No. 3: Cold Mountain Director Anthony Minghella uses his tools — picture, costume, sound and cast — the way a novelist uses words, not just to tell us a story, but to envelop us in it. Cold Mountain is No. 3 on my list, and I predict one of these top three will win best picture. No. 2: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King This is truly historic filmmaking. Compare The Lord of the Rings with this year's other big trilogy, The Matrix, which sank after the first installment. Here's one way to measure: In The Matrix, Hugo Weaving plays Agent Smith and had to be cloned into hundreds of Agent Smiths to fight Keanu Reeves. Rings needed just one Weaving (he's the elf king Elrond). Even better, there's no Keanu Reeves. For twice-nominated director Peter Jackson, the third time may be a charm.
No. 1: Mystic River As a critic, I think it might be easier for actors and directors to hide behind period costumes and special effects than to create a drama out of today's headlines with everyday people like us. That's why Mystic River is my best picture of the year. Clint Eastwood tells the story so simply he barely moves his camera. The only special effect in this film is genius.