'Milk' gets New York film critics' vote

Stars Sean Penn, Josh Brolin also win awards

"Milk," director Gus Van Sant's portrait of San Francisco politician and gay activist Harvey Milk, was hailed by the New York Film Critics Circle on Wednesday as the best film of 2008.

Focus Features' "Milk" also earned awards for Sean Penn, in the title role, as best actor and Josh Brolin, who plays Milk's political rival Dan White, as best supporting actor.

The honors contribute to the growing awards momentum behind the film, which also led the field, alongside "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," when the Broadcast Film Critics Assn. announced its nominations a day earlier.

Among the New York critics, Miramax's "Happy-Go-Lucky" also emerged as a multiple winner: Mike Leigh was named best director, and Sally Hawkins, who plays the movie's cockeyed optimist, was singled out as best actress.

It's the second time the New Yorkers have rewarded Leigh, whom they named best director in 1999 for "Topsy-Turvy."

The best supporting actress nod went to Penelope Cruz for her fiery performance as an ex-wife in the Weinstein Co.'s "Vicky Cristina Barcelona."

Disney/Pixar's "WALL-E," hailed by the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. this week as the year's best picture, was chosen best animated film by their New York counterparts.

James Marsh's altitude-defying "Man on Wire," a Magnolia release, was selected best documentary, and Cristian Mungui's abortion drama "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" from IFC Films emerged as best foreign film.

Jenny Lumet earned best screenplay honors for Sony Pictures Classics' "Rachel Getting Married," in which a dysfunctional family gathers for a wedding.

Anthony Dod Mantle was named best cinematographer for the colorful eye he brought to capturing Mumbai in Fox Searchlight's "Slumdog Millionaire." The border-crossing drama "Frozen River," directed by Courtney Hunt and released by SPC, was deemed best first film.

The awards will be presented Jan. 5 in New York.