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Documentaries rule
It was a serious year in film

What year before 2003 has weighed in with such a cluster of totally glum, downer American movies? Sylvia, 21 Grams, Mystic River, House of Sand and Fog, Monster, The Statement, Wonderland, In the Cut. As Charlie Brown would mutter, "Good grief!"

The Boston Society of Film Critics bypassed for its awards all those sagas of suffering except Mystic River, which won Best Picture. We opted for the far mellower Lost in Translation for Best Actor (Bill Murray), Best Actress (Scarlett Johansson), and Best Direction (Sofia Coppola). For Best Documentary, we did choose that ode to family dysfunction, Capturing the Friedmans.

This was a rah-rah Year of the Documentary. There was an extraordinary week this fall when nine different non-fiction features were playing in Boston theaters. My Best Documentary of 2003? A tie between two Vietnam War–era investigations, Fog of War, Cantabrigian Errol Morris’s probing of former Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara, and Sam Green & Bill Siegel’s The Weathermen, which looks at the most militant cadre of anti-war protesters. Morris’s film is much the more formally interesting, but I’d rather have dinner with "Days of Rage" superbabe Bernadette Dohrn than with preppy war criminal Bob McNamara.

The Rest of the Best Documentaries of 2003: Morning Sun, The Same River Twice, Capturing the Friedmans, Spellbound, What I Want My Words To Do to You, Power Trip, Love & Diane, Shelter Dogs.

And these distinguished runners-up: The Stone Reader, Playing House, Cinemania, Tibet: Cry of the Snow Lion, Lost in La Mancha, Ônibus 174/Bus 174, Derrida, In the Mirror of Maya Deren, Im toten Winkel: Hitlers Sekretärin/Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary, Être et avoir/To Be and To Have.

The Best Feature Film of 2003? Les triplettes de Belleville, an adult animation from France of bold, uncanny originality, with hand-drawn cels equal to the work of the greatest fantasy book illustrators, Edward Gorey, Maurice Sendak, etc. Filmmaker Sylvain Chomet is a visionary genius, and this fabulist tale — of a bicyclist boy, a train-chasing dog, a courageous grandmother, and a crooning trio of frog-eating shopping-bag ladies — is an enthralling throwback to the free-flowing, pre-Disney age of the Fleischer Brothers.

The Best American Feature of 2003? Shattered Glass, high tension and intense paranoia at the New Republic. This vivid true-life saga of the flushing out of zealous reporter Stephen Glass, who forged a sensational career writing fake magazine articles, is the most exciting journalist detective movie since 1976’s All the President’s Men.

Two locally made narratives are outstanding first works. Andrew Bujalski’s Funny Ha Ha, New England’s Best Feature, is a droll, beautifully written comedy about Cambridge post-collegiates, with Kate Dollenmayer amazing as the semi-lost lead, underemployed and fumbling at love. Garth Donovan’s Everyone’s Got One, New England’s Best Comedy, is a coarse, hilarious story of a would-be screenwriter obsessively stalking a slippery indie producer. The post–There’s Something About Mary Farrelly Brothers have never been this funny.

The Best Feature Films of 2003: Les triplettes de Belleville, Shattered Glass, American Splendor, Lost in Translation, The Secret Life of Dentists, 21 Grams, Irréversible (Best Foreign Language Film), The Magdalene Sisters, Funny Ha Ha, Zero Day.

And these estimable runners-up: Mystic River, Divine Intervention, Raising Victor Vargas, Sweet Sixteen, A Mighty Wind, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, XX/XY, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Japanese Story, Elephant

Best Actor: Bill Murray, Lost in Translation. Runners-Up: Paul Giamatti, American Splendor; Sean Penn, 21 Grams; Hayden Christensen, Shattered Glass; Will Ferrell, Elf.

Best Actress: Toni Collette, Japanese Story. Runners-Up: Kate Dollenmayer, Funny Ha Ha; Jennifer Connelly, The House of Sand and Fog; Naomi Watts, 21 Grams; Scarlett Johansson, Lost in Translation.

Best Supporting Actor: Peter Sarsgaard, Shattered Glass. Runner-Up: Eugene Levy, A Mighty Wind.

Best Supporting Actress: Zooey Deschanel, All the Real Girls. Runner-Up: Geraldine McEwan, The Magdalene Sisters.

Best Director: Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, American Splendor. Runner-Up: Billy Ray, Shattered Glass.

Most Overrated Movies: Bend It like Beckham, Dirty Pretty Things, Bad Santa, Les invasions barbares/The Barbarian Invasions, Le peuple migrateur/Winged Migration.

Worst Casting: Nicole Kidman, The Human Stain and Cold Mountain.

Gerald Peary can be reached at gpeary@world.std.com

Issue Date: December 19 - 25, 2003
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