December 05, 2002 11:00 AM

The Oscar race is officially underway, with the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures releasing the first of what will soon become an avalanche of year-end best-film lists.

And their favorite this year: “The Hours,” the story of three women linked by Virginia Woolf’s novel “Mrs. Dalloway,” was named best film. The drama stars Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore, who was also named best actress for her role in the ’50s weepy homage “Far From Heaven” — which is also expected to bring her an Oscar nomination.

The other nine top movies are “Chicago,” “Gangs of New York,” “The Quiet American,” “Adaptation,” “Rabbit-Proof Fence,” “The Pianist,” “Far From Heaven,” “Thirteen Conversations About One Thing” and “Frida.”

Campbell Scott was named best actor for his role as a male chauvinist who plays guide to his young nephew in “Roger Dodger.”

“It’s a total surprise, although I’ll take it,” Scott, 41, tells Reuters. “‘Roger’ is a small movie, so we want people to know about it.”

Chris Cooper was cited as supporting actor for playing an orchid breeder in “Adaptation. ”

Kathy Bates, who makes audiences’ eyes go wide when she hops nude into a hot tub with Jack Nicholson in “About Schmidt,” was named best supporting actress for the film, while Philip Noyce was the board’s director of the year for two films: “The Quiet American” and “Rabbit-Proof Fence. ”

The New York-based board, organized in 1909 to deal with movie censorship, started naming its 10 best films in 1919. Its members consist of film professionals, teachers, students and historians.

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