Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the best films fell into three summer traditions, plus some unclassifiable but memorable titles.
1. Special effects and thrills: "The Cell," with Jennifer Lopez as a therapist entering the mind of a serial killer; "The Perfect Storm," with George Clooney skippering a doomed fishing boat; Clint Eastwood's "Space Cowboys," with a rocketload of astro-codgers; "Mission: Impossible II," with Tom Cruise and Thandie Newton in love and trouble; and "X-Men," about genetically specialized superheroes.
2. Comedy: "Nutty Professor II: The Klumps," with Eddie Murphy's amazing comic performances in multiple roles; Spike Lee's "The Original Kings of Comedy," a concert film starring four edgy standup comedians; and "Scary Movie," Keenen Ivory Wayans' spoof of summer slasher movies.
3. Animation: "Titan A.E.," an overlooked but wonderful space opera; "Chicken Run," charming whimsy about chickens planning to fly the coop; and "The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle," where animated characters met live action.
Then there were films that fit no genre but linger appreciated in the memory: "The Color of Paradise," about a blind Iranian boy; "The Patriot," with Mel Gibson winning the Revolutionary War; "Sunshine" (2000), three generations of an Austrian Jewish family; "Disney's The Kid," with Bruce Willis meeting himself at the age of 8; "Jesus' Son," with Billy Crudup as a well-meaning drifter; "The Girl on the Bridge," about a knife-thrower and the girl target he falls in love with; "Croupier," about a London casino dealer involved in a scam he doesn't understand; "Chuck and Buck," about a childhood friend who becomes a creepy shadow; and "The Tao of Steve," with Donal Logue as a fat guy who is wise about picking up girls and other philosophical activities.
It was a summer when big Friday Night Specials like "X-Men," "Scary Movie" and "Nutty II" came roaring into thousands of theaters to grab startling grosses. When "The Patriot" and "The Perfect Storm" went eyeball to eyeball, and both grossed millions but the Storm won the match. When Jim Carrey opened strong in "Me, Myself & Irene," but faded. When movies born to be R-rated trimmed their sails to PG-13, like "Gone In 60 Seconds," "Coyote Ugly" and "Bring It On." When Disney went to live action and computer-generated imagery instead of the usual animated route for its summer offering, "Dinosaur" (which also opened early, in May).
My choices of the best mainstream movies of the summer: "The Cell," "Perfect Storm," "Nutty II," "Titan A.E.," "Chicken Run."
People either loved "The Cell" or hated it. I was grateful for a film that hurtled into wildly original visuals and a plot labyrinth that gave the audience credit for intelligence. It was a stunning debut for the Indian-born Tarsem Singh, who joins his countrymen M. Night Shyamalan ("The Sixth Sense") and Shekhar Kapur ("Elizabeth") on the list of gifted new directors.