If your Thanksgiving was anything like mine, you spent a portion of your meal talking about movies. It’s Oscar season, after all, and every favorite aunt, distant cousin, and annoying neighbor has an opinion — a strong opinion — on the year’s best movies. It’s a conversation that will only grow louder in the coming weeks, as the race’s final contenders open in theaters, year-end Top-10 lists take shape, and studios begin to jockey in earnest for nominations. At stake is nothing less than cinematic immortality: To win an Oscar for Best Picture or Best Actress or another major category can be the pinnacle of a career, securing a royal Hollywood title that will forever be part of one’s introduction: “Oscar-winning.”
If only Oscar always got it right.
It’s not the Academy’s fault, mind you. To be fair, its batting average isn’t bad. But it’s impossible, really, to identify true lasting greatness and cultural significance when the movies are metaphorically just out of the oven. Some movies catch a wave and ride it all the way to the ceremony. Others are revered, critical darlings — but then five years later, you realize you haven’t seen them since and have no desire to watch them again.
Over the years, actors such as Matt Damon have suggested the Academy would be better served by handing out its trophies 10 years later, rather than in the midst of cutthroat campaigning. “Like the way they do the Hall of Fame in Baseball,” he said in 2010. “They do it in five years, but if you did 10 years later … I think it would be much more honest.”
But it’s not just the politics of Oscar that can adversely impact what the industry deems “great.” More than anything, time is the ultimate arbiter. It does our hard work for us. No one cares today that Mean Streets didn’t receive even one Oscar nomination, or that Paul Newman and Robert Redford were overlooked for their performances in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Is there a more beloved movie from 1998 than The Big Lebowski, which took home a grand total of zero Oscar nominations?
Those films are undeniably and almost universally beloved, which I think is the key word. Films can be great and admired and not necessarily be beloved. As magical as the current crop of Oscar hopefuls is, they aren’t beloved — not yet. That takes time. What will Gravity be in 10 years? Will 12 Years a Slave still have its awesome visceral impact after it’s been seen a dozen times, and might Oz: The Great and Powerful join its iconic predecessor as a film that became an essential touchstone only after it became a television event? (It’s possible.)
Time will tell, but we can look back 10 years at the films of 2003 to see what movies from that year still have a hold on us. That was the year of Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Mystic River, and Seabiscuit. Oddly enough, when I surveyed the writers of Entertainment Weekly in an informal poll to determine what movies from that year they’d want with them if they were stuck on a desert island, none of those three made the top 12 (though each got significant support.) Instead, the only Best Picture nominee that seemed to maintain its place in our collective hearts was Lost in Translation. Joining Sofia Coppola’s movie were, in alphabetical order: Bend It Like Beckham, Big Fish, Elf, Finding Nemo, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Kill Bill — Vol. 1, Love Actually, A Mighty Wind, Old School, School of Rock, and Shattered Glass.
One interesting takeaway from that eclectic list: comedies might perennially lose the Oscar battle, but they win the war, long-term. Apparently, the way to the audience’s heart starts at the funny bone.
At this point, you’re either waxing nostalgic about our 12 picks or typing an angry comment with lots of capped words and punctuation marks BECAUSE HOW IN THE H-E-DOUBLE-HOCKEY-STICKS DID YOU PEOPLE NOT MENTION PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL!!!!
Which is fine. In fact, we want to know your picks, too. What movies from 2003 still mean something to you? Which ones, in your not-so-humble opinion, are truly, timelessly great 10 years later? Which 10 films do you want on your desert island? Here’s that year’s Oscar list and here’s a list of what people paid the most to see, courtesy of IMDb and Box Office Mojo, respectively. We’ve included a long ballot of that year’s most notable releases in the poll below. Vote for 10 and comment on what we overlooked, so we can determine which films have stood the test of time.