- Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Masterpiece. Flawed, yes — I didn’t realize three-plus hours had passed until the story had ended three times, and what was with Frodo’s moving scar? But the performances were gripping, the special effects nearly seamless, the power of the plot so intoxicatingly riveting that I didn’t quibble about the changes to Tolkein’s story until days later… and Viggo Mortenson’s Aragorn really turned into a magnificent king, didn’t he? Oof! I’d better hear Oscar calling for this one.
- Master and Commander Don’t know why I am not a bigger fan of Russell Crowe. Don’t even know why I went to see this film, because I really don’t like Russell Crowe. But good thing I did: The entire cast served as hero of this beautifully crafted adventure movie; they thrilled me with their bravery and derring-do. And Crowe as their captain was strong, energetic, and thoroughly captivating. Perhaps I will go back and check out Gladiator after all.
- Finding Nemo Went for the kid. Had a total blast. The voice performances were engaging, the animations enthralling, the story absolutely heartwarming. Nemo ended up giving more bang for the moviegoing buck than the vast majority of grownup films produced this year. Yet again, hail Pixar!
- Lost in Translation Director Sofia Coppola offers a lovely and beautifully shot tale of two Americans traveling in Japan who connect while coping with their individual life transitions. Bill Murray’s performance is marvelous — the film is worth seeing only for him, but Coppola’s work is breathtakingly moving, funny, quirky, and ultimately inspiring.
- A Mighty Wind Christopher Guest and Co. returned with another improv humor-fueled mockumentary, this time focusing on the world of ’60s folk music. What a hoot: The performances by Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer as music trio the Folksmen are as hilarious as their previous stint as Spinal Tap, and the stories surrounding the “New Main Street Singers” actually reduced me to tears of laughter. But what really resonates is the story of onetime folk lovebirds Mitch and Mickey — Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara (especially Levy) — make their characters’ sadnesses feel real.
Honorable mentions: Eugene Levy in Bringing Down the House, Mystic River, Pirates of the Caribbean, Bad Santa, X2: X-Men United (a sequel that improved upon the original!), the Indiana Jones DVD release
Note: Some of the films listed above are not yet available on video/DVD.