My first article for the River Cities' Reader appeared in Issue 18, way back in March of 1995. (You know how long ago that was? Tom Hanks had only one Oscar.) Serving as the Reader's film critic was, and still is, a terrific gig - for an avowed movie fanatic who loves to write, the chance to expound on the state of cinema has always been about more than giving a particular work a "yay" or "nay" vote; it's given me, in a minor way, the opportunity to analyze an entire culture, to try to understand what's in the heads of those who make films, and those who distribute films, and the millions of us who view them.

As a screed against George W. Bush to justify the feelings, suspicions, and thoughts of people who already dislike the president and plan on voting against him in November, Fahrenheit 9/11 is strikingly effective.

During the screening of Fahrenheit 9/11 that I attended, someone opened the door of the theatre and screamed into the auditorium, "Liberals suck! Michael Moore's a bitch!" and ran off. Moore has, once again, obviously touched a tender nerve with his latest production.

For the past couple of years, as a prelude to the Academy Awards presentation (scheduled to air on ABC at 7 p.m. on Sunday, February 29), I've devoted an article to re-constructing the top six Oscar categories, replacing what I felt were unworthy contenders with my own personal preferences; this enabled me to extoll the virtues of the deserving while also allowing me to whine, "Why the hell didn't Naomi Watts get noticed for Mulholland Dr.?" And before this year's contenders were announced in late January, I was already writing my annual article in my head: "Where's Johnny Depp's nomination? And what about Keisha Castle-Hughes? And how about Marcia Gay Harden and Shohreh Aghdashloo and Fernando Meirelles?" And then what did the Academy go and do? They nominated them all.

Tom Wheeler has only been with the Iowa Film Office for a little more than three weeks, but already he has a big agenda. He envisions a fund or trust, probably a private-public partnership, that could be used to subsidize production costs for motion pictures shot or made in Iowa.

Like all good film festivals, one joy of the 10th Annual Hispanic Film Festival at Augustana College will be discovering a wonderful movie you haven't heard much (or anything) about. It also doubles as a sampler of world cinema, showing the breadth and quality of Hispanic movies, which rarely penetrate the American market but can nonetheless be fascinating as cultural studies and breathtaking examples of filmmaking outside of the dominating American studio system.

2003 in Movies

Among the year's seemingly endless spate of business-as-usual Hollywood product, with the remakes and sequels and - in the case of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines - a de facto remake of a sequel, I saw exactly one work in 2003 that, with absolutely no qualms, I would call a masterpiece, and it made its debut on HBO. (It was that kind of year.)

Documentaries BALSEROS In the summer of 1994, a team of public-television reporters filmed and interviewed seven Cubans and their families, beginning a few days before their risky venture of setting out to sea in homemade rafts to reach the coast of the United States.

Excepting a few quibbles - Where's Richard Gere? Where's Dennis Quaid? How did The Time Machine get nominated for anything?! - reactions to this year's Oscar nominations have been remarkably subdued, with a minimum of bitching.

2002 in Movies

So, just how good were the movies of 2002? By way of demonstrating, allow me to present, as a prelude to my 10 favorites, a few other lists of 10: My 10-best runners-up, in descending order of preference, are 13 Conversations About One Thing, Spider-Man, Igby Goes Down, Minority Report, 8 Mile, Changing Lanes, Auto Focus, Frailty, Solaris, and Sunshine State, films that in any other year might easily have ranked in the top 10.

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