The 2011 movie awards marathon began in earnest Tuesday, with a throwback to Hollywood's silent era leading the way.
Michel Hazanavicius' black-and-white, nearly wordless film The Artist was named best picture of the year by the New York Film Critics Circle, and collected five Film Independent Spirit Award nominations including best feature, tying the doomsday drama Take Shelter.
The Artist stars Jean Dujardin as a 1920s silent movie star whose career is threatened by the invention of talkies. Hazanavicius was named best director by New York critics and was nominated by the Spirits, to be presented in Santa Monica, Calif., on Feb. 25, a day before the Academy Awards.
The Artist is tentatively slated to open Christmas Day in Tampa Bay theaters.
New York critics tabbed Brad Pitt as the year's best actor, citing his roles in Moneyball and The Tree of Life. His co-star in the latter film, Jessica Chastain, earned best supporting actress honors for a trio of performances including Take Shelter and The Help.
Meryl Streep was named best actress for portraying former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. Comedian Albert Brooks earned the best supporting actor prize, playing against type as a ruthless mobster in Drive.
Other awards voted by New York critics include best screenplay (Moneyball), cinematography (The Tree of Life), foreign film (A Separation from Iran), documentary (Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams) and first feature (Margin Call).
The Spirit Awards focus upon independently produced movies with budgets under $20 million. In recent years the Spirits have become precursors to major Oscar nominations and wins, honoring such films as The King's Speech, Slumdog Millionaire, Black Swan, Brokeback Mountain and Juno.
In addition to The Artist, best feature nominees this year include Drive, Take Shelter, Alexander Payne's The Descendants, the cancer dramedy 50/50 and Beginners, starring Christopher Plummer as a gay man coming out late in life.
Best male lead nominees include Dujardin, Ryan Gosling (Drive), Demian Bechir (A Better Life), Michael Shannon (Take Shelter) and Woody Harrelson, playing a corrupt L.A. cop in Rampart. Leading the best female lead nominees are Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn) and Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene).
Steve Persall can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8365.