The Best Overlooked Movies & Shows of 2003

All the movies here are highly-rated (by both critics and viewers), little-known, and handpicked by our staff.

This list is ordered by most recent good movies, and therefore is not a ranking. Here are the titles considered as the best from the year 2003.
Stars: Kang-ho Song, Roe-ha Kim, Sang-kyung Kim
Directed by: Joon-ho Bong

Boon Joon-Ho’s ‘Memories of murder’, which was recently re-released is not too dissimilar from many of the crime-dramas that have come out of South Korea over the past two decades. Two very different detectives have to come together to solve what is turning out to be a series of murders that are all linked. The movie is based on the true story of South Korea’s first ever recorded serial murderer, who raped and then killed  young girls in the late 80’s. In the hands of probably the foremost South Korean director after Park Chan-Wook, this movie takes you through all ranges of emotions.
Stars: Alessio Boni, Jasmine Trinca, Luigi Lo Cascio
Directed by: Marco Tullio Giordana

Let me just preface this by saying The Best of Youth is 6 hours long. Yes, that’s 358 minutes of run time, and it puts off a lot of people. But if you’re into unusual movie premises like me and up for the challenge – the reward is tremendous. The Best of Youth tells the story of four friends through a period of 30 years; what they go through how they develop their personalities, their worldviews, etc. And because it spans such an extended period of time, it acts as a highlight reel of moments from the characters’ lives (so the long run-time actually feels short). It wouldn’t be an understatement to say that you’ll probably never know characters of any movie as well as you will in The Best of Youth. A perfect illustration of the genius of Italian cinema that gave us The Great Beauty and other amazing movies.
Stars: Jong-ho Kim, Ki-duk Kim, Yeong-su Oh
Directed by: Ki-duk Kim

A doorway opens at the beginning of Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring, and through this doorway you are brought into the movie’s world. Explanations or plot transitions rarely exist, and dialogue is kept at a minimum level. And yet this movie remains an incredibly simple film. Following a Buddhist master and his apprentice, it is a fable very much in the ‘cycle of life’ form, offering gentle complexity in the timeless and sole framework of a floating Buddhist monastery. That’s all I can say without saying too much. If you are into aesthetically pleasing films, go watch this.
Stars: Haley Joel Osment, Michael Caine, Robert Duvall
Directed by: Tim McCanlies

This forgotten gem is the perfect family movie. It stars Michael Caine and Robert Duvall as the two eccentric uncles of Walter, a shy city kid (played by Haley Joel Osment). When Walter moves in with his uncles in rural Texas, he first has a hard time adjusting to his new surroundings. However his routine is changed after he starts hearing local gossip about his uncles, and reminiscence spurs in all three an incredible eagerness for adventure. Secondhand Lions has gathered impressive cult following in the past few years, and rightfully so. Its fast-paced, entertaining yet substantial storyline shines a light on the amazing performances by the cast, and offers a surprising mix of funny, heartwarming and sad. Look out for the flashback scenes.
Stars: Aya Okamoto, Tôru Emori, Yoshiaki Umegaki
Directed by: Satoshi Kon

This is a great movie to watch on say a Sunday.. The story of three homeless people who find a newborn baby while foraging through trash on Christmas eve and decide to care for the baby and track down its parents. Middle-aged Gin, aging transvestite Hana and teenage runaway Miyuki form a makeshift family haunted by its members’ past and troubled by their present. As expected, Satoshi Kon (who also directed Paprika) delivers a beautifully animated story with unique characters and unique dynamics. The result is a very humane and moving animation, not to be missed by both Kon fans and those willing to be introduced to his style.
Stars: Bruce Dern, Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci
Directed by: Patty Jenkins

Monster is a biographical depiction of Aileen Wuornos (Charlize Theron), a prostitute and serial killer who murdered seven men in Florida between 1989 and 1990. The film follows the burgeoning relationship between Wuornos and young Selby Wall (Christina Ricci, in a role based on Wuornos’ real-life girlfriend Tyria Moore), as she grows increasingly desperate to provide for her young companion financially. Her desperation and her rage against men, brought on by years of both childhood and adult abuse, leads her down a dark path of murder and theft, even as she struggles to shield Selby from the horror of her crimes. The overwhelming highlight of the film is Theron’s mesmerizing performance as Wuornos—a role that won her a well-deserved Academy Award for Best Actress in 2004. She’s almost unrecognizable and altogether phenomenal as the volatile and increasingly unstable Wuornos, whose ferocity is interwoven with surprising affection for young Selby. This unexpected tenderness lends the film an air of tragic poignancy, and provides a bittersweet portrayal of a severely troubled woman. Very much intended for mature audiences only, Monster is a fascinating recreation of a disturbing yet compelling chapter in the annals of true crime in America.
Stars: Lauren Bacall, Nicole Kidman, Paul Bettany
Directed by: Lars von Trier

Set in a town drawn in chalk outlines on the floor of a dark studio room. However unconventional the unrealistic stage-like set, the story of Grace (Nicole Kidman), a woman who arrives at this town seeking refuge becomes real enough to absorb you in a disturbing examination of human morals. It’s unique and features powerful performances, and will be more appreciated by anyone striving for something new. Directed by Lars von Trier.
Stars: Brendan Mackey, Joe Simpson, Simon Yates
Directed by: Kevin Macdonald

A documentary about two “climbing” friends who attempt to summit Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes in 1985. I say climbing friends because they are both somewhat egotistical, yuppie risk takers and seem to be the type who are only friends when their interests align. Nevertheless, they are truly ambitious, driven adventurers. A storm hits and one of the climbers gets injured. They both know that this is a death sentence, and events go on from there. The story is epic and nearly unbelievable, but for the fact that it actually happened. I am not a climber, but the plot and story will speak to any adventurer who must accept inherent risks, including death, in their outdoor endeavors.
Stars: Arnold Friedman, David Friedman, Jesse Friedman
Directed by: Andrew Jarecki

This documentary… man, where do I even begin? It captures the lives of the Friedmans and how their world turned upside down when their father, Arnold, and brother, Jesse, were both convicted of sexually abusing children. The filmmaker interviews victims, family members, and experts to strike you with the two sides of the story. The Oscar nominated film shows real footage from the family which makes it even more of an authentic experience. I won’t tell you much more about it- but let me just say, this documentary will leave you speechless.
Stars: Chulpan Khamatova, Daniel Brühl, Katrin Saß
Directed by: Wolfgang Becker

An intriguing, funny and rather bizarre movie which serves as a fantastic introduction to ‘new-wave’ German cinema. Featuring a cast of young talented actors and excellent direction, this movie takes place around the time the Berlin wall fell and East and West Berlin were still united. Christiane, a devout socialist activist in East Berlin suffers an accident which leaves her in a coma, during which time the Berlin wall comes down and Western capitalism encroaches on her beloved East Berlin. Fearing that she may relapse into a coma after waking up, her doctors warn that she must remain calm and not endure any shocks. Despite the somewhat contrived premise, the film really takes off from this point as her son Alex and his friend aim to hide this fact from her, by faking news reports on the television, coming up with excuses for a giant Coca Cola banner and a whole host of other amusing exploits to prevent her from knowing. While categorised as a comedy, it is also a moving portrayal of a loving family enduring great, historic change.
Stars: Bobby Cannavale, Patricia Clarkson, Peter Dinklage
Directed by: Tom McCarthy

The Station Agent is about loneliness, change and friendship. Sounds corny right? It’s not. The characters are developed, they have their own reasons for the choices they make and nothing feels forced, neither actions or conversations. It’s a small and wonderful movie about a little man that moves out of the city and his comfort zone when his only friend dies, moves to said friend’s old train station and sets his life there. From there on it follows his social interactions with a slew of people, the relationships he forms with them. Oh, and the little man? Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister), who pulls off a great performance, albeit a quiet one.
Stars: Bill Nighy, Romola Garai, Rose Byrne
Directed by: Tim Fywell

Set in the 1930’s English Countryside, the story of the eccentric Mortmain family is told from the daughter Cassandra’s point of view. Her father, a once acclaimed and famous writer has written nothing in years, leading the family into bankruptcy. Themes such as first love and financial troubles are explored from Cassandra’s comic and intelligent point of view. A classic and a must-see.
Stars: Rory Culkin, Ryan Kelley, Scott Mechlowicz
Directed by: Jacob Aaron Estes

A bully (Josh Peck) is lured into a plot of revenge. The bullied victim (Rory Culkin), his brother and their friends then see the bully’s human side, and learn that revenge often comes with a greater price than imagined. Talented teen actors give fantastic performances in this absorbing and impactful coming-of-age tale, with a real moral compass and ability to demonstrate multi-sided characters.

Stars: Joan Allen, Sam Elliott, Valentina de Angelis
Directed by: Campbell Scott

A quiet and brilliant movie about a family living off the grid in New Mexico. Every description I’ve read or try to write makes this movie sound boring or terrible. I swear it isn’t as long as you’re the type of person who likes Lost in Translation, The Station Agent, or understated character-driven movies in general. Give it a chance and you’ll find it to beautiful, subtle and powerful.
Stars: Jean-Claude Donda, Michel Robin, Michèle Caucheteux
Directed by: Sylvain Chomet

This French film, written and directed by the filmmaker Sylvain Chomet, is in the strictest sense an animated foreign comedy film but it is unlike anything I have ever seen. It has a unique surrealist animation style that manages to stay oddly grounded. In other words, it wasn’t some psychoactive drug trip but more like taking a look at the world through Salavador Dali’s eyes. However what struck me the most while watching this film was how everything was animated to extenuate ugliness and imperfection. None of the surroundings and characters look like you see in most animated films, either hyper-realistic or like unblemished porcelain dolls; everything is drawn with blatant, over-exaggerated, and warped features. These features define each character as well as instantly evoking what thoughts and feelings the director wants you to associate with them. The characters’ exaggerated features also allow the film to progress without almost any actual dialogue. Contextual clues and facial expressions were more than enough to conduct entire conversations as well as progress the story line without ever saying a word. This makes the movie accessible to people of all tongues without the subtitle stigma that many people have with watching foreign films. In conclusion, while this film is not for the causal movie watcher, it is still a beautifully imperfect work of hand-drawn art that is an experience that goes far beyond mere entertainment.
Stars: Hye-jeong Kang, Ji-tae Yu, Min-sik Choi
Directed by: Park Chan-wook

On his daughter’s birthday, Oh Dae-su gets drunk and soon he’s arrested by the police. His friend bails him out of jail and while he is making a phone call Oh Dae-su disappears. Oh Dae-su is held by unknown captors, in a room for 15 years only to see the outside world through a television. But one day he’s released. That’s all that can be revealed, without actually revealing too much of this intense and twisted film. All I can add, and this is precisely how I recommend Oldboy to new viewers: “You’re welcome & I’m sorry.” It is truly a twisted film, one that is so mesmerizing in it’s directing, acting, and plot, all of which will stay with you whether you would like it to or not.