Is it my imagination or are movies getting better?

I am a fan of movies. Let’s start there.

And my love of movies has definitely had its ups and downs.

In the old days, I called in sick on the the day of the Academy Awards. It was a holiday as far as I was concerned. And as part of that holiday, my buddy Jim Haggin and I would hang out at the Polo Lounge as our “salute” to the industry — and also in the hopes we might spot some movie star on the way to their limos.

I used to cut out the Summer Movie Preview in the L.A. Times Calender section every year and, yes, highlight the movies I wanted to see. (What a nerd!)

I missed a final exam in college once because Annie Hall was premiering, and we always lined up to be there on the first day of any Woody Allen film. (Remember that?)

As I became a professional writer, movies became “my job,” and though still exciting, my movie habit took on a technical bent. I was looking to deconstruct the movies I saw so I could figure out how I could write one. And the more I got into it, the less a fan I became.

But I have a feeling that I am not alone.

I think the single worst thing that happpened to movies was Entertainment Tonight and the weekly box office report every Sunday night on the news.

I remember when ET premiered. Trust me, it was a weird thing at the time. A TV show devoted to the movie business? Who would watch that besides the residents of Bel Air? Who could foresee whole entire channels devoted to this pursuit?

And the box office report made everyone an expert. It became less about the movies and more about the “deal” and the “casting” and the “distribution” of a film. This involved me talking to cab drivers and shocked by their insider knowledge of a movie star’s back-end deal.

As much as I love figuring out how movies work now, I long to be a fan again. (p.s. when are they going to develop an amnesia pill? Can you imagine getting to see Lawrence of Arabia or Star Wars for the first time?)

But lately I have been getting that tingle about the movies again. I see the trailer for Spider-Man 3 and hear about Knocked Up and how great a movie Judd Apatow has written, and pick up on the buzz about the rash of other R-rated comedies and big budget spectaculars coming out this summer and I think… maybe!

During the rise of TV in the ’50s, people ran from the movies in droves and the industry had an advertising slogan to counter it: “Movies are your best entertainment value!” It meant, get the hell back in there, you guys! Stop watching TV and go see a movie. The industry developed 3-D and hoped that special effects and wider screens and new ways to watch movies would turn the tide. Sound familiar? But movies are not a logical choice; it’s emotional and childish. Tell me a story. Take me away. Take me into the dark to see my secret dreams spill out on a big screen better than I can imagine.

It ebbs and flows, our love affair with movies. I’m on a high at the moment; I hope it lasts! And I really hope SM-3 is good. I’m there with my popcorn… and I don’t care if it’s the best opening for a sequel in a month beginning with “J.” I just want to be a fan again.