Though it is far too early to start speculating on the Oscar race, the calendar year is half over, and by this time a year ago, several of the best films of 2001 (“Shrek,” “Memento,” “Moulin Rouge,” “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence” and “The Pledge”) had all opened at local theaters.

So here’s one critic’s opinion of the 10 best films that have opened thus far in 2002.

Number 10  “The Rookie”—Many claim Hollywood does not make films like this anymore. Here is a smart, moving family film which is neither animated nor filled with special effects. It tells a simple, sincere, true story of a man who is challenged to follow his dream, and lives up to the challenge. Filled with humor, emotion and drama, there will probably not be another G-rated film this year which has a broader audience than this one.

Number 9  “Spider-Man”—The film follows the same formula of every superhero film which has gone before, but simply does it smarter than the others have. With almost half the film dealing with the Spider-Man’s back story, the audience feels involved with this character long before he is saving the world from the evil Green Lantern. It also does not hurt that the moral of the film, “With great power comes great responsibility,” echoes the words of an ancient Hebrew Prophet, “Of those who are given much, much is required.”

Number 8  “Insomnia”—This well-crafted film with award-worthy performances and some startling images is so much more than a murder mystery. It is an exploration of human character, integrity and truth. Though it lacks the weight of the ambiguous ending in the original Norwegian version upon which it was based, this film is still one of the best released thus far this year.

Number 7  “Frailty”—Almost everyone who saw this little film has debated what it means. Is the father called by God for the special mission he claims he received in a vision? One son believes his father; the other is terrified by what he can only believe is insanity. Most audience members leave unsure of which son was right. It is fine for a film not to answer all the questions it asks, as long as it is made as exceptionally well as “Frailty.” A horror film, a family drama and a discussion on the nature of God’s call are all found in one very profound movie.

Number 6  “About a Boy”—This is easily the best comedy of the year so far. “Boy” is filled with many humorous moments about parenting, dating and human nature. Hugh Grant is much less charming than usual, but he is perfect as the self-centered lout who discovers there is more to life than satisfying oneself. In a summer filled with heroes single-handedly saving the world, it is nice to see a film where the hero learns that being the center of the world is not what life is all about.

Number 5  “Changing Lanes”—In this age of road rage, here is a film which dares to ask the question, “Will anyone be the Good Samaritan and do the righteous thing when his world starts to crumble?” Swerving from one parallel story to the other with the pace of frantic commuters, this film holds the audience as the characters ponder taking the high road of righteousness rather than the low road of vengeance.

Number 4  “Stolen Summer”—Several films on this list deal with spiritual issues, but none incorporate faith into the story more than this small film about childhood, community and salvation. In a time when major religious leaders seem determined to anger people of other faiths with venomous words of hatred, more Christians need to see this small film and be reminded we are all called to be “like children” in our faith. One of the many great messages of “Stolen Summer” is that children still believe and desire for everyone to make it to heaven.

Number 3  “Star Wars: Episode II—Attack of the Clones”—For those who are true fans of the film series, it has always been about the story. “Clones” delivers a story worthy of the four previous films. While not relying on action alone, “Clones” startles the audience with the visual achievements of its action sequences. This captivating film is an essential piece in the puzzle of how young Anakin Skywalker, Jedi-in-training, will become one of the greatest villains in film history. The journey from saint to sinner is one of the most powerful stories told in film, and how this version plays out in Episode III is a question fans will be contemplating for the next three years.

Number 2  “13 Conversations about One Thing”—When one reads that title, there are many things one might guess it refers to. The answer is something simple and yet more immense than most might expect: happiness. This is a film about the nature of happiness and how fate, luck or even divine intervention all wreck havoc on this simple life goal. Few films have dialogue which is filled with more profound thoughts, emotional ideas and reflections on life. Is happiness attainable in this life? Is it controllable? What role does God play in our happiness? This is the kind of film that inspires long conversations and could be watched over and over again.

Number 1  “Minority Report”—Steven Spielberg is at the top of his game with this visual wonder which is part murder mystery, part action movie, part social commentary and part morality play.  Few directors could have made this film, and no one could have done it better. From the effects, to the cinematography, to the acting, everything in this film is a wonder to behold. The questions raised by the film about the future of America’s legal system in a time when guilt is often being assumed seem prophetic. The moment when destiny and free choice are thrown into the mix is the most memorable single moment in film this year. There may turn out to be 10 better films this year than “Minority Report,” but if there are, this will be one of the best years for film in a very long time.

When “Auld Lang Syne” is sung on Dec. 31, who knows how many of these films will be remembered by the masses or by anyone voting for awards?

Perhaps few or none of them. At this moment in time, however, they are worthy of praise and most definitely worthy of a high recommendation.

Roger Thomas is pastor of Northeast Baptist Church in Atlanta.

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