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'Mulholland,' 'Lord of Rings' Are Top Picks

Awards: National Society of Film Critics and American Film Institute both name Robert Altman best director in ceremonies on two coasts.

January 06, 2002|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Mulholland Dr." and "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" won top picture honors Saturday as film awards were handed out on two coasts.

In New York, "Mulholland Dr.," David Lynch's offbeat, enigmatic mystery, was named best picture of 2001 by the National Society of Film Critics. And in Beverly Hills, the American Film Institute gave top honors to Peter Jackson's fantasy epic "The Lord of the Rings" in a televised event--the AFI's first-ever awards ceremony.

For "Mulholland Dr.," which began life as an unsold TV pilot, Saturday's was the latest honor: The film was chosen best picture by the New York Film Critics Assn. and has been nominated for a Golden Globe for best film in the drama category. "The Lord of the Rings," a huge box office hit, is also a Golden Globe nominee in that category.

Naomi Watts, the star of "Mulholland Dr.," won the society's best actress honors for her performance as an ingenue who moves to Los Angeles. Best actor honors went to Gene Hackman for his role in "The Royal Tenenbaums" as an errant father who wants to make amends with his family. Hackman was also honored by the AFI for the same part, though the AFI considered it a "non-leading role."

Steve Buscemi received best supporting actor from the society for his role as a lonely fortysomething in the comedy-drama "Ghost World." Helen Mirren, as the no-nonsense head servant who harbors a dark secret in "Gosford Park," was named best supporting actress.

The society, which consists of 52 of the country's leading movie critics, held its 36th annual awards ceremony at Sardi's restaurant in Manhattan.

The AFI awards were handed out at the Beverly Hills Hotel. The awards, for both film and television, were chosen by a jury of critics, academics and others. The AFI event was scheduled two weeks before the televised Golden Globe ceremony Jan. 20 in hopes of generating early award season excitement in Hollywood. But the show failed to generate much buzz in an industry that has seen a proliferation of award shows in recent years.

Other big winners chosen by the AFI included best actor Denzel Washington for his role as a rogue cop in "Training Day," and best actress Sissy Spacek for her performance as a grieving mother in "In the Bedroom." In accepting the award, she told the Beverly Hills gathering: "This film is so close to my heart."

Both the AFI and the society named Robert Altman best director for his comic murder mystery "Gosford Park." The society had previously named him best director for his 1975 classic, "Nashville." He was honored in the same category for "Gosford Park" by the New York Film Critics.

That movie also earned a best screenplay award from the society for Julian Fellowes.

The AFI screenwriting award went to Christopher Nolan for his told-backward thriller "Memento." The AFI award for non-leading actress went to Jennifer Connelly for her role in the true-life drama "A Beautiful Mind."

In its television awards, the AFI honored "The Sopranos" for best drama series and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" as best comedy series. Both are HBO shows.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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