By Victoria Lindrea
BBC News Online entertainment staff
The Return of the King is backed by many to win the best film Oscar in 2004
In early 2003, a subdued film world greeted the awards season with uncharacteristic hesitancy.
In the shadow of impending war, the egotistical thrust and sparkle that traditionally accompanies the trophies seemed strangely muted.
Critics favoured the earnest work of Stephen Daldry's The Hours and Roman Polanski's The Pianist over the high jinks of Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can.
But every rule has its exception, and this year it was Chicago - the first musical to win best film at the Academy Awards since Oliver in 1968.
Perhaps it was this wariness of the public mood which fuelled the plethora of turgid sequels that dominated 2003.
Arnie moved from Terminator to Governor in a matter of months
Terminator 3, Charlie's Angels 2, Tomb Raider II, Legally Blonde II and The Matrix Reloaded were just a few of the lacklustre follow-ups cashing in on a ready-made audience.
Celebrity swagger and marketing hype could not hide the lame scripts and routine direction. And thundering soundtracks and digital acrobatics could not diminish the hollow ring of the cash tills.
Thank heavens for X Men 2 and Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over, bright spots in an otherwise bilge-like morass.
Studios continued to hark back to established plots and characters, championing a wave of remakes - among them British classic The Italian Job.
A homage, rather than a remake, it moved the action to Los Angeles and gave the traffic jam a hi-tech spin. But in aping a classic, it could not help but disappoint fans of the original.
Shekhar Kapur's The Four Feathers marked the fifth remake of the AEW Mason novel, but the book's jingoistic colonialism did not respond well to modernisation.
And even Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh, and George Clooney's naked buttocks, could not save Solaris, a re-working of the 1970s Russian classic.
X-2, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Daredevil and The Hulk were among this year's parade of superheroes, of which Hulk was the most hotly anticipated.
Yet despite Ang Lee's considered direction, The Hulk proved a disappointment. Psycho-babble aside, Banner and his lurid alter-ego shared the personality and menace of a Kinder toy.
Kill Bill: Part 2 is due out in February 2004
With its comic book violence and smug filmic reference, Tarantino's comeback Kill Bill divided fans and critics.
Many applauded the director's stylish set-pieces and black humour, while others derided the fragmented screenplay and wafer-thin characterisation.
Comedy and independent films bucked the trend in what was otherwise a despondent year at the movies.
Summer saw the swashbuckling hit Pirates of the Caribbean, with a stand-out performance from Johnny Depp. It was a film to put the wind back in Hollywood's sales.
Anger Management and Bruce Almighty proved undemanding crowd-pleasers, taping into the public desire for control in an unpredictable time.
Across the pond, British comedy gave us Calendar Girls - a surefire hit in middle England with its blend of country values and tasteful nudity, while simultaneously appealing to the American penchant for British eccentricity.
In a sea of predictability, it was to independent films that the filmgoer turned for dramatic scope. Far From Heaven, Dirty Pretty Things and The Magdalene Sisters were a few of the more provocative movies.
Far From Heaven's Julianne Moore was nominated for an Oscar
Foreign film highlights included Brazil's provocative City of God, the Maori drama Whale Rider and the black comedy Goodbye Lenin!
And who needs fiction when you have documentaries like Spellbound, Etre et Avoir and Touching the Void to flesh out the idiosyncracies of the human spirit.
But this was the year of animation, which regularly made the box office top 10 - and not just in the school holidays.
The creative spectrum took us from the Oscar-winning Japanese fantasy Spirited Away to Belleville Rendezvous, with its off-beat French humour.
In a flourish of technical oneupmanship, the gently humorous Finding Nemo reached number one in 20 countries. A visual triumph, it breathed life and character into an underwater universe.
Finding Nemo is a contender for the best animated feature film Oscar
However, it is the colossus The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King that looks set to claim the crown at next year's Academy Awards, and rightly so.
Peter Jackson's impressive finale throws off the curse of the film trilogy, with a movie that is both technically flawless and yet rich in emotion and character.
And the Christmas turkey? That would be the woeful Gigli starring Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck, the romantic comedy to end all romances - literally.