The 2003 NicksFlickPicks Honorees
No Winners, No Worries — Just a Lot of Wonderful Work!

For each of the last four years, I have commemorated moviedom's awards season with my own internal NicksFlickPicks Awards. The feature has always appeared as part of my annual Special Section on the Oscars, and I even formatted the pages so that my own selections were paired (or, better put, contrasted) side-by-side with the Academy roster. The original inspiration came from Siskel & Ebert's old "Memo to the Academy" special, in which they advocated for long-ago releases and tiny movies with limited advertising dollars, to try and help the most deserving nominees into the Oscar winner's circle. The difference of course being that people might actually have listened to Siskel & Ebert, and that no one was ever going to nominate most of my personal pets like Forest Whitaker in Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, Lili Kosashvili in Late Marriage, the cinematography from Morvern Callar, or the sound from Besieged. (You can still see my full "ballots" from 1999, 2000, 2001, and 2002 by following these links.)

You may have noticed that my Oscar section has taken a while in coming this year. But here's a better reason for my new approach to this feature: why give Oscar any floorspace when this is my one shot to celebrate the achievements that really mattered to me, really impressed me? Oscar's got all the attention he needs—I don't even mind giving it to him in lots of other places, but here is my independent tribute to the cinematic work from 2003 that I feel deserves the highest praise, with links to each film's individual page and (where applicable) full reviews. Later, just for kicks, I probably will add a comparative cross-check between AMPAS' list and my own, so stay tuned - my principles of proud independence only stay good for so long!

By the way, two plugs: if you're looking for another list of left-of-center and all-encompassing film awards, you should check out the 4th Annual Cinemarati Awards, where handsome studio tentpoles like The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King share space with micro-minies like the terrific Raising Victor, the eventual winners are derived after a series of bracketed competitions among eight ranked nominees, so all you NCAA types will feel right at home, even if you're more of a Mike Krzyszewski person than a Morvern Callar one.

And if you want an even more entertaining, graphically enticing, and adventurous awards list, cheeky and witty without any sacrifice of good taste and sound judgment, check out Nat Rogers' annual FilmBitch Awards: from Best Picture to Best Sex Scene to Best Poster, Nat's got it all!

And now, back to me!

·   General   ·   Acting   ·   Writing   ·   Image, Design & Editing   ·   Genre   ·   Sound & Music   ·   Effects   ·

General Categories

Best Picture

The Company

11'09"01 (September 11)

In This World

Masked and Anonymous



I can only imagine how tired my regular readers must be of hearing me lament what a poor year it was for movies, so now I'm going to try something different and think about how attached I find myself getting to each of these five movies, which are so different from each other they barely even feel like a group. One thing they have in common? With the exception of the barely-noticed In This World, all of 'em seem to have at least as many passionate detractors as supporters. Masked and Anonymous was portrayed as an outright dog by most critics, Monster is being hastily written off as Charlize's Oscar bid and a triumph of makeup over meaning. Worst of all, the frequently cited "anti-American" politics of 11'09"01 made that anthology of September 11-related movies almost invisible in America, where the attacks actually happened and where critical distance and global perspectives are most badly needed. (If you know or hear anything about a Region 1 DVD appearing anytime soon, please let me know!)

I realize that my advocacy of all of these movies, as well as another top-ten list entry, Jane Campion's In the Cut, might imply that I am deliberately seeking to swim against the grain of popular and critical consensus. In truth, it's just an honest reaction to a doubly aggravating year: too few great movies, and, from where I'm sitting, a tendency to misread the good ones as simply more of the bad. Don't believe it, though, says NicksFlickPicks! These really are cream-of-the-crop delectables, hopefully destined for deserved reappraisals.

P.S. If the movie had opened in Ithaca in time, Olivier Assayas' sprawling, unsettling demonlover would have placed in this category, as well as in the Foreign-Language Film and Sound categories (replacing, respectively, Masked and Anonymous, Friday Night, and Monster). One day, I'll live someplace where I see all the films in their original release, and these hindsight correctives won't be necessary—but it's at least worth adding that yet another movie that earned hugely divisive and mostly negative reviews went right to my heart. Will the pattern never end?

Best Foreign- Language Film

11'09"01 (September 11)
Eleven int'l directors

Friday Night
Claire Denis, dir.

In This World
Michael Winterbottom, dir.

Gaspar Noé, dir.

To Be and To Have
(Être et avoir)

Nicolas Philibert, dir.


Several of the international films that got released stateside this year struck me more as interesting provocations and clever ideas than fully-realized successes. And that's fine, 'cause it's frankly much better than Hollywood itself managed to come up with in most instances. So even though To Be and To Have ultimately presses a little lightly on a complex sociological subject, and risks a kind of nostalgia that France in the age of La haine might do well to resist, it's still a marvel of gorgeous restraint and emotive on-the-fly composition. Friday Night would have been just as effective, maybe more, with about twenty minutes trimmed, but the images were as indelible as Denis usually makes them. Other pics that just missed this list, like Meirelles' City of God and Kaurismäki’s The Man without a Past offered further instances of memorable, inspired filmmaking that followed the directors’ stylized conceptions a little too far for comfort.

Meanwhile, the films I liked the best were the ones most widely panned as gimmicky or overdetermined. No, I don’t necessarily truck with Irréversible’s philosophy that everything always ends in brutality, but his formal balance between extreme precision and woozy delirium was a singular feat, and I’m still amazed that the luminous, warm images can still give rise to such exquisite, sentimental feelings after the brutality of the opening hour. Neat trick. And no, I don’t think every short film in 11’09”01 succeeds on its own terms: Chahine’s and Penn’s are embarrassments, and Lelouch’s very nearly so. But the sins displayed therein—dangerous arrogance, soggy bathos, an unslakeable thirst for romantic pretenses that had just been annihilated—belong in this movie. 11’09”01 means to document initial reactions, not establish a definitive pronouncement. The wild variety of tones and emotions actually help it to achieve that goal. And certainly no apologies are needed for the Makhmalbaf, Ouedraogo, Loach, Iñárritu, Gitai, or Imamura sections, which each individually ranked with the most expert filmcraft visible anywhere in the world in the last year.

Best Director

Robert Altman
The Company

The Eleven Directors
11'09"01 (September 11)

Patty Jenkins

Richard Linklater
The School of Rock

Michael Winterbottom
In This World


Oscar's predictability goes up and down from year to year but the reactions to Oscar's list are always virtually the same. One issue that we are forced to revisit every year is how the five movies competing as the year's Best Picture could possibly be different than the five which are nominated in the category of Best Director. I concede that there is an intuitive logic at work here, and maybe it's surprising that these two races have only corresponded three times in Oscar's 75-year history. One thing to know is that they are determined by entirely different bodies of people: the directors who do the nominating in their own race are much more likely to get excited about bold work with a pronounced or neatly aesthetic point of view, while the Best Picture lineup represents a consensus vote among the entire Academy membership, so there's bound to be some gravitation toward popular favorites. But here's another thing: films are more than their directors, and not every directorial task is created equal! Not to imply at all that its direction wasn't impressive in its own freewheeling way, but Masked and Anonymous is a transfixing and hilarious artifact at least as much through its wild, improvisatory performances and through Bob Dylan's slippery persona and wonderful music than through Larry Charles' guiding hand. More to the point, anyone who can transform a cheerful but unremarkable studio script like School of Rock into such an exquisitely balance of comic lunacy and storytelling balance certainly deserves credit of his own.

Acting Categories

Best Actress

Sarah & Emma Bolger
In America

Jamie Lee Curtis
Freaky Friday

Valérie Lemercier
Friday Night

Tilda Swinton

Charlize Theron


Jamie Lee Curtis and Valérie Lemercier: a woman famously born with an androgynous body and a French woman famous for dressing and entertaining in male drag. A funny woman whose edgy, agile sense of comedy shakes up a formula family comedy, and another funny woman who puts the joking aside for the first time in her career and gives a watchful, almost silent performance that heats a whole movie with its unspoken desire. And, of course, both starring in movies about Fridays that their characters will never forget. Who knew that live-action Disney would ever seem so closely tied to Claire Denis?

The only real bond these performances had for the first eleven months of 2003 was that they were the only ones I could imagine nominating in this category, even in a no-stakes, pretend-only, it's-not-like-I-am-somebody way. Through the fall and the early holiday season, a whole spate of buzzed-about performances by female leads arrived only to disappoint and die away on my critical radar: Cate Blanchett, Jennifer Connelly, Naomi Watts, Nicole Kidman, and Cate Blanchett again. But then, late-late-late in the year: oasis! Charlize Theron is caught in a debate right now between those who think she's a spot-on impersonator and those who think her work is all in the over-conspicuous makeup; at some point, more people will realize her extraordinary feat in towing a characterization that must be psychologically compelling and expressionistically unnatural at all times. That's the real reason for those Raging Bull comparisons, which she fully earns. Meanwhile, Lynn Hershman-Leeson's Teknolust, which only played on two screens all year but is now availabe on DVD, features a quadruple performance by Tilda Swinton that not only guides us through the director's remarkably (and maybe overly) ambitious concept but gets this incredible actress the closest she'll ever get to screwball comedy. Just watch her character Ruby, a computer program trying to seduce real men in the real world, eat her first real-world donut. Finally, the Bolger sisters, young actresses with totally disparate acting styles and screen personas, are nevertheless such an electrifying, heartmelting duo that it seems a needless shame to split them up. In fact, these tykes have such a pitch-perfect sense of the right emotional register for each scene that Ms. Connelly and Ms. Watts would do well to study them.

Best Actor

Jack Black
The School of Rock

Paddy Considine
In America

Jude Law
Cold Mountain

Bill Murray
Lost in Translation

Campbell Scott
The Secret Lives of Dentists


I never predicted the year would come when my favorite lead performance by a male actor would come courtesy of Jack Black. Just as I could never possibly have expected a year when the creative engines behind my favorite movies would be Jack Black, Neve Campbell, Charlize Theron, and Bob Dylan. Have I gone through the looking glass into some alternate universe? Maybe, but I don't think so. Has it been a bad year for movies? You already know what I think about that. But let's be charitable, and honest: Black, like Campbell and Theron, genuinely excelled this year, and also found the right vehicles (and directors) to showcase new facets of their talents in adventurous, eye-opening ways. Black has so often been the bratty, loudmouth child among adults, it is an absolute stitch to see him not only connect with a roomful of wise and imposing kids who initially show him up—played, too, by a fantastic ensemble of young actors—but also to see Black forced into the mantle of setting an example, being the adult. It's a totally joyous performance, reined in at the right moments.

Considine and Scott also did sterling work with younger actors, both playing sweet-souled fathers holding it together under adverse circumstances (and yet neither their roles nor their films have any similarities beyond that point), and Bill Murray re-learned the lesson of Rushmore: that he, a onetime clown suddenly exposed as an old soul, is at his most moving when tethered onscreen to members of an earlier generation. They coax out his warmth, but also his sadness. Only Jude Law hung out with people his own age, in a quiet, subtle performance that is almost ruined by the miscalculated excess of the entire rest of the movie. In an unexpected irony, watching Law insist on this tough, implosive characterization while nearly every other castmate lured him to the dull limits of empty showmanship was a better lesson in courage than anything Inman actually does.

Best Supporting Actress

Essie Davis
Girl with a Pearl Earring

Hope Davis
The Secret Lives of Dentists

Holly Hunter

Jessica Lange
Masked and Anonymous

Eileen Walsh
The Magdalene Sisters


No, I am no relation to Essie Davis or Hope Davis, so their inclusion does not stem from nepotism. I'd sure be proud to have some real tie to them, after watching both women brilliantly resituate the age-old roles of, respectively, the betrayed wife and the wife who betrays. Essie, deathly pale, nearly browless, and hugely pregnant, like some aristocratic grotesque out of Angels & Insects, combats the misogyny of the role not by underplaying but by deftly amplifying the fury and pathetic neurosis of her part. As a result, while Catharine Vermeer is never so much a monster as a terrible, pitiable product of her husband's selfish inattention, meaning a viewer of Girl with a Pearl Earring can't do what we normally do in these situations, i.e., wish with all our hearts that he'll kick the shrewish spouse to the curb and take up with the pretty young thing who's billed above the title. Hope Davis, centuries and universes away, shows a real comic brio in her early scenes, trying to convince her young girls what a wonderful thing it is that she's been cast as a chorister in Verdi's Nabucco. It's like a relaxed prefiguring of the more difficult project she'll have for the rest of the movie, attempting to persuade her husband that she isn't having an affair. Davis is looser here than I've ever seen her, rangy and quietly creative in a way that Rudolph often allows his actresses to be.

The other three nominees, all in films of which I wrote full reviews, have been well-praised all over this site, but it's worth re-mentioning that they were directly responsible for some of the most crushing single scenes of the year (Hunter blurting out that she semi-recognized her daughter's troubles, Walsh indicting a lecherous minister in front of his congregation) and for some of the funniest (Lange at a TV network negotiating table, Lange urging Bob Dylan to play "Jailhouse Rock" but having to describe the song to him, Lange at almost every moment of her kooky, cat-ate-the-canary performance). I don't hold out much hope for the eventual Oscar nominees in this category, but these actresses, these roles, and these interpretations were absolute jewels.

Best Supporting Actor

Djimon Hounsou
In America

Vincent Lindon
Friday Night

Malcolm McDowell
The Company

Bill Nighy
Lawless Heart

Patrick Wilson
Angels in America


Sad to say, especially compared to the priceless work of the year's supporting actresses, that I would trade any of the five men nominated here for some of the wonderful women who didn't quite make the cut in their own category: Emma Thompson, so deeply bruised in Love Actually, or Patricia Clarkson, doing entrancing variations on the bond between sadness and wisdom in The Station Agent, The Safety of Objects, and All the Real Girls. (Don't believe the hype: the one role Clarkson may be Oscar-nominated for, in the ridiculous Pieces of April, is the one she doesn't deserve it for.)

Here, meanwhile, are four very good performances that aren't quite great, and one superb performance that I've opportunistically imported from TV land. Hounsou is not only moving and charismatic in In America, but he manages two surprising feats: overcoming the sentimental and exoticized-black-man stereotypes ingrained in the part, and going along way toward compensating for the number of times he has played the exoticized black man for no real gain, as in The Four Feathers and even Amistad. Lindon, a famous French actor almost totally restricted to silence in Friday Night, inhabits the infrequent role of the middle-aged male objectified as a sexual target and manages to project both a credible erotic pull and a gratified sense of his own pleasure in being so tagged for seduction. McDowell is funny and imperious as the ballet maestro in The Company, and Nighy, who had a good year expanding on his proven gift for silly caricature, was nowhere better than in the small British ensemble dramedy Lawless Heart, where his character, beneath all of Nighy's trademark wit, keeps reaching for a lost youth, a potentially wasted life.

The best work in the category was by Patrick Wilson in Angels in America, an HBO miniseries only screened theatrically in one or two U.S. cities, but the work is so good that I'm pulling him in. The movie stars in Angels (Pacino, Streep, Thompson) gave uneven but mostly strong performances. Jeffrey Wright and Mary Louise Parker, Broadway thesps who are still readily recognizable to film audiences, were doing just fine except for Nichols undercutting Wright so badly in his one big Millennium Approaches scene and Kushner all but adapting Parker right out of Perestroika. Sadly, the actors I gave Nichols the most credit for casting, Justin Kirk, Ben Shenkman, and Patrick Wilson, who have absolutely no screen cachet and were only selected for talent, mostly failed to live up to expectations. The strong, brilliant exception was Wilson, who turned the character of Joe—perhaps the most vilifiable character who isn't Roy Cohn—into perhaps the most moving and palpably conflicted of the bunch.

Writing Categories

Best Original Screenplay

Tony Grisoni
In This World

Alison Tilman
Japanese Story

Peter Mullan
The Magdalene Sisters

Larry Charles & Bob Dylan
Masked and Anonymous

Patty Jenkins

Another category that didn't exactly have a banner year. If I were selecting winners in these races, which I'm electing not to do, I'd be most tempted to go with either Jenkins' smart-Brechtian (not lazy-Brechtian) fashioning of Aileen Wuornos' story into Monster or Tony Grisoni's severely (and properly) trim script for In This World, which forbids its refugee characters from ever feeling settled, and which dispenses with dialogue entirely when tense silence and mournful images are inevitably more expressive. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that these were two of the most underrated screenwriting efforts of the year, and once again, I can only insist that I am not anointing them on purpose to be contrary. I really hope and believe people will eventually come around.

Meanwhile, the other nominees had their evident weak spots, but they had enough distinguishing accomplishments to make them worth remembering. Masked and Anonymous runs out of steam a little toward the end, but Charles and Dylan have insulated themselves just fine with a conception of America that seems headed for chaos from the beginning. Plus, the script is chock full of cheeky epigrams and shot through with astonishing sadness: a potent and unexpected combo. Japanese Story spends a little too long in its last act, but that's probably a mistake of direction to extend those scenes so long (and maybe Sue Brooks just didn't have it in her to cut away from such a pained, interesting performance by Toni Collette). But at least twice in the movie, once with some dry sticks and once at a watering hole (I'll say no more!), writer Tilman pulls off the two best plot twists of the entire year, and they wouldn't even feel like twists if decades of moviegoing didn't shape our expectations so rigidly. Finally, Peter Mullan may occasionally have been writing with a mallet instead of a pen, but the transgressions he indicts in The Magdalene Sisters are deserving of the treatment, and there are plenty of occasions in structure, characterization, and dialogue where the movie opts for restraint over extremity, which probably makes the movie even scarier.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Emmanuèle Bernheim &
Claire Denis

Friday Night

Olivia Hetreed
Girl with a Pearl Earring

F.Walsh, P.Boyens & P.Jackson
The Lord of the Rings:
The Return of the King

Brian Helgeland
Mystic River

Craig Lucas
The Secret Lives of Dentists

The total combined dialogue in two of these pictures, Friday Night and Girl with a Pearl Earring, is probably about commensurate with what you typically find in a single film. And The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King ain't no gabfest, either. But here's where we remind ourselves that screenwriting, despite prevalent assumptions, is not solely or even chiefly about dialogue or interplay. Structure, sequence, and built-in contrast matter tremendously. Which is why Friday Night belongs here, finding the right, mundane moments to set up Laure's anomie at the beginning of the movie and the right, differently mundane moments in the latter half to make her sexual rendezvous a credible encounter (with heat and some surreal flourishes, of course) and not an overripe fantasy. Girl with a Pearl Earring really comes alive in the cinematography, and secondly in the smart performances, but it takes incredible shrewdness on the part of the script to leave out all the elements in Tracy Chevalier's novel that mean to round out the scenario but actually just stood in the way of the central conflicts.

None of these scripts is an unqualified success: Lucas, for example, overdoes it with the Leary character, and Helgeland writes some truly appalling monologues and makes several character arcs way too obvious. The Lord crowd haven't quite found the way to end their movie; excising the "Scouring of the Shire" chapter and replacing it with nearly idyllic visions of home betrays an audience-pandering naïveté that the earlier films, Fellowship especially, worked hard to avoid. Still, all of these scripts manage to find balance, stakes, and meaning in premises that some people would surely presume to be too small (Friday Night, Pearl Earring, Secret Lives) or too grandiose (Return of the King, Mystic River) to connect with a cinema audience. It's a great feat of screenwriters after a hundred years of cinema to keep finding ways to prove our expectations wrong.

Image, Design & Editing Categories

Best Cinematography
Andrew Dunn
The Company
Pans and zooms to Altman's taste, and still every free-standing frame would be a gorgeous picture.
Eduardo Serra
Girl with a
Pearl Earring
Of course a film about Vermeer needs to be gorgeous, and it is, but it also needs to impart secret visual code, and Serra does.
Dion Beebe
In the Cut
A gold and black vision of the city, with haunted edges and boldly variable focus.
Marcel Zyskind
In This World
Bracing video images of expatriate restlessness, ghettoized secrecy, and the wages of fear.
Benoît Debie and
Gaspar Noé

The camera heaves and lurches, sickened by what it sees; as the film rewinds, it finds the stability (and the doom) of human beauty.
Best Film Editing
Geraldine Peroni
The Company
A single, pristine style that somehow sees the nuance both in dance and in life.
Alexandre de Franceschi
In the Cut
In the Cut is about film cuts, too, and his are sharp, harsh, and unexpected, without reducing the enigmas of the movie, or of desire.
Peter Christelis
In This World
Throughout a seven-nation journey, amid deserts, cargo holds, factories, and frozen mountain passes, Christelis avoids any urge toward cheap suspense or callow traveloguing.
Sally Menke
Kill Bill, Vol. 1
Sure, it's Quentin's vision, but Sally keeps it fluid and accessible to the rest of us.
Colin Monie
The Magdalene Sisters
Perfectly paced, Magdalene absorbs us in the girls' plight but makes us impatient, even desperate for escape. The opening sequence is a stunner.

Best Art Direction/ Production Design
Deanne Rohde
Dracula: Pages
from a Virgin's
Guy Maddin was commissioned to film the Royal Winnipeg Ballet's version of Dracula, but his film is a total reimagining, largely thanks to Rohde's archaic, macabre, and witty interventions.
David Wasco
Kill Bill, Vol. 1
From Vernita's kitchen to the House of Blue Leaves, Wasco's consistency steadies QT's libido.
Grant Major
The Lord of the
Rings: The Return
of the King
The entire trilogy has been an absolute marvel of design, with new triumphs in each installment. Here, the stairs to Shelob's lair and the ransacked Minas Tirith are among the indelible impressions.
Chris Farmer
Lynn Hershman-Leeson's movies are so technophilic and convoluted, it's easy for audiences to feel cut off, but Farmer's dazzling combo of pop art and cyberfuturism is a wonderful, constant invitation to jump in and have fun.
Evgeni Tomov
The Triplets of Belleville
Yes, animated movies have designers, and like last year's Spirited Away, Triplets makes an impossible city a delicious destination.
Best Costume Design
Ann Roth
Cold Mountain
Fussy, maybe, and the design team should have smudged 'em up real good (these people are poor, and at war!), but Roth's concepts still impress.
Daniel Orlandi
Down with Love
Those club dresses for Renée Zellweger and Sarah Paulson are show-stoppers.
Ngila Dickson
The Last Samurai
Dickson seems like the only crew member who knows she's spinning a fable, and she has a ball. These samurai may be fictions, but they're scrumptiously, deliriously outfitted.
Janet Patterson
Peter Pan
From the storybook Victorian household of high necks and dogs with bonnets to the dreamy Neverland garb, Patterson's in synch with Barrie all the way.
Sandy Powell
Powell, best known for highly theatrical visions (Shakespeare in Love, Velvet Goldmine) is just as shrewd with period day-wear.

Genre Categories

Best Documentary Feature
Bus 174
Jose Padilha, dir.
This haunting memorial of a hijacking in Rio is a great companion piece to City of God.
Capturing the Friedmans
Andrew Jarecki, dir.
Visually, Jarecki is a little humbled by his material, reaching for odd inserts of cows and phones to fill the time. But his story sure is a doozy, a crystal-clear memory for months afterward.
The Fog of War
Errol Morris, dir.
How often do we get a chance to hear an inner-circle historical actor account at length for his own behavior?
Jeffrey Blitz, dir.
A great, deceptively simple idea for a documentary, tacitly evoking all kinds of regional disparities in U.S. life and education.
To Be and To Have (Être
et avoir)

Nicolas Philibert, dir.
A French flipside of Spellbound: an intensive study of education in one region, a quiet triumph of close attention. Plus, a nonfiction film rendered in glorious 35mm, which is an increasingly rare treat.
Best Animated Feature
Finding Nemo
Andrew Stanton, dir.
Detractors' biggest complaint is that Nemo isn't up to the standards set by the Toy Story pictures. In terms of wit and emotional depth, they're right...but do we downgrade all Universal Pictures for not being equals of Vertigo? Nemo's no masterpiece, but it's colorful, well-voiced, and plenty poignant by the end.
Millennium Actress
Satoshi Kon, dir.
Also known as Spirited Away meets Mulholland Drive, as reporters from the present chase their favorite retired actress through centuries of reincarnation. A little tendentious—I never cared as much as those reporters do—but visually inventive and distinct within this field.
The Triplets of Belleville
Sylvain Chomet, dir.
Chomet puts French feature-length animation on the international map with this defiantly odd entertainment, blending the minimalist with the surreal. Some of its impulses work better than others, but it all adds up to a fine night at the movies.

Sound and Music Categories

Best Sound
In This World Stifled breaths, grinding machinery, and a daringly hopeful musical score. Like the film itself, an arresting amalgam of sympathy and reality.
Kill Bill, Vol. 1 The world's first Hong Kong, hip-hop, vigilante Marlene Dietrich movie gets the funky soundtrack it needs, full to the brim but clean as a blade.
The Last Samurai War movies usually sound good, and so do Oscar hopefuls, but Samurai sounds especially majestic. (Now, if only they'd erased all that dialogue.)
Master and
The Far Side
of the World
Bitch if you want that Peter Weir went less for a plot than a virtuoso diorama of the sailor's life. He certainly achieved his mission, and the creaky, groaning, suddenly chaotic soundtrack was an especially effective tool.
Monster El-cheapo independent movies seldom get credit for their sound, but Monster uses punchy song selection and variable volume to ride its remarkable line between tragedy and kitsch.
Best Sound Effects
Kill Bill, Vol. 1 What does it sound like when a gun goes off inside a cereal box, or a blade slices right through a neck, or a yakuza queen is felled on a bed of snow? Kill Bill's sound effects are inventive and amped up, just like the movie, and they follow Quentin's ambitious range of tones.
The Lord of the
Rings: The Return
of the King
The moment I heard the scratchy little pin-drops of eight spidery feet in that mountaintop lair, I felt sick at heart. The day I heard those huge flying dragons screaming in the sky, I went just a little deafer. But that's okay, because Return of the King needed to feel even more tensely fraught than its predecessors, and it did.
The Triplets of Belleville The Triplets themselves are the weirdest concert-hall crooners there ever were, and I include Liza Minnelli and Liberace in that competition. God bless them for it. Refrigerator wire and licked frogsicles are musical ideas even Björk never had, though now I bet she wishes she had.

Best Original Score
Philip Glass
The Fog of War
The musical world is divided into Glass half full and Glass half empty people. I thought his keening repetitions gave Fog the right, eerie edge.
Alexandre Desplat
Girl with a
Pearl Earring
The editing of Girl is purposefully disjunctive, sealing off each room as a separate sphere. It's up to the haunting music to brace the film together.
Hilmar Örn

In the Cut
Campion always picks bold composers: Nyman, Kilar, Badalamenti, and now Hilmarsson, whose In the Cut score sounds like the gleam of a knife. Extra points for the antique accompaniment to the ice-skating nightmares.
Kill Bill, Vol. 1
You would have thought everyone would be knocking down the RZA's door after the sublime Ghost Dog music. Maybe he's just rightly choosy with his collaborators. Both his original songs and his instrumental compositions are perfect here.
Benoît Charest
The Triplets of Belleville
I hope every lame, cookie-cutter composer at Disney felt totally silly after listening to Charest's jazzy, adventurous melodies.
Best Original Song
"Itchy Palms"
The Sea
See, there is more than one singer-songwriter from Iceland. I'd never heard of Hera before, but her sad ballad, reminiscent of the Cranberries, is the best part of this family drama.
"The School of Rock"
The School of Rock
I have to admit: I'm not sure if this is the song Jack Black improvises for the kids or the one written by the guitar-playing student. Both were hilarious, and both deserving
"Swinging Belleville Rendezvous"
The Triplets of Belleville
Proof that your lyrics can be baffling, your notes from a totally outmoded musical idiom, your entire song forced to compete with images like a 1,000-lb. dancing woman, and audiences will still be humming the melody and the "words" for weeks.
"Why Not Me?"
Die, Mommie, Die!
Much of Charles Busch's spoof falls flat, but the song he delivers in character as Angela Arden, screen thrush of the Eisenhower era, is wonderfully poppy and self-aggrandizing. Campier fun than anything in Camp.
"You Will Be My Ain True Love"
Cold Mountain
Like much in Cold Mountain, I wish Alison Krauss' rendition were a little less clean. But the song itself is still a gorgeous rhapsody.

Effects Categories

Best Visual Effects
The Lord of the
Rings: The Return
of the King
Gollum. Shelob. The flying dragons (I know they have a real name). The many-horned Mastodons (I'm sure they have a specific name, too). Even if you didn't already know Tolkien, you now feel like you do.
The Matrix Reloaded The series showed increasingly little sense of why audiences were initially interested—which was fine by me, because the original film was a fascist nightmare. But whatever else fell apart in Reloaded, the F/X were still mind-blowing.
Terminator 3:
Rise of the Machines
Like Cabin Fever, Mostow's T3 can't help paying tribute to a schlock tradition, this time those mid-50s apocalypse pictures like War of the World, with all their underground bunkers and glittering computer panels. I lapped it up—and yes, that she-Terminator did frighten me!
Best Makeup
Cabin Fever The year's most ebullient splatterfast is an explicit homage to Romero and early Cronenberg. Finding that trademark tone takes real directorial skill, but Fever’s also got the right, bloody, latexy, styrofoam makeup shocks to make it all work.
The Lord of the
Rings: The Return
of the King
What can be said about the makeup feats of Jackson's trilogy that hasn't already been said? Many sights are already familiar, but the prologue's stages of Gollum's decay are stunning.
Monster Contrary to ubiquitous rumor, Theron is not a dead ringer for Wuornos in this film. Much more interestingly, she's a close enough approximation for Monster to have one foot planted in the real world, and a far-out enough dramatization of the real thing to make the movie work as allegory.

(44 of the 102 films I saw last year
are nominated for something...)

In This World - 6
Monster - 6
The Company - 5
Kill Bill, Vol. 1 - 5
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King - 5
The Triplets of Belleville - 5
Friday Night - 4
Girl with a Pearl Earring - 4
(...but not these stinkers; they've
attracted awards elsewhere, but not here!)

The Barbarian Invasions - 0
Big Fish - 0
The Cooler - 0
House of Sand and Fog - 0
A Mighty Wind - 0
Pieces of April - 0
Pirates of the Caribbean - 0
Shattered Glass - 0
21 Grams - 0
(Woulda been nice to recognize...)

All the Real Girls - 0
City of God - 0
Holes - 0
Raising Victor Vargas - 0
The Station Agent - 0
28 Days Later - 0
(Hey, how'd these get in here?)

Cold Mountain - 3
Die, Mommie, Die! - 1
The Last Samurai - 2
The Matrix Reloaded - 1

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