N.Y. critics heap honors on Coens' 'Country'

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UPDATED: 1:36 p.m. PT Dec. 11

NEW YORK -- Joel and Ethan Coen's violent crime drama "No Country for Old Men" swept the New York Film Critics Circle awards Monday, taking home honors for best picture, director, screenplay and supporting actor for Javier Bardem.

The group named Sarah Polley's Alzheimer's drama "Away From Her" best first film, its star Julie Christie as best actress and Daniel Day-Lewis as best actor for Paul Thomas Anderson's oil baron saga "There Will Be Blood," which also earned best cinematography honors for Robert Elswit. Charles Ferguson's Iraq War expose "No End in Sight" was named best nonfiction film.

NYFCC chairman and Newark Star-Ledger critic Stephen Whitty said the quickest vote was for Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi's "Persepolis" as best animated feature, selected in just one round of paper ballots. The toughest calls, he said, were for Bardem as supporting actor and Amy Ryan (Ben Affleck's "Gone Baby Gone") as supporting actress, each taking four ballot rounds when most awards took three.

In a surprise case of deja vu, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's "The Lives of Others" was named best foreign-language film. Although it won the same honor at the Oscars in the spring and at last year's Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. awards, it hadn't opened in New York before the end of 2006 and wasn't eligible for previous NYFCC honors.

Whitty said one factor contributing to its win might have been that this year's Festival de Cannes Palme d'Or winner and this weekend's LAFCA winner, Cristian Mungiu's Romanian abortion drama "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days," had no set New York opening. Distributor IFC Entertainment told the group Monday morning that an opening was set, but the news came two hours after the "Others" vote.

Another foreign-language film shut out of the awards was Julian Schnabel's "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly." Whitty said the omissions of "Butterfly," "Michael Clayton" and "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," along with the domination of "No Country," were the biggest surprises in a day that began with no clear front-runners.

NYFCC voted to give "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" director Sidney Lumet a lifetime achievement award, and a special critics' award to Charles Burnett for his drama "Killer of Sheep," finally released 30 years after it was made.

The "No Country" wins continued a sweep in a weekend filled with critics organization awards. It also won best picture and other top honors at both the Boston Society of Film Critics and Washington D.C. Film Critics awards Sunday, but lost the New York Online Film Critics award to a tie between "Blood" and "Butterfly."

It also lost three top awards to "Blood" at the LAFCA awards Sunday, including best picture. While members of both groups have admitted to votes that balance out the two awards, Whitty said he was unaware of the LAFCA winners and said this wasn't a factor.

Winning the top NYFCC award doesn't necessarially make a film a shoo-in for a best picture Oscar nomination - last year's winner, Paul Greengrass' "United 93," only earned directing and editing noms. But the "No Country" National Board of Review award for best picture, combined with the other honors, makes it a near shoo-in for an Oscar nom.

The weekend awards also mark a victory for Miramax Films and Paramount Vantage, which co-produced both "No Country" and "Blood." Academy members' tastes have often differed from the critics, however, so this weekend's winners still face a long and winding road to the Oscars in February.

The NYFCC awards ceremony is set for Jan. 6 at Spotlight in New York.

The complete list of winners follows:

Best picture
"No Country for Old Men" (Miramax Films/Paramount Vantage)

Best director
Joel and Ethan Coen, "No Country for Old Men" (Miramax Films/Paramount Vantage)

Best screenplay
Joel and Ethan Coen, "No Country for Old Men" (Miramax Films/Paramount Vantage)

Best actress
Julie Christie, "Away From Her" (Lionsgate)

Best actor
Daniel Day-Lewis, "There Will Be Blood" (Paramount Vantage/Miramax Films)

Best supporting actress
Amy Ryan, "Gone Baby Gone" (Miramax Films)

Best supporting actor
Javier Bardem, "No Country for Old Men" (Miramax Films)

Best cinematography
Robert Elswit, "There Will Be Blood" (Paramount Vantage/Miramax Films)

Best animated feature
"Persepolis" (Sony Pictures Classics)

Best nonfiction film
"No End in Sight" (Magolia Pictures)

Best foreign-language film
"The Lives of Others" (Sony Pictures Classics)

Best first film
"Away From Her" (Lionsgate)

Lifetime achievement award
Sidney Lumet

Special critics' award
Charles Burnett
"Killer of Sheep" (Milestone Films)
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