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by Eugene Hernandez
January 7, 2007 12:58 AM
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The Critics Have Spoken (Again); National Society Chooses "Pan's Labyrinth" As Best Film of 2006

The National Society of Film Critics selected the best of 2006 on Saturday in New York City, naming Guillermo del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth" the best movie of the year. The group, comprised of 58 leading national critics, votes and announces its winners without hosting an annual ceremony. In its 41st annual awards announcement, "United 93" director Paul Greengrass was named best director and "An Inconvenient Truth" was voted the best nonfiction film of the year. The announcement from the National Society of Film Critics marks the final critics organization to announce picks for the best films of the year, as organizations in New York and L.A. prepare to present their prizes during events this week.

In the voting for best actor, Forest Whitaker ("The Last King of Scotland") narrowly beat out Peter O'Toole ("Venus") in a tiebreaker vote and Helen Mirren was the clear winner in best actress voting. Mark Wahlberg ("The Departed") won the award for best supporting actor and Meryl Streep was voted best supporting actress for both "The Devil Wears Prada" and "A Prairie Home Companion").

Peter Morgan's script for "The Queen" was named best screenplay, while Emmanuel Lubezki won the award for best cinematography for "Children of Men."

Voters also singled out "Inland Empire" with an award for best experimental film, while film heritage awards were presented to both Jean-Pierre Melville's "Army of Shadows" (released for the first time in the U.S. last year by Rialto Pictures) and to the Museum of the Moving Image for presenting the first complete U.S. retrospective of French filmmaker Jacques Rivette.

As mentioned, the awards from the National Society of Film Critics conclude critic's picks for the best films of 2006. A recent survey of 107 film critics by indieWIRE resulted in Cristi Puiu's "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu" being named the best movie of the year and Martin Scorsese singled out as best director for "The Departed," while the group chose James Longley's "Iraq in Fragments" as the best documentary of the year. Meanwhile, an LA Weekly survey of 72 critics named Jean-Pierre Melville's "Army of Shadows" the top movie of the year, just ahead of "Lazarescu," while Hubert Sauper's "Darwin's Nightmare" was named best documentary.

Finally, in a survey of some twenty film critics groups from across North America, industry website Movie City News shows Stephen Frears' "The Queen" as the most honored film, just topping Scorsese's "The Departed."

The growth of blogs along with increased attention to awards season from even major daily newspapers has resulted in considerable coverage and criticism of the many Top Ten lists, critic's group awards, and end of the year notices. Some have complained that the winners are weigthed towards the relatively small group of year-end films hyped by the studios, while others have griped that critic's choices are often too esoteric, proving that reviewers are elitist and out of touch with moviegoers. But for many critics and audiences alike, the lists and honors do offer some nearly overlooked movies a boost of attention.

"We're living in such dire times for the commercial viability of foreign and truly independent American films at the nation's art-house theaters that even the serious cinephile can easily miss out on a masterpiece if he happens to be otherwise engaged for the one night (or, if you're lucky, one full week) that it plays at a local venue," explained LA Weekly's Scott Foundas in article accompanying his survey of critics. "Sure, there's always DVD, but theatrical distribution remains the best way to raise awareness of a given movie's existence. Which is another way of asking: Would you rush to pop 'The Death of Mr. Lazarescu' into your Netflix queue if you handn't ever heard of it in the first place?"

NSFC VOTING FOR 2006 FILMS (information provided by the National Society of Film Critics)

BEST PICTURE
1. Pan's Labyrinth - 34 (Guillermo del Toro)
2. The Death of Mr. Lazurescu - 31 (Cristi Puiu)
3. Letters from Iwo Jima - 29 (Clint Eastwood)

BEST DIRECTOR
1. Paul Greengrass - 21 (United 93)
2. Martin Scorsese - 15 (The Departed)
2. Guillermo del Toro - 15 (Pan's Labyrinth

BEST NONFICTION FILM
1. An Inconvenient Truth - 26
2. Deliver Us From Evil - 24
3. Shut Up & Sing - 13

BEST ACTOR
1. Forest Whitaker - 9 in tiebreaker - 54 (The Last King of Scotland)
2. Peter O'Toole - 8 in tiebreaker - 54 (Venus)
3. Ryan Gosling - 37 (Half Nelson)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
1. Mark Wahlberg - 28 (The Departed)
2. Jackie Earle Haley - 18 (Little Children)
3. Alan Arkin - 17 (Little Miss Sunshine)

BEST ACTRESS
1. Helen Mirren -94 (The Queen)
2. Laura Dern - 32 (Inland Empire)
3. Judi Dench - 25 (Notes on a Scandal)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
1. Meryl Streep - 25 (The Devil Wears Prada and A Prairie Home Companion)
2. Jennifer Hudson - 22 (Dreamgirls)
3. Shareeka Epps - 16 (Half Nelson)

BEST SCREENPLAY
1. The Queen - 67 (Peter Morgan)
2. The Departed - 25 (William Monahan)
3. The Good Shepherd - 15 (Eric Roth)

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
1. Children of Men - 66 (Emmanuel Lubezki)
2. Pan's Labyrinth - 41 (Guillermo Navarro)
3. Curse of the Golden Flower - 10 (Xiaoding Zhao)

BEST EXPERIMENTAL FILM to David Lynch's labyrinthine INLAND EMPIRE, a magnificent and maddening experiment with digital video possibilities.

FILM HERITAGE AWARD to Jean-Pierre Melville's ARMY OF SHADOWS (1969), lovingly restored and released by Rialto Pictures for the first time in the United States.

FILM HERITAGE AWARD to the Museum of the Moving Image for presenting the first complete U.S. retrospective of French filmmaker Jacques Rivette, including the premiere American showing of the director's legendary "Out 1."

The results of the meeting were dedicated to the memory of Robert Altman.

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