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National film critics select 'Pan's Labyrinth' as best picture

January 07, 2007|Susan King | Times Staff Writer

Guillermo Del Toro's gothic fairy tale, "Pan's Labyrinth," was named best picture of 2006 on Saturday by the National Society of Film Critics.

The Mexican film faced fierce competition from two other foreign-language films -- the Romanian drama "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu" and Clint Eastwood's World War II drama "Letters From Iwo Jima" -- with only a few votes separating the three.

Because "Labyrinth" is a foreign-language film, no separate award was given in that category.

The group chose Paul Greengrass as best director for "United 93," a semi-documentary drama about the courageous passengers and crew aboard the ill-fated flight hijacked by terrorists Sept. 11, 2001.

Last month, Greengrass received the best director award from the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn.

The society is made up of critics from major publications across the country. The 45 members who voted Saturday at the 41st annual meeting at Sardi's restaurant in New York City had a difficult time selecting a best actor.

Forest Whitaker, who stars in "The Last King of Scotland," and Peter O'Toole, who stars in "Venus," were running neck and neck in the balloting until Whitaker took the honors in a tiebreaker for his performance as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, according to a spokeswoman for the society.

Whitaker has received many of the early awards for 2006 films, including from the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures, the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. and the New York Film Critics Circle, and is nominated for the Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards.

Helen Mirren easily won best actress for her performance as British monarch Elizabeth II in "The Queen." Mirren has become a leading contender for the Academy Award, receiving numerous honors from critics groups, including those in L.A. and New York, as well as nominations for the Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards.

"The Queen" also won best screenplay honors for Peter Morgan.

Mark Wahlberg was chosen best supporting actor for his performance as a vengeful Boston detective in "The Departed."

Meryl Streep was named best supporting actress for her diverse turns as a demanding fashion magazine editor in "The Devil Wears Prada" and as a member of a singing sister act in "A Prairie Home Companion."

Streep has received Golden Globe and SAG nominations for "Prada," but in the best actress category.

"An Inconvenient Truth" was selected best nonfiction film, and Emmanuel Lubezki won for best cinematography for his work in "Children of Men." David Lynch's "Inland Empire" was selected as best experimental film.

This year's awards were dedicated to director Robert Altman, who died in November.

The National Society of Film Critics rarely agrees with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, being far more eclectic in its selections for best film. Over the last three decades, the group has selected only four best films that also won the top Oscar: "Annie Hall" (1977), "Unforgiven" (1992), "Schindler's List" (1993) and "Million Dollar Baby" (2004).

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susan.king@latimes.com

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