'Up in the Air' wins NBR best picture

George Clooney, Morgan Freeman share acting honors

Jason Reitman's comic drama "Up in the Air" cruised to new altitudes Thursday as the New York-based National Board of Review named it best film of the year.

The Paramount release, which opens today in limited engagements, also picked up three other trophies: best actor for George Clooney, who plays a corporate road warrior and who shared the award with Morgan Freeman, who stars as Nelson Mandela in "Invictus"; supporting actress for Anna Kendrick, whose character threatens to bring Clooney down to earth; and adapted screenplay for Reitman and Sheldon Turner.

Warner Bros.' South African-set drama "Invictus" also figured prominently in the NBR kudos. In addition to Freeman's nod, it earned Clint Eastwood best director honors. The film also received one of the group's Freedom of Expression Awards.Carey Mulligan was named best actress for her turn as a spirited British schoolgirl just beginning to taste London's swingin' '60s in "An Education."

Voted by the 108-member organization, composed of film enthusiasts and academics,  the NBR Awards are an imprecise indicator of eventual Oscar-worthiness. During the past decade, three of the NBR's choices, including last year's "Slumdog Millionaire," captured the best picture Oscars. Six others were nominated for best picture; only one, 2000's "Quills," failed to score an Oscar nom.

In its rush to judgment, the NBR ignored such awards hopefuls as "Avatar" (which hasn't screened for any awards groups yet), "Nine," "The Lovely Bones" and "A Single Man" and gave short shrift to "Precious."

The NBR awards will be handed out Jan. 12 at Cipriani's 42nd Street in Manhattan.

In other categories, Woody Harrelson was named best supporting actor for his performance as a soldier charged with notifying families of their loved ones' death in "The Messenger."

The group doled out breakthrough performance awards to Jeremy Renner for "The Hurt Locker" and Gabourey Sidibe for "Precious" and bestowed an ensemble cast award on the upcoming marital comedy "It's Complicated," starring Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin.

Disney/Pixar's "Up" was hailed as best animated film, and "The Cove," which exposes the abuse of dolphins, was selected as best documentary. French director Jacques Audiard's "A Prophet" was chosen best foreign-language film.

Joel and Ethan Coen took home the best original screenplay award for "A Serious Man."

The NBR announced three Spotlight Awards for best director debut to Duncan Jones for "Moon," Oren Moverman for "Messenger" and Marc Webb for "(500) Days of Summer."

A Special Filmmaking Achievement Award was set aside for Wes Anderson for his stop-motion animated "Fantastic Mr. Fox."

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Former American Film Institute president and CEO Jean Picker Firstenberg is the recipient of this year's William K. Everson Film History Award.

In addition to "Invictus," Freedom of Expression Awards also will be given to the docs "Burma VJ: Reporting From a Closed Country" and "The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers."

Spreading the love around, the NBR announced its top 10 films of the year -- which, inexplicably, didn't include "Up in the Air" but did single out "An Education," "Summer," "Hurt Locker," "Inglourious Basterds," "Invictus," "Messenger," "Serious Man," "Star Trek," "Up" and "Where the Wild Things Are."'

Its top five foreign films are "The Maid," "Revanche," "Song of Sparrows," "Three Monkeys" and "The White Ribbon."

Checking in as its top five docs are "Burma VJ," "Crude," "Food, Inc.," "Good Hair" and "Most Dangerous Man in America."

Selected as top 10 indie films were "Amreeka," "District 9," "Goodbye Solo," "Humpday," "In the Loop," "Julia," "Me and Orson Welles," "Moon," "Sugar" and "Two Lovers."