The awards season is officially underway, with Quills, an R-rated tale of notorious French author the Marquis de Sade, earning the nod as best film of the year from the National Board of Review.
The board's and other critics' associations' awards are all very nice, but they're tracked mostly to predict who's most likely to win the ultimate Hollywood honors, the Oscars, which are handed out in March.
Example: Julia Roberts, long a box-office fave, is considered to be in the running for an Oscar for her role as the titular real-life legal crusader in Erin Brockovich. The board agreed, naming her as best actress of the year.
Spain's Javier Bardem was named as best actor for Before Night Falls, which is based on the memoirs of Cuban novelist and poet Reinaldo Arenas.
Quills, a fictional story about freedom of speech and expression, beat out nine other films that the board also cited for excellence in what many critics have considered a weak year. Quills stars Geoffrey Rush, Joaquin Phoenix, Kate Winslet, and Michael Caine and is directed by Philip Kaufman, who also is known for sexy literary adaptations Henry and June and The Unbearable Lightness of Being. The film opened in limited release Nov. 22; it expands to more theaters this Friday.
Phoenix Best Supporting Actor For his performances in three films — Gladiator, Quills, and The Yards — Joaquin Phoenix was named as best supporting actor, while the best supporting actress award went to Lupe Ontiveros for the offbeat film Chuck & Buck.
Steven Soderbergh was named as best director for Erin Brockovich and Traffic, while Ted Tally won for best screenplay for All the Pretty Horses.
The National Board of Review also honored David Mamet's State and Main as best ensemble and The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg as best documentary. Chicken Run won for best animated feature.
Crouching Tiger Best Foreign Film Best foreign film was Ang Lee's stunning martial arts epic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The Decalogue series, from the late Krzysztof Kieslowski, was honored for outstanding achievement in foreign film.
Michelle Rodriguez was cited for a breakthrough performance for her role as a woman born to box, in Girlfight, while 14-year-old Jamie Bell was named as outstanding young actor for his role as the aspiring ballet dancer in the British hit Billy Elliot.
Gladiator, director Ridley Scott's blockbuster set in ancient Rome, won for production design and art direction, while Iceland's Björk received a nod for outstanding dramatic musical performance by an actress for Dancer in the Dark — not a category that exists every year, mind you.
The Board's 10 Best Films of 2000:
1. Quills 2. Traffic 3. Croupier 4. You Can Count on Me 5. Billy Elliot 6. Before Night Falls 7. Gladiator 8. Wonder Boys 9. Sunshine 10. Dancer in the Dark
The British neo-noir Croupier is not eligible for Oscar consideration this year, having already aired on TV prior to a theatrical release.
Special Honors for Burstyn, Lonergan The board will present actress Ellen Burstyn, seen on screens this year in Requiem for a Dream and a reissue of The Exorcist, with a career achievement award when it hands out its honors Jan. 16 at Manhattan, N.Y.'s Tavern on the Green restaurant.
Kenneth Lonergan, who wrote and directed the critical indie hit You Can Count on Me, also will be honored for special filmmaking achievement.
The New York Film Critics Circle, considered to be among the most prestigious film award-granting organizations, announces its winners Dec. 13.
Reuters contributed to this story.