N.Y. critics hail 'United 93,' 'Queen'


NEW YORK -- In what chairman Marshall Fine described as "a dogfight" between "United 93" and "The Queen," Paul Greengrass' Sept. 11 drama was named best film Monday by the New York Film Critics Circle after a four-round tiebreaking vote.

Stephen Frears' "Queen" earned the most awards, including best actress for Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II and best screenplay for Peter Morgan. Forest Whitaker took home best actor honors for his portrayal of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in "The Last King of Scotland."

" 'United 93' was really a dark horse," Fine said. "A lot of people avoided seeing it because of the subject matter. It was one of the most harrowing films of the year."

The chairman added that its runoff with "Queen" was the first he had experienced in his 17 years with the organization. He said that this year's other big Sept. 11 drama, "World Trade Center," wasn't a factor in the voting.

Martin Scorsese was named best director for "The Departed," the film that ran third among the critics' favorites. Amy Berg's "Deliver Us From Evil" won nonfiction film, George Miller's "Happy Feet" won animated film and Ryan Fleck's "Half Nelson" won best first feature.

In one of the most surprising votes, Jean-Pierre Melville's French World War II drama "Army of Shadows" won foreign-language film; it was made in 1969 but wasn't released domestically until this year. Pedro Almodovar's "Volver" and Cristi Puiu's Romanian drama "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu" were the runners-up.

Newcomer Jennifer Hudson took home the supporting actress award for her much-discussed screen debut in Bill Condon's "Dreamgirls," and former child star Jackie Earle Haley ("The Bad News Bears") won supporting actor for his portrayal of a sex offender in Todd Field's "Little Children." Guillermo Navarro won the cinematography award for Guillermo del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth."

Larry Charles' "Borat" won no awards but had a strong second runner-up showing for both Sacha Baron Cohen as best actor (after Ryan Gosling in "Half Nelson") and nonfiction film (after Michael Apted's "49 Up"). The latter award is notable because the film, despite its reliance in improvisation and the unknowing participation of nonactors, has four credited writers. Its creators have said that the large majority of the film is scripted.

Other notable runners-up include Frears and Clint Eastwood ("Letters From Iwo Jima") for best director, Judi Dench ("Notes on a Scandal") and Meryl Streep ("The Devil Wears Prada") for best actress, "Little Miss Sunshine" and "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints" for best first film, teen newcomer Shareeka Epps ("Half Nelson") for best supporting actress and Oscar favorite Eddie Murphy ("Dreamgirls") for best supporting actor.

New York critics are a notoriously contentious lot, but Fine said no one tried to convince anyone else of a particular film's merits. "Everyone knows what they think and doesn't think they'll change each other's minds," he said.

Fine said the only two vocal debates were whether Gary Winick's "Charlotte's Web" qualified as an animated film and whether "Babel" qualified as a foreign-language film. Critics were directed to vote according to their opinions.

In the voting process, 22 critics gathered Monday in the conference room of Star magazine, where Fine serves as the chief TV and film critic. Nine additional proxy votes also were included. Each film needs to have the most points and appear on a majority of ballots to win in the first three rounds of voting. In the third round, the proxy votes are dropped. Because neither "United 93" nor "Queen" qualified to win, the two went to a fourth-round vote, where a film only needs a majority of points to win.

So far this year, Whitaker and Mirren have won five other top critics group awards apiece. "The two top acting awards are really unsurprising and make them the front-runners in this year's Oscar race," Fine said.

The annual awards presentation will take place Jan. 7 at the Supper Club in Manhattan.

The complete list of winners and runner-ups follows:

Best Picture
?"United 93" (Universal Pictures)
?Runners-up: "The Queen,"? "The Departed"

Best Director
?Martin Scorsese, "The Departed" (Warner Bros. Pictures)
?Runners-Up: Stephen Frears, "The Queen";? Clint Eastwood, "Letters From Iwo Jima"

Best Screenplay
Peter Morgan, "The Queen" (Miramax Films)
Runners-Up: "The Departed,"? "Little Miss Sunshine"

Best Actress
Helen Mirren, "The Queen" (Miramax Films)
Runners-Up: Judi Dench, "Notes on a Scandal,"? Meryl Streep, "The Devil Wears Prada"

Best Actor
Forest Whitaker, "The Last King of Scotland" (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Runners-Up: Ryan Gosling, "Half Nelson";? Sacha Baron Cohen, "Borat"

Best Supporting Actress
Jennifer Hudson, "Dreamgirls" (Paramount Pictures)
Runners-Up: Shareeka Epps, "Half Nelson"; Catherine O'Hara, "For Your Consideration"

Best Supporting Actor
Jackie Earle Haley, "Little Children" (New Line Cinema)
Runners-Up: Eddie Murphy, "Dreamgirls";? Steve Carell, "Little Miss Sunshine"

Best Cinematography
Guillermo Navarro, "Pan's Labyrinth" (Picturehouse)
Runners-Up: "Curse of the Golden Flower,"? "Children of Men"

Best Animated Feature
"Happy Feet" (Warner Bros. Pictures)
Runners-Up: "A Scanner Darkly,"? "Cars"

Best Non-Fiction Film
"Deliver Us From Evil" (Lionsgate Films)
Runners-Up: "49 Up,"? "Borat,"? "An Inconvenient Truth"

Best Foreign-Language Film
?"Army of Shadows" (Rialto Pictures)
?Runners-Up: "Volver,"? "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu"

Best First Film
"Half Nelson" (ThinkFilm)
?Runners-Up: "Little Miss Sunshine,"? "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints"