'Hurt Locker' tops critics group nods

National Society of Film Critics cites film as best picture

Iraq-set drama "The Hurt Locker" set off fireworks as the National Society of Film Critics voted Sunday.

The last major critics organization to check in with its 2009 kudos named the Summit release picture of the year and hailed the film's Kathryn Bigelow as best director and Jeremy Renner as best actor.

The group also chose Yolande Moreau as best actress for her performance as French painter Seraphine de Senlis in the biopic "Seraphine." Moreau, who picked up the actress prize at France's Cesar Awards, was named best actress last month by the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn.

Although the National Society sometimes breaks with other critics groups -- last year, for example, it tapped "Waltz With Bashir" as 2008's best pic, and "Pan's Labyrinth" in 2006 -- it lined up with other organizations to hail "Locker," which has been crowned best picture by critics in Los Angeles, New York and Washington while picking up Gotham Awards for best film and best ensemble.

"Locker" was the clear favorite in the best picture voting, while "Summer Hours" and "Inglourious Basterds" ranked second and third, respectively, in the group's deliberations. In the vote for best director, Bigelow easily prevailed, followed by "Summer Hours" director Olivier Assayas and "Fantastic Mr. Fox" helmsman Wes Anderson.

In the best actor race, second and third place went to "Crazy Heart's" Jeff Bridges and "Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans" star Nicolas Cage, respectively.

The best actress contest was most closely fought, with Moreau, at 22 points, edging out Meryl Streep, who captured 21 points for her work in "Julie & Julia" and "Fantastic Mr. Fox," followed by Abbie Cornish, with 19 points, for "Bright Star."

The award for best supporting actor resulted in a tie, with Christoph Waltz of "Basterds" sharing the honor with Paul Schneider, who plays a friend of poet John Keats in "Bright Star." Runner-up was Christian McKay for "Me and Orson Welles."

Mo'Nique, another of the season's awards favorites, was named best supporting actress for "Precious." The runner-up position produced a tie between Anna Kendrick for "Up in the Air" and Samantha Morton for "The Messenger."

Joel and Ethan Coen took home best screenplay honors for "A Serious Man," their modern retelling of the story of Job. Assayas, for "Summer Hours," and Quentin Tarantino, for "Basterds," ranked second and third, respectively.

The French-language "Hours," about siblings dividing up family possessions after their mother's death, was singled out as best foreign-language film. Runners-up were Jan Troell's "Everlasting Moments," and, in a tie for third, Corneliu Porumboiu's "Police, Adjective" and Claire Denis' "35 Shots of Rum."

French director Agnes Vardes' autobiographical documentary "Beaches of Agnes" was chosen best nonfiction film. The follow-up contenders were James Toback's "Tyson" and Sacha Gervasi's "Anvil! The Story of Anvil."

The cinematography prize went to Michael Haneke's "The White Ribbon," for Christian Berger's black-and-white photography. Runners-up were Barry Ackroyd for "Locker" and Troell for "Moments."

The production design award went to Nelson Lowry for "Fantastic Mr. Fox," Anderson's stop-motion adaptation of the Roald Dahl book. Competition came from Rick Carter for "Avatar," who came in second, and Henry Selick for the stop-motion "Coraline," which came in third.

David Sterritt was re-elected chairman of the group as it held its 44th annual voting meeting at Sardi's Restaurant in New York. This year, 46 members participated in the voting, which used a weighted ballot system.

The group doesn't hold an awards ceremony but sends scrolls to winners.

It also announced several Film Heritage Awards, bestowed upon the restoration of "Rashomon," by Academy Film Archive, the National Film Center of the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, and Kadokawa Pictures; Bruce Posner, for the restoration of "Manhatta"; the National Film Preservation Foundation's "Treasures from American Film Archives, Vol. 4: Avant Garde 1947-1986"; Warner Archive Collection; UCLA Film & Television Archive, for its restoration of "The Red Shoes"; and Kino International's "Avant-Garde Volume 3 (Experimental Cinema 1922-1954)."