With a generally so-so lineup, 2002 has produced a handful of traditional-looking candidates and a host of darker, edgier prospects that might slip into the race for lack of more conventional Oscar fare.
Along with sober, smells-like-Oscar candidates such as the crime epics "Gangs of New York" and "Road to Perdition" or the impassioned literary adaptation "The Hours," the field includes the zestful musical "Chicago," the fantasy sequel "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers," the old-school melodrama "Far From Heaven" and the absurdist's delight "Adaptation."
Oscar nominations come out Feb. 11. Here's a rundown of possible contenders in major categories:
"The Hours," Stephen Daldry's artful adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel interweaving stories about Virginia Woolf, a despondent 1950s housewife and a troubled modern woman, is a likely competitor, along with two Irish-American mob tales, Martin Scorsese's "Gangs of New York" and Sam Mendes' "Road to Perdition."
Peter Jackson's "The Two Towers" is more action, less depth than last year's "Lord of the Rings" installment, but it might bring another nomination for the franchise.
Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man," the year's top-grossing hit, probably will be viewed too much as a summer popcorn flick to merit best-picture consideration.
Though a bit lightweight, Rob Marshall's "Chicago" entertains well enough that it could follow last year's "Moulin Rouge" as a musical nominee.
Steven Spielberg's cat-and-mouse adventure "Catch Me If You Can" also may lack the heft, but it's an engaging romp and has better Oscar prospects than his other 2002 flick, "Minority Report," which bears the stigma of a sci-fi genre generally not favored by awards voters.
The year's surprise blockbuster "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" is a feel-good romance adored by general audiences but may prove too much of a featherweight for awards voters.
Other possibilities: "Antwone Fisher," Denzel Washington's directing debut, based on the real-life story of an angry orphan who finds solace in the care of a Navy psychiatrist; "Frida," Julie Taymor's vibrant film biography of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo; Todd Haynes' "Far From Heaven," a sumptuously photographed work that updates the style of '50s melodrama maestro Douglas Sirk; "About Schmidt," a darkly comic drama of late-life self-examination from director Alexander Payne; "Adaptation," the latest bizarre concoction from writer Charlie Kaufman and director Spike Jonze, the team behind "Being John Malkovich"; "The Quiet American," Phillip Noyce's thoughtful rendering of Graham Greene's novel of American imperialism in 1950s Vietnam; Spike Lee's "The 25th Hour," tracing the last day of freedom for a rueful prison-bound drug dealer; and Roman Polanski's comeback film, "The Pianist," a somber Holocaust story that took top honors at last spring's Cannes Film Festival.
Past winner Daniel Day-Lewis is the man to beat, presenting one of cinema's most black-hearted yet magnetizing villains in "Gangs of New York." Like Oscar winner F. Murray Abraham, whose bad guy Salieri upstaged Tom Hulce's Mozart in "Amadeus," Day-Lewis' turn overwhelms a solid performance by "Gangs" hero Leonardo DiCaprio.
Along with "Gangs," DiCaprio has a shot at a nomination for "Catch Me If You Can."
Three-time Oscar winner Jack Nicholson is a likely nominee for "About Schmidt." Two-time winners Tom Hanks for "Road to Perdition" and Michael Caine for "The Quiet American" also are leading candidates.
Dual roles in "Adaptation" could land a nomination for Nicolas Cage, who gives his best performance since his Oscar-winning turn in 1995's "Leaving Las Vegas."
Other possibilities include newcomer Derek Luke, "Antwone Fisher"; Edward Norton, "The 25th Hour"; Richard Gere, "Chicago"; Dennis Quaid, "The Rookie"; Adrien Brody, "The Pianist"; Sam Rockwell, "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind"; Robin Williams, "One Hour Photo"; Al Pacino, "Insomnia"; Kevin Kline, "The Emperor's Club"; Pierce Brosnan, "Evelyn"; and John Cusack, "Max."