Having recently sat through the 3 hour and 25 minute epic, I can honestly write that the first three hours moved relatively quickly, but those last 25 minutes back in the Shire seemed like an eternity. That noted, I’m not a fan. Distilled to its essence, LOTR: The Return Of The King is a war movie, and like all contemporary war movies in which computer effects are used, it looks flat and cheesy. Tolkien’s books, which I have not read, may have a philosophy and a majesty that has attracted legions of adherents, but the movies, all three of them, seem pared to the bone and end up being nothing more than swordplay adventures. This new one is a chase movie over a golden ring.

Importantly, you absolutely must have seen Parts 1 and 2 to understand, and perhaps appreciate, Part 3, but even then, the current edition’s characters come and go without much embellishment. There are still folks for whom I can’t pin a name. And, who exactly is the King that’s returning? Liv Tyler’s Arwen disappears for a vast chunk of the movie, but the heroic Aragon dashes off, I think, to rescue her. As for Frodo and Sam and Pippin and whoever that fourth Hobbit is, they all have their major scenes, with Sam turning out to be the bedrock of the quartet. Who knew the pudgy plodder would outshine the elfin Frodo?

There’s good acting from the cast, mainly because it’s fun to emote in costume in a fantasy setting. But overall, this movie’s for diehards.

Speaking of awards, critics are called upon to list their ten best films at the end of every year, and I honor that tradition. There were 487 movies released in 2003, many of which never played beyond New York or L.A. A number of features can only be seen at festivals, and nothing guarantees that they will get the DVD treatment.

As for my top ten, some films released this year, Winged Migration, for example, made my list in 2002 because that’s when I saw them, either on studio-supplied screeners or at film festivals.

In very strict alphabetical order, then, here are my Top Ten Movies for 2003: Elephant, Lost In Translation, Mystic River, Shattered Glass, Swimming Pool, The Cooler, The Station Agent, 28 Days Later, 21 Grams, and Whale Rider.

In my heart of hearts, the best movie I saw was The Station Agent, and I do want its star Peter Dinklage to win the Academy Award for best actor. The film is about the human condition and people trusting other people, and it’s extraordinary. The Oscar for best actress has to go to Naomi Watts for 21 Grams. Peter Sarsgaard is the best supporting actor for Shattered Glass. Best supporting actress is Patricia Clarkson for The Station Agent. Best director and best original screenplay go to Thomas McCarthy for his The Station Agent. And best adapted screenplay belongs to Billy Ray for Shattered Glass. He made plagiarism interesting; therefore, he’s a genius. As for the Oscar for best picture, well you can expect Cold Mountain and LOTR 3 to be in the running, although neither, because of their flaws, deserves to win. My list would be comprised of Lost In Translation, The Station Agent, Mystic River, Elephant, and Shattered Glass. I’d be happy if any of them won, and ecstatic if the winner were The Station Agent.

Of course, I saw a lot of movies in 2003 and here is a list, in no particular order, of other features I found entertaining, interesting, just a plain old guilty pleasure, or because there were performances or moments that stood out. The list includes movies released this year, but which I may have seen earlier: All The Real Girls, The Guru, The Recruit, Gerry, City Of Ghosts, The Man Without A Past, A Mighty Wind, Owning Mahowny, The Man On The Train, L’Auberge Espagnole, Finding Nemo, Pirates Of The Caribbean, Northfork, Seabiscuit, Le Divorce, Spider, Open Range, Laurel Canyon, Bend It Like Beckham, Phone Booth, The Good Thief, and Winged Migration.

Also, The Trip, The Shape Of Things, Anything Else, Jet Lag, Raising Victor Vargas, The Italian Job, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Open Range, Wonderland, In The Cut, Something’s Gotta Give, Calendar Girls, Twentynine Palms, The Human Stain, Casa De Los Babys, The Core, The Dancer Upstaris, Respiro, Capturing The Friedmans, Big Fish, Bad Santa, Cold Mountain, The School Of Rock, American Splendor, Timeline, Secondhand Lions, and Confidence. By Michael Calleri ALT Movie Editor

Reaping awards as it smashes it’s way across the world, The Lord Of The Rings: The Return of The King is the third chapter in the cinematic trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy novels about good, evil, Hobbits, Middle Earth, and a ring that needs to be destroyed.