Brent Bozman

Hayden Childs

McChesney Duntz

William Ham

Dana Knowles

Leonard Pierce

Michael Tomczyszyn

Scott Von Doviak

George Wu

The Algonquin Kids’ Table: 2003 Top Ten Lists


Top 10 of 2003

1. Los Angeles Plays Itself. In three hours of sardonic narration and beautifully edited film excerpts, Thom Andersen examines the way Hollywood movies have portrayed Los Angeles and casually lays waste to preconceived notions about the canon. Climaxing with a somber meditation on three great but little known African-American films (Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep, Billy Woodberry’s Bless Their Little Hearts and Haile Gerima’s Bush Mama), this is a film that finds more to praise in the original Gone in Sixty Seconds than in Chinatown, and compares “Dragnet” favorably to Bresson. Erudite, ambivalent and cranky, this is both the year’s best film and its best film criticism.

2. Elephant. Declining to explain or moralize about the Columbine massacre, all while making it seem inevitable, Gus Van Sant’s stark, elusive film couldn’t be further from exploitation. A nightmare you can’t quite shake, months after seeing it.

3. Progress. Andrew Garza’s feature-length thesis project (don’t laugh — you could say the same about Eraserhead, Killer of Sheep and Who’s That Knockin at My Door?) is a “mockumentary” about an aspiring writer in East L.A. that’s so convincing — and moving — that even after you’ve realized that you’re watching actors working from a script, the distinction between fiction and fact, narrative and reality dissolves completely. And, oh yeah — it was made for less than $1,000.

4. “The Office.” Twelve flawless episodes, each one funnier and more awful than the last. Poised between the belly laugh and the cringe, the first season might be the funniest three hours of television ever broadcast. The second season goes even further, milking compromise and failure for nervous laughter right up to the grimmest ending this side of Chinatown.

5. Bad Santa. Best experienced in a mall after half an hour of Coke ads, Disney soundtrack snippets and numbing trailers, this is a Christmas movie so nasty it almost earns its sentimental ending. Just when you think Terry Zwigoff’s taken the novelty of seeing a drunken stumblebum in a soiled Santa suit say “fuck” in front of Keene-eyed toddlers as far as he can, he manages another tirade so gloriously profane it makes Fear’s “Fuck Christmas” sound like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

6. Miles Davis — The Jack Johnson Box. Sure, you say, Jack Johnson is the great electric Miles Davis record, but do I really need 5 CDs of work tapes and jam sessions? Is an hour of a two-note funk riff so minimal it makes James Brown’s work from the same era sound like Rachmaninoff, you know, listenable? Absolutely. At once throbbing and dissonant, lyrical and calm, the Jack Johnson box still sounds visionary 30 years later.

7. Toots and the Maytals at the Hollywood Bowl. Paced like a soul revue (think Otis Redding Live in Europe with a better set list), the show played like a revival meeting in a dank, crowded bar. This would be a feat in a club; it was miraculous in an open-air hall that seats several thousand. Pushing 60, his great trio long since disbanded, Toots Hibbert still sang like he could shout down the building.

8. Redd Volkaert. Sunday night in Austin, Texas. $6 cover, cheap beer. An enormous redhead in overalls and Mennonite beard takes the stage, his Telecaster looking like a ukulele in his huge paws. Playing a standard country bar band set (some Merle Haggard, a little George Jones, keep it lively for the two-steppers) with a scalding band, he made virtuosity sound easy. My Texas buddies say this was nothing special — ho hum: just the best guitar player you’ll ever hear, another Sunday night in Austin.

9. Lost in Translation. No new Wes Anderson film this year, but this’ll do.

10. Dinner party conversation 10/18. Four belligerent movie fans (and two spouses who’ve heard it all before), great food and an excellent bottle of Scotch. Topics covered: Godard, Cameron, Polanski, Holocaust art, Brakhage, Pat O’Neill and the tendency of critics to assume the worst about audiences who like movies they don’t. Nothing I saw on a screen this year was anywhere near this fun.