Varkentine on Film 2003

List 2003: Ben Varkentine on film

A few things you should know before we begin:

1) Ordering a list like this is difficult because it is arbitrary. What I mean is that I would not want anyone to think that I’m saying Finding Nemo is necessarily a “better” film than The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King . Though one appears “higher” on my list than the other, both are films of great merit and very different viewing experiences. You can’t really compare one to the other.

2) It’s very roughly in bottom to top order. But as you read this list, please keep in mind that the order is essentially unimportant. This is especially true once we hit the top three or four, where the difference in my esteem for the films listed is so close to nothing as makes no odds. You could just as easily read them top to bottom or throw all the pieces into the air to see where they come down. In fact, I’ve decided to remove the numbers from it. But the mathematically inclined among you will notice that:

3) There are 12 slots on this list. But if you were to stack the DVD’s involved, it would come to 19. If that strikes you as a reach, well, it is. The fact is that I watch a lot fewer movies than I read books or listen to CDs.

4) Some of these films were released in theaters in 2002, but made their debut on DVD, and I saw them, in 2003. One is a “duology” of made-for-cable movies.

And now, on with the countdown…

• •


I’d guessed the twist to this before I saw it, but the performances and script put it over.

Me Without You

I like this movie for two or three different reasons. First of all, it’s very much the kind of story I write, second it has a killer soundtrack (Echo & the Bunnymen and Nick Drake and Scritti Politti?), third it is very well acted.

Phone Booth

Proof yet again that when he’s kept away from material he can “camp up” Joel Schumacher can make good films. The short running time helps too.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Ok, the script needed one more or one less rewrite — but Johnny Depp as a combination Keith Richards, Bugs Bunny, Ozzy Osborne and drag queen is worth a lot.


I’d like this documentary even better if I liked Jerry Seinfeld’s humor more than I do, but for fan of comedy in general, this look at the work that goes into creating it is most endearing.

Angels in America

Considering the acclaim HBO’s adaptation of these plays received, it’s hard to know what to add, except: Almost everything you heard is true.

One-Hour Photo

A creepy but flawed thriller; I can’t talk about the biggest flaw without spoiling something. Let me put it this way: It’s the same flaw Psycho has.

Lost in La Mancha

One of the best DVD releases to date; the bonus material is, if anything, even better than the main feature, which is a fascinating look at how a movie falls to pieces.

Concert for George

Beautiful, funny and moving tribute concert to “the quiet Beatle” featuring surviving members of that group, the Traveling Wilburys, and, as they say, much more.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (expanded DVD edition)

When was the last time a film of this scope and scale also moved you so deeply? I’m just awed by the work of everyone involved.

I also liked the fact that they took the time for the codas, a ballsy thing to do considering how long the film was already, but very necessary to put a satisfactory capper on the whole thing.

As for The Two Towers, the expanded DVD is only slightly disappointing when compared to how good Fellowship was or I expect Return of the King to be. But that’s fitting for its place in the trilogy; relatively speaking, it’s the awkward middle child. Still surefooted, but suffering just ever so slightly by comparison to its more fully-formed siblings.


Great documentary about the DJ as musician.

Finding Nemo

Speaking of movies that it’s hard to know what to add about… Finding Nemo was the biggest hit of the summer, is the top-grossing animated film of all time — $339,666,356 at the time of this writing — and the fastest selling DVD of all time. And it deserved every dollar.

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