What a difference a year makes.

Last year at this time, we were reeling from one of the most creatively bankrupt summers in recent memory here in Hollywood. Yes, they made their money last summer. Just like this year, it was a "record breaker" (helps when ticket price has been raised to $11). But the quality of last year's flicks was appalling. Summer 2003 was the summer of Gigli, The Hulk, Bad Boys 2 and Charlie's Angels 2. Yeegads! 2003 was one of those summers that made people question the ability of the majors to ever make a good movie ever again.

How then, one year later, did Hollywood manage to turn out such a great summer of films? There was truly something for everybody in 2004. And while we can examine the influence of Indie directors like Sam Raimi, Alfonso Cuaron and Paul Greengrass, who were pulled in from the fringes and put to work giving "edge" to Spider-Man, Harry Potter and Bourne Supremacy, to me, the credit belongs to the writers. And what a mixed bag of heroes they are: veteran screenwriter, Alvin Sargent, whose Spider-Man 2 screenplay should teach Hollywood that 20-years-olds do not have the corner on talent; writer/actors like Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, whose involvement in Before Sunset was key to its beauty; and even the silly success that was Dodgeball, and Rawson Marshall Thurber's script that was passed on by EVERY STUDIO IN TOWN!! until it wound up on the desk of the receptionist at Ben Stiller's company, who had the guts to recommend it to the boss. It became a $100 million+ winner.

But when thinking about this past summer, I prefer to revel in the "moments" from the movies. I have been privileged to see advanced screenings of these films, both in tiny screening rooms and at lavish premieres. And I have loved every minute of it. As the # 1 movie critic in America (quoted by everyone!!) I am often overwhelmed by hype, but after all the hoopla, when images are still rattling around in my brain, these become moments worth reviewing. Again.

There was, for instance, a moment in Open Water that still haunts me. Not a great film, in my opinion, but if lingering flashes still snag in the brain like an unscratched itch, it had something going for it. In that low-tech Jaws, having been attacked by a shark and crying in pain, husband turns to wife for comfort. "Don't worry," she says. "It'll be a scar, something you can laugh about with your buddies." Of course she is whistling in the dark; their doom there in the middle of the ocean is sealed. And her false optimism, and never-say-die attitude won't help. The wife's pathetic upbeat-ness will soon give way to pushing her husband's lifeless body away and watching as it is torn apart by unseen beasts, feeding on him, while she looks on in numb horror.

Scary.

And speaking of great lines, there is the noble moment in Spider-Man 2 when the passengers on a speeding metro Tobey Maguire has just saved, pull the unconscious Spider-Man back into the car and lay him down, looking at his unmasked face in shock and awe. "He's just a kid," someone says. And for a movie about the rewards of heroism, it struck home for me as one of the most powerful in a major studio release.

Likewise, there was a moment devoid of dialogue in the Indie film Before Sunset when two lovers, reunited after a decade apart, get together for a final cab ride. While Ethan Hawke talks on, looking out the window, Julie Delpy reaches out to touch him, to let him know she loves him, but can't quite let her hand come to rest on his arm. What romantic yearning! Right up there with some of the best in film.

But there were so many great moments at the movies this summer, classic ones I will remember for a long time, often in movies that were not great as a whole, but which sill earn back the price of admission we paid to go see them:

-The goose bump-raising chill when the weather starts turning cold in The Day After Tomorrow.

-The warehouse full of metal men Will Smith finds in I, Robot, and the runaway bot that is hiding among them.

- The breathtaking car chase in Bourne Supremacy, ending in one of the most audience-pleasing crashes ever.

I personally even love the clunker moments, the bad moments from bad movies. These are still fun too:

-The "meet cute" beat in King Arthur when the King of the Britons cozies up to Guenevere by wrenching her dislocated hand back into place. What a charmer!!

-The constant, relentless punctuation of the lead character's name in, say it with me, "Van Helsing!"

-The timelapse moment in The Terminal, when carpentry whiz Tom Hanski magically transforms a part of the concourse into the Trevi Fountain. Dumbfounding.

Good and bad. This has been a great summer for movies, which my co-critic here at MovieWeb, B. Alan Orange and I, will be discussing this Friday on our weekly radio show Soju After Movie. For those of you out there who want to share Summer 2004 memories, write [email protected] or call 310-890-5746 between 1:30 and 3:00 PST this Friday September 10 and share those moments you like with us on our radio show.

And thanks for a great summer, Hollywood!

I had a ball.