David Lynch's quirky, erotic mystery thriller "Mulholland Dr." was chosen best picture of the year Thursday by the New York Film Critics Circle. "Mulholland Dr." began as an aborted television pilot for ABC; Lynch later shot new footage to augment the story.
Even in a year with no clear award favorites, the choice of "Mulholland Dr." was something of a surprise. The film had opened this fall to mixed reviews--although it had its passionate supporters.
In the best actor and actress categories, Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek were honored for "In the Bedroom," in which they portray a long-married couple whose lives fall apart after a tragedy. The intimate drama also received the award for best first film. Spacek has been a favorite of the 37-member organization: She received the New York Film Critics Circle best actress honors for 1980's "Coal Miner's Daughter" and 1986's "Crimes of the Heart"; she was named best supporting actress for 1977's "Three Women."
"Gosford Park," Robert Altman's ensemble comic mystery set in the 1930s that skewers the British upper class, received three awards: best director; best screenplay, by Julian Fellowes from an idea by Altman and Bob Balaban; and best supporting actress for Helen Mirren for her performance as a no-nonsense head servant who harbors a dark secret. The movie opens in Los Angeles on Dec. 26.
Altman, 76, previously won best director from the New York Film Critics Circle for 1975's "Nashville" and 1992's "The Player."
"I am in euphoria," Altman said about the film's three awards. "It comes as a big surprise. We don't open until the day after Christmas, and I just felt we didn't have enough momentum [for these awards]. I was absolutely flabbergasted."
The director says critics' awards help art-house films like "Gosford Park." "I think in today's glut of films that come out and the cost of marketing films and since this film is not going to attract the 14-year-olds--and I won't let them in--this is a very uphill thing to get anyone's attention. These awards and nominations, they kind of validate the film."
Steve Buscemi was awarded best supporting actor for his role in the dark teen comedy "Ghost World," in which he plays a lonely man who puts an ad in the personals.
"In the Mood for Love," Wong Kar-wai's romantic drama set in Hong Kong in 1962, took the best foreign film honors and best cinematographer for Christopher Doyle and Pin Bing Lee.
Veteran French director Agnes Varda ("Cleo From 9 to 5," "Vagabond") won best nonfiction film for "The Gleaners and I," her examination of gleaners--people who gather the leftovers after a harvest and those who also collect trash.
"Waking Life," Richard Linklater's experimental art-house movie won best animated film, beating out the box-office hits "Shrek" and "Monsters, Inc."
"We are thrilled," said Nancy Utley, president of marketing for Fox Searchlight Pictures, which released "Waking Life."
"We are the little engine that could. It has been in a lot of markets around the country, but it has been positioned as an art film," Utley noted. With the award, she said, "it can break out of the art mode and mainstream moviegoers will want to see it. It will go wider now that it is receiving this acclaim."
Utley said "Waking Life" was made for a fraction of the budget for a "Shrek" or "Monsters, Inc." "This was done by 30 renegade guys in Austin, Texas, on G4 Macs. It is unlike anything you have seen before. It is really groundbreaking in terms of what it achieves with the technology."
The Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. will announce its winners Saturday.
Last week, the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures named "Moulin Rouge" best film.
Last year, the New York critics chose Steven Soderbergh's "Traffic" as best film, and in 1999 honored Mike Leigh's "Topsy-Turvy."