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Signs, Perdition top summer’s best films

One thing can be said for certain: This summer’s movie season sure was better than last year’s.

That’s good news considering there wasn’t a sequel to Moulin Rouge.

Steven Spielberg also redeemed himself from A.I., last summer’s debacle, with the sophisticated action flick Minority Report.

There was a pair of summer-rule-bending blockbusters, Road to Perdition and Signs, which relied on quality storytelling and strong acting rather than special effects and a Will Smith soundtrack.

Austin Powers returned and again brought Mini-Me and Fat Bastard along for the ride. But this time, Beyoncé Knowles and Michael Caine aided Mike Myers against the new titular character in Goldmember. With a hilarious opening sequence, featuring cameos by Spielberg, Tom Cruise, Kevin Spacey, Danny DeVito and Britney Spears, and laughs to spare, the spy-spoof franchise is the strongest tongue-in-cheek film series going.

Also scoring another comic punch was Adam Sandler with the same-old-plot-but-who-cares-it-works Mr. Deeds.

Even the latest Star Wars, with its atrocious acting and silly romance subplot (the dialogue was ridiculous), had some bright spots – most notably Yoda kicking butt and twirling in the air like a Super Sonic Hedgehog on speed and caffeinated Jedi juice.

Matt Damon showed what kind of chops – Judo-wise – he had in the spy thriller The Bourne Identity. And Tobey Maguire kicked the spectacles to the curb and got all spandexed up in Spider-Man</I? – a nice start to the summer 2002 season.

But while there was Smith shooting I’m-so-cool glances in MIIB and Vin Diesel jumping off bridges and murmuring one-liners in xXx, at least there wasn’t anything Glitter-esque floating around the box office the past few months.

Oh wait, I forgot about Scooby-Doo. Freddie Prinze Jr. made such a big deal about him being the only actor who could’ve pulled off Fred. Hey, boy from She’s All That, my dog (who isn’t computer generated, by the way) could play Fred just as well as you – and she’s a girl.

Yes, there was also Episode II: Attack of the Clones. However, if you compare it to Episode I – we got off lucky. I was talking to a living-talking-breathing-head-bobbling Star Wars freak the other night, and he said George Lucas has to add something like 20-30 subplots to the upcoming Episode III just to have the six-part series make sense. At the pace these movies are going, we’re in for a 27-hour final installment. But as long as Sam “B.A.M.F.” Jackson’s epitomizing all things Jedi and Yoda’s on the screen whipping out his lightsaber, it’ll be worth it.

And Minority Report wasn’t all that bad either. But it wasn’t until an hour after the movie when I was coming home from The Gap, with my Aquafina in one hand and my USA Today in the other, did I realize that I got hosed by all of the not-so-subtle subliminal product placement. But once I got beyond that, I realized, “Hey, at least I didn’t waste my fiver on seeing another A.I.”

But then there was Signs. Director M. Night Shyamalan’s third venture into the supernatural genre was certainly a success despite all those who saw it and said the same thing I said about The Sixth Sense: It was boring. On the contrary, Signs held me on my seat not knowing where it was going. Forget the underlying message about faith and throw out the silliness of that whole alien part, and what you have is a well-crafted intense drama about how one family deals with the end-of-the-world possibility. Most disaster flicks show you the destruction, the carnage – basically the blow-by-blow you saw on CNN on Sept. 11 – but Shyamalan hides all that from us and merely gives snippets of radio broadcasts and television reports. The journalist inside me was frustrated beyond belief because I wanted to see the end of the world. But that device made the harrowing scenario that much more believable and ultimately more powerful when you walk out of the theater. Signs was the movie this summer that sat with me for weeks.

But the best film of the summer – and the year so far – is Sam Mendes’ sophomore effort, Road to Perdition. From the photography on down, this is classic storytelling that borders on perfection. Tom Hanks, in another subtle everyman role, is superb as the conflicted hitman/family man who must now protect his son’s future from his own past. Paul Newman rocked, and Jude Law redefined sinister – as well as the need for dental care – in one of the best-casted films in some time. But the combination of Conrad L. Hall’s cinematography and Mendes’ direction again hits home, albeit in a different fashion than American Beauty, and they make for one of the best filmmaking teams around.

So, in the end, this summer was certainly better than last year. Even though we had Scooby-Doo with which to contend.

Contact Will Albritton