Sakeriver Movie Awards for 2003

The Academy Awards are a mere two days away as I write this, and somehow I think that more people will notice them. But for the few of you who read this very infrequent column of mine, I give you the 1st Annual Sakeriver Movie Awards. In many categories--possibly all of them--I am recognizing different films and actors than the Academy will. This is in part because I have different tastes, but also because I haven't seen every movie that came out last year. So, rather than this being a list of the best films and actors of the year, it is a list of the best films and actors that I saw. Ready? Let's begin.

Best Drama: Whale Rider

There were a lot of good movies that came out in 2003, but Whale Rider really stands out in my mind. A well-written, deeply moving story, simply told and superbly acted, Whale Rider had everything I look for in a movie. It's the kind of movie that makes you forget that it's a movie. If you haven't seen it yet, you are really missing out.

Runners-up: Mystic River, Big Fish, Seabiscuit

Best Comedy: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

OK, it's not really a comedy per se. But I think it fits better in this category than the other. Pirates was a really fun movie. Like several films I saw last year it surprised me by being much better than I expected. In many ways it's the opposite of a film like Whale Rider; it's big, it has action and special effects, it made lots of money, and it wasn't particularly deep. But the acting was good--some of it especially good--and the movie was exactly what it needed to be: fun.

Runners-up: School of Rock, Finding Nemo, A Mighty Wind

Best Actor: Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean)

In any given year there are plenty of good performances, and this year was no different. What separates Johnny Depp from the crowd is that I think he is more of an actor, in the truest sense of the word. You see, many actors go on screen or on stage and don't really separate themselves from their characters. That's not necessarily a bad thing, because often the roles they are chosen for fit the particular quality the actor brings. I have seen very few actors who so consistently immerse themselves in their characters the way Johnny Depp does, though. Many of his performances and characters are quirky, but none are the same.

Runners-up: Sean Penn (Mystic River), Bill Murray (Lost in Translation), Jeff Bridges (Seabiscuit)

Best Actress: Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider)

Normally I'm not much for awards being given to child actors, but Keisha Castle-Hughes' performance in Whale Rider was so amazing that I actually couldn't even think of a woman in a lead role that compared. She gave a performance that was heartbreaking yet uplifting, strong yet vulnerable, mature yet childlike. In short, it was so real that you forget that she's even acting.

Runner-up: Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation)

Best Supporting Actor: Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai)

I had such mixed feelings about seeing The Last Samurai, because even though it looked interesting, I just can't stand Tom Cruise anymore. I'm glad I did, though, because it gave me a chance to get acquainted with Ken Watanabe. Watanabe brought a quiet dignity to the film that was a great match for his character. Perhaps real samurai weren't all that noble, but Watanabe's performance certainly was.

Runners-up: Philip Seymour Hoffman (Cold Mountain), Geoffrey Rush (Pirates of the Caribbean), Kevin Bacon (Mystic River), Tobey Maguire (Seabiscuit)

Best Supporting Actress: Koyuki (The Last Samurai)

Koyuki is another reason that I enjoyed The Last Samurai as much as I did. She played her character so subtly that even though she didn't show much on the surface, you could still see all of the emotion underneath. Having grown up in a Japanese family, that aspect of her performance really resonated with me.

Runners-up: Natalie Portman (Cold Mountain), Alison Lohman (Matchstick Men)