9 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. All good things must come to an end, but few things Hollywood has ever done have managed to do so on such a graceful, richly satisfying note as this final installment in Peter Jackson’s magnificent fantasy trilogy.
10 Ten. Where else to place Abbas Kiarostami’s ultraminimalist taxicab ride, shot exclusively from two small video cameras mounted on the dashboard of a car? As always in Kiarostami’s work, appearances here are deceiving, and so what begins as an inquiry into women’s rights in contemporary Iran evolves into a profound accounting of the enormous amount of time we devote to trying to relive and/or rewrite our pasts.
There would be no more to say, were it not for the fact that my two favorite films of 2003 — Unknown Pleasures and Platform, both by underground mainland Chinese director Jia ZhangKe — failed to open in L.A. (and, according to their respective distributors, show no signs of doing so in 2004), even though they did run in New York and elsewhere across the country. Taken together, these are the two greatest films to emerge from China in recent memory, establishing Jia as a major figure of the contemporary international cinema and its most exquisite ruminator on the yearning despair of adolescence and the empty promises of pop music. But in 2003, the year in which Jia’s work finally conquered — or, at least, arrived in — America, the pleasures of his films remained nearly as unknown in the world’s supposed movie capital (where they have had only festival showings) as on his own heavily censored home turf.