'Slumdog' is NBR's best friend

India-set pic named year's best; Eastwood, Hathaway take acting bow

Fox Searchlight's "Slumdog Millionaire," Danny Boyle's tale of a Mumbai orphan who beats the odds, was named best film of the year by the National Board of Review on Thursday.

The New York-based organization, which always is one of the first out of the gate with year-end film kudos, bestowed its best actor honors on Clint Eastwood, who plays an ex-Marine at war with a changing world in "Gran Torino," and its best actress honors on Anne Hathaway, who appears as a disruptive recovering addict in "Rachel Getting Married."

"Slumdog's" Dev Patel was recognized for breakthrough performance by an actor. The film's screenwriter, Simon Beaufoy, was cited for best adapted screenplay, sharing that award with Eric Roth, who penned "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button."

Miramax's "Doubt" earned the NBR prize for best supporting cast, with its Viola Davis cited for breakthrough performance by an actress.

The best original screenplay prize went to Nick Schenk for "Gran Torino."

"Benjamin Button," the epic love story about a man whose life runs backward, earned David Fincher the best director prize.

Supporting actor honors went to Josh Brolin, who plays the assassin Dan White in "Milk," and Penelope Cruz, who appears as a tempestuous divorcee in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona."

Sergei Bodrov's "Mongol" was named best foreign-language film, while James Marsh's "Man on Wire" was singled out as best documentary.

Pixar/Disney's "WALL-E" walked off with the prize for best animated feature.

"Frozen River's" Melissa Leo, who just took top acting honors at the Gotham Awards, shared the Spotlight Award with "The Visitor's" Richard Jenkins.

The Bvlgari Award for NBR Freedom of Expression went to Peter Askin's documentary "Trumbo."

The NBR, which comprises 122 film buffs, academics, professionals and historians, also cited its top 10 films of the year. They are, in alphabetical order: "Burn After Reading," "Changeling," "Benjamin Button," "The Dark Knight," "Defiance," "Frost/Nixon," "Torino," "Milk," "WALL-E" and "The Wrestler."

Its five top foreign-language films are "Edge of Heaven," "Let the Right One In," "Roman de Gare," "A Secret" and "Waltz With Bashir."

Its top five docs are "American Teen," "The Betrayal" (Nerakhoon), "Dear Zachary," "Encounters at the End of the World" and "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired."

The group also gave its William K. Everson Film History Award to husband-and-wife film critics Andrew Sarris and Molly Haskell.

The awards will be presented at the NBR's annual gala Jan. 14 at Cipriani's 42nd Street in New York. (partialdiff)