'WALL-E' cruises to top of L.A. critics' list

'Dark Knight' runner-up for best film of 2008

For the first time in its history, the Los Angeles Critics Assn. honored an animated film as the year's best picture when it chose Pixar's "WALL-E" in its annual voting Tuesday. Curiously, to spread the wealth, the group honored the Israeli "Waltz With Bashir" as its best animated film.

The group did a similar thing in 2000 when it honored the Chinese-language "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" as best picture while it selected the Taiwanese film "A One and a Two" as best foreign-language film.

The runner-up for best picture was Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight."

Otherwise, the awards were pretty much all over the place. The group selected Danny Boyle as best director for his Mumbai melody of drama, comedy and emotions, "Slumdog Millionaire." Runner-up was David Fincher for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button."

Sally Hawkins won as best actress for her role as the irrepressible schoolteacher in "Happy-Go-Lucky." The runner-up was Melissa Leo, who played the human smuggler in "Frozen River."

For best actor, Sean Penn earned the critics' nod for his portrayal of the late San Francisco gay politician Harvey Milk in "Milk." Runner-up was Mickey Rourke as the aging ring warrior in "The Wrestler."

The best screenplay of 2008, according to LAFCA, was written by Mike Leigh for "Happy-Go-Lucky." He edged Charlie Kaufman, who wrote "Synecdoche, New York."

Penelope Cruz doubly earned the critics' best supporting actress nod for her tempestuous artist in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" and the passionate younger lover in "Elegy." Viola Davis, who played a Catholic schoolboy's mother in "Doubt," was runner-up.

Best supporting actor went to the late Heath Ledger as the malevolent Joker in "The Dark Knight." Eddie Marsan, who played the bigoted driving instructor in "Happy-Go-Lucky," came in second.

For its New Generation award, which welcomes a new filmmaking talent, LAFCA chose to honor British artist Steve McQueen, who made his first feature film with his austere and tough drama "Hunger," which concerned the hunger strikes among Catholic political prisoners in Northern Ireland prisons in the early '80s.

In the documentary category, the critics went out on a limb for James Marsh's "Man on Wire," a doc about tightrope walker Philippe Petit's daring wire walk between the Twin Towers in New York in 1974. The runner-up was that curious hybrid, Ari Forman's animated doc "Waltz With Bashir."

For best cinematography, the group voted the award to Lik Wai Yu for the Chinese film "Still Life" over Anthony Dod Mantel for "Slumdog Millionaire." The nod for best production design went to Mark Friedberg for "Synecdoche" over Nathan Crowley for "Dark Knight."

For best musical score, the group voted for A.R. Rahman, a go-to composer for Bollywood films making his debut on a Western film in "Slumdog Millionaire," besting Alexandre Desplat for "Benjamin Button."

The critics selected Zhang-Ke Jia's "Still Life" as best foreign-language film. Laurent Cantet's "The Class" was runner-up.

The Douglas E. Edwards video/experimental film/video award went to James Benning for "RR" and "Casting Glance," the final two films he will make in 16mm. The film played at the RedCat in downtown L.A.

The critics will hand out these awards Jan. 12 at their annual banquet.
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