WASHINGTON (January 9, 2004) -- U.S. Bishops' Office for Film and Broadcasting (OFB) recently announced its 2003 Ten Best Films List.
"There were some truly exceptional films, reminding us that movies have the power to inspire and uplift rather than just dehumanize and debase," said Gerri Pare, Director of the OFB.
She added regrets that "2003 also saw its share of over-hyped sequels and pointless remakes, mindless action pictures and witless comedies."
OFB's film classifications are A-I - general patronage; A-II - adults and adolescents; A-III - adults; L - Limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling, and O - morally offensive.
In alphabetical order, the Top Ten of 2003 are:
- Big Fish -- Enchanting fable about an estranged son (Billy Crudup) who returns home to reconnect with his dying father (Albert Finney), a compulsive storyteller, and discovers that the tall tales he was told as a youngster hold the key to unlocking his father's elusive past. Blending fantasy and reality, director Tim Burton's delightful fish story is sure to reel viewers in by suggesting that life is not a problem to be solved but an adventure and a mystery to be embraced with a childlike sense of wonder. Brief violence, an instance of rear nudity and minimal mildly crude humor and language. A-II (PG-13)
- In America -- Inspiring, largely autobiographical tale of grieving Irish parents (Paddy Considine and Samantha Morton) who arrive impoverished in 1980s' New York City with two little daughters (Sarah Bolger and Emma Bolger) whose friendship with a volatile African-American artist (Djimon Hounsou) helps the troubled family to survive. Co-writer/director Jim Sheridan elicits superb performances and beautifully conveys themes of loss, human dignity, love and redemption in this immigrant experience story. A shadowy married sexual encounter with momentary nudity, fleeting violence and drug references, minimal profanity and an instance of rough language. A-III (PG-13)
- Mystic River -- Provocative, morally ambiguous tale of three former childhood pals contentiously thrown together after the daughter of one (Sean Penn) is murdered, the second (Tim Robbins) becomes a suspect and the third (Kevin Bacon) is the homicide detective on the case. Directed by Clint Eastwood from Dennis Lehane's best seller, the intense drama points to the shattering consequences of an incident of childhood sexual abuse that comes full circle years later with deadly repercussions. Brief but intense violence, much rough language and occasional profanity. A-III (R)
- The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King -- Lavish final chapter of J.R.R. Tolkien's epic fantasy trilogy set in the mythic realm of Middle-earth. The third film brings to completion the quest of a humble hobbit (Elijah Wood) to destroy the Ring of Power coveted by the dark lord Sauron, while his comrades (including Ian McKellen and Viggo Mortensen) stave off the annihilation of mankind by leading a last-stand resistance against an army of Sauron's evil minions. Seamlessly blending grand-scale special-effects sequences with dramatically nuanced performances, director Peter Jackson scores a crowning achievement, as visually spectacular as it is emotionally satisfying. And though the good-versus-evil, sword-and-sorcery saga touches on transcendent themes such as mortality, free will and divine providence, the crowded narrative affords little time for clarifying exposition, which may leave those unfamiliar with the books or the two earlier movies overwhelmed. Extended battlefield violence and a few frightening scenes. A-III (PG-13)
- Seabiscuit -- Fact-based, Depression-era tale chronicling how Seabiscuit, a temperamental, bargain-basement racehorse, was transformed with the support of his patient owner (Jeff Bridges), resourceful trainer (Chris Cooper) and scrappy, hard-luck jockey (Tobey Maguire) from an ungainly loser to a racetrack record-setter whose hard-won triumphs lifted the spirits of the struggling American populace. Based on Laura Hillenbrand's same-titled best seller, writer-director Gary Ross' film condenses the story into a feel-good winning style marred by some heavy-handedness but buoyed by classy period visuals and deft performances. An implied sexual encounter, brief racetrack and boxing ring violence and some profanity. A-III (PG-13)
- Secret Lives: Hidden Children -- Uplifting documentary about Jewish children saved from the Nazis by non-Jewish families who, at great personal risk, took them into their own homes. Academy-Award winning filmmaker Aviva Slesin, herself a former hidden child in Lithuania, weaves together haunting archival footage, personal photographs, and interviews with both fellow survivors and the families who harbored them to create a portrait of luminous courage in the face of unfathomable darkness. Some fleeting, violent archival images, as well as some emotionally disturbing content. A-II (nr)
- Spellbound -- Uplifting Oscar-nominated documentary about eight students from across the country competing for all the marbles at the National Spelling Bee in Washington. While effectively capturing the nail-biting pressure-cooker atmosphere of the grueling two-day event, director Jeff Blitz interweaves disparate stories creating an engaging tapestry which celebrates the kaleidoscope of the American experience. A-I (G)
- Together -- Touching story about a young violin prodigy (Tang Yun) and his father (Liu Peiqi), who, having traveled from a rural Chinese town to big-city Beijing, find themselves torn between two violin instructors, one passionate about music, the other promising fame. Weaving larger cultural issues into the father-son plot, director Chen Kaige hits all the right notes in composing a modest yet eloquently poetic coming-of-age symphony. Subtitles. Emotionally complex relationships. A-II (PG)
- Whale Rider -- Evocative coming-of-age tale set among contemporary New Zealand Maoris where a 12-year-old girl (Keisha Castle-Hughes) secretly trains to become the warrior-like tribal leader against the fierce objections of her tradition-bound grandfather, the aging chief (Rawiri Paratene). Writer-director Niki Caro sensitively weds the ancient culture's rites to hardscrabble times, in the process dramatically exploring the role of community, change, and father figures in the formation of youngsters. Brief sexual and drug-related reference. A-II (PG-13)
- Winged Migration -- Spectacular documentary that follows the annual journey of various birds as they often travel more than 10,000 miles between the tropics and the Arctic to ensure their survival. With minimal dialogue and exhilarating cinematography, director and narrator Jacques Perrin's quietly thrilling film provides a heady vicarious experience as it captures the migratory patterns of birds, uplifting the spirit and eliciting awe at God's perfection in creating such wondrous creatures. A-I (G)
Supported by the U.S. Bishops' Catholic Communication Campaign (CCC), the Office for Film and Broadcasting is responsible for reviewing and rating theatrical motion pictures, previewing and evaluating television programs as well as providing the Catholic public with information about the role of the entertainment and news media in influencing societal and personal values.
Weekly movie reviews, brief capsules, and film classifications of new theater releases can be heard on the office's toll-free movie line at 1-800-311-4222, sponsored by the CCC. Movie reviews are available online at www.usccb.org/movies.