best films: #4: THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING (2003)
All right, you knew it was a long time coming – since Fellowship and Two Towers have already had their own days in the sun on this here list, it’s only fitting that the closing of the trilogy (and eventual Oscar phenomenon) would crack the Top 100. This is a tough battle to argue – there are people from all three camps when deciding which LOTR is the superior one. I’m a sucker for the grandeur and relentless endings of Return of the King. Where Fellowship had the incredible story set-up and character development, and Two Towers had the beautiful backdrops and epically designed battle sequences, ROTK combines both seamlessly into one gorgeous conclusion. Call the Best Picture Oscar a make-up award for the two prior snubbed tries, but I truly believe it won of its own accord. Return of the King is everything a trip to the movies should be wrapped up in a beautifully filmed, expertly edited bow. Now aside from the obvious satisfaction (though I questioned the place in which they cut off #2 as opposed to Tolkien’s place) of resuming the story after another year’s wait, we’re met with finality for the bulk of our characters. Will Frodo reach the summit of Mt. Doom? More importantly, will he be released from the grasp of that giant spider Shelob? Even though I’d read the novels, I was gripped by the continuance of the journey to the six or seven end scenes.
If we’re talking about the performances (which went shamefully unnoticed by many awards bodies from 2001-03), Andy Serkis is typically brilliant as the conniving Gollum. I sincerely believe that in future years, Oscar voters will live to regret not recognizing one of the best physical and vocal performances of the aughts just because of his animated nature. Billy Boyd’s sweet-voiced solo during one particularly fierce and bloody battle should’ve been enough to get him some notice – it was easily one of Pippin’s best scenes, and one of the best portions of this third flick. But if I have to choose, the stand-out was Sean Astin, whose noble and doting Samwise grew from a one-dimensional bumpkin into a full-on bastion of heroism. Astin was my choice for the Best Supporting Actor in 2003, and it still boggles my mind that he wasn’t even in the conversation come awards season. And as far as the visual extravaganza that’s going on for the duration, I could go on and on listing the greatness of Peter Jackson and his band of costumers, art directors, and cinematographers – and particularly Howard Shore’s work at making just enough original material in this outing to merit that Oscar – but I’ll let the work speak for itself. A success of literally epic proportions.