Mike’s Top Ten of 2003
Love me some 2003. This is the 2000s sweet spot for me, where I was really all in on movies and really understood everything I was watching, who was making them, and really felt fully aware for the first time.
This is an interesting list in that it’s got not one, not two, but three Christmas movies on it. It’s got one franchise that ends, one that begins, and part of a two-parter in it. It’s a very outlier kind of list. It’s hard enough to get a single Christmas movie, but three? In the same year? That’s nuts.
There’s also some really cool stuff in the lower tiers as well. A lot of hidden gems that I feel like not enough people go back to or never saw in the first place. It’s a good year.
Mike’s Top Ten of 2003
Kill Bill: Volume 1
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Lost in Translation
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
11-20: Finding Nemo, The Last Samurai, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Matchstick Men, The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revolutions, Old School, The Return, The Room, Seabiscuit
Tier two: 11:14, American Splendor, Big Fish, Confidence, The Cooler, Dogville, House of Sand and Fog, A Mighty Wind, Monster, Mystic River, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Phone Booth, Runaway Jury, The Rundown, School of Rock, The Station Agent, S.W.A.T., Tears of the Sun, Whale Rider, X2
Tier three: 21 Grams, Anger Management, Bad Boys II, Basic, Bruce Almighty, Cold Mountain, Daredevil, Elephant, Head of State, The Hebrew Hammer, The Hunted, The Italian Job, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The Missing, Owning Mahoney, Poolhall Junkies, Scary Movie 3, The Singing Detective, The Triplets of Belleville, Windy City Heat
Tier four: Amerian Wedding, Better Luck Tomorrow, Brother Bear, Dark Blue, Down with Love, Freaky Friday, Gigli, Gods and Generals, Holes, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Hulk, Identity, The Missing, Mona Lisa Smile, Open Range, The Recruit, Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over, Stuck on You, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Thirteen
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1. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
“Never thought I’d die fighting side by side with an Elf.”
“What about side by side with a friend?”
“Aye. I could do that.”
The culmination of the story. This movie is, in a way, the best of the three, but only because it’s building off the first two pieces of the story and has the benefit of being able to pay off everything we’ve seen so far. This is a movie that is three and a half hours long and moves the way a two hour movie does. You don’t notice it at all. And sure, it ends like four times, but every ending is great and earned. And I’ll admit, this movie never fails to make me cry. It’s just a masterpiece.
2. Bad Santa
“You know, I think I’ve turned a corner.”
“Yeah? You fucking petites now?”
“No, I’m not talking about that. I beat the shit out of some kids today. But it was for a purpose. It made me feel good about myself. It was like I did something constructive with my life or something, I dunno, like I accomplished something.”
“You need many years of therapy. Many, many fuckin’ years of therapy.”
This movie is perfect. This movie remains one of the funniest movies ever made. I almost said “Christmas movie,” but I’m not even going to qualify it. It’s one of the funniest movies ever made. It never fails to make me audibly laugh as I watch it.
It’s such a perfect concept, too. Billy Bob Thornton is an alcoholic mall Santa who also robs the malls he works at. The script is just filthy, with the concept being developed by the Coen brothers as a sort of “Bad News Bears.” Which is basically a drunk swearing around children. Only because it’s not 1976, they could go a lot further with it. And man, does it work. Billy Bob Thornton gives one of the performances of his career (this is basically his Lebowski), and everything about this movie works.
Few movies make me as happy or laugh as much as this one does.
3. Kill Bill: Volume 1
“That woman deserves her revenge and we deserve to die.”
It’s a shame Quentin got stuck at #3 this year, but those other two have all-time status for me.
This movie was such a huge deal for me at 15. That’s the age where I had just recently got into Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs and Jackie Brown. So this was just something new to love and obsess over. Which I did for a good five or six years after it came out.
This is an old-school revenge movie, with the first part focusing heavily on the kung fu aspects of the story. Quentin is, at heart, a genre filmmaker who loves cinema and cinema history, so this is him making his kung fu movie. Because he split it into two, people tend to have a favorite between the two. But when you consider it as a single story, it’s one hell of a viewing experience.
4. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
“This is the day you will always remember as the day you almost caught Captain Jack Sparrow!”
I remember where I was when I saw this movie for the first time. I was at a drive-in with my family in Upstate New York. I had never been to a drive-in before (that I can remember), and I wanted no part of seeing this movie. Because all I knew was “Disney movie about pirates.” And I thought, “Well that’s stupid.” But I went, and I sat there and watched this. It was on a double-bill with, I believe, the animated Sinbad movie. Because the other double feature on the opposite screen, I remember, was Terminator 3 and 2 Fast 2 Furious. It’s possible 2 Fast 2 Furious was the second movie on both screens, though.
Anyway, I’m sitting there, watching this movie in our car, expecting to have to suffer through it, and I find myself going, “Oh my god, this is actually a lot of fun.” Now, of course, I’m 15 and stubborn, so I’m not admitting out loud that this movie is any good, but I’m also really enjoying it. And I think that’s kind of how this movie ended up being for most people. I don’t think anyone really had any expectations for it to be good and were pleasantly surprised by it.
A lot of that comes down to the great writing, the great direction by Gore Verbinski and an all-time iconic performance by Johnny Depp, who took everyone by such surprise with this movie that he was NOMINATED FOR BEST ACTOR FOR IT. And he won Best Actor at SAG.
They bloated out the sequels (even though the first two are still quite entertaining) and sort of lost track of what made the franchise work as it went on, but even so, this first one is still a really great movie. It still holds up on a lot of levels, even now. And that Hans Zimmer score — you can identify that one within three seconds.
“SANTA! OH MY GOD! SANTA’S COMING! I KNOW HIM! I KNOW HIM!”
This is the finest moment of Will Ferrell’s career. No one could have made this except him. It would not be what it is now without that perfect mix of humor and purity that he brings to the role. Also an early Jon Favreau movie, which people tend to forget.
It’s one of those concepts that just should not work — a regular human who was raised as an elf in the North Pole ventures into the world to find his father. And man, does it work. The dumber the comedy, the funnier it is. And the best thing about this movie is that it has a big heart. And that’s what makes it last and why people still love it. It’s got this sweetness to it that you can’t dislike.
It’s also one of those movies that, if I really tried, I could probably sit and just recite almost line by line. I think I did do that in college with a friend at one point. We just sat there for like thirty minutes going through the whole movie. And that’s the beauty of it. It just holds up.
6. Love Actually
“So what’s this big news, then?”
“We’ve been given our parts in the nativity play. And I’m the lobster.”
“In the nativity play?”
“Yeah, first lobster.”
“There was more than one lobster present at the birth of Jesus?”
That’s three “Christmas” movies on the same Top Ten list. That’s… probably something that has never happened and will never happen again.
This is Richard Curtis’ directorial debut, after years of writing just about every major British comedy hit that would crossover to the U.S. (He started on Blackadder and worked on Mr. Bean and then wrote Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and Bridget Jones’s Diary.) And it’s just an ensemble movie that takes place during the holidays that is just about love. It’s got an amazing cast, and it’s one of those movies that everyone loves that just makes you happy.
7. In America
“We heard Manhattan before we ever saw it, a thousand strange voices coming from everywhere. And you’re not going to believe this, but we had to go under the water to get to the city. And we lost contact with everything; it was like we were on another planet.”
I guarantee you that if this movie ever comes up in conversation, I will, without fail, respond with something akin to, “I love that movie so much.” My eyes light up every time I think about this movie and get to talk about it. I truly, truly adore this film.
It’s Jim Sheridan’s semi-autobiographical account of an Irish family immigrating to America. His daughters are credited on the screenplay with him, that’s how autobiographical it is. And this truly goes down among the great “childhood reminiscence” films of all time. Something like Avalon or even The Sandlot are films that fit in this category. An older person recalling the events of their childhood. I love that particular sub-genre and this is one of the best of them.
Paddy Considine and Samantha Morton are terrific as the parents (Morton was nominated for Best Actress for her work), Sarah and Emma Bolger are terrific as the daughters, and Djimon Hounsou is great as the family’s reclusive neighbor (he was also nominated for his work). It’s such a beautiful piece of work that makes me cry every time I see it.
It’s also Jim Sheridan’s masterpiece, the way Almost Famous is Cameron Crowe’s masterpiece. This is the film he was building toward, and in a way, he’s never really been as good since he made it, since this was what he had to say. And it’s a testament to him that he was able to say it so well for everyone to appreciate for all time.
8. Intolerable Cruelty
“All right, so much for the ice-breakers. What are you after, Freddy?”
“My client is prepared to settle for fifty percent of the marital assets.”
“Why only fifty, Freddy? Why not a hundred? While we’re dreaming, why not 150? Are you familiar with ‘Kershner’?”
“‘Kershner’ does not apply.”
“Bring this to trial, we’ll see if ‘Kershner’ applies.”
“Please, let me handle this.”
“‘Kershner’ was in Kentucky.”
“‘Kershner’ was in Kentucky?”
“‘Kershner’ was in Kentucky.”
“All right, Freddy, forget ‘Kershner’. What’s your bottom line?”
“Primary residence, thirty percent of remaining assets.”
“What, are you nuts? Have you forgotten ‘Kershner’?”
I love this movie. This is, for some reason, a forgotten Coen brothers movie. All of their comedies seem to not really be liked all that much when they come out and slowly gain esteem as time goes on. I think, for people who are a bit older than me, the one for them is The Hudsucker Proxy. This is the one for me because it hit me at that right age. But their other comedies are also like that. Burn After Reading took a few years for people to appreciate it. Hail, Caesar I think is still in that territory where people are starting to realize they took it for granted. This one, though… I feel like people hated this movie. I fought for years to show this to people to make them realize how great it is.
It’s a movie written to be in the style of those 40s comedies. It’s basically a Cary Grant movie with George Clooney as Cary Grant. Or also a bit of a Tracy/Hepburn movie. Adam’s Rib, stuff like that. Clooney plays a successful (and single) divorce attorney who has never lost a case. Only he meets his match in Catherine Zeta-Jones, a clear gold digger whose ex-husband he represented in the divorce. She comes back into his life and, despite his commitment to bachelorhood, he falls in love with her, and romantic complications ensue. It’s so good. The dialogue is rapid-fire and wonderfully delivered.
It’s never gonna be considered at the level of the Coen brothers’ masterpieces, but man, is this an entertaining movie. If you love those 40s screwball comedies and comedies of remarriage like I do, then you definitely owe it to yourself to see this. And that’s before you consider the fact that it’s a Coen brothers movie, and one of their movies (even a “lesser” one) is better than just about anything else out there.
“Revenge is good for your health, but pain will find you again.”
One of the great foreign films of the 2000s. One of the great premises of all time, too.
It’s about a man who inexplicably is kidnapped one night and is left in a sealed room by himself for 15 years. Then, after 15 years, he is let out and embarks on a journey to figure out who held him captive and why. And — yeah. It’s quite the experience. This is one of those right-of-passage movies for everyone getting into movies.
Chan-wook directs the hell out of this movie, highlighted by that single-take fight scene where Oh Dae-su goes down a hallway and takes on about twenty-five guys with nothing more than a hammer. And that third act… it’s a hell of an ending.
10. Lost in Translation
“Let’s never come here again because it would never be as much fun.”
Who doesn’t love this movie?
Sofia Coppola became only the third woman ever to be nominated for Best Director for this film, and she won Best Screenplay for it. And it gave us Bill Murray as a dramatic actor, which he had kind of done throughout his career, but this is the first time everyone went, “Holy shit,” at one of his performances. He was inches away from winning Best Actor for this film, and a lot of people would argue that he probably should have won.
The film is a beautiful little movie about a woman in Tokyo with her husband, who is on assignment. So she’s left to herself all day with little to do, and ends up meeting Murray, a fading movie star in town to film a whiskey ad and in the midst of a mid-life crisis. And the two end up befriending each other and sort of alleviating each other’s misery.
It’s wonderful. Coppola as a filmmaker can be hit and miss, but the one thing everyone can agree on is this one. It holds up.
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Finding Nemo — Pixar. This is one I like a lot, but not enough to have in my top ten. It’s rarified air for me to put one of those in the top ten. I think, in total, I’ve got six in total of all their movies. But there are a lot in the 11-20s, because Pixar does make great movies. This is one that I imagine most people love and would put at or near the top of their favorites list. It’s just a really likable movie. About an overprotective fish who lost all but one of his children who loses his son to the big ocean and goes on an adventure with another fish whose memory resets every few seconds to go find his son. It’s a great movie. Objectively this is one of the best Pixar has ever made.
The Last Samurai — Tom Cruise in a samurai epic. This is Last of the Mohicans with samurai, mostly because the title is vague as to whether or not the white guy is the person they’re really talking about (hint: he’s not). Cruise plays a drunk Civil War captain who is hired to help train army soldiers in Imperial Japan, which has given up the samurai for modern soldiers with guns. He finds himself at odds with Ken Watanabe, a samurai who refuses to let go of that way of life. Of course, the pair eventually find common ground and become friends, and then Cruise becomes one of them, leading to a big fight against the army that Cruise used to train… you know what it is. You’ve seen this type of movie a bunch. But, here, it’s awesome. Cruise is great, Watanabe is tremendous, and it’s just one of those movies you love. Definitely my favorite Ed Zwick movie (and he’s made a lot of solid movies).
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World — Who doesn’t love a good naval battle movie set during the Napoleonic Wars? I’m surprised they never made a sequel to this movie, but I guess it’s because it’s financially prohibitive. Movies set on water are tough to pull off. But I’ve always loved this movie. It’s like Enemy at the Gates but with war ships. Russell Crowe is a British captain and the film is basically about his pursuit and rivalry with the best French war ship. And it’s about them chasing one another all throughout the ocean, with only one destined to come out alive. It’s wonderful. One of those movies that always has a shot at my top ten depending on when I see it. It’s just lovely.
Matchstick Men — Perhaps the most underrated Ridley Scott movie. I feel like people forget this is even a Ridley Scott movie. Nicolas Cage stars as a con artist who’s got Tourette’s and severe OCD and is just a mess of tics and spasms. Sam Rockwell plays his protege. After going into therapy, he finds out he has a daughter from a previous relationship. After meeting her, she adds a spark to his life, and he teaches her how to pull cons as the three of them decide to pull off a big job. It’s… wonderful. Cage is amazing here, as is Alison Lohman. This is one of those movies so many people overlooked and continue to overlook that almost everyone who watches it tells me, “I really liked that one.” That’s the sign of a hidden gem, folks.
The Matrix Reloaded — They released the two Matrix sequels this year, six months apart. The first one was an absolute phenomenon and remains a perfect film. Did it need sequels? No. But of course we were gonna get them. This one expands on the story, trying to expand on the original story without watering it down. They’re not totally successful with everything they try, but there are a lot of bright spots in this movie and some really cool action sequences. No one’s gonna think this is as good as the first one, but more pretty good Matrix movies are better than nothing at all.
The Matrix Revolutions — Revolutions is, by most accounts, kind of a sloppy movie. But fortunately they skip a lot of the story after a certain point and just get into a giant battle sequence. In a way, the franchise did build to something like that and for the most part, it wraps up the story pretty nicely. Again, decent Matrix is better than no Matrix, so I’m fine with both of these sequels and can easily just put on the entire series and just watch it.
Old School — I love this movie. This is the Will Ferrell comedy of my era that will always be near and dear to me. For other people, it’s Wedding Crashers, or Step Brothers. This is mine. It’s so funny. It’s Todd Phillips making a comedy about three middle-aged dudes who are bored with their lives and decide to start up a fraternity after one of them buys a house that they realize is near their old college campus. I still quote parts of this movie all the time (“I’m here for the gang bang,” or “(Denver), The Sunshine State. Gorgeous”). This movie also introduced us to the Dan Band, who became a running joke in Todd Phillips’s movies, but this is the one where it all started. This is one of the great comedies of my generation.
The Return — I saw this movie in a Russian cinema class in college and walked home in stunned silence afterward. It just affected me so much, and since then I’ve been telling anyone who’ll listen how great it is. Fortunately, since then, the director made Leviathan and Loveless, and is an established filmmaker of great films. So it’s easier to get people to listen. The film is about two brothers, whose father comes home after being gone for a bunch of years. He’s very cold and strict, and suddenly decides he’s going to take the boys camping with him. So they go on the trip, and tensions immediately rise. And the film is about the complicated relationship between the father and the two boys, going from only knowing him through a photo to spending all their time with him on this trip. It’s… I love it. I really love it. It’s incredible, and as much as Zvyagintsev’s later films were more critically acclaimed, this is my favorite film of his.
The Room —
This is one of those where, you either get it or you don’t. There’s nothing better than seeing this in a room full of people who enjoy the hell out of it. One of the great shared theater experiences out there.
Seabiscuit — I love this movie. Horse racing is something I grew up with and will always have an affinity for, and this story is so great. If you’re interested, read the Laura Hillenbrand book that was the basis for this movie. It’s a terrific piece of work. It’s about a horse during the Depression that was basically written off as unrideable and a dud despite its pedigree that, with the help of the right owner, trainer and jockey, turned into the greatest horse the country’d ever seen at the time. It’s such a feel-good movie. And it’s got Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper, Tobey Maguire, Elizabeth Banks, and is directed by Gary Ross, his first film after Pleasantville. Honestly, this would have been a top ten movie if I had the spot for it.
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- American Splendor
- Big Fish
- The Cooler
- House of Sand and Fog
- A Mighty Wind
- Mystic River
- Once Upon a Time in Mexico
- Phone Booth
- Runaway Jury
- The Rundown
- School of Rock
- The Station Agent
- Tears of the Sun
- Whale Rider
Whale Rider is a wonderful New Zealand film. It stars Keisha Castle-Hughes (who was nominated for her performance) as a girl born into a tribe that believes they were descended from a single ancestor, famous for riding to shore on the back of a whale. The tradition is that only males have ascended to leader of the tribe, though she believes that she is the person that is destined to be the leader. And the film is about her being determined to prove everyone wrong. And it’s wonderful. One of the most feel-good movies of the year and something I cannot recommend highly enough. Confidence is a con movie, with a bunch of grifters trying to pull off a big con. It’s taking its cues from The Sting, and you know the whole film is gonna try to misdirect you and do all sorts of twists and things to entertain you, and honestly if you just let it do its thing, it works. James Foley directs, and it stars Ed Burns, Rachel Weisz, Dustin Hoffman, Robert Forster, Paul Giamatti, Andy Garcia, Luis Guzman, Donal Logue and Morris Chestnut. It’s just a slick, fun movie, the kind you hope for when you go into something like this. S.W.A.T. is an adaptation of the 70s TV show with the great theme song. It’s about an LA SWAT team. That’s pretty much it. Samuel L. Jackson plays the leader, and you’ve got Colin Farrell, LL Cool J, Michelle Rodriguez, Jeremy Renner… the cast is great. A lot of cool character actors throughout and just a fun kind of movie. The story is about the team coming together and trying to keep a drug lord in custody after he offers a huge reward to anyone who can break him out. It’s just fun.
Dogville is a Lars Von Trier style exercise. What he does is shoot the entire film on a soundstage like a play, only there are no walls on the set. So at any time, you can see what’s going on in all the houses of this small town. The action could be in one house, but if you look in the background, you can see other characters just existing in their spaces. For some, that could seem utterly pretentious or impossible to watch. I fucking loved it. It’s my second favorite Von Trier movie after Breaking the Waves. I love it. It’s told like a novel, introducing the town and its citizens and then getting into its story, which involves Nicole Kidman as a woman on the run from gangsters, who gets accepted by the town on a provisional basis, provided she work for them to earn her keep. This isn’t a movie for everyone, but I loved it. The only reason it’s not in my top 20 is because of a lack of space. Phone Booth is such a genius concept. You could imagine Hitchcock doing something like this. Man walks into a phone booth and answers a call. The person on the other end says he’s got a sniper rifle trained on him and that the man must do everything he says. Basically the entire movie takes place in the phone booth. It’s great. The movie itself doesn’t fully take advantage of its premise, but it’s still pretty great. Joel Schumacher directs, Colin Farrell stars along with Katie Holmes, Forest Whitaker, and Kiefer Sutherland as the man with the rifle. It’s a really effective thriller.
American Splendor is a biopic of Harvey Pekar, just a regular dude telling his story about how he turned himself into a comic book superhero. It’s told in such a unique way, and Paul Giamatti and Hope Davis are fantastic in it. One of the real gems of the 2000s. School of Rock is a movie designed to utilize Jack Black’s talents. Now people take for granted that he was always someone. But in the 90s, he had Tenacious D as a sort of underground group, and he always seemed to play small parts or the ‘friend’ role in movies. His breakthrough came in High Fidelity when he got to play the friend role, but also got to sing (if you haven’t seen High Fidelity, go see it. I’m not gonna ruin it, but there’s a scene with him at the end of the movie that’s incredible). And then he started getting the goofy comic character in stuff like Orange County and Saving Silverman. But this — this was the first movie that really was written within his wheelhouse. He plays a wannabe rock star who lives in an apartment with his roommate and his roommate’s girlfriend. After getting kicked out of his band and needing money, he intercepts a phone call meant for his roommate (a teacher) about a substitute position in a school. So he takes it and pretends to be his friend. He then begins to fashion the class into their very own rock band (mostly to suit his own interests by entering a battle of the bands competition to beat his former band). It’s — trust me, it works. The plot is crazy, but Black makes it work. He’s so damn likable here and really turns this into a winning movie. Plus, Richard Linklater directs, and he almost never makes anything less than worthwhile.
Big Fish is Tim Burton’s most traditional/emotional film. I’m not gonna say it’s his most personal, since in a way Edward Scissorhands feels like his most personal film, but this is close to it. Apparently Spielberg was thinking of making this at one point. It’s the story of a dying father and his son mending their relationship, centered around all the stories the father would tell, which the son assumed were all fake. This is such a beautiful film, and I feel like it’s one that most people like a lot or even love, and I suspect that the next time I go back and watch it, it might jump up a bit higher on my list for this year. House of Sand and Fog is an incredibly affecting film. It’s about two people with equal claim on the same piece of property, and the ensuing events that occur because of their actions. Jennifer Connelly plays a recovering addict and divorcee who is evicted from her house after what she believes to be a misunderstanding that had been long cleared up. Ben Kingsley plays a former Iranian Colonel who fled his country and is now in America, working multiple shitty jobs to support his family. However, he still pretends as if he’s well-to-do so as not to shame his family, and constantly lives beyond his means. He buys the house at an auction for less than it’s worth, believing he can fix it up and make a profit upon selling it. And a feud of sorts begins between Connelly and Kingsley, who both feel as though they are the rightful owners of the property. It’s absolutely terrific. Jennifer Connelly is always great, as is Ben Kingsley, so them being great here should come as no surprise. But also really great here is Shohreh Aghdashloo as Kingsley’s wife. She, along with Kingsley, was nominated for her work in this. This is a movie built on really strong drama with a lot of moral gray areas (and no judgment of its characters or their actions) and the performance of its actors.
The Rundown. Okay, so this is an action movie directed by Peter Berg, starring The Rock, Sean William Scott, Rosario Dawson and Christopher Walken. The Rock is a chef who is sent to get a mobster’s son back from South America, but ends up getting involved with Christopher Walken, the oppressive boss of a village using the villagers to seek buried treasure. The plot doesn’t really matter, but it’s a fun movie. And gave me perhaps my favorite behind the scenes movie story of all time. Which is: there’s a scene where Christopher Walken calls the local villagers “Oompa Loompas.” Before they’re going to shoot the scene, Walken goes up to Pete Berg and says, “What does this line mean?” And Berg goes, “You know, Oompa Loompas, like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” And Walken has no idea what he’s talking about. So Berg stops filming immediately, takes Walken to his trailer and puts on Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Walken sits there, quietly, watching for two hours, never saying a word. The movie ends and he turns to Berg and goes, “Okay.” And nothing else. And then they go back outside and shoot the scene. Truly one of the most perfect stories I’ve ever heard. Once Upon a Time in Mexico is Robert Rodriguez finishing his “Mariachi” trilogy with his Mexican “Good the Bad and the Ugly.” It’s this overly complicated movie with a coup, and Johnny Depp as a CIA agent who literally walks around with a shirt advertising the fact that he’s in the CIA and murdering chefs when they make food that’s too good. It’s insane. But it’s awesome. I love this movie. Rodriguez, when he’s making fun action movies, is at his best. And you get Johnny Depp and Willem Dafoe and Mickey Rourke and Salma Hayek and Eva Mendes and Danny Trejo… all these people just having the time of their lives. That’s the beauty of a movie like this — you know everyone had fun making it. And it shows in the film.
The Station Agent is a fascinating movie. One of the true independent films of the 2000s. Written by Tom McCarthy, it stars Peter DInklage as a lonely man who lives at an abandoned train depot. Preferring to live alone, he soon finds himself gaining friends and getting involved in their lives. It’s absolutely wonderful. Bobby Cannavale is great here, and then you also have Patricia Clarkson and Michelle Williams. Do yourself a favor and see this movie. 11:14 is an ensemble film kind of like Crash, or maybe more like one of those movies like Go. Where it’s intertwining stories all based around a common event. Here, it’s all these things happening at the exact same time. It’s too much to get into all the different stories without giving stuff away, but it’s a fun little movie. There’s definitely an element of dark comedy to it, and it feels like one of the better films that’s clearly a Quentin knockoff in some way. I remember there was a time when people would list this as one of the great hidden gems of the 2000s. I’m not sure if they’re still doing that, but it does feel like a nice little hidden gem that people would enjoy if they saw it. A Mighty Wind is Christopher Guest, and some might call it his best film. The great trilogy is this, Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show (with For Your Consideration an also-great fourth entry). This is about a folk music concert that is going to reunite some bands that broke up long ago. And, in typical Guest fashion, we meet all the different characters and get all sorts of comedy. It’s wonderful. It’s got his usual cast of characters, and honestly… you can never go wrong with a Christopher Guest movie.
The Cooler is such an awesome movie. It stars William H. Macy as the world’s most unlucky man. He’s so unlucky that a casino has hired him to “cool off” gamblers with hot hands. His literal presence causes other peoples’ luck to turn. However, he suddenly starts having a change in his own luck, starting a relationship with a cocktail waitress, which also affects what he does, as gamblers start winning whenever they’re around him. It’s such a unique kind of story, but also kind of great. Macy is terrific here, as are Maria Bello and especially Alec Baldwin. I’m a big fan of this movie. Mystic River is the movie that brought Clint Eastwood into perennial Oscar territory. I’m not sure how, since it’s based on Dennis Lehane and seems like a standard kind of crime movie, but hey. They loved it. It’s about three men, bonded together because of an incident from their childhood in which one of them is abducted and abused for several days before escaping. Now as adults, one of them has become a cop, one has become a criminal, and the third (the one who was abused) is a construction worker. And the three are brought together again when one of their daughters (the criminal’s) is found murdered. And the film is about the fallout that happens in the aftermath of the murder. The three men are played by Sean Penn, Tim Robbins and Kevin Bacon. Penn and Robbins won Oscars for their performances. Also in it are Laura Linney, Marcia Gay Harden, Laurence Fishburne, Emmy Rossum and Eli Wallach (!). It’s a solid movie. My only knock on it is in relation to the awards, but as a movie, it’s well worth seeing. It’s definitely one of the higher end Eastwood-directed films.
Monster is a biopic of serial killer Aileen Wuornos, famous for Charlize Theron’s absolutely stunning portrayal of Wuornos. This is one of those performances that completely changes how you feel about an actor, even if you thought they were wonderful beforehand. Theron absolutely inhabits this woman, and it’s the kind of performance where you completely forget everything else you’re watching because she’s just so good. Now, someone who deserves a shoutout for this movie is Christina Ricci, who also gives a tremendous performance but often goes unnoticed because Theron is just so goddamn good in this. But this is a fantastic movie featuring what might be the greatest acting performance of the decade. Tears of the Sun is a war drama starring Bruce Willis and directed by Antoine Fuqua coming off Training Day. It takes place in Nigeria during a coup. Bruce Willis and his team are sent in to get Monica Bellucci, a doctor giving aid to locals, out before she can be killed. Only, when they get there, Bellucci refuses to leave unless she can get all the refugees in her care out as well. So now the group has to get all these people to safety without getting killed in the process. It’s a lot of fun. Kind of forgotten now, but I’ve always liked it. X2 is the X-Men sequel. Arguably it’s better than the first, but the first will always hold a special place in my heart. Here they get to do a lot more and add more characters, and they introduce Wolverine’s backstory in the way of William Stryker, who has become a mainstay in these movies. It’s a really solid one. The first two are among the best first two movies in a superhero franchise you’ll see.
Runaway Jury is basically the last of the John Grisham adaptations. It’s weird. For a decade of having a lot of big studio movies come out based on his books (Pelican Brief, The Firm, The Client, The Chamber, A Time to Kill, The Rainmaker), this one came out, and then it just stopped. Here is a visual description of what I think happened:
Anyway, Runaway Jury is a really solid film. It’s the first time Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman shared the screen, despite having been roommates in the 60s before either made it big. The original book, which is quite good, is about the tobacco industry, but the movie (rightly so, after The Insider) makes it about the gun industry. It’s a trial involving a widow suing a gun company after a man walked into an office and opened fire on the people inside, including her husband. Hoffman plays her lawyer, and Hackman plays a jury expert on the other side, designed to get the best possible jury to help the gun company come away victorious. Meanwhile, Rachel Weisz is a mysterious woman who goes to both sides asking for money, saying she can deliver a verdict on their side if they pay. John Cusack, meanwhile, is her boyfriend, who is on the jury, and the film is about all the different sides playing this out, trying to attain their own agendas. It’s a solid movie. The book, I think, is better than the final film, but the final film is very watchable.
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- 21 Grams
- Anger Management
- Bad Boys II
- Bruce Almighty
- Cold Mountain
- Head of State
- The Hebrew Hammer
- The Hunted
- The Italian Job
- The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
- Owning Mahoney
- Poolhall Junkies
- Scary Movie 3
- The Singing Detective
- Shattered Glass
- The Triplets of Belleville
- Windy City Heat
21 Grams is an Alejandro Inarritu film about the affects of a single event on a series of people. It’s almost a dry run for Babel a few years after this, but it’s doing its own thing. He tells the story in a really complex way, with three separate timelines for each main character, told non-linearly, almost like a rippling effect, radiating from the incident. Penn plays a math teacher with a heart condition, Naomi Watts is a recovering addict who has straightened out her life and now has a family, and Benicio Del Toro is a former addict who has turned to religion and turned his life around. The film revolves around the events of a car crash that changes all their lives forever. It’s a very good movie. Inarritu always makes good movies. This one is most striking for the way he tells the story and the performances of all the leads. The Italian Job is a remake of the 1969 film, which is absolutely wonderful. This is just very fun. It stars Mark Wahlberg, Jason Statham, Edward Norton, Charlize Theron and Mos Def. It barely resembles the original film, outside of a heist of gold using Mini Coopers. This one is about revenge and all this and is very much a modern day kind of action movie. But it’s fun. It’s not a straight remake, which makes it more enjoyable. Rather than say, “That wasn’t nearly as good,” you can say, “It was very different and fun.” Anger Management is an Adam Sandler comedy that probably only works as well as it does because they got Jack Nicholson to be in it. Sandler plays a guy who gets sentenced to anger management therapy and must deal with Nicholson, his insane therapist, who seemingly is the one who needs to have his own anger management needs. It definitely has its moments.
Owning Mahoney is a drama about gambling addiction starring Philip Seymour Hoffman. This is the epitome of that indie that is pretty good but works primarily because it has an amazing lead performance at its center. Hoffman is great here as a bank manager who starts stealing from his bank to feed his gambling addiction. It’s a terrific film with an even better lead performance from Hoffman. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is an adaptation of the Alan Moore graphic novel. It’s basically him taking public domain characters — Allan Quartermain, Jekyll & Hyde, the Invisible Man, Dorian Grey, Captain Nemo — and teaming them up for an adventure. The movie’s ridiculous but also fun. It’s just pure popcorn entertainment. No more, no less. Bad Boys II is the sequel. It’s much more “Bay”-ified. It’s excessive, indulgent, over the top, ridiculous, and just plain fun. Everyone remembers the “shit just got real” moment. That’s this movie in a nutshell. It’s absolutely insane, but what else did we want beside insane? This franchise is fun, and they made a fun sequel. Besides, it’s Michael Bay. You know what you’re getting with one of his movies. Daredevil is not a very well-liked comic book movie. This was Ben Affleck’s first foray into tights, and it didn’t end well for most. After the Marvel show, I think most people know the character of Daredevil. I always enjoyed this movie, thinking that parts of it were done very well. Others… not so much. But Colin Farrell as Bullseye is fun, and Michael Clarke Duncan as Kingpin was a dope casting move. It’s a mixed bag of a movie, but one I do appreciate.
The Singing Detective is a weird ass movie, but I love it. First off, it’s directed by Keith Gordon, who played Rodney Dangerfield’s son in Back to School and has gone on to direct a lot of TV shows in the ensuing years. It’s based on a Dennis Potter miniseries, which… he’s the guy who wrote the Pennies from Heaven miniseries that the Steve Martin film is based on. It stars Robert Downey Jr. as a writer in bed with a skin disease who starts to hallucinate all these different stories (a noir detective investigating a case in which all characters are played by the people in his life) and elaborate choreographed musical numbers by the hospital staff. It’s a fascinating movie. It’s so weird that of course I like it. Plus it borrows from two of my favorite genres, musicals and noir. It’s the movie that helped bring Downey back to Hollywood’s good graces after various public disgraces (and helped him book Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which helped him book Iron Man), and it’s just a really fun little oddity of a film that not enough people know about. Windy City Heat is an amazing documentary that I think is still one of those things that only certain people know about. It’s about this comedian Perry Caravello, who is blatantly looking to become famous. And he ended up becoming friends with a guy who was the warmup comic for Jimmy Kimmel’s shows. And he and his other friend just pranked the shit out of this guy for years. Eventually, they enlist the help of Kimmel to really get this guy good. What they do is make this guy believe that he’s gonna be starring in his own movie. He’s gonna play a “sports private eye” named Stone Fury. They make this elaborate casting process where he thinks he beat out Carson Daly for the role. Bobcat Goldthwait “directs” the movie, and they really go about filming this obviously terrible movie with this ridiculous plot about trying to find Refrigerator Perry’s refrigerator. And the whole thing just gets more ridiculous to the point where you can’t imagine that this guy still thinks it’s real.
Head of State is a Chris Rock comedy (he co-wrote and directed it) about him trying to be the first black president. Or rather… he’s put forth by his party to be the nominee for president after the previous frontrunner for the nomination dies in a plane crash. Basically they trot him out there to lose, to help their chances with the next election. Figuring he’s got nothing to lose, he starts speaking his mind about what he would do if elected president. And it’s awesome. The best part about this movie is Bernie Mac, his brother, who he picks as his Vice President. It’s a very prescient film, and is very funny. Elephant is Gus Van Sant’s movie about Columbine. Not directly, but it was influenced by it. It’s about two loners at school who plot and carry out a massacre similar to Columbine. The film uses non-professional actors and uses a very minmalist, vérité style, with a lot of long takes of people walking up school hallways and things like that. It got a lot of acclaim at the time and I think, back then, this was seen as almost revolutionary. I don’t know if I quite thought that back then or even think that now, but I do think it’s a very solid piece of work. Scary Movie 3 is the third one. I like this one better than 2, only because there are more jokes in this one that still make me laugh, particularly in the latter section of the movie when they do the Signs parody. But still, I always liked these films (mainly the first three. Four wasn’t great and five I pretend never happened). Plus, this one brings in Leslie Nielsen, which is always a welcome addition to a parody film.
The Hebrew Hammer is just an insane movie. And that’s what’s great about it. It’s a Jewish blaxploitation movie about a hero on a mission to save Hanukkah. Honestly, it doesn’t matter what I say past that, because you should automatically be looking to watch this movie right now. It’s hilarious. I love this movie. The Triplets of Belleville is an animated film by Sylvain Chomet, and it’s so good it managed to get nominated for Best Animated Feature in only the third iteration of that category. And in the early days… you had to be really good to be foreign and get nominated if you weren’t Ghibli. It’s about an old woman whose grandson goes missing during the Tour de France, so she goes to get him back, with the help of three old ladies who were a famous song and dance team in their youth. It’s… trust me, it works. It’s lovely. Basic is a mystery thriller that appealed to me because it was John McTiernan directing Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta. Travolta is a DEA agent assigned to investigate what happened to Jackson’s unit after they disappear after a training exercise that leaves some of his soldiers dead. It’s better to know as little about it going in, because it’s full of all sorts of twists and turns. Not the greatest movie ever made, but it’s fun.
Poolhall Junkies is one of those movies that I found because Christopher Walken is in it, and then really enjoyed for a lot of years. Of course, as I got deeper into movies, I went away from it, but for the, like, 2004-2007 years, I really liked this one and watched it a bunch. It’s basically Gone in 60 Seconds but with pool. A hustler gets out of the game after a bad incident (and a broken hand, a la The Hustler), but has to get back in when he realizes his younger brother is in with the same dangerous people. I’ve always enjoyed it, even if it is a marginal movie at best. The Hunted is William Friedkin directing Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio del Toro that’s also sort of narrated by Johnny Cash. Do I have your attention now? I imagine this isn’t something most people will know. It came out and got almost no attention at the time. Benicio is a former covert ops agent who was trained to carry out assassinations for the government. Now, he is off living in the woods and kills two civilians, forcing the FBI to go in and try to retrieve him. So they bring in Jones, his former mentor, who he looks at as a father. And it quickly becomes teacher vs. student, one man hunting another in the woods. It’s really strong. It’s not the most complex movie, and that’s what makes it good. Though I will say, it is kind of in that no man’s land, where it’s not totally an action movie and it’s not totally a drama about one man’s PTSD and how the government cast him aside. So I get that it’s not for everyone. But I’ve always really enjoyed it. Shattered Glass is a really solid biopic about Stephen Glass, a journalist who writes really vivid stories for magazines that people slowly start to realize are all fake. And it’s a movie about all of this slowly coming apart as his editor starts to pull apart the house of cards. It’s really well done. Hayden Christensen and Peter Sarsgaard are fantastic here, and it’s one of the really strong, yet underrated movies of the decade. Written and directed by Billy Ray, who’s written a lot of movies you like (Hunger Games, Captain Phillips, Overlord) and also directed Breach, another hidden gem of this decade. Movies about reporters tend to always be interesting, and this is no different.
Cold Mountain is one of those movies that I’ve had a contentious relationship with. Because, at the time, that was the first year I got super into the Oscars. And this was the “big” Oscar movie that year. Because it was Harvey. And he got things like this on, even though no one really loved it as a movie. And this felt blatantly like a big Oscar play. Director of The English Patient, insane cast, edited by the guy who did Apocalypse Now. So, for me, I just hated it on principle at the time. And then the movie got some insane number of nominations but wasn’t nominated for Best Picture, which was pure schadenfreude for me. But then, over the years, I went back to it, mainly as part of this site, and I’ve come to appreciate it much more. It’s a sweeping romance between Jude Law and Nicole Kidman. It’s like Wuthering Heights in the South. Two people get separated by circumstance and it’s about them trying to reunite. Only, the Civil War breaks out around them. The cast is nuts. Famous people show up in this movie to have one or two scenes and then get killed by another famous person. Look at the people in this: Brendan Gleeson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Natalie Portman, Cillian Murphy, Giovanni Ribisi, Donald Sutherland, Ray Winstone, Kathy Baker, James Gammon, Charlie Hunnam, Jake White, Ethan Suplee, Jena Malone, Melora Walters, Taryn Manning, James Rebhorn, Emily Deschanel, and of course Renee Zellweger, who won an Oscar for her performance. There’s an insane level of talent in this movie. The film itself I think is kinda bloated, but the amount of good pieces in this is going to lead to a solid and watchable movie. If not, we’d be talking about what a giant disaster this was. Bruce Almighty is the last of the Jim Carrey comedies that really worked. He plays a regular man who complains so much that God tells him, “You think you can do better? Here’s all my powers.” And that’s it. That’s the movie. It’s fun. It’s got its moments. Not as good as Carrey’s earlier comedies, but still very much a fun piece of entertainment. It helped break Steve Carrell, that’s definitely one big thing that came out of it. And I’ll always appreciate that even in 2003, they cast Morgan Freeman as God and everyone went, “Yeah… that makes sense.”
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- American Wedding
- Better Luck Tomorrow
- Brother Bear
- Dark Blue
- Down with Love
- Freaky Friday
- Gods and Generals
- How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
- The Missing
- Mona Lisa Smile
- Open Range
- The Recruit
- Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over
- Stuck on You
- Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
Down with Love is a rom com designed to look like a movie made in the 60s. It’s a style exercise, and that’s what makes it unique. It’s meant to be like the Rock Hudson/Doris Day movies, that are clearly about people fucking but never mention that they’re fucking, even though they were made during the sexual revolution. Renee Zellweger stars as a female author who espouses that women should be independent and not be tied down to men or feel the need to marry. Ewan McGregor, meanwhile, plays a womanizing magazine writer. After a disastrous first meeting, McGregor decides he’s going to show up her up by making it so that she falls in love with him and becomes everything she’s telling women not to be. It’s a lot of fun. It works when you get the films they’re referencing, but even without it, it still works on its own. The Recruit is a thriller with Colin Farrell and Al Pacino. Farrell is a CIA trainee and Pacino is his handler/mentor. During his training, Pacino asks Farrell to go undercover to hunt down a mole in the agency. It’s sort of like a Departed situation. But it’s fun. Pretty standard kind of thriller, but it works when you like the stars. Better Luck Tomorrow is Justin Lin’s first film. It was a real indie darling upon its release, and still holds up as a great first film. It’s about a group of stereotypical overachieving Asian students who decide to have some fun on the side… which gets into less than legal territory. It’s a lot of fun. Definitely the kind of movie that shows you that Lin isn’t just the guy that directs studio franchise movies.
Open Range is a Kevin Costner-directed western. It stars him and Robert Duvall. Duvall is a cattleman leading a drive and Costner is one of his hands. They happen upon a town headed by a corrupt official, and pretty soon it becomes grounds for an eventual showdown. It’s the kind of western that would have been standard fare in the 50s, but here, it’s a nice little throwback film. Costner’s only directed three films to this point (Dances with Wolves, The Postman and this), and it’s nice to see his dedication to keeping the western alive. Stuck on You is the last watchable Farrelly brothers movie (they all got bad from here). It’s Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear as conjoined twins. That’s… that’s it, really. The joke is that they’re literally stuck together. It’s dumb, but it’s got its moments. American Wedding is the third one. It’s… well the title tells you what it’s centered around. It’s a respectable third film in the series. These films, I think, only really worked in the late 90s/early 2000s, and probably don’t hold up now, but for someone my age, I think the three were a decent little comedy trilogy that bookends those years when I was hitting puberty. I’ll always respect them for that.
Gigli is the movie that killed Martin Brest’s career. He had Beverly Hills Cop, Midnight Run, Scent of a Woman and Meet Joe Black. Then he made this, and no one’s heard from him since. The film was sadly burdened with starring Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, who were the big celebrity couple at the time, and whether it’s warranted or not, people decided this was terrible long before it came out. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s bout a low level mobster who is told to kidnap the mentally challenged younger brother of the DA as leverage in order to keep their boss out of prison. Then there’s Jennifer Lopez as also a mob person, kinda, who is a lesbian, but not really… honestly, the plot is very strange. It is a disaster in a lot of ways, but it’s not the kind of movie that should be immediately discarded. I like it as an oddity. It’s a watchably bad movie, is how I’d describe it. But I prefer something like this to some generic action movie. Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over is the third one. They get more watered down as the franchise goes on, but at their core they’re all fun because they’re based in family and pure family entertainment. Freaky Friday is a remake of the 1976 film, here with Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis. The premise is that a bickering mother and daughter get swapped into each other’s bodies for the day, and comedy ensues. It’s fun. Not quite the Parent Trap remake, but it’s decent entertainment for the 8-12 crowd.
Gods and Generals is an epic Civil War movie that acts as a prequel to Gettysburg, which came out a decade before. It’s four-hours long, and it’s really only for people who like epic, detailed war movies. I happen to like them, so I really like this movie. Thirteen is a movie about what it’s like to be a thirteen year old girl, co-written by one of the movie’s stars, who based it loosely on her experiences at that age. It’s basically a teen girl in LA getting into sex and drugs and that sort of stuff. I remember people my age thought it was this amazing movie. I never particularly loved it, but I think some of the performances in it are really solid and worth mentioning. Holes is a kid’s movie that was definitely to young for me when it came out, even though I knew all about it from my sister, who was the right age for it. I only ended up seeing it for the first time fairly recently, and I quite enjoyed it. Shia LaBeouf is a kid who gets sent to a camp for delinquent children in which the kids are forced to dig giant holes in the desert all day. Of course, he’s a rebel and starts planning an uprising, especially when he starts finding out that the reason the kids are digging holes isn’t for rehabilitation, it’s for some other, secret purpose. It’s fun. Also, Shia’s character has one of the great names I’ve ever seen, Stanley Yelnats.
Brother Bear is a Disney movie. One of their weaker ones, but not without its merits. Joaquin Phoenix stars as an Inuit boy who kills a bear that killed his brother, and as spiritual punishment, is turned into a bear himself. That’s pretty much the film. It’s fine. Likable, but not special the way some Disney movies are. Also, incredible theme song by Phil Collins. People remember the Tarzan one, but no one remembers this one, which is every bit as good as that one. The Missing is a Ron Howard western with Tommy Lee Jones and Cate Blanchett. He’s a man who left his family years earlier to live with the Native Americans, only to return, looking to make amends. The story revolves around Blanchett’s daughter, who gets captured by a renegade Apache who kidnaps girls and sells them into slavery. So Blanchett and her father must go on this trip to get her daughter back, and mend their relationship along the way. It’s very solid, though it’s definitely the kind of movie that is not for everyone. There’s a lot of dialogue in Apache, and it’s not a shoot-em-up kind of western. Which can be hard for a lot of people, since westerns in general can be hard for people today. I think it’s a really solid film and an admirable attempt to do something different.
How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days is a Kate Hudson/Matthew McConaughey rom com, and honestly, if you’re gonna pull a list of the best rom coms of the 2000s, this is on it. The genre slowly died after the millennium, but this is one of the ones that did make an impact and still holds up as a good on. She’s a magazine writer and he’s an ad rep. She’s writing an article in which she can prove how easy it is to ruin a relationship in 10 days with all the classic things women do to make guys want to leave, and he bets that he can make a woman fall in love with him in 10 days. And of course comedy and romance ensue. It’s good. Identity is a James Mangold film that’s a sort of take on And Then There Were None. Ten strangers show up at a motel and mysteriously start dying one by one. It’s better if I don’t get into specifics, but I will say — the cast is solid, the movie is engaging and James Mangold always makes worthwhile movies. I think this is worth seeing. Hulk is Ang Lee doing comic books. He took the character of Hulk and tried to make it poetic and do a deep character dive. Didn’t… didn’t work. But I do like it as an attempt to do something different before they found the formula to just churn these things out all in the same vein. So at least there’s that.
Dark Blue is a cop drama directed by Ron Shelton, who is mostly known for his sports movies. It takes place in the days leading up to the Rodney King verdict. Kurt Russell plays a corrupt cop who administers his own brand of justice and fights with his department, which is trying to end his brand of policework. It’s solid. It’s written by David Ayer (from a James Ellroy story), but it’s not as hard-hitting as Training Day. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is the first non-James Cameron Terminator movie. I don’t really remember the plot, though I assume it’s just them trying to stop Judgment Day. This is a movie that’s not all that interesting for the first 90 minutes but gets really interesting in the last 20. It’s clear that without Cameron involved, no one really knew how to properly handle this franchise. But hey, that ending.
And Mona Lisa Smile.
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