L.A. critics plant flag on 'Iwo Jima'

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The Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. was in the mood for reality as its top honors went to pictures based on historical events.

In its voting Sunday, the group selected Clint Eastwood's "Letters From Iwo Jima," the account of that famous World War II battle as seen from the Japanese side, as best picture, with runner-up going to "The Queen," a contemporary story of the British monarchy.

Meanwhile, critics voted Paul Greengrass best director for the Sept. 11 mid-air drama "United 93." Eastwood finished second for his dual efforts with his war pictures "Iwo Jima" and "Flags of Our Fathers."

The film garnering the most honors, however, was Stephen Frears' "Queen," with four awards. The film was honored for best actress, Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II; supporting actor, Michael Sheen as British Prime Minister Tony Blair; screenwriter, Peter Morgan; and Alexandre Desplat for best music.

As best actor, the group added spice to its annual awards banquet by voting a tie: Sacha Baron Cohen in the politically incorrect, ambush-documentary satire "Borat" and Forest Whitaker as crazed Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in "The Last King of Scotland."

The runner-up for best actress was Penelope Cruz as a mother suffering from a ghost and much domestic melodrama in "Volver."

In the two supporting actor categories, the critics tossed a wide net, with dozens of performances garnering votes. The surprise winner for supporting actress was Luminita Gheorghiu as the ambulance nurse in "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu." Jennifer Hudson's brassy debut performance in "Dreamgirls" was runner-up.

For supporting actor, coming in second to Sheen was Sergi Lopez, who played the fascist villain in "Pan's Labyrinth."

For screenplay, Michael Arndt came in second for "Little Miss Sunshine," his comical tale of a dysfunctional family.

The group's New Generation award went to the team behind "Sunshine," directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris and Arndt.

In the foreign-language film category, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's penetrating melodrama about the East German secret police, "The Lives of Others," took top honors, with Pedro Almodovar's "Volver" finishing second.

Documentary honors went to Davis Guggenheim's "An Inconvenient Truth," about former Vice President Al Gore's campaign for understanding and enlightenment on global warming. Runner-up was Hubert Sauper's "Darwin's Nightmare."

For cinematography, Emmanuel Lubezki took top honors for his dark, moody and epic camerawork in "Children of Men." Runner-up was Tom Stern for the near black-and-white cinematography in Eastwood's "Flags" and "Iwo Jima."

In animation, the critics applauded George Miller's penguin fantasia "Happy Feet" over John Lasseter and Joe Ranft's "Cars."

Eugenio Caballero was the critics' favorite for his otherworldly fairy-tale production design for "Labyrinth," besting Jim Clay, Veronica Falzon and Geoffrey Kirkland for their dire futuristic design in "Children of Men."

For music, the critics chose Desplat for his scores for "Queen" and "The Painted Veil" over Thomas Newman, who wrote the scores for "The Good German" and "Little Children."

The independent/experimental award went to Kelly Reichardt's "Old Joy" and So-Young Kim's "In Between Days" as examples of the new generation of genuinely independent filmmakers.

The LAFCA banquet will be held Jan. 14 at the Park Hyatt in Century City.
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