Pick signals wide-open awards chase

The National Board of Review has planted the first flag in what’s expected to be an intensely contentious awards season, choosing “The Hours” as the best film of 2002.

Depicting three women in three eras, played by Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and Julianne Moore, the Stephen Daldry film was produced by Scott Rudin and will be distributed domestically by Paramount and internationally by Miramax.

The Board’s choices presage what could be a robust awards season for Miramax. The mini-major also produced “Chicago,” “Gangs of New York” and “The Quiet American,” which were crowned the second, third and fourth best films of the year, in that order. Six of the films on the org’s top ten list are Miramax titles.

Miramax was also repped by “Rabbit-Proof Fence” and “Frida,” which came in at No. 6 and 10, respectively.

Also honored were Columbia’s “Adaptation” (No. 5), Focus Features’ “The Pianist” and “Far From Heaven,” and Sony Pictures Classics’ “Thirteen Conversations About One Thing.”

“We’re especially proud of the incredible work of Scott Rudin and our partners at Paramount on ‘The Hours,’ ” Miramax spokesman Matthew Hiltzik said.

Org’s selections this year ran its usual gamut from the fringes to the mainstream.

Best actor kudos went to Campbell Scott, star of Artisan’s dark comedy “Roger Dodger.” Julianne Moore nabbed actress kudos for “Far From Heaven”; Chris Cooper was named supporting actor for his role in “Adaptation”; and Kathy Bates was deemed best supporting actress for New Line’s “About Schmidt.”

Phillip Noyce was named top director for two pics, “The Quiet American” and “Rabbit-Proof Fence.”

Charlie Kaufman won screenwriter of the year honors for three pics, “Adaptation,” “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” and “Human Nature.”

Org named the Pedro Almodovar pic, “Talk To Her,” from Sony Pictures Classics, the foreign film of the year.

As the first signpost on the road of kudos handouts leading up to the Oscars, the Board’s selections carry a weight that’s unusual for a secretive committee whose membership is a mystery to most people in the film biz.

Created as a censorship group in 1909, the board is composed of roughly 150 members from varying professions: educators, doctors, lawyers, historians and few former industry insiders. The group’s selections tend to veer into the specialty market. With its emphasis on breakthrough performances and emerging talent, org often honors films and talent that aren’t obvious Oscar candidates.

But compared to most awards, the Board’s provides a fairly reliable forecast of Oscar results. It has chosen 41% of the Academy’s best picture choices since 1980.

Among the more specialized kudos of the annual gala, which will be held Jan. 14 in Gotham, a special award for visionary cinematic achievement will be conferred on George Lucas; HBO’s Sheila Nevins will receive the humanitarian award, and George Clooney will be given a prize for special filmmaking achievement, in recognition of his work as director, producer and star of “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.”

Other awards: breakthrough performances, Derek Luke and Maggie Gyllenhaal; directorial debut, Rob Marshall; ensemble acting, “Nicholas Nickleby”; documentary, “Bowling for Columbine”; animated film “Miyazaki’s Spirited Away”; cable film, “The Laramie Project”; career achievement, Christopher Plummer; music composition, Elmer Bernstein; cinematography, Conrad Hall; and William K. Everson Award for Film History, Annette Insdorf for the book “Indelible Shadows: Films and the Holocaust.”

The Board also saluted more than a dozen additional films for honoring freedom of expression and displaying excellence in filmmaking.

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