My favorite year? Movie reviewer recalls spending the last leap year at the cinema |

My favorite year? Movie reviewer recalls spending the last leap year at the cinema

Last leap year the movies were still under the shadow of Sauron ” or at least Peter Jackson ” and there’s no better reminder than last Feb. 29.

That was the day “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” hauled in a record-tying 11 Oscars on 11 nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director. While the final installment in the “Rings” trilogy came out Dec. 17, 2003, it was a behemoth overshadowing the box office until the Academy Awards in 2004.

But a year that started under a long shadow certainly got out from under it, with at least three controversial and influential movies, “The Passion of the Christ,” “Fahrenheit 9/11” and the original “Saw,” (which has spawned a sequel a year since) and some true originals: “Napoleon Dynamite,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “I (Heart) Huckabees,” destined for headline purposes during this presidential campaign.

(Click here for a list of the 2004 movies reviewed:)

(Two factoids I only just learned about “I (Heart) Huckabees,” from the Internet Movie Database, Current presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, at the time of the movie the governor of Arkansas ” home state of Huckabees-like Wal-Mart ” apparently wasn’t a fan: “It was as if somebody forgot to give the actors a script and said, ‘For the next two hours, just go out there and do something,’ ” he said. And Britney Spears tried out twice for the role that eventually went to Naomi Watts.)

I started slowly, with “Miracle” on a visit back to Colorado. After moving back out of my own shadow ” the Vermont winter persuaded me that I needed to spend more time in my apartment instead of walking a mile to the cinema ” I inherited an arts-and-entertainment section and started writing he-said/she-said movie reviews with a former co-worker.

The weirdest, maybe most unfortunately memorable thing I saw that year was “Palindromes,” a project director Todd Solondz cashed in his savings to make because no studio would back it, and with good reason: The movie ” you know, the one where Solondz cast eight actors of different ages, genders and ethnicities as a pregnant 13-year-old who has an abortion, hangs out with fundamentalist pro-lifers, then witnesses a suicide-by-cop before getting pregnant again ” had moviegoers fleeing the Vail Film Festival.

Most of the time, I just went to the theater next door in downtown Glenwood Springs. But the most fun was participating: sticking “Palindromes” out until the end in the hopes of something clever or profound (there wasn’t). Watching Morgan Spurlock chunder out the car window in “Super Size Me,” then going immediately to the closest McDonald’s for sundaes in the spirit of the get-right-back-on-the-horse theory. Driving 25 miles to the cool old-school theater in Rifle for the midnight premiere of “Spider-Man 2.”

The latter was probably in my top 10, along with “The Bourne Supremacy,” “The Village,” “Open Water,” “Team America: World Police,” “The Incredibles” and “Ray,” plus three more I missed in the theaters but grew to love later: “Huckabees,” “Eternal Sunshine” and “Shaun of the Dead.”

While “Palindromes” at least generated the requisite morbid fascination to compel me to continue watching it, I can remember at least two movies I absolutely hated: the shopworn, carelessly offensive animated pastiche “Shark Tale” and the dumb shrill sequel “Meet the Fockers.”

A year back at the movies would come full circle with the last film I saw, “The Aviator,” which would earn Martin Scorsese a Best Director nomination. For a year that started in the shadows, it wasn’t just a jump ” it was a great leap forward.

Dan Thomas still regrets missing “Sideways” and, of course, “You Got Served” in 2004.

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