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New York Critics Circle Chooses UNITED 93

UNITED 93, the harrowing re-enactment of the last hours on one of the doomed planes hijacked on September 11, 2001, has received the nod as Best Picture of the Year, from the New York Critics Circle, considered the most prestigious and influential of all the national film critics associations. The win by UNITED 93, which was echoed last week by the Washington DC Film Critics Association, catapults the docudrama into prime position for multiple Golden Globe and Oscar nominations.
The film, directed by UK director Paul Greengrass, opened the Tribeca Film Festival in April and has had a respectable (if not sensational) box office career, making nearly $75 million in worldwide box office receipts. The film, distributed internationally by Universal Pictures, was considered a hot potato upon its initial release, with many pundits commenting in newspaper editorials that it was perhaps "too soon" for the events of 9-11 to be subject to dramatic interpretation. New York critics obviously disagreed, passing over big end-of-the-year releases to honor a film that was in the news over 6 months ago. A possible Golden Globe or Oscar win will seriously question the strategy of holding off on "award worthy" pictures until the pile-up of the end of the year.
The New York Critics Circle again honored Martin Scorsese for his return-to-form in the crime thriller THE DEPARTED. Scorsese, who has yet to win an Oscar despite five nominations (for RAGING BULL, THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST, GOODFELLAS, GANGS OF NEW YORK and THE AVIATOR respectively) may finally get his moment at the Oscar podium this year with the highly praised THE DEPARTED.

Dame Helen Mirren, for her iconic performance as Queen Elizabeth II in THE QUEEN , and Forrest Whitaker, for his demonic performance as Ugandan strongman Idi Amin in THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND, also scored acting prizes by the New York critics, making them the almost unanimous choices of critics across the country and the ones to beat come Oscar night.
Winners in the supporting actor categories included Jennifer Hudson, for her earthy performance in the film adaptation of the 1970s Broadway musical DREAM GIRLS, and Jackie Earle Haley, a child star who has been out of the business for more than 15 years, who made an amazing impression as the tragic pedophile in the domestic drama LITTLE CHILDREN. Haley has been praised for his intense performance and could be the "comeback kid" of the year at this year's Oscar ceremonies.
The New York Critics Circle broke away from the pack in their choices of Documentary and Foreign Language films. The critics named DELIVER US FROM EVIL, a powerful indictment of the Catholic church directed by Amy Berg, as Best Documentary (most other groups honored AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH, which was certainly one of the box office surprises of the year).
The choice for Best Foreign Language film was certainly a quirky surprise. ARMY OF SHADOWS (L'Armée des Ombres), a beautifully shot and acted French drama by Jean-Pierre Melville, won top honors, despite being first produced in 1969. The film, which chronicles the shadowy world of resistance fighters during the Occupation of France during World War II, was re-issued by specialty distributor Rialto Pictures at New York arthouse theater The Film Forum to rapturous reviews. The film stars such 1960s French icons as Lino Ventura, Jean-Pierre Cassel and Simone Signoret. The critics passed over such high profile films as VOLVER and PAN'S LABYRINTH, deciding to honor a lost cinema classic that only had its US premiere this past year.
The New York critics also honored Ryan Fleck with the Best First Feature Award for his deft direction of the indie hit HALF NELSON. The film won Best Film honors at last month's Gotham Awards, and is nominated for several prizes at the Film Independent Spirit Awards, to be held in Los Angeles.
The New York Critics Circle will present their awards at a cozy dinner ceremony on Sunday, January 7th at the Supper Club in Manhattan. The honors from this prestigious group of some of the country's most respected film critics has certainly turned up the heat for the awards season.

Sandy Mandelberger
Awards Watch Editor

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