Nate's Top 5 DVDs - and then some

Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Bill the Butcher in "Gangs of New York," Nate's No. 1 movie of 2003.

Published: Friday, January 2, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 2, 2004 at 12:05 a.m.

Happy New Year!

Knowing my own predilections as well as I do, this week Rewind will examine the best DVD releases of 2003, thus allowing me to turn my column in early and not have to worry about where I might awake after New Year's Eve. Last year I don't remember anything until coming to in the Everglades in late January. If next week's column is another recap, feel free to look for a new columnist.

Speaking of last year, 2003 was a fairly solid year for movies. There weren't too many films that ranked as classics, but there were a goodly sum that were entertaining. But before I get to my top picks, there are a few honorable mentions that deserve a sliver of limelight.

In a year chock full of comic book movies, "X2: X-Men United" was easily the best, and arguably the best comic movie ever made. However, "Road to Perdition" also was an outstanding piece of work.

Grandiose action flicks were en vogue this year. "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" was overly long but provided a stellar third hour. "Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl" had some similar action and effects, and star Johnny Depp was more fun than any character on new release racks this year.

"Finding Nemo" was probably the best kids' movie this year, although it wasn't the best animated film (see below). "Poolhall Junkies" was the best independent film you've never heard of, while "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" was unique and interesting. And no best-of column would be complete without a nod to the year's funniest film: "Old School."

And now, on to the Top 5.

5. In "Equilibrium," the classic Ray Bradbury novel "Fahrenheit 451" collides head-on with Hong Kong-style action movies. Christian Bale stars as John Preston, a police assassin called a Cleric who hunts down and destroys relics of the past.

In the future, you see, the world government has decided that human emotion has led to all human suffering. The entire populace is now on a Prozac-like drug called Librium that inhibits emotions. The Clerics are chosen to destroy art and poetry (which inspire emotion) and arrest or kill anyone who doesn't take their daily dose.

If I've made this movie sound too conventional or intellectual, let me give you the other side of the coin. The Clerics study a new kind of kung-fu that is based on one man with two pistols fighting a crowd of armed men. The gunplay is fast and furious, making "Equilibrium" the thinking-man's action movie of the year.

4. The ad campaign for British horror flick "28 Days Later" promised to "reinvent zombie horror." It delivered in spades.

But in addition to making a new kind of walking-dead movie, "28 Days Later" went the extra step to present memorable characters and a strong story (something we don't get much of in modern horror flicks).

When it's all said and done, "28 Days Later" is easily one of the best movies of the year - and one of the best horror films of the last five years. Run, don't walk, to the video store to rent this movie today. Better yet, just buy it. It gets better with repeated viewings.

3. "Spirited Away" is a work of art that moves and breathes. "Finding Nemo" was probably the best children's film of the year, but even with its amazing visual style, it can't hold a candle to this breath-taking Japanese import.

"Spirited Away" is a fable about a little girl who wanders into a health-and-relaxation spa for the spirits and gods of the world. Her parents are turned into pigs, and the girl is trapped in this bizarre and captivating world. Dealing with polluted river spirits, rescuing trapped dragons and rubbing shoulders with the stoic radish spirit, it's all in a days work.

Singular in story and style, "Spirited Away" defies classification and is a triumph of modern animation.

2. Complex, brilliant, cleverly self-reverential. All describe "Adaptation," but none do it justice. This movie is so good that words fail me.

"Adaptation" was very close to being my top pick of the year. The race was neck and neck, all the way down to the wire.

The deciding factor? The "fish hook."

The hook of which I speak is the street-fighting tactic where you curl up two fingers so they look like a fish hook. Then you slip them inside someone's mouth and pull until their face rips off. I only mention this to demonstrate that the year's best DVD is educational - like an A&E special, only with extra blood and archaic swear words.

1. For this reason, and hundreds more, my favorite DVD release of the year was the Martin Scorsese crime epic "Gangs of New York." It's a brutal, dark, dirty look at the street gangs that ruled our country's largest city at the turn of the century. Centered around the villainous Bill the Butcher, the film is carried to greatness on the strength of Daniel Day-Lewis' brilliant performance.

Highest possible recommendation for all these films.

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