My Favorite Movies of Each Year: 2003 to 2013

Only because I couldn’t help but make my own list much like loudlysilent. As I made this list, I realized that my taste is very eclectic—it ranges from Asian American pride to foreign-philia to zombies to deep relationships to rainbow equality to simple good vs. evil. Whatever the case, I am drawn to good storytelling on a big screen. Shiny objects don’t work for me (you hear that, entertainment marketers?). The key to my heart is a story of hope and innocence. Also if it’s a story about being an outsider (probably why there’s so many films on same-sex relationships), well you got me.

Note: The year corresponds to the year that the movie was released in the US (or if I saw it at a film festival), which doesn’t always correspond to when I saw it. After all for the first part of this decade, I was a poor graduate student. Like Roger Ebert, no runner-ups, but jury prize for the movies that should be first place, but for whatever reason, it can’t be first. It was very hard to choose.

Let’s start with the worst movie of the last 10 years. Well at least the worst movie that I was subjected to seeing. There were many of course. There were the stories of love that had flat characters and a boring storyline. There were the action movies that was just about CRASH and BANG and very little substance. Congratulations to The Room who made it into the list. I was subjected to it as a “pleasant” post-dinner event (they did warn me though)and a cult midnight showing where I promptly fell asleep and awoke to the director giving an oblivious Q&A. It’s a film of self-indulgence, cheap filmmaking, and an overly dramatic ridiculous plotline that makes no sense. Well Lisa, you’re tearing me APART!


2003: Good Bye Lenin!

Good Bye, Lenin!

Why I loved it: This was the beginning of my love affair with Berlin (the reason for its end is another story completely). I loved the clash of the East vs. West (in those days, it was really just a symbol of the Cold War). The actual story is about one of the world’s biggest political transitions—the end of the Cold War—and how a mother, an authentic socialist believer, was protected from the real world by her children.
Jury Prize: Finding Nemo, The Station Agent

2004: Before Sunset

Before Sunset

Why I loved it: Much like Before Sunrise, this sequel followed the same city wandering as the last movie of Julia Delpy and Ethan Hawke. There are too many movies out there about the beginning of love and so few about what happens afterwards when we are jaded and too experienced. Granted, I love this one more now than in 2004 when “beginnings” were more appropriate for me. I am jaded too.
Jury Prize: Shaun of the Dead, Saving Face, Oldboy

2005: Brokeback Mountain

Brokeback Mountain

Why I loved it: Relationships are hard. I get it. But rarely do films show this well. Going into this, I had a fondness for Ang Lee and Jake Gyllenhaal (before 2004, it was The Good Girl and Donnie Darko that got my attention). Heath Ledger was just that guy that played teenage romance movies. Interestingly, I remember being surprised that Jake Gyllenhaal’s character was as engaging as that of Heath Ledger. It’s hard to play someone with complexity and struggle. At that time, I struggled with acceptance and authenticity.
Jury Prize: Good Night and Good Luck

2006: The Departed


Why I loved it: Because I loved Infernal Affairs. Truthfully, one of the main reasons I watched Infernal Affairs was that I hoped it would shed light on my parents’ childhood growing up in Hong Kong. To my dismay, of course, their lives were not filled with gangs and crime (from what I understand, it was much like mine—idyllic but in a big city). But who doesn’t love a story of good and evil wrapped up with…more good and evil. I was disappointed the the Police Chief’s role was small as it was bigger in Infernal Affairs.
Jury Prize: Pan’s Labyrinth

2007: Persepolis


Why I loved it: I first read the graphic novel in book club. Like many Americans, I had a very narrow and stereotypical view of the Middle East. This was my first time to see their lives and the sadness that happened in Iran. That they are truly like us. And more so, that my teenage experience is very much like someone in Iran. For more, read I am Malala and watch A Separation.
Jury Prize: Juno, Ratatouille, The Mist

2008: The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight

Why I loved it: Heath Ledger appears twice in this list. But I wouldn’t say that it’s just because of his acting ability. It was everything here. For me, the ferry scene was what did it for me. To trust the people and to trust honesty. This complexity just got me.
Jury Prize: In Bruges, Departures, Milk

2009: Up


Why I loved it: The first 10 minutes. Lovey dovey films and songs are everywhere. My love of the Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight is compressed in the first 10 minutes.
Jury Prize: Up in the Air, District 9, Precious

2010: Inception


Why I loved it: Incredible visual effects. The dream vs. reality. The dream within a dream. The spinning top. The exploration of what it means to make an inner intention. And simply put, a compelling story.
Jury Prize: Klown, The Kids Are All Right, The Social Network

2011: Weekend


Why I loved it: There’s nothing as special as two people meeting and having lasting conversations. To me, it was as simple romance should be. Plus the fact that one person is closeted and the other isn’t.
Jury Prize: Drive, Remington and the Curse of the Zombadings

2012: Argo


Why I love it: Great storytelling. It is simply what Hollywood is. A story of how the remaining Americans at the beginning of the Iranian revolution got out through the most Hollywood way ever.
Jury Prize: Compliance, Ted, Pina

2013: Gravity


Why I loved it: Going into the movie (in IMAX) of course, I thought it was a movie about special effects. I mean, really, we have seen many movies shot in space. What I discovered was a story, even though it was at a small scale, that was human and real. Unlike many movies, the “enemy” wasn’t a human figure or some monster. It’s just a fact of nature or in this case, space. It is a bad day in space. But the ability of Sandra Bullock and George Clooney to convey who they are in such a small view…says so much. If this was a book, I wouldn’t read it. But as a film, this is everything a film should be. A film is about a deep story, visuals that engage the viewer, and performances that make us feel a part of the story. Where the metaphors and themes speak so deeply to me in loss and hope. Not to mention, I loved the ending alluding to rebirth.
Jury Prize: What Maisie Knew, Blue is the Warmest Color, Fruitvale Station

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