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Film Critics Associations All Over The Map With Awards

Monday, December 11----With the glut of announcements from various film critics associations, the Oscar race is beginning to take shape. However, as opposed to recent memory, when one film (be it GLADIATOR, LORD OF THE RINGS or MILLION DOLLAR BABY) was recognized across the board as the Best Film of the Year, this year's race has been flung wide open, with a few films making an impression and certain to be among Oscar nominees for the Academy's highest honor.

In the past 72 hours, film critics associations in Los Angeles, Washington DC, Boston and New York (online critics) made their announcements, with the prestigious New York Film Critics Circle announcing later today.


BEST PICTURE

The Los Angeles Film Critics Association echoed the surprise choice of the National Board of Review, in choosing as Best Picture, LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA, a Japanese-language companion film to the bigger budget FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS, both directed by Clint Eastwood. The LA nod all but confirms that LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA, and perhaps even its companion film, will figure prominently on Oscar night. If it was to win, LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA would be the first non-English language film to win the Academy Award as Best Picture.

The Boston Film Critics Association went with a film set in the grimy underworld of Beantown (an affectionate term for the historic city of Boston), by honoring THE DEPARTED, the latest international hit from veteran director Martin Scorsese as its choice as Best Picture.

The New York Online Film Critics Association chose THE QUEEN, the docudrama about a crisis in the Royal Family after the death of Princess Diana, as its choice as Best Picture.

A surprise choice for Best Picture came from the Washington DC Film Critics Association, which named UNITED 93, the dramatic re-enactment of the drama on board one of the flights hijacked on September 11, 2001, as its Best Picture of the Year. The film, which opened the Tribeca Film Festival in April, has appeared on most Top Ten lists and is fast emerging as a major contender for the Golden Globes and the Oscars.


BEST DIRECTOR

UNITED 93's director, Paul Greengrass, was the surprise choice as Best Director, with the nod being given to the Irish director from both the Los Angeles and the Washington DC Film Critics Association.

The Boston critics heralded Martin Scorsese for his superb return-to-form on the Boston-set crime drama THE DEPARTED. The New York Online Film Critics chose Stephen Frears for his fluid directorial work on THE QUEEN.


BEST ACTOR

The Los Angeles Critics Association continued to surprise, naming a tie for Best Actor. Forest Whitaker, the definite front-runner for his performance as the Uganda dictator Idi Amin in THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND, was not a surprise. Whitaker was also thus honored by the Boston, Washington DC and New York Online critics associations.

However, the Los Angeles critics' choice of Sacha Baron Cohen, the creator and interpreter of the international sensation BORAT, also received Best Actor honors. This surprise pick could result in Cohen's film being recognized at the major awards ceremonies in 2007 and in increasing its already impressive box office take in the US and around the world.


BEST ACTRESS

Helen Mirren, winning yet another prize for her regal portrait of Queen Elizabeth II in Stephen Frear's highly regarded THE QUEEN, seems unbeatable at this stage for a Best Actress win on Oscar night. nod. She has won this category from all the critics groups that have announced so far.


BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

British character actor Michael Sheen, who gave a surprisingly deft performance as Prime Minister Tony Blair, was the choice for Best Supporting Actor by both the Los Angeles and New York Online critics associations. Washington DC film critics echoed the choice of the National Board of Review, in choosing Djimoun Honsou for his performance in the thriller BLOOD DIAMOND. The Boston film critics gave the nod to local boy Mark Wahlberg for his blistering performance in THE DEPARTED.


BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Best Supporting Actress honors were split between Shareeka Epps, as the young girl who tries to help her drug-addicted teacher in the indie hit HALF NELSON (the choice of the Boston and New York Online critics); Jennifer Hudson for her role in the musical adaptation of the hit Broadway musical DREAM GIRLS (the choice of the Washington DC critics); and a surprise nod to Romanian actress Luminita Gheorghiu for the international arthouse hit THE DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU.


BEST DOCUMENTARY

The Best Documentary film prize went to AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH from the film critics associations in New York, Los Angeles and Washington DC. The Boston critics broke ranks and decided to honor two films: DELIVER US FROM EVIL and DIXIE CHICKS: SHUT UP AND SING.


BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

The Foreign Language Film prizes, which was assumed to be wrapped up by Pedro Almodovar and his well-received hit VOLVER, was another big surprise. Critics in New York, Boston and Washington DC gave the top honor to Mexican director Guillermo del Toro for his surrealistic tale, PAN'S LABYRINTH.

The Los Angeles film critics gave the nod to the German film THE LIVES OF OTHERS, which just recently won the European Film Award as Best Film, along with a screenplay award for its debut director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck and a Best Actor prize for its lead Ulrich Mühe.

Although certain frontrunners (THE QUEEN, UNITED 93, LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA, THE DEPARTED) are becoming evident, the nominations for the Golden Globes, expected later this week, will be the true determining factor of what has become a very open race in almost all the major categories. It will be interesting to see whether such acclaimed films as LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, BABEL, THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA, MARIE ANTOINETTE, DREAM GIRLS, THE GOOD SHEPHERD, THE GOOD GERMAN and LITTLE CHILDREN make any kind of a mark (so far.....not really). Stay tuned.


Sandy Mandelberger
Awards Watch Editor


For results on the New York Film Critics Circle awards, log on to the website of FILM NEW YORK, the definitive guide to New York film events, on Tuesday morning.

Direct link to FILM NEW YORK: Link Text

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