Chun and Danny Pang)
The Pang brothers’ film makes you jump, scream, and forget to breathe. It follows Mun (Angelica Lee, also credited as Lee Sin-je) who, after a corneal transplant, discovers her new eyes allow her to see the dead. Beautifully shot and eerily atmospheric (thanks, in part, to the Orange Music score), the movie makes worn out horror movie conventions scary again. After losing it when Sadako emerged from the TV set in Ringu, I thought nothing could frighten more, until Mun’s calligraphy lesson.
2. Ray Liotta’s bullet hole in Identity (James Mangold)
We’re immediately suspicious of the strangers stranded at a roadside motel in Identity, but when it’s revealed that Officer Rhodes (super-hot Ray Liotta), arguably the film’s moral centre, may be hiding the biggest secret of all, we’re forced to re-evaluate everything. James Mangold’s film takes you where you’re sure you should go, then serves up twist after shocking twist, right up until the end, when it throws a final curveball right at your head.
3. Jessica Biel in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Marcus Nispel)
It’s impossible to pick a moment when Jessica Biel is best here, because she gives all she’s got throughout. She also retains her dignity, an increasingly difficult feat for skimpily dressed chicks running and jumping through slash-‘em-ups. She combines “girl power” smartness with raw sexuality, echoing Marilyn Burns in Tobe Hooper’s original movie. Not half as bad as it’s made out to be, the movie also wins points for genuine thrills (R. Lee Ermey frightening the hell out of poor Jonathan Tucker in the back of the van springs to mind) and for its well-developed (and well acted) young victims.
4. Swamp walk in Freddy vs. Jason (Ronny Yu)
The second worst movie of the year shoves everything bad from the 17 previous movies featuring its titular heroes into its own 97-minute plot-hole. It rewrites the legendary histories of Freddy (Robert Englund) and Jason (played this time by Ken Kirzinger), resulting in serial problems. Jason’s mother becomes a shrew rather than the compassionate (albeit homicidal) woman from the original Friday the 13th; Freddy rejuvenates lopped off body parts (in the real world, no less!) but can’t repair his famously burned skin; and Zack Ward is criminally underused. A shot of Jason carrying a victim through a smoky swamp effectively symbolizes his loneliness, rather like how I felt in the theatre watching his story being butchered.
5. Rockin’ out with Jack Black in The School of Rock (Richard Linklater)
It’s hard to pick a favourite moment in The School of Rock, since Jack Black appears in almost every frame. I might go with his homework assignments to kickstart the rockin’ careers of his students—a bit of Blondie, some Jimi Hendrix, Led Zepplin, and Rush. You knew then, the kids would never be the same.
6. Here come the Vichy in Midnight Mass (Tony Mandile)
The world is taken over by vampires and it’s up to fallen priest Father Joe (Douglas Gibson) and his precocious sidekick, Gwen (Pamela Karp), to save the day in Tony Mandile’s adaptation of F. Paul Wilson’s short story. They endure a few nights of terror courtesy of the Vichy, human aides to the destructive vamps. Mandile and cinematographer Thomas Agnello pull off one of the most beautiful movie moments this year with their love letter to Asbury Park, a series of shots of the famed boardwalk, dark and deserted. It’s here we’re introduced to the four-strong Vichy clan, dominated by Vichy #1 (St James).
7. Dating Jamie Lee Curtis in Freaky Friday (Mark S. Waters)
As a controlling mum who spends a day in the Converse crosstrainers of her teenaged daughter, Jamie Lee Curtis is quite possibly the year’s most inspired casting, even if she was the director’s back-up choice. The highlight comes when, playing the daughter trapped in her body, she spends an afternoon with the love of her (daughter’s) life, Jake (Chad Michael Murray). Sharing a shake and discussing music while gazing into each other’s eyes, Jamie Lee flirts with teenage Murray so effortlessly, you’d think she’d never left the 10th grade.
8. Behind the door in Spider (David Cronenberg)
Cronenberg’s CV is full of hits and misses: I love The Dead Zone and The Fly, but could care less about Videodrome and Scanners. I was sufficiently creeped out by Spider, while at the same time drawn to the characters inhabiting Spider’s (and Cronenberg’s) skewed reality and childhood flashbacks. As Spider, understated Ralph Fiennes gives what may be the performance of the year, without really uttering a word.
9. Ashley’s movie life in Spellbound (Jeffrey Blitz)
While skittish Harry Altman seems to be everybody’s favourite spelling bee contestant, his wide grin and robotic affect sadly overshadow some the film’s other stars. The most memorable for me being Ashley White, competing in her first National Bee. Living in a tiny apartment with her proud mum in Washington, D.C., she represents the film’s most intriguing message: there are kids out there who still have big dreams, the kind that can be fulfilled with patience and a lot of study. Ashley’s sharp self-awareness and optimism are summed up when she skip-walks through her neighbourhood and compares her life to a movie: “I go through all these trials and tribulations, but I always overcome ‘em.”
10. Matt Dillon playing Bogart in City of Ghosts (Matt Dillon)
Matt Dillon’s directorial debut concerns a renegade conman hiding in Cambodia when a scam turns sour. Starring as well, Dillon proves himself more than capable of double duty, bringing to life Phnom Penh’s streets, with an eye for detail.
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