NBR names 'Iwo Jima' top film

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NEW YORK -- Fact-based fiction ruled this year's National Board of Review selections as Clint Eastwood's Japan-centric World War II drama "Letters From Iwo Jima" took home best film of the year honors.

Forest Whitaker nabbed best actor for his role as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in "The Last King of Scotland," and Helen Mirren ruled as best actress for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in "The Queen."

Pedro Almodovar's "Volver" was named best foreign film, Davis Guggenheim's "An Inconvenient Truth" earned best documentary, John Lasseter and Joe Ranft's "Cars" won best animated film, and Martin Scorsese was named best director for "The Departed," which topped the list of winners with three awards, including a place on the top 10 best film list and a best ensemble cast award.

The NBR's top 10 films, led by "Iwo Jima," are Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's "Babel," Edward Zwick's "Blood Diamond," "Departed," David Frankel's "The Devil Wears Prada," Eastwood's "Iwo Jima" companion film "Flags of Our Fathers," Nicholas Hytner's "The History Boys," Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris' "Little Miss Sunshine," Richard Eyre's "Notes on a Scandal" and John Curran's "The Painted Veil."

Two much-discussed Oscar contenders, "Dreamgirls" and "Queen," were overlooked on the top 10 list by a group that has been mired in controversy in recent years over the qualifications of its voters, who allegedly have given awards out to appease various studios.

?This year, four of the top 10 films are from Warner Bros. Pictures, and one is from subsidiary Warner Independent Pictures, while three are from Fox Searchlight and one is from its sister studio, 20th Century Fox.

"I and the membership don't really care about what studio a film comes from," NBR president Annie Schulhof said. "All that matters is the art of filmmaking." Added a former member, "The fact that there's no published list of members has always been an issue."

Last year, several former members of the board filed a letter of complaint with the New York State Attorney General's Office over the board's nonprofit status and other issues. "Nothing happened," Schulhof said. "When you're going to be 100 years old in two years, every organization has growing pains."

About a week after the filing, IFP veteran Eileen Newman was hired as executive director, on Oct. 31, 2005. Newman left NBR in September to join the filmmaker grant organization National Video Resources (now renamed Re:New Media).

The board's awards are not generally considered predictors of Oscar success. Over the past 10 years, eight of the board's best picture choices have been nominated for best picture by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, but only one, 1999's "American Beauty," has gone on to win the best picture Oscar. Along with "Volver," "Curse of the Golden Flower," "Days of Glory," "Pan's Labyrinth" and "Water" rounded out the top five foreign-film list.

"Inconvenient Truth" topped the top five documentary film list, which included "51 Birch Street," "Iraq in Fragments," "Shut Up & Sing" and "Wordplay." Djimon Hounsou won best supporting actor for "Blood Diamond," and Catherine O'Hara won best supporting actress for "For Your Consideration."

Jennifer Hudson of "Dreamgirls" and Rinko Kikuchi of "Babel" tied for breakthrough performance by an actress, and Ryan Gosling of "Half Nelson" earned breakthrough performance by an actor. Zach Helm won best original screenplay for "Stranger Than Fiction," and Ron Nyswaner won best adapted screenplay for "Painted Veil."

This year's top independent films (a category renamed from special mention for excellence in filmmaking, Schulhof said, because "we want to keep up with the times") are "Akeelah and the Bee," "Bobby," "Catch a Fire," "Copying Beethoven," "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints," "Half Nelson," "The Illusionist," "Lonesome Jim," "Sherrybaby," "10 Items or Less" and "Thank You for Smoking."

Actor Eli Wallach and producer Irwin Winkler earned career achievement awards, and Jonathan Demme received the Billy Wilder Award for Excellence in Directing. Specialty film distributor Donald Krim won the William K. Everson Film History Award, and the Bvlgari Award for NBR Freedom of Expression went to "Water" and "World Trade Center." The awards ceremony will be held Jan. 9 at Cipriani's 42nd Street in New York.
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