Reel good

28 Days Later (Danny Boyle): Best film with three alternate endings

The film was a refreshing not-quite-zombie fright fest that boasted a strong screenplay, original direction and a theme of triumph in the face of death. The horror movie cliché, in which the main character always narrowly escapes death, was put to rest when 28 Days Later was re-released in theaters with a dark, depressing ending. The third ending was packaged with the DVD release and was a storyboard that wasn’t just an ending, but a reworking of the film’s final half-hour. — Pablo Saldana

Better Luck Tomorrow (Justin Lin): Best portrayal of badass Asians

High school is a tough place. But if you have the discipline and drive to finish at the top of your class you’re either a stubborn nerd or you’re Asian. So maybe that’s a rough stereotype, but Better Luck Tomorrow gives a well-done dark overview of a power trip gone bad. It’s got violence, crime, drugs, chicks and Asian kids spewing sarcasm left and right. What else could you want from a film? — Olga Robak

Big Fish (Tim Burton): Best normal film from an edgy director

Burton has taken much heat over the normalcy of his latest contribution to the cinematic world. But does every Burton film have to be edgy, dark and different? Instead of his usual shenanigans, Burton makes an epic tale out of an overused premise with such grace and stylistic ease that it’s hard not to find his new effort a masterpiece. — O.R.

LOTR: Return Of The King (Peter Jackson): Best conclusion of movies about a Ring

Peter Jackson creates a lush and serene backdrop equipped with an eerie feeling of imminent doom that entraps middle earth. As a director, Jackson has proven himself by capturing epic tales of love, greed and taking on impossible odds, all the while staying true to J.R.R. Tolkiens’ Rings series. First, New Line declined rumors of producing The Hobbit but after the large sum of cash the first three films brought studio execs, the execs are is rethinking the idea of filming the prequel and even discussing the possibilities with Ring’s director Jackson. — P.S.

City of God (Fernando Meirelles): Best reason to never mess with anyone from the Brazilian ghetto

As far as indies and foreign flicks are concerned, directors have to make their first impressions count. Newbie Fernando Meirelles’ City of God — a partially factual tale of violence, power and romance in the 1970s Brazilian ghetto — blew movie buffs and critics away with his screamingly brilliant debut. The film, which rivals all others in movie history as the greatest debut flick ever, is an all around standout. City sports fascinating character development, clever cinematography and some of the most violently passionate scenes art houses have ever reeled off. More importantly, the film smashes the door for modern foreign film success in America after years of doorbell ringing by its predecessors. — Nick Margiasso

Thirteen (Catherine Hardwicke): Most disturbing film based on real-life experiences

When you were 13, chances are that your parents were your authority figures and drugs were as far from your mind as Paris is from New York. But for Nicki Reed, those days were long gone. And as a co-writer of Thirteen, Reed used her real life experiences to give inspiration to the screenplay. On top of that, she plays the corruptive force in the film, opposing her own corruption in real life. The movie is an incredibly strong statement about kids without enough parental supervision, but too much of a desire to be cool. –O.R.

Capturing the Friedmans (Andrew Jarecki):Best reality-is-stranger-than-fiction documentary

The film starts slowly, by exploring members of the Friedman family and what they mean to each other. The air of reservation the interviewees exhibit is compelling: The audience knows something terrible is about to happen in the world of the Friedmans. At the center of the drama is Arnold Friedman, a computer teacher, whose practices are put under the microscope when accusations of child molestation fly. This takes place at a time when computers in schools are not readily available and children went to the Friedman household to receive their lessons. The police suspect Arnold after they bust him for ordering child porn. It turns out he’s had stacks of this material throughout the house, but the testimony of the accusers is frequently inconsistent, and moviegoers are left to judge for themselves: How far did Arnold Friedman go? — Harold Valentine

Lost in Translation (Sophia Coppola): Best indie film that was actually recognized

When the lens of Sophia Coppola focuses on the everyday fabric of two likeable characters lost in Tokyo, the results are nothing short of spectacular. Audiences may deduce the influence of father (and filmmaker) Francis Ford Coppola on her virtuoso-like film photography. Sophia Coppola’s cinematography remains a celebration of life in her sophomore effort. However, she learned this trade is of little importance when enjoying the movie, which is a loving look at an older celebrity and an Ivy League graduate. The two bond amid the stress of their personal lives with too much time on their hands. The ambiguity of their relationship is maturely resolved by the film’s end, wherein the satisfaction lies in what didn’t happen between the two characters. — H.V.

The Matrix: Reloaded and The Matrix: Revolutions (The Wachowski Brothers): Most disappointing sequels

The Wachowski brothers had it made. With a sophomoric directing effort to their conjoined name, they had already with a cult following. And what better to do than to ruin it with two more films that, when combined with the original, lower the meaning and status of the entire series to slightly above zero. What were supposed to be nothing more than graphic novels became The Matrix: Reloaded and The Matrix: Revolutions after Warner Brothers recognized the unending fiscal potential these films had. And they were right — the money was there, although substance was not. — O.R.

Girls will be Girls (Richard Day): Best comedy starring men dressed as women

Yes, it stars transvestites, but it’s not about transvestites. These men — in wigs, dresses, lipstick and full body makeup — are anything but manly. Three men play actresses looking to fill their niches in Hollywood. They deliver priceless one-liners, pastel backgrounds, vicious jealousy and payback. Did I mention the one-liners? — O.R.

Kill Bill, Vol. 1 (Quentin Tarantino): Best half a movie

Killing people and getting revenge has never looked this easy and this sexy. Tarantino succeeds at making Kill Bill Vol. 1 the best action flick of the year and leaves audiences yearning for more. Alongside Uma and her supporting cast of such stars as Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox and Michael Madsen, Tarantino managed to whet his followers’ appetite for blood and a second half. — O.R.

21 Grams (Alejandro González Iñárritu): Best Aussie in a motion picture

Move over Nicole Kidman, welcome Naomi Watts the other hot-blooded actress from down under. Watts gained critical acclaim for her role in Mulholland Drive and unwisely followed that with a starring role in 2001’s campy horror flick, The Ring. In 21 Grams, Watts leaps forward and overshadows fellow Aussies Kidman and Mel Gibson with an emotionally electric performance that got everyone’s attention. Watts delivered the best female performance and the most memorable highlight of 2003’s best drama. — P.S.

American Splendor (Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini): Best biopic featuring the real life figures

One of the most originally done biopics, where the inspiration behind the film doesn’t remain a faceless blob. The story follows Harvey Pekar, a man whose life as a file clerk in a local hospital is anything but exciting. Inspired by his friend Robert Crumb and his comic book success, Harvey decides to write his own underground comic, aptly titled American Splendor, and achieves a bizarre celebrity status. The films stars Paul Giamatti as Harvey but also includes sudden flashes to the “making-of” the film within the actual feature, and includes appearances by the real Pekar and several other characters in the film. Exceptionally well written and casted, Splendor’s secondary characters are just as strong as the main cast and deliver some of the most memorable lines of any film this year. — O.R.

In America (Jim Sheridan): Best Emotional Roller Coaster

An 11-year-old girl narrates as a young Irish family tries to find hope in America. For the two young daughters, America is a place filled with magical variety; but for parents Johnny and Sarah, surviving in New York City is a penny-pinching business filled with costly and perilous obstacles. The family’s precarious existence seems to multiply every day and Sarah’s third pregnancy could be the bomb to break the camel’s back. Coincidence, fate or faith (as you like it) however, are also balanced by positive turns of events. In America has all the pluses of a heart-rendering coming-of-age story without all the usual trite baggage common among the genre. — H.V.