It’s New Year’s Eve, and The Other Charlotte and I are preparing to repair to our respective hobbit-holes with huge tins of caviar for emptying and then banging with our spoons to ring in 2004. We shall both return refreshed to this blogspot on Monday, Jan. 5.

Meanwhile, I’ve got a few thoughts about 2003, which was a wonderful year in many ways. One of those ways was entirely unexpected: It was one of the best years we’ve had in movies in a long time. In 1993, film and cultural critic Michael Medved, in Hollywood vs. America, wrote about a steep decline in the quality and popularity of American movies as the moguls became obsessed with subverting such time-honored values as patriotism and family. Now, ten years later, I’m happy to prove Michael wrong. This was a banner year for movies that exalted the things that make life  not easier but worth living.

The year 2003’s three top films in my book–and all are likely to be candidates for “Best Picture” at Oscar time–were Seabiscuit, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, and The Return of the King. Each of these movies operated on a large and heroic scale, each combined unforgettable acting, intelligent scripts, strong story lines, thrilling action, wry comic relief, and state-of-the-art special effects. They were old-fashioned audience-pleasers, the kind of thing that Hollywood used to churn out every year, then pretty much forgot about for a long time. No irony in these three films, no anti-heroes, no bitterness, no liberated wives deserting icky bourgeois husbands, and, hey–no sex! Instead, there was romance, marriage, and fatherly affection for children. There was the triumph of good in a hard, human world where all victories are contingent and perhaps temporary, because, here on Middle Earth, evil is always a force to be defeated.

Indeed, The Return of the King and its two precedecessors adapted from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series, already enjoy the status of our time’s epic, our Iliad. The most thrilling scene in “Return” in my book was the lighting of the beacons, across miles of mountain-tops one by one, to call the Riders of Rohan to the aid of Gondor against Sauron’s wicked forces. That was the way the fall of Troy was announced along the mountain-tops of Greece some 3,000 years ago. Kudos to director Peter Jackson, and also to Ridley Scott (“Seabiscuit”) and Peter Weir (“Master”). They’re the top movie directors of our time, or any time.

Elsewhere from Hollywood, there was a ton of the usual vulgar junk and bad sequels, but some fine smaller-scale efforts, too, that like the Big Three, exalted loyalty and virtue over quick self-gratification: Finding Nemo, Freaky Friday (my favorite chick-flick of 2003), Lost in Translation, the sweet Yuletide sleeper Elf, and even, I’m told by The Other Charlotte, the wicked but life-affirming Bad Santa (although–please!–it’s not for children!).       
So, there was cause for joy on at least one of the culture fronts in 2003. May 2004 yield similar fruit–and The Other Charlotte and I will be here to tell you about it!