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DISPATCH FROM AWARDS SEASON: Prizes for “Million Dollar” & “Sideways” in NY and “Passion” &

DISPATCH FROM AWARDS SEASON: Prizes for "Million Dollar" & "Sideways" in NY and "Passion" &

DISPATCH FROM AWARDS SEASON: Prizes for “Million Dollar” & “Sideways” in NY and “Passion” & “Fahrenheit” in LA

by Eugene Hernandez

Clint Eastwood (center) and Hillary Swank (left) arrive at the New York Film Critics Circle dinner Sunday. Photo by Eugene Hernandez/indieWIRE

Clint Eastwood‘s “Million Dollar Baby” topped “Sideways” and “Before Sunset” in voting by the National Society of Film Critics this weekend. The group, made up of 56 film critics from around the country, met Saturday at Sardi’s in Manhattan to choose their top films and performances of 2004. Meanwhile in New York City on Sunday night, Eastwood was in the spotlight once again, accepting the best director prize after a rousing standing ovation at the 70th New York Film Critics’ dinner. Also at the annual event, the “Sideways” team celebrated a best picture prize and three other honors (for script, actor, and supporting actress). And on the West Coast, “The Passion of the Christ” and “Fahrenheit 9/11” were honored at the People’s Choice Awards. The honors come with just a few days before AMPAS members must return nominations ballots, and just two weeks before nominees will finally be announced for the annual Academy Awards.

National Critics Honors

Eastwood’s win for best picture has insiders wondering if his will be the film to beat at this year’s Academy Awards. In best director balloting by the National Society of Film Critics, Zhang Yimou narrowly beat Alexander Payne and Clint Eastwood, for one of his two splashy 2004 releases, “House of Flying Daggers.” In the foreign language film category Ousmane Sembène‘s “Moolaadé” topped “Daggers” in a close race, with Jean-Luc Godard‘s “Notre Musique” in the third spot.

The national critics honors mostly mirrored the New York Film Critics Circle in acting categories, with Imelda Staunton winning the best actress award for “Vera Drake,” Virginia Madsen and Thomas Haden Church honored for best supporting actress and actor for “Sideways,” and the one difference being that Jamie Foxx was honored as best actor for “Ray,” topping New York honoree Paul Giamatti for “Sideways.”

Jonathan Caouette‘s “Tarnation” was named the top nonfiction film of the year. While the film is in contention for an Independent Spirit Award this year, it did not make the Oscar short list in the documentary category.

[A complete list of National Society of Film Critics winners is available on indieWIRE’s Awards Watch blog.]

Michael Moore accepts his prize at the People’s Choice Awards. Image via CBS.

People’s Choice Prizes

Another non-fiction film vying for awards season acclaim is Michael Moore‘s “Fahrenheit 9/11.” The film cashed in on an email campaign to get the movie a People’s Choice Award, winning the prize for Favorite Movie. It was selected in a poll of online voters. Moore, previously scheduled to attend Sunday’s New York Film Critics Circle dinner in Manhattan, decided instead to attend the People’s Choice ceremony in Los Angeles to accept his prize.

“We live in a great country and we all love our country very much and I am so amazed that you did this, the people of America that you voted for this film… I cant thank you enough,” Moore said live on national television Sunday night. “I am honored and gratified.”

A few minutes later, the prize for Favorite Movie Drama was presented, with Mel Gibson‘s “The Passion of the Christ” winning and the director receiving what seemed to be an even more substantial ovation.

“More than any other thing I have ever worked on — when you circumvent the system — I depended on you and you were there. So this means a lot more to me this time than anything before, if it wasn’t for you guys we’d have been dead in the water,” Gibson said. “Now, I’ll just be brief and get off — God bless you all.”

While some awards analysts wondered whether the People’s Choice honors might boost those two films chances for a top Oscar nomination, the sense is that since the prizes were chosen via online balloting, they would not impact Oscar voters.

Mel Gibson accepts an award in Los Angeles. Image via CBS.

NY Film Critics Dinner

In New York, Moore was the recipient of some good-natured ribbing for forsaking the Critics Circle. Al Franken presented his best documentary award and Harvey Weinstein accepted following the cocktail party and dinner held at Manhattan’s Roosevelt Hotel in Midtown.

While “Sideways” was the big winner in terms of overall awards, the biggest ovation of the evening went to Clint Eastwood. The three-hundred or so attendees at the Roosevelt stood and enthusiastically cheered for Eastwood as he made his way to the podium to accept his award from “Million Dollar Baby” star, and likely Oscar nominee, Hillary Swank.

Eastwood quipped that he was only four years old when The New York Film Critics Circle was formed, just beginning to watch movies for the first time. Thanking the members of the National Society of Film Critics also in attendance, Eastwood offered most of his praise for the cast and crew of his latest film. Honoring his talented collaborator’s work, he said humbly, “All you have to do is sit back and let the picture take care of itself.”

[Get the latest on awards season, and more from the New York Film Critics Circle dinner, on indieWIRE’s Awards Watch Blog.]

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