An uplifting melodrama, shot in an exotic locale, just in time for Oscar season? Yep, it's Lasse Hallström, director of ''Chocolat'' and ''The Shipping News'' although the gentle helmer waves away any suggestion of a movie formula. ''I would really prefer to shoot in New York, because that's where I live,'' chuckles the Swedish transplant. Nevertheless, the American West, not New York, is the backdrop of ''Life,'' which tells the story of a rancher (Robert Redford) who must come to terms with his son's death after his troubled daughter-in-law (Jennifer Lopez) arrives with a little girl who happens to be his grandchild (Becca Gardner). Hallström actually shot his reported $30 million film in northern Canada, just as Lopez's personal life was imploding last year. ''She seemed absolutely cool about [her] ongoing debacles,'' the director reports. ''There must have been some pressure, but I think we all enjoyed the hiding spot we had in Canada.'' Hallström promises a ''slightly different Redford'' than audiences are accustomed to. ''I shouldn't say more,'' he says. ''That will be my teaser.''
WHAT'S AT STAKE Talk about unfinished lives: The legendary Redford has never won an acting Oscar.